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The croix de guerre (English translation: Cross of War) is a military decoration of both Francemarker and Belgiummarker, where it is also known as the Oorlogskruis (Dutch). It was first created in 1915 in both countries and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts. The croix de guerre was also commonly bestowed to foreign military forces allied to France and Belgium.

The croix de guerre may either be bestowed as a unit award or to individuals who distinguish themselves by acts of heroism involving combat with enemy forces. The medal is also awarded to those who have been "mentioned in despatches", meaning a heroic deed was performed meriting a citation from an individual's headquarters unit. The unit award of the croix de guerre was issued to military commands who performed heroic deeds in combat and were subsequently recognized by headquarters.

Appearance

The croix de guerre medal varies depending on which country is bestowing the award and for what conflict. Separate French medals exist for the First and Second World War, and the French medals are different in appearance from the Belgian design.

For the unit decoration of the croix de guerre, a fourragère is awarded which is suspended from the shoulder of an individual's uniform.

Because the croix de guerre is issued as several different medals, and as a unit decoration, situations typically arose where an individual was awarded the decoration several times, for different actions, and from different sources. Regulations also permitted the wearing of multiple croix de guerre, meaning that such medals were differentiated in service records by specifying French croix de guerre, Belgian croix de guerre, French croix de guerre (WWI), etc.

Croix de guerre

There are four distinct croix de guerre medals in the French & Belgian system of honours :
Ribbon Awards
Croix de guerre 1914-1918 (for World War I service)
Croix de guerre 1939-1945 (for World War II service)
Croix de guerre (Vichy France) (for World War II service)
Croix de guerre de la Légion des Volontaires Français (for World War II service)
Croix de guerre des théâtres d'opérations extérieures (TOE) for wars other than World War I and World War II not fought on French soilAt the time of the Algerian War, Algeria was considered part of France and war actions labelled "law enforcement operations", so soldiers were awarded the Croix de la Valeur Militaire instead of the Croix de guerre des TOE.
Belgian croix de guerre (for World War I service)
Belgian croix de guerre (for World War II service)
Belgian croix de guerre (since 1954)


The croix was created by a law of April 2 1915, proposed by deputy Émile Briant. The croix reinstated an older system of mentions in dispatches, which were only administrative honours with no medal. The sculptor Paul-André Bartholomé created the medal, a bronze cross with swords, showing the effigy of the republic.

The French croix represents a mention in dispatches awarded by a commanding officer, at least a regimental commander. Depending on the officer who issued the mention, the ribbon of the croix is marked with extra pins.
  • Mentioned in Despatches :
    • a bronze star for those who had been mentioned at the regiment or brigade level.
    • a silver star, for those who had been mentioned at the division level.
    • a silver gilt star for those who had been mentioned at the corps level.
    • a bronze palm for those who had been mentioned at the army level.
    • a silver palm stands for five bronze ones.
    • a silver gilt palm for those who had been mentioned at the Free French Forces level (World War II only).


The croix des guerres des TOE was created in 1921 for overseas wars. It was awarded during Indochina War, Korean War, and up to Kosovo War in 1999.

In 1939 a new croix de guerre was created by Édouard Daladier. It was abolished by Vichy Government in 1941, which created a new croix de guerre. In 1943 General Giraud in Algiersmarker created another croix de guerre. Both Vichy and Giraud croix were abolished by General de Gaulle in 1944, who reinstated the 1939 croix.

The croix de guerre takes precedence between the ordre national du Mérite and the croix de la valeur militaire, the World War I croix being senior to the World War II one, itself senior to TOE croix.

Belgian croix de guerre or Oorlogskruis

100 px
100 px


The Belgian croix de guerre also included attachments, pinned into the ribbon, to designate the degree of citation:

  • a bronze lion for those who had been cited at the regiment level
  • a silver lion for those who had been cited at the brigade level
  • a gold lion for those who had been cited at the division level
  • a bronze palm for those who had been cited at the army level. A silver palm is used for five bronze ones and a gold one for five silver ones.


The croix de guerre or Oorlogskruis would be referred with the different type of attachment, such as the croix de guerre avec palme et étoile (War Cross with palm and star) or the croix de guerre avec palme et lion (War Cross with palm and lion).

The multiple attached pins can also designate the number of croix de guerre citations earned, but displayed with only one medal. Some soldiers earned more than 10 or 20 croix de guerre citations.

Unit Award

The croix can be awarded to military units, as a manifestation of a collective Mention in Despatches. It is then displayed on the unit's flag. A unit, usually a regiment or a battalion, is always mentioned at the army level. The croix is then a croix de guerre with palm. Other communities, such as cities or companies can be also awarded the croix.

When a unit is mentioned twice, it is awarded the fourragère of the croix de guerre. This fourragère is worn by all men in the unit, but it can be worn on a personal basis: those permanently assigned to a unit, at the time of the mentions, were entitled to wear the fourragère for the remainder of service in the military.

Temporary personnel, or those who had joined a unit after the actions which had been mentioned, were authorized to wear the award while a member of the unit but would surrender the decoration upon transfer. This temporary wearing of the fourragère only applied to the French version of the croix de guerre.

United States issuance

In the United States military, the croix de guerre was commonly accepted as a foreign decoration. In the modern age, however, it remains one of the most difficult foreign awards to verify entitlement. This is since the croix de guerre was often presented with original orders, only, and rarely entered into a permanent service record. The unit award was virtually never entered into U.S. records, especially since in most cases it was considered a temporary decoration which was surrendered when an individual departed a unit. An added complication is that the 1973 National Archives Fire destroyed a large number of World War II personnel records, meaning that there are very few sources from which to verify a veteran's entitlement to the croix de guerre.

Today, members of United States 5th Marine Regiment and 6th Marine Regiment, the Army's 2nd Infantry Division, the Army's 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, and the 1st BN U.S. 28th Infantry Regiment, are authorized to wear a fourragère signifying that brigade's award of three croix de guerre during the World War I, but only while that individual is assigned to the unit. The wearing of the decoration is considered ceremonial and the fourragère is not entered as an official military award in permanent service records.

Notable recipients

Individuals in World War I



Individuals in World War II

  • Desmond J. Scott, a New Zealand fighter pilot and Group Captain who flew for the RAF during the Second World War. He was awarded both the Belgian and the French croix de guerre.
  • Jan Smuts, South African Prime Minister during World War II.
  • George Reginald Starr, of the SOE, during World War II.
  • James Stewart, American actor awarded the croix de guerre with palm in 1944 by Lt. Gen. Henri Valin, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, for his role in the liberation of France. He retired from the United States Air Force Reserve a Brigadier General.
  • Violette Szabo, a British SOE who underwent intense training and was eventually sent into the field. Her first mission was a success, but during her second mission she was captured. Eventually sent to a concentration camp, she was brutally tortured for information and finally executed.
  • Fernand Van Geert, ship's officer, rescued 12 passengers from a torpedoed Belgian freighter in the North Atlantic. He secured a compass from the burning ship before returning to the lifeboat which he then commanded for 9 days in open waters. His actions and moral leadership were commended.
  • Nancy Wake of the SOE was the highest decorated Allied servicewoman of World War II. Awarded the croix de guerre three times for service with the French maquis.
  • F. F. E. Yeo-Thomas, member of RF Section of the SOE during World War II. He was a Special Operations Executive Liaison officer working with the Bureau Central de Renseignements et d'Action (BCRA) of the Free French forces to organise and co-ordinate resistance in both Vichy and Occupied France.
  • Cpl. Edwin Allison Hosford, a rifleman of the North Shore Regiment (New Brunswick), Canadian Infantry, for heroism at Carpiquet, France in July 1944 during World War II.


Other

During the First World War a homing pigeon named Cher Ami (Dear friend) saved the lives of many French soldiers by carrying a message across enemy lines in the heat of battle. Cher Ami was shot in the chest and the leg, losing most of the leg to which the message was attached, but continued the 25 minute flight avoiding shrapnel and poison gas to get the message home. Cher Ami was awarded the French 'Croix de Guerre' for heroic service.

See also



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