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Orders, Decorations and Awards

The principal reward on which the Prussian government relied was the almost unlimited distribution of orders - a system rendered necessary by promotion depending entirely on seniority ; and distinguished services were rewarded by other methods than attaining a step. Orders, when wisely distributed, indubitably exercised a great influence on the spirit of an army.

The medals donated by the Prussian kings were above all directed, like most of the world's medals created since the exit of the Middle Ages, to strengthen the power of the prince, here the Prussian king. The membership of the orders consisted at first of a small exclusive circle, whose number was limited and whose members emphasized themselves by Ordensinsignien (indication, chains, volume, star among other things) outwardly.

Pretty often the statutes for reasons up-to-date were changed. Some medals at meaning and/or were lost temporarily suspended temporarily. For social reputation and career the kind of medal and the respective class were of extraordinary importance. Medals, and the decorations and title connected with it - with each carrier gladly its names decorated - were expression of the position in the hierarchy of the Prussian kingdom.

The various orders typically consisted of several classes, with various additional types of divisions, producing innumerable variants of a single order. Prussia was not alone in bestowing honors, with dozens of other kingdoms, princely states, and minor jurisdictions also awarding a bewildering array of orders, medals and decorations - far too diverse for anyone other than a professional collector to fathom.

Wilhelm II often given public utterance to his conviction that the most potent support of his throne is the army. It is not surprising, therefore, that he steadily aimed at keeping that pillar of his strength perfectly under his own control. In doing this he made use of every available means. There were entire categoried of rewards and punishments which the Kaiser, as head of the army, dispensed at will - promotions, orders and decorations, praise or censure meted out to individuals or bodies in army orders and bulletins, confirmations, revisions or nullifications of sentences imposed by courts-martial. It will easily be understood that these varied and constantly applied means alone suffice to make the influence of the Kaiser over his army an element of surpassing force.

The peculiar passion for titles and decorations, for which the Germans themselves have coined the word "Titelsucht," likewise furnished the Kaiser with a strong lever by which to turn people at will. Every winter - on January i8th, as a rule - the so-called "Ordensfest," or Fete of Decorations, was celebrated at the Berlin court, when between 5,000 and 8,000 newly decorated citizens, drawn from every walk of life, were invited to court, file before the Kaiser and his consort, and were subsequently regaled in a number of the most splendid apartments of the Old Castle, and affably treated by a large and gorgeously attired body of flunkeys. Thus an indelibly sweet and powerful impression was left on the minds of this heterogeneous multitude, largely composed of unsophisticated and intensely loyal denizens of rural districts or smaller towns. The official organ of the empire on the afternoon of that day published a special edition, containing on a score of quarto pages the full names, callings, etc., of all these happy persons, together with a minute classification of the decorations and medals awarded, and all the newspapers in the empire reprint the list, wholly or in part. The Kaiser used this quite inexpensive but very effective mode of rewarding loyal subjects with steadily increasing lavishness, and invented a number of new decorations, besides. He indulged the ambition for titles with like generosity and with like effect.


Order of the Black Eagle

The Order of the Black Eagle, one of the most distinguished of European orders, was the highest in Prussia; and this was seen in the decoration itself, as the Black Eagle formed the national arms. It was founded on the 18th of January, 1701, by the elector of Brandenburg Frederick I., first King of Prussia, at his coronation. It was employed as a reward for all high military and civil dignitaries of the empire, in peace and in war. All the princes of the royal family were chevaliers of this order by birth.

The order consists of one class only and the number of chevaliers is limited to thirty, exclusive of princes of the royal blood and foreign potentates. But the number has been exceeded. Only those who have received the Order of the Red Eagle are eligible. The Chevaliers of the Black Eagle are at the same time, and ex officio, Chevaliers of the Red Eagle. No one could receive this order unless noble ; and hence, a bourgeois must be ennobled by the king prior to his reception of it. It confers the nobiliary particle von. There is no pension attached to this order.

The decoration consisted of a silver plate, bearing on a yellow field the black eagle, surrounded a silver fillet on which the motto, Suum Cuique. The grand cordon is a wide orange ribbon, worn from the right shoulder to the left hip, and supporting a blue enamelled cross, the angles filled with black eagles. The collar is formed of alternate black eagles and a circular medallion with the motto on a white centre surrounded by the initials F.R. repeated in green, the whole in a circle of blue with four gold crowns on the exterior rim. In exceptional cases, the decoration is ornamented with diamonds.

Order of the Red Eagle

The Order of the Red Eagle, the second of the Prussian orders, was founded originally as the Order of Sincerity (L'Ordre delà Sincérité) by the Margrave of Anspach and Baireuth George William, hereditary prince of Brandenburg-Bayreuth, in 1705. The order had almost fallen into oblivion when it was revived in 1734 by the margrave George Frederick Charles as the Order of the Brandenburg Red Eagle. It consisted of 30 nobly born knights. The numbers were increased and a grand cross class added in 1759. On the margravate reverting to Prussia, in 1791, the order was transferred and Frederick William II declared this the second order in his empire. At that period it only consisted of one class ; and the decoration was a silver star attached to the cordon of the order. In 1810, Frederick William III. divided it into three classes, to which he added a fourth in 1830. There were later five classes with numerous sub-divisions.

It is intended to reward distinguished military and civil services. The original constitution and insignia are now entirely changed, with the exception of the red eagle which formed the centre of the cross of the badge. The numerous classes and subdivisions have exceedingly complicated distinguishing marks, some bearing crossed swords, a crown, or an oak-leaf surmounting the cross.The ribbon is white with two orange stripes.

The grand cross resembles the badge of the Black Eagle, but is white and the eagles in the corners red, the central medallion bearing the initials W.R. (those of William I.) surrounded by a blue fillet with the motto Sincere et Constanter. The first class consists of a silver star with eight rays ; in the center, on a white field, being the red eagle, surrounded by the motto, Sincere et constanter. Above this device are three gold oak-leaves. The grand cordon consists of a broad white ribbon with two orange stripes, to which is attached a white cross, the centre containing the red eagle, and the ring adorned with oak-leaves.

The second class of the Red Eagle is subdivided into two categories ; one "with the star," the other "without the star." The second class " with the star" is composed of a square cross of silver, containing a large white cross with the red eagle in the center. In addition, a white cross is worn round the neck, attached to a white ribbon with two orange stripes. The second class " without the star" only wears the small cross round the oeck. The third class wears a similar white cross on the chest of smaller dimensions, fastened to a ribbon of the same cross. The fourth class is distinguished by a cross of silver.

When an officer gains the order of the Red Eagle on the battle-field, the cross he wears is ornamented with two crossed swords. There are no pensions attached to this order. Only officers can obtain it.

Order Pour le Merite

The Order for Merit (Ordre pour le Mérite) was one of the most highly prized of European orders of merit. It was originally founded by the electoral prince Frederick, afterwards Frederick I. of Prussia, m 1667 as the Order of Generosity; it was given its present name and granted for civil and military distinction by Frederick the Great in 1740 on his accession to the throne, in lieu of the Order De la Generosite, instituted by his father. It and was intended to reward military and civil services.

It consists of a blue enamelled cross, in the angles of which are gilt eagles) and it is worn attached to a black ribbon with two silver stripes. Frederick William III. decreed, in 1810, that the Order Pour le Merite should be exclusively reserved for military merit against the enemy in the field exclusively : he also ordered that, in the case of very distinguished services, the order should receive a further decoration of oak-leaves. When an officer has obtained this order, in the first instance, without leaves, and then receives the higher distinction, he only wears the latter; but, in that case, the ribbon has three silver stripes instead of two.

Frederick William IV., King of Prussia, resolved, on the 31st of May, 1842, to confer this order again on artists and literary men, in accordance with the intention of Frederick the Great. For this purpose a new and special class of the order was founded, under the title, "Class of Peace of the Order Pour le Merite" (Friedensklasse) for those " who have gained an illustrious name by wide recognition in the spheres of science and art." The decoration consists of a blue enamelled cross, with a gilt eagle on a yellow field. The number of chevaliers of this class is invariably fixed at thirty for German, and thirty for foreign countries. The Academy of Sciences and Arts on a vacancy nominates three candidates, from which one is selected by the king. It is interesting to note that this was the only distinction which Thomas Carlyle would accept.

The badge of the military order is a blue cross with gold uncrowned eagles in the angles; on the topmost arm is the initial F., with a crown; on the other arms the inscription Pour le Mérite. The ribbon is black with a silver stripe at the edges. In 1866 a special grand cross was instituted for the crown prince (afterwards Frederick III.) and Prince Frederick Charles. It was in 1879 granted to Count yon Moltke as a special distinction. The badge of the class for science or art is a circular medallion of white, with a gold eagle in the centre surrounded by a blue border with the inscription Pour le Mérite; on the white field the letters 4F. II. four times repeated, and four crowns in gold projecting from the rim. The ribbon is the same as for the military class.

Order of the House of Hohenzollern

The Order of the House of Hohenzollern [Königlicher Hausorden von Hohenzollern] was founded on the 5th of December, 1841, by the reigning Prince of Hoheuzollern Hechingen and Sigmariugen. When that prince resigned his states to Prussia, Frederick William IV. admitted this order into Prussia on the 23rd of August, 1851, granting the prince permission to present the order to whom he pleased, according to the new organisation. This order was divided into two sections. The first is granted as a reward for special devotion to the royal family ; the second was conferred as a reward for peculiar services in the education of youth and the propagation of pious sentiments. Each of these section contained three classes : grand commanders, commanders, and chevaliers.

The statutes of the medal determined that the award "only to such persons to take place should, who around the gloss and the power of the royal house had made themselves and a special devotion earned to the person of its majesty and to the royal house to the day to have put, both by present fruitful merit/service, devoted and manful behavior in the fight against outside and internal enemies, and by working for the future, for the encouragement and preparation of the growing up and coming sexes to same loyalty".

The decoration of the first section consists of a black and white enamelled gold cross, in the center of which is a round shield, bearing the motto of the order, "From the rock to the sea," and in the center the eagle of the royal arms on a white field, with the escutcheon of Hohenzollern on its breast. Between the arms of the cross is a gold green-enamelled crown, supported on the left by laurel-leaves, on the right by oak-leaves. Above the cross is the royal crown. The decoration of the second section consists of the eagle of the royal arms, of black enamel, bearing on its breast the escutcheon of Hohensollern. The motto is in a blue garter surrounding the head of the eagle. There were no special prerogatives or pensions attached to this order.

Order of St. John

The Order of St. John ["der Johanniterorden"] was an offshoot of the once celebrated knights who held the islands of Malta, Cyprus, and Crete. In 1714, the knights of Brandenburg separated from the order, and elected a grand master; this separation lasted till the re-formation. In 1810, Frederick William III. abolished it, and instituted, in 1812, a new Prussian order of St. John, only in name bearing any affinity to its illustrious prototype. This new order was granted to such noble persons as the king wishes to personally reward ; and several officers hold it. The decoration consists of ai white enamelled cross, the angles occupied by black eagles. There was no special prerogative attached to this order, save the right of wearing the dress of the order - a red uniform with a white collar, embroidered in geld, and gold epamlettes.

Order of the Crown

The Order of the Crown of was instituted in 1861, commemorating William I.'s coronation as Kaiser, and was divided into four classes. The Order of the Crown was Prussia's lowest ranking order of chivalry, although it still held considerable status. As with most European orders of the time, it could only be awarded to commissioned officers (or civilians of approximately equivalent status), but there was a medal associated with the order which could be earned by non-commissioned officers and enlisted men.

Holders of the decorations of the first and second classes wear the emblem suspended from a blue ribbon about the neck, while those who hold the third and fourth classes of the order wear the emblem suspended from the buttonhole. The Order of the Crown of Prussia, first class, was one of the highest decorations the Kaiser can bestow. The emblem was reserved for leading dipolmats, statesmen, scientists, scholars, and commanding Generals of the German Army.

This order was not frequently awarded for combat actions during the Great War, although awards "with swords" were made in great numbers to military personnel, for general merit. The 4th class badge had gilt cross arms. The higher grades had white enamel arms. There were uncountable numbers of the Order of the Crown awarded. Since orders were given for long service, there were certain officials that couldn't get around being awarded a certain type and class of order. Especially the Order of the Crown seems to be used for those purposes.

Military Decorations

Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz)

The Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz), the Prussian military decoration, was instituted 10 March 1813, by Frederick William III, and conferred for distinguished services in war. The decoration is an iron Maltese cross with silver mounting and is worn at the neck or at the buttonhole. The grand cross, a cross of double the size, is presented exclusively to the upper officers for the gaining of a decisive battle. Iron Cross is the most popular war medal in Germany, and, like many another popular German institution, was founded in a time of great national distress.

The Order of the Prussian Iron Cross was instituted by King Frederick William III on March 10th, 1813, to reward those, either military or civil, who distinguished themselves in the war then being carried on. The Cross was finally made of iron, less from sentiment than from extreme poverty. It became, however, the most precious of war medals in the eyes of the German soldier. It was not given away, like so many medals, for merely courtly services, but had to be earned upon the field of battle. The exchange made during the Great War by German women of their gold wedding rings for those of iron was simply a repetition of a sacrifice which the women of Germany made during the Napoleonic Wars, when they gave their gold jewellery and replaced it by delicately made ornaments of iron.

It was divided into three classes. The Grand Cross, which was double the size of the Knight's Cross, and was worn round the neck, was given exclusively for the gaining of a decisive battle, the conquest of an important position or place, or the brave defence of a fortress. The first class also wear upon the left breast, instead of a Star, a similar Cross or Badge. In the bestowal of the Cross, neither rank nor condition was regarded. It was worn by the military with a black ribbon with two white stripes near the edge ; and by civilians with a white ribbon with black borders, and was suspended from a silver loop and ring. At the close of hostilities, the distribution of the Order ceased.

The holder of the first class was also entitled to the second. Up to 1841 there were no pensions attached to this decoration ; but on the 3rd of August of that year, Frederick William IV. decreed, that in the first class, 12 officers, and 12 non-commissioned officers and privates, should receive an annual pension of 150 thalers ; and, in the second class, 36 of each grade an annual pension of 50 thalers.

The order lapsed in the middle of the 19th century but was revived on July 19th, 1870, for the war then about to commence with France. The Iron Cross was in many instances on the breast of the sergeant and common soldier before it was affixed to the uniform of those in responsible command. Leaving the ranks to carry wounded comrades to the rear - a common form of distinction in some countries - was hardly a passport to the Iron Cross in 1870. Bismarck is said to have jokingly remarked to a German prince, who like himself wore the Iron Cross, that they had both received it as a compliment.

In the Great War beginning in August 1914 very great numbers of men in the German army and; navy received the Iron Cross from Emperor William II.

The decoration is a cast-iron Cross, in the form of a cross patee, with silver borders and mountings. There are three classes, both for military and civilians. Obverse : In the center, within a silver milled border, three oak leaves ; above, F.W. surmounted by the Prussian crown ; below, 1813. The Cross awarded for the Franco-German War bears on the reverse : In the center, also within a silver milled border, the initial W ; above, is a crown ; below, 1870.

Military Merit Cross

The Prussian Military Merit Cross [Militär-Verdienstkreuz], was Prussia's highest award for non-commissioned officers. It was bestowed upon enlisted personnel for bravery in combat. The Cross was awarded until the Great War in form of a golden cross. With the beginning of the first World War the cross was made from gilt silver, though 16 pieces from earlier times were awarded in the war's first days. It was known as the "Pour le Mérite" for NCOs and enlisted men, due to its low award number related to the total number of the soldiers. Unlike the neck worn officer version (Pour le Merit) it was worn attached to the Medal clasp over the left chest pocket or individually on the left uniform side, mostly however as a ribbon clasp mounted next to the Iron cross.

Military Honor Medal

Awards for military merit had a long history in Prussia. In 1793 medals for "Merit for the state" began being awarded. These medals for military as well as for civil merit went through some changes since they were established. Only the type of ribbon showed the difference between the military and civil character of the medal.

The biggest change during this medal's history was the upgrade from an actual medal to a cross. This change was performed on September 30, 1814. One reason was a cost reduction from 13 crowns to less than 1 credits. While the second class, from then on on named Military Honor Medal (Militär-Ehrenzeichen), remained the same in shape, the first class was coined on October 08, 1814, by the Berlin Jeweler Gebrüder Wagner. In 1828 all crosses of the first type were awarded for military and civil reasons (keep in mind that only the ribbon made the difference between a civil (Allgemeines Ehrenzeichen) and a military award (Militär-Ehrenzeichen) ). In 1828 crosses all of the first type were awarded for military and civil reasons (keep in mind that only the ribbon made the difference between a civil (General Honor) and a military award (military honor)).

Krieger-VerdienstmedailleSince the Military Honor Medal 1st Class was only awarded between 1814 and 1917 the 2nd type could have only functioned as a substitute piece lost by their bearers. Therefore the biggest number of these crosses were awarded as Civil Honor Medal 1st Class on its white ribbon with orange stripes.

On January 01, 1830, the 1st class of the Civil Honor Medal was transformed into the Red Eagle Order 4th class. With the upcoming war 1848/49 the Military Honor Medal 1st class was awarded in a new form. Instead of the porcelain medallion the cross bearded the three line inscription: "Verdienst um den Staat" ("Merit for the State"). This new form only existed from 1848 to 1864, regarding the fact that it was only awarded in 1848/49 in a very scarce number. This new form only existed from 1848 to 1864.

Ordered by the King on February 27, 1864, the parallel design development to the Civil Honor Medal was ended. Ordered by the King on February 27, 1864, the parallel design development to the Civil Honor Medal was ended. From now on the Military Honor Medal [Krieger-Verdienstmedaille] shows the two line inscription: "Kriegs Verdienst" ("Military Merit"). This type comes with the makers mark "AW", punched in the medallion cylinder, without any marks and with the inscription "W".

Merit Cross for War Aid

The Merit Cross for War Aid (Das Verdienstkreuz für Kriegshilfe) is a metal cross with on the obverse medallion the intertwined letters WR (Wilhelm Rex, Wilhelm King of Prussia). The reverse medallion bears the text: "FÜR / KRIEGS- / HILFSDIENST". The cross was awarded to men and women, irrespective of rank or status, for special merit connected with patriotic war aid. It was instituted by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia on 15 December 1916. The first recipient (after the King himself) was Field Marshall von Hindenburg.

For Service Done the State

The military decoration founded by Frederick William III in 1814 to reward the services of officers, is divided into two classes : the first consisting of a silver cross attached to a black and white ribbon ; the second class is given to non-commissioned officers and privates, and consists of a silver medal, bearing the inscription "For service done the State."

Good Conduct Medal / Honorable Service Cross / For Distinction in Service

The Good Conduct Medal [Dienstauszeichnungskreuz - Honorable Service Cross] for officers was created June 18, 1825, on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, by Frederick William III for officers who had served twenty-five years. It was also adopted by certain other German states after 1867. The cross is of silver gilt, bearing the initials of its founder. There were four forms; two earlier versions (pre-1870) had smooth arms, and a third form after 1870 was slightly smaller (about 36mm, compared to 38mm). It was a gold Cross, bearing on the obverse the initials, F.W.III, surmounted by a crown, and on the reverse the number XXV. It was worn on the left breast, suspended by a blue ribbon. For sub-officers and privates, silver buckles, with the initials F.W.III in relief, on a rough ground, within a raised double border, worn on the left breast, with brooch attachment, suspended by a blue ribbon with yellow borders for twenty-one years' service ; by a blue ribbon with white and blue borders for fifteen years' service ; and by a blue ribbon with black borders for nine years' service. Years of war service counted double.

Good Conduct Clasp

The Good Conduct Clasp for non-commissioned officers and privates was founded at the same date, and varies in character according to the seniority of the recipient. After twenty-one years' service the clasp is yellow, and is fastened to a blue ribbon edged with yellow. After fifteen years' service it is silver, attached to a blue ribbon with white edging. After nine years' service the clasp is iron, fastened to a blue ribbon with black edge. The clasp is in all cases ornamented with the cypher of the founder, F.W.III.

Good Conduct Clasp for Landwehr

The Good Conduct Clasp for Landwehr was founded 16th of January, 1842, by Frederick William IV. for those officers and privates who performed their duties well in the first and second levies, consists of a blue ribbon, in which the initials of the founder are worked in yellow silk. After the creation of the officers' Landwehr long service cross in 1868, the schnalle was denoted a second class and awarded to all those who served in the Landwehr either in a campaign or for at least 3 months full active service. Given that active Landwehr service was often only for shorter periods of time every year (if at all) it actually took a great deal of time to accrue the time necessary for this award. The schnalle was replaced by a medal in 1913.

Medal of Hohenzollern

The Medal of Hohenzollern was founded in 1851, for all those officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates who retained their fidelity daring the struggles of 1848 and 1849. It is made of gun-metal. It bears on the front the cross of the order of Hohenzollern, and on the reverse this inscription : "Frederick William IV., to his warriors faithful till death, 1848-1849." It is worn on the chest from the button-hole, fastened to the ribbon of the order of Hohenzollern;

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:54:31 ZULU