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David Filsell

HITLER'S IRON CROSS

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David Filsell

After many years of fascination with the Great War I find yet another topic about which I have no knowledge and no reference. Thus I have a number of Iron Cross uestions upon which I hope the experts can advise

I had assumed that Hitler’s award of the Iron Cross First Class was established. I have recently read that it was second.

1 Was the award first or second (and is there any paperwork to prove it)?

2 Is it accurate to claim that a first was rare for non commissioned officers and men?

3 If so are there any figures to prove it?

4 Was there any visible difference between an Iron Cross First and Second Class

5 Was it true that the award was recommended by a Jewish offcer?

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Martin Bennitt

After many years of fascination with the Great War I find yet another topic about which I have no knowledge and no reference. Thus I have a number of Iron Cross uestions upon which I hope the experts can advise

I had assumed that Hitler's award of the Iron Cross First Class was established. I have recently read that it was second.

1 Was the award first or second (and is there any paperwork to prove it)?

2 Is it accurate to claim that a first was rare for non commissioned officers and men?

3 If so are there any figures to prove it?

4 Was there any visible difference between an Iron Cross First and Second Class

5 Was it true that the award was recommended by a Jewish offcer?

Just finished reading "Hitler's First War" by Thomas Weber. Unfortunately I returned it to the library yesterday, and my memory being what it is.......

Hitler was awarded the EKI near the beginning of the war and the EKII near the end of it. The second award was recommended by a Jewish officer, Hugo Gutmann, who fled Germany after Hitler came to power and eventually settled in the US.

According to Weber, Hitler was awarded the EKII not for any particular act of bravery but because his position as a despatch runner at regimental headquarters (he was not a frontline soldier for most of the war, as he tried to make out) meant he could cosy up to influential officers.

Piece by Weber here

http://www.historyextra.com/oup/new-evidence-uncovers-hitlers-real-first-world-war-story

Think the difference was that the EKII was worn on the uniform while the EKI was worn round the neck, though I don't recall any pictures of Hitler wearing it anywhere but on his uniform after he came to power.

Weber's book is interesting -- he contests the thesis that the Great War "made" Hitler, but his style is a bit tedious: far too many words. Worth a read though

cheers Martin B

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Jonathan Saunders

I think you may be confusing EKI and EKII. The EKII was the lesser award and was worn as a medal ribbon on the uniform. The recipient of an EKI had to already have been awarded an EKII before he could be entitled to an EKI. The EKI was worn on the left breast pocket area.

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WhiteStarLine

I've not ready Weber's book but if post #2 is a fair summary, anyone who implies despatch runners on either side had a cozy job away from the front line is probably not even worthy of having the front cover opened. I've read John Williams even-handed book on the List Regiment twice and the bravery of all List Regiment despatch runners taking messages forward at Fromelles 1915 and 1916 forward to battalions and companies through incessant shelling is not what Weber would suggest. At one stage, 6 despatch runners were given the same message in the hope that 1 would get through.

Later, at Gheluvelt for the 2nd time, they lost 800 men in 10 days in 1917 during Third Ypres. The British penetrated 500 yards into the List Regiment and at one point 6 despatch runners including AH guided the reinforcements across the open ground to engage their enemy. Two broken down tanks on the Menin Road sprayed them with continuous machine gun fire.

Gutmann put Hitler's name forward and this is the official citation:

As a runner, his coolness and dash in both trench and open warfare have

been exemplary, and invariably he has shown himself ready to volunteer

for tasks in the most difficult situation and at great danger to himself.

Whenever communications have been totally disrupted at a critical

moment in a battle, it has been thanks to Hitler’s unflagging and devoted

efforts that important messages have continued to get through despite

every difficulty. Hitler received the Iron Cross Second Class for gallant

conduct during the fighting at Wytschaete on 1 Dec. 1914. [He] fully

deserves to be awarded the Iron Cross First Class.

While Hitler's actions in WW2 are indefensible, he was a brave combatant in WW1. Also, just to stress, I am critical of the slant of the article in http://www.historyextra.com/oup/new-evidence-uncovers-hitlers-real-first-world-war-story, not of the GWF poster who provided the link. Lest anyone think I glorify AH, my late uncle was captured by the SS Leibstandarte, Hitler's bodyguard regiment, at Vevi in Greece. This unit was responsible for numerous WW2 atrocities.

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Gunner Bailey

According to Weber, Hitler was awarded the EKII not for any particular act of bravery but because his position as a despatch runner at regimental headquarters (he was not a frontline soldier for most of the war, as he tried to make out) meant he could cosy up to influential officers.

Disagree entirely. Runners were often the bravest men in a company. They were often much more exposed than soldiers who were static in a trench and any movement could bring the attention of a sniper immediately. In battle they often had to deliver messages when the barrages were heaviest and could not hide in funk hole. John

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Martin Bennitt

I think you may be confusing EKI and EKII. The EKII was the lesser award and was worn as a medal ribbon on the uniform. The recipient of an EKI had to already have been awarded an EKII before he could be entitled to an EKI. The EKI was worn on the left breast pocket area.

sorry, my mistake, I got them the wrong way round. Hitler was ordered the EKII first.

cheers Martin B

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David Filsell

Many thanks guys, really most helpful. If anyone can add anything on points two and three, or any further amplification, their views would be welcome. Regards, David

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Martin Bennitt

Disagree entirely. Runners were often the bravest men in a company. They were often much more exposed than soldiers who were static in a trench and any movement could bring the attention of a sniper immediately. In battle they often had to deliver messages when the barrages were heaviest and could not hide in funk hole. John

Weber does not contend that Hitler wasn't brave, and risked his life at times, but he does contest Hitler's claim that his job was the most dangerous. He says Hitler's job was to carry messages from regimental headquarters, where he was based and which were behind the lines, to battalion headquarters, which were also not in the front trenches and had their own runners to take them further forward. He was not the frontline soldier that he claimed to be, according to Weber.

cheers Martin B

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Jonathan Saunders

Weber does not contend that Hitler wasn't brave, and risked his life at times, but he does contest Hitler's claim that his job was the most dangerous. He says Hitler's job was to carry messages from regimental headquarters, where he was based and which were behind the lines, to battalion headquarters, which were also not in the front trenches and had their own runners to take them further forward. He was not the frontline soldier that he claimed to be, according to Weber.

cheers Martin B

Martin,

Whilst there have been recent stories to suggest that Hitler was mainly a rear area runner and spent less time as a front line runner than he would have had you believe (which would probably explain his survival between 1914-18), the trouble is there are so many negative comments made about Hitler generally and his WW1 service, that it is difficult to weed out the truth from a sensational headline.

I've read both Weber and Williams but I cant remember what evidence Weber provides, or Williams take on it.

Regards,

Jonathan S

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SiegeGunner

Runners were normally only used over long distances, eg. from RHQ to units in the front line trenches, when other forms of communication had broken down, as happened, for example, during the major battles in the Fromelles sector at which Hitler is presumed to have been present.

Messages were carried by relays of runners, with each runner covering a stretch with which he was intimately acquainted (given that messages often had to be carried in the dark). During periods of heightened alert and major actions, RHQs and BHQs moved to their forward command posts and whether Hitler carried messages under fire in those circumstances would depend on whether he was among the HQ personnel sent up to the forward command post or whether he was among those left at 'base HQ' in the rear. When all communications broke down completely and higher command was entirely in the dark as to what was happening in the front line trenches, selected runners were despatched on a 'long run' all the way from the forward command post (RHQ/BHQ) to the front line in order to ascertain the situation and return with their own report plus reports from such front line commanders as they were able to find.

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martin_sole

I'm not aware of any complete lists of recipients for the EK1, so hard to say if it was rare for ORs.

The history of the 1813 Iron Cross was that the criteria for its award should be democratic and blind to the class conscious military hierarchy of the Prussian Army. It was supposed to be an award which made no distinction of social rank - the general and the grenadier both playing their parts in the outcome of battle. Whether this still held true 100 years later I don't know.

Apart from quality of manufacture, the only visible difference between an EK1 and an EK2 are the mountings. The EK1 was worn on the uniform and has a centre pin and clasp at the back. The EK2 has a top ring, from which it's suspended from a ribbon. After the ceremony of award, only the ribbon was worn in a buttonhole, the medal itself being kept in its presentation case.

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martin_sole

Many if the stories of how Hitler won his EK1 all seem to be hearsay or invention, stories that made wonderful copy in the Ministry of Propaganda some 20 years later.

The wording on the 1918 official citation are:

"As a runner, his coolness and dash in both trench and open warfare have been exemplary, and invariably he has shown himself ready to volunteer for tasks in the most difficult situations and at great danger to himself. Whenever communications have been totally disrupted at a critical moment in a battle, it has been thanks to Hitler's unflagging and devoted efforts that important messages have continued to get through despite every difficulty. Hitler received the Iron Cross Second Class for gallant conduct during the fighting at Wytschaete on 1 Dec 1914. He fully deserves to be awarded the Iron Cross First Class"

Source- Corporal Hitler and The Great War, F.J. Williams

Edit- g'ah, you already had that quote :)

Edited by martin_sole

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Gunner Bailey

Weber does not contend that Hitler wasn't brave, and risked his life at times, but he does contest Hitler's claim that his job was the most dangerous. He says Hitler's job was to carry messages from regimental headquarters, where he was based and which were behind the lines, to battalion headquarters, which were also not in the front trenches and had their own runners to take them further forward. He was not the frontline soldier that he claimed to be, according to Weber.

cheers Martin B

In that case the EKI citation must be fiction according to your view!

Also, as to cosying up to officers, in the German army at the time officers hardly spoke to soldiers who were not senior NCO's. It would be rather rare for a private or even a corporal to be able to have long chats with senior officers. The German Army didn't work like that. Your view does not add up I'm afraid.

John

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David Filsell

Mike,

Most interesting. Almost every work on AH that I have read seems to make the point that the first class award to NCOs and other ranks was rare, clearly that may not be the case then in view of the fact that "It was supposed to be an award which made no distinction of social rank - the general and the grenadier both playing their parts in the outcome of battle"

Thank you, and all who have added to the thread. Much appreciated. Any further information welcome.

David

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Martin Bennitt

Your view does not add up I'm afraid.

John

Not my view, Weber's. I don't know enough about the subject to express a view

cheers Martin B

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Andrew Upton

The EK2 has a top ring, from which it's suspended from a ribbon. After the ceremony of award, only the ribbon was worn in a buttonhole, the medal itself being kept in its presentation case.

That's not really true Martin - on the normal field uniform under most circumstances only the ribband would be worn, but if the soldier had other decorations designed to be worn on the chest the medal itself would be mounted with them, eg:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/WWI-German-Bavarian-Freikorps-Iron-Cross-Group-3-Medals-/151097085920?pt=UK_Collectables_Militaria_LE&hash=item232e168fe0#ht_1196wt_1251

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martin_sole

but not whilst the man was in the field though?

I'm also not quite sure how many soldiers apart from generals went for the row-of-gongs look. Studio portraits seem to show a preference for buttonhole ribbon or ribbon bars.

(waits for Upton to produce a picture of a Gefreiter tricked out like a Christmas tree)

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Martin Bennitt

In that case the EKI citation must be fiction according to your view!

Also, as to cosying up to officers, in the German army at the time officers hardly spoke to soldiers who were not senior NCO's. It would be rather rare for a private or even a corporal to be able to have long chats with senior officers.

John

I may have expressed myself badly here. I think the suggestion was that in the relative intimacy of his base at regimental headquarters, where numbers were limited, Hitler was in a position to ingratiate himself with senior officers and draw himself to their attention. By all accounts he was eager to volunteer for difficult jobs and did them conscientiously. The citation was probably merited, but many soldiers who were as brave as Hitler or more so were not awarded the EKI because they were not in the same position as he was, Weber's argument goes. Again according to Weber, the fact that Gutmann was Jewish was irrelevant at the time as Hitler's extreme anti-Semitism had not developed at the time. Gutmann fled Germany because he feared that the Nazis wanted him out of the way to keep his links with Hitler concealed.

cheers Martin B

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Andrew Upton

but not whilst the man was in the field though?

I did agree with that :thumbsup: , but the medals could have a life outside their boxes after their presentation...

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Gunner Bailey

, Hitler was in a position to ingratiate himself with senior officers and draw himself to their attention. By all accounts he was eager to volunteer for difficult jobs and did them conscientiously.

cheers Martin B

Sorry Martin but this is highly unlikely. The German Army was still a highly class ridden structure. Senior officers would never casually chat with a private or a corporal. They were class underlings who had no opinions worth listening to. Soldiers under NCO rank were in many situations forbidden to talk to officers with all communication being via an NCO.

History is easily redrawn if writers make assumptions and guesses. I think Weber has this wrong, but it makes a good story. I'd like to see his evidence.

It's a bit like saying an AC1 at Bentley Priory could chat to Dowding and influence him - flying pig stuff!

John

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ritterk

Let us not forget that NCOs were considered the backbone of the Imperial Germany Army - and it would be fair to say they were accorded higher status than NCOs in the class-ridden British Army of the era.... Offizierverstellverteter was a rank that did not have a comparison in the British Army. Whatever your politics, for a Corporal in the Imperial Bavarian Army to be awarded a EK 1 was recognition of bravery. Next we'll be saying that Goering was never a fighter ace....

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Martin Bennitt

Nobody is saying that Hitler was not brave, and no one is saying that he was on first name terms with the colonel, as some people seem to be suggesting

cheers Martin B

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trajan

Related to this topic, does anyone know the background of this photograph, reproduced here from the web for comment.

 

 

AH in trenches.jpg

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Ron Clifton

David

 

On your original point 2, whilst I have not read extensively on the awards of the Iron Cross for some years, my impression from past reading was that it was indeed quite rare for a Gefreiter to be awarded the First Class.

 

Ron

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Uncle George
On 9 August 2013 at 11:32, ritterk said:

... for a Corporal in the Imperial Bavarian Army to be awarded a EK 1 was recognition of bravery. Next we'll be saying that Goering was never a fighter ace....

 

Weber refers to Hitler as 'Private Hitler' throughout 'Hitler's First War': as a 'Gefreiter' he was not an NCO, and not the equivalent of a Corporal (Weber tells us).

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