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The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German language: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, often simply Ritterkreuz) was a grade of the Iron Cross. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II. It was the second highest military order of the Third Reich, second only to the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, which was awarded to victorious generals and only awarded once during World War II, to Hermann Göring.

Prerequisites

To qualify for the Knight's Cross, a soldier had to already hold the 1939 Iron Cross First Class, though the Iron Cross I 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 shipping, 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 of the Iron Cross was divided into five grades, excluding the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross:

Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes)

The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross is based on the enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 1573) of 1 September 1939 Verordnung über die Erneuerung des Eisernen Kreuzes (Ordinance re-establishing the Iron Cross).
Image:RK_EK.png|Knight's Cross of the Iron CrossImage:Knight's Cross certificate of ownership.jpg|Brevet (certificate of award)
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 cooperation 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
Chief of the Armed Forces High Command
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 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) of 3 June 1940 augmenting article 1 and 4.
Image:Kcog.jpg|With Oak Leaves
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) of 28 September 1941 again augments articles 1 and 4.
Image:RK_EK_mit_ol_sw.png|With Oak Leaves and Swords
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 Brillanten)

Also based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 613) of 28 September 1941
Image:Ridderkruis van het IJzeren Kruis met Zilveren Eikenloof, Briljanten en Zwaarden..jpg|With Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds


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

Based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt 1945 I S. 11) of 29 December 1944 augmenting articles 1, 2, and 4.
Image:Knight's_Cross_of_the_Iron_Cross_with_Oakleaves,_Swords,_and_Diamonds.png|With Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
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

In total, 7,318 awards of the Knight's Cross were made, but only 882 received Oak Leaves (plus 8 non-German recipients); 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 (3 field marshals, 10 generals, 3 colonels, 9 ace pilots and 2 U-boat captains); Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the only recipient of the Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.

Among those generally accepted 159 German recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords are 13 recipients, whose Swords to the Knight's Cross do not meet the formal awarding criteria of the Knight's Cross. 24 recipients of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves are also lacking sustainable evidence that their listing is justifiable. Otto Weidinger, Günther-Eberhardt Wisliceny, Sylvester Stadler and Wilhelm Bittrich received the Swords from SS Obergruppenführer Josef Dietrich, who was not legally authorized to present the award.

Hermann Fegelein was executed in the last days of the war for desertion, a charge which upon conviction would have legally deprived him of all rank and awards, including his Knight's Cross. However, his might have been an extralegal execution. According to the recollections of Wilhelm Mohnke, he and the three other general officers tasked with holding a court martial for Fegelein found him to be of such unsound mind that he was not competent to stand trial under military law. Fegelein subsequently disappeared in the hands of Johann Rattenhuber, himself one of the empaneled court-martial judges, and the Führerbunkermarker's Reichssicherheitsdienst security squad and was never seen or heard from again.

Among the officers who participated in the plot to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944 were thirteen recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. 711 recipients of the Knight's Cross later served in the Bundeswehr, with 114 of them reaching the rank of general.

Distribution by Service

Heer Luftwaffe Kriegsmarine Waffen-SS
4,785 1,785 318 (316) 457


Distribution by Rank

Oak Leaves

Rank on day of award Heer Waffen-SS Kriegsmarine Luftwaffe Foreigners Totals
Generalfeldmarschall / Großadmiral 6 1 1 3 11
Generaloberst / Generaladmiral 11 3 1 15
General der Infanterie etc. / Admiral 50 8 2 4 64
Generalleutnant / Vizeadmiral 77 6 1 5 2 91
Generalmajor / Konteradmiral 43 9 1 5 1 59
Oberst / Kapitän zur See 78 12 5 8 103
Oberstleutnant / Fregattenkapitän 47 19 3 19 88
Major / Korvettenkapitän 73 9 11 53 1 147
Hauptmann / Kapitänleutnant 68 6 24 76 174
Oberleutnant / Oberleutnant zur See 19 4 5 40 68
Leutnant / Leutnant zur See 11 1 21 33
Stabsfeldwebel / Stabswachtmeister 1 1
Oberfeldwebel / Oberwachtmeister 17 7 24
Feldwebel / Wachtmeister 5 4 9
Unteroffizier / Oberjäger 3 3
Totals 509 74 53 246 8 890


Swords

Rank on day of award Heer Waffen-SS Kriegsmarine Luftwaffe Foreigners Totals
Generalfeldmarschall / Großadmiral 4 1 1 6
Generaloberst / Generaladmiral 8 1 1 10
General der Infanterie etc. / Admiral 21 4 1 26
Generalleutnant / Vizeadmiral 13 3 2 18
Generalmajor / Konteradmiral 12 4 16
Oberst / Kapitän zur See 7 6 7 20
Oberstleutnant / Fregattenkapitän 8 4 6 18
Major / Korvettenkapitän 3 1 1 13 18
Hauptmann / Kapitänleutnant 1 4 15 20
Oberleutnant / Oberleutnant zur See 1 5 6
Leutnant / Leutnant zur See 1 1
Oberfeldwebel / Oberwachtmeister 1 1
Totals 77 24 5 53 1 160


Diamonds

Rank on day of award Heer Waffen-SS Kriegsmarine Luftwaffe Foreigners Totals
Generalfeldmarschall / Großadmiral 2 1 3
Generaloberst / Generaladmiral 1 1 2
General der Infanterie etc. / Admiral 4 4
Generalleutnant / Vizeadmiral 1 1 1 3
Generalmajor / Konteradmiral 1 1
Oberst / Kapitän zur See 2 2 4
Oberstleutnant / Fregattenkapitän 1 1
Major / Korvettenkapitän 2 2 4
Hauptmann / Kapitänleutnant 2 2
Oberleutnant / Oberleutnant zur See 3 3
Totals 11 2 2 12 27


Non-Existing Recipients

Since the end of World War II, numerous people have claimed to be unrecognised recipients of the Knight's Cross. The majority of these "recipients" are lacking any evidence to sustain their claims and are thus denied the right to consider themselves "legal recipients". There are two cases where the legal proof of the award exists even though the recipients do not. These two "legally correct" recipients are Günther Nowak and Heinrich Scherhorn.

Günther Nowak

Günther Nowak, Hitlerjunge, was awarded the Knight's Cross on 14 February 1945 for the destruction of eleven tanks in Hindenburgmarker, Oberschlesien. It was always assumed that he was the youngest recipient of the Knight's Cross; however, Günther Nowak never really existed — a deserting Commander of the Volkssturm was caught and claimed that, after the retreat of the Wehrmacht, he had destroyed five tanks single-handedly. Because of this, he was taken to a Gauleiter. Fearing that his lie would be unveiled, he created the story of Günther Nowak in order to lessen his own "feat". This report was then sent to Reichsleiter Martin Bormann. Bormann immediately awarded the German Cross in Gold to the Volkssturm-Commander Sachs and the Knight's Cross to Nowak.

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 Merite 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 incorporates 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 and the Waffen-SS.

Law about Titles, Orders and Honorary Signs

1957 Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
The German Law about Titles, Orders and Honorary Signs (German language: Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen) (BGBl. I S. 334) 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 Cluster in place of the swastika, similar to the Iron Crosses of 1813, 1870, and 1914, which could be worn by World War II Iron Cross recipients.

Military slang

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

In today's German army the term Ritterkreuz-Auftrag ("Knight's Cross Mission") refers to a duty that is extremely aggravating, or a no-win-situation.

See also



Footnotes



References

Specific
  1. @ALEX Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Reichsgesetzblatt Teil I S. 1573; 1 September 1939
  2. @ALEX Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Reichsgesetzblatt Teil I S. 849; 3 June 1940
  3. @ALEX Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Reichsgesetzblatt Teil I S. 613; 28 September 1941
  4. @ALEX Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Reichsgesetzblatt Teil I S. 613; 28 September 1941
  5. @ALEX Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Reichsgesetzblatt 1945 I S. 11; 29 December 1944
  6. German Ministry of Defence (BMVg) on the Iron Cross.
  7. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 511.
  8. Association of Knight's Cross Recipients
  9. BGBl. I S. 334 @ Bundesministerium der Justiz
  10. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 4.
General


  • Berger, Florian (2006). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Selbstverlag Florian Berger.
  • Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Podzun-Pallas.
  • Fraschka, Günter (2002). Mit Schwertern und Brillanten. Die Träger der höchsten deutschen Tapferkeitsauszeichnung. Universitas
  • MacLean, French L. (2007). Luftwaffe Efficiency & Promotion Reports For The Knight's Cross Winners
  • Maerz, Dietrich (2007). The Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. B&D Publishing LLC. ISBN 978-0-9797969-0-6


External links




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