- Second World War (1939-1945)
- Oberleutnant (1st Lieutenant)
- Chef, 4. Kompanie, I. Abteilung, Panzer-Regiment 35, 4. Panzer-Division, Heer
- Awarded on:
- May 3rd, 1945
The following redacted article by Kriegsberichter Robert Poensgen describes the action that would lead to Gerlach being award the Knight’s Cross…
“Make out your Testaments, Comrades!:
“During the difficult defensive fighting in the area of Danzig–Gotenhafen, Oberleutnant Gerlach of the 4./Panzer-Regiment 35 received orders on the 15.03.1945 to move as rapidly as possible with 5 operational Panthers of the Abteilung to the sector of the 389. Infanterie-Division (in the area of Danzig–Oliva–Neue Welt). They were to prevent an imminent tank breakthrough by the Russians.
Shortly after the movement was initiated, one of the Panthers had to be released to another Kampfgruppe of the Regiment which only had Panzer III’s and had reported the approach of IS-2s in its sector. Two additional Panthers fell out of the march later on because there were considerable quantities of water in the fuel they had used to tank up with. Just before it turned dark, Oberleutnant Gerlach reached the designated area of operations with just two Panthers. After reporting to the operations officer of the 389. Infanterie-Division, he received orders to support the night attack of the Fusilier-Bataillon on ‘Neue Welt.’ After destroying the enemy tanks reported there, he was to block the corridor next to the lakes at ‘Neue Welt.’
At around 20:00 hours, the Grenadiers moved out. It was already dark and heavy fire lashed out against the attackers. The reports from the many tank main guns could be registered through the muzzle flashes. In the meantime, it was also discovered that there were no less than 24 enemy tanks in the locality of ‘Neue Welt,’ including 8 IS-2s among them. And Oberleutnant Gerlach had been directed to attack that formidable force with his two Panthers! He tried to get the operation called off, which had a 95% chance of ending in a victory for the Soviets. But he discovered that the attack had
to take place under all circumstances.
‘Boys, make out your testaments!’ That was the only comfort he could offer his men. And he was no pessimist or man given to dilly-dallying: he had participated in almost 150 armoured attacks since 1939. But this attack appeared to be a suicide mission to him. There were no heroes sitting in the Panthers. They were men who did their duty to the utmost; men who had reconciled themselves to their fates, but who wanted to sell their dear lives as expensively as possible.
The Grenadiers made it up to the outskirts of the locality. They knocked out an enemy tank and an antitank gun through employment of Panzerfausts. They received such heavy fire, however, that they had to pull back a bit. At that time, of all times, the Panzer of Oberleutnant Gerlach had a mechanical problem, and he had to send it back with the crew and its driver, Oberfeldwebel Böhm. He only took along his experienced radio operator, since there was a very young soldier at the radios on the remaining Panzer. Otherwise, the crew consisted of old hands, who had already been sneaking up on the locality along a railway embankment. The engine was throttled down, so that they would not betray their location by the noise. The Panzer was concealed from the enemy by means of a snow fence and the freight cars parked on a track next to the Panzer. As a result, the silhouette of the tank would not stand out against the horizon, even when it got lighter.
About 400 meters from the ‘Neue Welt,’ Gerlach’s new Panzer got stuck in the soft ground and it took all of the skills of the driver to get it free again. As a result of the unavoidable loud engine noises, however, the Soviets were alerted and fired blindly in the suspected direction, but without hitting the Panther. The gunner, Unteroffizier Lang, fired, using the muzzle flashes to aim. With his first round he hit an assault gun. The blast also resulted in a house behind it catching on fire, with the result that the entire area around the Soviets was lit up. In the glow, three additional enemy tanks were identified that were screening on the edge of the locality. Since Gerlach had started to receive heavy fire, he pulled back several hundred meters to a good reverse-slope position. He engaged the enemy from there. He succeeded in knocking out the three tanks, as well as two anti-tank guns, whose rounds were hissing uncomfortably close above the Panther.
As it started to turn light, Oberleutnant Gerlach pulled back so far into the reverse-slope position that he was only able to observe into the enemy-occupied village with his scissors scope. The enemy tanks were positioned between the houses in thick clumps. Heavy artillery and mortar fires commenced. Towards noon, a second vehicle showed up to support Gerlach. It was the Panzer of Oberfeldwebel Palm, known as the “tank cracker.” In the course of the afternoon, Palm succeeded in setting two enemy tanks alight (including an IS-2) as well as knocking out several antitank guns. Oberleutnant Gerlach succeeded in taking another IS-2 out of commission and knocking out a heavy assault gun.
And so the day passed into the second night. The next day, the Soviets attempted to attack farther to the right with strong infantry forces. Oberleutnant Gerlach immediately moved to the threatened area. While Gerlach was engaging the enemy tanks that were appearing, his NCO radio operator, Unteroffizier Kupfer, was independently directing the fires of the second tank and also engaging the Soviet infantry with his bow machine gun. The German Panzers not only completely eliminated a Soviet rifle company in that area, they also knocked out five IS-2s, another heavy tank, three assault guns and a heavy antitank gun. On the next day, Gerlach and his two Panzers were again employed in the same sector. From a good elevated position, another IS-2, two assault guns and two antitank guns were eliminated in bitter engagements. Three other IS-2s were set alight, although it could not be ascertained whether they had been completely destroyed.
The type of tremendous physical and emotional exertions and demands that a struggle for life and death that lasts over both days and nights is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Oberleutnant Gerlach fell fast asleep during an orders conference at an infantry command post.
When you consider the success of those three days of fighting—21 heavy enemy tanks destroyed without a single friendly loss—one also needs to consider that most of the eliminated enemy tanks were superior to the Panther in armament, armour and range. What had emerged victorious in those engagements, in addition to an unequivocally capable combat leadership and the seamless cooperation between the tank crews, was the spirit of long-time tankers who had seen and done it all.”
According to Scherzer no proof in Bundesarchiv. The case was treated by the Ordenskommission/OdR in 1983/84, decision was : "RK ja, am 17.04.1945". Award date later changed into 03.05. by Fellgiebel.