Five Military Merit Crosses that Never Were

So let’s start sharing information on the Orders, Medals and Decorations of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

For the next several blogs I will be sharing information about Austro-Hungarian awards that I hope you will find interesting in their own right but which I am also using to illustrate the kind of discussions we can have as we proceed. As an example of such an issue let’s explore the complexity of the Military Merit Crosses that were authorized during WWI and also identify which of those that were authorized were in fact issued. This is worth knowing in part so we may know where the awards we collect fit into the panoply of the Austro-Hungarian award system and also because from time to time non-issued awards are offered for sale as officially issued.

The Military Merit Cross (Militärverdienstkreuz) was authorized during WWI in three classes which comprised 21 variations with and without war decoration and with and without swords (The addition of swords was approved on December 13, 1916). Sixteen of the possible 21 variations of this award were issued while the remaining five, although authorized were not issued. Lets explore which are which.

Note: Pictures are being provided in this blog only for the awards that were issued. The crosses that were not issued will be briefly described but not illustrated.

Military Merit Cross, First Class 

There were six variations of the Military Merit Cross first class  authorized during WWI. Of the six authorized first class decorations, three were  issued and three were not. See figures 1-3 to view the issued first class crosses.

Note: The first class swords as seen in figure 1. are gilt while the swords of a lower class as seen in figure 2. are silver. The silver swords of a lower class can represent either second or third class swords thus it is not possible by viewing the award to know whether its recipient had been previously awarded swords on the third class or second class merit cross.

Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration first class and swords first class (December, 13 1916-1918)

Figure 1: Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration first class and swords first class (December, 13 1916-1918). Image from author’s archive.

Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration first class and (silver) swords of a lower class (December 13, 1916-1918)

Figure 2: Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration first class and (silver) swords of a lower class (December 13, 1916-1918). Image from author’s archive.

Not issued 1: The Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration of a lower class and swords of a lower class which was Authorized on December 13, 1916. This first class cross is the first of the five Military Merit Crosses that were never issued.

Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration first class (September 23, 1914-1918) (Picture courtesy of Dorotheum

Figure 3: Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration first class (Issued September 23, 1914-1918). Image courtesy of Dorotheum.

Not issued 2: The Military Merit Cross First Class with war decoration of a lower class which was authorized on September 23, 1914 was never issued. This is the second of the five Military Merit Crosses that was not issued.

Not issued 3: The Military Merit Cross First Class which was authorized on September 23, 1914 was never issued. This is the third of the five Military Merit Crosses not issued.

Military Merit Cross, Second Class 

There were eight variations of the Military Merit Cross, Second Class that were authorized during WWI. Of those eight authorized second class decorations, seven were  issued and one was not. See figures 4-10 to view the issued first class crosses. Also note that two of the second class crosses (Figures 9 and 10) were issued only once.

Notes:

The second class swords as seen in figure 4 and 6 are gilt while the third class swords as seen in figure 5 are silver.

The war decoration for the Military Merit Cross, second class with war decoration of a lower class as seen in figure 9. is represented by a gilt laurel wreath wrapped tightly around the center medallion of the cross rather than the green enameled laurel wreath passing through the arms of the cross which represents the war decoration second class.

The second award of the war decoration second class is indicated by the attachment of a green enameled laurel wreath above the suspension eye of the second class cross (see Figures 6 and 7)

The crosses illustrated in figures 9 and 10 were only issued once and in each case to the same person Lieutenant General Karl Adler von Strasser. I will be discussing this unusual situation in an upcoming blog.

Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration second class and swords second class (December, 13 1916-1918)

Figure 4: Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration second class and swords second class (December, 13 1916-1918). Image from author’s archive.

Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration second class and (silver) swords third class (December, 13 1916-1918)

Figure 5: Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration second class and (silver) swords third class (December, 13 1916-1918). Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Not issued 4: Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration third class and swords third class which was authorized on December, 13 1916 is the forth of the five Military Merit Crosses that were never issued.

 

Military Merit Cross Second Class with second award of the war decoration second class and swords second class (Authorized March 14, 1918)

Figure 6: Military Merit Cross Second Class with second award of the war decoration second class and swords second class (Authorized March 14, 1918). Picture attributed to Vaclav Mericka, Orden Und Ehrenzeichen, Anton Schroll & Co.

Military Merit Cross Second Class with second award of the war decoration second class (Authorized March 14, 1918)

Figure 7: Military Merit Cross Second Class with second award of the war decoration second class (Authorized March 14, 1918). Image from author’s archive.

 

Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration second class (September 23, 1914-1918)

Figure 8: Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration second class (September 23, 1914-1918). Image from author’s archive.

..

Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration third class (September 23, 1914-1918) (Issued only once)

Figure 9: Military Merit Cross Second Class with war decoration third class (September 23, 1914-1918) (Issued only once). Image from author’s archive.

 

Military Merit Cross Second Class (September 23, 1914-1918)( Issued only once)

Figure 10: Military Merit Cross Second Class (September 23, 1914-1918)( Issued only once), Image from the authors archive.

Military Merit Cross, Third Class 

There were seven variations of the Military Merit Cross, Third Class that were authorized during WWI. Of those seven authorized third class decorations, six were issued and one was not. See figures 11-16 to view the issued third class merit crosses.

Note:

The swords for the third class cross are affixed to the ribbon rather than passing through the body of the cross as in the first and second class. See Figure 13.

The war decoration is in the form of a laurel wreath which is usually composed of gilt metal and passes through the arms of the cross. See Figures 11-16

Trapezoid multiple award bars are found on the ribbon of the Militarily Merit Cross, Third Class. Each bar represents an additional award of the third class cross. Two bars representing three awards of the cross were the most issued (see Figures 11 and 14). When the multiple award bar was awarded with swords for bravery the swords were placed on the multiple award bar (see Figure 12) and on the top-most bar if more than one bar was present (see Figure 11).

Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and swords and third award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918)

Figure 11: Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and swords and third award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918). Image courtesy of Dorotheum.

Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and swords and second award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918)

Figure 12: Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and swords and second award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918). Image courtesy of Dorotheum.

Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and swords (Authorized December 13, 1916-1918)

Figure 13: Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and swords (Authorized December 13, 1916-1918). Image courtesy of Dorotheum.

Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and third award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918)

Figure 14: Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and third award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918). Image courtesy of Dorotheum.

Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and Second award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918)

Figure 15: Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration and Second award bar (Authorized March 14, 1918). Image courtesy of Dorotheum.

Y

Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration (Authorized March 12, 1860-1918)

Figure 16: Military Merit Cross third Class with war decoration (Authorized March 12, 1860-1918). Image from the author’s archive.

Not issued 5: The Military Merit Cross Third Class (without war decoration) which had been awarded since October 22, 1849 was the fifth Military Merit Cross that was not issued during WWI.  However third class military merit Crosses awarded without war decoration prior to the war could be worn on the uniform along with first or second class military merit Crosses with war decoration issued during the war.

I am really looking forward to discussing the merit crosses with you, and to seeing your questions and/or comments.

More to come
Rick Lussier

5 Comments
  1. Very interesting, Rick. I’d known the basic grades/+- swords/+- war decoration variants bit, but not the ins and outs of which one got awarded when (if at all), it’s even more complicated than I’d thought!

    Megan

    • Megan

      Thank you for the interesting comment. The Austrians seem to have had an uncanny ability to make things complicated and complex. The Orders are even more complicated then the decorations. When one starts to analyze the complex variations of swords, swords of a lower class, war decoration, war decoration of a lower class and multiple award of war decorations and swords the Austrians established it can become very complicated very fast. For example between 1916 and 1918 the Austrians established 27 variations on the Order of Franz Joseph which was at that time a four class order. Like the Military Merit Cross, although they created all of these variations, that doesn’t mean they were all awarded. I am constantly amused by awards I see offered for sale that I know were never issued. On the other hand, Sometimes when I am working on my book it takes all of my concentration to keep all of the variations straight in my mind even though I have been researching this area for more than 40 years.

      Rick

  2. Megan

    I am glad you found this blog interesting. If you have any specific questions about the Military Merit Cross, please let me know. Also if I can be of help to you in labeling any of the Austro-Hungarian images on your site or in assisting you in identifying the range of classes and/or grades in an Austro-Hungarian order. medal or decoration please let me know. I will be, over time, enlarging on my comments on the Military Merit Cross to describe all of the classes and variations.

    Rick

  3. Thank you, Rick.

    I’m thinking of working on Austro-Hungary next given the wealth of information you are putting out, it’s been a while since I looked at that part of my site. (And I’ve just booked a week off!)

    Megan

  4. Megan

    If I can be of help as you review your images please let me know and I would be glad to offer any assistance that might help you in your review.

    Rick

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