The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), or simply the Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz), and its variants were the highest awards in the military and paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany during World War II.
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded for a wide range of reasons and across all ranks, from a senior commander for skilled leadership of his troops in battle to a low-ranking soldier for a single act of extreme battlefield bravery. Presentations were made to members of the three military branches of the Wehrmacht (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe), as well as the Waffen-SS, the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD—Reich Labour Service) and the Volkssturm (German national militia), along with personnel from other Axis powers.
The award was instituted on 1 September 1939, at the onset of the German invasion of Poland. A higher grade, the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, was instituted in 1940. In 1941, two higher grades of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves were instituted: the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords and the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds). At the end of 1944 the final grade, the Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, was created.
Over 7,000 awards were made since its first presentation on 30 September 1939. Analysis of the German Federal Archives revealed evidence for 7,161 officially bestowed recipients. The German Federal Archives substantiate 863 awards of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, along with the 147 Swords and 27 Diamonds awards. The Golden Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross was verifiably awarded only once, to Hans-Ulrich Rudel on 29 December 1944.
Producer: Dan Morelle