By Christopher Ailsby
The rare and exotic pieces of the Third Reich come in many forms and guises. The orders and decorations of this period of history and the personages to whom they were awarded, hold a particular interest for me. Some of those bestowal's now, at best, are conveniently forgotten and, at worst, denied leaving the collector with many perplexing questions. Certain pieces simply jumped out of the pages. Their beauty and historical importance inspired me to try and track them down and then, if at all possible, incorporate them into my collection. A veteran collector of antiques once told me, "The rare of a period will always be the very rare of the present and the ultra rare of the future. If you are lucky enough to acquire them, they act as a magnet for other rare pieces, you put them in your cabinet and they breed". This statement, in part, I have to agree with, albeit I have not as yet been able to achieve a breeding programme!
Luftwaffe Pilot-Observer Badge with Diamonds, this badge belonged to Hermann Göring, and was part of the Eric Campion Collection
The recipients of these awards are varied, encompassing the
colorful to the colorless, spanning all nationalities, rewarding the moguls of business or the leaders of nations.
To such people, on opposite plains,
are Henry Ford who received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle and Hermann Göring,
who literally collected awards of every type from every country and sources that he could.
Once the Weimar Republics ineffective
ban on foreign decorations was dropped in 1933, Hermann Göring's fascination for decorations was intensified.
German diplomats abroad were asked to supply information on the highest foreign orders, many of which
he later requested and subsequently received. In his collector's zeal, he fully ignored proper German channels and often displayed a total disregard
for tact. When awarded a high order by the Grand Duchess of Luxembourg, her government requested that he did not make the fact public because of protests at home.
Completely unconcerned, Göring immediately had his
photo taken proudly displaying his new order, which he then had published in a Berlin newspaper.
On 12 January 1943 Hermann Göring celebrated his 50th birthday, an occasion of such importance that officials and organizations were asked to contribute suitable presents. The official gift from the city of Potsdam was a specially designed cabinet for his collection of decorations.
Possibly one of my favorite exotica is the Combined Pilot's and Observer's Badge in Gold with Diamonds. I first came across the badge in "Orders, Decorations, Medals and Badges of the Third Reich" by David Littlejohn. The badge in question was attributed to a private collection in England. The owner was Eric Campion and the story of his acquisition was as interesting as the piece itself. "It had been returned to England by a British officer with an order for destruction. He went to Hatton Garden and sold the piece to a notable jewellery house, instructing them to break it up. The management telephoned Mr Campion who visited them post haste. He subsequently purchased the badge and was incidentally told that the officer was disposing of a large quantity of important medals which had also belonged to Göring. He sold them to the various large medal dealers in the city. Mr Campion followed the trail and bought the awards from the relevant dealers. These items remained with him till he parted with the Combined Pilot's and Observer's Badge in 1982. The other awards have now been bequeathed to the country and form part of a permanent exhibition at the RAF Museum at Hendon.
Göring's obsession with his decorations seemed to be based for the most part on his love for representation and show, rather than on their prestige value. His persistent need to emphasize his position and power was also reflected in his practice of awarding personal decorations to friends and loyal staff. He conceived this award during the summer of 1935, with the first bestowal taking place on 11 November 1935. It is noteworthy that both the inception and first presentation predate the introduction of the Combined Pilot's and Observer's Badge, which was introduced on 26 March 1936. During the war, on 19 October 1939, Göring raised the badges' status to that of an official decoration. Furthermore, the badge was produced in Austria by the Viennese jeweler, Rudolf Stübiger. The construction of it is quite unique as the whole badge was hand produced.
There are two forms of the award, the male and female design. The male design is constructed in two distinct manners. The first being the one formally presented, produced in gold and platinum, beset with real diamonds. The second form being the official dress copy, produced in silver and beset with synthetic stones. This was also produced by the same jeweler. Whether the dress copy was awarded with the presentation piece is unsure. In a letter from Hans Rudel dated 1 January 1982, he told me that he had only received the awarded type. It could be possible that due to war economies the silver gilt form was going to become the presentation 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 that
employed on the Pilot's Badge. It measures 52.5 mm by 41.5 mm with a width of 7.5 mm and a depth of 3 mm.
The general appearance of the eagle
differs from that of the Pilot's Badge, the wings being enlarged. The wingspan measures 65 mm, while the depth of the left wing is 12 mm and the
right 15 mm. The eagle is constructed to allow the stones in the wings to have light coming from behind, enhancing the fire of the diamonds.
edges of the feathers are all slightly pebbled. The upper parts of the wings are highly polished, which compliments and enhances the appearance
of the fletching. The general appearance of the eagle is larger. The legs are finely detailed and are spread with a gap between them.
There are 36
diamonds in the right wing and 31 in the left. A total of 19 are inlaid in the eagle's body.
The outside of the swastika is slightly pebbled. It
measures 12 mm across and the individual arms are 3 mm wide. Eighteen small diamonds are inlaid in the arms of the swastika. The whole of the
eagle's frame is constructed in platinum while the wreath is made in 22 ct gold.
The weight of the badge is 20 gms.
The reverse of the wreath is flat and has a matt finish with a thin barrel hinge at the apex. The pin is of a thin, needle type and is retained in a unique holder that acts as a safety catch.
The eagle has a 3 mm flat frame running round the edge of the wing and the body, which is employed to strengthen the structure of the eagle. The wings have a strut of similar construction running across them, which is covered by the wreath. On to this is attached a screw post that fits through individual holes drilled in the wreath securing the eagle to the body of the wreath. The eagle is held on to the wreath by two massive screws.
In correspondence with the firm of Rudolf Stübiger, his son indicated that they produced 70 of these badges. On the first of them, only the shop number was scratched on the reverse of the badge in the position of the hinge. After 1938, when Austria became part of the Greater German Reich, they placed their logo on the reverse of the eagle. This information gives one a good clue to the period and therefore the person to whom a badge was possibly awarded.
Official Dress Copy
The wreath is cast and then hand finished in the same design as that
employed on the presentation badge. It measures 52.5 mm by 41.5 mm with a width of 7.5 mm and a depth of 3.5 mm. The general appearance of the
eagle differs from that of the presentation badge. The wings are slightly smaller 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 wings
and body to have light coming from behind. The design of the fletching and how the individual feathers are placed on the wing is also different
in this badge. The edges of the feathers are all slightly pebbled. The upper parts of the wings are highly polished, which compliments and
enhances the appearance of the fletching. The general appearance of the eagle is
stylized, the legs are spread with a gap between them. There are 32 stones in the right wing and 38 in the left.
A total of 16 are inlaid in the eagle's body. The outside of the swastika is slightly pebbled. It measures 12.5 mm across and the individual arms are 3.5 mm
wide. Seventeen small stones are inlaid in the arms of the swastika. The whole of the eagle's frame and the wreath is made of silver.
The wreath is then gilded. The weight of the badge is 43 gms.
The reverse of the wreath is flat and has a polished finish with a barrel hinge at the apex. The pin is of a broad blade type and is retained in a large C form hook. Stamped into the wreath at 2 o'clock in large capital letters is, IMI. Also just beneath this are four incused oblong boxes that contain the standing pelican, the silver mark for Austria, R.St., the mark for the maker and W, the mark for Wien. These marks are repeated on the broad blade pin.
The eagle has a flat reverse and is highly polished. The wings and the body show the individual holes drilled in them. The eagle is held on to the wreath by two massive open rivets.
The Female Class
This badge is identical to the awarded type, being produced in real
diamonds set into an eagle constructed of platinum, which in turn is mounted on to a gold wreath. The insignia is about one third of the size
and mounted on a bar. This thin bar has 5 small diamonds set into it on either side of the wreath. The remaining part from the diamonds to the tip
is highly polished. On the reverse is a long needle pin.
The only recipient of this exclusive award was; Flug-Kapitänin Hanna Reitsch. The lady was a test pilot to the German airforce, who flew everything from a V.1. to the Gigant. She also held the unusual honor as a woman to have had bestowed upon her both the Iron Cross Second Class and First Class of the 1939 series, receiving the Iron Cross Second Class on 28 March 1941 and the Iron Cross First Class on 5 November 1942.
In correspondence with her, she stated that she received only the described bar and not the normal award type, nor did she receive a dress copy.
These badges were possibly the most exciting flying badges of any country. Apart from their obvious beauty, the rarity and the people to whom they were awarded, notably Hermann Göring himself, they also rewarded some of the bravest of the Luftwaffe pilots. The first award of the badge was presented to the chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff, Generalleutnant Wever, on 11 November 1935 and led to the award of 60 other persons. (As yet discovered to date.)
The Known Recipients were;
Von BLOMBERG, Werner
Von BRAUCHITSCH, Walter
Ritter Von GREIM, Robert
Von BELOW, Nicolaus
Von GABLENS, Carl - August
KASTNER - KIRDORF, Gustav
Baron von MANNERHEIM, Carl Gustav Emil
Von RICHTHOFEN, Wolfram
von MANSTEIN, Erich
RUDEL, Hans - Ulrich
General d Astiè de la Vìgerie Colonel MORAGILIA
Colonel de Geffrièr Commandent (Mejòr) PETITJEAN
SS-Oberstgruppenfuhrer Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich
Flug-Kapitänin Hanna Reitsch
Many misbelieves have been constructed around the award of the Combined Pilot's Badge with Diamonds and why some of the officers had been awarded the badge. The Combined Pilot's and Observer's Badge was authorized to be awarded in special cases to foreigners, in recognition of special services rendered to the Luftwaffe. An honorary presentation of this badge was normally made too foreign attach‚s upon their return to their home station. It is interesting that one of the first honorary awards of the badge was to Benito Mussolini, who was awarded the badge in April 1937. The citation clearly states that it was for, 'Das Goldene Flugzeugführer und Beobachter-Abzeichen'. This gives rise to the assumption that the citation was for the Combined Pilots Badge with Diamonds. This is incorrect as it was conferred upon Mussolini on 28 September 1937 by Göring, who personally pinned it to his tunic. Andrew Mollow, in a letter to 'Guns, Weapons & Militaria' in December 1981 entitled, 'Mit or Mitout Diamonds?', Said, "In pointing out the error in Chris Ailsby's article on the Order of the German Eagle, David Littlejohn has contributed to a basic misunderstanding which exists concerning the Luftwaffe Pilot/Observer Badge". David Littlejohn refers to the Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold and Diamonds awarded to Benito Mussolini in September 1937. Whereas most post war publications on German orders and medals refer to only two classes or categories of this badge, I believe there were three.
The basic badge with silver eagle on an upright gilt metal wreath was awarded to Luftwaffe aircrew on successful completion of their flight training.
As a special personal award, Göring introduced sometime in 1935 a Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold and Diamonds. This badge was awarded to prominent members of the Luftwaffe, most or all of whom had been at one time or another qualified pilots.
The third class of this badge was a version in which both the eagle and wreath were in solid gold. This badge Göring awarded to foreign heads of state such as King Boris of Bulgaria and Benito Mussolini and a very few eminent Germans such as the Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler'.
This poses an interesting question as to whether there was such an animal as the Golden Pilot and Observers Badge and was it upgraded to the diamond award, as those named eventually received the award with diamonds, and was this form used to reward friendly nations' politically appointed air personnel? As yet, a gold badge produced in gold has not been observed.
The criteria for the award was that each recipient must be the holder of a pilot's license. This pilot's license could have been either in the civil form, to encompass single engine airplanes and even to have allowed the consideration of the holder of a glider pilot's license. This would have qualified them for the badge. This explains the entitlement of the badge for some of the more unusual bestowal's namely, Himmler and Dietrich. It is also believed that Dr. Fritz Todt was a recipient of the award but this has yet to be fully confirmed. Upon the death of the holder, the badge had to be returned to Göring's personal office. This was the case with General Korten who was mortally wounded in the bomb plot attempt of 20 July 1944. After his death, the badge was not immediately returned and Göring's office was most indiscreet in requesting its return before his body was cold in its grave.
Hansen-Nootbar recalls one argument between Dönitz and Göring which ended when Göring unpinned the diamond studded pilot's decoration from his exquisite uniform and handed it to Dönitz who, to the delight of the officers watching them, unpinned the U-boat decoration from his own service blue jacket and handed it to Göring. It was a typically nimble and 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's personality and intelligence or the aura of his power and the long established position he held in the Nazi hierarchy or loyalty to the Föhrer perhaps, that caused Dönitz to respond as he did and humor and get along with the Reichsmarschall in public, while privately regarding him as a national disaster. For, when he and Hansen-Nootbar were alone they referred to Göring as, 'the grave digger of the Reich' or 'the fat one'. Whether this symbolic gesture actually constituted the award of the two
badges to the two personages is doubtful but undoubtedly Dönitz was awarded the badge. It is less likely that Göring received the Submarine Badge with Diamonds from Dönitz.
The design of the box for the presentation badge is uncertain and it is possible that it was just a jeweler's case which transported the badge to the award ceremony. The box in which the female badge was awarded was again only a jeweler protective one. The dress copy came in a white simulated leather box, measuring 86mm by 86mm and 27mm deep. It was hinged and had an ornate bronze clasp. The inner lid liner was a light blue watered silk and the base was a royal blue velvet with a raised plinth on which the badge rested. The front of the box had the maker's logo stamped upon it as did the base.
When we turn to the subject of reproductions and reproductions of these badges in particular, we must first address the question, why is there a necessity for reproductions in the first instance. As with any other hobby, the pressure to obtain rare pieces by collectors pushes the unscrupulous dealer or collector to any lengths to satisfy the demand.
There are very good quality fakes being produced at the moment being fashioned in white gold and diamonds. The wreath is in yellow gold. The most noticeable difference is in the line of the trunk of the eagle's body. It is pronounced and runs similarly to that of the dress copy. The set of the fletching over the eagle's legs, which produce its trousers, is also slightly different, as is the fletching that covers the eagle's wings. The head on the awarded piece is chiseled from the platinum, while in the fake it appears to be set with diamond Chipping's. All these minor points when added together in the construction of the fake badge give a discernible difference. This can be fairly classed as the Rolls Royce. Another type encountered has only four feathers at the tip of the left wing, instead of six. The diamonds were artificial stones and the badge was not constructed of gold. The most common fake is an Austrian made Luftwaffe pilot's badge with 17 paste stones set in the swastika. On the examples that I have examined these are very poorly set. The reverse shows that the eagle has been hollow stamped as has the wreath. The eagle is attached to the wreath by two crude rivets. The pin is of the square type with chamfered edges and on to the upper side are stamped bogus marks. These can be, as in one example examined, '16, a coffin shaped lozenge with a bird incused, 800 in a box and L L 6'. The other example had just 800 in a box.
One of the most interesting stories about this type of badge came to my attention when Richard Kimmel wrote to me from America with a photograph of 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 on holiday in England. She had obtained it along with a Pour le Mérite at a fund raising sale held at the Imperial War Museum in London, when they had tried 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 turned up 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 Imperial War Museum had required finance, it would have been insured. It is also a war memorial to commemorate the dead of the first world war. I put it like this; if the White House had fire damage would the President sell something from the Oval Office? However, wishing for the great rarity clouds the impressionable collector's vision. The old saying, 'If wishes were horses, beggars would ride', many fake pieces with spectacular stories would become original. One must face reality, if there is doubt then usually the piece is bad. When we visited America, I viewed the great 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 but am quite sure I would not get any life insurance. The historical and factual credibility of the story that accompanies a piece and is intended to give provenance to that piece, has to stand up. The gullibility of the collector who wishes to obtain the great rarity at less than a bargain price, is a victim of his own greed. I do not think I have to elaborate upon this further, the connotations will be clear on both sides of the Atlantic.
Angolia- For Föhrer and Fatherland Volume 1. 3rd Edition Pages 172-176
Angolia & Schlicht - Uniforms & Traditions of the Luftwaffe Volume 1. Page
Littlejohn and Dodkins - Orders, Decorations, Medals and Badges of the
Third Reich Volume 1 Pages 130-131
Klietmann - Deutsche Auszeichnungen Volume 2 Pages 216-217
Klietmann - Auszeichnungen des Deutschen Reiches 1936-1945 Pages 181
Bender - The Hitler Albums Pages 88,94-95
Patzwall - Die Auszeichnungen der Kriegsmarine 1939-1945 Page
Ailsby - Combat Medals of the Third Reich Pages 194-198
Ailsby - A Collector's Guide To: World War 2 German Medals and Political
Awards. Page 10, 60-62
Forman's Guide to Third Reich German Awards ...and their values 2nd
Edition Page 118
E. Stockton and M. Charlton - Reproduction Nazi Insignia Page 19
Author and K Dönitz 24.6.1973
Author and H Reitsch 12.2.1977
Author and A Galland 17.2.1977; 12.1.1982
Author and H Rudel 1.1.1982
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