Epic Artifacts

Iron Crosses and Spanges

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There is no more iconic German military award than the Iron Cross. The long history of this order began during the Napoleonic Wars. King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia instituted the “Eisernes Kreuz” (Iron Cross) in March of 1813. The award criteria changed somewhat with time, but generally speaking, Iron Crosses could be awarded for individual acts of bravery, or for leadership achievements on the battlefield. The design was created by a Karl Friedrich Schinkel, his choice of the black cross with silver outline was derived from the heraldic emblem of the Teutonic Knights. There were a number of different type and grades of Iron Cross awards throughout its long history, but the basic details of the most widely awarded grades: The Iron Cross 1st Class and Iron Cross 2nd Class- remained the same. The first class award was a breast badge, with fittings on the reverse to allow it to be worn on the uniform. These fittings varied widely over time and from maker to maker, and could be a simple in and catch, a screw post and retaining disc, or more elaborate setups. The second class award was suspended from a ribbon, originally in the Prussian colors of black and white, later in the Reich colors of black, red and white. On the original versions of these crosses, in 1813, the front of the iron core of each grade was bare, and only the second class award had ornamentation: a crown over the initials “FW” representing the King, a sprig of oak leaves, and the date 1813. The core was redesigned in 1870, when the cross was re-instituted during the Franco-Prussian War. The reverse ornamentation on the Iron Cross 2nd Class remained the same, but the front of the core on both grades now bore another crown, a “W” representing Kaiser Wilhelm, and the date 1870. This pattern repeated again when the cross was reinstituted for WWI- everything stayed the same, only the date 1870 was replaced with 1914. The final reinstitution of the cross came in 1939. For this version, the front of the core for both grades bore a swastika and the date 1939. The oak leaves, crown and royal initials were removed from the reverse, with only the date 1813 remaining as a reminder of the legacy of this award. In WWII, hundreds of thousands of Iron Cross First Class awards were bestowed, and four and a half million Iron Cross Second Class awards. Iron Crosses were made by a large number of authorized manufacturers Some variants of these awards were mass produced in huge numbers. Others were made in very limited quantities.

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