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Argonnen-Kreuz

Argonne Cross

Argonne Cross was instituted by one of the myriad veterans associations that mushroomed in the Weimar Republic. Exactly that one in question was based in Saxony and carried quite intricate name: Honorary Union of the Saxon World War Participants, Registered Association Comradeship of the German East and West Front Fighters (Ehrenbund Sächsischer Weltkriegteilnehmer e.V. [eingetragener Verein] Kameradschaftsbund Deutscher Ost- und Westfrontkämpfer). As it can easily be seen from the full name founders of that union stressed that an association had a status of a legally registered noncommercial organization.

Argonne Cross was issued to commemorate participation of German soldiers in one of the most important battles fought during the 1918 campaign at the final stage of the Great War, that at the Argonne forest (referred to as Forêt d’Argonne in French and Argonnerwald in German) from September 26 till October 13, 1918. German forces showed bravery in the field opposing superior units of Entente allies that consisted of British, French and American detachments.

It’s worth mentioning here that the place of that bloody battle was already known if not to the whole Europe but undoubtedly to the German society as it was popularized two years before autumn hostilities broke out. It was German sapper Hermann Albert von Gordon (1878-1939) who created a poem and presumably a melody of “Argonnerwald-Lied” in 1915. After being included in the poetry digest “Verse from Argonne” (“Verse aus den Argonnen”) published in 1916 by another war veteran Max Barthel (17.11.1893-17.06.1975) in Jena the poem went viral all across the fighting Germany. Moreover it became one of the signature German marching songs long after the Great War has ended, i.e. during Weimar and later Third Reich era. It is also known as “Argonne Forest in Midnight” (“Argonnerwald um Mitternacht”) and “Song of Sappers” (either “Pionierlied” or “Lied der Pioniere”). Popularity of that song was immense to such a degree that opponents from both sides of political divide used its lyrics and melody to propagate their own ideology. That was the case of German communists as well as of national-socialists.

Here’s an original text of that poem.

 

Argonnenkreuz 3

1. Argonnerwald, um Mitternacht…
Ein Pionier stand auf der Wacht.
Ein Sternlein hoch am Himmel stand,
Bringt ihm 'nen Gruß aus fernem Heimatland.
2. Und mit dem Spaten in der Hand
Er vorne in der Sappe stand.
Mit Sehnsucht denkt er an sein Lieb:
Ob er sie wohl noch einmal wiedersieht?
3. Und donnernd dröhnt die Artill'rie.
Wir stehen vor der Infantrie.
Granaten schlagen bei uns ein,
Der Franzmann will in unsere Stellung 'rein.
4. Er frug nicht warum und nicht wie,
Tat seine Pflicht wie alle sie.
In keinem Liede ward´s gehört,
Ob er geblieben oder heimgekehrt.
5. Bedroht der Feind uns noch so sehr,
Wir Deutsche fürchten ihn nicht mehr.
Und ob er auch so stark mag sein,
In unsere Stellung kommt er doch nicht 'rein.
6. Der Sturm bricht los, die Mine kracht,
Der Pionier gleich vorwärts macht.
Bis an den Feind macht er sich ran
Und zündet dann die Handgranate an.

7. Die Infantrie steht auf der Wacht,
Bis daß die Handgranate kracht,
Geht dann mit Sturm bis an den Feind,
Mit Hurra nimmt sie dann die Stellung ein.
8. Der Franzmann ruft: “Pardon Monsieur!”
Hebt beide Hände in die Höh,
Er fleht uns dann um Gnade an,
Die wir als Deutsche ihm gewähren dann.
9. Bei diesem Sturm viel Blut auch floß,
Manch junges Leben hat's gekost´.
Wir Deutsche aber halten stand,
Für das geliebte, teure Vaterland.
10. Argonnerwald, Argonnerwald,
Ein stiller Friedhof wirst du bald!
In deiner kühlen Erde ruht
So manches tapfere Soldatenblut.
11. Und komm' ich einst zur Himmelstür,
Ein Engel Gottes steht dafür:
Argonnerkämpfer, tritt herein,
Hier soll für dich der ew'ge Friede sein.
12. Du Pionier um Mitternacht,
Heut' steht ganz Deutschland auf der Wacht.
In Treue fest, im Wollen rein,
Als eine neue starke Wacht am Rhein !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Key translation is posted here to facilitate comprehension of patriotic and melancholic mood of the poetry and impact it had on the German society and especially on millions of veterans all across the country.

Argonne forest at midnight, 
A sapper stands on guard. 
A star shines high up in the sky 
Bringing greetings from a distant homeland. 
And with a spade in his hand 
He waits forward in the sap-trench. 
He thinks with longing on his love, 
Wondering if he will ever see her again. 
The artillery roars like thunder 
While we wait in front of the infantry, 
With shells crashing all around, 
The Frenchies want to take our position. 
Should the enemy threaten us even more, 
We Germans fear him no more.

And should he be so strong,
He will not take our position.
The storm breaks! The mortar crashes!
The sapper begins his advance
Forward to the enemy trenches,
There he pulls the pin on a grenade.
The infantry stands in wait
Until the hand grenade explodes.
Then forward with the assault against the enemy,
And with a shout, break into their position.
Argonne forest, Argonne forest,
Soon thou will be a quiet cemetery.
In thy cool earth rests
Much gallant soldiers’ blood.

Let’s get back to the subject though. Argonne Cross had a shape of an equilateral cross with quite narrow arms and rounded edges. Round medallion was superimposed on a centre of the cross. An obverse had arms of the cross enameled black at the edge and dark red at its centre separated by thin silver lines. A half round inscription “Argonnen” executed in silver capital letters was running at the top of the central medallion accompanied by the dates of the Great War, “1914 1918” placed in two rows beneath.

A reverse had slightly pebbled surface and carried maker’s mark “Fleck & Sohn, Hamburg 3” running in two rows. The badge was worn on a 24 mm wide white ribbon with a central wide red stripe that had short horizontal white thin stripes. Gilt or silvered crossed swords were often attached to the ribbon to stress the “combat character” of that unofficial badge.

Like all the other badges manufactured during the Weimar era Argonne Cross was to be privately purchased by veterans upon presentation of the colorful award document issued by the above mentioned Saxon association that was based in Chemnitz.

Argonne Cross had a size of 39,6x39,6 mm and was made of silver colored non-ferrous metal and had enamel finish of two colors, red and black.

The badge was distributed during one year, from the fall 1933 till the fall 1934. Soon after it was replaced by the Cross of Honor officially instituted on July 13, 1934 and its open wear was prohibited.

Approximately 3,000 badges were issued.

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