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Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

Date Instituted:

September 1st, 1939

Awarded To:

Officers and men of all ranks within any branch of the Wehrmacht, Waffen-SS or the auxiliary service organizations.

Required Qualifications*:

In general:
  • The previous award of the EK1 or its Spange, and
  • Continued performance of outstanding actions of combat bravery above and beyond the call of duty.
For the Luftwaffe:
  • The previous award of the EK1 or its Spange, and
  • Accumulation of (initially) 20 points total, 1 point for downing a single-engine aircraft, 2 points for a twin-engine aircraft and 3 points for a four-engine aircraft. All points were x2 at night. This total was continuously raised as the war went on.
For the Kriegsmarine:
  • The previous award of the EK1 or its Spange, and
  • Accumulation of 100,000 tons sunk for Uboots, or
  • Continued performance of outstanding actions of combat bravery above and beyond the call of duty.

*Criteria often changed throughout the war

First Awarded:

September 30th, 1939

Number Awarded:

7,318 to Germans, 43 to foreigners = 7,361 total

Distribution Statistics of the Knights Cross
Rank on Day of Award Heer Waffen-SS Kriegsmarine Luftwaffe Foreigners Total
Generalfeldmarschall / Grossadmiral 1 1 3 5
Generaloberst / Generaladmiral 9 1 2 6 18
General d. Inf. usw. / Admiral 66 6 3 13 5 93
Generalleutnant / Vizeadmiral 191 4 8 18 9 230
Generalmajor / Konteradmiral 134 7 10 29 11 191
Oberst / Kapitän zur See 420 23 33 49 4 529
Oberstleutnant / Fregattenkapitän 258 40 8 31 2 339
Major / Korvettenkapitän 539 87 52 127 3 808
Hauptmann / Kapitänleutnant 932 83 118 390 1523
Oberleutnant / Oberleutnant zur See 630 69 64 462 1225
Leutnant / Leutnant zur See 414 30 7 246 697
Stabsfeldwebel / Stabswachtmeister 24 4 6 34
Hauptfeldwebel / Hauptwachtmeister 5 5
Oberfähnrich 11 1 7 19
Oberfeldwebel / Oberwachtmeister 384 22 5 261 672
Feldwebel / Wachtmeister 253 29 105 387
Unteroffizier / Oberjäger 284 23 4 20 331
Stabsgefreiter 6 6
Obergefreiter 145 7 8 160
Gefreiter 66 5 10 81
Schütze usw. 6 2 8
Grand Totals 4777 438 318 1785 43 7361

* These stats are only for the distribution of the Knight's Cross, and not the many other grades of the RK

Grades/Variations:

During the time of the Third Reich, the range of categories of the Iron Cross were as follows:

The Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross


The various grades of the medal specifically are discussed within seperate entries due to the great importance of each grade. The grades of the Knight's Cross were as follows:

Knight's Cross
Knight's Cross w. Oakleaves
Knight's Cross w. Oakleave, Swords
Knight's Cross w. Oakleaves, Swords, Diamonds
K.Cross w. Golden Oakleaves, Swords, Diamonds

Method of Wear:

When awarded, the Knight's Cross was worn at the base of the neck on a black, white and red ribbon. Individual Knight's Cross holders were allowed to attempt various means to affix the RK for their comfort, using in some cases ties, clips, buttons and other such means to hold the RK in place. Whatever the case, the only place the RK was worn was around the neck itself. Some RK holders were known to use an EK2 in place of their RK while in dangerous situations, so that damage or loss would not occur. If in time a higher version of the RK was awarded, the highest grade would be worn and the lowere version removed.

Notes:

The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a highly regarded award, being somewhat the equal of the American Medal of Honor. As well as being awarded for individual actions, the RK could also be awarded to a unit commander in recognition of the performance of his unit as a whole. The RK could also be awarded to foreigners, and 43 such awards were made during WWII. Of the 7,318 RK holders, approximately 1,000 are still alive as of 1999 and an unknown number were killed in action or are listed as missing in action during WWII, but approximately 2,500 (34%) are thought to have held this fate. The first Gefreiter (Corporal) to be awarded the RK was Hubert Brinkforth, awarded the RK on March 7th, 1941 as a member of the 14.PzJg-Kompanie/Inf.Reg.25. The three youngest men to be awarded the RK were Gefreiter Christian Lohrey, awarded the RK on March 11th, 1945 as a Kompanie-Trupp-Melder in 3./Pz.Gr.Reg.41, Oberfähnrich/Leutnant Hans Bretz, awarded the RK on May 6th, 1945 as a Zugführer in PzVernichtungs-Brigade Oberschlesien, and Gefreiter Manfred Kuhnert, awarded the RK on January 22nd, 1944 as a Richtschütze in 14.PzJg-Kompanie/Gr.Reg.442.

Of all the awards produced during World War II in Nazi Germany, none hold the mystique as much as the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. In fact, the medal is the most famous grade of the Iron Cross(*1). The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross or RK was instituted by Adolf Hitler at the outbreak of World War II on September 1st, 1939(*2). This award was unique since it had not been in existence prior to that time. During World War I the Pour Le Merite(*3) or PLM was the highest award for valor. The problem with the PLM is that it could only be awarded to officers. Adolf Hitler, an enlisted man in World War I, decided to change that when he became Chancellor and then Fuehrer of Germany. When he launched Germany into a second world war just twenty-one years later, he decided to have a decoration that would bridge the gap between the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross. In addition he wanted a decoration that could be awarded regardless of rank(*4). Out of this debacle the medal was born.

The Knight's Cross was larger than a Iron Cross 1st or 2nd Class. Those awards measured 43.5mm to 45mm across the frame. The Knight's Cross measured 48.2mm to 48.8mm(*5) and was suspended from a 45mm neck ribbon of black, white, red, white, black material(*6). Incidentally, the ribbon was fastened around the neck using a variety of methods. Some men even used garter belts as fasteners. Since the collar hid most of the ribbon anyway, the owner was virtually limited by his own imagination. The Knight's Cross(*7) was made of real silver and the silver content of real Knight's Crosses range from 800, 900, to 935 silver(*8). The content marks can be found on the reverse of all upper frames of all original pieces. Knight's Crosses found with a silver content mark 925 are to be viewed with much suspicion and should be treated as a fake(*9). In addition to the silver content number, maker codes can sometimes be found on the reverses of rarer crosses. Knight's Crosses will bear the markings 800 2(*10), 800 L/12(*11) (C.E. Juncker Berlin), 935 4(*12) (Steinhauer and Lueck), 800 21(*13) (Gebr. Godet & Co.), or 800 65(*14) (Klein & Quenzer A.G.).

The Knight's Cross was to be awarded for acts of ultimate bravery in the face of the enemy. The award was also extended to foreign nationals fighting with the Wehrmacht or ss. The Knight's Cross was unusual in other ways. Unlike awards as the British Victoria Cross, or US Medal of Honor which were strictly valor based. The Cross could also be given on a point basis. For example, a pilot could of received the Knight's Cross in 1940 for downing 26 aircraft. As the war went on the tally got higher, in order to receive the award. A U-boat commander could get the Knight's Cross for sinking 100,000 tons of shipping. In all these cases exceptions were made(*15). Unlike the Victoria Cross, a Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross could also be given for successful command of a battle, or even in some cases for a successful withdrawal. In some cases the Knight's Cross was even given for services rendered. As a result of all of this, the medal was a all around award. Judging by it's low number of recipients 7,318(*16) Knights Cross awards were very stringent(*17).

Some of the early Knight's Cross presentations and a few later special awards were made by Hitler personally. In most cases awards were made by divisional commanders, corps commanders, army group commanders, or in a few instances district officials. Recommendations for the Knight's Cross was generally made by the individuals commanding officer with final confirmation coming from Adolf Hitler who was commander in chief of all the armed forces of the 3rd Reich.

The medal was presented in a elongated black leatherette case, which contained the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and a folded length of neck ribbon(*19).

The medal was such a famous decoration, that the Nazi's were fast to capitalize on it's popularity. During World War Two, postcards were produced by the famous photographer Hoffman, and the war artist Willirch. These postcards(*20) featured portraits of Knights Cross winners. These cards proved to be very popular, and were avidly collected by adults and especially by German youth. These cards are even widely collected today.

  1. The Iron Cross came about in 1813. It was designed by German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The Iron Cross was awarded for bravery in 1813 (The Freedom War), 1870 (Franco-Prussian War), 1914 (World War I), and 1939 (World War II).

  2. At the same time Hitler also reinstated the Iron Cross 2nd Class, Iron Cross 1st Class, and the respective 1914 Iron Cross clasps (spanges).

  3. In all actuality the Pour Le Merite was not the highest award for bravery in the first world war. The highest award was the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross. This award was a huge 62mm Iron Cross worn about the neck. It could only be awarded to men of general rank. There were five recipients of the Grand Cross in World War One. They were Kaiser Wilhelm II, Generalfeldmarschall Paul Ludwig von Hindenburg, General der Infanterie Erich Ludendorf, Generalfeldmarschall Prinz Maximillian Joseph Maris Arnuf, and Generalfeldmarschall August von Mackensen. Adolf Hitler also reinstated the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross on September 1st, 1939. However this award was only given once in World War Two. The lucky recipient was Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. Goering was given this high award for his successful command of the Luftwaffe during the campaigns in France and the Low Countries in 1940.

  4. Hitler meant what he said, when he wanted the Knight's Cross to be awarded without rank distinction. During World War Two 1,676 NCO's and enlisted men won this award.

  5. If you measure a Knight's Cross and include the suspension loop, the cross will come to 54mm.

  6. A lot of original Knight's Cross ribbon has a orange cast to the red section of the ribbon.

  7. Original Knights Crosses will have a Swastika that comes up even with the beaded edge of the frame. Crosses that have Swastikas that fall below the beaded frame, should be viewed with suspicion.

  8. Original Knights Crosses will weigh between 30 to 33 grams. This weight will not always hold true for replacement pieces.

  9. As a general rule most presented Knight's Crosses simply bear a 800 silver content number. This number will be found on the reverse upper frame and the suspension loop.

  10. Knight's Crosses bearing a 2 maker mark should have a lazy 2. What this means is that the 2 is laying on it's side. A Knight's Cross with a vertical 2 should be viewed as a reproduction.

  11. It should be noted that post-war versions of the Knights Cross manufactured by the firm C.E. Juncker Berlin are also hallmarked L/12. The only way to tell the difference between a war-time and a post-war piece, is that original war-time examples hallmarked 2 or L/12 have a design flaw in the beaded edge of the frame. Where the beaded edge meets the Swastika, a extra line is formed in the corners of the frame. If you could put these lines together they would form a cross-hatch effect. It would look like this (#), but only straighter. Post-war made crosses don't have this flaw.

  12. Knight's Crosses bearing the hallmark 935 4 are unusual in the fact that the maker mark is stamped upside down. The 4 mark is stamped in incuse relief. That means the 4 is raised out of a stamped depression. The ribbon loop of these crosses will be marked 935 or in some cases 900.

  13. The 800 hallmark on this cross is also stamped in incuse relief, but it is right side up not upside down. The 21 hallmark is simply stamped into the upper reverse frame on the right side.

  14. A lot of Knight's Crosses that bear this hallmark are odd in the fact that the number 65 is sometimes found stamped on the ribbon loop above the 800 silver content number.

  15. A good example is the U-Boat ace Peter Erich Cremer. He received his medal on June 5th, 1942. Yet Mr. Cremer only sank 7 ships totalling 35,968 tons. He got the award for successfully bringing back to port a rammed and badly damaged ship the U-333. At the time Cremer had only four ships sunk to his credit.

  16. Records indicate that no woman ever received the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. While several women did earn the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class during World War Two. The most famous woman to win both classes of the Iron Cross was the famous test pilot Flugkapitaen Hanna Reitsch.

  17. A misconception is that the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded more to Generals than any other rank. This of course is farthest from the truth. Only 6.9% of the German Generals received this award. Or simply put, 502 German Generals received the medal.

  18. If the medal was lost, and the owner could prove it was not a result of his own careless negligence, a replacement cross was provided free of cost. A lot of these crosses will bear maker mark LDO numbers such as L/12. If the owner was killed in action, the medal was passed on to the next-of-kin.

  19. This of course was not a new idea to the Germans. During World War I the famous portraitist Sanke produced postcards of highly decorated German soldiers. The theme of most of these postcards were recipients of the Pour Le Merite.

Bibliography


Angolia, John R. For Fuehrer and Fatherland, Volume 1, R. James Bender Publishing, San Jose, California 1976.

Angolia, John R. On the Field of Honor, Volume 1, R. James Bender Publishing, San Jose, California 1979.

Kurowski, Franz. Knight's Cross Holders of the U-Boat Service, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, Pennsylvania 1995.

Littlejohn, David and Dodkins, C.M. Orders, Decorations, Medals and Badges of the Third Reich, Volume 1, R. James Bender Publishing, Mountain View, California 1968.

McCarthy, Robert. World War II German Military Collectibles, Collector Books, Paducah, Kentucky 1980.

Williamson, Gordon. The Iron Cross, A History 1813-1957, Blanford Press, United Kingdom 1984.

Williamson, Gordon. Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, A History 1939-1945, Blanford Press, United Kingdom 1987.
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Gerhard Grenzel
Gerhard Grenzel
RK holder