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The Knights of the Order of The Pour le Mérite
 
The Pour le Mérite, known informally during World War I as the Blue Max (German: Blauer Max), was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order until the end of World War I. The award was a blue-enameled Maltese Cross with eagles between the arms based on the symbol of the Johanniter Order, the Prussian royal cypher, and the French legend Pour le Mérite ("for Merit") arranged on the arms of the cross. The Pour le Mérite was first founded in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia, named in French, the language of the Prussian royal court at the time. Until 1810, the Order was both a civilian and military honor. In January of that year, King Frederick William III decreed that the award could be presented only to serving military personnel. The Pour le Mérite is correctly called an "order", in which a man or woman is admitted into membership, and should not be referred to as a "medal" or "decoration".
 
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The History of The Order

In March 1813, Frederick William III added an additional distinction, a spray of gilt oak leaves attached above the cross. Award of the oak leaves originally indicated extraordinary achievement in battle, and was usually reserved for high-ranking officers. The original regulations called for the capture or successful defense of a fortification, or victory in a battle. By World War I, the oak leaves often indicated a second or higher award of the Pour le Mérite, though in most cases the recipients were still high-ranking officers (usually distinguished field commanders fitting the criteria above; the few lower ranking recipients of the oak leaves were mainly general staff officers responsible for planning a victorious battle or campaign). In early 1918, it was proposed to award the oak leaves to Germany's top flying ace, Manfred von Richthofen, but he was deemed ineligible under a strict reading of the regulations. Instead, Prussia awarded von Richthofen a slightly less prestigious honor, the Order of the Red Eagle, 3rd Class with Crown and Swords. This was still a high honor, as the 3rd Class was normally awarded to colonels and lieutenant colonels, and von Richthofen's award was one of only two of the 3rd Class with Crown and Swords during World War I.

In 1866, a special military Grand Cross class of the award was established. This grade of the award was given to those who, through their actions, caused the retreat or destruction of an army. There were only five awards of the Grand Cross: to King Wilhelm I in 1866, to Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia (later Emperor Frederick III) and Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia in 1873, to Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1878, and to Helmuth Graf von Moltke in 1879.

The Pour le Mérite gained international fame during World War I. Although it could be awarded to any military officer, its most famous recipients were the pilots of the German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte), whose exploits were celebrated in wartime propaganda. In aerial warfare, a fighter pilot was initially entitled to the award upon downing eight enemy aircraft. Aces Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke were the first airmen to receive the award, on January 12, 1916. Because of Immelmann's renown among his fellow pilots and the nation at large, the Pour le Mérite became known, due to its color and this early famous recipient, as the Blue Max. The number of aerial victories necessary to receive the award continued to increase during the war; by early 1917, it generally required destroying 16 enemy airplanes, and by war's end the approximate figure was 30. However, other aviation recipients included Zeppelin commanders, bomber and observation aircrews, and at least one balloon observer.

Although many of its famous recipients were junior officers, especially pilots, more than a third of all awards in World War I went to generals and admirals. Junior officers (army captains and lieutenants and their navy equivalents) accounted for only about 25% of all awards. Senior officer awards tended to be more for outstanding leadership in combat than for individual acts of bravery. Recipients of the Blue Max were required to wear the award whenever in uniform. The Order became extinct with Kaiser William II's abdication as King of Prussia on 9 November 1918, and was never awarded again to a new member. A new civil creation and version of the order, was created in 1952, by the President of West Germany, Theodor Heuss, for accomplishments in the arts and sciences, which still exists in the Federal Republic of Germany, today.

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The Teutonic Order of the Pour le Mérite

The Military Order of the Pour le Mérite (Blue Max), has been formally re-established by Decree and Sanction of the Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order, on the 1st of March 2010, 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 the following Two Grades with Two separate additions of Knighthood being, *Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Pour le Mérite with Oak Leaves or *without Oak Leaves, *Knight of the Order of the Pour le Mérite with Crown (for long service) or * without Crown or *with Oak leaves or *without Oak Leaves, The Two Grades of the Order are awarded to those persons who have shown one or all of the following attributes, a high standard of Valour, Bravery, Long Service, and Loyalty and thus who are considered worthy of the Teutonic Order of the Pour le Mérite, by the Hochmeister of the Teutonic Order, whereas the Rank of the Order being, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Pour le Mérite, 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 of the Pour le Mérite, holding the Rank of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Pour le Mérite with Oak Leaves.  

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The Notable Recipients of the Old Pour le Mérite

* Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria, German field marshal; awarded the Pour le Mérite in August 1915 and the oak leaves in December 1916.

* Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, German U-boat commander during the First World War, awarded the Pour le Mérite in the autumn of 1916 for sinking 200,000 tonnes of Allied shipping. By the end of the war, he had sunk more than 450,000 tons, the most by any U-boat captain, and been awarded an autographed photograph of the Kaiser, and a royal letter of commendation in the Kaiser's handwriting.

* Rudolf Berthold, high ranking German ace who survived WW1. Shot to death by German communists in 1920. He was falsely said to have been strangled with the ribbon from his Pour le Merite.

* Otto von Bismarck, Prussian and German chancellor during the unification period; decorated in 1884 with the Pour le Mérite with oak leaves.

* Gebhard von Blücher, Napoleonic-era Prussian field marshal who led Prussian forces at the Battle of Waterloo.

* Werner von Blomberg, decorated as a major in June 1918, later Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the German Armed Forces from 1935 to 1938.

* Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, Prussian general (later field marshal) decorated with the Pour le Mérite in the 1864 German-Danish War and the Oakleaves in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War.

* Fedor von Bock, decorated as a major in April 1918, later a field marshal in World War II.

* Oswald Boelcke, with Max Immelmann, one of the first aviator recipients.

* Hermann von Boyen, Napoleonic-era Prussian general and Minister of War; simultaneously received the Pour le Mérite and the Oakleaves.

* Christian Leopold von Buch, a German geologist and paleontologist.

* Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow, Napoleonic-era Prussian general; also received the oak leaves.

* Leo von Caprivi, Prussian general, decorated in 1871 for merit in the Franco-Prussian War; later Chancellor of Germany.

* Nikolaus Burggraf und Graf zu Dohna-Schlodien, German auxiliary cruiser commander; one of only two junior officers to receive the highest military honors of the five main German states: the Pour le Mérite, Bavaria's Military Order of Max Joseph, Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry, Württemberg's Military Merit Order, and Baden's Military Karl-Friedrich Merit Order.

* Friedrich Christiansen, decorated as Naval Pilot Oberleutnant (13 personal victories, although the number may be as high as 21, including shared victories,) on 11 Dec. 1917, later General der Flieger and Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber in den Niederlanden (Supreme Commander of Wehrmacht forces in the Netherlands) during service in WWII.

* Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff from 1914 to 1916; awarded the Pour le Mérite in February 1915 and the oak leaves in June 1915.

* August von Gneisenau, Napoleonic-era Prussian general (later field marshal); first decorated in 1807, received the oak leaves in 1814.

* Hermann Göring, decorated as an ace pilot in June 1918, later Reichsmarschall, head of the Luftwaffe, and second in command of Germany's Third Reich.

* Robert Ritter von Greim, World War I ace and World War II field marshal. He also received Bavaria's highest military honor, the Military Order of Max Joseph, and as a native Bavarian, was ennobled; thus Robert Greim became Robert "Ritter von" Greim.

* Karl Wilhelm Georg von Grolman, Napoleonic-era Prussian general; also received the oak leaves.

* Franz Hipper, German admiral; he also received Bavaria's highest military honor, the Military Order of Max Joseph, and as a native Bavarian, was ennobled, becoming Franz Ritter von Hipper.

* Paul von Hindenburg, German field marshal and later President of Germany; awarded the Pour le Mérite in September 1914 and the oak leaves in February 1915.
* Max Hoffmann, German staff officer; awarded the Pour le Mérite in October 1916 and the Oakleaves in July 1917. Considered a brilliant strategist, Hoffmann also received the highest military honors of Bavaria (the Military Order of Max Joseph) and Saxony (the Military Order of St. Henry, both the Knight 1st Class and the Commander's Cross).

* Oskar von Hutier, German general known for the Hutier tactics, infiltration tactics designed to break the stalemate of trench warfare; awarded the Pour le Mérite in September 1917 and the oak leaves in March 1918.

* Max Immelmann, with Oswald Boelcke, one of the first aviator recipients.

* Ernst Jünger, novelist and the last living holder of the Pour le Mérite at the time of his death in 1998.

* Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein, German officer in the Near East campaigns of World War I.

* Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau, received the Pour le Merite for brutal fighting in the German East Africa campaign of 1905-07. He was also the Kommandant of Stalag Luft III which was the setting for the movie The Great Escape.

* Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who led German forces in the guerrilla campaign in German East Africa.

* Otto Liman von Sanders, German general who served as advisor and commander of Ottoman forces in World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite and the oak leaves simultaneously in January 1916 for his role in the defeat of Allied forces in the Battle of Gallipoli.

* Friedrich "Fritz" Karl von Lossberg, World War I master-strategist; expert in the Defence in depth; and roaming Chief of Staff. Awarded: 21 September 1916 (Somme). Oak Leaves: 24 April 1917 (Arras).

* Erich Ludendorff, German general of World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite in August 1914, one of the earliest World War I awards, for the siege of Liege, Belgium; received the oak leaves in February 1915.

* August von Mackensen, German general (later field marshal) of World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite in November 1914 and the oak leaves in June 1915.

* Helmuth Graf von Moltke, known as "Moltke the Elder"; first decorated in 1839 as a junior officer serving as an advisor to the Ottomans in their campaigns against Muhammad Ali of Egypt, later chief of the Prussian General Staff in the wars of German unification; he received the oak leaves in 1871 and the Grand Cross in March 1879. Moltke the Elder also was inducted into the civil class of the order in 1874.

* Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff at the outbreak of World War I. Known as "Moltke the Younger," he was nephew of Moltke the Elder.

* Karl Friedrich Max von Müller, Captain of the famous German commerce raider, the light cruiser Emden during the first few months of World War I.

* Karl August Nerger, German auxiliary cruiser commander; one of only two junior officers to receive the highest military honors of the five main German states: the Pour le Mérite, Bavaria's Military Order of Max Joseph, Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry, Württemberg's Military Merit Order, and Baden's Military Karl-Friedrich Merit Order.

* Theo Osterkamp, naval aviator and World War I ace; he also scored six victories in World War II and became a Luftwaffe general.

* Peter III of Russia, who received the Pour le Mérite in 1762 when, after succeeding to the Russian imperial throne, he withdrew Russia from the Seven Years' War and made peace with Prussia.

* Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the '"Red Baron," the top-scoring ace of World War I. Richthofen also received Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry and Württemberg's Military Merit Order, as well as lesser awards of numerous other German states.

* Erwin Rommel, decorated as an Oberleutnant in December 1917, later a Field Marshal in World War II and commander of the German Afrika Korps.

* Gerhard von Scharnhorst, Napoleonic-era Prussian general.

* Reinhard Scheer, German admiral and commander of German naval forces in the Battle of Jutland.

* Eduard Ritter von Schleich, better known as the "Black Knight", killed 35 enemy aircrafts.

* Ferdinand Schörner, decorated as a Leutnant in December 1917, later a field marshal in World War II.

* Hans von Seeckt, German staff officer in World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite in May 1915 and the oak leaves in November 1915. After the war, he was instrumental in organizing the postwar German army (the Reichswehr).

* Alexander Suvorov, Russian general

* Alfred von Tirpitz, German Grand Admiral, decorated in August 1915.

* Ernst Udet, second-highest-scoring German ace of World War I.

* Otto Weddigen, German U-boat commander of World War I; Weddigen also received Bavaria's Military Order of Max Joseph and Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry.

* Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg, German field marshal; awarded the Pour le Mérite in August 1915 and the oak leaves in February 1918.

* Ludwig Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, Napoleonic-era Prussian general (later field marshal); also received the oak leaves.