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The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German language: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes, often simply Ritterkreuz) was Nazi Germany's order and recognized extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during the Third Reich period.
To qualify for the Knight's Cross, a soldier had to have held the 1939 Iron Cross First Class already, though the Iron Cross I Class was awarded concurrently with the Knight's Cross in rare cases. Unit commanders could also be awarded the medal for exemplary conduct by the unit as a whole. Also, U-boat commanders could qualify for sinking 100,000 tons of shipping, and Luftwaffe pilots could qualify for accumulating 20 "points" [with one point being awarded for shooting down a single-engine plane, two points for a twin-engine plane,and three for a four-engine plane, with all points being doubled at night]. It was issued from 1939-45, with the requirements being gradually raised as the war went on.
The Knight's Cross was divided into five grades, exluding the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross:
Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes)
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross is based on the enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 1573) of 1 September 1939 Verordnung über die Erneuerung des Eisernen Kreuzes (Regulation of the renewing of the Iron Cross).
Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves (mit Eichenlaub)
Based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 849) of 3 June 1940 augmenting article 1 and 4.
Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds (mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillianten)
Also based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 613) of 28 September 1941
Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds (mit Goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillianten)
Based on enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt 1945 I S. 11) of 29 December 1944 augmenting articles 1, 2, and 4.
In total, 7,318 awards of the Knight's Cross were made, but only 882 received Oak Leaves (plus 8 non German recipients) and 159 received Oak Leaves and Swords (plus one honorary recipient, the Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto). Only 27 men were ever awarded the Diamonds grade of the Knight's Cross (3 field marshals, 10 generals, 3 colonels, 9 ace pilots and 2 U-boat captains), and Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the only recipient of the Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Among the officers who participated in the plot to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944 were 13 recipients of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. 711 recipients of the Knight's Cross later served in the Bundeswehr, with 114 of them reaching the rank of general.
Distribution by Service
Non Existing Recipients
Since the end of World War II a number of people not yet listed claimed to be recipients of the Knight's Cross. The majority of these "recipients" are lacking the legal evidence to sustain their claims and are thus denied the right to consider themselves "legal recipients". Up until today two cases exists where the legal proof of the award exists however the recipients do not. These two "legally correct" recipients are Günther Nowak and Heinrich Scherhorn.
Günther Nowak, Hitlerjunge, was awarded the Knight's Cross on 14 February 1945 for the destruction of 11 tanks in Hindenburg, Oberschlesien. It was always assumed that he was the youngest recipient of the Knight's Cross. In reality Günther Nowak never existed. A deserting Commander of the Volkssturm was caught and claimed that after the retreat of the Wehrmacht he destroyed 5 tanks single handed. Because of this he was taken to the Gauleiter. Fearing that his lie was unveiled he created the story of Günther Nowak in order to lessen his "feat". This report was then sent to Reichsleiter Martin Borman. Borman then immediately awarded the German Cross in Gold to the Volkssturm-Commander Sachs and the Knight's Cross to Nowak.
Association of Knight's Cross Recipients
The Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR) (German language: Ordensgemeinschaft der Ritterkreuzträger des Eisernen Kreuzes e.V. (OdR)) is an association of highly decorated front-line soldiers of both world wars. The association was founded in 1955 in Köln-Wahn. Generaloberst Alfred Keller, Knight of the Order "Pour le Merite" and Recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, called upon the recipients of the highest combat decorations for bravery to organize an association for tradition. Later, the Recipients of the Prussian Golden Military Merit Cross, of the "Pour le Merite" for enlisted personnel were included. The memorandum of the AKCR incoperates the awarding of 7318 Knight's Crosses, as well as 882 Oakleaves, 159 Swords, 27 Diamonds, 1 Golden Oak Leaves and 1 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for all ranks in three Wehrmachts-parts and the Waffen-SS.
Law about Titles, Orders and Honourary Signs
The German Law about Titles, Orders and Honourary Signs (German language: Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen) (BGBl. I S. 334) regulates the wearing of the Knight's Cross in post World War II Germany. Reason for this is that German law prohibits wearing a swastika, so on July 26, 1957 the West German government authorized replacement Knight's Crosses with an Oak Leaf Cluster in place of the swastika, similar to the Iron Crosses of 1813, 1870, and 1914, which could be worn by World War II Iron Cross recipients.
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