Germany Had the Most Colorful Decorations
Adolf Hitler greatly expanded the service medals that had been available to troops during World War I, when the Iron Cross and Pour le Merite (Blue Max) were every ambitious soldier's goals.
|Wehrmacht rank insignia|
While in general he despised the Generals as a class and repeatedly expressed his contempt for them, Hitler gave his Generals the lion's share of the top decorations that he awarded.
|Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, one of the most decorated men in the Wehrmacht, giving us a good look at his decorations. Note the Pour le Merite from his World War I service.|
Herman Goering exemplified the obsession that Wehrmacht soldiers had with decorations: he loved to receive them, and even after he reached the heights of power he would sneer darkly about airmen who "lied for each other's medals." He received top decorations from countries allied with Germany that were awarded to few others, and delighted in receiving them.
Hitler also gave the Generals personal gifts of money and land at times, which may have been his way of making them just a little bit more reliable than he secretly suspected they were. But there was nothing that they wanted as much as fancy decorations.
Ordinary German soldiers, unlike those of other nationalities, tended to wear their decorations as a matter of course in everyday activities, including sometimes combat - at least early in the war. As things got hairy later on, those in active combat adopted a more subdued approach. However, behind the front lines, a German soldier who had won the Iron Cross would seldom be seen without it. Decorations were hugely important in the Wehrmacht, and extremely detailed point systems were set up for earning particular medals in each arm of the service. For instance, shooting down a fighter was worth less than a bomber, and shooting down a four-engine bomber was worth the most points of all.
|Shortly before the fall of Germany, Gen. Heinz Guderian presents awards to German soldiers, March 1945 (Federal Archive).|
German decorations are big, gaudy and obvious. No bars with mystifying combinations of colors for them - if you were on a minsweeper, you got a badge with a big exploding mine! Nothing subtle about them, which makes them fun to review.
Hitler's Personal Banner
This is Hitler's personal banner as Fuehrer of Germany. The banner usually led military formations on parade in a manner similar to the Roman legions being preceded by Roman Eagles. The banner, in flag form, was also flown occasionally from buildings where Hitler stayed.
Baton of Luftwaffe Generalfeldmarschall Hermann Goering
Naturally, Goering's personal baton has the Luftwaffe emblem upon it. He held a unique rank as Reichsmarschall and was the anointed successor to Adolf Hitler throughout the war by a secret decree of June 1941. He only lost his position during the last two days of Hitler's life.
|Grand Cross of the Iron Cross.|
Hermann Göring became the only recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross during World War II, when it was awarded to him on July 19, 1940.
Field Marshal baton
|Erwin Rommel's Field Marshal baton|
One step below Goering's baton was the Field Marshal baton given to those of the rank of Generalfeldmarschall. The rank no longer exists since May 1945.
Field Marshal batons were individually hand-crafted. It took some time to prepare them. Some of the later awardees, such as Luftwaffe Field Marshal Ritter von Greim and von Paulus at Stalingrad, no doubt never received their batons despite their awards.
List of World War II German Field Marshals - note that Werner von Blomberg had left the service before September 1, 1939. Field Marshal August Mackensen of World War I fame was still alive during the war, too, but did not serve.
20 April 1936 – Werner von Blomberg (1878–1946) (retired pre-war, not recalled)
4 February 1938 – Hermann Göring (1893–1946) (Göring was later promoted to the even higher rank of Reichsmarshal, the only holder of this rank)
19 July 1940 – Fedor von Bock (1880–1945)
19 July 1940 – Walther von Brauchitsch (1881–1948)
19 July 1940 – Albert Kesselring (1885–1960)
19 July 1940 – Wilhelm Keitel (1882–1946)
19 July 1940 – Günther von Kluge (1882–1944)
19 July 1940 – Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb (1876–1956)
19 July 1940 – Wilhelm List (1880–1971)
19 July 1940 – Erhard Milch (1892–1972)
19 July 1940 – Walther von Reichenau (1884–1942)
19 July 1940 – Gerd von Rundstedt (1875–1953)
19 July 1940 – Hugo Sperrle (1885–1953)
19 July 1940 – Erwin von Witzleben (1881–1944)
31 October 1940 – Eduard Freiherr von Böhm-Ermolli (1856–1941)
22 June 1942 – Erwin Rommel (1891–1944)
30 June 1942 – Georg von Küchler (1881–1968)
1 July 1942 – Erich von Manstein (1887–1973)
31 January 1943 – Friedrich Paulus (1890–1957)
1 February 1943 – Ernst Busch (1885–1945)
1 February 1943 – Paul Ludwig Ewald von Kleist (1881–1954)
1 February 1943 – Maximilian Reichsfreiherr von Weichs (1881–1954)
16 February 1943 – Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen (1895–1945)
1 March 1944 – Walter Model (1891–1945)
5 April 1945 – Ferdinand Schörner (1892–1973)
25 April 1945 – Robert Ritter von Greim (1892–1945)
Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle
These only went to heads of state and such. Benito Mussolini got the top one, and there were others give in various classes. The gradations were the usual ones in the German World War II state: From Gold with Diamonds (Mussolini) down to Order of the German Eagle 5th Class. I'm not sure what the political utility of handing out the 5th Class one would be, but apparently someone got it.
|Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle.|
Charles Lindbergh received the Order of the German Eagle with Star 19 October 1938, and he wasn't the only American to get it; Thomas Watson of IBM, Henry Ford and James Mooney of General Motors also received it. Interestingly, Hermann Goering, who loved medals, didn't get it, but Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop did, probably because of its diplomatic orientation. Goering had other top awards anyway, but he still would have liked it.
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
|Only 27 of these were issued.|
Germany's highest decoration: the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, 1939-45. The Oberkommando der Wehrmacht kept separate Knight's Cross lists, one for each of the three military branches, Heer (Army), Kriegsmarine (Navy), Luftwaffe (Air force) and for the Waffen-SS.
This was Germany's highest decoration for actual battle service.
The Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds is based on the enactment Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 613 of 28 September 1941 to reward those servicemen who had already been awarded the Oak Leaves with Swords to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Ultimately, it would be awarded to twenty-seven German soldiers, sailors and airmen, ranging from young fighter pilots to field marshals. Two recipients were members of the Waffen-SS (SS battle forces). The list is initially sorted by the chronological number assigned to the recipient, so a recipient would be said to be the "7th recipient of the Knight's Cross with etc." and so on. The Waffen-SS receipients were: SS General Josef Dietrich (Hitler's former chauffeur, commander of I. SS-Panzerkorps "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" and later commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army at the Ardennes Offensive) and Herbert Otto-Gilles, the 5th SS-Panzergrenadier-Division "Wiking" commander.
Close Combat Clasp
|Close Combat Clasp in Bronze|
As the war dragged on, the Wehrmacht felt a need for more specific awards. On 25 November 1942, the Close Combat Clasp came into use.
There were three categories:
- Bronze: 15 battles (36,400 earned);
- Silver: 25 battles (9,500 earned);
- Gold: 50 or more battles (631 earned).
Battle commanders certified the battles that resulted in the awards, so you had to be in good with them so they would put your name in. Thus, it is fair to assume that some soldiers earned one or more of these award categories but did not receive it due to command indifference or dislike. If wounded, a soldier could receive one of the awards with fewer battles.
Austrian/Italian SS-Hauptscharführer Hermann Maringgele topped the list with 84 documented battles. Maringgele survived the battle of Budapest and, rather than surrender, led 60 men out through the deep snow and the tight Soviet lines in February 1945. It was an incredible, astonishing, otherworldly feat - there simply aren't enough superlatives. After he did that, Hitler decorated him personally with the gold clasp. He lived to be 88 and died in 2000.
To give you an idea how select a group the recipients of the gold clasp was, Joachim Peiper, one of the most tested front-line commanders, only earned the Silver clasp.
While little known outside of select circles, this award was hard to get and highly prized. Only 631 soldiers received the Gold clasp, far fewer than received, say, the more well-known (and ostentatious) Ritterkreuz (Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross) with 7,364 recipients. This award was relatively subtle, befitting someone who ground it out day after day in the trenches and did not have to brag. Anyone displaying the Close Combat Gold Clasp earned instant respect from fellow soldiers.
|"Awarding the Close Combat Clasp in Gold." It is worn above the left uniform pocket. October 1943. (Hodea, Federal Archive).|
Infantry Assault Badge
The Infantry Assault Badge (German: Infanterie-Sturmabzeichen) came into being on 20 December 1939. The IAB was the idea of the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch. It went to members of non-motorized infantry units and Gebirgsjäger who had participated in either infantry assaults or counter-offensives on three days of battle. There were two classes, Silver and Bronze (which was added later and went to motorized or mechanized infantry troops). It was intended to recognize grunts who carried rifles or assault guns.
This was quite a common badge - too common for the taste of some. Officers in Stalingrad who won this badge took to breaking off the right half in order to show that fighting in that inferno was of a different order of magnitude than those who earned it elsewhere.
|Haputmann Friedrich Konrad Winkler, at Stalingrad, has broken his IAB.|
Tank Destruction Badge
|Joachim Peiper is wearing a Tank Destruction Badge, which he won at Kursk.|
|Cpt Peter Kisgen, ace tank destroyer, instructs young recruits in the handling of the anti-tank "Panzerfaust" German bazooka. Note the numerous tank destruction badges on his sleeve.|
The Tank Destruction Badge (German: Sonderabzeichen für das Niederkämpfen von Panzerkampfwagen durch Einzelkämpfer) was awarded to individuals who destroyed enemy tanks using a hand-held weapon - which required steady nerves and a great deal of skill and, most importantly, luck. The award was instituted by Hitler on March 9, 1942 for actions on or after the opening of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941. This badge became easier to get later in the war with the arrival of the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck antitank weapons ("bazookas" to Americans). However, it remained a high honor right to the end, and was extremely important because it served as a means to combat "tank panic" among the rank and file.
The tank destruction badge featured a blackened 42mm by 18mm Panzer IV tank attached to a 88mm by 33mm silver ribbon. 2mm from the top and bottom edges ran a 4mm black stripe. The tank was attached through the ribbon via three prongs which were then bent over a metal plate, and covered backing cloth or cotton. A gold version was awarded for five kills. Peiper appears to be wearing a silver badge, but it is tough to tell with this resolution.
Waffen SS Patch
The SS was not originally intended to serve as a military service. During the war, however, they came to play an increasing role in ground operations. Some of the most savage defense in the West came from the Hitler Youth Division led by "Panzer" Meyer, while in the East SS troops accomplished the recapture of Kharkov after Stalingrad - in some ways, the last German victory of the war in the East.
Luftwaffe Ground Assault Badge
|Air Force Field Divisions were often ineffective - but there were huge exceptions|
Luftwaffe Ground Assault Badge was instigated on 31 March 1942 to reward members of the German air force who were engaged in military operations in support of the army. If, prior to the instigation of this badge, an Army award badge such as the General Assault Badge, Infantry Assault Badge or Tank Assault Badge had been awarded, it was to be exchanged for this badge.
Luftwaffe ground forces gained a bad reputation on the Eastern Front. They were not - in general - adequately armed or trained, and their motivation was questionable. Some major Soviet breakthroughs occurred when a Luftwaffe Field Unit fell apart - the Soviets were aware of their reputation and, as with the German Allies, often focused their attacks on those perceived weak links. However, there were exceptions, and some of the finest German ground formations arose from the Luftwaffe. Examples of excellent Luftwaffe ground forces included the Hermann Goering Panzer Division and the Parachute troops, who mostly fought as ground forces after Crete in May 1941. The success of the German defensive struggle in Italy - and it was a success - was due primarily to the Goerings (as they were called), who held things together in Sicily and gave the Americans some punishment at Gela and elsewhere and competently covering the evacuation, and the parachute troops at Monte Cassino.
Luftwaffe Pilot and Observer Badges
|Combined Pilots and Observers Badge in Gold with Diamonds|
These continue the motif of combining gold and precious gems, which apparently was considered quite manly in those days.
War Order of the German Cross
|Der Kriegsorden des Deutschen Kreuzes|
Though there was a great variety of awards introduced since the beginning of Word War II, Hitler felt that there was a need to bridge the significant gap that existed between the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Knights Cross. On September 28, 1941, the War Order of the German Cross (der Kriegsorden des Deutschen Kreuzes) was created to fill such a roll.
The Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe, or Honor Goblet of the Luftwaffe, was a special award given to deserving flying personnel, i.e., those who actually went on missions. Like the War Order of the German Cross, it was a "halfway house" between the Iron Cross First Class and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. It was succeeded by the Luftwaffe Honour Roll Clasp in 1944.
The first was awarded in August 1940, during the height of the Battle of Britain. It was Hermann Goering's idea, but he based it on a similar World War I award that he himself had received, the Ehrenbecher für den Sieger im Luftkampfe, or Honor Goblet for the Victor in Air Combat.
Theo Osterkamp flew in both wars and won the World War I version; he would have won the World War II version as well and had bookends for his mantelpiece, however he skipped completely over the Honor Goblet and won the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross instead on 22 August 1940.
|Heavily decorated Luftwaffe pilot receiving his Ehrenpokal.|
The Honor Goblet was replaced in January 1944 apparently because too many were being awarded (50,000) and they couldn't make enough goblets (all in fine silver, German silver or Nickel silver). Nobody at that time expected the war to last anywhere near as long as it did, so they reverted to a simple honor list (most of those who earned the Honor Goblet never actually received one).
This was not a badge you wanted to become eligible for - something on the order of 3 out of every 4 U-Boat sailors are still out there in the Atlantic or Mediterranean.
German E-boat badge.
German Minesweeper badge.
|Germanic destroyer force badge|
The German destroyer force was active throughout the war and performed many vital missions protecting coastal convoys.
The Anti-partisan badge is particularly evocative because the snakes show exactly what the Germans thought of the partisans - and the skull made clear how much of a menace they posed.
|Notice the Spanish Cross on Adolf Galland's pocket.|
Adolf Galland showing his Spanienkreuz (Spanish Cross) on his rigth pocket. It was given to those who served in the Spanish Civil War and had various gradations, from Bronze to Gold with Diamonds. Galland has the highest level, Gold with Diamonds, of which only 28 were awarded. The Spanish Cross is very similar in shape to a Maltese cross. There is a swastika in its center, and between each arm of the cross there is the Luftwaffenadler, coats of arms, and two crossed swords.
Krim MedalThe Wehrmacht issued a couple of special medals in 1942 for close-run victories. One was at Demyansk on the northern Soviet Front, the other was for General Manstein's victory in the Crimea.
The "Krim" badge shown went to those serving in the Crimean campaign of 1941-42. It was much more drawn-out than anybody anticipated and required maximum exertion, so it was felt that a special medal was appropriate. This expenditure of effort no doubt contributed to Hitler's determination to hold the Crimea in 1944 despite the sheer futility of trying.
Oh, there's one of these campaign badges similar to the Krim one that you won't find down at the medal dealer.
|German Helmets with Markings|
Helmets, while standard, identified the wearer's jurisdiction.
|Member of Panzer-Regiment 1 wearing schutzmütze (panzer beret).|
|German SS Totenkopf (the death head emblem on the cutter cap)|
|Luftwaffe Flak Badge|
The anti-aircraft combat badge institution was ordered on 10 January 1941 by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering. It had been designed by W.E. Peekhaus of Berlin in the summer of 1940. The badge consists of an 8.8cm anti aircraft gun, surrounded by an oak leaves crown, surmounted by a soldered or riveted Luftwaffe eagle. On the reverse there is a thin needle round pin. In most cases, a rounded cut out portion can be observed under the gun barrel.
This was a very common badge, as there were many children throughout Germany manning flak batteries.
SS Honour Ring
|SS Honour Ring - this one has a weird resemblance to a class ring|
Heinrich Himmler wanted to create the SS as a sort of priestly cult of the German Reich. The extent to which it incorporated German mysticism is completely misunderstood by many who simply see it as a ruthless military force - which it was, but that wasn't its primary intention. The SS was very much Himmler's personal creation and would have grown markedly more prominent if the Reich had survived.
|This one was owned by Himmler himself|
The SS-Ehrenring ("SS Honour Ring"), unofficially called Totenkopfring ("Skull Ring"), was not standardized. There were various permutations because it was not an official German decoration. It was an award of Heinrich Himmler's Schutzstaffel (SS). It was not a state decoration, but rather a personal gift bestowed by Himmler. The obsession with death is obvious. As a personal gift, it was inscribed inside with the recipient's personal award information.
Germanic Proficiency Runes Badge
|Germanic Proficiency Runes Badge|
The Germanic Proficiency Runes Badge was intended to be awarded solely to non-German members of the Germanic-SS who were serving the SS in countries under occupation.The award was issued in a bronze and silver grade, depending on the physical prowess displayed by the person so awarded. In that respect, this badge was similar to the SS Sports Badge. Today the GPR Badge is extremely rare and highly sought after by collectors.
|Honor Roll Clasp|
|Japanese Officer serving with the German Army in World War Two. Note the patch.|
Probably the least-used patch in the Wehrmacht was the one given to Japanese soldiers serving in the Army, but there were a few.
Reich War flag of Germany 1935-1938