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Abzeichen der Georgischen Legion, a.k.a. Orden der Heiligen Tamara

Badge of the Georgian Legion, a.k.a. Order of St.Tamara

History of this insufficiently known obscure award originates in the early 1916 when the second commander of the Georgian Legion (Georgische Legion) Leutnant Horst Schliephack decided to introduce a badge to be issued to the military personnel of his unit for merits in the field. It took him nearly a year to design a Badge of the Georgian Legion (Abzeichen der Georgischen Legion) that initially was supposed to have one class only.

According to original draft the Badge had a shape of eight-pointed light-coloured star  with a central black enameled round medallion bearing gilt image of a famous Georgian Queen regnant Tamar (1166-1209/1213) of the Bagrationi dynasty. Bust of a dominant figure in the Georgian historical pantheon was slightly turned to the right. Medallion was rimmed by a wide red enameled ring with the Georgian inscription in gilt letters, “Karthuli Legioni”, i.e. “Georgian Legion” and a date the unit was raised, “1915”. Three colours, black, wine-red and stylized white represented colour scheme of a Georgian flag where black stood for Russian oppression, white for hope for peace and wine-red for golden age of a nation.

Silk 26 mm wide ribbon was red and had central 14 mm wide and 1 mm thick black stripes running horizontally with 1-15,5 mm interval.

Trial lot of silver badges according to Horst Schliephack’s design was manufactured by Berlin-based jewelry company “J.Godet & Sohn A.G.”. Those sample badges that turned out to be a real masterpiece of a jeweller’s art were gilt and enameled. The only problem that prevented badges from line production was their relatively high cost due to fine detailed drafting.

Eve of 1917 saw Horst Schliephack appealing to governing body of the Committee of Independent Georgia to make a Badge of the Georgian Legion an all-Georgian decoration issued by that political organization.

Following a history of award needs a little digression into the history of the above mentioned structure. The Committee of Independent Georgia aka the Georgian Committee was formed in 1914 in Geneva by Georgian national-democrats who fled Russian Empire to neutral Switzerland thus avoiding persecution by the Tsarist authorities. After the Great War broke out the Georgian Committee that adhered to its pro-German and candidly anti-Russian position moved to Berlin. There it was put under the guidance of Louis Mosel, chargé d'affaires of the German Empire in Istanbul and continued its struggle for a Georgian independence under the German protectorate. According to their architects military uprising in the Caucasus was the only way to achieve that goal.

Shortly after resettlement in Berlin the Committee of Independent Georgia take the lead in formation of 20,000 strong “Georgian Legion” intended for partisan and sabotage activities in the Russian rear as well as for direct combat with regular Russian troops. Idealistic targets nurtured by émigrés were frustrated though by an overwhelming reluctance of Georgian POWs to choose the tricky path of collaboration. Such an unexpected development led to formation of a well equipped but low morale small unit recruited mostly from Georgian Muslims who originated from the Ottoman Lazistan. Lazistan-born former revolutionary and journalist Dr.Leo Kereselidze (1885-1944) who obtained a PhD degree from the University of Geneva was appointed the first commander of the 300 men strong Georgian Legion that was attached to the Ottoman unit Stanke Bey. Long expected baptism of fire turned into an utter defeat as the unit was shattered by the Siberian Cossack Brigade, lost its ammunition and equipment.

Thunderstruck Berlin authorities removed Dr.Leo Kereselidze in the short run and Leutnant Horst Schliephack took over. Operative management was changed as well and the Georgian Committee was put under the guidance of the former German consul in Tiflis Werner-Friedrich Graf von der Schulenburg (20.11.1875-10.11.1944). It’s worth mentioning here that Graf von der Schulenburg held the post of the German ambassador to the USSR in 1934-1941.

Having completed that necessary historical digression let’s return to the main subject of an article. Initiative of Horst Schliephack was supported by leaders of the Georgian Committee and as a result Abzeichen der Georgischen Legion was officially instituted in two classes.

The badge initially designed by Horst Schliephack in 1916 had been considered the Badge of the Georgian Legion, 1st Class. Its breast star measured 88 mm in diameter with a central 33 mm medallion. The Badge of the Georgian Legion, 2nd Class that was awarded to NCOs and other ranks was smaller in size (71-72 mm for a star and 27,5 mm for a medallion) and had more simple design, without enamel and gilt finish. Abzeichen der Georgischen Legion was pinned to a lower part of a tunic by vertical pin and hook soldered to its reverse.  

Badges of both classes were manufactured by Berlin-based companies, 1st Class by “J.Godet & Sohn A.G.” while 2nd by “Erste Berliner Fahnen-, Fahnennagel-, Abzeichen-, Orden-, Ordensband- und Scharenfabrik Paul Küst”.

Colourful award documents produced by a still undetermined printing office were edged with a Georgian ornament and contained an image of a badge on top. Typical acknowledgement printed text in Georgian read as follows: “In commemoration of service rendered for the benefit of our common concern you are afforded an honour of being decorated with the Honourable Badge of the Georgian Legion. The Badge is worn on the lower part of the left breast”. Class of a decoration wasn’t mentioned in award document though. Awardee’s particulars, i.e. his name, last name, military rank or position were endorsed between an image of a badge and foregoing text. Lower left portion had a seal bearing inscription “Georgian Democratic Party. Overseas Committee” while lower right one was reserved for signatures of chairman, secretary and eminent members of the Committee of Independent Georgia.

As for the Georgian Legion its fate was unenviable but predictable: after being redeployed to Romania its contingent was accommodated at a transit camp near Cotroceni and the unit was finally disbanded for ruining confidence of the German high command. Several holders of the Abzeichen der Georgischen Legion joined German army afterwards.

Revolution that broke out in Germany in November 1918 led to creation of soldiers’ deputies councils and those structures penetrating German Army group in the Caucasus appealed to Zakhari Mdivani (05.09.1867 – 18.04.1933), the Minister of War of the newly formed Democratic Republic of Georgia (DRG) to decorate German military personnel stationed in Georgia with the Badge of the Georgian Legion, or Order of St.Tamara as it was generally known by that time. However, DRG authorities refused to adopt any decorations regarding them as a useless legacy of the past. Architects of the Weimar Republic incidentally shared same views. Nevertheless Georgians demonstrated unwillingness to damage relationship with their German allies and that factor led to adoption of a formal bureaucratic decision.

Thus on December 12, 1918 the Minister of War Zakhari Mdivani signed an order No.5352 made in Georgian and German that read as follows: “An Order of St.Tamara is conferred on all the officers and other ranks of the German Army group in the Caucasus accommodated in Georgia after November 04, 1918 for their services for Georgia” (“Für die Verdienste in Georgien wird hiermit den Offizieren und Mannschaften der deutschen Truppen in Kaukasus die nach dem 4.November 1918 in Georgien verblieben sind, das Recht zugesprochen, den Orden der Heiligen Tamara zu tragen”).

Ironically DRG authorities and Zakhari Mdivani in particular bore no relation to an award in question, i.e. a certain non-existent “Order of St.Tamara” as the Badge of the Georgian Legion meant between the lines in the Order No.5352 had been originally instituted by an absolutely different structure, viz. Georgian Committee. Moreover DRG government neither recognized nor instituted its own awards. Thereby Zakhari Mdivani not only approved issuance of non-existent decoration illegitimately but also failed to provide description of an Order and its ribbon. Summing up it’s worth mentioning that as soon as an “Order of St.Tamara” did never exist officially, neither badge nor award documents could have been manufactured in DRG and no legitimate investiture could have ever taken place.

Exact number of German military personnel who had been decorated with an Order of St.Tamara or rather who had been issued with award documents for further private purchase remains unknown. Available figures that appear in different sources vary from 1,500 to 3,000 but absence of an official  roll makes all allegations inadequate. Hereon the second part of the story on the Badge of the Georgian Legion aka Order of St.Tamara comes to its end.

Further inquiry of this obscure decoration needs another digression into the history of Georgia.

The Genoa Conference that was held from April 10 till May 19, 1922 in Genoa (Italy) was the venue of proclamation of memorandum by the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ambrosius (Besarion Khelaia, 07.09.1861-29.03.1927). The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church known for his anticommunist ideas protested in the name of the people of Georgia against the Bolshevik occupation and demanded restoration of independence and cessation of atrocities. Hope for independence that loomed shortly after his memorandum has led to termination of interparty squabbles, and as a result a new underground coalition was created in May 1922. That anti-Soviet organization, “Committee for Independence of Georgia” or “Parity Committee” was commonly known as “Damkom” (short for Damoukideblobis Komiteti).

The Parity Committee united representatives of five political parties: former ruling Social Democrats (Mensheviks), National Democrats, Social Revolutionaries, Social Federalists as well as independent Social Democrats from the Skhivi (“Beam”) Party. Each of those parties had its assignee in the Parity Committee that was traditionally chaired by a Social Democrat, or  Menshevik.

Decoration of those who could assist in revival of national awareness was considered an effective measure of a newly formed organization and widely known Order of St.Tamara had been chosen as an official award of the Parity Committee in 1922. No documents regulating an institution of that award are known and its doubtful they ever existed.

Custom-made badges were ordered by the Parity Committee in the beginning of 1920s. Their design was similar to that of the above described Badge of the Georgian Legion but eight-pointed breast stars were made of precious metals and encrusted with diamonds. As for the central medallion it was blue enameled but existence of white enameled medallion is provided by photographic evidence.

Two variants of an Order of St.Tamara are known to exist: 95 mm breast star with two diamond rings and 78 mm star with one diamond ring. Nevertheless there’s no documentary proof of existence of two classes of that decoration though difference in size and design is obvious. Production by various manufacturers seems to be the most probable explanation but again no documentary proof of any placement of order has ever been found. Even information on manufacturers of that decoration is shrouded in mystery, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and France (Paris-based “Arthus-Bertrand” or “Baqueville”) being prevailing leads. Exact number of awardees remains unknown as well.

Roots of the third and penultimate incarnation of the badge in question can be traced back to December 1941 when a WWII-era Georgian Legion had been created from the cadre of Georgian refugees who fled to Western Europe after 1921 and Georgian POWs.

Georgian Legion which aimed, at least in theory, restoration of an independence of Georgia from the USSR was raised on February 08, 1942 but efforts to restore an Order of St.Tamara were made in December 1941. It was then that Shalva Maglakelidze (1893-1976), former Governor-General of Tiflis and future commander of the Legion together with another prominent Georgian Mihako Zereteli (23.12.1878-02.03.1965) placed an order with Berlin-based manufacturer “J.Godet & Sohn A.G.” for a lot of respective badges. Exact number of decorations remains unknown though.

A ribbon of WWII-era Order was slightly different from that of an original badge: 26 mm wide wine red ribbon had central 14 mm wide and 1 mm thick black (instead of white) stripes running horizontally with 1-15,5 mm interval.

Thereby four versions of that decoration existed throughout its nearly 30 years old history, viz.:

1. A Badge of the Georgian Legion, 1st and 2nd class issued in 1917 ex parte the Committee of Independent Georgia.
2. An Order of Saint Tamara, illegitimately established in 1918 by Zakhari Mdivani, the War Minister of Democratic Republic of Georgia.
3. An Order of Saint Tamara, restored in 1922 by the Parity Committee. 
4. An Order of Saint Tamara, restored in 1941 by Shalva Maglakelidze, the future commander of the Georgian Legion.

An article won’t be as complete as it was planned without mentioning post-WWII version of the badge, namely “Der königlich-georgische Orden der Königin Thamar” instituted by the Georgian Royal House in exile. It can be easily distinguished by a crown situated at the upper part of the star.

The author thanks Konstantin Nikolaev (Russia), a military historian, an author and a renowned expert on Freikorps decorations for providing an extract from his new book “Commemorative Badge of the Georgian Legion and Order of St.Tamara”. 

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Thamar Orden