In this blog I am going to discuss the Military Merit Cross, third class in some detail. Readers may wish to review the previous blogs I have published on the Military Merit Cross prior to reading this one. The previous blog titles are: Five Military Merit Crosses that Never Were, One Man, Two Unique Decorations, Military Merit Cross, First Issue 1849, Military Merit Cross, Second Issue, Military Merit Cross, first class and Military Merit Cross, second class. Reading these blogs may help to place this discussion in context.
Date Issued: The Military Merit Cross (Militärverdienstlreuz) was first issued on October 22, 1849. On January 12, 1860 the decoration was modified with the addition of a war decoration. Then on September 23, 1914 it was once again modified when it was converted from a one class decoration to a three class decoration. The decoration in three classes continued to be issued until the fall of the Austrian Empire in 1918.
Reason Issued: To recognize officers of the Austro-Hungarian armed forces who have accomplished especially meritorious services during time of war by high intelligence, courage and resoluteness, or in time of piece, by outstanding zeal.
Note: Although the cross was originally intended for officers in the Austro-Hungarian armed forces it was, during the period in World War I when it was issued in three classes that it also was awarded to officers and military leaders of the Central Powers allies.
Classes or Types: This decoration was issued in three classes with war decoration and with and without swords. When the decoration was modified into a three class decoration the original decoration which had been issued from October 22, 1849 was re-designated as the third class and a commanders’ cross was added as a second class with a pin back breast cross being added as the first class. In this blog will I will describe the third class in some detail, the second class and third class have been discussed in previous blogs.
From 1914 until the end of WWI the Military Merit Cross Third Class was authorized by statute in three variations. They were:
- Military Merit Cross Third Class with war decoration and swords (Issued December, 13 1916-1918)
- Military Merit Cross Third Class with war decoration (Issued September 23, 1914-1918)
- Military Merit Cross Third Class (Authorized on September 23, 1914 but never issued)
Although the decoration in the third class was authorized in three variations as noted above it was only issued in two. The reason for this is that when the third class was authorized it was anticipated that it would continue to be issued in peacetime and thus variations were authorized for peacetime service. However such service never occurred because the third class crosses was only issued in wartime.
- Military Merit Cross third class, (October 22, 1849-1918) (crosses awarded without war decoration prior to the war could be worn with the first or second class awards with war decoration issued during the war. (see picture of General der Infanterie Stoger-Steiner found at the end of this blog).
- The enamel in this issue is a darker shade of red then in those issued before 1914.
- The wreath is rounder and more well defined then those issued prior to 1914.
- The crosses are thicker than those made before 1914.
- The Military Merit Cross third class was awarded with jewels. Jeweled examples of this decoration are not a higher award but were purchased and presented by the emperor Franz Joseph as a personal sign of his appreciation for the services rendered by the recipient who already possessed the decoration. The original intention was to honor individuals close to Kaiser at the time of Jubilees and other ceremonial occasions.
- This decoration could only be conferred on officers.
- The recipients’ family was allowed to keep the decoration.
- Makers marks for Rothe and Neffe, Alexander E. Kochert, The brothers Resch and Vincent Mayer and sons
- 1872-1922 800 silver small article hallmark
- 1890-1921 Vienna Assay Office mark
Design: A red and white enameled clawed cross
Obverse: Military Merit Cross Third Class with war decoration (September 23, 1914-1918): A clawed cross the arms of which are slightly curved and taper towards the center medallion. The upper arm has a flat stylizes wedge shaped eye with a grooved suspension ring passing through it. The arms of the cross have a 2 mm garnet-red enameled border. Inside of the border is a white enameled field. The center medallion also has a garnet-red enameled border inside of which is a 13 mm white enameled center medallion. On the center medallion in two lines is the inscription VER DIENST (For Merit) in silver. The cross has a 3 mm wide gold gilt laurel wreath passing between its arms (Figure 1).
Reverse: Military Merit Cross third class (September 22, 1914-1918): badges have a plain white enameled reverse with the attached wreath enameled green or in the same metal as the obverse. (Figure 2)
- Military Merit Cross third class with war decoration = 4 grams
- Military Merit Cross jeweled third class badges = 17.6 grams
Size: Military Merit Cross third class Badge: 31 mm in diameter. The arms of the cross are 15 mm in width at the end. The center medallion is 13 mm in diameter.
Type of Material:
- Silver and enamel
- Silver, jewels and enamel
- Type I: A cross as described above. (figure 1)
- Type II: As described above except it has an inscription on the back. These are presentation pieces. The inscriptions are privately added. (Figure 3)
- Type III: As described above except in gold and jeweled with diamonds and rubies and a white enameled reverse with the award date inscribed on the top and bottom arm and Franz Joseph’s monogram on the center medallion in gold. (Figure 4 and 5)
- Type IV: The same as Type I except the obverse inscription VER DIENST is an integral part of the obverse center medallion and not applied. (Figure 6)
- Third class badges in diamonds
- Rothe and Neffe
- Alexander E. Kochert
- Third class badges
- Rothe and Neffe
- Alexander E. Kochert
- Vincent Mayer and Sons
Number Issued: In World War I:
- Third Class Badges = Unknown
- A total of 4 jeweled third class badges were issued from 1914-1918.(3 with war decoration)
Ribbon: A 40 mm wide crimson and white-laddered war ribbon worn as a tri-fold ribbon for the third class insignia. After October 27, 1917 a small rectangular ribbon for this decoration was issued which sometimes had gilt swords. (Figure 8, 9 and 10)
- Swords were introduced on December 13, 1916 for awards given for bravery. (Figure 11)
- On February 8, 1918 multiple award bars were introduced for the Military Merit Cross third class. These gilt stainless steel trapezoid shaped bars designated a repeat award of the third class cross. Johann Zimbler of Vienna was the manufacturer of these bars which are engraved on the back with his logo.
- Second award = a bar 50 mm in length (top edge) and 8 mm wide. The bar bears swords when appropriate. (Figure 12 and 13)
- Third award = two bars: first bar is 50 mm in length at the top edge and the second bar is 40 mm in length (top edge) with both bars being 8 mm wide (Bars are spaced 20 mm apart). The top bar bears swords when appropriate. (Figure 14 and 15)
Miniature: Miniatures of this award exist (Figure 16, 17 and 18)
Image courtesy of Dorotheum
Note: Although there were no provisions in the regulations for wearing more than one Military Merit Cross third class, pictures exist of high ranking Austrian Officers, including Archdukes doing so. Thus this practice seems to have been accepted and probably was done to indicate that the recipient had won the Military Merit Cross third class for both combat and non-combatant service
This discussion of the Military Merit Cross third class completes the series of seven blogs on this decoration. If you wish to review the entire series please see the following blogs in addition to this one: Five Military Merit Crosses that Never Were, One Man, Two Unique Decorations, Military Merit Cross, First Issue 1849, Military Merit Cross, Second Issue, Military Merit Cross, first class and Military Merit Cross, second class.
I hope you have enjoyed the series on this decoration and I look forward to our next communication.