The Teutonic Knights of
The Iron Cross of Germany
The Iron Cross was a military
decoration of the Kingdom of Prussia, and later of Germany, which was established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia
and first awarded on 10 March 1813 in Breslau. In addition to during the Napoleonic Wars, the Iron Cross was awarded during
the Franco-German War, the First World War, and the Second World War.
The Iron Cross was normally a military decoration only, though there were instances of it being awarded to civilians for performing
military functions. Two examples, the civilian pilot Hanna Reitsch was awarded the Iron Cross First Class for her bravery
as a test pilot during the Second World War and Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg (also a German female test pilot)
was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. The Iron Cross was
also used as the symbol of the German Army from 1871 to 1915, when it was replaced by a simpler Greek cross. In 1956, the
Iron Cross became the symbol of the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces.
and Creation of The Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is a black four-pointed cross with white trim, with the arms widening towards the ends, similar
to a cross pattée. It was designed by the neoclassical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel and reflects the cross borne
by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century. The ribbon for the 1813, 1870 and 1914 Iron Cross (2nd Class) was black with
two thin white bands, the colours of Prussia. The noncombatant version of this award had the same medal, but the black and
white colours on the ribbon were reversed. Initially the Iron Cross was worn with the blank side out. This did not change
until 1838 when the sprig facing could be presented.
Since the Iron Cross was issued over several different periods of German history, it was annotated with the
year indicating the era in which it was issued. For example, an Iron Cross from the First World War bears the year "1914",
while the same decoration from the Second World War is annotated "1939". The reverse of the 1870, 1914 and 1939
series of Iron Crosses have the year "1813" appearing on the lower arm, symbolizing the year the award was created.
The 1813 decoration also has the initials "FW" for King Frederick William III, while the next two have a "W"
for the respective kaisers, Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II. The final version shows a swastika.
It was also possible for a holder of the 1914 Iron Cross to be awarded a second or
higher grade of the 1939 Iron Cross. In such cases, a "1939 Clasp" (Spange) would be worn on the original 1914 Iron
Cross. (A similar award was made in 1914 but was quite rare, since there were few in service who held the 1870 Iron Cross.)
For the First Class award the Spange appears as an eagle with the date "1939" that was pinned above the Cross. Although
two separate awards, in some cases the holders soldered them together. A cross was the symbol of the Teutonic Knights (a heraldic
cross pattée), and the cross design (but not the specific decoration) has been the symbol of Germany's armed forces
(now the Bundeswehr) since 1871.
The Early Awards of The Order of The Iron Cross
The Iron Cross was founded on 10 March 1813 in Breslau and awarded
to soldiers during the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon. It was first awarded to Karl August Ferdinand von Borcke on 21
April 1813. King Wilhelm I of Prussia authorized further awards on 19 July 1870, during the Franco-German War. Recipients
of the 1870 Iron Cross who were still in service in 1895 were authorized to purchase a 25-year clasp consisting of the numerals
"25" on three oak leaves. The Iron Cross was reauthorized by Emperor Wilhelm II on 5 August 1914, at the start of
the First World War. During these three periods, the Iron Cross was an award of the Kingdom of Prussia, although given Prussia's
pre-eminent place in the German Empire formed in 1871, it tended to be treated as a generic German decoration. The 1813, 1870,
and 1914 Iron Crosses had three grades:
* Iron Cross 2nd Class (German: Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse)
* Iron Cross 1st Class (German: Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse)
* Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, often simply Großkreuz)
Although the medals of each class were identical, the manner
in which each was worn differed. Employing a pin or screw posts on the back of the medal, the Iron Cross First Class was worn
on the left side of the recipient's uniform. The Grand Cross and the Iron Cross Second Class were suspended from different
The Grand Cross was intended
for senior generals of the German Army. An even higher decoration, the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, was awarded
only twice, to Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher in 1813 and to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg in 1918. A third award
was planned for the most successful German general during the Second World War, but was not made after the defeat of Germany
The Iron Cross 1st Class and
the Iron Cross 2nd Class were awarded without regard to rank. One had to already possess the 2nd Class in order to receive
the 1st Class (though in some cases both could be awarded simultaneously). The egalitarian nature of this award contrasted
with those of most other German states (and indeed many other European monarchies), where military decorations were awarded
based on the rank of the recipient. For example, Bavarian officers received various grades of that Kingdom's Military Merit
Order (Militär-Verdienstorden), while enlisted men received various grades of the Military Merit Cross (Militär-Verdienstkreuz).
Prussia did have other orders and medals which were awarded on the basis of rank, and even though the Iron Cross was intended
to be awarded without regard to rank, officers and NCOs were more likely to receive it than junior enlisted soldiers.
In the First World War, approximately four million Iron Crosses
of the lower grade (2nd Class) were issued, as well as around 145,000 of the higher grade (1st Class). Exact numbers of awards
are not known, since the Prussian archives were destroyed during the Second World War. The multitude of awards reduced the
status and reputation of the decoration. Among
the holders of the 1914 Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class was Adolf Hitler, who held the rank of Gefreiter.
The Iron Cross in the Second World War
The Iron Cross was restored in 1939 as a German decoration
(rather than Prussian as in earlier versions), continuing the tradition of issuing it in various grades. Legally it is based
on the enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 1573 of 1 September 1939 Verordnung über die Erneuerung des Eisernen Kreuzes
(Regulation of the renewing of the Iron Cross). The Iron Cross of the Second World War was divided into three main series
of decorations with an intermediate category, the Knight's Cross, instituted between the lowest, the Iron Cross, and the highest,
the Grand Cross. The Knight's Cross replaced the Prussian Pour le Mérite or "Blue Max". The ribbon of the
medal (2nd class and Knight's Cross) was different from the earlier Iron Crosses in that the color red was used in addition
to the traditional black and white (black and white were the colours of Prussia, while black, white, and red were the colors
of Germany). A further grade was created, the War Merit Cross as a replacement for the non-combatant version of the Iron Cross.
The edges were curved, like most original iron crosses. After the Second World War the Iron Cross, ceased to be awarded and
has since been replaced by the Honor Cross of the Bundeswehr for Bravery as Germany's foremost Honour for military bravery
The Iron Cross in the Present Day
The Iron Cross has been formally re-established by Decree
and Sanction of the Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order, on the 10th of March 2010, (over 197 years to the day when it was first
awarded by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia), as an official Award of Honour of the Teutonic Order of Knights, to be
held under the protection and authority of the Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order, from the date of the Decree issued, The
Award is conferred in its original grades of knighthood being, * Iron Cross 2nd Class (German: Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse) *
Iron Cross 1st Class (German: Eisernes Kreuz 1. Klasse) * Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Großkreuz des Eisernen
Kreuzes, often simply Großkreuz). The 1st Class and 2nd Class grades of the Order are awarded to those who have shown
bravery and valour and thus who are considered worthy of the Iron Cross, by the Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order, whereas
the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross is awarded as a personal gift of the Hochmeister to international high ranking officials
befitting such an award. The present Hochmeister has assumed the Rank and Grade of Sovereign Knight of the Order and Award
of the Iron Cross, holding the rank of Knight Grand Cross of the Iron Cross.