Iron Cross

German soldiers during World War I who have been awarded the Iron Cross

German soldiers during World War I who have been awarded the Iron Cross

The Iron Cross (EK) was originally a Prussian, later German military award, by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. 10 Was founded in March 1813 in Breslau for the course of the liberation wars in three classes. The first Iron Cross gave Frederick William III. personally his late wife Louise posthumously.

The foundation of the Iron Cross was later used by King William I of Prussia with the outbreak of the Franco-German War 19 Renewed in July 1870 for the war. Kaiser Wilhelm II in his capacity as King of Prussia renewed on 8 August 1914, the Foundation and in turn made the Iron Cross for his broad practice to award a quasi-Teutonic. With the new foundation at the beginning of World War II the Iron Cross was the first September 1939 formally to a German award, which should also be first awarded in four classes.

Form, historical origin and carrying method

Form and historical origin

Background were the beginning of the wars of liberation against Napoleonic domination of France in Central Europe, which Frederick William III with his recently on 17 Was adopted in March 1813 proclamation also called Breslau To my people. The design of the Iron Cross was from the King himself So he created the first ever award in Germany for its award outstanding actions in the liberation war, regardless of status, origin, rank and military rank was decisive. In support of the incipient ceremony practice was the fact that with the introduction of conscription all class distinctions had fallen. With the foundation of the Iron Cross was also awarded several military decorations expressly excluded and be permitted only in exceptional cases. The Iron Cross was also the one who orders, in which the next higher level to achieve the previous award ceremony class necessarily presupposed.

By Frederick William III introduced classification provided that the Grand Cross wear as top class as a neck order and the Iron Cross First Class was to sew the fabric on the skirt Beliehenen. But the king thought proved to be unsuitable. The Iron Cross First and Second Class should now be worn on a ribbon in each button hole or on the left chest. To distinguish between the two classes a pectoral cross was also carried in the form of the Iron Cross for First Class. This pectoral cross was not independent, the First Class of the Order, but only the additional labeling of this class that is in the original foundation. For the Iron Cross, a new band was created, but resorted to the existing black and white ribbon of the Pour le Mérite. The resulting final execution took Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The material of this Order, the iron was symbolic. Unlike many other conventional military order that era was deliberately omitted the Iron Cross valuable materials. The award of plain black, bordered with silver cast iron stand for the knightly duty and reserve a Prussian soldier and should also allude to the Iron Age of ancient mythology, which should start with the new war. The Prussian state collected since 31 March 1813 by wealthy citizens and nobles golden casket in exchange for simple iron jewelry (“I gave gold for iron”; “to defend gold, iron to honor”). The political scientist Münkler also provides a reference to the 1812 incurred patriotic song of the nationalist poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, which begins with the words: “The God who gave the growth of iron, the servants did not want …”

The shape of the new Medal of Honour was symbolically charged. Deliberately searched the reference to the cross bar of the Teutonic Order: Cross a black paws with the widening beam ends on a white coat, as defined by the German knights since the 14th Wear century. So now the unfolding war should be brought to the tradition of the Crusades and so sacralized. The focus of the symbolic world to the Iron Cross was the wife of Frederick William III., Queen Louise. Since her death in 1810 a myth as exemplary wife, loving mother, Prussian Virgin and Martyr had spun around them, to whom the king anknüpfte the Iron Cross. He dated the foundation deed, the 20 March 1813 was published in the Silesian privileged newspaper, on the 10th March Luise’s birthday before. You the new Order was also awarded as the first, albeit posthumously. Friedrich Wilhelm placed great emphasis on the connection of his dead wife with the new order and criticized his court preacher Friedrich Rulemann Eylert because this was received in his sermon at the Garrison Church in Potsdam on too little. The orders were made ​​by the Royal Prussian iron foundry.

Although King Friedrich Wilhelm III. had explicitly set in the foundation of the Order, that he should be given once and only during the liberation war, he was later deemed to be significant wars – the Franco-German war of 1870/71, the First and the Second World War – from the Hohenzollern rulers or the Nazi rulers each newly donated. However, the award of the Iron Cross was actually first set after the war of liberation. Thus, the EC was not awarded in the German-Danish War (1848) and 1864 and the German War in 1866. Only at the beginning of the Franco-German War of 1870 was the Iron Cross on 19 Of July, the anniversary of the death of his mother Louise Wilhelm I renewed my certificate. He could now be given not only to Prussia, but to citizens of all German states. On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the victory over France (1 September 1870), King Wilhelm II donated 18 August 1895 a three-oak leaves silver foliage (officially white metal) with the anniversary number 25 on it, which was to be worn on the medal ribbon of the Iron Cross. This oak leaf was created as the first time the National Socialists later as a guiding principle in the creation of higher levels of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. As a consequence, the Iron Cross for the wars in East Asia 1900/1901 and the uprisings in German South-West Africa, however, was not awarded again. The third edition of the EK occurred during the First World War on 8 August 1914. Owner of the EK of 1870 received from the 4 according to the order June 1915 as a (renewed) Award one on the gang about the silver oak leaves (the 25th Victory Day) to wear silver clasp with a reduced EK with the year 1914. The fourth and final edition of the Iron Cross was the beginning of the Second World War on 1 September 1939. Here, too, were carriers of the EK of 1914 awarded with a renewed award no new equity, but a repetition clasp that was to carry on the band or just above the original cross.

Since the renewal of the Foundation on the occasion of the 1870/71 war, the plug was cross as Iron Cross, First Class for the independent award. The Grand Cross was about twice as large as that of the Second and First Class. The shape of the Grand Cross was adopted in 1939 for the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, but this was less than the Grand Cross, but larger than the Second and First Class. The Iron Cross was smooth on its original foundation in 1813 on the front. In the later Foundation renewals, it was always the particular relief foundation date (1870, 1914 and 1939) in the lower arm of the cross, the Prussian royal crown in the upper arm of the cross and the royal monogram of the monarch and William I. Wilhelm II, and the swastika (1939) in the middle of the front. The reverse shows the versions of 1813, 1870 and 1914 in the lower arm of the cross, the year of the original foundation in 1813, in the middle of an oak in the upper arm of the cross and the crowned monogram of King Frederick William III. (FW). Adolf Hitler renounced in the re-foundation in 1939 to its initials as a leader and commander of the Wehrmacht, which was sworn in on him personally. Instead, the swastika, the symbol of the Nazi state, inserted in the middle of the traditional and the Order of the back were the monogram of Frederick William III was king. and the oak leaves removed.

Carrying method

The Iron Cross was worn completely since its Erststiftung the second band in the buttonhole of the tunic. Since the mid-19th Century, the Order was only later applied to the ceremony day full size only on special occasions. The medal ribbon was sewn as a sign of ownership in the same place with the fabric of the jacket. Towards the end of the 19th Century came to the wearing of large and small Ordensspange n, where also only the ribbon was worn on a brass or metal support on civil suit normally.

The first class, the Knight’s Cross and the Grand Cross were always worn in its original form on the left chest and the collar.


The upper class of the Iron Cross was from 1813 to 1918 to the highest Prussian military decorations. In only ranked the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with swords and the Order Pour le Mérite (franz: For the merit; nickname “Blue Max”), which, however, remained reserved exclusively officers. Teams and Sergeant s were only awarded the Golden Military Merit Cross. In the Third Reich in 1939 symbolized the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with its individual stages, the highest war decoration.

Although there were many other military decorations and other constituent states of the German Empire for the armed services or types of weapons they would be adequate from the personal meaning and social recognition at any stage of the award of an Iron Cross.

The Iron Cross was after the French Legion of Honor, the second European war of Merit, awarded regardless of status and rank, which contributed greatly to its popularity. Perhaps this can explain the unique reputation of the Order in its time with its stressed simplicity and eye-catching uniqueness of the war medals.

Overview of the Foundation data

From 1813

Foundation Date (1813)

Iron Cross Second Class 1813 (back) Breast Cross of the Iron Cross First Class in 1813 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross 1813 (rear) (replica) Star of the Grand Cross 1813 (Blucher star) (replica)

Foundation Date (1870)

Iron Cross Second Class 1870 Iron Cross Second Class with 1870 Clasp Anniversary “25″ Iron Cross First Class in 1870 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross 1870 (replica)

Foundation Date (1914)

Iron Cross Second Class 1914 (front and back) Iron Cross First Class in 1914 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross 1914 (replica) Star of the Grand Cross 1914 (Hindenburg star) (replica)

Foundation Date (1939)

Repeat Clasp to the Iron Cross Second Class 1939 Repeat Clasp to the Iron Cross First Class 1939 Iron Cross Second Class 1939 Iron Cross First Class 1939 Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 (replica) Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves 1939 (replica) Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords 1939 (replica) Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in 1939 with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (replica) Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross in 1939 with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (replica) Grand Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 (replica) Star of the Grand Cross 1939 (replica)

From 1813 to 1918, ascending three different levels:

•Iron Cross Second Class (EK II) (with black and white band)

•Iron Cross, First Class (EK I) (with black and white ribbon and pectoral cross (1813, see above), or Plug Cross)

•Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Necklace)

For non-combatant s there were in 1813, 1870, 1914, the EC on white ribbon with black trim. It was awarded for services that were associated with the war, but did not necessarily have to do with fighting. It could also be awarded to civilians who had made outstanding contributions to the war effort. Because it is often these were people from the defense industry or logistics, e pejorative name “cross slide” came on. For people who already had a EK from the 1870/71 war, a repeat clip was introduced after 1914, which is worn above the original cross.

Blucher and the Prussian Field Marshals Hindenburg each received a not really intended level, which was created especially for her for her exceptional services. The Iron Cross was presented on a golden eight-pointed star. Since these crosses were awarded only twice, they were named after their makers, namely, “Blucher Star” or “Hindenburg star”. The Blucher star itself was until 1945 in the collection of the Berlin armory. Through the chaos of war, he was then to be lost. Only in the year 2007, could clarify the fate of the religious character. This year, a catalog of the museums of the Moscow Kremlin and State Historical Museum of the City with the message appeared that the star and the Grand Cross of Blücher’s now located in the possession of the State Historical Museum. The Hindenburg star disappeared shortly before the end of the Second World War from the Prussian Army Museum and has since been lost.

World War II

During World War II, Hitler led the Iron Cross as a war prize again. Something made ​​thicker, it was the year 1939 to the front (1813 came on the back) and in the middle of the swastika. It was now no longer supported as of Prussian tradition of the black-white band, but at one (seen from outside to inside) black-white-red ribbon. The foundations of 1813, 1870 and 1914 included both a “bravery in action” and without merit combat in the award provisions. In 1939, the foundation of non-combatants from the first time of the award, for her and for combatant s in the rear or front area on the “home front” was donated to the War Merit Cross (1939).

For soldiers who were awarded during the First World War with the Iron Cross, again a repeat clip was created. This was worn (ie placed on the breast pocket) for the EK II 1914 on the band and the Iron Cross of the Iron Cross 1914. The size of the clasp is adjusted so that the field looks with the year as a direct continuation of the upper cross arm. The clip itself is a silver color and consists of the former emblem, a stylized eagle with its wings spread, including the year 1939. The so-called 1957 version of the clasp to the Iron Cross consists of equity divided by a miniature year 1939. The clasps on the EK I and EK II differ in principle to the effect that the wings of the clasp of the Iron Cross protrude beyond the annual number plate.

In the period between 1939 and 1945, four different ascending levels:

•Iron Cross Second Class (EK II) (with black-white-red ribbon)

•Iron Cross, First Class (EK I) (plug-cross)

•Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher levels

•Grand Cross of the Iron Cross

The Knight’s Cross in 1939 donated, was born on a wide band around the neck (the religious statute provided that the Order must be on the flat-bound tie knot) and effectively assumed the role conferred to 1918 Prussian Pour le Mérite, which is only awarded to officers was (for enlisted men was until 1918 the Golden Military Merit Cross awarded). As the war came as an increase in the award merits further successively Oak (816 awards), Swords (157 awards) and diamonds (27 awards) add to the RK, which were attached to the support ring of the religious band. There was a further increase, namely the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds. This cross was, however, awarded only once, namely on 1 January 1945 the Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel, because this destroyed over 500 Soviet tanks and other acts had vorzuweisen (including the sinking of the Soviet battleship Marat). 1942 Hitler ordered that carriers of the Knight’s Cross (including generals) are independent of the rank of the wearer as an honor to greet first of all military ranks.

The last increase was the Grand Cross. This order was also awarded only once during the period of 1939-45, to Hermann Goering, the Luftwaffe and Reichsmarschall.

The U.S. Army confiscated at the end of the war in Austria a special stage of the Grand Cross with star, similar to the 1813 and 1914 Blücher or Hindenburg star. This award has not come to the ceremony, for whom it was designed, is unknown. Göring the Grand Cross and the Star are never awarded in the archives of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Award numbers

Grand Cross of the Iron Cross

1813/15  5 awards Blucher, Bulow, Crown Prince Charles John, Tauentzien, Wartenberg

1870/71  8 ceremonies Frederick William of Prussia, Carl of Prussia, Albert of Saxony, Edwin von Manteuffel, Helmuth von Moltke, August von Goeben, August von Werder, Friedrich Franz II

1914/18  4 awards of Hindenburg, von Mackensen, Leopold of Bavaria, Ludendorff

1939/45  1 award Goering

Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

1939/45  8,397 awards (all levels)

Iron Cross First Class

1813/15  668 awards

1870/71  1302 Awards

1914/18  approx. 218,000 awards

1939/45  approx. 300,000 awards

Iron Cross Second Class

1813/15  8,542 (7,000 + candidates) + 374 black on white tape

1870/71  47,812 ceremonies including 3,050 ceremonies on white-black band

1914/18  approx. 5.196 million plus awards 13,000 ceremonies on white-black band

1939/45  approx. 3,000,000 ceremonies

The Iron Cross in 1945

Emblem of the Bundeswehr and use

Award of Merit as a war or the Iron Cross is not awarded since 1945. Due to its identity-specific tradition on 1 October 1956 Federal President Theodor Heuss, the Iron Cross for recognition characters for the aviation and combat vehicles of the Bundeswehr. So it is, in all three branches of the armed forces n the emblem of money (for Example of armored vehicles and aircraft). The troops of the Armed Forces Flag n carry in their head encompassed by a gold oak leaves Iron Cross. Even the decorations of the Bundeswehr (Medal of Honor, Honor Cross in bronze, silver or gold) wears the Iron Cross as a symbol of freedom love, chivalry and bravery on the front. Also, it is used on letters, business cards, and in the context of public relations as a “logo” of the Bundeswehr. The Iron Cross as the symbol can still be found in various Badge of the Bundeswehr.

Petition to re-launch in 2007

In the spring of 2007, initiated a petition for re-introduction of the Iron Cross as a bravery award for the Bundeswehr missions abroad in the German Bundestag. This petition was signed within the prescribed two-month period of more than 5,000 people. The German parliament has discussed the petition on 13 December 2007 decided the petition to the federal government – in this case the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – to be paid. He follows the recommendation of the Committee on Petitions (Bundestag printed paper 16/7494).

The President of the Association of reservists, Ernst-Reinhard Beck (CDU), proposed to use the form of the Iron Cross of the Order. He justified this by saying that the symbol of all vehicles and aircraft, and ships may be borne with the army and would have become in crisis regions for a sign of hope, help and solidarity for which you do not should be ashamed. This came due to its reintroduction by the Nazi regime largely in denial. On 6 Approved in March 2008, the then Federal President Horst Köhler, the proposal of the Minister of Defence Franz Josef Jung (CDU), a medal for “exceptionally brave actions.” To a revival of the Iron Cross was not intended, but rather an extension of the existing Honour of the Bundeswehr. As a result, on 10th October 2008, the Bundeswehr Cross of Honour for Bravery donated.


Belt buckle of the Bundeswehr

Use in the Navy

The submarine U 9 was due to an order of the Supreme Commander of the Navy Erich Raeder, which he had left in the spring of 1936, entitled, 9 affixed to both sides of the tower the Iron Cross in memory of his predecessors in World War U in the form of a painting. Other ships of the Navy, who were entitled to the EC, were the light cruiser Emden, as successors of the first SMS Emden, and the survey vessel Meteor.

Carrying method of the Iron Cross 1945

According to the German Order of the Act of 26 July 1957 is only allowed without swastika and with evidence of his legitimate acquisition wearing the EK from the Second World War. Veteran s can this Iron Crosses – even as thumbnails – obtain at his own expense, on which the swastika is replaced by an oak branch, as already graced the first Iron Cross of 1813. Only known German manufacturer and distributor is the Steinhauer & Lück from Lüdenscheid. Badge with Nazi emblems may not be worn in public. The possession of originals is allowed. For commercial use, and are always to be considered § 86 and § 86a of the Criminal Code. There is a clear distinction between prohibited (for As for Nazi propaganda) and allowed (eg As for cultural and historical collections or scientific purposes) facts distinguished.

Useful information

The name of the district of Kreuzberg in Berlin, he goes back to the 1821, designed by Schinkel and held in the form of a cross monument back, when established, turn the Tempelhof Mountain in Kreuzberg had been renamed.

The symbolism of the Iron Cross was from 1813, after the call of Princess Marianne of Prussia Prussia to all women to express their gold jewelry, and for honoring jewelry, usually with the words “I gave gold for iron”, is used. The call was repeated in the First World War. Wedding Rings, Brooches and Rings (some of the symbolism of the Iron Cross Picking up immediately) were issued to citizens willing to donate / interior in return for their gold jewelry. The German Red Cross collected in many places during the war each donation with an oversized wooden replica (190 x 190 cm and 14 cm thick), were wrapped in the iron or silver nails according to the amount of donations (Darmstadt, Heidelberg, Saarbrücken). This “Iron Cross” served as a “patriotic attraction” to win the same donor for these donations and reward by the public form again as donors.

The Iron Cross is found even today in some coat of arms or as a symbol of clubs. In the jewelry industry, the Iron Cross is also often found as a chain or ring, as well as piercing jewelery. More widespread example are:

Use in popular culture

In the late 1960s, the Iron Cross became increasingly as an icon in the pop – uses and subculture. It started with this American subcultures like the biker scene and rock musician. How many of these trends continued use later in Europe.

The English heavy metal band Motörhead used the symbol as part of their mascot Snaggletooth. Singer and bassist Lemmy Kilmister wearing an Iron Cross as necklaces.


•Ansgar Reiss (ed.), Frank Wernitz: The Iron Cross 1813-1870-1914, history and significance of an award, catalogs of the Bavarian Army Museum Ingolstadt, Volume 10 & 11, Verlag Militaria GmbH, Vienna, 2013, ISBN 978-3-902526 – 58-8

•Louis Schneider: The Book of the Iron Cross. Duncker, Berlin, 1872. digitally Heinrich Heine University

•Werner Otto Hut: The History of the Iron Cross and its importance to the award being Prussian and German from 1813 to the present. Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University of Bonn, 1967 (Bonn, Faculty of Humanities, Diss v. 20th December 1967).

•Jörg Nimmergut: The Iron Cross from 1813 to 1957. History of the award system. Special edition. VDM Heinz Nickel, Two Bridges, 1997, ISBN 3-925480-07-2.

•Jörg Nimmergut: German Orders and Decorations to 1945 Centre for Scientific customer orders, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-00-001396-2.◦Volume 2 Limburg – Reuss. Pp. 1007-1073,

◦Volume 4 Württemberg II – German Empire. Pp. 2108-2131.

•Stephen Thomas Previtera: The Iron Time.A History of the Iron Cross. Second edition. Winidore Press, Richmond, VA 2007 ISBN 978-0-9673070-3-9.

•Ralph Winkle: The gratitude of a nation.A symbol story of the Iron Cross 1914 until 1936. Plain text, Essen 2007, ISBN 978-3-89861-610-2 (same time. Tübingen University, Diss, 2002/03).

•Dietlinde Munzel-Everling: War nailing. Wehrmann iron, nail Roland, iron cross. Wiesbaden 2008. downloadable PDF .

Orders and Decorations (Nazism)

Orders and Decorations (Prussia)

National Symbol (Germany)


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