Military Merit Cross, Type I, Civil Division, Cross (with diamonds)
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This decoration was founded by Emperor Franz Joseph I. It was awarded to Officers in the Austrian Army who displayed extraordinary courage and merit in wartime, or who rendered outstanding service in peacetime. This decoration was awarded in one class, originally with no differences between the civil and military award. It was worn on the Bravery Medal Ribbon.
On January 12, 1860, an Imperial decree added a War Decoration to the cross for recipients that had courageously faced the enemy during wartime. The War Decoration is a gilt laurel wreath that is attached between the cross arms. The general appearance of the decoration was altered as well, with white enamel being added into the arms of the cross and into the central medallion.
From 1860 onward the peacetime awards do not feature a gilt laurel wreath, and the wartime awards featured a laurel wreath.
After the outbreak of the First World War, significant changers were made to the order, and the structure was altered, making it more like an order. On September 23, 1914, a I and II Class were added to the existing cross, which became the III Class medal. The II Class is larger and was worn around the neck, and the I Class was a pin to be worn on the left side of the chest. These differed in appearance from the original decoration in the gold-plated inscription VER DIENST. Medals with War Decorations were awarded, but it was necessary to indicate whether the recipient already had a lower class with ‘war decoration’.
The I Class war decoration of lower grade was a green enamelled laurel wreath attached around the central medallion (the war decoration of the II Class) or a gold-plated wreath attached around the central medallion (the war decoration of the III Class). In December 1916, swords were added. The III Class, swords were attached to the triangular ribbon. The I and II Class decorations received the crossed swords through the body of the cross. The lower grade swords are made of oxidized silver. The I Class was ranked just below the Order of St. Stephen Grand Cross, and the II Class was ranked just below the Commander.
In the middle of 1917, it was decided that the Military Merit Cross could be awarded multiple times, depicted by a golden bar attached to the ribbon. In March of 1918, it was announced that the II Class could be bestowed a second time, denoted by a green enamelled laurel wreath applied between the cross and the suspension ring.
A ‘small decoration’ was added for the I and II Class, which consisted of a Military Merit Cross 3rd Cross (with or without war decoration) with the appropriate miniature attached to the ribbon.
The Military Merit Cross was dissolved when Austria became a republic, but some awards were retroactively conferred by the ‘Heller Commission’ in post-war years between 1918-1922.
The Type I crosses present the inscription VER DIENST on the obverse and has a plain silver reverse. They are attached to a fluted suspension ring connecting the eyelet and the ribbon.
The Type I Military Division presents the same cross as the Civil Division but have a gold-green alloyed laurel wreath in four parts inserted between the arms of the cross. The green alloyed pieces were usually made of gold that had been alloyed with silver and cadmium to give a green tone. Shortly afterwards, white enamel was added to the plain areas of the cross to minimize silver tarnishing.
The Silver Cross (with diamonds) was awarded from 1856 onward to high ranking military personnel. One example is Archduke Albrecht of Austria-Teschen, an Austrian Field Marshal who was awarded the Type I Silver Cross (with diamonds). There were approximately 23 Silver Cross/I Class Cross (with diamonds) awarded by the end of the Monarchy.
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