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Panzer Gefreiter Gerhard Furstenau 25th Panzer Grenadier Division

Gerry was born in 1925 and was just 14 when WW2 started. He was the hull machine gunner / radio operator in a Panther tank. Four of Gerrys Panthers were destroyed with him in them. He was decorated for bravery with the Panzer Assault badge in silver and the Iron Cross 2nd Class. He ended the war by walking back to the American lines and into captivity. He was the ripe old age of 19.

He remembers when the SS recruiting Officer came to give him and 200 other boys in his town the big join the ranks talk. He was 17 and had enough sense to volunteer for anything else except the Waffen SS. He said that the SS Officer was furious when all but about the first 3 boys said that they were going to join the Luftwaffe or Kriegsmarine. You see after the first 2 or 3 boys said I'll join the infantry or artillery the SS officer said we have infantry and we have artillery. The rest of the boys quickly said that they would join the other arms of service.

Gerry joined the ranks of the "RAD / Reich Arbeit Dienst" which was a Labour Corps. It gave the boys discipline and really was a preparation ground for military service. He knew that there was no way around joining the armed forces so Gerry volunteered for the Panzers". "I saw the infantry marching in 40 above heat and 40 below cold. No way was I going to walk in that".

Gerry was accepted in the Panzer force and was sent for extensive wireless training in Denmark for 6 months. He trained on the Panzer III and the Panther. His specialty and traning was to be a radio operator and hull machine gunner. "They gave me 1500 rounds for my gun and sometimes I used them all up".

After receiving his training he was sent to join his unit which would first see action in Overloon, Holland. It was here that Gerry and his crew destroyed 3 Churchill tanks and 4 Shermans before his Panther was also destroyed. The tank took a round into the side killing the loader and wounding the gunner and commander. The tank got hit so hard that Gerry passed out. He came to when the driver started yelling I can't get out. Gerry opened up his hatch and all of the smoke started to billow out. "I took in a big breath of fresh air and jumped out. I pased out again in front of the tank. The driver also got out".

From here Gerry was next to see service in a Sherman tank for a short while. The Sherman tank and an assault gun and 25 men were sent to guard a small town. Nothing too eventful occurred here.

The next major battle was "Operation Nordwind" which took place on December 31st, 1944 in Alsace & Lorraine. Gerrys unit was again refitted with Panthers in fact 33 in all. The commanders tank had radio trouble and he and his crew had to use the tank that Gerry was in. That meant that Gerry would have to take the defective tank back for repairs. "The Officer was a Cavalry guy and wore his spurs in the tank". The attack commenced and 26 Panthers were destroyed that first day. This left only 6 other tanks and Gery and his crew were back into action on the second day. This is where Gerrys tank was hit and disabled. Again he escaped to fight another day.

After Nordwind it was back into action elsewhere. The unit mounted onto train cars with 5 tanks and a few other vehicles. Gerry was on his way to Berlin. The train engineer would not proceed right into Berlin because of the heavy fighting. Without ramps the 5 Panthers dismounted and proceeded to attack the Russians. This battle was known as "Seelow Heights" and was extremely fierce. It was here that Gerry was in 2 different Panthers. One was destroyed and the other one was hit in the side jamming the turret ring. This was a stroke of luck as this Panther had to be taken back to get repaired. This was May 2nd, 1945 only 6 days before the war would be over.

Gerry and his crew drove back to get repairs but there was no crane in the vicinity to remove the huge turret. They were told to go further back and in doing so ran out of gas. The crew walked to the American lines and into captivity. Later on Gerry decided that he would try to get deeper into Germany and further away from the Russian advance. He did so and eventually found a small vilage where he could hide out. He still wore his black Panzer uniform but by now had removed all of the telltale insignia. Eventually he found some civilian work clothes and discarded his Panzer uniform. "At the ripe old age of 19 my war was over".

The Panzer Assault Badge in Silver or the Panzerkampfabzeichen in Silber was established on December 20th, 1939. The Panzer Assault Badge in Silver was dedicated to tank crews or tank units. Later there was also a Panzer Assault Badge in Bronze established for members of other units of tank divisions.

The prerequisite for awarding were at least three tank interventions or actions in three different days. There were around 22,000 Panzer Assault Badges in Silver awarded.