Knight's Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords, by Steinhauer & Lück
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The War Merit Cross was founded at the behest of Adolf Hitler on October 18, 1939, and it was intended to reward contributions to the war effort. The decoration originally consisted of two grades, I Class Cross and II Class Cross. On August 19, 1940, the War Merit Medal was added, and the Knight's Cross on August 28, 1940. On July 8, 1944, the Golden Knight's Cross was added as a grade.
All grades of the Award could be conferred with swords, except for the War Merit Medal. The decorations with crossed swords were awarded for extraordinary feats of merit under enemy fire. The decorations without swords were conferred for a wide variety of non-combative services to support the war effort.
The word “merit” clarifies the distinction to the Iron Cross, which was an award for outstanding bravery. The following example makes the distinction even clearer: if two men were in a combat situation and one man was returning fire while the other man was repairing a vehicle under enemy fire, provided both qualified for an extraordinary feat that went beyond the call of duty, the man firing at the enemy would be awarded the Iron Cross, while the man repairing the vehicle would receive the War Merit Cross with Swords.
Civilians were eligible to receive the War Merit Cross with Swords, provided the feat of merit they were awarded for was performed under enemy fire. However, this was a rare occurrence. Likewise, military personnel was eligible to receive the War Merit Cross without Swords. This was more common and would pertain to, for example, soldiers supplying the front with gear and ammunition, or soldiers working to restore or maintain those supply lines, performing their duty while not under direct enemy fire.
Military personnel and civilians, regardless of gender, were eligible to receive the War Merit Cross, and the grade an individual received did not depend on rank. Non-Germans were also eligible to receive the award, although it was generally only conferred upon foreigners who served with a foreign volunteer legion that was attached to the Germany Army. The Cross could also be awarded to factories that produced an exemplary amount of goods for the war. These awards were conferred by the German Labour Front, and the Cross would be attached to the factory’s flag.
The Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross was often awarded to important scientists and engineers. However, high ranking SS personnel was also frequently among awardees.
The Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross was produced by five companies. Deschler and C. F. Zimmermann made both crosses, with and without swords, and also the Golden Knight’s Crosses. Steinhauer & Lück only made the Knight’s Cross with Swords. The other two makers are as of yet unknown, however Unknown Maker 1 has been speculated to be C. E. Juncker. They made both crosses, with and without swords. Potentially, they also made both Golden Knight’s Crosses. Unknown Maker 2 made the Knight’s Cross without Swords, and potentially also the Knight’s Cross with Swords.
The actual numbers of War Merit Crosses of all grades awarded is unknown, even though unfounded numbers still circulate in the literature. The best approximation so far states an award number of 268 for the Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords, and 59 without Swords. The Golden War Merit Cross was only awarded twice.
Two examples of a prototype for the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves are known to exist, one in gold, one in silver. However, these were never instituted.
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