War Medals and Decorations – Imperial Era & Weimar Republic

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Grand Cross of the Iron Cross

1813 Grand Cross

Five men received the 1813 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for actions during the Napoleonic Wars:

  • Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, commander of Prussian forces at the Battle of Waterloo, later elevated to the Star of the Grand Crossof the Iron Cross
  • Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow
  • Crown Prince Charles John of Sweden (Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte) – earlier a Marshal under Napoleon, after becoming regent and crownprince of Sweden, he joined the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon.
  • Bogislav Friedrich Emanuel von Tauentzien
  • Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg.

1813 Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross

The Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Stern zum Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) was the highest military decoration of the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire. It was considered a senior decoration to the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross.

The Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded to the most outstanding of generals who performed feats of leadership to the extreme benefit of the German state. It was awarded only twice, over a century apart, to Field Marshal Gebhard von Blücher in 1813 and to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg in 1918. Von Blücher’s award was referred to as the Blücherstern while Hindenburg’s was known as the Hindenburgstern.

During the reign of Nazi Germany, it was intended to present the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross as an award to the most successful German General of the Second World War, once Germany had achieved victory. As Germany was defeated in 1945, the decoration was never bestowed under Nazi authority and has not been awarded since.

The only known prototype example of this decoration is today located at the Museum of the United States Military Academy in West Point NY.

1870 Grand Cross

The Iron Cross was renewed on July 19, 1870, for the Franco-Prussian War. Nine men received the 1870 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for service during that war. Seven Grand Crosses were awarded on March 22, 1871, to:

  • Crown Prince Albert of Saxony
  • August Karl von Goeben
  • Edwin Freiherr von Manteuffel
  • Helmuth Graf von Moltke the Elder
  • Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia.
  • Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (later Kaiser Friedrich III)
  • August Graf von Werder

Kaiser Wilhelm I received the Grand Cross on June 16, 1871, and Friedrich Franz II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, received it on December 4, 1871. The Kaiser was supreme commander of the Prussian Army, and Moltke was Chief of the General Staff. The others were senior combat commanders of the Prussian Army (Crown Prince Albert initially commanded the Saxon Army as a corps under a Prussian field army, but later took command of a combined Prussian/Saxon field army).

1914 Grand Cross

The Iron Cross was renewed again on August 5, 1914. There were five recipients of the 1914 Grand Cross in the First World War:

  • Kaiser Wilhelm II
  • Paul von Hindenburg, later elevated to the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross
  • Erich Ludendorff
  • Prince Leopold of Bavaria
  • August von Mackensen

Centenary Medal

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Medal also known as the Centenary Medal (German: Kaiser-Wilhelm-Erinnerungsmedaille Zentenarmedaille) was established 22 March 1897 by Wilhelm II on the occasion of the 100th Birthday of his grandfather, Emperor Wilhelm I.

The medal was awarded by Prussia to state and university officials, as well as all military officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel, which were actively serving in army, navy and Schutztruppe. Medals were also awarded to the surviving veterans of the First Schleswig War, Second Schleswig War, Austro-Prussian War, and the Franco-Prussian War.

Appearance

The medal is made of bronze gunmetal from captured cannon. It is 40 mm in diameter and was suspended from a ribbon 36 mm wide.

The obverse is a right facing effigy of Wilhelm I in military uniform wearing a mantle and Pickelhaube. To the left of the effigy is the inscription WILHELM  DER  GROSSE  DEUTSCHE  KAISER (William the Great German Emperor). To the right is KOENIG  VON PREUSSEN (King of Prussia).

The reverse depicts symbols of royal authority including the German State Crown, an orb, sword, and scepter placed upon a pillow surrounded by oak leaves, in the lower half of the medal. To the left is an upward climbing laurel branch. In the upper half is the inscription in six lines ZUM ANDENKEN AN DEN HUNDERTSTEN GEBURTSTAG DES GROSSEN KAISERS WILHELM I. 1797 22.MAERZ 1897 (IN MEMORY OF THE HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY THE GREAT EMPEROR WILHELM I. 1797–MARCH 22–1897).

Pour le Mérite

The Pour le Mérite ([puʁ lə me.ʁit], French, literally “For Merit”) is an order of merit (German: Verdienstorden) established in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia. The Pour le Mérite was awarded as both a military and civil honour and ranked, along with the Order of the Black Eagle, the Order of the Red Eagle and the House Order of Hohenzollern, among the highest orders of merit in the Kingdom of Prussia. After 1871, when the various German kingdoms, grand duchies, duchies, principalities and Hanseatic city states had come together under Prussian leadership to form the federally structured German Empire, the Prussian honours gradually assumed, at least in public perception, the status of honours of Imperial Germany, even though many honours of the various German states continued to be awarded.

The Pour le Mérite was an honour conferred both for military (1740–1918) and civil (1740–1810, after 1842 as a separate class) services. It was awarded strictly as a recognition of extraordinary personal achievement, rather than as a general marker of social status or a courtesy-honour, although certain restrictions of social class and military rank were applied. The order was secular, and membership endured for the remaining lifetime of the recipient, unless renounced or revoked.

New awards of the military class (known in First World War informally as the Blue Max, German: Blauer Max) ceased with the end of the Prussian monarchy in November 1918. The civil class was revived as an independent organization in 1923 (Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste). Instead of the King of Prussia, the President of Germany acted as head of the order. After the Second World War, the civil class was re-established in 1952. This version of the Pour le Mérite is still active today. The Pour le Mérite still is an order into which a person is admitted into membership, like the United Kingdom’s Order of the British Empire, and is not simply a medal or state decoration. German author Ernst Jünger, who died in 1998, was the last living recipient of the military class award.

Weimar Republic Era

Tank Crew Commemorative Badge

Tank Crew Commemorative Badge was instituted on July 13, 1921 by Reichswehrminister Otto Karl Geßler (06.02.1875 – 24.03.1955) and not being an award was available for private purchase by veterans.

The badge was awarded to military personnel regardless of rank who participated in at least three combat actions as crew members of German and captured Entente tanks or were wounded in action. Upon approval an award document was issued to the Great War veterans still on active service as well as to retired or reserve personnel.

The badge had a vertical oval shape bordered with a wreath made of two branches, oak at the left and laurel at the right. The wreath was tied at its bottom by a ribbon. Upper part of the badge was topped by a “Totenkopf”, i.e. skull and crossed bones of so-called Brunswick type.

An image of a German tank A7V moving westwards through barbed wire entanglement was situated in the middle of the badge. Three stick grenades are seen exploding above the hull.

Reverse of a badge had a horizontal pin with catching hook, no period originals are known with a screw back fitting.

The badge was worn just below left breast pocket of a tunic.

Tank Crew Commemorative Badge was made of silver or silvered bronze.

Only 99 badges were totally awarded that makes this decoration one of the rarest commemorative pieces from the Weimar-era.

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History