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Beginning of the nineties I was due to professional reasons several times in Hamburg. Of course this was good occasion to "harvest" at the local Militaria dealers. At one of my "campaigns" a group of ribbon bars caught my eye. A set of three bars belonging to the same Officer, just that they were "growing" over the war. At that times my funds were quite limited so I could afford just one - the last one.

The ribbons appeared as following:

1. Iron Cross

2. another Prussian war ribbon, most likely the Hohenzollern House Order

3. Prussian Lifesaving medal

4. a light blue ribbon, probably the Prussian Crown Order or a Wuerttemberg Frederick Order

5. Hamburg Hanseatic Cross

6. Austrian Iron Crown 3rd Class

7. Osmanic War Medal, better known as he Gallipoli Star

The style of the bar is quite uncommon and reminds more on an Austrian bar.

The fact that there are not any attachments did not really make it easier.

A hope for an ID was only in the combination of Ribbon 2 and 3 in connection with the usual Rank lists. Years passed, hundreds pages from different sources were worked through, and I did not come closer to an ID. There was still a good dozen of possible owners remaining, two of them "hot candidates". One of them should later appear as THE owner.

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Again, a coincident helped me. Some weeks ago I was searching in some older volumes of the annual German Soldiers Yearbook and gotcha! A portrait showed EXACTLY the combination of my bar, and the owner was discovered - Gustav Siess. The Soldiers Yearbook contained also a short biography and some hours of Google search completed the story.

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Gustav Siess was born on the 11th December, 1883 in Hamburg. He joined the Navy as a Sea Cadet in 1902 and did his basic training at the school ship "Moltke". His first assignment as Leutnant zur See (29th September, 1905) was at the heavy cruiser "Hansa" in East Asia. Then he served most of the time, in the Torpedo and Mine branch. Very soon (on the 30th March, 1908) he became Oberleutnant zur See. In 1911, just after 9 years of service, he received his first decoration, the Crown Order 4th class. Already promoted to Kapit?nleutnant (on the 12th April, 1913) and Commander of a Torpedo boat he saved a seaman from drowning, For that act he received in November 1913 from the Emperor personally the Lifesaving medal. At the outbreak of the war he was still Commander of Torpedo boat V-1 and was transferred in February 1915 to the Submarine branch. After some months aboard U-41 under Kapit?nleutnant Hansen he took over his first own Submarine in October 1915. He became Commander of U-73; a brand new Minelayer Submarine.

At 5 tours in the Mediterranean sea the mines laid by U-73 sunk 11 merchant ships with 79.254 BRT and 3 warships, among them 2 Battleships! On the 27th February 1917 Gustav Siess received the knights cross of the Hohenzollern House Order with swords.

His most famous victim was the Hospital ship "Britannic"; a sister of the "Titanic", with 48.158 BRT the biggest ship sunk in WW1 by a Submarine.

The loss of the "Britannic" by a mine was not immediately clear and lots of legends turned up. One side speculated about a bomb put by a German spy or that the ship was torpedoed, the other side spoke about illegal transport of ammunition.

The destiny of her older sister as biggest naval disaster of this time was for sure not without influence. After the "Titanic"- disaster both sisters, the "Olympic" and the "Britannic" were basically improved. Despite of that the "Britannic" sunk only 55 minutes after the mine hit her. Luckily just 28 people from the 1134 Crew Members and Patients died, but this happened only because 2 lifeboats were released too early and were smashed by the still turning propellers.

Later he commanded with U-33 an Attack- Submarine and could add 35 more sunken ships to his score. At the 24th April 1918 Gustav Siess received the Order pour le merite as 25th Submarine Commander and as first Hamburg Citizen ever.

Beside of the already mentioned Decorations he received the Hanseatic Cross from his hometown Hamburg and 2 Decorations from Germanys Allies. The Osmanic Empire awarded him the War Medal, better known as he Gallipoli Star. The k.u.k. Monarchy honored him with an Iron Crown Order 3rd class with war decoration. This ribbon at the bar was quite irritating at the ID process. I thought first that this was a peacetime decoration, because normally the lower-ranking Military Merit Cross was the first award given to German Officers, an Order like the Iron Crown was normally handed out as second award. Now this "irritation" became the "hot spot" of the ID; a close-up of the portrait shows clearly that he really received initially an Iron Crown and no Military Merit Cross; for sure a rare case. Now the untypical style of the bar makes also a sense; Siess had 3 years of service in the Mediterranean sea out of Austrian harbors. So it is easily possible that he ordered his wartime ribbon bars at local outfitters.

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After the breakdown of the K.u.K. Monarchy Gustav Siess as the most senior Commander led the return of the 15 German Submarines from the Mediterranean sea back to Kiel. On the way he received information about the Revolution in Germany and collected his Boats in the fjords of Norway to give orders for the arrival at the harbor. Thanks to god that it did not come to hostilities with the revolting Navy forces in Kiel. 15 full armed and war experienced Submarines were a considerable power against the revolting Home fleet!

The government of Friedrich Ebert was on power and Gustav Noske as Governor of Kiel had already full control over the situation. The Boats could return to Germany with full honors. Gustav Siess retired at the 11th November 1919 with the rank of a Korvettenkapit?n.

1935 he was reactivated in the Air Force. He raised up to Branch Chief in the Air Ministry, but because of illness he retired still in WW2 with the rank of a Lieutenant General. 1945 Siess was caught by the Soviets and had to spend 10 years as POW. As seriously ill man he returned in 1955. 15 years he could still spend in retirement. Lieutenant General Gustav Siess died in his 86th year at the 14th October 1970 in his hometown Hamburg.

Sic transit gloria mundi, 24 years later I purchased in Hamburg one of his ribbon bars for just 35 German Mark. Not an anonymous Order, no impressive Decoration, just some gram of iron and silk, but this some gram of material could tell me an interesting piece of naval history.

Best regards


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Does this look familiar?

IPB Image

I picked this up from Manions of all places back in the early 1990s. The devices had been removed, but it looked like an interesting bar!! There are holes for devices on the second and sixth awards. I would presume the device for the iron crown order was a wreath...



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