Iron Cross, Kulm Cross (for men 1816)


SKU: 02.PRU.0101.107.01.002

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The Iron Cross was a military decoration founded by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, and it was awarded for acts of heroism, bravery and exemplary leadership. A politically charged symbol, the cross is representative of Prussia’s departure from Napoleonic rule.

The Cross was primarily a military decoration, yet on numerous occasions it was awarded to civilians for services rendered to the military. The concept was originally conceived in 1806, and finally confirmed in mid February of 1813. The II Class was inherited in March 1814. By the time soldiers moved into Paris, on March 30, 1814, 6639 II Class Iron Crosses had already been awarded. At this time, the Cross was considered a ‘dead hero’s’ award, and was awarded in numbers to strengthen the ties to the king without depleting the value of the cross itself. In 1815, publications of the Iron Cross on flags and other equipment.

While the Prussian army was reorganized following the First and Second Peace Treaty of Paris, making conferalls of the Iron Cross very difficult, as it was more and more challenging to determine which deeds were worthy of the award. The King made a partial amendment, allowing those that joined the forces for the war and were still serving to have the same rights to vote for the Iron Cross. The production of these crosses began in 1834 and differed from the 1813-1818 crosses.By 1838, the smooth obverse became official (instead of the smooth reverse).

In 1863, the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Iron Cross, there were 1572 living bearers. When a recipient died, he was entitled to a full burial with military honours at the garrison site (the war memorial of 1813-1814). It is important to note that the campaigns of 1864 and 1866 did not recognize this award because the political claims were not sufficient.

Whether a recipient was referred to as a ‘knight’ or an ‘owner’ of the cross was left in their hands, after great debate regarding the Iron Cross being a medal or a decoration.

The design of the Cross was inspired by the Cross pattée, which was used as a symbol of the Teutonic Order, as well as the Prussian Army from 1871 to 1918.The Order consisted of three grades, I Class Cross, II Class Cross and Grand Cross. The I and II Class are largely the same in size and composition. The Grand Cross was double the size of the former. The I Class could only be acquired after receiving the II Class.

The I and II Class Crosses were worn on the left breast, and the Grand Cross was worn suspended from the neck. During this time, if the cross was awarded for merit in combat with the enemy, it was worn on a black band with white edges. If it was awarded for civil purposes, it was worn on a white ribbon with black edges.

The Cross was first awarded in recognition of exemplary military and civil service during the Napoleonic Wars.

Model II of the Decoration was awarded during the Franco-Prussian War (1870).

Model III of the Decoration was awarded during the First World War (1914), and subsequent versions were awarded during World War II and featured a swastika in the center of the obverse.

Iron crosses are usually constructed from an iron frame, which is placed between a two piece silver frame. Generally, the seam of where the two silver plates are soldered together is visible from around the edge of the cross.

The II Class Cross could be awarded to both combatants and non-combatants. The crosses are the same, but the cross for combatants was awarded on a black ribbon, with thin white stripes, and the cross for non-combatants was awarded on a white ribbon, with thin black stripes.

Between 1813-1815, the II Class Iron Cross was awarded a total of 15,439 times. Of which 4,595 were awarded to officers and 10,844 were awarded to men ranking from sergeant down. There were also 369 crosses on the non-combatant ribbon to civil servants, merchants and others.

The first ever awarded II Class Iron Cross was awarded to Major Karl August Ferdinand von Borcke, Commander of the Fusilier battalion of the 1st Pomeranian Infantry (rgt. No. 2) for the Battle of Lümburg on April 2, 1813.

In 1834, Kaiser Wilhelm made the decision to provide all existing beneficiaries with an Iron Cross, which could be worn after 25 years of service. Therefore new crosses had to be made, and this was largely done by Jean Godet & Co.

The Kulm Cross was instituted following the battle near Kulm, in which the Russian cavalry and infantry guards under General Count Ostermann-Tolstoy implemented a decisive intervention of the allied troops against a superior french opponent. The main army (Austrians, Prussians and Russians) had been beaten at Dresden three days earlier and was retreating to Bohemia. However, what followed shortly after was a complete victory over the reinforced French I. Corps of General Dominil Vandamme. They captured 200 ammunition wagons, 3 flags and 2 eagles, items considered to be highly coveted trophies. There were also 5,000 French soldiers that were taken prisoners. A list of possible recipients was drawn up, totalling 12,066 persons. Due to this very high number, the Iron Cross was ruled out, in order to maintain its value and distinction. The Russians desired the Iron Cross as many of the Prussians had already been awarded the equivalent George Cross.

The decision was made to produce an award with the shape of the Iron Cross, but one that could be manufactured inexpensively in large quantities. The first iteration was a woven cross that would be sewn directly onto the uniform. Test crosses in simple sheet metal were created shortly thereafter, and by April 23, 1814, 4,000 crosses of this type had been created. They were awarded to Russian soldiers in Berlin in August 1814 and later in St. Petersburg in May 1815.

The Kulm Cross for Officers is made of silver sheet metal, instead of iron. The last known specimen of this kind was in the Hohenzollern Museum Schloss Monbijou. The cross is believed to have been slightly smaller than the Iron Cross I Class.


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