Born on August 25th 1919 in Kisdorf in the kreis of Segeberg in Holstein.
Ernst Barkmann was born on August 25th 1919 in the village of Kisdorf in the kreis of Segeberg in Holstein. His father was a farmer and when Ernst finished elementary school in 1935, he began helping his father on the farm. On April 1st 1936, he joined SS-Standarte Germania as a volunteer and after three months of training, Barkmann was given the rank of SS-Mann and joined the Standarte's III. battalion, based at Radolfzell.
Standarte was posted to East Prussia as a part of 14. Armee. When WWII started on September 1st 1939, Barkmann saw action in the invasion of Poland. During the campaign he served as a machine gunner with 3. company of the III. Battalion. He was promoted to SS-Rottenführer and wounded, receiving the Wound Badge in black.
In October 1939, SS-Standarte Germania was used to form a pa rt of the SS-Division (mot.) Verfügungstruppe, along with SS-Standarten Deutschland and Der Führer.
During Fall Weiss, Barkmann earned the Infantry Assault Badge. After the Western Campaign was over, the SS-Verfügungstruppe Division was reorganized. The SS-Standarte Germania was transferre out of the division and along with SS-Standarten Nordland and Westland, formed the backbone of a SS-Division Germania, which was soon to become the Wiking Division. For the loss of Germania, The SS-Verfügungstruppe Division was given a SS-Totenkopfstandarte designated SS-Infanterie Regiment 11. Soon after, the Division changed title from Verfügungstruppe to Deutschland, and soon after that to Reich.
Serving with the Reich divison during the early stages of Unternehmen Barbarossa, barkmann was seriously wounded near Dniepropetrovsk on July 23rd 1941. He spent the rest of the year recovering from his wounds and received the Wound Badge in silver. After his wounds were healed, he was transferred to Holland where he served as an instructor, tasked with training European SS volunteers. However, in early 1942, he volunteered for service with divisional Panzer Regiment. In winter 1942/43 he was sent back to the Eastern front to join the 2. company of the 2.SS-Pz.Reg., a part of 2.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Das Reich.
Upon arrival at the front, Barkmann was posted as gunner to SS-Rottenführer Alfred Hargesheimer in a PzKpfw III Ausf J/1.
Barkmann served with the regiment during the large-scale mobile operations to annihilate Mobile Group Popov. During these battles Barkmann proved to be an excellent gunner. He was promoted to SS-Unterscharfuhrer and given command of his own Panzer III, just in time to take part in the Third Battle of Kharkov, scoring several kills.
In July 1943, division next took part in Zitadelle, the operation to destroy the Kursk salient. Barkmann, saw action during the mammoth tank battles around Prokhorovka. During the offensive, Wehrmacht's Grossdeutscheland Panzer Division had been equipped with the state-of-the-art Panther ausf D tanks. Their combat debut was poor, with many vehicles suffering mechanical probems before entering combat.
After the failure of the offensive, as the division fell back towards the Mius river line, where along with 3.SS-Panzergrenadier-Division Totenkopf it was engaged in ferocious defensive battles. In August, Barkmann was transferred to the fourth company, equipped with the new Panther D's which had by now overcome their early mechanical problems. As a commander of 4. company, Barkmann was responsible for the destruction of many enemy tanks. In the course of these operations, he was awarded both classes of the Iron Cross.
Das Reich division remained on the Eastern front until January 1944. Early in February, the division was ordered to France to refit and to form a part of Panzergruppe West, the armoured reserve for the expected allied invasion. Leaving its remaining armour behind for other divisions to use, the Das Reich was posted to the Bordeaux region. With the exception of several skirmishes with partisans, the refit was uneventful. Barkmann, along with the rest of the division's panzer regiment, was equipped with new model Panthers.
Operation Overlord, the expected allied invasion, was launched on June 6th 1944. When the division was released for action by headdquarters, it was placed on high alert and remained in southern France in case of secondary invasions there. When it became clear that the Normandy invasion was the major allied effort, Das Reich was ordered north to the front. The division's deployment to the front was marked by partisan attacks.
Barkmann and the panzer regiment were not involved with the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane, perpetrated by a Panzergrenadier unit of the division.
The division finally reached the front in early July and was thrown into action against the American forces near St. L. Barkmann, in his Panther (Nr. 424) saw heavy fighting against American M4 Shermans and M5A1 Stuarts in the Bocage. The narrow sunken roads and impassable hedgerows of the bocage meant that the German could estblish a strong defensive line and that the American material advantage could not be exploited.
Barkmann, operating with his platoon or even as a lone panther, caused heavy casualties to the advancing Americans, destroying many tanks and armoured vehicles. On the morning of July 27th, Barkmann found himself in his Panther cut off from the rest of his company. While attempting to reach his unit, he was stopped near the village of Le Lorey where he was told by German infantrymen that the Americans were closing in with a large armoured column. Barkmann positioned his Panther under a stand of Oaks near the crossroads where the American tanks would have to pass.
As the column came into sight, Barkmann knocked out the two lead Shermans and a fuel tanker truck. Next he destroyed two Shermans which had attempted to bypass the burning tanker. The Americans called in fighter-bombers, which damaged Barkmann's Panther and wounded two of his crewmen. Barkmann's next victims were two Shermans that had used the noise of the fighter-bombers as cover to sneak up on the damaged Panther's flank. As Barkmann's crew repaired the Panther, two more Shermans were knocked out. Finally, before leaving, Barkmann destroyed one last Sherman.
During the engagement, which has come to be known as Barkmann's Corner, Barkmann knocked out nine Shermans and several other American vehicles and halted an American armoured attack. For his actions, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
In the Justification of the awarding of the Knight's Cross on 27 July 1944 one reads:
"During the fighting at the invasion front, SS-Unterscharführer Ernst Barkmann with his Panther was left behind to cover two of our down immobilized Panzers. Due to withdrawal movement by his Division, he was separated from our own forces. Barkmann blew up one of the Panzers and took the other one under tow. He reepeatedly crossed American troop movements and knocked out fourteen enemy tanks. During the nights he joined US columns and managed to read his own lines two day later..."
Promoted to SS-Oberscharführer, Barkmann continued his successful career and took part in the Ardennes Offensive in December of 1944, where on December 25th he was seriously wounded. During the Ardennes Offensive, Barkmann's Panther drove into the group of American tanks from the 2nd Armored Division. Quickly combat begun and outnumbered Barkmann managed to knock out few Sherman tanks. One Sherman rammed Barkmann's Panther but didn't cause much damage although both tanks got stuck and the Panther's engine stalled. After few minutes, Barkmann's mechanic managed to restart the engine and Panther retreted with a blocked turret. Despite the damage, Barkmann knocked out the Sherman that was pursuing him and retreated to safety, though his tank was beyond the point of repair.
SS-Oberscharführer Ernst Barkmann, Commander of Panther 401, provides this account of his company's advance toward the village of Manhay during the Ardennes offensive:
'We reached the enemy-occupied crossroads coming from a south-westerly direction, drove on in a double column, and from all our tanks guns brought coordinated fire to bear on the recognisable enemy positions with highexplosive shells. After this surprise bombardment there was hardly any further reaction from the enemy.
'SS-Hauptscharführer Frauscher reported by radio that he was pulling away in order to reach the Manhay road which was to be attacked. While turning off the road, the leading tank in his section received a direct hit and remained out of action. The second Panther was likewise hit. The section was at a standstill. The commander urged us by radio to continue the attack. I was anxious about my comrade Frauscher and his crew.
'To clarify the situation, I sent a brief message to the company commander to say I had decided to pull away, in accordance with what he surely wanted. Without waiting for his reply, we moved on. Making better use of the terrain than its predecessor, Panther 401 reached the road without interference. We crossed over it, and immediately turned in the direction of the enemy. No firing! Using the higher contours of the road both for observation and cover, we went slowly on, parallel with it so as to reach the leading tank which had got stuck and give it protective fire. We couldn't find Frauscher's tank. I learnt by radio that it had changed its position and moved forward again. So we went on under the protection of the high-lying road and after a long time reached the edge of the woods. Under the moonlight shadows of tall pine-trees, we penetrated into the woods along the roadway.
'Fifty metres away, on the right, there was a tank which had moved in, with its commander standing in the turret, and which was apparently waiting for me. Frauscher! I moved up to the tank on its left-hand side. As soon as both turrets were on a level with each other, I gave orders to stop and turn off the motor and started to speak. But in a flash my opposite number disappeared inside the turret and the hatches clanged shut. My neighbour's driver's hatch lifted and then was lowered again. I noticed a winecoloured panel light. But the Panther had a green one. Then I knew that the tank alongside us was an American Sherman.
'Headphones on, I shouted on the tank intercom: "Gunner! The tank alongside is an enemy one. Fire at it". Within seconds, the tank turret turned to the right and the long gun barrel banged against the turret of the Sherman. Gunner to commander: "Can't fire - turret traverse stuck". The driver, SS-Rottenfuehrer Grundmeyer, had been listening and, without any order being given, he started up the motor and pulled back a few yards. Whereupon SS-Unterscharfuehrer Poggendorf, the gunner, loosed off the Panzergranate into the middle of the rear of the enemy tank at a distance of a few yards. I was still standing in the tank turret. A blue flame sprang out from the circular hole in the rear of the Sherman. As I took cover inside the turret 1 heard the detonation.
'We moved on past the burning tank. From a clearing in the forest on the right two more enemy tanks came at us. We fired immediately. The first one gave out black smoke and came no further. The second one likewise came to a halt.
'No radio contact could be made with the company. We went on nevertheless, supposing that Frauscher's tank had been hit in front of us, and that the enemy tanks which had just been shot up were lying in wait on the edge of the forest and were now trying to make contact with their own units in their rear. But we had become more careful now.
'As everything remained quiet, we still moved on and on. The forest was getting light. Then suddenly there was a wide area in front of us that was clear of trees - a real forest meadow. The road ran around it in a large S-shaped curve and disappeared into a downward slope between the trees on the opposite side.
'I caught my breath. In the open grassy area in front of us I counted nine enemy tanks close beside each other. They all had the muzzles of their guns pointing threateningly at our tanks which till then had been moving unsuspectingly directly towards them. Our driver Grundmeyer recognised the danger. He was really taken aback. Standing still or retreating would be suicidal. Only bluff could still save us. So it was a question of escaping in a forwards direction. And the commander's orders to the driver were: "Move on ahead without reducing speed". Perhaps we would succeed in passing around them without being recognised because they were thinking that we were their own tanks. We advanced along the bend, showing them the full length of our sides and with nine turrets threatening us. Their gunners really had us in the bag. But not a shot was fired. As soon as we were on their flank and I could pick out the backs of all the enemy tanks drawn up behind each other, I called a halt. We had the best firing position and in fact had only one enemy tank to deal with. All the rest were blocking each other's field of fire. I let the turret swing round to 3 o'clock (to the right) so as to let the gunner get the targets in his sights. And then I couldn't believe my eyes. Those Ami crews jumped out, rushed headlong from their tanks, and charged into the shelter of part of the forest that lay behind them.
'This changed the situation for us once again. I knew now that Frauscher's tank was behind me, was aware of the company's combat plans, and had come to grips with an adversary who, in nightfighting at least, was inexperienced and could be thrown into confusion. We had to make use of this advantage in the context of the entire operation. Radio contact with the company was still unobtainable. 'All on my own I decided to have the turret turned to 12 o'clock (to the line of advance) and gave the order: "Tanks forward!" We would have been happy to knock out the enemy tanks but this would have alerted the whole enemy front. Also, our friend Frauscher who followed us took care of that. According to his report, the tanks were kept busy once again. He bagged all nine of them.
'We moved on towards Manhay. The forest closed in on us again. Singly at first, then in groups and columns, there were American infantry pulling out on to the road from the right side of the forest. For reasons I couldn't understand, the enemy was disengaging. We were moving through the middle of them without taking any special care. My crew, and especially my driver, needed some clarification regarding the situation in which we found ourselves. My young troops were very tensed up indeed, but wonderfully calm, as always in such dangerous situations. The American soldiers were avoiding us, jumping to one side, cursing and threatening us, but they didn't recognise us as German tanks, though I was standing upright out of the cupola and looking down at them. Beneath the squares of the pattern of the camouflage netting their steel helmets were shining in the moonlight. Their faces were haggard. Then the dawn broke over the forest. Suddenly, there were houses on the left and right of the road. We had reached Manhay. So as to continue unrecognised, we increased our speed.
The buildings became denser. There were tanks and lorries which had arrived at the house and signs of activity in front of a lighted cafe - surely a staff headquarters. Scurrying soldiers enlivened the picture. We drove right through the middle of them - with them even making room to let us through.
'Then we found ourselves at the crossroads. The left-hand road led through Grandmenil to Erezee, the objective for the company's attack. From this direction, three Sherman tanks rolled forwards at us. I refrained from turning aside, and continued to drive straight on over the crossroads towards Liege Anything to get out of the village! And then turn round at some point so as to join up with the attacking company again, or at least get back into its area of radio contact. That was what we were trying to do. Till then, not a single shot had been fired - either by the enemy or by us. To start an exchange of fire would have been mad and would have doomed us. The danger had not yet been staved off; it was just beginning. On our right, in the direction of the crossroads, there was one enemy tank behind another and all Shermans of the worst type. And always in groups of nine or twelve, behind each other in company formation. In the gaps between them there were jeeps - company commander vehicles. The crews had sat down and were smoking and chatting near their tanks. There was one enemy company after another, all in rows. I gave up trying to count them but estimate the number of tanks at eighty or more.
'We had no choice left, we had to get past them. The American soldiers jumped aside. Before long they recognised us as German, but not until we were already past them. Behind us motors were whirring and tank turrets turning but thank God that one tank was blocking the view and field of fire of another one. I had egg hand-grenades distributed in case we had to abandon the tank, lit up a smoke generator, and let it roll over the rear on to the road. Thick smoke was screening us from behind. The situation was becoming increasingly unpleasant.
'My gun loader Karl Keller pulled me gently down out of the cupola in which 1 had till then been standing exposed, and turned up the collar of my camouflage jacket. Pointing to my Knight's Cross, he said, "It shines too much in the moonlight....'He had been watching me the whole time from the dark fighting compartment below, and had judged what was happening outside from the expression on my face. His MG position had rows of machine gun belts with tracer bullets hanging beside each other in it.
'The gunner was pressing his face against the optical gunsight, thus having the possibility to see at least something through the narrow field it offered. His hand was grasping the lever operating the turret traverse mechanism.
'The driver suddenly said: "There's a car coming at us from in front". My head went outside again. It was true. There was a jeep moving along towards us. And there was a man who must have been an officer standing in it and frantically waving a signal disc. "Hes trying to stop us", I thought. "He's been ordering us to do that for a long time already as he approached. Is the man a hero or a maniac?" Then the driver was given the order: "Run the jeep over!" My driver acknowledged it. The jeep driver reacted, realised that his situation was critical, stopped, and accelerated in reverse. A wild chase began. The officer stopped signalling. Yard by yard the distance narrowed. Then there was a crash. Our right track had caught the jeep and overrun it. The occupants tried to jump off.
'Our Panther was thrown off the road by the impact and came to rest with all its weight against the nearest Sherman. I was flung halfway out of the turret. My headphones rolled away over the roof of the turret and were left dangling. My cap remained as a memento for those outside. Our engine stalled. Our big rumbler had ended up with its righthand driving sprocket embedded in the tracks of the enemy tank and stuck fast. After a moment of shock, all hell broke loose outside. Bullets from infantry weapons were zipping round my ears and forced me to take cover in the turret. The driver vainly tried to make the motor's starter work. I fished up the indispensable headgear - microphone and headphones - from over the edge of the turret and considered all the possible ways in which we could save ourselves. But was there still any way out?
'Leaving the tank or defending ourselves with our turret weapons would in fact lead to the same result - either death or capture. So I had an urgent word with the driver. He was obviously concentrating on his job. The batteries were recharging themselves. After a few misfires, the engine came to life. We all breathed freely again. "Move backwards!" Slowly and carefully, and without the track coming adrift, the Panther disengaged itself from the Sherman and swung out on to the road. The smoke pouring from a smoke generator scared the Amis away. "Move forward!" Under cover of the smoke we moved on again. All along the level road we went past tanks and still more tanks, columns of trucks, supply vehicles including two halftracks, trucks belonging to a medical unit with a bus for operations, until we at last reached open country. The houses of Manhay lay behind us. The way to Liege lay open for us. Where I now longed to be was up with the spearheads of my company with my tank unit behind them.
'As I noticed that there were vehicles following us, the gunner swung the turret to 6 o'clock and as we moved along loosed off high-explosive shells back in their direction and into the village. After about 300 metres, I halted our '401', had the engine switched off, and listened to the sounds coming out of the night. 'From Manhay were coming the sounds of motors and the noise of tanks on the move. We had thrown the Americans into total confusion at their assembly point. In the distance, I could hear the sounds of fighting.
'Enemy vehicles were following us again, including a Sherman, but we shot them up with accurate shell-fire. Burning vehicles were blocking the road for the others. A couple of hundred metres further on, we repeated the exercise. As we then changed course again towards the north, we left the road and, on a bend, found a well hidden firing position with a good view of the road. Here I stopped to let my crew get down. They stood around my turret gulping in the air. I looked at their grinning faces. Everything had worked out alright again.
'As the sounds of fighting came nearer, we heard the ringing crack of the Panther guns. It was like music to our ears. The company was attacking Manhay. The radio operator was tuning his frequency adjuster. "German Tiger! German Tigers!", we heard. "Help!, help!", coming through on some enemy channel in our combat area. So our Panzer Vs were being taken for Tiger tanks, though there was not a single one of these in action on this sector of the front. 'The enemy was under severe pressure and was carrying out a mass disengagement, westwards towards Grandmenil and in a north-easterly direction towards Vaux-Chavanne. We scattered the enemy vehicles pressing us with our guns and many of these vehicles drove off the road into open country and got stuck in the snow.
'Manhay was taken by our troops in a relatively short time and our '401' had played a part in this. The way to Liege lay open before us. We followed the advance on Grandmenil from the sounds of the fighting, then left our firing position and moved slowly back to Manhay past burning vehicles. There was not a German tank to meet us at the entrance to the village. Instead there were hemmed-in and abandoned American tanks and vehicles. The Sherman tanks which had capitulated were standing in the front gardens, between and behind the houses. We counted twenty of them.'
In March 1945, Ernst Barkmann was once again fighting with Soviets in the area of town Stuhlweissenburg., where he knocked out four T-34 tanks and brought the total score of the Das Reich division for the war so far to 3000 enemy tanks destroyed. At the time Das Reich was exhausted by non-stop fighting and lack of replacement vehicles.
During the fighting at Vienna, Fourth company was to link up with the remnants of the Panzer Regiment of the 1.SS-Pz.Div. LSSAH, commanded by SS-Standartenführer Jochen Peiper. Here from Barkmann's own report:
"The 4.Panzerkompanie was securing the loading of the II. Pz. Abt. "DR", with minimal fuel left in the tanks. The Russians pushed across the rail lie to the north at the moment the company, as the last unit to be loaded, found itself in a trap without fuel.
With great difficulties we secured the required fuel from the closest airfield and reported to the nearest Heer Armeekorps with the ten Panthers of the 4.SS Pz.Kp.
During the same night we were sent into a counterattack with an armored unit of the Heer and lost two Panthers during the withdrawal. The unit of the Heer was annihilated during the counterattack. Left to our own resources, we forded a shallow river, crossed a railroad embankment and pushed through the enemy spearheads to establish contact with the 1. SS-Panzer-Division "LAH", engaged in rear guard action, and reported to the Panzerregiment.
Obersturmbannfuhrer Peiper wanted to take over our eight Panzers. His whole regiment consisted of only ten Panzers ready for action. He had plenty of crews without Panzers.
We were supposed to fight our way to our own units without our Panzers. He was dreaming! We would not hand over our Panzers. Then he lectured us that he usually treated his guests gently but in this situation he could not show us any special concern and we would get to know the fierceness and morale of his unit the hardway. My company leader, Untersturmfuhrer Knocke, nudged me.
During the next days, until 28 March, we proved to our good Obersturmbannführer Peiper that the fighting spirit of the Panzers of "Das Reich" was not second to that of the "LAH" and we became close friends. We were then securing the withdrawal to the left and right of the main route,always engaging the enemy, and unbelieveable and dangerous situations occurred. We held positions on hilltopsduring the day, were written off and forgotten, and had to fight our way back through towns occupied by the enemy in order to link up again with our troops.
When one platoon became bogged down in a firefight, the other came to its aid and helped fight its way out. During an attack by nine T-34s in the early dawn, enemy tanks pushed past us to the left and right and attacked us from all sides. The bravest T-34 broke through us right on the main route and rammed one of our Panthers before my gunner blew its turret from its hull. We were successful in knocking out all nine T-34s. All anti-tank action took place without support from the infantry; we were the fire fighters. Despite a damaged gun barrel we knocked out a Josef Stalin tank from a position on a back slope and towed two of our Panthers, which had taken hits from it, from the battleground. The enemy pushed back the "LAH" northwest of Lake Neusiedler in the direction of the Vienna woods.
After two Panthers, my own included, were disabled by direct hits, we blew both up in sight of the enemy. We said goodbye to Jochen Peiper and reached Panzerregiment 2 "DR" in the Esterhazy area on 28/3/1945. We had long been written off."
Ernst Barkmann was able to reach the British lines, where he surrendered on May 8th 1945. During the war he destroyed or disabled 82+ enemy tanks, 136 miscellaneous AFV's and 43 AT guns. He received the following awards and decorations:
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
- Iron Cross 1. Class
- Iron Cross 2. Class
- Wound Badge in Silver
- Wound Badge in Black
- Infantry Assault badge
- Panzer Assault Badge
Ernst Barkmann survived the war and lives in Kisdorf, Germany, where he was the town mayor and the fire-chief.
Article Submitted by Andrej Kragolnik.