Iron Cross

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Several different versions of the Iron Cross awarded by Prussia.

The Iron Cross (IC; German: Eisernes Kreuz, EK) was a military decoration of the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire and National Socialist Germany. The cross was developed during the German campaign of 1813 (Wars of Liberation) from the symbolic cross of the Teutonic Knights. It was a progressive award, with the lower classes generally having to be awarded before the higher. However, the Grand Cross classes were reserved for generals. In 1895 during the celebrations 25 years after the Franco-Prussian War, all still living Knights of the Iron Cross (1870), 2nd Class received special oak leaves (German: Jubiläums-Eichenlaub „25“ 1870/1895) to their decoration.

Leutnant Friedrich Friesen (standing), Carl Theodor Körner (sitting, middle) and law student Heinrich Hartmann, all members of the Lützow Free Corps (Lützowsche Freischar), in an oak forest in the uniform of the Jäger and wearing the Iron Cross Second Class; all three fell in battle () against the French (painting from Georg Friedrich Kersting, 1815).


General der Infanterie a. D. Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff
Member of the Freikorps with both classes of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The swastika makes it illegal to wear this form in Germany.
Iron Cross 1914 with the repetition clasp 1939
An army corporal (Gefreiter) of the Wehrmacht short after the cermony with IC 2 on ribbon
A tank commander (not SS member) with button ribbon mounted on special tank uniform on day of cermony
Oberst Richard Heidrich of the Luftwaffe with IC II Clasp (uniform button) and IC I Clasp mounted above original IC I of WWI
The Führer in the courtyard above the Führerbunker in March 1945 with young boys receiving the Iron Cross; he is shaking the hand of 12-year-old Alfred Czech; to Alfred's right the 16-year-old Wilhelm Hübner.
The "Quadriga" (Brandenburg Gate) at night with the imperial eagle (Reichsadler), an oak leaf wreath and the Iron Cross

The Iron Cross was first established by King Frederick William III of Prussia on 10 March 1813 in Breslau, Prussian Province of Silesia for great bravery during the German campaign of 1813. In addition to the so called Napoleonic Wars, the Iron Cross was awarded also during the Franco-German War (1870-1871) by King William I of Prussia an later in the First World War, by Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of the German Empire and King of Prussia.

During the wars of 1813 and 1870, the Iron Cross 2nd class was awarded on a white ribbon to deserving “non-combatants”. This included doctors, policemen, members of government, officials and men of industry. The 1914 Iron Cross with a white ribbon continued this tradition and although even period publications still refer to it as the “Eisernes Kreuz für Nicht-Kämpfer”, the official statutes refer to it as an award for service in the Heimat “on the Home Front”. Men serving outside the borders of the Reich, in an area of military operations qualified for the Iron Cross on a black ribbon whether combatant, non-combatant, military or civilian.

At the end of 1939 the Iron Cross was re-established by National Socialist Germany, with an extension of the higher class and separate bravery decoration Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and its new grades during the Second World War by the German Head of State, Adolf Hitler. The Iron Cross was normally a military decoration only — though there were instances of it being awarded to civilians for performing military functions. As an example, the first and only female test pilot of the world - Hanna Reitsch - was awarded the Iron Cross First Class for her bravery as a test pilot during World War II.


The basic design of the medal has remained constant, that of a cross of cast iron edged with silver. The World War II design had “1939” etched on the bottom arm, where formerly the dates had been “1813,” “1870,” or “1914.” The reverse side of the World War II medal had “1813” inscribed. The World War II badge also had a swastika, which replaced the previous symbols of the crown and royal cipher. A West German statute of 1957 permitted the Iron Cross to be worn only with the swastika removed.

Grand Cross of the Iron Cross

"The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross was a decoration intended for victorious generals of the Prussian Army and its allies. It was the highest (normally awarded) class of the Iron Cross. Along with the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, the Grand Cross was founded on March 10, 1813, during the Napoleonic Wars. It was renewed in 1870 for the Franco-Prussian War and again in 1914 for World War I. In 1939, when Adolf Hitler renewed the Iron Cross as a German (rather than strictly Prussian) decoration, he also renewed the Grand Cross. The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross was twice the size of the Iron Cross and was worn from a ribbon around the neck. The later Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, instituted in 1939, was also worn from the neck; it was smaller than the Grand Cross but larger than the Iron Cross."[1]

1813 – 1815:

  • Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher (31. August 1813)
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Bülow von Dennewitz (15. September 1813)
  • Kronprinz Karl Johann von Schweden (Herbst 1813)
  • Bogislav Friedrich Emanuel von Tauentzien (26. Januar 1814)
  • Johann David Ludwig Graf Yorck von Wartenburg (31. März 1814)

1870 – 1871:

  • Friedrich Wilhelm Kronprinz von Preußen (22. März 1871)
  • Friedrich Karl Prinz von Preußen (22. März 1871)
  • Helmuth Graf von Moltke (22. März 1871)
  • Albert Kronprinz von Sachsen (22. März 1871)
  • Edwin Freiherr von Manteuffel (22. März 1871)
  • August Karl von Goeben (22. März 1871)
  • August Karl von Werder (22. März 1871)
  • König Wilhelm I. von Preußen (16. Juni 1871)
  • Friedrich Franz II. Großherzog von Mecklenburg-Schwerin (4. Dezember 1871)

1914 – 1918:

Star of the Grand Cross

A special class, the Star of the Grand Cross (Stern zum Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), was awarded twice, to Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher after the Battle of Waterloo and to Paul von Hindenburg in 1918. Hermann Göring was the only one to receive the Grand Cross in WW II.

Version 1813 – 1815

The best-known German medal has its origins in the War of Liberation against Napoleon. The Iron Cross was designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the Prussian architect and sculptor. The spirit of the War of Liberation is reflected in the way the medal was awarded. The Iron Cross was awarded regardless of rank to officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel. One out of every twenty combatants was awarded the Iron Cross for his commitment during the war. Some 9,000 awards were issued directly, other recipients had to wait until persons who had already been decorated died and their crosses could be awarded anew.

The Iron Cross Second Class with kings crown, oak leaf branches and the initiales FW of the Prussian Kings. On the ribbon worn only on days of ceremony. Later at the buttonhole of the holders uniform. The Iron Cross First Class with blank front. Order permanent worn on the uniform below on the heart side breast pocket.

In 1863, the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Iron Cross, there were 1,572 living bearers. When a recipient died, he was entitled to a full burial with military honours at the garrison site (the war memorial of 1813–1814). It is important to note that the campaigns of 1864 (German Danish War) and 1866 (German War of Brothers) did not recognise this award, because the political claims were not sufficient.


Originally there were three classes:

  • Second Class
  • First Class
  • Grand Cross

Version 1870/1871

Awarded during the Franco-German War - here with strap in Prussia colour black and white; Recipients of the 1870 Iron Cross who were still in service on 18 August 1895 were authorized to purchase and wear above the 2nd class cross a Jubiläumsspange ("Jubilee clip"), a 25-year clasp consisting of the numerals "25" on three oak leaves, also known as "anniversary oak leaves".

Model II of the decoration was awarded during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Jewellers, including Wagner & Sohn, were in charge of the silver setting. The Merit Cross for Women and Virgins was also established in 1871, however, there are still a small number of cases in which a woman was granted the II Class decoration. Non-Prussians (ex. Bavarians or Saxons, who were considered foreigners until 1871) received the same consideration. There are two examples of the 1870 Iron Cross being awarded to British citizens. Model III of the decoration was awarded during the First World War (1914-1918), and subsequent versions were awarded during World War II and featured a swastika in the centre of the obverse. The Iron Cross 1870, II Class was worn on a ribbon on the left breast. A total of 45,768 were awarded, including 4,084 crosses for non-combatants (white ribbon). During the French Campaign, roughly one in twenty soldiers received a II Class Cross.

Version 1914 – 1918

Awarded during the First World War - also with strap in Prussia colour black and white. The difference here ist the year numer of establishing 1914 inside the cross; For soldiers who already owned an EK from the 1870/71 war, a repeat clasp was introduced after 1914, which had to be worn above the original cross and the anniversary oak leaves. The total numbers of war awards in 1914-1918, including award for services in eastern border protection, were 218,000 Iron Crosses First Class and 5,196,000 Iron Crosses Second Class (including 55,000 1st Class and 196,000 2nd Class awarded in postwar time).[2]

Version 1939 – 1945 with special extension

The Iron Cross 1939 Second Class with the ribbon in the colours of the Grossdeutsches Reich - black/red/white - was awarded for bravery in battle as well as other military contributions in a battlefield environment and was worn in one of two different methods:

  • only at the day of presentation cermony it would pinned to the uniform.
  • for everyday wear, only the ribbon was worn from the second hole in he tunic button.

The Iron Cross First Class was a pin-on medal with no ribbon and was worn left on a uniform breast pocket (heart side), either on dress uniforms or everyday outfit. It was a progressive award, with the normal second class having to be earned before the first class and so on for the higher degrees.


During the Second World War, there were eight classes:

  • Second Class
  • First Class
  • Knight's Cross
  • Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves
  • Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
  • Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
  • Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
  • Grand Cross

The Iron Cross repeat clasp (1939)

Established in 1939, the Iron Cross repeat or repetition clasp – in German: Wiederholungsspange des Eisernen Kreuzes – was awarded to those who received either of the first two classes of the Iron Cross in World War I, and would have earned the same class in the Second World War. This Spange was mounted on a white-black (prussian colour) ribbon.

See also

External links