The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross was a decoration intended for victorious generals of the Prussian Army and its allies. It was the highest class of the Iron Cross. Along with the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, the Grand Cross was founded on March 10, 1813, during the Napoleonic Wars. It was renewed in 1870 for the Franco-Prussian War and again in 1914 for World War I. In 1939, when Adolf Hitler renewed the Iron Cross as a German (rather than strictly Prussian) decoration, he also renewed the Grand Cross.
The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross was twice the size of the Iron Cross and was worn from a ribbon around the neck. The later Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, instituted in 1939, was also worn from the neck; it was smaller than the Grand Cross but larger than the Iron Cross.
1813 Grand Cross
Five men received the 1813 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for actions during the Napoleonic Wars:
- Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, commander of Prussian forces at the Battle of Waterloo, later elevated to the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross
- Friedrich Wilhelm von Bülow
- Crown Prince Charles John of Sweden (Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte) - earlier a Marshal under Napoleon, after becoming regent and crown prince of Sweden, he joined the Sixth Coalition against Napoleon.
- Bogislav Friedrich Emanuel von Tauentzien
- Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg.
1870 Grand Cross
The Iron Cross was renewed on July 19, 1870, for the Franco-Prussian War. Nine men received the 1870 Grand Cross of the Iron Cross for service during that war. Seven Grand Crosses were awarded on March 22, 1871, to:
- Crown Prince Albert of Saxony
- August Karl von Goeben
- Edwin Freiherr von Manteuffel
- Helmuth Graf von Moltke the Elder
- Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia.
- Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (later Kaiser Friedrich III)
- August Graf von Werder
Kaiser Wilhelm I received the Grand Cross on June 16, 1871, and Friedrich Franz II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, received it on December 4, 1871. The Kaiser was supreme commander of the Prussian Army, and Moltke was Chief of the General Staff. The others were senior combat commanders of the Prussian Army (Crown Prince Albert initially commanded the Saxon Army as a corps under a Prussian field army, but later took command of a combined Prussian/Saxon field army).
1914 Grand Cross
The Iron Cross was renewed again on August 5, 1914. There were five recipients of the 1914 Grand Cross in the First World War:
- Kaiser Wilhelm II
- Paul von Hindenburg, later elevated to the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross
- Erich Ludendorff
- Prince Leopold of Bavaria
- August von Mackensen
1939 Grand Cross
The Grand Cross - when Hitler originally re-instituted it - was supposed to have been outlined in gold, but this was changed to silver before Göring was awarded his. Göring - who loved amassing medals - felt that the Grand Cross he received from Hitler was not really grand enough, so he had copies made - one with platinum edges - which he wore. The original awarded Grand Cross was destroyed in an air raid in 1943. Göring was wearing his platinum-edged one at the time of his surrender in 1945. Shortly before his suicide, Hitler deprived Göring of the Grand Cross because he felt betrayed by him. Also, Göring had the curious habit of not wearing the Grand Cross at times (generally whenever the Luftwaffe was not performing well). The award case for the 1939 Grand Cross had a red leather exterior, which was embossed with a gold Reich Eagle. The bottom interior of the case was lined in black velvet.
The even higher decoration, the Star of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, was also re-instituted by Hitler, but never bestowed under Nazi authority and has not been awarded since.
- Angolia, John R. (1976). For Führer and Fatherland: Military Awards of the Third Reich. R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-14-9.
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