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War Medal was instituted by the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Franz Joseph I (18.08.1830-21.11.1916) on December 02, 1873, i.e. on the day the celebrations in conjunction with the 25th jubilee of his enthronement were held. Initially Kriegsmedaille was awarded to servicemen on active military service who entered the Army since December 02, 1848, the day the head of the Dual Monarchy ascended to the Austrian throne, and who participated in at least one battle since that year. Eligible actions included the following.
- First Italian War of Independence (1848-1849).
- Suppression of the Hungarian Uprising (1848-1849).
- Austro-Sardinian War, or Second Italian War of Independence (1859).
- Campaigns in Schleswig and Jütland during the Second Schleswig War (1864).
- Campaigns in Bohemia and South Germany during the Austro-Prussian War (1866).
- Campaign in Tyrol during the Austro-Prussian War (1866).
- Suppression of the insurrection in South Dalmatia (1869).
Holders of the following Austrian medals were automatically eligible for decoration with the Kriegsmedaille: Commemorative Medal for Defence of Tyrol 1848 (Denkmünze an die Tiroler Landesverteidigung von 1848), Commemorative Medal for the 1864 Military Campaign against Denmark (Erinnerungs-Medaille an den Feldzug 1864 gegen Dänemark), Commemorative Medal for Defence of Tyrol 1866 (Denkmünze an die Tiroler Landesverteidigung von 1866) and Prague Home Guard Medal 1866 (Prager Bürgerwehrmedaille von 1866).
Statute of the Kriegsmedaille was changed later on and it was made a decoration for military personnel who took part in subsequent campaigns. Thus, War Medal was awarded in 1878-1880 to participants of Bosnia-Herzegovina annexation in compliance with the concordant clause of the Congress of Berlin. Thereupon Kriegsmedaille was issued to those who took part in suppression of the insurrections in Bosnia-Herzegovina and South Dalmatia in 1882. The last official record of decoration with the War Medal was dated 1900-1901 when it was issued to personnel of the 75 men strong Austro-Hungarian Expeditionary Corps that was sent to China to put down the Boxer Rebellion as a part of the Eight-Nation Alliance. The latter comprised of Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan and the USA.
However, some sources indicate that Kriegsmedaille was issued twice even later: in 1909 to holders of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Commemorative Medal (Bosnisch-Herzegowinische Erinnerungsmedaille) and in 1912-1913 to holders of Commemorative Cross 1912-1913 (Erinnerungskreuz 1912-1913).
An obverse showed laurelled bust of Franz Joseph I facing right and circumscribed with 5 mm capital letters “Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia, etc., Apostolic King of Hungary”. An inscription is separated by a small six-pointed or, rarely, five-pointed star at the bottom. Two types of an obverse are known to exist, differing in spelling of the words “Emperor”, “Austria”, “King” and “Bohemia”: “Franz Josef I. Kaiser v.Österreich König v.Böhmen etc. Apost. König v.Ungarn” and “Franz Josef I. Kais. v.Oesterreich Koenig v.Boehm. etc. Apost. Koenig v.Ungarn”. Type of spelling, i.e. utilization of diacritic letters with umlaut or digraphs, depended on linguistic preferences. Thus, the former were characteristic of the German language, while the latter to the Latin. Most medals had thin inner ring just below that inscription, while some lacked it.
A reverse bore the date of institution of Kriegsmedaille, “2.December 1873” executed in three rows in capital letters and encircled by a wreath made of olive branch at the left and of oak branch at the right. The wreath is tied with a ribbon at the bottom. Once again, two types of the medal differed in the spelling of the date: “2.December 1873” (Latin) and “2.Dezember 1873” (German). The latter type is less common, in fact and is said to be manufactured after 1900. Slight variations differing in a shape of “2” (straight and fashioned numerals) are known to exist as well.
Thereby, on the basis of combination of “German” and “Latin” letters three variations of Kriegsmedaille could be marked out: “Latin” obverse and reverse, “German” obverse and reverse, “German” obverse and “Latin” reverse.
Quite unusual type of the War Medal had no image on its reverse at all, save for chequered surface. Those medals dating beginning of the XX century were produced for wearing by officers with white summer tunics. Absence of an image at reverse precluded inevitable rubbing of metal against cloth, thus leaving tunic clean and preventing dark indelible stains. In fact, reverse was made attachable and was manufactured of nonmetal material, e.g. Bakelite. Patent for that invention was issued to the Belgian chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland (14.11.1863-23.02.1944) in 1909.
In most cases the edge of Kriegsmedaille was plain, though some specimen bore mintmarks, e.g. “J*Z” and “K*M”.
As the War Medal was manufactured for half a century, from 1873 till 1920s and the number of awards was quite numerous, many variations of Kriegsmedaille existed. They differed in size, weight, metal, shape of ring, presence of mintmarks, as well as in slight distinctions of obverse and reverse design.
Kriegsmedaille had a circular shape, measured 36-37,5 mm in diameter and was made either of gilt bronze or gilt bronzed zinc.
The War Medal was worn suspended from a traditional triangular silk ribbon of “Habsburg colors”: 40 mm wide yellow ribbon with two black 4,5 mm wide stripes closer to both edges and 22 mm long thin horizontal black stripes in-between.
To make an article complete, table medal of the similar design is worth being mentioned here. It was manufactured of light bronze and was 37 mm in diameter.