Bäke Battles: “Der Mensch” In The East

A Combat Mission Scenario Series

A CMBB combat history of the career of the legendary Major General Dr. Franz Bäke.

Researched and created for CMBB by Charlie Meconis and George McEwan.

Blowtorchscenarios proudly introduces our third CMBB series, "Bäke Battles: "Der Mensch" In The East", following our series “The Panzer Count's Ostfront”, and Jochen Peiper's "Blowtorch Battalion". As always our aim is to present interesting scenarios with as much historical accuracy as possible.

For the third in our series of outstanding armored battalion/kampfgruppe level commanders on the Ostfront, we will recreate some key battles from the career of the legendary Major General Dr. Franz Bake. He is described by some as “The best kampfgruppe leader of the panzer force”. Although he served in the West in 1940 and for a time in 1944, we will focus on his career in the East.

Born in 1898, Franz Bäke served in the 53rd Infantry Regiment in World War I and won the Iron Cross 2nd class. He returned to civilian life after the war and after a long course of study he became a dentist in 1935, the same year he was reactivated as a lieutenant in the reserves. He was assigned to the 1 st Light Division's 65 th Panzer abteilung as its adjutant and later executive officer.

Immediately after the Polish campaign the 1st Light Division became the new 6 th Panzer Division with the addition of two more panzer abteilungs from the 11 th Panzer Regiment. After months of training and exercises, Bäke became commander of the First Company of the 65 th abteilung. In that role, Bäke served with distinction during the French campaign, winning the Iron Cross 1 st Class for his leadership at “the tip of the spear” in the crossing of the Meuse, the dash to the Channel, and other key battles. He was also promoted to Hauptmann. Bäke had learned a great deal about tank fighting in Poland and France. He would need all that knowledge against the next opponent: the Red Army.

For some reason, prior to the start of Operation Barbarossa Bäke was assigned as the commander of the division's panzer recovery unit. As a result, he saw little combat during the division's rapid march to Leningrad with Army Group North. Appointed 11th Panzer Regiment's executive officer Bäke took part in the last desperate defensive battles outside Moscow in December 1941, commanding the remnants of the last panzer company's handful of tanks, and a last bitter rearguard fight at Cholminka in February,1942 before the shattered division was sent home to re-organize and re-fit.

After returning to Germany, Bäke was named commander of the 11 th Panzer Regiment's II Battalion—a position which would catapult him to the heights of glory and fame over the coming year at the Ostfront. Throughout the summer and fall of 1942 Bäke rebuilt and thoroughly trained his new command, now equipped with new Panzer IIIs with the long 50mm gun and some Panzer IV's with the the new long 75mm gun.

In November 1942, after extensive training, the re-constructed 6 th Panzer Division was finally ready for deployment as an Army group B reserve at the Ostfront. Its trains headed for Belgorod on the 14 th . Then the thunderclap struck. The November 19 th Soviet counterattack against 6 th Army at Stalingrad succeeded within a few days in surrounding a quarter of a million German troops there. The 6 th Panzer Division was diverted to the far south to try to reverse the disaster.

The 6 th Panzer Division became a centerpiece in Field Marshal von Manstein's “Operation Winter Storm”—the desperate attempt to relieve the 6 th Army at Stalingrad. At a critical point in the war, Dr. Franz Bäke was at the very tip of the spear, deep in southern Russia, south of Stalingrad. In two swirling tank battles on the barren winter steppe at Poklebin and Verkne-Kumsky Bäke's battalion, operating as part of Oberst Walther von Hünersdorff's 11 Panzer Regiment, played a key role in destroying most of the Soviet 4 th Cavalry Corps, Fourth Tank Corps and 13 th Mechanized Corps in early December 1942. For these exploits on 1 January 1943 he was awarded the Knight's Cross and promoted to Major. But the attempt to relieve Stalingrad failed when further Soviet attacks threatened to surround the relief force itself.

Not satisfied with their victory at Stalingrad, the Soviets plunged southwestward in an attempt to cut off Army Group A in the Caucasus and collapse the entire German southern wing on the Ostfront, perhaps ending the war in early 1943. But German Field Marshal von Manstein implemented a bold plan to first slow and then reverse the Soviet thrust. In two brutal battles in January at Tatskinskaya and Novo Marjewka the 6 th Panzer Division with Bäke often in the lead succeeded in stopping the Soviet thrust between the Don and Donets Rivers. Later, the depleted division still played a key role in the counteroffensive that re- took Kharkov in March.

After another period of rest and re-fitting, the 6 th Panzer Division took part in Operation Citadel at the extreme southeastern flank of the last great German offensive of the war. Often together with some Tigers of the 503 rd Heavy Tank Battalion, Bäke's battalion slugged its way through the heavy Soviet defenses until July 11 when they broke through at Olkhovatka. That night, Bäke led a famous attack with a “ghost column” to seize the key town of Rzhavets. Again, Bäke destroyed a Soviet tank on foot in close combat.

But Operation Citadel was a failure too, and for the first time Bäke was placed in command of a Kampfgruppe that covered the withdrawal. .For his actions in this campaign, Bäke was awarded the Oakleaves to his Knight's Cross on 1 August 1943. As German fortunes declined in the East, the ad hoc combined-arms “kampfgruppe” grew in importance as an operational element in the Wehrmacht's Order of Battle. Bäke would excel in the role of commander of this type of formation as Panzer Kampfgruppe Bäke fought as the rearguard to the banks of the Dnieper.

In November of 1943 Dr. Bäke, now promoted to oberstleutnant, was given command of the 11 th Panzer Regiment as it acted as fire brigade along the Dnieper front. Then in late January of 1944 the Soviets launched a major offensive designed to surround the last German forces defending the Dnieper line at Cherkassy. Over 50,000 German and allied troops were surrounded and a “mini-Stalingrad” was in the making. For the second time in his career Bäke was given a desperate pocket rescue mission. This time, because of his reputation as a superb Kampfgruppe leader, he was placed in command of the newly created “Schwere Panzer Regiment Bäke” which was an ad-hod formation consisting of the 47 Tigers of Schwere Panzer Abteilung 503, 34 Panthers of the 23 rd Panzer Division's I Abteilung of Pz Regiment 23, plus an SP artillery battalion, a combat engineer battalion, and a Gebirgsjager battalion.

Facing fierce opposition from numerically superior Soviet forces in terrible terrain and weather, Bäke's skill enabled him to smash to within 10 kilometers of the pocket, winning victories at Tatynovka on February 5 and Chesnovka on February 12/13. But due to severe losses he failed, along with the 1 st Panzer Division, to break through to the trapped troops who were forced to fighter their way out, at heavy cost. Nevertheless, in less than a month of combat Schwere Panzer Regiment Bäke had destroyed over 400 Soviet tanks.

In recognition of his outstanding leadership in that campaign, Dr. Bäke became the 49th member of the Wehrmacht to receive the Swords to his Knight's Cross with Oakleaves on 21 February 1944.

He continued in command of two more Panzer Kampfgruppes throughout March, stemming the onrushing Red tide southeast of Vinnitsa. Then he was given leave, promoted to Oberst in the active forces and moved on to command Panzer Brigade 106 in the west until late in the war when he took command as a Generalmajor of the depleted 13 th Panzer Division. Although he was recommended to receive the Diamonds to his Knight's Cross, some believe that Himmler prevented it.

Bäke was known simply as “Der Mensch” to his troops. It is hard to translate this term, which includes the qualities of courage, compassion, and loyalty. Unassuming, friendly and optimistic in outlook, he was eadly serious when it came to conducting panzer operations in a way meant to produce victory at the lowest cost to his men. Prevented by circumstance from panzer command during Barbarossa and Case Blue, Bäke was the quintessential kampfgruppe commander of the second half of the war. He was a man whose personal qualities enabled him to take command of disparate units stitched together into kampfgruppes that were given extremely difficult fire-brigade missions during the long German retreat.

He returned to his civilian life as a dentist after the war and died in an automobile accident in 1978. Thousands attended his funeral, in tribute to “der Mensch”.

 

For those who want more information about Dr Franz Bäke beyond that contained in our briefings, click on this link.

The following are the actions we have recreated for CMBB charting Dr Franz "Der Mensch" Bäke's combat career. Each file contains a historical background account (which contain spoilers), a command map and a short biography of Dr Franz Bäke.

I. ACTIONS DURING OPERATION “WINTER STORM” STALINGRAD RESCUE ATTEMPT

Field Marshal von Manstein's Stalingrad operation to rescue the trapped 6th Army employs 6th Panzer division at the tip of his spear. Major Dr. Franz Bäke is at the cutting edge in command of the 11th Panzer regiment's II Battalion.

4 December 1942: Prelude at Pokhlebin

Rushing by train from France to spearhead the Stalingrad rescue mission, Bäke counterattacks advancing theSoviet tanks and PAK front of the IVth Cavalry Corps near Pokhlebin. 4 battle operation

Bäke's Winter Storm I

Ten days after the action at Pokhlebin 6th Panzer sent most of its mobile forces in a Kampfgruppe commanded by Panzer Regiment 11's Colonel Hünersdorff across the Aksay on the road toward Verkne Kumsky early on 14 December. Bäke and the entire panzer regiment are soon caught in a swirling tank battle in the barren steppe all around the village of Verkne Kumsky as “Winter Storm” roars against two Soviet Tank Corps. This scenario covers the initial contact with the Soviet 13th Mechanised Corps 4km south of Verkne Kumsky on the 14th December 1942.

Bäke's Winter Storm II

After the action south of Verkhne Kumsky on the 14th December 1942, the bulk of Panzer Regiment 11, under the leadership of Colonel von Hünersdorff, is assigned to the forward mobile defense of Verkhne Kumksy, a critical jumping off point for the next thrust toward Stalingrad. Major Dr. Bake is deputy commander of this force. A holding force under Hauptmann Löwe is set-up in the village of Verkhne Kumsky itself.

But the tankists and motorized infantry of Colonel-General V.T. Volksii's Soviet 4th Mechanized Corps are full of confidence and grim determination too. They spearheaded the southern pincer that surrounded the 6th Army in Stalingrad and they will die before allowing the German rescue attempt to succeed. This scenario covers the action fought on the 15th December in and around the village of Verkhne Kumsky.

II. REVERSING THE TIDE AFTER STALINGRAD

After yet another Soviet breakthrough forces cancellation of the Stalingrad rescue, the 6thPanzer Division is rushed west to stem the Soviet offensive and then reverse it under Manstein's leadership.

1 January 1943: Bäke's Knights Cross at New Year

Red Army Lt. General V. M. Badanov has been ordered to combine the exhausted remnants of the 24 th and 25 th Tank Corps and the 1 st Guards Mechanized Corps for one last thrust to victory. Their task is to cut the railway line that leads from Morosovsk to Stalingrad, and thereby seal the fate of the 6 th Army trapped in Stalingrad. Under cover of darkness and fog they are on the move. As the Soviet tank packs try to collapse the entire German southern flank on their way to the Don river, Bäke first mounts a desperate defense of his Battalion HQ in Novo Maryevka. This action is covered in Part 1.

Part 2 covers Bäke's slashing armoured counter attack against the Soviet tank packs. He is awarded the Knights Cross for his skill and courage.

6 March 1943 : Taking Tarnovka on the Road to Kharkov

Manstein's great counteroffensive crunches toward Kharkov with 6 th Panzer on the right flank. But the Soviet 25 th Guards rifles and 179 th Tank Brigade are dug in at the key rail center of Tarnovka. A bitter slugfest is the result for Bäke.

III. OPERATION CITADEL AT KURSK: The Right Flank in the South

As Part of Armeeabteilung Kempf, the 6 th Panzer is assigned a key role in protecting the far right flank of the last great German offensive in the East.

11 July 1943: Breakout at Olkhovatka

After a brutal week of attrition warfare through Soviet fixed defenses, Bäke and the surviving 48 tanks of the Regiment finally break out at Olkhovatka with the help of Tigers from Heavy Panzer Battalion 503.

Night of 11/12 July 1943:Ghost Raid to Rshavetz

Desperate to continue the breakthrough to protect II SS Panzer Corps's flank at Prokhorovka, Bäke leads a Kampfgruppe in a daring night raid to seize a bridgehead over the river Donets at Rshavetz. Bäke is awarded the Oaklleaves to his Knight's Cross for this campaign.

IV. HEAVY PANZER REGIMENT BÄKE AT CHERKASSY

In response to the surprise Soviet offensive that has trapped 60,000 Germans and allies in a pocket at Korsun, Bäke is placed in command of a specially created Heavy Panzer Regiment including a Panther battalion and Tiger Battalion 503 again. Another rescue mission in desperate circumstances is his destiny.

5 February 1944: Two Balki at Tatynovka

The first rescue attempt, Operation Wanda, finds Heavy Panzer Regiment Bäke facing over 40 Soviet tanks defending two ravines near Tatynovka on the road to the Gniloy Tikich river crossing. Bäke's superb maneuvers win the day.

12/13 February 1944: Assault at Chessnovka

Its ranks thinned during a week of frontal attacks, Heavy Panzer Regiment Bäke battles the Soviet 5 th Guards and 20 th Tank Corps around Chessnovka, a mere 10 kilometers from the Cherkassy Pocket. Can it break through?

Bäke is awarded the Swords to his Knight's Cross with Oakleaves for this campaign. He is sent to the West until the final months of the war.