As Germany’s Armed forces moved into the Soviet Union, Hitler instituted the next successive grade of the Knights Cross. The Oak Leaves and Swords (Eichenlaub und Schwertern), authorized on July 15th 1941, were created as a further incentive to the Legions of men now moving East. This award was composed of an Oak Leaves cluster identical to that of preceding grade, but with the addition of a pair of crossed silver swords soldered at the base. The swords measured 24mm in length and crossed left over right at a 40-degree angle. The award was die struck in solid silver with the overall dimensions being 25mm x 10mm and weighting in at 7.8 grams.
The actual award piece was manufactured in genuine silver with the content and manufacturer mark on the reverse. The most important distinctive quality between officially presented pieces and official copies is that the swords are finished both on the obverse and reverse. Jewelers copies sold to recipients for everyday wear have detail only on the obverse of the swords, with the reverse being flat. They may vary in their silver content. Other variations encountered in this grade of the Knights Cross stem from field awards being presented by units to popular recipients to be worn before the official set was presented. These copies often continued to be worn by the recipient even after the official clasp was attained, out affection to their comrades.
When presented, the Oak Leaves and Swords came in a box similar to that of the Oak Leaves, with the customary award documents. Once the Oak Leaves with Swords were awarded, the recipient would replace the Oak Leaves clasp with the Swords.
The criteria for the Swords followed the same pattern as the Oak Leaves. Individuals presented with this award represented the best fighting men Germany had to offer. Members of the Heer and SS needed to have the most impressive portfolio in order to be considered, not only bravery but also combat and leadership skills were needed to rise above the rest and be recognized with the Swords. Lufftwaffe personnel followed the same points system as in the preceding classes, with only the most experienced aces reaching the points required. The first recipient of the award was the famous Lufftwaffe officer Oberstleutnant Adolf Gallant, who received the Clasp on June 21st 1941 after attaining his 69th air victory in the west (before the award was even officially instituted). Only the most experienced U-boat aces are found in the Swords winner list. One of them is Freggattenkapitan Erich Topp, who received the Swords on the 17th of August 1942. Up to that point he had sunk over 243,000 tons of allied shipping.
A total of 159 Oak Leaves with Swords were presented during the war, a number that reflects the high standards required to achieve and the exclusiveness of the award. Only one foreign Officer was awarded the Oak Leaves and Swords, Japanese Grand Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who was presented with the awards posthumously in 1943.
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