By Dietrich Maerz
The Order of the German Cross (Deutches Kreuz or “DK”) was founded on September 28, 194,1 as the second highest military order of the Third Reich. It was only surpassed by the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross and its higher grades.
An approximate total of 26,000 of the Gold Grade of the DK were awarded while only 2,500 of the Silver Grade were awarded. A version of the Gold Grade with Diamonds was never instituted nor awarded, though 20 examples were made.
In addition to the two official metal versions, a cloth version for both grades was available with different cloth backgrounds, depending on the service branch of the bearer. The several versions and manufacturers, coupled with the high award number for the Gold Grade, make this order a very nice collector subject.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of fake DKs on the market. This can cause the average collector to shy away from the higher monetary investment necessary to purchase these awards. In addition, much false information, collected and repeated over the years in verbal and written form, adds to possible confusion before a sound and correct decision to buy can be made.
It is absolutely possible that more than the verified manufacturers which are verified through actual awards to real recipients produced the German Cross in Gold and Silver. For the average collector, and for the framework of this article, however, it is sufficient to look at only these five companies, that, between them, represent 17 variations to (without counting between Gold and Silver).
The five known manufacturers are:
Deschler & Sohn, München (6 variations)
C.E.Juncker, Berlin (5 variations)
Gebrüder Godet, Berlin (2 variations)
C.F. Zimmermann, Pforzheim (3 variations)
Otto Klein, Hanau (1 variation)
Variations have clearly recognizable features, such as numbers of rivets (10, 7, 5, or 4), pin style (short/long), whether stamped with a number (LDO or PKZ), and material (tombac or cupal). In one case (C.E. Juncker), the wreath was changed during the production time, thus clearly creating a variation.
Unfortunately, though, this amount of variation has led to the unpleasant development that some have been dismissed as fakes in earlier years since they did not fit neatly into the knowledge base of the time.
The War Order of the German Cross was founded based on the necessity to bridge a gap between the Iron Cross First Class and the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. The award procedure of the Iron Cross was measured by the actions of the soldiers. Additional deeds of the same soldier should have led to additional awards of the same medal. But this procedure did not exist in the German valor award system (though it was used with higher levels of the German General and Panzer Assault Badges).
Therefore, and in order to keep the connection with the Iron Cross, the first proposal was another grade of the Order of the Iron Cross, namely a cross with a gilded frame or an oak leaf device. Adolf Hitler dismissed both proposals, and on September 12, 1941, it was decided to create a completely new military order. The design for that order goes back to Hitler himself. This can be seen by the very prominent display of the Nazi party sign, the swastika.
The DK’s award regulations show the thinking behind the order. It was stated that to be eligible, one needed to perform “several outstanding bravery deeds, respectively extraordinary merits in leadership, of which each is not sufficient to merit the award of the Knights Cross.”
Thus, the connection between the German Cross and the Iron Cross First Class and the higher Knights Cross was documented. It was also decreed that the possession of the Iron Cross First Class was a precondition for a possible award of the German Cross in Gold (the War Merit Cross First Class with Swords was the precondition for the grade in Silver.)
The clear connection with the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross has led some people to the assumption that the German Cross was a precondition for the Knights Cross. This is incorrect, and there are a multitude of Knights Cross holders who never got the German Cross, and also many Knights Cross winners who got the German Cross well after receiving their Knights Cross.
The final approval of the award, after the detailed proposal was checked by the appropriate offices and deemed worthy of the award, was given by the supreme commanders of the three military branches. During the time frame of the award’s existence, they were Reichsmarschall Göring for the Luftwaffe, Großadmiral Räder (until January 1943) and Großadmiral Dönitz for the Navy, and Generalfeldmarschall von Brauchitsch (until end of December 1941) and Generalfeldmarschall Keitel for the Army.
In his capacity as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Hitler could also approve an award. However, awards initiated by Hitler were still executed under the corresponding military branch. There is no known award document for the German Cross with Hitler’s signature on it.
As of today, a total of 23 awards to soldiers of the Axis alliance are known: five to Finns, six to Italians, two to Croatians, five to Rumanians, two to Slovenians, and three to Spaniards.
“Heavy” and “light” German Crosses
The collector community is accustomed to the terms “heavy” and “light” in relation to the German Cross. The difference in weight between the two types varies greatly amongst the individual manufacturers and ranges from 44 grams (light; Zimmermann) to 71 g (heavy; Godet). The wide spectrum clearly shows that the weight alone cannot be a criteria for authenticity, the more so since a light Deschler (55 g) weighs nearly as much as a heavy Juncker of the Type 2 (ca. 59 g).
Actually, it would be a better idea to use the weight only within one maker to determine “heavy” and “light.” The difference in weight is a result of the use of a different material for just the back plate: tombac for the heavy versions, cupal for the light ones.
The cupal back plate is not only lighter but also thicker than a tombac one. Looking straight at the edge, one can see the sandwich construction of the composite cupal material.
The weight differences between light and heavy among the different manufacturers are as follows (approximate values):
Deschler 10 grams
Godet 20 grams
Juncker 20 grams
Zimmermann 22 grams
The crosses assembled by Klein/Hanau are always light. The marginal difference of only 10 grams with the company Deschler is due to the overall, very heavy construction type. Therefore the material change of the back plate did not have such a dramatic impact.
Any decision regarding originality (regardless of whether looking at a “Gold” or “Silver” Cross, since both are identical) should start with the determination of the maker. If that process does not lead to one of the proven five manufacturers of the German Cross, extreme caution is advised.
Each cross of a specific maker has its unique fingerprints that can be found in nearly all cases (more or less pronounced). The five manufacturers used their own wreath design (Juncker had two types). Klein got its wreath (and other parts) from Zimmermann. Regardless, all types of wreaths are clearly identifiable. As an example, Juncker’s later wreath has, in most cases, a die flaw in the upper portion of the “9.”
Most of the German Crosses made by the company Zimmermann (and therefore, also the ones made by Klein) exhibit a flaw at the 11 o’clock position of the star burst. Knowing these flaws enables the collector to see it on nearly all pictures of genuine crosses. (You can also further substantiate these two makers’ identification by spotting another flaw at the right side of the “9” of the date numerals.)
All makers of the German Cross have identifiers like these examples. A positive identification is always possible.
You will hear and quite often read that “it is impossible to identify the originality of an award with pictures only, and that an identification is only possible when holding the piece in hand.” This statement might be correct for certain awards, such as the Oak leaves or the Oak leaves with Swords, but in my opinion it is not true for the German Cross or the Knights Cross (and other awards).
A positive identification is, only possible, however, with good pictures or good scans. Fortunately, technology is such that any collector can easily produce good quality images. (Coincidentally, most proponents of the “in-hand” theory are, in most cases, also opponents of Internet discussion boards, since that is where this identification method is mainly practiced — with, it must be said, great success.) If pictures of a German Cross are good enough to see specific characteristics, then an identification is not a problem.
Most of the time, the refusal to accept this method has something to do with uncertainty of where to look. And when one doesn’t know where to look, an in-hand inspection is just as useless.
The German Cross in Gold with Diamonds
Just as was the case with the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, where versions with diamonds were awarded at the top of the award pyramid, it was intended that diamonds be added to a higher grade of the German Cross in Gold. At least that was the plan, since a total of 20 examples were ordered and manufactured. If they had been awarded, they would have ranked amongst the most flamboyant decorations of the Third Reich, equal to the highest grades of the Knights Cross.
The question needs to be asked, where would this grade of the Order of the German Cross have been positioned in the award hierarchy?
From the award regulations, it is clear that the German Cross was definitely positioned below the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross. But how could one consider awarding a diamond-studded order to a soldier who had not earned the Knights Cross, a higher order of which the next two grades (oak leaves and oak leaves with swords) didn’t incorporate any precious stones? What kind of action would have warranted receiving such an award but was still not enough to trigger the bestowal of the Knights Cross?
Therefore, it might be valid to speculate that the German Cross with Diamonds would have been positioned somewhere among the higher grades of the Knights Cross. It might have been awarded for an action, for example, that was beyond the requirements of the Swords, but was not deemed sufficient to award the oak leaves with swords and diamonds. It is known that in the upper regions of the grades of the Knights Cross, the award criteria were no longer as clear as with the lower grades. The bestowals of the oak leaves and the oak leaves with swords were more or less signs of awarding another Knights Cross.
This criteria was clearly no longer applicable with the bestowal of the diamonds. A bestowal of the German Cross in Gold with Diamonds between the oak leaves with swords and those with diamonds would have been possible.
Maybe it was this problem of positioning this grade of the order that led to the fact that no regulations were ever written nor was the grade ever instituted. Therefore, the 20 examples produced are not really “orders” of the Third Reich, but rather, merely prototypes.
The 20 examples made by the jewelry firm of Rath in München with parts supplied by Deschler were housed in red presentation cases. The diamond variation does not require an in-depth examination. Only this much needs to be known: Each of the 20 examples is unique since the diamonds were of different sizes and were set individually into each wreath. (The previously believed standard of “100 diamonds for each Cross” is incorrect. In fact, the number of diamonds varies.)
At the end of the war, the 20 examples were stored in the Castle Klessheim. Soldiers of the American 3rd Infantry Division found them in the basement, together with a multitude of other orders, medals, and state presents. They brought the majority back to the United States as war souvenirs.
Three examples were confiscated by US customs agents and are now stored at the West Point Museum in New York. Unfortunately, the three cases for these examples are missing.
The whereabouts of the remaining 17 pieces are known. From time to time, a genuine example shows up at an auction house or with a high level militaria dealer. Of course, from time to time, fakes also surface on the market. Some of them are made very well, while others are completely unconvincing.
Cloth Versions of the German Cross in Silver
Branded as “not allowed” (which is correct) and as “privately manufactured” (which is completely wrong), this version of the cloth family was overshadowed by its golden brother.
It is correct that shortly after the introduction of the cloth version a statement was made by the Präsidialkanzlei to the effect that the production of the cloth version in silver was not allowed. Furthermore, the retail sector was not allowed to sell the cloth versions — as was the case with the metal versions.
However, a comparison of the three known versions of the gold cloth versions with silver grade clearly reveals that the wreath (Juncker Type 2), as well as the aluminum threads used and the internal carton template for the swastika are absolutely identical.
Normally, a thin satin paper was glued to the reverse in order to cover up the clutter of the embroidery. If the assertion is that all silver versions were “privately manufactured,” then the only way this could have been done was to remove the gilded wreath in order to change it to a silver and then reassemble the cross. This procedure would have left some damage to the satin paper. Since this is not the case with most encountered silver versions, it can be stated — with confidence — that cloth silver versions were made at the original manufacturer’s site (despite the ban), and that they were even made with different cloth backing color.
A WIDE FIELD FOR COLLECTORS
The order of the German Cross in Gold, in Silver, and the cloth version in Gold and Silver (with the known backing cloth in field grey, dark blue, Luftwaffe blue, black, stone grey, olive drab, khaki brown and white) presents a very wide and satisfying collecting field. The prices are still manageable, and cloth versions in gold can be bought on a regular basis privately or from reputable dealers.
It might not be possible to collect all variations of the German Cross, but it is possible to create a fairly substantial collection with the readily available types. The more exotic types, such as the 7-rivet Juncker, the 10-rivet Deschler, and the elusive “L/52” (not to mention the diamond pieces) will remain a dream for most, however.
Thus, the collector who is armed with accurate information about what to look for, with patience and a bit of capital, should be able to accumulate a very attractive collection of these striking Third Reich military awards.
For more information:
The German Cross is the first comprehensive book about the second highest military order of the Third Reich. It exhibits German Crosses of all official manufacturers including their numerous variations. Each is discussed in the more than 440 pages containing over 1,000 high detailed photos. It is available from a variety of sources or directly from the publisher for $200 plus shipping. Log on to https://bdpublish.com/ for more information.
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