Germany - Third Reich: An Assault on the Sebastopol Fortress and later Kuban Casualty Group of Award Certificates and other Documents relating to Unteroffizier Wilhelm Kuhnle, HQ 1st Battalion 420th Infantry/Grenadier Regiment, 125th Infantry Division, which includes a scarce citation for the Iron Cross 1st Class that is typed on the reverse of the certificate.
This is a very scarce and fascinating bravery document consisting of 5 award certificates and 3 documents which belonged to a former WW2 German Infantry Senior Non-Commissioned Officer. The scarcity is enhanced by the fact that the reasons for the award of the Iron Cross 1st Class to Wilhelm Kuhnle were typed on the reverse of the award certificate – this is highly unusual.
- The Iron Cross 2nd Class, awarded on 3.8.1941 by Divisional HQ as a Gefreiter. Signed by Schneckenburger as Generalmajor and General Officer Commanding 125 Infantry Division
Schneckenburger was awarded the Knights Cross on 1.8.1942 as Generalleutenant and General Officer Commanding 125th Infantry Division ad the German Cross in Gold on 5.5.1942 as Generalmajor and General Officer Commanding 125th Infantry Division. He died on 14.10.1944 from serious wounds near Belgrade as General of Infantry and General Officer Commanding Corps Group ‘Belgrade’
- The Iron Cross 1st Class, awarded on 20.7.1942 in the Crimea as an Unteroffizier, HQ 1/420th Infantry Regiment. Signed by Fretto-Pico as General of the Artillery and General Officer Commanding XXX Army Corps.
Fretter Pico was awarded the Knights Cross on 26.12.1941 as Generalmajor and General Officer Commanding 97th Jager Division, the 368th Oakleaves on 16.1.1944 as General of Artillery and Officer Commanding XXX Army Corps and the German Cross in Gold on 19.9.1942 as General of Artillery and Officer Commanding XXX Army Corps.
Note: This certificate has the reasons for this award typed out on the reverse – a very scarce occurrence
- The Wound Badge in Black, awarded on 26.8.1942 by Battalion HQ, as an Unteroffizier, 1/420th Infantry Regiment, for a 1st wounding on 24.8.1942. Signed by Kuchle as Oberleutnant and acting Battalion Commander.
- The Infantry Combat Badge in Silver, awarded on 21.9.1942 in the field as an Unteroffizier, HQ 1/420th Infantry Regiment. Signed by an Oberst and Commanding Officer.
- The Crimea (Krim) Shield, awarded by 11th Army HQ on 15.1.1943 as an Unteroffizier, HQ 1/420th Grenadier Regiment. Facsimile Signature of von Manstein as Generalfeldmarschall.
- In the field, 24th April 1943. A Handwritten letter of condolences from a Leutnant Kleewein and acting Company Commander to Wilhelm Kuhnle’s father about the death of his son in action on 17th April 1943. It is very evident that Wilhelm Kuhnle was a well respected and popular SNCO in the Company (3/420). The envelope in which this letter was sent came with document – it was addressed to Wilhelm Kuhnle’s father in Nattheim/Kreis Heidenheim/Brenz
- Nattheim, 24th June 1943. Wilhelm Kuhnle’s death certificate giving details of his birth (9th December 1917 in Nattheim), death (17th April 1943 in Myshako near Novorossiysk) and next of kin (his father was a farmer). The certificate was issued by the Nattheim Registry Office.
- An undated typed three A4 size page document addressed to ‘Dear Relatives of the Fallen, Party Members, National Comrades, Comrades and German Youth’ by what appears to be Senior Party Member. The letter is about Wilhelm Kuhnle and talks about his life – family (parents and sisters) working on the land, Hitler Youth and in 1938 joining the SA and the NSDAP; it then goes on to talk about the outbreak of war and his call up. The writer talks about Kuhnle’s belief in victory and what he was doing and the decorations which he had been awarded. The author reflects on life and death and being as one with the fallen who will not be forgotten. You are left wondering whether this typed text is in fact a copy of a speech which was given in honour of Wilhelm Kuhnle.
Kuhnle was born on 9th December 1917 in Nattheim as the son of a farmer and was killed in action on 17th April 1943 in Myshako near Novorossisyk in the Kuban.
The 420th was detached from its Division in the Mius position and under command of XXX Army Corps on the Crimea during this Corps’ final attack on Sevastopol in June 1942. The award of the Iron Cross 1st Class was for an act of bravery during the very heavy combat involved during this attack on Sevastopol. The reasons are given on the back of his Iron Cross 1st Class award certificate:
‘Unteroffizier Kuhnle particularly distinguished himself with the violent battles of the Battalion on 21.6.1942. Uffz Kuhnle was continuously away, acting as runner he maintained contact with the companies and subordinated heavy weapons. After the loss of the Battalion Adjutant and Ordonnanz Officer through wounding. Uffz Kuhnle independently carried out recces on the enemy. So he advanced up to within 30 metres in front of an enemy bunker in order to establish the precise position for exploitation by the heavy weapons. Through this, the bunker was successfully overcome. Uffz Kuhnle received the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 3.8.1941 for being a decisive runner in the battles near Krasnopolka.’
This signed for correctness by a Leutnant and Commander HQ Personnel.
There is a macabre mention of the 420th Regiment in Paul Carrell’s ‘Hitler’s War on Russia’:
‘A macabre assignment was given to the 420th Infantry Regiment, temporarily placed under command of the 170th Infantry Division. Its task was to storm the old British Cemetery where the dead of the Crimean War were buried. The Soviets had turned the cemetery into a heavy battery emplacement – a gruesome fortress.’ This action took place about the same time as Kuhnle’s cited act of bravery on 21.6.1942.
After the battles in the Crimea, the 260th Infantry Division went on to fight in the Caucasus during the Summer Offensive of 1942, before retreating into the Kuban Bridgehead during the subsequent retreat as a result of the Soviet Post-Stalingrad Counter Offensives, Kuhnle was subsequently killed in action during the Defence of the Kuban on 17th April 1943