The War Merit Cross, created and instituted prior to the war, formed an integral part of the awards structure of the Third Reich by filling voids which would otherwise exist both in the civilian and military areas.

In previous times the “non-combatant ribbon” of the Iron Cross had distinguished state officials, civilians and auxiliary military personnel who contributed to the war effort.  However, it became apparent from experiences in World War I and the Spanish Civil War that this single award would not be sufficient to recognize the vast numbers of civilian and auxiliary forces that were needed to wage a modern war and the non-combatant ribbon was not renewed when the Iron Cross was in September 1939. 

This new age of warfare would require almost complete mobilization, a prospect that was later realized and became famous along with its description; Total War.  To recognize both the millions of Germans that were directly supporting the Wehrmacht and those employed in war related industries such as shipyards, munitions dumps, aircraft factories, and assembly lines, an award with more depth was needed.

In the military area, the Weimar Republic had left a void when after World War I it abolished the military Germanic State awards. These awards had played a significant role by rewarding both bravery and relatively common acts of military merit.  In the end several new decorations were created by Hitler, among them The War Merit Cross (Das Kriegsverdienst Kreuz, or KVK), which was instituted on October 18, 1939.

Initially the Cross consisted of only two classes, 1st and 2nd, but as the need arose the War Merit Medal and Knights Cross to the War Merit Cross were introduced.  All grades (except for the War Merit Medal) were compromised of an eight-pointed Maltese cross, with a pair of military style swords fitted between the arms of the cross distinguishing the combatant category from the non-combatant category which had no swords but was otherwise identical.

The War Merit Cross with Swords recognized those military men whose acts of courage were above the call of duty, yet did not meet the criteria for the Iron Cross.  These acts could either be in the form of bravery not under direct enemy fire or the planning/leading of combat operations.  All members of the military were eligible without distinction to rank, and non-Germans Allies were equally eligible.

The Cross without swords was awarded for general meritorious actions.  Military personnel who qualified for the War Merit Cross in an administrative, medical, or other service away from the front line received this award, as did civilians whose contributions were of significant importance to the war effort.  Civilians were awarded the distinction  without regard to age or social class, from Diplomats to factory floor workers.

It was necessary to have the lower Class in order to receive a higher Class, though in some rare cases the 2nd and 1st Classes were awarded simultaneously.  If the War Merit Cross with Swords was awarded to an individual who held the class without Swords, only the Cross with Swords was to be worn.  It was initially decreed that the War Merit Cross could not be awarded or worn by Iron Cross recipients but this regulation was revoked on September 28, 1941.  

The War Merit Cross was eventually used to recognize virtually any service, and was to become the German decoration most widely presented during the war.  Follow the links to the left for in-depth sections on each grade.


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