Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

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Knight's Cross. The swastika makes it illegal to wear in Germany and possibly some other countries.

The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German language: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, shortend Ritterkreuz) was National Socialist Germany's most prestigious order and recognized extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during the Third Reich period.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the only recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, Diamonds and Golden Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern, Brillanten und Goldenem Eichenlaub).

Prerequisites

To qualify for the Knight's Cross, a soldier had to have held the 1939 Iron Cross First Class already, though the Iron Cross First Class was awarded concurrently with the Knight's Cross in rare cases.

Unit commanders could also be awarded the medal for exemplary conduct by the unit as a whole. Also, U-boat commanders could qualify for sinking 100,000 tons of ships, and Luftwaffe pilots could qualify for accumulating 20 "points" [with one point being awarded for shooting down a single-engine plane, two points for a twin-engine plane, and three for a four-engine plane, with all points being doubled at night]. It was issued from 1939-45, with the requirements being gradually raised as the war went on.

Grades

The Knight's Cross was divided into five grades, excluding the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross as top level:

Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes)

The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross is based on the enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 1573[1]) of 1 September 1939 Verordnung über die Erneuerung des Eisernen Kreuzes (Regulation of the renewing of the Iron Cross).

Verordnung über die Erneuerung des Eisernen Kreuzes Enactment regarding the renewing of the Iron Cross
Artikel 1 Article 1
Das Eiserne Kreuz wird in folgender Abstufung und Reihenfolge verliehen:
Eiserne Kreuz 2. Klasse,
Eiserne Kreuz 1. Klasse,
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes,
Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes.
The Iron Cross will be awarded in the following grades and order:
Iron Cross 2nd Class
Iron Cross 1st Class
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Grand Cross of the Iron Cross
Artikel 2 Article 2
Das Eiserne Kreuz wird ausschließlich für besondere Tapferkeit vor dem Feind und für hervorragende Verdienste in der Truppenführung verliehen. Die Verleihung einer höheren Klasse setzt den Besitz der vorangehenden Klasse voraus. The Iron Cross is exclusively awarded for bravery before the enemy and for excellent merits in commanding troops. The award of a higher class must be preceded by the award of all preceding classes.
Artikel 3 Article 3
Die Verleihung des Großkreuzes behalte ich mir vor für überragende Taten, die den Verlauf des Krieges entscheidend beeinflussen. I reserve for myself the power to award the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, for superior actions that decisively influence the course of the war.
Artikel 4 Article 4
Das Eiserne Kreuz 2. Klasse und das Eiserne Kreuz 1. Klasse gleichen in Größe und Ausführung den bisherigen mit der Abweichung, daß auf der Vorderseite das Hakenkreuz und die Jahreszahl 1939 angebracht sind.

Die 2. Klasse wird an einem schwarz-weiß-roten Bande im Knopfloch oder an der Schnalle, die 1. Klasse ohne Band auf der linken Brustseite getragen. Das Ritterkreuz ist größer als das Eiserne Kreuz 2. Klasse. Es wird an einem schwarz-weiß-roten Bande am Halse getragen. Das Großkreuz ist etwa doppelt so groß wie das Eiserne Kreuz 2. Klasse. Es wird an einem breiteren schwarz-weiß-roten Bande am Halse getragen.

The 2nd Class and 1st Class are of the same size and format as previous versions with the exception that the front sides bears the swastika and the date 1939.

The 2nd Class is worn on a black-white-red band in the buttonhole or clasp, the 1st Class without band on the left breast side. The Knight's Cross is larger in size than the Iron Cross 1st Class and is worn around the neck (neck order) with a black-white-red band. The Grand Cross is approximately twice the size of the Iron Cross 1st Class, a golden trim instead of the silver trim and is worn around the neck with a broader black-white-red band.

Artikel 5 Article 5
Ist der Beliehene schon im Besitz einer oder beider Klassen des Eisernen Kreuzes des Weltkrieges, so erhält er an Stelle eines zweiten Kreuzes eine silberne Spange mit dem Hoheitszeichen und der Jahreszahl 1939 zu dem Eisernen Kreuz des Weltkrieges verliehen; die Spange wird beim Eisernen Kreuz 2. Klasse auf dem Bande getragen, beim Eisernen Kreuz 1. Klasse über dem Kreuz angesteckt. In case the recipient already owns one or two of the classes of the Iron Cross from the World War, then instead of a second Cross a silver clasp to Iron Cross of the World War bearing the national emblem and the date 1939 is awarded; in case of the 2nd Class the clasp is worn on the band, in case of the 1st Class above the Cross.
Artikel 6 Article 6
Der Beliehene erhält eine Besitzurkunde. The recipient receives a certificate of ownership.
Artikel 7 Article 7
Das Eiserne Kreuz verbleibt nach dem Ableben des Beliehenen als Erinnerungsstück den Hinterbliebenen. The Iron Cross shall be retained as an heirloom by the heirs of the recipient after his demise.
Artikel 8 Article 8
Die Durchführungsbestimmungen erläßt der Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht im Einverständnis mit dem Staatsminister und Chef der Präsidialkanzlei.

Berlin, den 1. September 1939.

The processing provisions are released by the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces in accordance with the State Minister and the Chief of the Presidential Chancellery.

Berlin, 1 September 1939

Der Führer
Adolf Hitler
Der Führer
Adolf Hitler
Der Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht
Wilhelm Keitel
Supreme Command of the Armed Forces
Wilhelm Keitel
Der Reichsminister des Innern
Dr. Wilhelm Frick
Minister of the Interior
Dr. Wilhelm Frick
Der Staatsminister und Chef der Präsidialkanzlei des Führers und Reichskanzlers
Otto Meißner
State Minister of the Rank of a Reich Minister and Chief of the Presidential Chancellery of the Führer and Reich Chancellor
Otto Meißner

Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves (mit Eichenlaub)

Based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 849[2]) of 3 June 1940 augmenting article 1 and 4.

Artikel 1 Article 1
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub,
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves
Artikel 4 Article 4
Das Eichenlaub zum Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes besteht aus drei silbernen Eichenblättern, die auf der Bandspange aufliegen. The Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross are made of three silver oak leaves attached to the band clasp.

Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern)

Based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 613[3]) of 28 September 1941 again augments articles 1 and 4.

Artikel 1 Article 1
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit dem Eichenlaub mit Schwertern,
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit dem Eichenlaub mit Schwertern und Brillanten,
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
Artikel 4 Article 4
Das Eichenlaub mit Schwertern zeigt unter den drei silbernen Blättern zwei gekreuzte Schwerter.
Bei dem Eichenlaub mit Schwertern und Brillanten sind die drei silbernen Blätter und die Schwertgriffe mit Brillanten besetzt.
The Oak Leaves and Swords depict two crossed swords beneath the three silver leaves.
In case of the Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds the three silver leaves and the hilts of the swords are jewelled with Diamonds.

Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds (mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillianten)

Also based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 613[3]) of 28 September 1941

Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds (mit dem Goldenen Eichenlaub mit Schwertern und Brillanten)

Based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt 1945 I S. 11[4]) of 29 December 1944 augmenting articles 1, 2, and 4.

Artikel 1 Article 1
Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit dem Goldenen Eichenlaub mit Schwertern und Brillanten,
Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
Artikel 2 Article 2
Das Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit dem Goldenen Eichenlaub mit Schwertern und Brillanten wird nur zwölf mal verliehen, um höchstbewährte Einzelkämpfer, die mit allen Stufen des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes ausgezeichnet sind, vor dem Deutschen Volke besonders zu ehren. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds is to be awarded twelve times only, to honor before the German people the most successful combatants, that have received all grades of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
Artikel 4 Article 4
Bei dem Goldenen Eichenlaub mit Schwertern und Brillanten sind die drei Blätter und die Schwerter in Gold ausgeführt und wie bei dem silbernen Eichenlaub mit Brillanten besetzt. In case of the Golden Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds the three leaves and the swords are made of gold and likewise jewelled with Diamonds.

Recipients

Several different versions of the Iron Cross awarded by Prussia.

In total, 7,318 awards of the Knight's Cross were made, but only 882 received Oak Leaves (plus 8 non German recipients) and 159 received Oak Leaves and Swords (plus one honorary recipient, the Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto).

Only 27 men were ever awarded the Diamonds grade of the Knight's Cross

Bundeswehr

Voldemars Veiss from Latvia, one of the many foreign volunteers who earned the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross

711 holder of the Knight's Cross later formed and served the Bundeswehr. 114 of them reaching the rank of general.[5]

Distribution by Service

Heer Luftwaffe Kriegsmarine Waffen-SS
4,785 1,785 318 460

Non Existing Recipients (legally)

Version 1957 without swastika now with oak branch - this to wear allowed for Knight Cross holder

Since the end of World War II a number of people not yet listed claimed to be recipients of the Knight's Cross. The majority of these "recipients" are lacking the legal evidence to sustain their claims and are thus denied the right to consider themselves "legal recipients". Up until today two cases exists where the legal proof of the award exists however the recipients do not. These two "legally correct" recipients are Günther Nowak and Heinrich Scherhorn.[6]

Günther Nowak (example)

Günther Nowak, Hitlerjunge, was awarded the Knight's Cross on 14 February 1945 for the destruction of 11 tanks in Hindenburg, Oberschlesien. It was always assumed that he was the youngest recipient of the Knight's Cross. In reality Günther Nowak never existed. A deserting Commander of the Volkssturm was caught and claimed that after the retreat of the Wehrmacht he destroyed 5 tanks single handed. Because of this he was taken to the Gauleiter. Fearing that his lie was unveiled he created the story of Günther Nowak in order to lessen his "feat". This report was then sent to Reichsleiter Martin Bormann. Bormann then immediately awarded the German Cross (Deutsches Kreuz) in Gold to the Volkssturm-Commander Sachs and the Knight's Cross to Nowak.[6]

Association of Knight's Cross Recipients

The Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR) (German language: Ordensgemeinschaft der Ritterkreuzträger des Eisernen Kreuzes e.V. (OdR)) is an association of highly decorated front-line soldiers of both world wars.

The association was founded in 1955 in Köln-Wahn. Generaloberst Alfred Keller, Knight of the Order "Pour le Mérite" and Recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, called upon the recipients of the highest combat decorations for bravery to organize an association for tradition. Later, the Recipients of the Prussian Golden Military Merit Cross, of the "Pour le Merite" for enlisted personnel were included. The memorandum of the AKCR incoperates the awarding of 7318 Knight's Crosses, as well as 882 Oakleaves, 159 Swords, 27 Diamonds, 1 Golden Oak Leaves and 1 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for all ranks in three Wehrmachts-parts and the Waffen-SS[7].

Among the conspiracy officers who participated in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944 were 13 recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.

Law about Titles, Orders and Honourary Signs in Germany

The German Law about Titles, Orders and Honourary Signs (German language: Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen) (BGBl. I S. 334)[8] regulates the wearing of the Knight's Cross in post World War II Germany. The reason for this is that German law prohibits wearing a swastika, so on 26 July 1957 the West German government authorized replacement Knight's Crosses with an Oak leaf branch in place of the swastika, similar to the Iron Crosses of 1813, 1870, and 1914, which could be worn byni World War II Knight's Cross recipients.

Military slang

In the military slang of the German soldiers the Knight's Cross is often referred to as the Blechkrawatte (steel-necktie). Glory-hungry soldiers were said to have a "neck rash", "itching neck" or "sore throat".

See also

Further reading

  • Walther-Peer Fellgiebel (2000), Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Podzun-Pallas.
  • Günter Fraschka (2002), Mit Schwertern und Brillanten. Die Träger der höchsten deutschen Tapferkeitsauszeichnung. Universitas
  • Florian Berger (2006), Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Selbstverlag Florian Berger.
  • Gordon Williamson: Knight's Cross and Oak-Leaves Recipients 1939-40, Osprey Publishing 2012 (at Google-Books)

External links

References