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The Iron Cross: Symbolic Value to the soldiers


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Looking through the period Photos, Postcards etc. etc... and comparing to 1870 and 39-45,.... I am of the opinion (humble as always) that the iron Cross had its heyday in the 14-18 war.

The 1870 EK was awarded after the war, great for those who got it, but by that time many of the recipients were back in civilian clothes, or soon to be...

in 39-45 the EK still had a value, but there were so many other awards that were bigger eye catchers... Assault badges, close combat badges, tank destructor badges etc. etc... when you look at a WW2 photo the EK2 ribbon, or even the EK1 is not neccesarily "The" award on a soldiers chest... a silver Close Comabt clasp is light years ahead...

When you compare WW2 postcards to WW1 postcards... you already see the trend...

You can collect WW1 postcards with EK symbolism for years and years... and still not reach the end... with WW2 cards your collection would be complete in a few weeks.

IMHO it is because the EK was basically the only thing to decorate the soldiers chest in WW1, until the wound badge came along.

It was a stand alone symbol for being a good soldier... there was no competition to it... and as a result, the EK was king.

What do you guys think?

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Looking through the period Photos, Postcards etc. etc... and comparing to 1870 and 39-45,.... I am of the opinion (humble as always) that the iron Cross had its heyday in the 14-18 war.

The 1870 EK was awarded after the war, great for those who got it, but by that time many of the recipients were back in civilian clothes, or soon to be...

in 39-45 the EK still had a value, but there were so many other awards that were bigger eye catchers... Assault badges, close combat badges, tank destructor badges etc. etc... when you look at a WW2 photo the EK2 ribbon, or even the EK1 is not neccesarily "The" award on a soldiers chest... a silver Close Comabt clasp is light years ahead...

When you compare WW2 postcards to WW1 postcards... you already see the trend...

You can collect WW1 postcards with EK symbolism for years and years... and still not reach the end... with WW2 cards your collection would be complete in a few weeks.

IMHO it is because the EK was basically the only thing to decorate the soldiers chest in WW1, until the wound badge came along.

It was a stand alone symbol for being a good soldier... there was no competition to it... and as a result, the EK was king.

What do you guys think?

Chris, I agree but for the dates 1914 to 1916 and 1939 to 1941, after those dates the German army become politicised some what and honours rendered meaningless

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Chris, I agree but for the dates 1914 to 1916 and 1939 to 1941, after those dates the German army become politicised some what and honours rendered meaningless

I am not so sure about them becoming meaningless after 1916, there is no great inflation of awards, until the end of war rush... and even then, it was usually catchup for guys who had been fighting for a long time.

That more soldiers per company in 1918 had it than in 1915 is sure... but the companies had seen a lot of combat by then and the men had had a lot more time to earn it.

A WW1 soldier generally saw a lot more fighting than one from 1870, and experianced much more (Trenches, Artillery, attrition etc.)

Best

Chris

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I am not so sure about them becoming meaningless after 1916, there is no great inflation of awards, until the end of war rush... and even then, it was usually catchup for guys who had been fighting for a long time.

That more soldiers per company in 1918 had it than in 1915 is sure... but the companies had seen a lot of combat by then and the men had had a lot more time to earn it.

A WW1 soldier generally saw a lot more fighting than one from 1870, and experianced much more (Trenches, Artillery, attrition etc.)

Best

Chris

Maybe meaningless is to harsh......but the glory, elan and dash had been exchanged for attrition and honours used to reward stoicism in defence

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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 month later...

Such things really make one think deep thoughts... the loss that was suffered, the pain these men and their families went through. These mere hunks of metal that to the individual soldier and often those he left behind meant the world to them. A crying shame that so many have lost their histories over time. They represent so much.

Thanks for posting these. Much food for thought here... and much history as well.

Dan :cheers:

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  • 3 months later...

I recently read a couple of books written by German soldiers in second world war , mostly fighting on the Eastern front.

And I agree totally with your thoughts Chris, in 1914-18 it was really a bravery award , but at least 1942 -45 the Iron Crosses was given out as candy in some cases. (not everyone of course ) but still I think the soldiers would rather had Sturmgewehr 44 instead of the EK II ;)

The veterans talk about staff officers coming to the front (when it was quiet) and handing out EK to everyone standing up.

of course this was in later part of the war and especially on the Eastern front I suppose.

Christer

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I cannot really comment on the earlier versions of the EK only that I think just based on the award numbers of the EK2 in the First World War it lost some of its initial grandeur. This happened again in the Second World War were the EK2 at the end was given to kids. Who doesn't remember the terrible pictures of Hitler awarding the EK2 to HJ boys in the ruins of his chancellery?

Despite the other awards Chris mentioned (some of them were proficiency badges and combat award badges, not bravery decorations), the EK1 had still a very high value. One could not be awarded the German Cross in Gold (the second highest bravery award) without the EK1 and EK2 ( or the Spangen thereof). Even the Close Combat Clasp was not tied to individual acts of bravery (like the RK or the GC) but rather to the accumulation of close combat days (which certainly required a lot of bravery, I know that!).

The Knights Cross of 1939 is a perfect example of the transition (maybe even degeneration) from an extremely high award to a more common award. The Knights Cross was still a very high award at the end of the war, but one should not forget that it was also a propaganda tool. The addition of the higher grades (which were basically second, third and fourth awards of the Knights Cross itself) is another indication of the inflationary tendency.

A simple graph which I included in my book makes clear what I mean. At the end of 1941, after the attack on the SU and after the battle for Moskau only 11% of all Knights Crosses were awarded. One can hardly say that the time frame between the Polish campaign and this date was not filled with fewer deeds of bravery then the timeframe after 1941. Another very telling point is that 50% percentille of all Knights Crosses awarded was December 1943! Meaning that in the last 17 months of the war as much RKs were awarded as in the 52 months before.

I think that this is a clear indication of a transition of a highly coveted and rare bravery award to one that was more and more used as a motivational tool - just like the EK2 was awarded in far greater numbers towards the end. It is unfortunate that such a graph cannot be constructed for the EK1 or EK2 due to reliable data. But I am sure it is similar if not more dramatic! (As a side note: the 50 percentile for the Oaks and for the Swords is March 1944 resp. July 1944 - supporting the above data and notion)

Certainly I do not think that the German soldier was either less brave in the first 52 months of the war nor was he more audacious in the last 17 month. Fact is, that Hitler himself approved every RK personally and that it was his decision to award more after the Invasion of Normandy and the Battles in the East. He certainly knew the motivational value of a Knights Cross or higher grade and that of an EK2 to a little boy he was shamelessly sending into the lost Battle for Berlin.

Dietrich

Edited by Dietrich
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IMHO it is because the EK was basically the only thing to decorate the soldiers chest in WW1, until the wound badge came along.

Korrekt, in a nutshell.

Truth is ............... all seriously wounded soldiers in WW1 got the EK2 until the Wound Badge came along.

Just check all the wartime pix.

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Korrekt, in a nutshell.

Truth is ............... all seriously wounded soldiers in WW1 got the EK2 until the Wound Badge came along.

Just check all the wartime pix.

Hi Robin,

Not strictly correct, especially for the first half of the war. Soldiers who were invalided out, seemed to have been awarded the EK from about mid 16, there must have been an order that came out for this, it also made allowences for soldiers invalided out in 14 and 15 as well, but as for every soldier who was wounded, that is not correct.

Plenty of soldiers shot or hit by shrapnel who spend some months in hospital and came back to their unit, and did not get the EK until they had another long period of combat under their belt.

If you have any official decrees and or orders about this I would be dead keen to read it.

In WW2 there was an official order that anyone with a Silver wound badge automatically got one, these were often awarded in germany, without any citation or recomendation from the unit. A Silver wound badge and a clean record were enough. I assume the WW1 degree of wound may have been the same, Silver wound or enough to have you invalided out.

Best

Chris

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Hello Chris.

Not wanting to split hairs .............. but I said the SERIOUSLY wounded got the EK2.

Same criteria as the later Silver Wound Badge.

Field hospitals carried large stocks of EK2s and medical officers were authorised to award them to the seriously wounded. Hence the medical stamps, signatures etc. on many of the EK2 award docs.

I have a copy of the order somewhere in my files, but God alone knows where it is.

Last time I looked at it was 1999 ................. for the medals book.

I am old and tired.

Have mercy! ;)

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Hi,

would be really keen to see the order, I have been looking for that for ages.

I would not go with the field hospital thing. Noone at a field hospital was empowered to award the EK, even the automatic awards were approved by a General. The WW2 ones , for instance, when the guy had lost a leg or arm and was sent back to Germany were signed by the General, deputy commander of the Wehrbezirk.

For all the WW1 ones, they are usually done by the Ersatz Batallion after a General officer approves it it, or from the regt itself, then forwarded to the men in question. In over 800 EK Docs/groups I have just one awarded by a hospital, and even then it was not a field hospital, but a major one in Dusseldorf, and was signed by a full General-Oberarzt. You really have to search far to find an EK doc with medical stamps.

Best

Chris

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I would LOVE to see that notice as well.

Looking at pre war books and popular school lessons and articles (do a google book search you will see what i mean) the EK had ENORMOUS prestige. It was almost a guarantee of a free beer (much like a Waterloo medal) for any old codger who walked into a pub.

Earlier in the war- 1914/1915 it also retained its cache'. there are accounts of newly decorated soldiers home on leave walking into restaurants with their medal and everyone suddenly stopping their conversations or in hushed tones saying ..."The iron cross"! The band then changing to a patriotic tune and the iron cross holder being swept into a table and given top notch service...young ladies vying with each other to gain the soldier's attention....etc...etc...

The later view was well summed up in the memoirs of a staff officer who was -in 1917- given the job of coordinating medal awards at an army level:

" Regarding the awarding of the war medal, one can limit one to the principles by which the Iron Cross was awarded. This award was seen by the soldiers as THE award, the only real award in terms of its worth. In it, the soldier and the general public as well, saw it as an award for bravery in the face of the enemy, contrary to the actual regulation, which stated that "service in the war in the broadest sense" was the sole prerequisite. But the feeling of the army in this matter was simply as such and it was not to be changed by regulations.....The regulations for the awarding of the Iron Cross and it's award were such, that they injured the feelings of the front fighters. The awards of other colorful trumpery by other individual states were viewed as superfluous. Commanding officers of train stations and other base wallahs who boasted these types of embellishments, representing courage and manly virtues, did not hurt the feelings of the man in the trenches. He made fun of their "collecting mania" in a good-natured way and did not envy them for these trinkets."

...It then goes on to say how the award of the EK1 to staff officers and as a class designation was deeply resented by the rest of the army....... but he ends with this corker....

" If one considers that Moltke himself received the EK1 ONLY after the battle of Sedan, the spread (multiplication) of the EK in the World War of 1914/18 was so rapid that it reminds one of the galloping consumption (flu)".

The award of an EK1 to someone below the rank of Sergeant was unbelievably rare. If the 1918 FAZ article quoted by Stanton/Weber is correct- it was statistically rarer than the PLM was to officers....and maybe even MUCH rarer by a ratio of 3:1! This would explain Hitler wearing only it and his wound badge...the symbolism and prestige was enormous.

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In WW2 there was an official order that anyone with a Silver wound badge automatically got one, these were often awarded in Germany, without any citation or recomendation from the unit. A Silver wound badge and a clean record were enough. I assume the WW1 degree of wound may have been the same, Silver wound or enough to have you invalided out.

This is correct, but not quite. It was only an "automatic" EK2 if the Wound Badge in Silver or Gold was awarded for an amputation due to frostbite (while at the front!) or if the Wound Badge in Silver or Gold was awarded for one exceptional single wound. An "automatic" EK2 was not possible if a soldier received the Silver or Gold grade of the Wound Badge due to the accumulation of the required (three resp. five single wounds).

Dietrich

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This is correct, but not quite. It was only an "automatic" EK2 if the Wound Badge in Silver or Gold was awarded for an amputation due to frostbite (while at the front!) or if the Wound Badge in Silver or Gold was awarded for one exceptional single wound. An "automatic" EK2 was not possible if a soldier received the Silver or Gold grade of the Wound Badge due to the accumulation of the required (three resp. five single wounds).

Dietrich

Hi Dietrich,

Are you sure on that? Unfortunately I just last month gave away a binder with dozens of old BDOS heft articles on the EK, so cannot go back and look it up, but I seem to remember that Silver Wound was automatic for an EK2 unless the guy had disciplinary problems in his record.

On the other hand, the chances of a guy having enough single wounds for a silver or Gold wound badge, and not have picked up the EK2 someway along the line must have been so minimal that it seldom or ever happened.

I think the order for the "automatic" award was meant for guys were were wounded badly enough to be send back to a hospital outside of their Etappe, and in that case the Wehrkreis could award the Cross without having to have some citation made out.

best

Chris

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Magic, thanks.

I was going by what I thought I remembered reading ages ago.

I imagine it is a moot point, as I said, I would think a man around long enough to get wounded 3 times probably had one already. And if not, if the 3rd wound was light and treated locally, his commander probably considered him for an award anyway, although with a citation and not "automatic"

Best

Chris

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just like to say what an awsome & highly informative forum this is! I have reaserched this subjuct a few years ago, only to draw the conclusion that the Ek was just a piece of tin,that was handed out villy nilly,by Papa Adolf,in order to bolster morale of those who served the lost cause of the 3rd Reich.

After reading your comments,I now see the award in a better light,& that the award goes much deeper...

I beleive it has been re-issued for those who have served gallantly in combat for their country.

If anyone has privy to the new EK,I would be very interested in any further information.

Thank you gentleman,for enlightening a humble,& novice collector such as myself.

Bob

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  • 10 months later...

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