This incredibly striking and extremely rare decoration was instituted on 15th July 1941, and was awarded to those who had already received the Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves and Swords. Embellished with between forty and fifty finely-cut diamonds which were set into both the Oakleaves and the hilts of the two crossed swords, the award was of a multi-piece construction and made from either high-grade platinum or white gold and given a superior finish.
Instead of being die-struck like the standard pieces the Oakleaves and Swords device which was to hold the brilliants was manufactured to order by specialist jewellers, making each piece unique. This prestigious and visually striking decoration was presented to only a handful of recipients during the course of the war, and would certainly have been awarded to SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann at some stage had he survived the remainder of the conflict.
Being such a valuable piece, Diamonds recipients were also presented with a duplicate award which was to be used for everyday wear. Some of those who had been presented with the award also commissioned their own pieces from individual jewellers, which explains the discrepancy in the number of stones. For example, in some cases extra brilliants were set into the hilts of the crossed swords.
One further grade of the Knight’s Cross series of awards, the Ritterkreuz with Golden Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds, was instituted on 29th December 1944. This truly beautiful award was presented on only the one single occasion, to the Luftwaffe’s Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel on New Year’s Day 1945.
The only recipient of the highest of the Knight’s Cross grades, Luftwaffe ace Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel. Here the famed Stuka pilot can be seen wearing the coveted award, the Knight’s Cross with Golden Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds.
Rudel had made his reputation on the Eastern Front flying the famous Stuka dive bomber, and had created his own legend as the Luftwaffe’s premier tank-buster. In 2,530 combat missions Rudel would claim a staggering a total of some two thousand enemy targets destroyed, including over five-hundred tanks.
During the Battle of Prokhorovka near Kursk in the summer of 1943, Rudel would be destroying Soviet armour from the air while Michael Wittmann and his colleagues would be doing the same thing on the ground.