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Josef Lainer
File:Josef Lainer.jpg
Sepp Lainer
Nickname Sepp
Born (1920-03-13)March 13, 1920
Died 4 September 2002(2002-09-04) (aged 82)
Place of birth Brixen im Thale, Austria
Place of death Vienna, Austria
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Flag Schutzstaffel.svg Waffen-SS
Years of service 1937–1945
Rank Hauptscharführer
Unit 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Iron Cross 1st Class
German Cross in Gold
Close Combat Clasp in Gold

Josef Lainer was a Hauptscharführer (Master Sergeant) in the Waffen-SS during World War II who was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership by Nazi Germany during World War II. He was also awarded the very rare Close Combat Clasp in Gold one of only 631 awards and he twice escaped from captivity when being held as a prisoner of war.

Early years

Josef Lainer, was born on the March 1920 at Brixen im Thale in Austria, in his early years he was a baker's apprentice until after his eighteenth birthday when he volunteered to join the SS-VT, taking part in the occupation of the Sudetenland in 1938.[1]

World War II

Lainer was not involved in the Polish Campaign but by 1940 he was part of the 2nd Company, SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment Der Führer, Das Reich Division and participated in the invasion of the Netherlands and the Battle of France as a Rottenführer (Senior Corporal) in command of a machine gun group.[2]


At the beginning of 1941 Lainer had been promoted to Unterscharführer (Sergeant) and took part in the invasion of Russia (Operation Barbarossa) in June 1941, where he received his first wound on the 8 July being hit by shell splinters. He also received his first medal the Iron Cross 2nd class.[3]

Lainer returned to the front within hours and was involved in 15 battles which included the battles at Smolensk, Kiev, Gomel and the outskirts of Moscow.[3]

In the Autumn battle outside of Moscow, Lainer was again wounded three times in two hours, twice shot in the arm which was also fractured, which resulted in Lainer being admitted to hospital and it was the skill of the surgeons that prevented the amputation of the arm.[4]

These injuries gained Lainer the Wound Badge in Silver and the Infantry Assault Badge. After his release from hospital Lainer was assigned to a training company in Germany, returning to the Das Reich which was still in Russia, in the spring of 1943.[3]

Lainer was awarded the Iron Cross 1st class in the defensive battles at Kiev and days later was again shot in the arm refusing to leave the front Lainer was promoted to Oberscharführer (Technical Sergeant) and given command of a platoon in the 2nd Company, a position normally held by an officer.[3]

Knight's Cross award

In August 1943 Lainer was involved in the Battle of Kharkov and the action the resulted in the award of the Knight's Cross.

Located in the village of Korotich, Lainer's unit came under attack by the Russians. His unit had taken over an abandoned Russian tank which they used to counter attack the Russian positions. During the assault Lainer was again wounded by shrapnel from a Russian hand grenade, but they did manage to stop the Russian attack.[5]

That night they were attacked by a company of Russians, but managed to hold them off. The Russians attacked again and again, for five days. On the sixth day the Russians put in an attack in strength, using tanks. Lainer had deployed his men in the minefield in front of the German line to fight off this attack. During these battles Lainer was twice slightly wounded, for which he received the Wound Badge in Gold.[6]

For these actions Lainer was awarded the Knight's Cross in October 1943, and was congratulated by Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein, the commander of the Army Group.[7] He was also awarded the Close Combat Clasp in Gold for having spent 54 days in combat, he was the seventh person to receive the Gold award and only the third NCO.[3]


Lainer was now promoted to Hauptscharführer (Master Sergeant) in January 1944 and moved with the Das Reich Division to France, where he would lead his men against the British and American forces in Normandy.

In August 1944 in the battles around Avranches, Lainer was captured by the Americans, but escaped three days later through a gap in the barbed wire fence surrounding the prisoner of war camp.After two days spent evading the Allied forces he reached the front line, but was discovered trying to cross into German territory and again went into captivity.[3]

Post war

In 1946 Lainer was released by the Americans, but was re-arrested by the French and made to carry out dangerous de-mining operations. At the end of 1946 he escaped again and returned to his hometown in Austria.[3]

Josef Lainer died on 4 September 2002.[3]



  1. Kurowski, p.129
  2. Kurowski, p.137
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 "personregister". 
  4. Kurowski, pp.156 – 157
  5. Kurowski, p.177
  6. Kurowski, p,155
  7. Kurowski, p.166
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Kurowski 2002, p. 189.
  9. Kurowski 2002, p. 190.
  10. Fellgiebel 2000, pp. 282, 496.
  11. Scherzer 2007, p. 489.
  • Berger, Florian (2004) (in German). Ritterkreuzträger mit Nahkampfspange in Gold [Knight's Cross Bearers with the Close Combat Clasp in Gold]. Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-3-7. 
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000) (in German). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches]. Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6. 
  • Kurowski, Franz (2005). Infantry Aces. Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-3202-9.
  • Mattson, Gregory (2002). SS-The realm. The History of the Second SS division, 1939–45. Staplehurst. ISBN 1-86227-144-5.
  • Scherzer, Veit (2007) (in German). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives]. Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2. 

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