Military Merit Cross, Second Issue

Introduction

At this time I thought I would continue our discussion of the Military Merit Cross (Militärverdienstkreuz) by describing the second issue of the cross in some detail.

As you may recall, (see blog post 4) the Military Merit Cross was established on October 22, 1849 and continued to be issued in this its original form until January 23, 1860.  The creation of the Merit Cross had been proposed by General Joseph Wenzel Graf Radetzky von Radetz (Figure 1) as an award for officers. When the cross was established in 1849 it was awarded to recognize officers of the Austrian armed forces who had provided especially meritorious services during time of war by high intelligence, courage and resoluteness, or in time of piece, by outstanding zeal.  All officers who had participated in the campaigns of 1848/49 were awarded this decoration. Thus 2,374 awards of the cross were issued between 1849 and 1859.

Figure 1: Feldmarschall Josef Graf Radetzky von Radetz. From author's archive

Figure 1: Feldmarschall Josef Graf Radetzky von Radetz. Image from author’s archive

In 1860 the Habsburg Empire, which prided itself on being a nation that had prospered not by war but through strategic marriages and alliances found that it had been engaged in so much military conflict in the preceding half century that it needed to modify its award structure to include a “war decoration” to be attached to various orders and decorations to distinguish those recipients who were decorated for war related service from those who received similar awards for non-war related service. Thus on January 23, 1860 at the direction of Emperor Franz Joseph I the war decoration in the form of a wreath was established.

The creation of the war decoration necessitated the modification of a number of orders and decorations, one of which was the Military Merit Cross. Thus on January 23, 1860 the second version of the Military Merit Cross was established (Figures 2 and 3). This new version of the Military Merit Cross would continue to be issued until September 23, 1914 when the structure of the award would be fundamentally changed by the addition of a first class and second class to the award structure and by converting the 1860 version of the Military Merit Cross to the third class.

Figure 2: Military Merit Cross. From author's archive

Figure 2: Military Merit Cross. Image from author’s archive

Figure 3: Military Merit Cross with war decoration. From Author's archive

Figure 3: Military Merit Cross with war decoration. Image from Author’s archive

Description:

I will now describe the post 1860 version of the Military Merit Cross in detail.

The official names of the decoration as issued in 1860 are the Military Merit Cross (Militärverdienstkreuz) and Military Merit Cross with War Decoration (Militärverdienstkreuz mit Kriegsdekoration).

The reason for issuing the decoration remained the same as for the original cross: to recognize officers of the Austrian armed forces who have provided especially meritorious services during time of war by high intelligence, courage and resoluteness, or in time of piece, by outstanding zeal.

Hallmarks:

Standardized hallmarks were introduced in the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1872 and are found on the awards that were manufactured thereafter. Among the hallmarks commonly found on this decoration are the:

  • The Makers mark for the firms of Rothe and Neffe, Alexander E. Kochert and Vincent Mayer and son
  • 1872-1922 800 silver small article hallmark (Figure 4)
  • 1890-1921 Vienna Assay Office mark (Figure 5)
Figure 4: 1872-1922 800 silver small article hallmark. From Author's archive

Figure 4: 1872-1922 800 silver small article hallmark. Image from Author’s archive

Figure 5: 1890-1921 Vienna Assay Office mark. from the author's archive.

Figure 5: 1890-1921 Vienna Assay Office mark. Image from the author’s archive.

This new version of the decoration was issued in one class, with and without war decoration. The addition of the war decoration which was authorized on March 23, 1860 was the reason for the modification of the Military Merit Cross and thus established the necessity of a second issuance of the cross.

Design:

The design of the decoration continued to be in the form of clawed cross suspended from a flat ornamental eye through which passes a 15 mm oval grooved ring which is 1.5 mm wide. Some general characteristics of the 1860- 1914 crosses are that they are thinner, the enamel is a lighter shade of red and the war wreath is flatter and less well defined then in those issued after 1914.

The obverse design of the merit crosses is as follows: A clawed cross the arms of which are slightly curved and taper towards the center medallion.  The upper arm has a flat suspension eye which has a suspension ring passing through it.  The ring is notched in the center.  The arms of the cross have a 2 mm-Garnet red enameled border.  Inside of the border is a white enameled field. The 13 mm center medallion also has a Garnet red enameled border inside of which is a white enameled center medallion.  On the center medallion in two lines is the inscription VER DIENST (For Merit) in silver. The crosses awarded for combat have a mat-green alloy or gold gilt laurel wreath passing between the arms (Figures 6 and 7).

Figure 7: Military Merit Cross, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Figure 6: Military Merit Cross, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Figure 7: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Figure 7: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, obverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

The reverse of the Merit Crosses is enameled in white. The reason for this is that it had been found that the silver on medals and decorations stained the white tunics worn by many officers on dress occasions. Thus by enameling the reverse of the merit crosses it assured that they would not cause such stains.  I do not know why white enamel was selected although the fact that it is the same color as many of the officer uniform tunics it was protecting seems appropriate from an artistic standpoint. The reverse of the Merit Cross with war decoration was the same as that without except that the reverse of the war decoration wreath can be seen (Figures 8 and 9).

Figure 8: Military Merit Cross, reverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Figure 8: Military Merit Cross, reverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Figure 9: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, reverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Figure 9: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, reverse. Image courtesy of Dorotheum

Dimensions:

The Weight of the crosses is as follows:

  • The cross without war decoration is 12 grams
  • The cross with the war decoration is 14.4 grams
  • Jeweled examples of the cross weigh approximately 17.5 grams

Note: Weights may vary slightly based on the manufacturer of the decoration

The size of the crosses is as follows:

The crosses are 31 mm in diameter.  The arms of the cross are 15 mm in width at the outer end. The center medallion is 13 mm in diameter.

Note: The size may vary slightly based on the manufacturer of the decoration

Composition:

The crosses with the exception of the jeweled insignia were composed of silver and enamel. The jeweled crosses were composed of gold, silver, enamel and jewels

Variations:

There were a number of variations of this award. What follows is a description of the major variations:

Type I Military Merit Cross:  A cross as described above (See figures 2 and 3 and 6-9).

Type II Military Merit Cross:  A cross similar to the 1848 version with a wreath added between the arms. This is a privately produced decoration often made by adding a war decoration to an existing 1849-1860 issue cross (Figure 10).

Figure 10: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, Type II. From author's archive.

Figure 10: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, Type II. Picture attributed to Vaclav Mericka, Orden Und Ehrenzeichen, Anton Schroll & Co.

Type III Military Merit Cross:  A cross similar to the Type I 1860 version with a white enameled center medallion and a wreath added between the arms. The lettering of the center medallion in this type of the award is not raised or separately applied (Figure 11).

Figure 12: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, Type III. From author's archive

Figure 11: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, Type III. Image from author’s archive

Type IV Military Merit Cross:  A cross similar to the Type I 1860 cross except this cross has an inscription on a plain silver reverse. These crosses are made to be presentation pieces. The inscriptions were privately added (Figure 12).

Figure 12: Military Merit Cross, Type IV. Image from the author's archive.

Figure 12: Military Merit Cross, Type IV. Image from the author’s archive.

Type V Military Merit Cross: A cross similar to the Type I 1860 cross except this cross has an inscription on the plain silver reverse of the arms and also has a white enameled reverse center medallion. These crosses are made to be presentation pieces. The inscriptions are privately added (Figure 13).

Figure 13: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, Type V. Image from author's archive.

Figure 13: Military Merit Cross with war decoration, Type V. Image from author’s archive.

Type VI Military Merit Cross:  A cross similar to the Type I 1860 cross except in gold and are jeweled with diamonds and rubies and a white enameled reverse with the award date inscribed on the top and bottom reverse arms.  Jeweled decorations were not a higher class of the award.  They were purchased and presented by Emperor Franz Joseph as a personal sign of his appreciation for the services rendered by the recipient (Figures 14-16)

Figure 14: Military Merit Cross Type VI. Image from author's archive.

Figure 14: Military Merit Cross Type VI. Image from author’s archive.

Figure 15: Military Merit Cross, with war decoration , Type VI. Image from author's archive.

Figure 15: Military Merit Cross, with war decoration , Type VI. Image from author’s archive.

Figure 16: Military Merit Cross, Type VI, reverse. Image from author's archive

Figure 16: Military Merit Cross, Type VI, reverse. Image from author’s archive

Recipients:

The Recipients of the awards in diamonds were:

Cross with war decoration:

General of Cavalry Archduke Joseph – 1898

General of Cavalry Johann Freiherr von Appel -1898

General of Cavalry Ludwig Prinz zu Windischgratz – 1898

General of Infantry Friedrich Graf Beck – 1898

General of Infantry Wilhelm Freiherr von Reinlander – 1898

General of Infantry Johann Freiherr von Waldstatten – 1898

General of Infantry Zeno Graf Welsersheimb -1898

Feldzeugmeister Rudolf Prinz von Lobkowitz – 1905

General of Infantry Eugen Freiherr von Albori – 1907

General of Infantry Arthur Freiherr von Bolfras – 1908

General of Infantry Remus von Woyrsch (Prussia) – 1914

Cross without war decoration:

Archduke Rainer – 1898

Archduke Friedrich – 1898

Feldzuegmeister Philip Graf Grunne-1898

General of Infantry Geza Freiherr Fejervary de Komlos-Keresztes -1898

General of Infantry Anton Galgotzy – 1898

Archduke Franz Ferdinand – 1908

Archduke Eugen – 1908

Admiral Rudolf Graf Montecuccoli – 1909

General of Cavalry Alexander Graf Uxkull-Gyllenband – 1914

Note: Those receiving the jeweled decoration in 1898 and in 1908 were being rewarded for services rendered on the occasion of the 50th and 60th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I. They had all received the Military Merit Cross at an earlier date during the reign of Franz Joseph but in 1898 or 1908 received the award in a jeweled version as a personal sign of the emperor’s appreciation for their service in support of his reign.

Designer and manufacturers

The designer of the cross is unknown to the author. The major manufacturers were F. Rothe, Rothe and Neffe, Alexander E. Kochert and Vincent Mayer and Sons.

The manufacturer of the jeweled versions of the cross were Alexander E. Kochert and Rothe and Neffe.

Number issued:

3,560 awards of this cross were issued between 1860 and 1899. 1,527 were issued for combatant service which was recognized with the addition of a war decoration 2,033 crosses were issued for non-combatant service and thus without war decoration. 63 awards were made to foreigners.

1860 = 33 crosses were issued (29 with war decoration)

1861= 4 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1862= 6 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1863= 4 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1864 = 97 crosses were issued (86 with war decoration, 3 without war decoration and 7 to foreigners)

1865= 8 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1866= 1,049 crosses were issued (940 with war decoration, 17 without war decoration and 54 to foreigners) (Note this is the year of the Austro-Prussian War)

1867= 14 crosses were issued (11 with war decoration)

1868= 7 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1869= 3 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1870= 46 crosses were issued (6 with war decoration)

1871= 7 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1872= 12 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1873=7 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1874 = 21 crosses were issued (3 with war decoration and 2 to foreigners)

1875 = 9 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1876 = 27 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1877 = 45 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1878 = 431 crosses were issued (382 with war decoration) (year of the Balkan Conflict)

1879 = 56 crosses were issued (7 with war decoration)

1880 = 77 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1881 = 68 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1882 = 98 crosses were issued (63 with war decoration)

1883 = 68 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1884 = 53 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1885 = 86 crosses were issued without war decoration

1886 = 68 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1887 = 64 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1888 = 73 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1889 = 77 crosses were issued without war decoration

1890 = 83 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1891 = 88 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1892 = 98 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1893 = 66 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1894 = 68 crosses were issued without war decoration

1895 = 92 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1896 = 64 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1897 = 56 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

1898 = 261 crosses were issued without war decoration, (50 year reign jubilee year)

1899 = 66 crosses were issued none of which had the war decoration

No data available for 1900-1914

Cases:

There were numerous variants on the cases for this decoration. Cases are known to have been made by Rothe and Neffe, Alexander Kochert, Vincent Mayer and Sons and Moritz Tiller & Co. The example illustrated below (Figure 17 and 18) has a red leather cover with gilt inscription: MILITAER VERDIENSTKREUZ in gold on the lid. The inside of the lid is white silk and often features the maker’s logo in gold. The liner of the bottom of the case is dark blue or black velvet and is fitted.

Figure 18: Military Merit Cross case: Image from the author's archive.

Figure 17: Military Merit Cross case, exterior: Image from the author’s archive.

Figure 19: Military Merit Cross case, interior. Image from the author's archive.

Figure 18: Military Merit Cross case, interior. Image from the author’s archive.

Ribbon:

The Military Merit Cross was worn on a 40 mm wide crimson and white-laddered war ribbon worn as a straight ribbon until circa 1865 and thereafter on a tri-fold ribbon (Figure 19).

Figure 19: Red and White laddered ribbon. Image from author's archive

Figure 19: Red and white laddered ribbon. Image from author’s archive

Attachments:

There were no attachments for this decoration

Miniatures:

Miniatures of this award exist for the jeweled and standard issue crosses with and without war decoration (Figures 20-22).

Figure 20: Jeweled Military Merit Cross miniature. Image from the author's archive.

Figure 20: Jeweled Military Merit Cross miniature. Image from the author’s archive.

Figure 21: Military Merit Cross miniature. Image from author's archive.

Figure 21: Military Merit Cross miniature. Image from author’s archive.

Figure 22: Military Merit Cross with war decoration miniature. Image from the author's archive.

Figure 22: Military Merit Cross with war decoration miniature. Image from the author’s archive.

Award Certificates:

Award certificates were issued for this decoration (Figure 23)

Figure 23: Award Certificate to Oberstleutnant Alfred Krauss in 1904. Image from author's archive.

Figure 23: Award Certificate to Oberstleutnant Alfred Krauss in 1904. Image from author’s archive.

 

Figure 24: Feldmarschalleutnant Otto Freiherr von Hartlieb wearing the Military Merit Cross. image from the author's archive

Figure 24: Feldmarschalleutnant Otto Freiherr von Hartlieb wearing the Military Merit Cross. image from the author’s archive

 

Figure 25: Feldzeugmeister Vincenz Freiherr von Able wearing the Military Merit Cross with war decoration. Image from author's archive.

Figure 25: Feldzeugmeister Vincenz Freiherr von Able wearing the Military Merit Cross with war decoration. Image from author’s archive.

Some additional facts of interest regarding this award are that prior to 1874 the crosses were to be returned upon the death of the recipient to the War Ministry and later to the Privy Treasurer. After 1874 the recipient’s family was allowed to keep the decoration. Recipients were allowed to add recipient of the “MVK” to their names or if decorated with the cross with war decoration then the recipient of the “MVK mit Kriegsdekoration”.

I hope you have found this discussion interesting and worthwhile. If you have any questions or comments I would be delighted to receive them.

Until next time

Rick Lussier

 

3 Comments
  1. Wow, Rick! I am getting quite an education as I read your blogs on subjects that I could never stumble on this type of information. Keep feeding us……

  2. Yes – I can only second that. Thank you Rick for continue to share your enormous knowledge on this subject. Let me know if I can help in any way with technical issues.

  3. The photos of awardees wearing their decorations are especially gratifying.

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