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Nelke, Herbert

Date of birth:
March 20th, 1915 (Barnitz/Schleswig-Holstein, Germany)
Date of death:
January 30th, 1941 (Tasnad, Romania)
German (1933-1945, Third Reich)


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Second World War (1939-1945)
Unteroffizier (Junior Sergeant)
Geschützführer I./Flak-Regiment 23 (mot.)
Awarded on:
July 4th, 1940
Here follows a first-hand account from Herbert Nelke himself, describing how he won the Knight’s Cross…

Four against 117! How a Saxon Unteroffizier earned the Knight’s Cross

“We were placed forward as anti-tank security in a narrow valley, two gunners, a driver and myself as the gun commander. Well camouflaged, we were well ahead of our foremost infantry. My comrades were on the side slope while I sat alone with the 2-cm gun. In front of me I heard voices, but dismissed these as from a chained dog by a log cabin ahead of us. At about 01:45 an advance troop of about 35 enemy soldiers suddenly appeared just three meters in front of me. I assumed that they were German comrades, and let five man pass before realizing that the sixth man was black. With unprecedented speed, I jumped down from the gun seat and had the N**** by the throat. After hitting him about 10 times with a hand grenade, the black man collapsed dead.

Immediately a wild shootout began. But by our shouting and roaring, amplified by the echo effect of the valley, the enemy was greatly deceived as to our numbers and thought they were facing 10 times as many troops. I held firm by my gun and fought until all the enemies here were either cut down or disarmed. Then one of my gunner comrades warned me that another troop was on its way, and soon enough it was here. I called to it several times: ‘A bas les armes!’ There was no reaction, and the firefight flared up again. During a small pause in the firing, a French officer called out saying that they were prepared to cease resisting. He spoke excellent German (it turned out he was part of the Rhineland occupation force). But he ordered me to first turn the barrel of my Flak gun away. I replied that he was in no position to give me orders, only I could command myself! He replied that he was an officer. I told him that made no difference, and to lay down his arms. Thus a total of 97 French and 20 English soldiers behind them surrendered. The officer told me this was an infantry spearhead. I made it clear to him that in the German Wehrmacht the actual ‘Infantry spearhead’ should be marching at the front, by which I meant the English! A large number of opponents had also been killed, and a substantial haul of weapons were also captured.

The whole battle had only lasted a quarter of an hour. Other German soldiers had been alarmed by the shooting, but by the time they arrived the battle had already been decided. When the French officer inquired as to how many troops he was up against, his face went pale when he heard it was just 4 men.

Four weeks later I received the order to get myself ready. I had no idea where I was being taken. But before long we were already in Carinhall, and after a short wait I stood before Hermann Göring. Yes, my knees were trembling. The Marshal asked me about my life up until now as well as the action that led to me being brought here. With the words: ‘You have shown yourself to be as brave as a Knight,’ he awarded me the Knight’s Cross to the Iron Cross.”
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes