War award

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War awards are honors for members of the military who have distinguished themselves through bravery and special achievements. They are given in the form of ribbons , medals , orders and decorations .


As early as the 15th century, war awards were given for special bravery against the enemy . This principle was further developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, and most countries in Europe introduced their own system of markings. Many famous orders and medals date from this period.

In times of war they were given to soldiers in their own army or to members of allied armies. However, not every soldier was entitled to certain orders or medals. The House Order of Hohenzollern could be, for example, only awarded to officers. Many orders, especially those of the German Empire , were able to secure a high social reputation for the bearer and be useful for further careers.

The lending systems varied in complexity from state to state. Very complex systems were, for example, those of the Romanovs in Russia or those of the Hohenzollern .

Selection of various awards from several states


The German Imperium

The German Empire was at that time a union of kingdoms, principalities and the three Hanseatic cities . Every part of Germany, with the exception of the Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine , had its own recognition system. Some orders also had levels or classes that could be awarded to civilians who had made a name for themselves in the war or the military, e.g. B. in the arms industry or logistics .

The empire had no all-German orders or medals for military service. The most famous German awards are therefore the following Prussian medals:

  • Pour le Mérite : Even the famous Pour le Mérite (also called Blue Max in English-speakingcountries) was not an imperial German, but a royal Prussian award. However, since it was awarded by the German Emperor, who was also King of Prussia , the Pour le Mérite was in fact the highest German order. The medal, of which there was only one class, could only be awarded to officers and was awarded until the end of the First World War .
  • Red Eagle Order : This order was founded in 1705 by Hereditary Prince Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg-Bayreuth. Until 1830 there were four classes of this order, the lowest level of which could later be awarded to practically anyone who had certain merits to the state of Prussia. During the First World War it was hardly used any more, as the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern was awardedinstead. Only a few personalities like Manfred von Richthofen got it.
  • Iron Cross : The Iron Cross is probably one of the most famous German awards. It was by Friedrich Wilhelm III. Donated in 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars. Before the cross was awarded in large numbers in World War I and II, it was an extremely prestigious tribute to valor in battle. Of the originally three, later four classes, the Knight's Cross createdin World War II even received five award levels.

War awards could not be awarded twice to one person. Soldiers and officers who repeatedly performed excellently received a new award, often a higher class of the order.

Weimar Republic

With its constitution, the Weimar Republic abolished all kinds of medals and decorations. Orders were only reintroduced after 1933.

Nazi dictatorship

  • The Cross of Honor of the World War , which Reich President Paul von Hindenburg donated in 1934 to honor the achievements of former soldiers who had served during the First World War, was not a real war award, but rather a kind of commemorative medal . There were three classes in total.

Federal Republic of Germany

In the Federal Republic of Germany there has only been an award again since 2008 that can be awarded for special achievements or bravery in combat: the "red" special levels of the two upper classes of the Bundeswehr badge and the newly created level of the Cross of Honor for bravery , as well as the 2010 Donated special level of the Bundeswehr Mission Medal : The combat medal .

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, unlike in the German Empire, the same award can be given several times to the same person. Posthumous awards are also possible. If the award is repeated, this is indicated by a special clasp ("bar") on the medal ribbon. The holders of many awards have the right to use the appropriate abbreviation letters after their name (so-called " post-nominal "). Until 1993, most valor awards were also reserved for certain ranks. This meant that crews received different awards than officers for the same kind of valiant performance, and higher officers received different awards than lower-ranking officers. The officers' awards were usually in the form of crosses, while the corresponding awards for men were generally in the form of medals. The only exception in this scheme was the Victoria Cross , which since its foundation could be awarded to all soldiers regardless of rank. In 1993 the system of medals and decorations used in the armed forces was reformed; the rank is no longer decisive for the type of award. Important British war awards were and are:

  • The Victoria Cross (VC) was donated by Queen Victoria in 1856 during the Crimean War . It is the UK's highest military distinction and is given for exceptional bravery before the enemy or excellence in duty. It has absolute precedence over any other British Order . The Victoria Cross is also currently awarded in some Commonwealth countries, the appearance, material and conditions of the award being largely the same as in the UK. The most recent awards were made to a British posthumously in 2007, to a New Zealander in 2008 and to an Australian in 2011. Three Victoria Cross holders received this award a second time - two of these men ( Noel Chavasse and Arthur Martin-Leake ) served in World War I, the third ( Charles Hazlitt Upham ) in World War II.
  • Distinguished Service Order (DSO): This order, donated by Queen Victoria on September 6, 1886, was awarded until 1993 to officers with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (and above) who have proven themselves in the fight against the enemy either through special leadership qualities or through personal bravery had, but their performance was not enough for the Victoria Cross . For comparable brave deeds in the face of the enemy, Army ranks received the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal , and Air Force and Navy ranks the Distinguished Conduct Medal . Since 1993 the Distinguished Service Order has not been awarded to officers for bravery, but for excellent service in command of the troops.
  • The Military Cross (MC) was donated by King George V on December 31, 1914 . Until 1993 it was intended for valiant achievements in the face of the enemy by members of the army with the rank of warrant officer , officer candidate or officer up to the rank of major. Members of the army from the team status received the Military Medal for comparable acts until 1993 . Since 1993 the MC can be awarded to all members of the army whose achievements are not sufficient for the VC or CGC.
  • Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC): Corresponds to the Military Cross in its meaning since 1993, but is reserved for members of the Air Force. Until the reform of 1993, the Distinguished Flying Cross was only awarded to officers, while members of the Royal Air Force from the crew stand were awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for similar acts.


  • Légion d'Honneur : From the beginning, this order was not a pure war decoration. It could and can also be given to civilians. The Légion d'Honneur wasintroducedby Napoleon on May 19, 1802and is still the most important French award. There are 5 levels, most awards were given to officers.
  • Croix de Guerre: The Croix de guerre existed in four classes and was awarded to simple soldiers and officers. It received it because of an honorable mention in an army report.


  • Croix de Guerre: The Belgian War Cross was introduced on October 25, 1915. It could be awarded to all allies who had proven themselves in battle. Soldiers also received it in recognition of several years of military service.

United States

see also: Medals and decorations of the US armed forces

Many American orders and medals were based on British models. The Medal of Honor was the first personal war award. As in the UK, they could be given to individuals multiple times. The following condition applied: The respective soldier had to fight an enemy of the USA or take part in a corresponding operation. For some awards, this also applied to soldiers who served in friendly armies.

  • Medal of Honor: The Congressional Medal of Honor was created by President Lincoln established and is the highest honor that could be given an American soldier for bravery and achievements. All three branches of service have had their medals since 1965.
  • Distinguished Service Cross : The Distinguished Service Cross was introduced by the US Congress on July 9, 1918. It can be awarded to any person, regardless of rank, who has distinguished himself through particular bravery and is in the service of the US Army. A soldier could subsequently be honored with this cross for services that had already been performed before the foundation. It is intended for members of the army whose service and bravery are insufficient for the medal of honor. The cross is awarded exclusively by the US President.
  • Distinguished Service Medal: This medal exists as a version for all three branches of service. There is also the Coast Guard DSM, Nasa DSM and Defense DSM. The Defense DSM is one of the most prestigious awards and is only given in limited numbers. The DSM for the Army, which was founded in 1918, can be awarded to anyone who has demonstrated outstanding services in their military activities. The Navy DSM was introduced in 1919 and could still be awarded retrospectively for services rendered after April 6, 1917. The Air Force medal wasn't introduced until 1960.

See also