The Ritterkreuz

This section contains a brief but concise history of one of the most well-known military decorations, the Ritterkreuz, or Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, which was awarded to all those who served with particular distinction in the German armed services during the Second World War. Among the many individuals who were accorded this honour during those six long years was SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Wittmann, whose full achievements in terms of awards and decorations have also been listed in this section.

The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, a completely new grade in the Iron Cross series of awards, was instituted by Adolf Hitler at the outbreak of hostilities on 1st September 1939 to fill the existing void between the Iron Cross First Class and the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross. (It should be noted here that the award which had previously bridged this gap, the Pour le Mérite or ‘Blue Max’, had been disbanded at the end of the First World War). During the course of the war, further additions were made to the Knight’s Cross in recognition of further acts of gallantry and exemplary service in the field: the Oakleaf Cluster, Swords and the Diamonds.

As should be the case with such a prestigious award, all Knight’s Cross pieces were made to the highest specification using the highest quality materials. There were a few variations as a result of a number of makers being employed to manufacture the pieces – for example in some cases there were minute differences in size or weight and in others .935 silver was used instead of the more regular (and more durable) .800 grade for the frame – but the high standards and construction quality were universal.

For the higher grades of the award, such as the diamonds, specialist jewellers would be commissioned to construct each item, thus making every one unique.

The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves
The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves and Swords
The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oakleaves, Swords and Diamonds

This section serves only as something of an introduction to this fascinating and prestigious award; there are a number of journals and books which concentrate heavily on its history, design and variations, notably The Iron Cross: An Illustrated History 1813-1857 by the British historian Gordon Williamson. There are also a number of sites on the World Wide Web which cover this subject, the best of which can be found in the list of Related Sites.

The Story of Michael Wittmann