Awards.gif (15903 bytes)

Awards and decorations

German troops made a point of wearing certain honourable awards on their combat dress at all times. This section will deal with the various decorations awarded throughout the German military. Many awards for bravery were eligible to be won by all members of Germany's Armed Forces; others were specific to the various branches (Heer, SS, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine), and will be dealt with separately.

1. Awards for Bravery

Iron cross 1st & 2nd class

The most common award for bravery was the Iron Cross or Eisernen Kreuz. Originally a Prussian decoration dating back to German participation in the Napoleonic Wars, it was reconstituted 1 September 1939. It was the benchmark award, and on either side of it greater or lesser awards were constituted. It was of the familiar Maltese Cross shape, in black metal edged with silver frame. It was awarded with a ribbon with black edges, white inner stripes and a red centre.

EK1.jpg (21905 bytes) EK2PIN.jpg (15073 bytes) There were only two classes of Iron Cross; both were considered "chest medals", to be worn on the chest. The two awards were virtually identical in appearance, the only difference being in how they were worn. The Iron Cross 1st Class was awarded for three to five acts of bravery, and was worn pinned to the left breast of the uniform, low down. The Iron Cross 2nd Class was awarded for a single act of bravery. Generally only the ribbon of the award was worn, in a downwards diagonal strip, sewn between the second tunic buttonhole and the edge of the front closure of the tunic.
Iron Cross 1st Class Iron Cross 2nd Class

1939 Bar to the 1914 Iron Cross 1th & 2nd Class
Wiederholungsspange zur eizernes kreuz 1ste & 2te klasse

The Bar was introduced in order to recognize those recipients of the 1914 Iron Cross 2nd Class who again exhibited courage or merit during Word War II. It was initially constructed from high quality silver-plated white metal with attractive highlights, but as the war dragged on silver coated or painted zinc was used. The Bar consisted of an eagle with outstretched wings holding a wreathed swastika. Below the swastika a trapezoid bar bore the year 1939. On the reverse it had four prongs that were used to secure the Bar to the 1914 Imperial ribbon from which it was worn (on the 2nd buttonhole of the tunic).

EK1_WW1.jpg (76423 bytes) EK1_spange.jpg (22413 bytes) Spange_WW2.jpg (22632 bytes)
WW1 Iron cross 1st Class 1939 spange to WW1 Iron cross 1st Class 1939 spange to WW1 Iron cross 2nd Class

The Bar to the Iron Cross 1st Class was very similar to its 2nd Class cousin, but with a slightly larger wingspan on the Eagle (44mm). It was worn directly above the 1914 Iron Cross 1st Class with a wide tapering clip holding it in place. There were several hook styles, including the "screwback" type, and some recipients chose to solder the bar onto the 1914 Cross.

Knights Cross of the Iron cross
Das Ritterkreuz des eisernen kreuzes

BenthackRK2.jpg (24435 bytes) RK-img.jpg (13623 bytes) Constituted at the same time was the Knight's Cross or Ritterkreuz. (It was officially called the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, or Ritterkreutz des Eisernen Kreuzes, showing it's lineage from the Iron Cross). It was larger than the older Iron Cross but also of the Maltese Cross shape on a ribbon with black edges, white inner stripes and a red centre.

Criteria for the award varied between the services, the Luftwaffe had a points system, the Kriegsmarine worked on a tonnage basis, and for soldiers, on individual acts of bravery. It was a "neck order"; that is, it was to be worn around the neck at all times, it's ribbon passing under the collar. Recipients did not receive a full length of ribbon with the award, so other means of wearing the award around the neck had to be found–Luftwaffe pilots apparently favoring the garter from a girlfriend.

Eichenlaub.jpg (29272 bytes) Later, additions to the Knight's Cross were created which could be awarded subsequently. Oak leaves were added to Knights Cross in June 1940. In 1941, crossed swords were added to the oak leaves–only 149 such awards were given. Finally, in July 1941, diamonds were added to produce the definitive decoration–only 27 such such awards were given out, Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel being among the recipients. Only one Knights Cross to the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds was ever awarded–to Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel, who flew 2530 operational flights, and had over 500 Russian tanks and a Russian battleship to his credit.
Oak leaf with swords

2. Campaign medals

A number of campaign medals and shields were issued throughout the war, and signified participation in particularly brutal battles.

Eastern-front-medal.jpg (12897 bytes) The Eastern Front Medal (Winterschlacht im osten or, more formally, the Medal for the Winter campaign in Russia 1941/1942) was constituted on 26 May 1942. It was given to members of the military who had fought through the Russian winter from 15 November 1941 to 15 April 1942. It consisted of a circular-shaped medal with a German-pattern Stahlhelm on the top. The ribbon was in red with three thin stripes, two in white, and a central one in black. Generally, only the ribbon was worn, in the same manner as the Iron Cross 2nd Class. The medal was derisively called the "Frozen Meat Medal", because one of its criteria was getting a limb frozen.

3. Combat awards

Combat awards were produced in two basic forms: either as a badge (Abzeichen) to be worn on the breast, or as a clasp (Spange) worn above the left breast pocket (or in that position if there were no pockets). The only exceptions to that were the Kriegsmarine's Midget Weapons Unit awards, which were fixed to the sleeve. All these badges ranked lower than decorations; an Iron Cross, for example, was worn abouve the combat badge

A frequent decoration was the Wound Badge, a solid oval badge about 1 1/2 inches (38 mm) high worn in three classes: black, for one or two wounds; silver, for three or four wounds; and gold, for five or more wounds. The badge was pinned low on the left breast pocket. All members of the German military were eligible for this award.

A variety of Assault badges were awarded for the number of days in continuous combat, or the number of separate engagements the wearer had participated in. All ranks were eligible for these awards. Different awards were issued by the different branches of the German military, as follows:.

a. Heer and SS

The Heeres-Flakabzeichen was instituted by the OKH on July 18, 1941 and was designed by the firm of Ernst Wilhelm Peekhaus of Berlin. Members of flak batteries, sound-locator crews, and searchlight crews in a support role were also qualified to earn the award. Authorization of the award was given by commanders holding the rank of General der Artillerie or higher. Regulations stated it was to be worn on the left breast pocket. If worn in conjunction with the General Assault Badge, it was to be positioned to the left. The Heer Flak Badge was awarded via a point system, with 16 being the requisite. Four points were awarded to the battery credited with downing an enemy aircraft without support. If other batteries assisted only two points were awarded. Searchlight or sound locator crews, working in conjunction with flak batteries, which were credited with a first detection, were awarded one point. T he award could also be given, regardless of points, for bravery or merit in conducting an anti-aircraft mission. Unlike its Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine counterparts, the Heeres-Flakabzeichen was awarded for attacks on air targets only. Heeres_flakkampfabzeichen.jpg (93497 bytes)


Inf_sturmabzeichen.jpg (35925 bytes) The Infantry Assault Badge - Infanterie Sturmabzeichen - was instituted on 20 December 1939. Originally intended for the infantry and mountain troops, it was later extended to include motorized infantry. The badge was in silver metal, and consisted of an oval of oakleaves, with a Kar98K rifle lying diagonally across the wreath. At the top of the wreath was an eagle clutching a swastika. The wearer had to have taken part in at least three infantry attacks or counter-attacks on separate days. It was worn on the left breast pocket. The motorized infantry version was identical, but in bronze.


The Panzer Assault Award - Panzerabzeichen - was also instituted on 20 December 1939. Intended originally for Panzer crews, it was later extended to Panzergrenadiers. It marked a varying number of separate engagements (25, 50, 75 or 100) in which the wearer had participated. The 25 and 50 versions had a black PzKpfw III tank with silver wreath and national emblem, and the number "25" or "50" inset in a small rectangle at the base of the badge. The "75" and "100" versions were larger, and finished in gilt. This badge was also worn on the breast, low down, and only one could be worn at a time. The Panzergrenadier version was identical, but in bronze–this was also issued to armored car crews as well.  Panzerabz.jpg (35290 bytes)
Alg_sturmabzeichen.jpg (34721 bytes) The General Assault Badge - Algemeines Sturmabzeichen -was introduced on 1 June 1940, and was originally worn as the Assault Engineer Badge, but was later extended to include all fighting personnel who were not eligible for either the Infantry or Panzer Assault Award. The 25 and 50 versions badge was in silver with a black eagle, and the number "25" or "50" inset in a small rectangle at the base of the badge. The "75" and "100" versions were in gilt metal. It was worn on the left breast pocket, and only one at a time could be worn.
The Close Combat Clasp - Nahkampfspange -was initiated in 1942, and was meant to honor those soldiers who had taken part in hand-to-hand fighting, unsupported by armor. Originally intended for infantry only, it was later extended to other units. The clasps were in three grades: bronze for 15 days of close combat; slilver for 30 days, and gilt for 50 days. The clasp was worn above the left breast pocket. Hitler considered this a particularly important award, and presented many of them himself. nahekampfspange.jpg (43445 bytes)

4. Marksmanship Lanyard

Heer_lanyard.jpg (50878 bytes)  

Marksmanship lanyards (Schützen Abzeichen) were constructed of aluminum braid, bearing a metal plaque, and were worn on the uniform tunic or field blouse when in dress uniform, for parades or other ceremonies, or for walking out.  They were only worn by Enlisted Men and NCO’s, and were intended to promote interest in marksmanship, as well as reward those who demonstrated skill with different infantry weapons. 

The lanyards were introduced in June 1936. They were attached to the uniform by means of securing the cloth loops on each end of the lanyard to two buttons; the end of the lanyard on which the plaque was mounted had its loop secured to a small button sewn under the shoulder strap, near the shoulder.  The other end of the lanyard had a loop which attached to the second button on the tunic or blouse front (and was secured before the tunic was closed, hiding the loop).


b. Luftwaffe

Luftwaffe versions of many of the same combat awards were instituted throughout the war, and were created to acknowledge the work of Luftwaffe personnel who operated Flak batteries, or fought as infantry, or manned tanks and air-sea launches. These awards generally took precedence over other awards, but were worn below the Iron Cross.

On 30 January 1941, a series of Operational Flight clasps - Frontflugspange - were instituted to recognize the number of operational flights flown by an individual. Initially, pilots, observers, bomb aimers, wireless operators, flight mechanics, air gunners and Luftwaffe war correspondents. Administrative personnnel were later added.

Flightclasp.jpg (16558 bytes) Initially, three types of clasps were awarded in bronze, silver and gold metal , with each one denoting a specific number of operational flights (this was expanded to eight by the end of the war). They were as follows: bronze – 20 flights; silver – 60 flights; gold – 110 flights. An operational flight was counted as one which penetrated to a minimum of 30km behind enemy lines, or one in which the enemy had been engaged. (Over water, the flight had to exceed 100km from the nearest friendly coast, but was reduced to 30km if passing into enemy-held territory.) Operational flights of more than four hours were counted as double if more than half that time was spent over enemy territory, and counted as triple if the duration of the flight was more than eight hours.

All eight awards followed a similar design: a circular wreath of laurel leaves, with a small swastika set square at the base of the wreath. On either side of the wreath was placed a sprig of nine oak-leaves. Each clasp had a central motif set in the laurel wreath, which identified the clasp. The clasps could be as follows:

Heavy, Medium and Dive-Bomber (Frontflugspang für Kampf- and Sturzkampfflieger) Squadrons – Instituted 30 January 1941. Central motif was a winged bomb pointing downwards.

By the summer of 1942, the accumulated number of flights began to far outstrip the existing 110 mission criteria. To recitfy this, on 26 June 1942, a small pendant was created which was to be worn below the gold flight clasp. It comprised a highly polished gold star set between clusters of laurel wreaths. To be awarded the pendant, the following minimum levels had to be met: Fighter and Transport personnel – 500 missions; Dive-Bomber, Long-Range Day Fighter and Air-to-Ground Support personnel – 400 missions; Bomber, Air-Sea Rescue and Meteorolgical personnel – 300 missions; Reconnaisance and Night Fighter personnel – 250 missions.

However, even this extension proved insufficient (Stuka pilots in the Russian campaign, for example, sometimes flew as many as ten missions a day for weeks on end), and there was a certain amount of confusion about how many totals were required for which clasp. On 29 April 1944, a new form of pendant was introduced to clear up any ambiguity. It took the form of a small golden bar on which was displayed black numerals representing the appropriate minimum number of operational flights made by the recipient. They ranged in one-hundred point increments from 200 to 2,000. (Only one pendant bearing the number 2000 was awarded – to Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel, who flew a total of 2530 missions.)

Flight clasps were also produced in cloth. Officers wore hand-embroidered versions, while those available to NCOs and other ranks were in colored thread. Cloth clasps had to be purchased by the individual.


Back_wh.gif (8132 bytes) Menu_wh.gif (7796 bytes) Next_wh.gif (13076 bytes)