Oberstleutnant Dr. Franz Bäke
includes Oberstleutnant Dr. Franz Bäke and his Panther A tank.
By 1944 Oberstleutnant Dr. Franz Bäke was one of the most capable and experienced front-line panzer commanders in the German Army.
Born in 1898 in the town of Schwarzenfels, Bäke had served in World War One as an enlisted man. He fought in the infantry on the western front including the battle of Verdun, was wounded, awarded the Iron Cross Second Class and finished the war as a sergeant and officer candidate. Between the wars he studied dentistry, gained his doctorate, and established a successful professional career. Still a reserve, Bäke was called up in 1937, and was a Leutnant commanding a panzer platoon at the start of the war.
Bäke’s platoon was part of the Panzerabteilung 65, 1. Jägerdivision, later reorganised as 6. Panzerdivision. Equipped with the Czech Panzer 35(t) tanks Bäke’s unit took part in the invasion of Poland, where Bäke served well and was promoted to company commander. In France 1940, 6. Panzerdivision formed part of Guderian’s strike force through the Ardennes. Bäke’s Company captured a key bridge across the Meuse. Wounded twice in the campaign, Bäke was awarded the Gold Wound Badge and the Iron Cross, First Class.
In 1941 6. Panzerdivision was transferred to East Prussia for Operation Barbarossa. Bäke’s role changed to a staff position in charge of recovery of damaged tanks. As Regimental Ordinanz-Offizier he carried out tank recovery with his customary energy and intelligence. With Operation Typhoon reaching its climax he often led ad-hoc kampfgruppen forward on missions.
After the winter of 1941/42 the worn-out 6. Panzerdivision was withdrawn to France for rebuilding. Bäke was promoted to commander of II Abteillung/11. Panzerregiment. By thet ime the rebuilt division was ready for combat Stalingrad had been encircled. 6. Panzerdivision was transferred back east and thrown into the relief attempt.
Unable to break through, it then helped encircle and destroy Soviet tanks thrusting towards Kharkov. For this action Bäke was awarded the Knights Cross in January 1943.
At Kursk 6. Panzerdivision formed part of Hoth’s 4. Panzerarmee attacking from the south. Wounded again himself, Bäke continued in battle and took over command of 11. Panzerregiment when its commander was severely wounded. Bäke led the unit through the defensive battles towards the Dneiper, receiving the Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross in August 1943. He was promoted to Oberstleutnant der Reserve and ordered to form Schwere Panzerregiment Bäke in December 1943. Six months of intensive combat involving the Regiment proved Bäke’s ability to command larger formations.
Bäke was awarded the Swords to the Knights Cross for his efforts to relieve the Korsun pocket in February 1944. After further defensive battles Bäke’s unit was disbanded in May 1944.
Bäke took command of Panzer Brigade 106 Feldherrnhalle, now forming in the west with Panthers and armoured infantry. By September these were fighting defensive battles against Patton’s Third US Army.
At first successful against US tanks, Bäke suffered his first defeat when he attacked the US 90th Infantry Division, which took the Panzer attacks in its stride and counterattacked with bazookas and at the Panzergrenadiers. The Feldherrnhalle panzer brigade fell back with heavy losses.
In January 1945 Bäke did a course in divisional command and in March led Panzerdivision Feldehernhalle 2 in the final offensive in Hungary. Bäke led them back to Czechoslovakia where he was promoted to General in April.
In May he led them in a breakout through encircling Soviet forces to surrender to American forces at the Elbe. After the war Bäke was held as a POW until 1950, and then returned to his dentistry career until his death in a car accident in 1978.