The following article was published in Die Wehrmacht



Die höchste deutsche Tapferkeitsauszeichnung

The highest German award for bravery

It is only natural that during times of war, there is a great interest in medals and awards. In the foreground is the Iron Cross, that medal which was awarded during the liberation battle against Napoleon, and it has now become the goal of every soldier during three wars, and today - newly awarded as medal by the Führer - once again signifies the most beautiful and deeming award for manly bravery.

The Führer has not only newly awarded the Iron Cross, but has significantly widened it. With the creation of the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross he introduced a completely novel concept of classifying the order. The concept of "Knights Cross" has always been there. But it did not express what it signifies for us today. According to the establishment of the old knights order, up to now most - foreign - orders are classified as Great Cross, Komtur and Knight, whereby especially in the recent past many subdivisions were introduced: Large Cross in gold, Large Komtur, Large Officer, Officer, etc.

The Knights Cross is comparable to the "Pour le merite," the highest medal for bravery which was awarded by the former German Emperor as King of Prussia. Only a few people know that also the Pour le merite was awarded in various classes: As an embellishment of the medal, oak leaves as well as a crown and oak leaves could be awarded along with it, besides there was also a Great Cross.

Therefore, the awarding of the oak leaves with a medal was nothing new. The oak leaves of the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross even resembles closely the Pour le merit in its form.

Against that, the awarding of swords as an embellishment of the medal is something completely new. Many orders of the German army know the addition of the swords are a sign that it was awarded for military valor. As to the swords to the oak leaves of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, this concerned a significant higher awarding, which is like a second awarding of the Oak Leaves.

Also the diamonds added to a medal are no new creation. The high degree and rare value of this award are already in the nature of this precious stone, and there are only very few medals which had been decorated like that from the start. In most cases, the order with diamonds is only handed out for extra-ordinary service. The medal became more valuable in every way, but did not become a higher class - as was the case with the oak leaves. It is natural that in the various classes, the decorations with oak leaves and those with diamonds rank higher than the simple ones, but remained below the simple medals of the next higher level.

Since now in the case of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, oak leaves, oak leaves with swords and oak leaves with swords and diamonds constitute differentiating marks for a orderly higher level, a new path has been taken.

The Great Cross of the Iron Cross stands as a unique medal; it cannot be attained by an owner of the Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross with Swords and Diamonds in most cases, and thus does not constitute a higher level of the Knights Cross. The Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, with swords and diamonds, is the highest German award for bravery, and therefore is awarded for personal engagement, while the Great Cross is awarded for successful war leadership and it is a completely different matter.

It may now be appropriate to shortly consider the manufacturing process of the Iron Cross. After oak leaves and swords are created from massive silver, they are being soldered together on two sides. After that the carrying ring of the order is then soldered on the back of the oak leaves and the swords. Once the soldering has been completed on the piece, it gets polished. Then the so-called whitening of the oak leaves follows. It gets boiled in a solution of soda, resulting in a nice pale silver-white layer on the whole surface. After that, leaf lines and the outer edges of the oak leaves and the swords are polished to a shine. The two leave lines of the oak leaves are meant to show the "L" for Empress Luise.

The creation of the Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds deviates greatly from this work process. It is true that the matrix for the oak leaves and the swords are also used here to create the indentures. However, after that, the jeweler concentrates on the placement of the diamonds. The oak leaves and swords are being fitted with a rim on the back where all places of the oak leaves and the sword handles which are to be decorated with diamonds are punched through so that the gems have light coming from behind which results in their more effective brilliance. Now the jeweler inserts 52 diamonds. Since care must be taken that the ribs and the whole form of the oak leaves are not getting spoiled by diamonds which are too close together, the work must be done very carefully and can only be accomplished correctly by particularly capable specialists.

The Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, similar to the Iron Cross I and Iron Cross II, is created as follows: The rim is made of massive silver, the black middle piece is made of iron. After both parts are combined, the rim gets blanched and the iron blackened. The carrying ring has been soldered on prior to this process. The outer rim of the silver casing gets polished, while the pearly ripped outer rim remains white.

All parts go through a final handling by the creator of the medals. Rings are hooked to the Knights Cross, the ribbons are pulled through it and the cross gets packaged in boxes and then they are delivered to the Presidential Chancellery of the Führer - the Medal Chancellery of the German Reich. For the Oak Leaves, the Oak Leaves with Swords as well as Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds there is always a distinguished different box available, made of black Spanish leather. 

By Elmar Lang 

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