The history of Prussian awards for combat-related action for NCO’s and soldiers is rather complex.
Of course, during the Napoleonic Wars, the 1870/71 war against France, and during the World War (1914-1918), the Iron Cross 1st Class and 2nd Class were the primary awards for combat-related action for NCO’s and soldiers. During other conflicts however, when the Iron Cross was not awarded, the Prussian Military Merit Medal, and later the Military Honor Awards (1st and 2nd Class) were utilized.
To add to the complexity, the Golden Military Merit Cross (Goldene Militär-Verdienstkreuz) was also awarded from 1864 through 1918, and was the highest award by Prussia to NCO’s during the World War (1914-1918).
From 1793 through 1814 there were two (2) coinages of the Military Merit Medal (Militär-Verdienstmedaille) awarded in both gold and silver. From 1814 through 1847 the Military Honor Award 1st Class (Militär-Ehrenzeichen I. Klasse) was awarded as a cross, and the Military Honor Award 2nd Class (Militär-Ehrenzeichen II. Klasse) was awarded as a medal. From 1848 through 1864 there was yet another coinage of the Military Honor Award 1st Class (Militär-Ehrenzeichen I. Klasse) cross, and from 1847 through 1864 there was yet another coinage of the Military Honor Award 2nd Class (Militär-Ehrenzeichen II. Klasse) medal.
We will focus however on the two (2) types of Prussian Military Honor Award 2nd Class (Preußen Militär-Ehrenzeichen II. Klasse) that were awarded after February 27, 1864.
The Prussian Military Honor Award 2nd Class was a round silver medal 40mm in diameter. On the obverse was the inscription: “KRIEGS/ VERDIENST” surrounded by a laurel wreath bound with a bow at the bottom. On the reverse was the crowned cipher “W R” (Wilhelm I). According to Hessenthal und Schreiber, the medal weighed 22 grams. However, this author has an example of the later-type medal that weighs 23 grams. For combatants, the medal was worn suspended from a 35 mm wide black ribbon with two (2) 7.5 mm-wide white side-stripes, each 2mm from the edge of the ribbon. For non-combatants, the medals was worn suspended from a 35 mm-wide white ribbon with two (2) 7.5 mm-wide black side-stripes, each 2mm from the edge of the ribbon. Note that these ribbons were the of the same color and design as those utilized for the Iron Cross 2nd Class.
The Prussian Military Honor Award 2nd Class was first awarded during the 1864 German-Danish War (Deutsch-Dänischer Krieg) and 1866 Austro-Prussian War (Österreichisch-preussischer Krieg) conflicts. The pieces awarded during those conflicts had a piece of semi-flat-section stock which was formed into a loop and soldered to the top rim of the medal to form a suspension eyelet.
The later pieces (awarded after approximately 1890) had a suspension eyelet consisting of round-section stock which was formed into a loop and soldered to the top rim of the medal. As seen in Figure 1 and in Figure 2, the 1864 to ~1890 medal suspension loops were rather thin and were therefore prone to deformation and breakage. This may be a reason why the suspension loop was changed on the post-1890 awarded medals. These later pieces were awarded during the various Colonial conflicts (i.e. DSWA) and China-Expedition.
Various period copies of this award are known to exist struck from different dies. These copies may be found struck in silver and in bronze which was silver-plated. These copies may also have various forms of suspension such as a traditional eyelet soldered to the top of the medal through which passes a ribbon ring in the same plane as the medal’s planchet. These copies were available for private-purchase through various firms and were not officially awarded.
As researched by Sascha Wöschler of Karlsruhe, per research data compiled by the late OMSA member Eric Ludvigsen, there were approximately 9,400 awards made of the earlier type of medal (awarded 1864 to ~1890), and there were approximately 6,800 awards made of the later type of medal (awarded after ~1890). There were thus a total of 16,157 awards made. The earlier type medals are seldom encountered, as per statute, they were returnable upon the death of the recipient.
This award is therefore relatively uncommon when compared to the millions of Prussian Iron Cross awards made during the World War (1914-1918). This plain-looking award is thus often unjustifiably under-appreciated by most collectors.
Thank you for your interest in this article. Comments are welcome.
- Hessenthal, Waldemar Hesse Edlen von und Schreiber, Georg. Die tragbaren Ehrenzeichen des Deutschen Reiches. Verlag Uniformen-Markt Otto Dietrich. Berlin, 1940.
- Heyden, Hermann von. Ehren-Zeichen (Kriegs-Denkzeichen, Verdienst- und Dienstalters-Zeichen) der erloschenen und blühen- den Staaten Deutschlands und Österreich-Ungarns. Kommissions-Verlag von Brückner & Renner, Herzogl. Hofbuchhandlung. Meiningen, 1897.