Prussian Iron Cross

Second Class Medal
Photo from Wiki Commons

Second Class Ribbon
worn in a Naval Tunic Buttonhole
Photo © Doppler Collection 

South West African Hildegard Order
Photo © Private Collector 
The Iron Cross ("Eiserne Kreuz") was only instituted during major wars: firstly in 1813-15, then in 1870-71, then in 1914-18 and later in 1939-45. It was not awarded on smaller campaigns such as the Schleswig Wars, the Austro-Prussian War or colonial campaigns. Therefore the only soldiers wearing one in the colonies prior to the First World War would have been veterans of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, few of whom were still in service except in the higher ranks (for example Lothar von Trotha wore his 1870 Iron Cross while in China, East Africa and South West Africa). In 1895 recipients of the 1870 Iron Cross were authorised to purchase and wear a white metal clasp of oak leaves with the number 25 on the medal ribbon. 

The Iron Cross came in three classes. The lowest and most common of which was the Second Class, which was worn on parade as a black metal cross edged in white metal, with the Prussian King's crown and monogram and the year of institution on it, hung from a white ribbon with two black stripes on either side and a thick black stripe down the centre. When not on parade the Iron Cross second class was usually abbreviated to simply the medal ribbon worn in the second button hole. The First Class award was only awarded after a previous award of the second class and was worn as a similar black cross badge worn on the left breast. The higher Grand Cross ("Großkreuz") was rarely awarded and only to high ranking officers. It consisted of a similar but larger cross worn at the throat. The Iron Cross for non combatants was worn with a ribbon in reversed black and white stripes.
Recommended External Links - Digger History page on the Iron Cross and World War One page on the Iron Cross

Although the Iron Cross was a very common award during the First World War amongst German soldiers and sailors in Europe (and in the Ottoman Empire) it was rarely seen in Africa or the Far East. When war broke out in 1914 and the colonies were cut off from the homeland, there were no Iron Crosses available for immediate issue in the overseas territories.

The Iron Cross and Hildegard Order in South West Africa
In South West Africa temporary Iron Crosses were awarded by the Schutztruppe Commander, Oberstleutnant von Heydebreck from 1914. The medals consisted simply of a piece of black cloth cut into the shape of an Iron Cross and edged with white wool stitching. They were worn on the left breast in the style of an Iron Cross, first class. They were hand made by Frau Hildegard Seitz, the colonial Governor's wife, and her friends serving as nurses and thus became known as the Hildegard Order ("Hildegard Orden"). The few examples that have survived show some difference in their size and manufacture due to their handmade nature. In all, 45 Hildegard Orders were awarded. When the recipients finally returned to Germany they were awarded 2nd Class Iron Crosses in their place.

Von Heydebreck was killed in an accident in November 1914 and his successor Major Franke, seemingly did not approve of the Hildegard Order. No more temporary Iron Crosses were awarded after von Heydebreck's final recommendations were issued in January 1915. From then until the Schutztruppe's surrender in July 1915 very few Iron Crosses were confirmed. Those that were simply had their recommendations held on record, with the actual medal to be collected after the war. Including Hildegard Orders and recommendations after the war was over 466 Second Class and fifteen First Class Iron Crosses were awarded for action in South West Africa between 1914 and 1915.
Highly Recommended Reading -
"For Valour - The history of the Iron Cross and Wound Badge in German Southwest Africa 1914-1918" by Gordon McGregor

The Iron Cross in East Africa
In East Africa, the Schutztruppe commander, Oberstleutnant von Lettow-Vorbeck was reluctant to hand out promises of awards to his men without the actual medals being to hand. The only Iron Crosses to arrive in the colony were those brought by the blockade running ship "Marie" in 1916. She carried 100 First Class medals (of which recommendations were for von Lettow-Vorbeck, Governor Schnee and the SMS Königsberg's Captain, Looff. Von Lettow-Vorbeck awarded his German officers and NCOs more during the campaign. In total 22 were awarded during the war) and 1,000 Second Class medals (of which 548 were awarded during the war). More awards were most likely approved retrospectively for action in East Africa during the First World War but I have not found figures for them yet.

The Iron Cross in Cameroon
Period photographs (seen at Deutsche-Kriegsgeschichte) show that temporary Iron Crosses (similar to the South West African Hildegard Order) were awarded in Cameroon during the First World War. Up until November 1918 4 First Class and 125 Second Class Iron Crosses were recommended for actions in Cameroon 1914-16. More awards were probably made after November 1918 but I do not have figures for them yet.

One popular misunderstanding is that a Cameroon soldier was awarded both the Prussian Iron Cross and the British Military Medal. In fact Chari Maigumeri was not awarded the Iron Cross but more likely the Warriors Merit Medal ("Kriegerverdienstmedaille") for African soldiers during his service in the Cameroon Schutztruppe in the First World War (two First Class Silver Warriors Merit Medals were awarded to African soldiers in the Cameroon Schutztruppe for action in the First World War). After the fall of German Cameroon, Maigumeri enlisted in the British Nigerian forces and saw action in East Africa against von Lettow-Vorbeck's Schutztruppe. He later served in Abyssinia against the Italians and Burma against the Japanese in the Second World War. He also took part in the coronation of Queen Elisabeth II in 1953. For his British and Nigerian service he was awarded the British Military Medal and the British Empire Medal. An army barracks in Lokoja, Nigeria is now named after him.
Highly Recommended Reading - "Askari und Fita-Fita" by Thomas Morlang

The Iron Cross in Togo
According to the
Deutsches Kolonialblatt in 1918 the Iron Cross was retrospectively awarded to five men for service in the Togo campaign of 1914 before November 1918.

 -Vizefeldwebel der Landwehr Karl Gramatte (second in command of the Polizeitruppe) awarded the Iron Cross, second class on 20th January 1918
 -Vizefeldwebel der Landwehr Wilhelm Brauer (the Polizeimeister in Kere–Kratschi) awarded the Iron Cross, second class on 20th January 1918
 -Veterinär d.R. Dr. Kurt Sommerfeld awarded the Iron Cross, second class on 28th April 1918
 -Major a.D. Hans Georg von Doering (the acting
Governor of the colony in 1914)
awarded the Iron Cross, second class on 28th August 1918
 -Unteroffizier der Landsturm Schulem
awarded the Iron Cross, second class on 28th August 1918

It is quite possible that later awards were also approved for action in Togo but I do not have figures for them yet.

The Iron Cross in Tsingtao
There were no temporary medals made in Tsingtao during the siege in 1914. The Iron Cross was however retrospectively awarded to servicemen for actions at Tsingtao upon their return to Germany (for example the pilot Gunther Plüschow, arrived home from Tsingtao in August 1915 and only then received his Iron Cross personally from Kaiser Wilhelm II). I have so far found no figures to show how many awards were made for the action at Tsingtao.

The Iron Cross in New Guinea
According to the
Deutsches Kolonialblatt in 1918 the Iron Cross was retrospectively awarded before November 1918 to thirteen men for service in the New Guinea campaign of 1914. Most of those named are colonial officials and government workers who earned their awards fighting as reservists.

 - Geheimen Regierungsrat, Iron Cross first class
 - Referenten Schlettwein,
Iron Cross first class
 - Sekretär Schuppert, Iron Cross first class
Polizeimeister Kraus, Iron Cross first class
Polizeimeister Wiesner, Iron Cross first class
 - Geheimen Regierungsrat Peters, Iron Cross second class
Regierungsarzt Dr. Schaumberg, Iron Cross second class
 - Bakteriologen Dr. med. Schwarz, Iron Cross second class
Regierungsbaumeister Lose, Iron Cross second class
 - Sekretär Knapke, Iron Cross second class
 - Bureaugehilfen Leitner,
 Iron Cross, second class,
 - Bureaugehilfen Engel,
Iron Cross, second class
 - Polizeisergeant Voß, Iron Cross, second class.

At least one other award was also made for service in New Guinea to Hauptmann Hermann Detzner who evaded capture by the occupying Australians until after the Armistice in 1918 and was awarded the Iron Cross, first class. As in the other colonies it is possible that more Iron Crosses were retrospectively awarded after the end of the war.


Schutztruppe General Eduard von Liebert
Von Liebert was former commander of the East African Schutztruppe and governor of the colony. He wears the grey home uniform of a Schutztruppe General. Note the elaborate collar lace. He wears an Order of the Red Eagle second class with swords at his throat. On his bar is the Prussian 1870 Iron Cross with 25th Anniversary Clasp, the Red Eagle third class with crown, the Crown Order, Officer's Long Service Award, the Franco-Prussian War medal with three battle clasps, the Austro-Prussian War medal, the Wilhelm I Centenary medal and finally the Baden Order of the Zahringer Lion. Note that the order of the medals is correct for the Schutztruppe, with all Prussian awards coming before the "other" state award, in the case from the Grand Duchy of Baden.

Photo from Wikimedia

Musician of the Asienkorps
Palestine c1917
He wears the 1902 Bortfeldt helmet with hatband in arm of service colour (black with red edging for transport troops) and a large imperial cockade at the front. His tunic is the the 1896 Schutztruppe khaki uniform. Note the musicians swallows nests. He wears an Iron Cross second class ribbon in his second buttonhole.
Photo © Joe Robinson

Heinrich Schneee
former Colonial Governor c1920
Schnee was the governor of German East Africa during the First Word War. He wears the dark blue dress uniform of a colonial governor. At his throat is the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle Second class with swords and on his left breast the Iron Cross First Class.
Photo from WikiMedia

Examples of Medal Bars with the Prussian Iron Cross
See more on the Medal Bars Page

Bar with an 1870 Iron Cross
and the non-combatants South West Africa Medal

Photo © Karsten Herzogenrath
Bar with a 1914 Iron Cross
and the South West Africa Medal with Clasps

Photo © Private Collection 
Bar with a 1914 Non-Combatants Iron Cross
and the China Medal with a Clasp

Photo © Peter Klein
Officers Bar with the China Medal
 alongside the China Medal and other Awards

Photo © JW Collection
Bar with a 1914 Iron Cross
alongside the South West Africa Medal and other Awards

Photo © JW Collection
Bar with a 1914 Iron Cross
alongside the Colonial Medal with Venezuela Clasp

Photo © Captain George Albert

Iron Cross Certificate for a Schutztruppe Soldier

The document confirming the award of the Iron Cross 2nd Class to Gefreiter Hermann Rottenkolber of the South West African Schutztruppe for action in the First World War. The certificate is dated 8th March 1920 and has the authorisation stamp of the Schutztruppe Command in the Imperial Colonial Ministry. The Colonial Ministry continued to award Iron Crosses retrospectively into the early 1920s. Note the heroic illustration of a soldier in Südwester hat on the left.
Photo © Peter Klein


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