Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz)
Cross has no direct equivalent in the British or American military. It could be
earned by a single act of gallantry or it could be awarded to a senior officer
for the successful command of his unit during a campaign or battle.
Cross was added to the Iron Cross series of awards in 1939 in order to fill the
large gap between the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Grand Cross. Prior
to 1918 this had been filled by the Prussian ‘Pour le Merite’, the
House order of Hohenzollern and the Military Max-Joseph Order but these had been
the award of the Knight’s Cross could only come from Hitler himself. However,
in extreme circumstances it could be delegated to corps commander level.
The Knight’s Cross was basically the same design as the Iron Cross but was larger. It was worn at the neck on a long Iron Cross ribbon. Winners of the Knight’s Cross (Ritterkreuztraeger – ‘Knight’s Cross wearers’) often wore the Iron Cross 2nd Class in its place prior to the official award ceremony or in combat. Over 7,000 Knight’s Crosses were awarded during the war.
In June 1940
the Oakleaves (Eichenlaub) were instituted to recognise additional acts
of bravery in combat after the Knight’s Cross had been awarded. During WW2 the
Oakleaves were awarded 882 times. The next addition were the Swords (Schwerten)
which were worn with the Oakleaves in
June 1941. The swords were awarded on 159 occasions.
Cross Winners of the 12th Infantry Division
Oberleutnant Martin Steglich
Steglich was born in Breslau on 16th July 1915. At 21 he joined the
27th Infantry Regiment in Rostock and was commissioned as Leutnant
on 1st April 1939.
campaign in Poland Steglich received the EKII on 12th
September 1939. On 27th July 1940 he received the EKI for his
gallantry and leadership during the French campaign in which he also received
the Infantry Assault badge.
July 1941 Steglich was awarded the wound badge in black.
the German 2nd Corps had been cut off and surrounded by Soviet forces
in the Demjansk area. The 12th Infantry Division was the major
component in the relief force that after heavy fighting broke through. For his
part in this action Steglich was awarded the German Cross in Gold and promoted
to Oberleutnant in October.
1942 Steglich was in command of the 1st Company of Infantry Regiment
89 that at the time was attached to the 123rd Infantry Division. On
23rd December there was a large Russian attack on their positions
near Zemena. The following is a full report from the Regimental commander of
Martin Steglich’s actions.
December 1942 at 1030 hours, Oberleutnant Steglich received a message that the
Russians, in unknown strength, had broken through the neighbouring battalion.
Several positions in the front line had been cleared and the anti-tank guns
knocked out. All telegraphic connections between the neighbouring units and the
Regiment had been shot away. Enemy jamming of the radio also prevented
communication by this method.
Steglich, completely on his own initiative, determined with all available means
to clear out the enemy intrusion into the neighbouring sector and somehow
re-establish contact with the rear and with the supporting artillery.
assembled assault group quickly set off on the march. Meanwhile the message
arrived that the enemy was attacking the command post of the neighbouring
Battalion. The Battalion commander, his messengers and clerks were engaged in
hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. Now there was no possibility of
communications and only by the independent intervention of Oberleutnant Steglich,
could there be any chance of halting the breakthrough and destroying the enemy.
Russian attack didn’t slacken. Steglich was indefatigable in his efforts to
bring order out of chaos and strengthen the defences in the badly shot up and
burnt front line positions. The enemy probed ever nearer, supported by
thundering artillery salvoes. With no thought of rest Steglich, with unshakeable
calm and composure, set a great example to his tired troops, worn out after
weeks of continuous combat. Hardly had the night passed when he realised by the
sudden increase in intensity of the enemy artillery barrage that the enemy was
about to make a further attempt, at any cost, to throw the Germans out of their
positions and press on with their breakthrough.
hours on 24th December, Steglich was advised that there had been a
direct hit on the command post of Hauptmann Buehne, the commander of the
neighbouring Battalion and Buehne was dead. Steglich immediately assumed
responsibility for the sector and moved his own command post to the post of the
neighbouring Battalion to ensure better control.
forenoon, Steglich had made all the preparations he could to defend against the
enemy assault. By early evening, things looked very serious very serious as a
large number of enemy tanks had appeared and were shelling the front line
positions. Wild defeatist rumours started which Steglich quickly quelled with
both encouragements and threats of disciplinary action.
casualties, by the evening one position was in enemy hands. All through the
night, after all available anti-tank weapons had been used up, the bitter
struggle continued. Meanwhile Rittmeister Besler had the anti-tank defence under
control and on the early morning of the 25th had managed to bring up
a heavy anti-tank gun.
his defences were more secure, Steglich was ready to launch a counter attack.
With loud cheers, Oberleutnant Steglich stormed forward at the head of his men
and closed the gap between the two units.
bravery and acceptance of responsibility, witnessed by his decisive actions in
knocking out the enemy tanks and succeeding in the counter attack, secured the
front line. At the crucial moment Steglich was on his own. Thanks to Steglich
communications were established between the Division and Artillery commander.
day-long severe crisis was resolved through the independent determination of
The award of
the Ritterkreuz was sanctioned by Hitler on 25th January 1943.
May 1944, Hauptmann Steglich was awarded the Demjansk shield and the
Close Combat Clasp in bronze. Steglich then attended a course for battalion
commanders followed by training as a staff officer and regimental commander.
Promoted to Major
in April 1944, Steglich became commander of 1221st Infantry Regiment,
180th Infantry Division. Steglich was awarded the silver Wound Badge
in March 1945 and promoted to Oberstleutnant.
April Steglich was awarded the oakleaves to the Knight’s Cross due to his
outstanding leadership and the personal example he set to his men. Martin
Steglich was taken prisoner by the Americans and released in August 1945.
Ritterkreuz winners of the 12th Infantry Division
Walther Kurt von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Commander 12th Infantry Division,
awarded 15th August 1940, also later awarded the oakleaves.
von Lutzow, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 15th August
1940, also later awarded the oakleaves.
Seifert, 48th Heavy Artillery Regiment, awarded 29th
Heinrich Stenzel, 12th
Reconnaissance Battalion, awarded 22nd December 1941.
Otto Benzin, 89th Infantry Regiment, Awarded 31st December
Heinrich Reinke, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 9th
Klaus Breger, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 4th
September 1942. Also later awarded the oakleaves.
Heinrich Rossbach, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 12th
Franz Kreuzer, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 15th
Kurt Klinger, 89th Infantry Regiment, Awarded 19th January
Heinz-Georg Lemm, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 14th
April 1943. Also later awarded the oakleaves and swords.
Busso von Wedel, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 18th May
Siegfreid Moldenhauser, 48th Infantry Regiment, awarded 20th
Gerhard Kruse, 48th Infantry Regiment, awarded 23rd
February 1944. Also later awarded the oakleaves.
Werner Lindhorst, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 23rd
Klaus Simon, 89th Grenadier Regiment, awarded 23rd
Friedrich Kluschat, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 12th
Fritz Kropp, 48th Infantry Regiment, awarded 12th March
Wilhelm Osterhold, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 26th
March 1944, also later awarded the oakleaves.
Hauptmann Karl Oepke, 12th Artillery Regiment, awarded 16th April 1944.
Williamson G. Infantry Aces of the Reich, 1991, Cassell
Williamson G. Knights of the Iron Cross, 1987, Blandford
Lumsden R. Medals and Decorations of Hitler's Germany, 2001, Airlife