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Cheapening the Iron Cross


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Hi Guys,

I have been putting the finishing touches to a improved/revamped article arguing that the Iron Cross of 1914 was not a cheapening of the award compared to 1870, it should in fact be seen as a more prestigious award than the 1870 cross.

I realize this goes against the grain of almost every book and article to date, so I encourage discussion and rock throwing.

What is your opinion... was the 1914 Iron Cross over awarded, way too many crosses with many people who did not deserve it getting one?

I am a great admirer of the Wernitz Tomes... but feel his chapter on the cheapening of the cross totally misses the point.

I look forward to seeing the final layout of the article and hope you enjoy it.

 

Best

Chris

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I will looking forward to your article! I guess the truth lays between your two options. In the beginnig of the war, when the Gemans were very sure to win this war quick and be back when the leaves will fall, it was a highly appreciated and prestigious award. At the end of the war many orders were too oftenly awarded, just see the golden war merit cross. nearly no awards until 1918 and then at the end of the war nearly all of the awards given in WWI. It was a last effort to stabilize the moral of the troops, I don't believe that they were so many braver deeds in 1918 then all the years before. 

just my 2ct to it.

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38 minutes ago, BlackcowboyBS said:

I will looking forward to your article! I guess the truth lays between your two options. In the beginnig of the war, when the Gemans were very sure to win this war quick and be back when the leaves will fall, it was a highly appreciated and prestigious award. At the end of the war many orders were too oftenly awarded, just see the golden war merit cross. nearly no awards until 1918 and then at the end of the war nearly all of the awards given in WWI. It was a last effort to stabilize the moral of the troops, I don't believe that they were so many braver deeds in 1918 then all the years before. 

just my 2ct to it.

Yes indeed... but with the GMVK it bears remembering that to have a shot at it you needed to already have the EK2 and EK1.... which is why the first guy to qualify was some time in 1916 if I remember right? The Stufen system of the Prussians was very unfortunate. Bavarians could get a Gold Bravery medal from the first week in the field! I agree, a Brave deed was a brave deed in 1914 or 1918.

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It's been discussed over and over and over again. The cheapened image of the Iron Cross awarded in massive numbers late in the War was the result of an effort to bolster troop-morale and rekindle loyalty to the Kaiser. This observation is nothing new.  

What I would like to see discussed is something that is never discussed.  Why didn't the Prussians establish an alternative award?  The 3rd Reich solved this problem by creating the War Merit Cross with Swords.  The Iron Cross during WW2 thereby remained a true combattants' award.  Consequently, it managed to maintain its prestige and significance.  

Couldn't the Kriegshilfdienst Cross with crossed swords added have effectlvely served as such an alternative award?    

Edited by Simius Rex
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8 minutes ago, Simius Rex said:

It's been discussed over and over and over again. The cheapened image of the Iron Cross awarded in massive numbers late in the War was the result of an effort to bolster troop-morale and rekindle loyalty to the Kaiser. This observation is nothing new.  

 

I respectfully disagree with point 1,

Agree with point 2

and find point 3 an interesting idea

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during ww1, things were farmed out to local states and governments and i bet the prussians didn't feel compelled to create a universal award that fulfilled this criteria, as there were many localized ones that satisfied the need. towards the end of the war, when things began breaking down there may have been a "disconnect" with military leadership and the local states and governments, so the military could have broadened the award criteria of the ek2 a bit in order to offset the reduction in localized war effort awards

with the advent of national socialism and it's pervasive quest for universal control of every aspect of its constituents lives, those old localized awards were done away with and new ones were created that fell under the umbrella of the unified, all encompassing 3rd reich war effort, because, as brian mentions, the national socialists indeed recognized the issues with the award of the iron cross during ww1 and acted to "improve"... that's my guess

Edited by Eric Stahlhut
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On 07/11/2020 at 18:13, Simius Rex said:

 

What I would like to see discussed is something that is never discussed.  Why didn't the Prussians establish an alternative award?  The 3rd Reich solved this problem by creating the War Merit Cross with Swords.  The Iron Cross during WW2 thereby remained a true combattants' award.  Consequently, it managed to maintain its prestige and significance.  

Couldn't the Kriegshilfdienst Cross with crossed swords added have effectlvely served as such an alternative award?    

Interessting point at the end of your statement, but as Eric said below there wasn't a real German award besides the Iron Cross, all other were prussian (Blue Max and House Order of Hohenzolern) or highly appreciated orders like Military St. Henry from Saxonia. 

But the Kriegshilfs Cross wans't appreciated much by the soldiers, it was often given to civilians on the home front, for example for collecting money for the Kriegsanleihen. So just swords on it wouldn't helped. During my studies for my books on Brunswick I stumbled upon documents showing that the german states couldn't even find an approch during war time to minimize bureaucracy for giving foreign orders to their soldiers. So a soldier from saxonia has to get the approval for excepting an order from Bavaria and so on. This was valid until the bitter end of the war. So thinking of a new merit medal or order for military medal for all German soldiers besides the Iron Cross was an impossible thing to do in those days. 

PS: By the way, the Prussian King and German Emperor was allways unhappy about the fact, that his prussian soldiers normally got only prussian awards but saxonian, bavarians etc, could get their own orders plus the prussian Iron Cross. It was felt like a discrimination even by the soldiers.

20 hours ago, Eric Stahlhut said:

during ww1, things were farmed out to local states and governments and i bet the prussians didn't feel compelled to create a universal award that fulfilled this criteria, as there were many localized ones that satisfied the need. towards the end of the war, when things began breaking down there may have been a "disconnect" with military leadership and the local states and governments, so the military could have broadened the award criteria of the ek2 a bit in order to offset the reduction in localized war effort awards

with the advent of national socialism and it's pervasive quest for universal control of every aspect of its constituents lives, those old localized awards were done away with and new ones were created that fell under the umbrella of the unified, all encompassing 3rd reich war effort, because, as brian mentions, the national socialists indeed recognized the issues with the award of the iron cross during ww1 and acted to "improve"... that's my guess

fully agree with you. The Nazi Party realized the value on the IC and tried to stabilize that value through the war. 

Edited by BlackcowboyBS
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"The Nazi Party realized the value on the IC and tried to stabilize that value through the war.  " ... I think they had it under strict control. Look at the hundreds and hundreds of Postcards, coffee cups, ashtrays and bed warmers with the EK on in 1914... Almost none of the above for WW2

Here is an is idea that ruffles feathers....

The premise of my article is that the Iron Cross of 1914 was worth as much or more than the Iron Cross of 1870.

Authors, collectors and even soldiers back then stumble over reasons why it is "inflated" or worth less, but see it from the wrong perspective.

I have my helmet on and expect to have eggs thrown at me .....

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i think one must consider and compare the scale of the two conflicts and the effect that each war had on the populations at the time. obviously, ww1 had a lot more people involved, and it lasted longer, some ways it had a greater value (big conflict involving everyone, more attainable)-- but in other ways, the value can be perceived as lessened (more exclusive during 1870, smaller conflict, fewer awarded))!   lol

i personally don't think the iron cross  itself was ever cheapened.

the value of a human life was definitely cheapened

Edited by Eric Stahlhut
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  • 2 weeks later...

From what I experienced in researching WWI and from collecting I don't have the feeling the value of the EK shrank in WWI. It would be interesting to compare the number of awards in the first 10 months of the war (roughly the length of the Franco-Prussian war) and scale the numbers to the size of the armies (like EK2s per 1000 soldiers). The intensity of the conflict should also put into account. 

I made this little calculation and I hope it makes sense:

I decided to compare the armies with the number of dead soldiers rather then deployed troops as this number might correlate with the combat intensity:

We have

  • 45.000 dead german soldiers in the 1870/71 war
  • 2.050.000 dead germans in WWI

That gives a foctor of 45,56 more deaths in WWI.

In the franco-prussian war according to Wikipedia

  • 47.800 EK2 and
  • 1.302 EK1

were awarded.

So we would expect for WWI:

  • 2.178.000 EK2
  • 59.500 EK1

compared to the known number of awards in WWI:

  • 5.200.000 EK2
  • 218.000 EK1

that's a ratio of

  • 1:2,4 for the EK2
  • 1:3,7 for the EK1

So it could be concluded that it was 2,4 times as likely to get the EK1 in WWI than 1870 and 3,7 times as likely to get the EK1.
But the remaining question is what impact the length of the conflict has on the number of awards. I don't think the number of awards in the 70/71 war would have progressed in a linear way, for sure not with the EK1s as more soldiers would have already had the EK2. I ask myself if the increasing chance to do an award winning action corelates with the deaths or not. If yes it seems like the chance of winning the EK2 was really double as high in WWI as in the Franco-Prussian war, if not it depends on the "length of conflict"-award relationship.

Therefore it would be interesting to know the number of EK awards  and deaths in the first 10 months of WWI

So that are my two cents I can add to this topic. Maybe the calculation is complete nonsense and I forgot about something...

Edited by Utgardloki
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Well, I think you had many german soldiers doing valorous things in 1914-1918.  I think the criteria may have changed due to the trench warfare.  I know for fact my Great Grandfather was awarded his EKII in 1917 for for staying in a position MG by himself so his entire section of the trench could pull out.  He was awarded his Baden Silver Merit Medal (Baden EKII equivalent) for recovering his entire MG horse team while under fire by himself so they could retrograde resulting in two MG08s.  These two stories were told to me by my great aunt before she died.  I think there is no cheapening there.  That type of action would rate a BSMV or SS in today’s conflicts.

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Interesting to argue the prestiege of the award should be “ divided” or parsed out by the ferocity of combat over a longer period of time. 

Still, the EK mattered culurally and politically far more than most people today realize. It undoubtedly was seen as a “ national award” in 1914 and by 1921 was even more so. I would argue that Hitlers’ EK1 was no small part of his political elictability during Weimar. 

Nonetheless, the huge number of  awards as consolation prizes/ participation/ catch up awards in 1918-21 must have “ cheapened “ it. The law of supply and demand is absolute. The rarer a prestigious thing is, the more socially valuable it is. 

By the way, there are several books sort of on this topic. 

Edited by Ulsterman
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59 minutes ago, Ulsterman said:

Interesting to argue the prestiege of the award should be “ divided” or parsed out by the ferocity of combat over a longer period of time. 

Still, the EK mattered culurally and politically far more than most people today realize. It undoubtedly was seen as a “ national award” in 1914 and by 1921 was even more so. I would argue that Hitlers’ EK1 was no small part of his political elictability during Weimar. 

Nonetheless, the huge number of  awards as consolation prizes/ participation/ catch up awards in 1918-21 must have “ cheapened “ it. The law of supply and demand is absolute. The rarer a prestigious thing is, the more socially valuable it is. 

By the way, there are several books sort of on this topic. 

The Post war catch up awards were about 5% of the total... and included many men who were returning from captivity, and from units which had been destroyed or disbanded in the last weeks of the war... I agree there are several books which cover this, but IMHO they approach it from the wrong direction... Some think the argument is best made by quoting German soldiers who complained about devaluation.... but that is cherry picking of the worst kind... and the comparison to 1870 is simply wrong on so many levels... I hope my 2nd version of this article manages to convince a majority 🙂

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The length of time a soldier was at the front during WW1 gave him more exposure to danger and a greater chance to earn an EK.  After all, the EK series was a gallantry award for the lower enlisted.  Officers could get them for other reasons but your average Joe (think Chris B ;)) could only get one for doing something momentarily brave and observed.

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8 hours ago, dond said:

The length of time a soldier was at the front during WW1 gave him more exposure to danger and a greater chance to earn an EK.  After all, the EK series was a gallantry award for the lower enlisted.  Officers could get them for other reasons but your average Joe (think Chris B ;)) could only get one for doing something momentarily brave and observed.

Indeed... and for many it was years or small acts of bravery.... Unfortunately most books simply point out the % of soldiers who got it in WW1 compared to 1870 compared to 1939.... and do not look any further than that... I am aware that the article will receive some counter arguments 🙂

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13 minutes ago, Glenn R said:

My copy of the latest issue landed today. That's in the Christmas reading pile.

Really looking forward to Chris's article as an Iron Cross collector and obsessive.

 

Super. I went into it thinking, all the articles mentioning it and passing, the claims on "cheapening" in the Iron Cross in WW1 are based on a belief by the writer, probably picked up from other articles, which were often justified by finding a few period quotes moaning about who got it.... but the only real way of looking at it was to look at the numbers and basically look at "the war" compared to 1870.... I am sure not everyone will agree, but my conclusion is that the simple 1914 EK2 is a very noble award indeed... and more hardly earned than the one of 1870....

I hope mine arrives soon as well!!!!

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I think it's high time a lot of our accepted beliefs about history were subject to re-examination.

I accept that our interests are quite niche but it's happened countless times that we continue to accept opinion as fact because it's been reiterated time and again over the years until accepted as fact. 

I'm not as analytical as some but I've enjoyed a number of studies which lay open to more scientific examination, some of these views.

If history is laid open to impartial examination then whether it's controversial or not is irrelevant as the outcome, whether it alters or reinforces the accepted picture can only serve to strengthen our understanding of the past.

The history of WW1 in particular, in my opinion, has suffered from an unwillingness to challenge simplistic characterisations. I was lucky enough to spend time on a dig in France some years ago and the chance to speak with Peter Barton who very patiently and clearly helped debunk some of the beliefs I'd picked up about British actions on the Somme and it was a real revelation about some of my lazily acquired understanding.

I'm so pleased that this magazine is giving the opportunity to people like Chris to present some new thinking on subjects dear to many of us here. Let's join in by reading with an open mind.

Not that I'm suggesting people listen to me. I'm just a humble Iron Cross obsessive!

 

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Damn, damn and damn again.... One of the arguments I had was the claim that towards the end of the war the status of the crosses was diminished because they were given out at company level and the big parades became a thing of the past... IMHO they often could not wait for big parades... men were dying at a relative fast rate, postponing the award while waiting for a general to pass by to award the medal could often mean the man was killed before he could receive it...  then I found this in a small group.... April 1915!! And the company commander was awarding it... right back when the value of the cross was supposedly still very high... it had nothing to do with status... it was all about practicality.....000000b1.jpg.5bb183fb5fb7ceec4703dbe4043e3621.jpg

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi, it is published in the latest Iron Cross magazine... but mine has not arrived yet, I assume there are postal delays due to covid/Brexit...

It is here...

https://www.warnersgroup.co.uk/militaria-history/iron-cross/

There is a German page company that sells it....

https://www.englischezeitschriften.de/iron-cross-magazine-abonnement

I can 100% recommend it, they are about 130 pages each, really good content.

I hope mine arrives today 🙂

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