In September of 1939, the Knights Cross to the Iron Cross was created by Hitler to bridge the sizable gap that had existed between the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Grand Cross. An entirely new grade of the Iron Cross, the Knights Cross could be distributed more than a handful of times, yet recipients would remain part of an exclusive and elite group. As the war went into its second year new grades, each increasingly more distinguished, began to be introduced (links to sections covering these are located at the bottom of this page). At the time all grades had enormous propaganda power and as the highest award the Third Reich had to offer its armed forces, it has become a sensation among collectors.
The Knights Cross retained the same basic design as the Iron Cross 2nd Class. It measured 48mm x 48mm with a silver ring (measuring 6mm) on the top of the frame. An elongated ribbon loop resembling a paper clip went through the ring. Construction of the Knights Cross followed the same general pattern as the 2nd Class, except that it was always constructed by hand, and never by the new mechanical method (Koblenzer method) designed for the 2nd Class. The government closely supervised the manufacturing process and as a result very little variation can be encountered. The swastika and dates have very sharply defined edges and the soldering of the frame is impeccable, with only the finest of lines visible. There are no spaces or flaws, the core fits perfectly between the silver frame that was usually 800 in grade but ranged up to 935 for privately purchased pieces. This silver grade was usually stamped on the upper arm on the reverse of the frame, and the manufactures mark, if any, was stamped along side of it or on the ribbon loop. The Cross weight 33g, but this was not always the case for privately purchased pieces.
After October 22, 1941 when the sale of Knights Crosses through extra official retail outlets was forbidden, only six firms were authorized to manufacture the Knights Cross. They were; “C.E. Junkers” and “Gerbuder Godet & Co.” of Berlin, “C.F. Zimmermann”, “Quenzer und Klein” and “Otto Schikel” of Pforzheim and “Steinhauer und Leuck” of Ludenscheid. These firms also provided official copies of the awards to be purchased privately by the recipients, and within these there are some minor variations. As with other grades of the Iron Cross, some Knight Crosses can be found with a brass core for wear by Kriegsmarine recipients, mainly U-boat captains. These often had an “L” number to identify the maker, but the same quality level was observed in manufacturing retail copies as in officially presented pieces. The Ribbon, of the same colors as the 2nd Class, was 45mm wide.
|Silver content mark - "800"||
Knight Cross to the Iron Cross
Criteria for the award varied within the Wehrmacht and changed as the war progressed. To receive any grade of the Iron Cross required dedication, but recipients of the Knights Cross had to demonstrate a unique kind of valor. Those who were awarded the Knights Cross deserved it, there was little room for political manipulation. Hitler had stated that the Cross would be distributed evenly among the ranks, and it was. This can proved by the fact that roughly 7% of recipients held the rank of General at the time they were presented with the Knights Cross. Recommendations were submitted by the individuals commanding officer, and were reviewed by Hitler for approval.
In order to be recommended Heer and SS personnel needed to perform an additional five to seven acts of distinction before being considered, although a single act of great significance could earn them the Cross. It was not only awarded for bravery, however, but also for particularly successful commands of attack or withdrawal operations, career achievements or services rendered. Lufftwaffe pilots operated on a point system in which one point was achieved for downing a single-engine aircraft, two points for a twin-engine, and three points for a four-engine plane. Points were doubled for night fighting actions. The number of points required for the Cross increased as the war went on, for example, Leutnant Egon Mayer received the Knights Cross upon downing 20 enemy aircraft in 1941 while Obersleutnant Otto Kittel did not receive his until his 123rd air victory in 1943. U-boat commanders of the Kriegsmarine could expect to be recommended for the Knights Cross upon sinking 100,000 tons of shipping, but as was the norm in all branches it was also awarded for a single outstanding action or particularly successful patrol. U-96 Commander Fregattenkapitan Heinrich Lehmann, for example, was decorated for sinking 16 ships on 12 weeks.
A total of 7,318 Knights Crosses were presented, though it is worth noting that in the chaotic conditions that reigned over the last days of the Third Reich recommendations were made but not always confirmed or properly documented. A total of 42 Knights Crosses were presented to members of Axis Allied Armies (as opposed to volunteers serving in the Wehrmacht under German command). They were distributed as follows; seventeen to Rumania, nine to Italy, eight to Hungary, and two to Japan, Finland, Slovakia, and Spain. `
In 1957, all grades of the Knights Cross were included in the laws which allowed veterans to once again wear war time decorations. The Knights Cross, now devoid of all Nazi symbols, had a spray of Oak Leaves taking the place of the swastika but remained otherwise of identical design. In most cases, the rim lacks the mat silver finish, and though some of the firms that manufactured the original crosses also made the new Knights Crosses, they are generally of lower quality.
Unlike the 1939 version, the 1957 Knights Cross could be worn as a ribbon. This was a longer ribbon than the 1st and 2nd Class, with a small 1957 Iron Cross in the center. The original color of the ribbon was preserved, as was the leatherette presentation box.
The Oak Leaves, the Oak Leaves and Swords, and the Diamonds were not modified as they displayed no political motif, but they were still manufactured after 1957 as replacement pieces. The Grand Cross was not reissued, as it’s only recipient, Hermann Goring, committed suicide while on death row after his conviction at the Nuremberg Trials.
|1957 Knights Cross||
General Matzky wearing
a 1957 Knights Cross
Oak Leaves - Swords - Diamonds
As mentioned in the introduction the Iron Cross, Hitler introduced a number of upgrades to the Knights Cross as the war progressed. Each successively more prestigious, they deserve individual attention which is given to them in the pages that follow. Even thought the average collector would be hard pressed to attain these items, their historical significance and their high rank in Germany award structure makes then worthy of study. Please return to the Iron Cross index by way of the link below to learn about these awards.
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