Grand Cross to the Iron Cross (1939)
The Highest German Decoration of WWII
By Stephen Sherman, Nov. 2008. Updated July 15, 2011.
The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Grosskreuz des Eidernen Kreuzes), which existed since the inception of the Iron Cross, was reinstituted on September 1, 1939.
Like the Knight's Cross, the Grand Cross was also worn suspended from the collar. The only recipient of the Grand Cross during the Second World War was Hermann Göring, who was awarded the decoration on July 19, 1940. The medal was a larger version of the Knight's Cross, with the same overall characteristics, but was 63mm wide as opposed to about 44mm for the Iron Cross and 48.5mm for the Knight's Cross. It was originally intended to have outer edges lined in gold, but this was changed to silver before presentation.
The Grand Cross was worn with a 57mm wide ribbon bearing the same colors as the Knights Cross and 2nd Class ribbons. The award case was in red leather, with the eagle and the swastika outlined in gold.
The Grand Cross was not a bravery award. It was reserved for General Staff officers who made "the most outstanding strategic decisions affecting the course of the war".
The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross originally was a decoration intended for victorious generals of the Prussian Army and its allies. The 1813 version was awarded to five men for their service during the Napoleonic Wars; the 1870 version to nine commanders for the Franco-Prussian War; and the 1914 version to five German generals who served in World War One.
Hermann Göring received the Grand Cross for his command of the Luftwaffe during the successful 1940 campaign against France, Belgium, and Holland (at the same time as he was promoted to Reich Marshall of the Greater German Reich).
The original Grand Cross that was presented to Göring (personally by Adolf Hitler) was destroyed during an air raid in his Berlin home. Göring had extra copies made, one of them with a platinum frame which he was wearing at the time of his surrender to the allies in 1945.
Several times in official photographs, Göring, never a man for understatement, can be seen wearing his Pour le Mérite, his Knights Cross, and Grand Cross around his neck at the same time.