Combined Pilot’s and Observer’s Badge in Gold with Diamonds
The rare and exotic pieces of the Third Reich come in many forms andguises. The orders and decorations of this period of history and thepersonages, to whom they were awarded, hold a particular interest for me.Some of those bestowals now, at best, are conveniently forgotten and, atworst, denied leaving the collector with many perplexing questions.Certain pieces simply jumped out of the pages. Their beauty andhistorical importance inspired me to try and track them down and then, ifat all possible, incorporate them into my collection. A veteran collectorof antiques once told me, “The rare of a period will always be the veryrare of the present and the ultra rare of the future. If you are luckyenough to acquire them, they act as a magnet for other rare pieces, youput them in your cabinet and they breed”. This statement, in part, I haveto agree with, albeit I have not as yet been able to achieve a breedingprogram!
The recipients of these awards are varied, encompassing the colorful tothe colorless, spanning all nationalities, rewarding the moguls ofbusiness or the leaders of nations. To such people, on opposite plains,are Henry Ford who received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle andHermann Göring, who literally collected awards of every type from everycountry and sources that he could. Once the Weimar Republics ineffectiveban on foreign decorations was dropped in 1933, Hermann Göring’sfascination for decorations was intensified. German diplomats abroad wereasked to supply information on the highest foreign orders, many of whichhe later requested and subsequently received. In his collector’s zeal, hefully ignored proper German channels and often displayed a total disregardfor tact. When awarded a high order by the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg,her government requested that he did not make the fact public because ofprotests at home. Completely unconcerned, Göring immediately had hisphoto taken proudly displaying his new order, which he then had publishedin a Berlin newspaper.
On 12 January 1943 Hermann Göring celebrated his 50th birthday, anoccasion of such importance that officials and organizations were asked tocontribute suitable presents. The official gift from the city of Potsdamwas a specially designed cabinet for his collection of decorations.Perhaps he had heard of the breeding program!
Possibly one of my favorite exotica is the Combined Pilot’s andObserver’s Badge in Gold with Diamonds. I first came across the badge in”Orders, Decorations, Medals and Badges of the Third Reich” by DavidLittlejohn. The badge in question was attributed to a private collectionin England. The owner was Eric Campion and the story of his acquisitionwas as interesting as the piece itself. “It had been returned to Englandby a British officer with an order for destruction. He went to HattonGarden and sold the piece to a notable jewelry house, instructing themto break it up. The management telephoned Mr. Campion who visited thempost haste. He subsequently purchased the badge and was incidentally toldthat the officer was disposing of a large quantity of important medalswhich had also belonged to Göring. He sold them to the various largemedal dealers in the city. Mr. Campion followed the trail and bought theawards from the relevant dealers. These items remained with him till heparted with the Combined Pilot’s and Observer’s Badge in 1982. The otherawards have now been bequeathed to the country and form part of apermanent exhibition at the RAF Museum at Hendon.
Göring’s obsession with his decorations seemed to be based for the mostpart on his love for representation and show, rather than on theirprestige value. His persistent need to emphasize his position and powerwas also reflected in his practice of awarding personal decorations tofriends and loyal staff. He conceived this award during the summer of1935, with the first bestowal taking place on 11 November 1935. It isnoteworthy that both the inception and first presentation predate theintroduction of the Combined Pilot’s and Observer’s Badge, which wasintroduced on 26 March 1936. During the war, on 19 October 1939, Göringraised the badges’ status to that of an official decoration. Furthermore,the badge was produced in Austria by the Viennese jeweler, RudolfStübiger. The construction of it is quite unique as the whole badge washand produced.
There are two forms of the award, the male and female design. The maledesign is constructed in two distinct manners. The first being the oneformally presented, produced in gold and platinum, beset with realdiamonds. The second form being the official dress copy produced insilver and beset with synthetic stones. This was also produced by thesame jeweler. Whether the dress copy was awarded with the presentationpiece is unsure. In a letter from Hans Rudel dated 1 January 1982, hetold me that he had only received the awarded type. It could be possiblethat due to war economies the silver gilt form was going to become thepresentation piece but I must stress that this is purely supposition.Needless to say, both forms are extremely rare.
The presentation piece
The wreath is cast and then hand finished in the same design as thatemployed on the Pilot’s Badge. It measures 52.5 mm by 41.5 mm with awidth of 7.5 mm and a depth of 3 mm. The general appearance of the eaglediffers from that of the Pilot’s Badge, the wings being enlarged. Thewingspan measures 65 mm, while the depth of the left wing is 12 mm and theright 15 mm. The eagle is constructed to allow the stones in the wings tohave light coming from behind, enhancing the fire of the diamonds. Theedges of the feathers are all slightly pebbled. The upper parts of thewings are highly polished, which compliments and enhances the appearanceof the fletching. The general appearance of the eagle is larger. The legsare finely detailed and are spread with a gap between them. There are 36diamonds in the right wing and 31 in the left. A total of 19 are inlaidin the eagle’s body. The outside of the swastika is slightly pebbled. Itmeasures 12 mm across and the individual arms are 3 mm wide. Eighteensmall diamonds are inlaid in the arms of the swastika. The whole of theeagle’s frame is constructed in platinum while the wreath is made in 22 ctgold. The weight of the badge is 20 gms.
The reverse of the wreath is flat and has a matt finish with a thin barrelhinge at the apex. The pin is of a thin, needle type and is retained in aunique holder that acts as a safety catch.
The eagle has a 3 mm flat frame running round the edge of the wing and thebody, which is employed to strengthen the structure of the eagle. Thewings have a strut of similar construction running across them, which iscovered by the wreath. On to this is attached a screw post that fitsthrough individual holes drilled in the wreath securing the eagle to thebody of the wreath. The eagle is held on to the wreath by two massivescrews.
In correspondence with the firm of Rudolf Stübiger, his son indicated thatthey produced 70 of these badges. On the first of them, only the shopnumber was scratched on the reverse of the badge in the position of thehinge. After 1938, when Austria became part of the Greater German Reich,they placed their logo on the reverse of the eagle. This informationgives one a good clue to the period and therefore the person to whom abadge was possibly awarded.
Official dress copy
The wreath is cast and then hand finished in the same design as thatemployed on the presentation badge. It measures 52.5 mm by 41.5 mm with awidth of 7.5 mm and a depth of 3.5 mm. The general appearance of theeagle differs from that of the presentation badge. The wings are slightlysmaller and the wingspan measures 62 mm. The depth of the left wing is 11mm and the right 12.5 mm. The eagle is solid with holes drilled into it,into which are set the stones. This also allows the stones in the wingsand body to have light coming from behind. The design of the fletchingand how the individual feathers are placed on the wing is also differentin this badge. The edges of the feathers are all slightly pebbled. Theupper parts of the wings are highly polished, which compliments andenhances the appearance of the fletching. The general appearance of theeagle is stylized; the legs are spread with a gap between them. Thereare 32 stones in the right wing and 38 in the left. A total of 16 areinlaid in the eagle’s body. The outside of the swastika is slightlypebbled. It measures 12.5 mm across and the individual arms are 3.5 mmwide. Seventeen small stones are inlaid in the arms of the swastika. Thewhole of the eagle’s frame and the wreath is made of silver. The wreathis then gilded. The weight of the badge is 43 gms.
The reverse of the wreath is flat and has a polished finish with a barrelhinge at the apex. The pin is of a broad blade type and is retained in alarge C form hook. Stamped into the wreath at 2 o’clock in large capitalletters is, IMIT. Also just beneath this are four incused oblong boxesthat contain the standing pelican, the silver mark for Austria, R.St., themark for the maker and W, the mark for Wien. These marks are repeated onthe broad blade pin.
The eagle has a flat reverse and is highly polished. The wings and thebody show the individual holes drilled in them. The eagle is held on tothe wreath by two massive open rivets.
The Female Class
This badge is identical to the awarded type, being produced in realdiamonds set into an eagle constructed of platinum, which in turn ismounted on to a gold wreath. The insignia is about one third of the sizeand mounted on a bar. This thin bar has 5 small diamonds set into it oneither side of the wreath. The remaining part from the diamonds to the tipis highly polished. On the reverse is a long needle pin.
The only recipient of this exclusive award was; Flug-Kapitänin HannaReitsch. The lady was a test pilot to the German air force, who fleweverything from a V.1. to the Gigant. She also held the unusual honor asa woman to have had bestowed upon her both the Iron Cross Second Class andFirst Class of the 1939 series, receiving the Iron Cross Second Class on28 March 1941 and the Iron Cross First Class on 5 November 1942.
In correspondence with her, she stated that she received only thedescribed bar and not the normal award type, nor did she receive a dresscopy.
These badges were possibly the most exciting flying badges of any country.Apart from their obvious beauty, the rarity and the people to whom theywere awarded, notably Hermann Göring himself, they also rewarded some ofthe bravest of the Luftwaffe pilots. The first award of the badge waspresented to the chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff, GeneralleutnantWever, on 11 November 1935 and led to the award of 60 other persons. (Asyet discovered to date)
The Known Recipients
Many misbeliefs have been constructed around the award of the CombinedPilot’s Badge with Diamonds and why some of the officers had been awardedthe badge. The Combined Pilot’s and Observer’s Badge was authorized to beawarded in special cases to foreigners, in recognition of special servicesrendered to the Luftwaffe. An honorary presentation of this badge wasnormally made too foreign attach’s upon their return to their homestation. It is interesting that one of the first honorary awards of thebadge was to Benito Mussolini, who was awarded the badge in April 1937.The citation clearly states that it was for, ‘Das Goldene Flugzeugführerund Beobachter-Abzeichen’. This gives rise to the assumption that thecitation was for the Combined Pilots Badge with Diamonds. This isincorrect as it was conferred upon Mussolini on 28 September 1937 byGöring, who personally pinned it to his tunic. Andrew Mollow, in a letterto ‘Guns, Weapons & Militaria’ in December 1981 entitled, ‘Mit or MitoutDiamonds?’, Said, “In pointing out the error in Chris Ailsby’s article onthe Order of the German Eagle, David Littlejohn has contributed to a basicmisunderstanding which exists concerning the Luftwaffe Pilot/ObserverBadge”. David Littlejohn refers to the Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold andDiamonds awarded to Benito Mussolini in September 1937. Whereas most postwar publications on German orders and medals refer to only two classes orcategories of this badge, I believe there were three.
The basic badge with silver eagle on an upright gilt metal wreath wasawarded to Luftwaffe aircrew on successful completion of their flighttraining.
As a special personal award, Göring introduced sometime in 1935 aPilot/Observer Badge in Gold and Diamonds. This badge was awarded toprominent members of the Luftwaffe, most or all of who had been at onetime or another qualified pilots.
The third class of this badge was a version in which both the eagle andwreath were in solid gold. This badge Göring awarded to foreign heads ofstate such as King Boris of Bulgaria and Benito Mussolini and a very feweminent Germans such as the Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler’.
This poses an interesting question as to whether there was such an animalas the Golden Pilot and Observers Badge and was it upgraded to the diamondaward, as those named eventually received the award with diamonds, and wasthis form used to reward friendly nations’ politically appointed airpersonnel? As yet, a gold badge produced in gold has not been observed.
The criteria for the award were that each recipient must be the holder of apilot’s license. This pilot’s license could have been either in the civilform, to encompass single engine airplanes and even to have allowed theconsideration of the holder of a glider pilot’s licence. This would havequalified them for the badge. This explains the entitlement of the badgefor some of the more unusual bestowals namely, Himmler and Dietrich. Itis also believed that Dr. Fritz Todt was a recipient of the award but thishas yet to be fully confirmed. Upon the death of the holder, the badgehad to be returned to Göring’s personal office. This was the case withGeneral Korten who was mortally wounded in the bomb plot attempt of 20July 1944. After his death, the badge was not immediately returned andGöring’s office was most indiscreet in requesting its return before hisbody was cold in its grave.
Hansen-Nootbar recalls one argument between Dönitz and Göring which endedwhen Göring unpinned the diamond studded pilot’s decoration from hisexquisite uniform and handed it to Dönitz who, to the delight of theofficers watching them, unpinned the U-boat decoration from his ownservice blue jacket and handed it to Göring. It was a typically nimbleand appropriate response.
Von Puttkamer gives a shorter version of this episode in his memoirs,implying that from then on Dönitz made his way successfully with Göring.One is left wondering about the incident. Was it the force of Göring’spersonality and intelligence or the aura of his power and the longestablished position he held in the Nazi hierarchy or loyalty to theFöhrer perhaps, that caused Dönitz to respond as he did and humour and getalong with the Reichsmarschall in public, while privately regarding him asa national disaster? For, when he and Hansen-Nootbar were alone theyreferred to Göring as, ‘the grave digger of the Reich’ or ‘the fat one’.Whether this symbolic gesture actually constituted the award of the twobadges to the two personages is doubtful but undoubtedly Dönitz wasawarded the badge. It is less likely that Göring received the SubmarineBadge with Diamonds from Donitz.
The design of the box for the presentation badge is uncertain and it ispossible that it was just a jeweler’s case which transported the badge tothe award ceremony. The box in which the female badge was awarded wasagain only a jeweler protective one. The dress copy came in a whitesimulated leather box, measuring 86mm by 86mm and 27mm deep. It washinged and had an ornate bronze clasp. The inner lid liner was a lightblue watered silk and the base was a royal blue velvet with a raisedplinth on which the badge rested. The front of the box had the maker’slogo stamped upon it as did the base.
When we turn to the subject of reproductions and reproductions of thesebadges in particular, we must first address the question, why is there anecessity for reproductions in the first instance? As with any otherhobby, the pressure to obtain rare pieces by collectors pushes theunscrupulous dealer or collector to any lengths to satisfy the demand.
There are very good quality fakes being produced at the moment beingfashioned in white gold and diamonds. The wreath is in yellow gold. Themost noticeable difference is in the line of the trunk of the eagle’sbody. It is pronounced and runs similarly to that of the dress copy. Theset of the fletching over the eagle’s legs, which produce its trousers, isalso slightly different, as is the fletching that covers the eagle’swings. The head on the awarded piece is chiseled from the platinum,while in the fake it appears to be set with diamond Chippings. All theseminor points when added together in the construction of the fake badgegive a discernible difference. This can be fairly classed as the RollsRoyce. Another type encountered has only four feathers at the tip of theleft wing, instead of six. The diamonds were artificial stones and thebadge was not constructed of gold. The most common fake is an Austrianmade Luftwaffe pilot’s badge with 17 paste stones set in the swastika. Onthe examples that I have examined these are very poorly set. The reverseshows that the eagle has been hollow stamped as has the wreath. The eagleis attached to the wreath by two crude rivets. The pin is of the squaretype with chamfered edges and on to the upper side are stamped bogusmarks. These can be, as in one example examined, ’16, a coffin shapedlozenge with a bird incused, 800 in a box and L L 6′. The other examplehad just 800 in a box.
One of the most interesting stories about this type of badge came to myattention when Richard Kimmel wrote to me from America with a photographof a Pilot’s Badge, the swastika being set with stones. He stated that,”This piece was bought by a lady as a present for her son while she was onholiday in England. She had obtained it along with a Pour le Mérite at afund raising sale held at the Imperial War Museum in London, when they hadtried to raise money to repair the roof that had been damaged by fire”.This great treasure had returned with her to America where it later turnedup at a dealer, who was situated in a Flea Market at New Brunswick.Richard subsequently bought it. His question to me was, “Is it original?”The general appearance of the badge told all. Firstly, if the ImperialWar Museum had required finance, it would have been insured. It is also awar memorial to commemorate the dead of the First World War. I put itlike this; if the White House had fire damage would the President sellsomething from the Oval Office? However, wishing for the great rarityclouds the impressionable collector’s vision. The old saying, ‘If wisheswere horses, beggars would ride’, many fake pieces with spectacularstories would become original. One must face reality, if there is doubtthen usually the piece is bad. When we visited America, I viewed thegreat treasure and sure enough, it was as bad as first perceived. But,the collector’s view was still hopeful, “The jury is still out on this!”If I was facing the death penalty, I would still hope for a reprieve butam quite sure I would not get any life insurance. The historical andfactual credibility of the story that accompanies a piece and is intendedto give provenance to that piece has to stand up. The gullibility of thecollector, who wishes to obtain the great rarity at less than a bargainprice, is a victim of his own greed. I do not think I have to elaborateupon this further; the connotations will be clear on both sides of theAtlantic.
Angolia- For Föhrer and Fatherland Volume 1. 3rd Edition Pages 172-176
Author and K Dönitz 24.6.1973