By summer 1942, in july, at the age of just 19 years, Günter Halm was serving as a gunlayer in the anti-tank platoon of the HQ Company of Panzergrenadier Regiment 104, part of 21.Panzer Division, with Rommel’s Afrikakorps. His unit took part in Operation Theseus, also known as the Battle of Gazala, previous step for the capture of Tobruk. As Gefreiter, on the 15th of July 1942, after destroying his first 2 British tanks at the Battle of Bir Hatcheim, Gunther Halm was awarded the Iron Cross II class.
In July 1942 the Axis forces in North Africa reached the high water mark of their advance towards the Suez Canal, being checked at the British defensive line created south of El Alamein, Egypt, by General Auchinleck in the so-called ‘First Battle of Alamein’. On the night of 21/22July, Auchinleck unleashed his 13 Corps in Operation 'Splendour’ against German positions on Ruweisat Ridge, where elements of 21.Pz Div came under heavy attack. pzGren Regt 104’s platoon of two 7.62cm anti-tank guns (captured Soviet anti-tank guns, which the Wehrmacht designated as the PAK 36 or PAK 36(r), and were colloquially known at the ‘Ratsch-Bumm’) commanded by Leutnant Skubovius, was in a defensive position covering a 300-metre-long wadi (dried watercourse) a few kilometres from the regiment’s tactical HQ; No.1 gun was commanded by Unteroffizier Jabeck, with Gefreiter Halm as his gunlayer.
After prolonged British shelling during the morning of the 22nd, dust and smoke blinded the gun crews to the approach of the British 23rd Armoured Brigade, and they only spotted the Valentine tanks of 40th Royal Tank Regt when they were little more than 100 metres away. Halm and his comrades reacted to their commander’s orders instantly, and a furious duel broke out. Serving their guns at frantic speed and under continuous fire, Halm’s crew knocked out nine enemy tanks and disabled a further six within just a few minutes. Several 2-pdr shells struck their gun position, damaging the shield and wounding the crew, particularly the loader, and one passed right between Halm’s legs without touching him. The Valentines were forced to withdraw, but continued to fire, and a shell eventually finally destroyed the sights of Halm’s gun before Luftwaffe dive-bombers and PzKw IV tanks of 21.Pz Div arrived in support. 23rd Armd Bde was effectively wiped out, losing about 93 of its 104 tanks. His efforts had essentially blunted the British counter-attack in a matter of minutes. On the 23rd July 1942 Halm received the Iron Cross I from the regimental commnader Oberst Ewert.
Normally only those who already wore both the Second and First Classes of the Iron Cross could be considered for the higher grades. However, such was his colonel’s delight at the calm performance under fire of this very young private soldier that. On 29 July 1942, Gunther Halm became the youngest serviceman yet to receive the coveted Knight’s Cross, being decorated simultaneously with both grades of the Iron Cross. On the 7th of August 1942 General Rommel awarded Gunther Halm the Knights Cross himself, and also at the same time he was given a verbal promotion by Rommel to Corporal, who Rommel was accompanied by the Italian Marshal Ugo Cavallero, General d.Pz.Tr. Walther K. Nehring, commanding general DAK Wilhelm Ritter v. Thoma, and Rommel's chief of staff, Oberst i.G. Kurt Westphal.
Halm continued to serve in North Africa. His promotion to Unteroffizier soon followed in the November of 1942, before being wounded twice; the first being in December 1942 and then again March 1943. In March 1943 is was hospitalised in Athens and Vienna, he became a Fahnenjunker in July 1943.
In August 1943, he completed Fallschirmjäger course at Wischau. In October 1943 he was promoted to Feldwebel and in November 1943 to Oberfähnrich. In March 1944 he was serving in France as ordnance officer with the PanzerGrenadier-Regiment 192 of the 21. Panzer Divison. He saw fierce action in Normandy following the Allied landings in June 1944. On 24 August 1944 Leutnant Halm was captured by US troops during the fighting in the Falaise Pocket and became a prisoner of war. He was shipped to a POW camp in the United States. He was eventually released from captivity in 1946.
Günter Halm was born on 27 August 1922 at Elze, Lower Saxony. He lives nowadays. Working in conjunction with Paul Carell, Halm published his biography in 2012: Ein Grenadier entscheidet eine Schlacht. Die Erinnerungen von Günter Halm, dem jüngsten Ritterkreuzträger des Afrikakorps, (A Gunner Resolves A Battle, the memories of Günter Halm, youngest bearer of the Africa Corps' Knight's Cross).
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