Content - Richard Lundström
Layout - Sebastian Bianchi
Obscure and arcane considerations of mounting precedence have never benefited from a stable political period as long as that of those of West—and now reunited—Germany since 1957. The “Second German Empire” only lasted from 1871 to 1918, and during that entire period, the “Reichs” regulations regarding wear of awards applied only to the Imperial Navy, the miniscule colonial Schutztruppen, and the minor departments of civil service that were truly “national.” Yet these boring rules and regulations, made three dimensional in ribbon bars, help date and place a specific bar—and its wearer—in an exact place, time, and sometimes, service branch. Although all the federal states of Imperial Germany enjoyed a certain latitude with their own awards (in-deed, many of the smaller principalities had NO regulations at all, leaving wear at the whim of each wearer!), with the exception of the three Kingdoms of Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg, all were subordinate to Prussia. For that reason—Prussian preeminence—and because Prussian rules in the main became Reichs rules 1935-45, I will list the regulations concerning awards from Prussia and then under the Third Reich first, with comments on the three kingdoms and post-Anschluss Austria afterwards. Just keep in mind that between 1871 and 1935, Bavarians, Sax-ons, and to a lesser extent Württembergers wore their own awards first, following the general precedence of war awards, then peace awards, then mixing campaign, jubilee, and long service awards as peculiar to each state’s ideas of precedence. Under the Third Reich, of course, such “local” matters no longer applied.
- Prussian Regulations of 4 July 1913 (covering the pre-World War period)
- Prussian Regulations of 24 February 1915 (with amendment 1916)
- 1939 Regulations
- 1940 Regulations “For the Armed Forces and Police” (after 19 August 1940)
- 1945 Final Regulations (actually applied from 1942 on)
Returning to the “local” Kingdom regulations that primarily concern us for the WWI years—
Bavaria placed its war decorations ahead of the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd Class. Theoretically peacetime Orders and the Bavarian Lifesaving Medal also preceded the Iron Cross, behind which all other German war decorations followed. Bavarian military personnel also mounted their 1905, 1909, and 1911-12 Luitpold Jubilee Medals (only one was worn) ahead of war medals, which in Bavaria followed the usual latest national first followed by latest colonial first, with long service awards after these, not in front, unlike Prussia.
Saxony, whose award practices were unlike the other German states (the highest Saxon award a soldier or officer was entitled to by his rank. the St. Henry Order or Medal, could be awarded for a single heroic deed, without the “steps” required like a Prussian Iron Cross. Degree of valor, rather than number of citations, counted.) was equally distinctive in precedence. The awards of each Order were worn per the seniority of that order, ranked: Saint Henry, Civil Merit, and then Albert Order. So a Silver Saint Henry Medal winner wore that ahead of Orders with swords of the “junior” decorations. All Saxon war decorations preceded the Prussian Iron Cross. Peacetime awards preceded war campaign medals and crosses, followed in Bavarian style by long service awards.
Württemberg, the most peculiar of German states for award practices. Until well into WWI, any senior native decoration REPLACED the previous lower one, rather than being awarded in addition to it. Finally, complaints from officers who had been decorated for heroism three times but had only one ribbon to show for it resulted in the truly peculiar re-award of lower decorations—though only one of a twice-awarded Friedrich Order with Swords, say, might still be worn!. In theory ranked its own war Orders and Military Merit Medals ahead of the Iron Cross, after which their own peacetime decorations, long service awards, campaign medals, Jubilee Medals, and in inexplicable last place, Lifesaving Medal, were worn. In practice, during the war the Prussian Iron Cross was more often than not worn BEFORE Württemberg wartime decorations, and all other war awards were worn mingled together as the wearer wished.
Austria-Hungary chose to bestow more than two dozen different decorations on the ribbon of their Bravery Medal. The ill-considered 1916 decision to allow crossed swords—always gilt, regardless of the metal of the actual award—to designate “frontline” awards on all ribbons except the six grades of Bravery Medals did absolutely nothing to clarify what was being worn by any given recipient, and may have encouraged the practice of continuing to wear full awards even at the front. Unlike German awards, there were actual benefits to many Habsburg decorations, from being allowed to vote under the minimum age (24) to monthly cash stipends per decoration. The practice grew—perhaps unofficially (since the focus of this work is on Germany, I have not investigated further here)—to distinguish all the bravery and war merit awards worn on the same ribbon by miniature devices. These are frequently found on the single 40 mm ribbons of the end of WW1, but are phenomenally over-used and abused as an almost automatic indication of fake Third Reich bars since so many remained as unused stock, over the top glitz for the prolific faker of “Where Eagles Dare” ribbon bars.
Within Austro-Hungarian WW1 precedence, medal bar awards were worn:
1) Leopold Order with War Decoration wreath (virtually always on Obersten and Generalmajore)
2) Order of the Iron Crown 3rd Class with War Decoration wreath (1 and 2 on own ribbons)
3) Franz Joseph Order-Knight, War Ribbon or peace ribbon (solid red)
4) Military Merit Cross 3rd Class with War Decoration or peacetime (same “war” ribbon on both)
5) Chaplains’ Merit Crosses on the War Ribbon
6) Large Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) on the War Ribbon or peace ribbon (solid red)
7) Silver Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis) on the War Ribbon or peace ribbon
8) Bronze Signum Laudis on the War Ribbon (7 and 8 awarded ONLY to K.u.k. officers)
9) Gold Bravery Medal (with “K” at end of war, also on officers)
10) Gold Merit Cross with Crown on the war ribbon or peace ribbon (solid red) (officers only)
11) Gold Merit Cross, ditto (senior NCOs and warrant officers)
12) Large Silver Bravery Medal
13) Small Silver Bravery Medal
14) Bronze Bravery Medal
15) Silver Merit Cross with Crown on war or peace ribbons as above (senior NCOs)
16) Silver Merit Cross on either ribbon (junior NCOs)
17) Iron Merit Cross with Crown (only on war ribbon, privates and PFCs)
18) Iron Merit Cross (only on war ribbon)
19) 1873 War Medal (last authorized 1901, often improperly self awarded for 1914-16!)
20) 1917 Karl Troop Cross
21) Military Long Service Cross for 25 Years (officers)
22) 1914 Red Cross Decoration with War Decoration or not (same Red Cross ribbon both)
23) Military Long Service Cross for NCOs
24) 1898 Jubilee Medal
25) 1908 Jubilee Cross
26) 1909 Bosnia-Herzegovina Medal
27) 1912-13 Mobilization Cross
Note that there is no mention in this list of where the 1918 Karl Wound Medal was to be worn. With a different ribbon for each type from war sickness invalid (no center stripe) to 5 wounds (5 center stripes), it may be found into the Third Reich before or after the Karl Troop Cross and Hindenburg Cross. Most recipients exchanged ca 1939 for the 1918 German pinback Wound Badge.
1957 West German regulations are so far beyond the scope of this work that no mention will be made here, except for placing the Federal Merit Order, Lifesaving Medals, and Iron Cross ahead of all other awards, ranging all WWI awards before all WW2 awards, and placing combat WW2 awards like Wound Badges and Assault Badges before the War Merit Cross and long service awards. Many Third Reich awards are banned and may not be worn in any form.
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