German Armed Forces Research 1918-1945
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Crossby Jody Beltram
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 Knights Cross of the Iron Cross 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 Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was
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 Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 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 Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 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 Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 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.
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.
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