Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross
 

Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes
 
     
 

Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross or in German Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes was the highest decoration in the Second World War in the Iron Cross class and also the  highest military award for bravery and courage. Grand Cross or Grosskreuz is otherwise the higher award as the Knight’s Cross, but was awarded only to Hermann Goering. It was taken away from him before the end of the war. Military order Pour le Merite better known as Blue Max was the precursor of the Knight’s Cross in the hierarchy of the German decorations until 1918.

 

Starting of the Second World War 1. 9. 1939 the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross was inserted to the already changed Iron Crosses, the three classes - the first, the second class and the Grand Cross (Grosskreuz).

The Knight Cross was awarded to any soldier regardless of his rank. This was not the case when awarding the orden Pour le Merite  from the World War I, which was granted only to aristocrats and officers. By the end of the war there were 7,318 Knight’s Crosses awarded, partisans of Waffen SS are included. The condition to conquer the Knight’s Cross is unselfish bravery in front of the enemy and exceptional merit when leading the army units. The first preliminary condition for conquering the Knight’s Cross for generals was not only their command on the battlefield but also logicality when planning the army tactics. The practice  of the awarding was to give the Knight’s Cross not only to soldiers of  Wehrmacht and Waffen SS units, but also to the police units, firemen, members of the SA, partisans of Volkssturm  and the RAD working units.  The second preliminary condition for conquering the Knight’s Cross was the both stages of the Iron Crosses, but the Iron Crosses from the World War I were not valid. In exceptional cases the EK1 and EK2 were granted at the same time as the RK. Posthumous granting was possible only exceptionally.

Bearer of the Knight’s Cross could have had the first button on his coat open, because of its visibility and significance. Higher classes of the Knight’s Cross were rarely awarded, their bearer had a great reputation in his generation of army, as an exceptional solder with experiences at the front and an outstanding strategist.

 

Knight’s Cross, maker CE Juncker, marked with lazy "2"

EX Collection: Collector


On the first year of the Second World War and also later on the senior officers were awarded with the Knight’s Cross by Adolf Hitler himself. Together with the grant of the decoration respectively rarely Adolf Hitler also awarded the red folder with documents in s shape of a book.

The red leather folder in which the document of conquering the Knight’s Cross was granted to the soldiers who won it in the first years of the war.


This award documents or award folders were different depending on the stage:

  • Knight’s Cross: Red folder with the golden eagle and swastika.

  • Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves: A White folder with the golden eagle and swastika.

  • Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords: A white folder with the gold ornament around the edge, attached golden eagle and a swastika.

  • Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds: A green folder with the gold ornament around the edge, the eagle had the swastika decorated with diamonds:

  • A special edition of the folder which was intended for Field Marshals: A red leather folder, identical to the one for the Knight’s Cross, but this one had a golden ornament imprinted on the edges.

 

  • Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves and Swords:
  • Grand Cross or Grosskreuz, awarded only to Hermann Goering: green folder, ornamented with gold, diamonds and rubies

The folder with the awarded document of the Grand Cross or Grosskreuz which was awarded only to Hermann Goering

 


In later years of the war they presented the awarded documents in the Hitler’s headquarters. The documents were no longer in the leather folders but in a shape of a plain document on an A3 size paper. It was assumed that the folders were granted after the final victory. Simultaneously with the grant the country also committed that the bearer will be excused of paying taxes after the final victory. Because the war lasted longer than expected they expanded and upgraded it for three additional stages. By the end of the war they added the fifth stage which was awarded only once.

 

Awarded documents from the early period of the war. This document was granted in a red leather folder

Knight’s Cross is similar in appearance to the Iron Cross of the 1st Class. The only difference is that the Knight’s Cross is bigger and was worn around the neck on a ribbon, which was in the colors of the Reich, therefore, black-white-red. The frame in which the iron core was embedded was made from silver. The first designs had a zinc core.

Oak Leaves and Oak Leaves with Swords , marked »21« from maker Godet - Berlin

The first model of the Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds

Awarded only to Mölders, Galland and Gollob

 

The classes Knight’s Crosses are in classes rising in the following order:

  • Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes or Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross
  • Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub or Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (since 3. 6. 1940)
  • Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern or Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords (since 21.6.1941)
  • Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten or Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (since 15.7.1941)
  • Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten or Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (since 29. 12. 1944)

 

The class with the diamonds was always rewarded in two versions. In the first versions there were real diamonds and in the second version brilliant cut glass.

Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves should be rewarded twelve times, but in practice it was given only to Hans Ulrich Rudel.

Unofficial Oak Leaves with Swords maker L12 CE JUNCKER BERLIN SW

(Ramon Sierra Collection)

Number of grants:

  • Knight’s Cross: 7.313 (on other sources 7.318 to 7.361; 73 foreigners)
  • Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves: 882 + 9 foreigners (Degrelle, Dumitrescu, Koga, Lascar, Muñoz Grandes, Mannerheim, Rebane, Teodorini, Yamamoto)
  • Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords: 159 + 1 foreigner (Yamamoto)
  • Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds: 27 (sorted by ranks):
    • General Fieldmarshall : Kesselring, Rommel, Model, Schörner,
    • Generaloberst: Dietrich, Balck, Hube,
    • General: von Manteuffel, von Saucken, Dr. Mauss, Ramcke, Gille,
    • General-poročnik : Tolsdorff, Galland,Graf Strachwitz (GenLt d.R.),
    • General-major : Schulz
    • Oberst/Kapitän zur See: Lent, Mölders, Gollob, Lüth, Graf,
    • Kapitan: Brandi,
    • Major : Schnaufer, Hartmann, Nowotny,
    • Kapetan : Marseille
  • Knight's Cross with golden oak leaves with swords and diamonds: 1 (Rudel)

 

The information will include a 41 foreigners, namely (by country):

  • Romania: 18 (3 with Oak Leaves: Generaloberst Petre Dumitrescu, Generalleutnant Mihai Lascar, Generalmajor Corneliu Teodorini, Marschall Ion Antonescu)
  • Italy: 9
  • Hungary: 8, Admiral Miklós Horthy
  • Japan: 2 (1 with Oak Leaves and Swords - Großadmiral Yamamoto (posthumous), 1 with Oak Leaves - Großadmiral Mineichi Koga)
  • Finland: 2 (1 with Oak Leaves : Feldmarschall Carl Gustaf Mannerheim)
  • Slovakia: 2

 

Generalfeldmarshal Werner von Brauchitsch, one from first awarded

 

The first grant of Knight’s Crosses was on the 30.9.1939. They were rewarded to the senior officers of Wehrmacht, who ran the campaign on Poland. Those were: Blaskovitz, Bock, Brauchitsch, Goering, Keitel, Kesselring, Loehr, Kluge, Kuechler, List, Raeder, Reichenau and Rundstedt. All of the first Knight’s Crosses were awarded on the same day by Hitler on a gala ceremony.

 

Generalfeldmarshal Fedor von Bock, one from first awarded, also holder of Pour le Merite

Pour le Merite - maker: Wagner

 

Until now the certified producers of the Knight’s Crosses are:

  • C.E. Junker Berlin: At the beginning of production there was no makermarks. Then the marking began in this order : 800, L/12 800, 800 L/12, Lazy 2, and at the end of the war with Little 2 – Micro 2. Micro 2 variation is due to it`s rarity the most expensive. Juncker Knights cross is considered the safest Knights cross to buy because all productions tools were destroyed at the end of the war and none preserved like at some other makers tools – S&L, K&Q…

Knight Cross - CE Juncker Berlin early unmarked

(Collection: Magnusmilitaria)

 

Knight Cross - CE Juncker Berlin marked L/12 and 800

rS collection

 

  • Klein & Quenzer ( K&Q ) A.G. Idar-Oberstein a.d. Nahe: Early types of this Knights cross have the 800 mark on the ribbon ring as well as on the upper part of the frame. In later stages of production the 65 makermark was added to the ring. Caution when buying this Knights cross.

Klein & Quenzer ( K&Q ) A.G. Idar-Oberstein a.d. Nahe

 

  • Paul Meybauer Berlin: Very rare Knights cross. There are only a few known original examples. Ribbon ring is marked with number 7 and the upper part of the frame bears the 800 mark.
  • Otto Schickle Pforzheim: It is makermarked with L/15 on the loop and 800 mark can be seen on the ribbon ring also.
  • Steinhauer & Lück Lüdenscheid ( S&L ): At the beginning of the war there are no makermarks, later stages bring the 800 or 935 silver stamp. Caution if buying this variation – this cross was also produced after the war. Original tools were used producing early variations of the 57 version .
  • Fritz Zimmermann Stuttgart: Marked with different marks : L/52, 800 in 20 Zimmermann`s Knights cross is one of the rare crosses. Very few examples are known.
  • Godet Berlin, rare variation of the Knights cross. Normally without makermarks, ribbon ring is more of a round shape.

 

 

Knights cross of the iron cross is one of the most replicated awards of the Third Reich era but replica that would match the characteristics of the above makers was still not made. As mentioned, some Knights crosses were produced after the war but with original wartime tools. There is virtually impossible to tell when the cross of this sort was produced. Experts usually make the decision based on the frame deformations.

According to the law decoration from 26.7.1957 all of the beneficiaries or winners of the Iron Crosses in the World War II were allowed to purchase a model without the swastika. Instead of it the motives were oak leaves, similar to ones in the World War I. Veterans could also bear the original cross, but they had to remove the swastika.

Knight’s Cross 1957, Maker: Steinhauer & Lück

RS collection

 

Very rare Knight Cross presentation case awarded from Adolf Hitler

 

 

(description & photos: RS)

Sources:
Dr. Heinrich Doehle - Die Auszeichnunegen des Grossdeutschen Reichs
John R. Angolia - For Führer and fatherland : military awards of the Third Reich
Christopher Ailsby - World War 2 German Medals and Political Awards

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