The Iron Cross is the only order of Imperial Germany retained in the award system of the Third Reich. Regalia appeared during the era of the Napoleonic wars and lived such a long life due to its democratic character. The iron cross was awarded to servicemen, regardless of ranks and ranks, solely for their exploits on the battlefield. The simple and unassuming design of the order turned out to be so successful that it practically did not change throughout the entire existence of the award.
The main characteristics of the Order of the Iron Cross:
Country: Prussia, Germany.
Date of establishment: March 10, 1813.
Number of degrees: 4.
The size of the order of the 1st class: from 39.5 x 39.5 mm to 43 x 43 mm. The size of the order of the 2nd class: 40.5 x 40.5 mm.
Large cross size: 62 x 64 mm.
Size of the Big Star of the Iron Cross: 77 x 77mm. Material of the orders of the 1st, 2nd classes and the Grand Cross: iron, 800 silver.
Big Star Materials: Gold, Silver.
Iron Cross War Award
The Iron Cross was instituted on the initiative of the Prussian Emperor Friedrich Wilhelm II (Friedrich Wilhelm II. Von Preußen). Despite the fact that the state at that time did not lack regalia, the monarch wished to introduce a new award, which was intended for those who distinguished themselves in battles with the troops of Napoleon Buonaparte (Napulione Buonaparte). Friedrich was so carried away by this idea that he drew the first sketch of the cross with his own hand, but then changed his mind and entrusted the work on the design to the eminent architect and artist Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
The iron cross, as conceived by the painter, was supposed to be simple, since it was planned to hand it over to the entire military personnel from soldiers to generals. Therefore, Schinkel abandoned the then popular order paraphernalia crowns, swords and laurel wreaths, and took the Teutonic cross as a basis, which since the XIV century has been a symbol of knightly brotherhood. As a result, the insignia came out austere but elegant. The material for its manufacture was iron, and the decorations were silver edging, a modest bas-relief of oak leaves and the initials of the emperor. Friedrich was delighted with the artist’s work and did not remember his ideas any more.
The decree establishing the regalia was signed on March 10, 1813.
At first, the order had three degrees and was intended to be awarded for distinctions in battles with the main enemy Napoleon. The first cavaliers appeared in May of the same year. The combined troops of Russia and Prussia managed to drive the French out of the village of Gross-Gershen, and as a result, more than nine thousand servicemen received the Iron Cross of the 2nd class. By the end of the summer, the command was awarded the highest degree. In particular, the Grand Cross was awarded to Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, who led the Silesian army.
After the successful defeat of Napoleonic troops, the emperor decided to establish the fourth, exceptional degree of the Iron Cross with golden rays, or the Big Star. The award went to von Blucher, who commanded the army at the Battle of Waterloo.
The victory temporarily put an end to the history of the order. He received a second birth only in 1870, when another aggravation of Franco-Prussian relations passed into the stage of a military conflict. The appearance of the sign has hardly changed the imperial crown was placed on the upper ray, and the year of the regalia revival on the lower one.
By that time, the status of the order was finally determined it became an award for a specific war. This time the battles lasted less than a year and ended in the complete defeat of the French. Orders of the 1st and 2nd class were received by 44.5 thousand people. The award was presented for several years after the end of the military conflict for past merits, and then it remained in oblivion for more than forty years.
The Iron Cross during World War I and the Third Reich
The next revival of the order took place just a few days after the outbreak of the First World War on August 5, 1914. The number of degrees was retained, as was the division of the 2nd class regalia into military and civilian categories. The year on the badge was changed, and the statute was amended with a view to rewarding foreign nationals.
Germany was losing on all fronts, but this did not affect the number of awards. The soldiers joked that there was only one way not to receive the Iron Cross to die in the first battle. However, the soldier’s folklore did not affect the status of the order, the award remained very honorable and highly valued. Historians suggest that the reverent attitude of the military to the cross was the reason for its long life. Corporal Adolf Hitler (Adolf Hitler) was a holder of orders of both classes and left the regalia in the award system of the Third Reich.
The Fuehrer’s decree on the restoration of the order was issued on September 2, 1939 and already contained a number of changes.
Another degree appeared the Knight’s Cross, which was later divided into five categories. The large cross received a gold edging and was supposed to be worn around the neck. The civil degree was abolished, and a swastika appeared in the center of the sign. It was decided not to spend silver on awards for the lower classes, and the precious metal was replaced with nickel silver an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel. However, a rich diamond trim was added to a number of Knight’s Crosses.
The signs were stamped by about one and a half hundred German enterprises. It is believed that more than 3 million crosses were produced, but a considerable part of the regalia remained in storage. Sometimes jewelers took the initiative and changed the prescribed design they gave the cross a convex shape, and also changed the mountings at their discretion. In the collections of the phalerists, there are specimens with shells on the obverse, as well as with screws and nuts. The hallmarks of factories and workshops are well studied and classified.
The regalia ceased to be handed over after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Wearing the award was allowed, but the cavaliers had to order duplicates without Nazi symbols. In the late 2000s, the initiative to revive the order was not crowned with success, as it did not meet with public support.