Epic Artifacts

War Merit Crosses

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The War Merit Cross (Kriegsverdienstkreuz) was likely the most commonly awarded WWII German decoration. In 1939, when Hitler reinstituted the Iron Cross, he did not reinstitute the non-combatant version that had existed in previous wars. As a successor to this, he created the War Merit Cross. It existed in the same grades as the Iron Cross- there was the War Merit Cross 1st Class, War Merit Cross 2nd Class, and Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross. The 2nd Class award was a medal suspended from a ribbon, coated with a bronze finish. The War Merit Cross 1st Class was a pin-on award, with a silver finish. The Knights Cross version was worn on a ribbon around the bearer’s neck. The crosses were further differentiated into two categories: with swords, and without swords. The award with swords was for meritorious service in the face of the enemy, and could be awarded to soldiers to recognize achievements that did not merit award of an Iron Cross, as well as to civilians who fought fires during Allied air raids. The award without swords was for furthering the war effort, and could also be awarded to soldiers or civilians. Millions of people were eligible for these crosses, from members of the armed services to personnel of the Reichsbahn, the Luftschutz, border guards and customs agents and members of the other various political and paramilitary Third Reich organizations, and even factory workers. Some soldiers used a sort of military humor to mock the War Merit Cross as a “far-from-combat badge” or “field kitchen assault badge.” But many recipients of these crosses wore them with pride.

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