|The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was a highly regarded award, beingsomewhat the equalof the American Medal of Honor. As well as being awarded for individualactions, the RK could also be awarded to a unit commander in recognition of theperformance of his unit as a whole. The RK could also be awarded toforeigners, and 43 such awards were made during WWII. Of the 7,318 RKholders, approximately 1,000 are still alive as of 1999 and anunknown number were killed in action or are listed as missing in actionduring 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 aZugführer in PzVernichtungs-Brigade Oberschlesien, and Gefreiter ManfredKuhnert, awarded the RK on January 22nd, 1944 as a Richtschütze in14.PzJg-Kompanie/Gr.Reg.442.|
Of all the awards produced during World War II in Nazi Germany, none holdthe mystique as much as the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. In fact,the medal is the most famous grade of the IronCross(*1). The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross or RK was instituted byAdolf 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 thattime. During World War I the Pour Le Merite(*3) or PLM was the highestaward for valor. The problem with the PLM is that it could only beawarded to officers. Adolf Hitler, an enlisted man in World War I,decided to change that when he became Chancellor and then Fuehrer ofGermany. When he launched Germany into a second world war just twenty-oneyears later, he decided to have a decoration that would bridge the gapbetween the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross.In addition he wanted a decoration that could be awarded regardless ofrank(*4). Out of this debacle the medal wasborn.
The Knight’s Cross was larger than a Iron Cross 1st or 2nd Class. Thoseawards measured 43.5mm to 45mm across the frame. The Knight’s Crossmeasured 48.2mm to 48.8mm(*5) and was suspended from a 45mm neck ribbonof black, white, red, white, black material(*6). Incidentally, the ribbonwas fastened around the neck using a variety of methods. Some men evenused garter belts as fasteners. Since the collar hid most of the ribbonanyway, the owner was virtually limited by his own imagination. TheKnight’s Cross(*7) was made of real silver and the silver content of realKnight’s Crosses range from 800, 900, to 935 silver(*8). The content markscan 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 viewedwith much suspicion and should be treated as a fake(*9). In addition tothe silver content number, maker codes can sometimes be found on thereverses of rarer crosses. Knight’s Crosses will bear the markings 8002(*10), 800 L/12(*11) (C.E. Juncker Berlin), 935 4(*12) (Steinhauer andLueck), 800 21(*13) (Gebr. Godet & Co.), or 800 65(*14) (Klein & QuenzerA.G.).
The Knight’s Cross was to be awarded for acts of ultimate bravery in theface of the enemy. The award was also extended to foreign nationalsfighting with the Wehrmacht or ss. The Knight’s Cross was unusual inother ways. Unlike awards as the British Victoria Cross, or US Medal ofHonor which were strictly valor based. The Cross could also be given on apoint basis. For example, a pilot could of received the Knight’s Cross in1940 for downing 26 aircraft. As the war went on the tally got higher, inorder to receive the award. A U-boat commander could get the Knight’sCross for sinking 100,000 tons of shipping. In all these cases exceptionswere made(*15). Unlike the Victoria Cross, a Knight’s Cross of the IronCross could also be given for successful command of a battle, or even insome cases for a successful withdrawal. In some cases the Knight’s Crosswas even given for services rendered. As a result of all of this, the medal was a all around award. Judging by it’slow number of recipients 7,318(*16) Knights Cross awards were verystringent(*17).
Some of the early Knight’s Cross presentations and a few later specialawards were made by Hitler personally. In most cases awards were made bydivisional commanders, corps commanders, army group commanders, or in afew instances district officials. Recommendations for the Knight’s Crosswas generally made by the individuals commanding officer with finalconfirmation coming from Adolf Hitler who was commander in chief of allthe armed forces of the 3rd Reich.
The medal was presented in a elongated blackleatherette case, which contained the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross anda folded length of neck ribbon(*19).
The medal was such a famous decoration, thatthe Nazi’s were fast to capitalize on it’s popularity. During World WarTwo, postcards were produced by the famous photographer Hoffman, and thewar artist Willirch. These postcards(*20) featured portraits of KnightsCross winners. These cards proved to be very popular, and were avidlycollected by adults and especially by German youth. These cards are evenwidely collected today.
- The Iron Cross came about in 1813. It was designed by Germanarchitect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The Iron Cross was awarded for braveryin 1813 (The Freedom War), 1870 (Franco-Prussian War), 1914 (World War I),and 1939 (World War II).
- At the same time Hitler also reinstated the Iron Cross 2nd Class, IronCross 1st Class, and the respective 1914 Iron Cross clasps (spanges).
- In all actuality the Pour Le Merite was not the highest award forbravery in the first world war. The highest award was the Grand Cross ofthe Iron Cross. This award was a huge 62mm Iron Cross worn about theneck. It could only be awarded to men of general rank. There were fiverecipients of the Grand Cross in World War One. They were Kaiser WilhelmII, Generalfeldmarschall Paul Ludwig von Hindenburg, General derInfanterie Erich Ludendorf, Generalfeldmarschall Prinz Maximillian JosephMaris Arnuf, and Generalfeldmarschall August von Mackensen. Adolf Hitleralso reinstated the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross on September 1st, 1939.However this award was only given once in World War Two. The luckyrecipient was Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. Goering was given thishigh award for his successful command of the Luftwaffe during thecampaigns in France and the Low Countries in 1940.
- Hitler meant what he said, when he wanted the Knight’s Cross to beawarded without rank distinction. During World War Two 1,676 NCO’s andenlisted men won this award.
- If you measure a Knight’s Cross and include the suspension loop, thecross will come to 54mm.
- A lot of original Knight’s Cross ribbon has a orange cast to the redsection of the ribbon.
- Original Knights Crosses will have a Swastika that comes up even withthe beaded edge of the frame. Crosses that have Swastikas that fall belowthe beaded frame, should be viewed with suspicion.
- Original Knights Crosses will weigh between 30 to 33 grams. Thisweight will not always hold true for replacement pieces.
- As a general rule most presented Knight’s Crosses simply bear a 800silver content number. This number will be found on the reverse upperframe and the suspension loop.
- Knight’s Crosses bearing a 2 maker mark should have a lazy 2. Whatthis means is that the 2 is laying on it’s side. A Knight’s Cross with avertical 2 should be viewed as a reproduction.
- It should be noted that post-war versions of the Knights Crossmanufactured 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-warpiece, is that original war-time examples hallmarked 2 or L/12 have adesign flaw in the beaded edge of the frame. Where the beaded edge meetsthe Swastika, a extra line is formed in the corners of the frame. If youcould put these lines together they would form a cross-hatch effect. Itwould look like this (#), but only straighter. Post-war made crossesdon’t have this flaw.
- Knight’s Crosses bearing the hallmark 935 4 are unusual in the factthat the maker mark is stamped upside down. The 4 mark is stamped inincuse 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.
- The 800 hallmark on this cross is also stamped in incuse relief, butit is right side up not upside down. The 21 hallmark is simply stampedinto the upper reverse frame on the right side.
- A lot of Knight’s Crosses that bear this hallmark are odd in the factthat the number 65 is sometimes found stamped on the ribbon loop above the800 silver content number.
- A good example is the U-Boat ace Peter Erich Cremer. He received hismedal on June 5th, 1942. Yet Mr. Cremer onlysank 7 ships totalling 35,968 tons. He got the award for successfullybringing back to port a rammed and badly damaged ship the U-333. At thetime Cremer had only four ships sunk to his credit.
- Records indicate that no woman ever received the Knights Cross of theIron Cross. While several women did earn the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Classduring World War Two. The most famous woman to win both classes of theIron Cross was the famous test pilot Flugkapitaen Hanna Reitsch.
- A misconception is that the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross wasawarded more to Generals than any other rank. This of course is farthestfrom the truth. Only 6.9% of the German Generals received this award. Orsimply put, 502 German Generals received the medal.
- If the medal was lost, and the owner couldprove it was not a result of his own careless negligence, a replacementcross was provided free of cost. A lot of these crosses will bear makermark LDO numbers such as L/12. If the owner was killed in action, the medal was passed on to thenext-of-kin.
- This of course was not a new idea to the Germans. During World War Ithe famous portraitist Sanke produced postcards of highly decorated Germansoldiers. The theme of most of these postcards were recipients of thePour Le Merite.
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