The Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz)

The Knight’s 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.

The Knight’s 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 abolished.

Authority for 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. The final notable addition to the Knight’s Cross series were the diamonds (Brillanten)  instituted in July 1941.

                                                                         

Knight's Cross Winners of the 12th Infantry Division

   

Oberleutnant Martin Steglich

Martin 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.

During the 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.

On 13th July 1941 Steglich was awarded the wound badge in black.

During 1942 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.

In December 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.

On 23rd 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.

Oberleutnant 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.

The 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.

But the 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.

At 1000 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.

By the 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.

After heavy 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.

Now that 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.

His heroic 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.

A two day-long severe crisis was resolved through the independent determination of Oberleutnant Steglich.

 

The award of the Ritterkreuz was sanctioned by Hitler on 25th January 1943.

On 4th 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.

On 5th 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.

 

Other Ritterkreuz winners of the 12th Infantry Division

Generalmajor Walther Kurt von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Commander 12th Infantry Division, awarded 15th August 1940, also later awarded the oakleaves.

Oberst Kurt-Jurgen von Lutzow, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 15th August 1940, also later awarded the oakleaves.

Major Ernst Seifert, 48th Heavy Artillery Regiment, awarded 29th September 1940.

Oberleutnant Heinrich Stenzel, 12th Reconnaissance Battalion, awarded 22nd December 1941.

Oberleutnant Otto Benzin, 89th Infantry Regiment, Awarded 31st December 1941.

Oberfeldwebel Heinrich Reinke, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 9th January 1942.

Stabsfeldwebel Klaus Breger, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 4th September 1942. Also later awarded the oakleaves.

Hauptmann Heinrich Rossbach, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 12th December 1942.

Unteroffizier Franz Kreuzer, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 15th January 1943

Oberleutnant Kurt Klinger, 89th Infantry Regiment, Awarded 19th January 1943

Hauptmann Heinz-Georg Lemm, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 14th April 1943. Also later awarded the oakleaves and swords.

Oberst Busso von Wedel, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 18th May 1943.

Hauptmann Siegfreid Moldenhauser, 48th Infantry Regiment, awarded 20th January 1944.

Hauptmann Gerhard Kruse, 48th Infantry Regiment, awarded 23rd February 1944. Also later awarded the oakleaves.

Hauptmann Werner Lindhorst, 89th Infantry Regiment, awarded 23rd February 1944.

Hauptmann Klaus Simon, 89th Grenadier Regiment, awarded 23rd February 1944.

Feldwebel Friedrich Kluschat, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 12th March 1944

Unteroffizier Fritz Kropp, 48th Infantry Regiment, awarded 12th March 1944.

Major Wilhelm Osterhold, 27th Infantry Regiment, awarded 26th March 1944, also later awarded the oakleaves.

Hauptmann Karl Oepke, 12th Artillery Regiment, awarded 16th April 1944.

Sources:

feldgrau.com

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