Order of Michael the Brave was instituted in general outline on September 26, 1916 by the Royal Decree No.2968 of the Romanian King Ferdinand I, following Romanian entry into the Great War on the side of the Triple Entente. Introduction of a new decoration was accounted for the absence at that moment of the Romanian order meant exclusively for the service in battle. Thus, already existing Order of the Crown, Order of the Star and Order of Carol I were awarded both for civilian and military merits. The new decoration was named after the prominent Romanian warlord Mihai Viteazul (1558-09.08.1601) who united three principalities, Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia under a single rule. Thereby, Order of Michael the Brave symbolized aspiration for national unity during the years of the Great War.
The Royal Decree No.3249 issued on December 12, 1916, i.e. three months after initial introduction of a new award, made its statute more accurate, having described (illogically, though) three classes of the Order and award criteria. However, statute of the Ordinul Mihai Viteazul that was made the highest military decoration of Romania, and remained as such until its abolition in 1947, was never published during the Great War.
Decoration was bestowed on officers or on whole units for exceptional bravery in the field. Moreover, Royal command of Ferdinand I stipulated that Order of Michael the Brave could be conferred solely on frontline officers who commanded large units and staff officers who planned operations that were crowned with considerable success for Romania. When issued to whole units, military personnel were not decorated with orders themselves but were given special aiguillettes (Furajera “Mihai Viteazul”) to be worn on uniform.
Ordinul Mihai Viteazul was awarded sequentially, starting from the lowest 3rd class. Number of holders of the 2nd and 1st class decorations was limited. Special knightly vestments (Mantia cavalerilor Ordinului Mihai Viteazul) consisting of a white cloak with Order insignia and sheepskin cap were presented to officers during the solemn award ceremony.
Statute of the Order was augmented once again shortly before decease of Ferdinand I that happened on July 20, 1927. The Royal decree determined significant benefits for Romanian holders of the Order of Michael the Brave, who were considered knights and were granted numerous privileges. Thus, they were awarded with nonrecurrent monetary support, gratuitous medical care, free education in Romanian educational institutions and lifelong right of free first-class rail and water travelling by Căile Ferate Române (CFR), Serviciul Maritim Român (SMR) and Navigaţia Fluvială Română (NFR). Moreover, each recipient of Ordinul Mihai Viteazul was issued either with five hectares of prime cropland and agricultural implements, or plot of land of 500 sq.m. and hardware for construction of a house. However, these privileges were void for foreign holders of the Order.
Design of knightly vestments for solemn award ceremony was modified during the reign of Carol II by the Royal Decree No.2859 of 1936.
Statute of the Ordinul Mihai Viteazul was modified once again on November 06, 1940 by the Royal Decree No.3709 that authorized decoration with the Order for valuable contribution to development and implementation of military campaigns.
Design of the highest Romanian order of military merit was elaborated by the King Ferdinand I himself. Insignia of the Order had a shape of a blue enameled equilateral lily cross with thin gold edges, blue color symbolizing purity in intentions and actions. Centre of the obverse bore the gilt cipher of Ferdinand I (double “F”) topped with the royal crown. Centre of the obverse of the Orders of the 2nd and 3rd classes had the gilt year of the institution of decoration, “1916”. Two lower classes had a gilt royal crown attached to the top arm of the cross. It’s height was 23-27 mm for the 2nd class and 17-19 mm for the 3rd class.
The cross itself measured ca.60х60 mm (60,3-61 mm) for the orders of the 1st and 2nd classes and 40х40 mm approximately (39-41 mm) for that of the 3rd class.
Ordinul Mihai Viteazul 1st class was a pinback cross worn on the left part of the tunic attached on a level between second and third buttons by vertical pin and catching hook soldered to the reverse. The 2nd class of the Order was worn on a wide ribbon around the neck, and the 3rd class was worn suspended from a ribbon on the left side of the chest. All the three classes of the Order were allowed to be worn simultaneously.
The ribbon of the 2nd class Order was made of 37 mm wide cherry silk with 3 mm wide golden stripes approximately 2 mm away from the edges. The width of the ribbon of the 3rd class Order was 30 mm, otherwise identical.
The very first Order of Michael the Brave was awarded on November 28, 1916. Altogether 1st class of the 1916 model was conferred on 16 persons, 2nd class – on 12 persons, and 3rd class – on 293 officers and 43 military units. These statistics indicate that Ordinul Mihai Viteazul was quite rare and prestigious decoration. Moreover, some recipients were awarded postmortem, and some holders of the Order sustained severe injuries during the Great War.
Decorations were produced by various Romanian and foreign manufacturers, the most famous among the latter being Paris-based jeweler company “G.Lemaître”.
List of selected holders of the Order of Michael the Brave, Model 1916, 1st class (altogether 16 persons):
- General de corp de armată Constantin Prezan (30.01.1920)
- General de corp de armată Alexandru Averescu (27.10.1921)
- Marshal of France Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre (26.09.1917)
- Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch (14.06.1920)
- Marshal of France Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain (14.06.1920)
- Marshal of France Louis Félix Marie François Franchet d'Espèrey (04.10.1928)
- Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig (02.02.1920)
- Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby (28.02.1920)
- Amedeo di Savoia-Aosta (26.02.1919)
- Tenente Generale Armando Vittorio Diaz (26.02.1919)
- Maresciallo d'Italia Pietro Badoglio (04.11.1926)
- General of the Armies (sic!) John Joseph Pershing (30.01.1920)
Design of the Ordinul Mihai Viteazul was changed a bit after Carol II ascended the Romanian throne (he ruled from June 08, 1930 until September 06, 1940). Thus, according to amendments to the national award legislation (Regulamentul Legii Ordinelor şi Medaliilor Naţionale), the military status of the Order of Michael the Brave as a decoration awarded only for bravery in the field was stressed by introduction of two crossed swords pointing upwards that were placed behind the cross. Swords applied to the Order of the 1st and 2nd classes measured 57 mm, and those for the 3rd class – 38 mm. However, no information regarding decoration with this type of Order is available to the author.
Ordinul Mihai Viteazul was restored on October 08, 1941 by the Royal Decree No.2787 after Romania entered the WWII having joined the Axis powers on November 23, 1940. Design of the decoration had been changed.
Thus, upper arm of the cross of the 1st class Order bore the year the decoration was instituted (“1916”) and cipher of Ferdinand I; lower arm had cipher of Mihai I and the year “1941” beneath; the royal crown was placed at the very centre of an obverse.
Orders of the 2nd and 3rd classes had cipher of Mihai I topped with the royal crown in the centre of an obverse, and date “1941” on the lower arm of the cross. A reverse had cipher of Ferdinand I topped with the royal crown and date “1916” on the lower arm of the cross.
Depending on manufacturer, orders differed in minor details of design and metal used for its production.
Variations of the Order of Michael the Brave minted in 1941 in Prague and Vienna are known to exist. Order of the 1st class had cipher of Mihai I in the centre of an obverse, and date “1941” on the lower arm of the cross. Two crossed swords pointing upwards and measuring 57 mm were placed behind the cross. Orders of the 2nd and 3rd classes bore swords as well. Their obverse was similar to official pattern, but reverse had “1916” date only placed in the centre, cipher of Ferdinand I was absent.
Altogether, 821 Romanian generals and officers were decorated with Ordinul Mihai Viteazul, Model 1941. It’s worth mentioning here that 263 awards, or 32 per cent were presented postmortem.
During the WWII Order of Michael the Brave, Model 1941, 1st class was reserved for decoration of Romanian allies per se. Requirement of sequential decoration, starting from the lowest 3rd class was formally followed by simultaneous presentation of all the three classes in a special presentation box of higher capacity.
Holders of the Order of Michael the Brave, Model 1941, 1st class:
- Prime minister Marshal Ion Antonescu (Royal Decree No.2352 of 21.08.1941). He was earlier decorated with the 2nd class of the Order (No.2240 of 07.08.1941) and the 3rd class (No.5454 of 31.12.1919).
- The King of Romania Mihai I (decorated with all the three classes of the Order on November 08, 1941)
- Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring (14.10.1941)
- Großadmiral Erich Raeder (14.10.1941)
- Generalfeldmarschall Walther von Brauchitsch (14.10.1941)
- Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel (14.10.1941)
- Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt (01.09.1942)
- Generalfeldmarschall Fedor von Bock (01.09.1942)
- Generaloberst Ewald von Kleist (06.10.1942)
- Generalfeldmarschall Friedrich Paulus (05.02.1943)
- The King of Italy Umberto II (26.07.1943)
- Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (01.11.1941)
List of selected Romanian holders of the Order of Michael the Brave, Model 1941, 2nd class:
- Commander of Batalionul 9 vânători de munte Locotenent-colonel Cârlan Dumitru (Royal Decree No.445 of 02.02.1942). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being Locotenent in Regimentul VI "Tecuci" Nr.24 (Royal Decree No.939 of 25.05.1918).
- Commander of Grupul 7 vânători de munte Locotenent-colonel Rădulescu M.Florin (No.445 of 02.02.1942). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being Locotenent in Regimentul 66 Infanterie (No.808 of 05.04.1918).
- Commander of Regimentul 6 Roşiori Colonel Korne M.Radu (No.445 of 12.02.1942). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being Locotenent in Regimentul 4 Roşiori “Regina Măria” (No.1284 of 02.11.1917).
- Commander of Corpul de Munte General de corp de armată Avramescu Gheorge (No.2549 of 01.09.1942). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being General de divizie (No.2886 of 17.10.1941), later holder of the 3rd class of the Order with swords as General de corp de armată and commander of Armata 1 (No.2254 of 15.11.1944).\
- Commander of Corpul 6 Armată General de corp de armată Dragalina Corneliu (No.2549 of 01.09.1942). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being Căpitan in Regimentul 4 Artilerie grea (No.3093 of 11.11.1916).
- Commander of Divizia 6 Infanterie General de divizie Lascăr Mihail (No.3822 of 31.12.1942). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being General de brigadă and commander of Brigăda 1 Mixtă Munte (No.2886 of 17.10.1941).
- Commander of Divizia 2 Munte General de divizie Ioan Dumitrache (No.353 of 15.02.1943). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being General de brigadă and commander of Brigăda 2 Mixtă Munte (No.2886 of 19.10.1941), later holder of the 3rd class of the Order with swords as commander of Corpul de Munte (No.2254 of 22.11.1944).
- Locotenent-colonel in Regimentul 94 Infanterie Pălăghiţă M.Ioan (awarded postmortem, No.1366 of 13.05.1943). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being Maior in the same regiment (No.1350 of 09.05.1943).
- Commander of Divizia 6 Cavalerie General de brigadă Teodorini Corneliu (No.3267 of 20.12.1943). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being Colonel in the same brigade (No.399 of 08.02.1943).
- Commander of Corpul de Cavalerie General de divizie Cealok Gheorge (No.3267 of 20.12.1943). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being commander of Divizia 4 infanterie (No.2549 of 01.09.1942).
- Commander of Armatei 3 General de armată Dumitrescu I.Petre (No.382 of 19.02.1944). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being General de corp de armată and commander of Armatei 3 (No.2887 of 17.10.1941).
- Commander of Divizia 3 Munte General de brigadă Mociulschi G.Leonard (No.382 of 19.02.1944). Holder of the 3rd class of the Order being Colonel and deputy commander of Brigăda 1 Mixtă Munte (No.2886 of 17.10.1941), later holder of the 3rd class of the Order with swords (No.805 of 23.03.1945).
It’s worth mentioning here that despite of success of Romanian aces, none of aviators was ever conferred Order of Michael the Brave, 2nd class. Thus, leading Romanian fighter pilot and flying ace Сăpitan aviator Alexandru Șerbănescu (17.05.1912-18.08.1944), who was credited with 47 confirmed victories, was killed in action and couldn’t collect the just award. Moreover, Сăpitan aviator în rezervă Constantin Cantacuzino (11.11.1905-26.05.1958) with 69 victories was decorated with Ordinul Mihai Viteazul with Swords 3rd class only.
On August 23, 1944, when the Red Army penetrated the Moldavian front, the King of Romania Mihai I led a successful coup d’état with support from opposition politicians and army commanders, deposed the Prime Minister Ion Antonescu and put the kingdom on the side of Allies for the remainder of the WWII. The Order of Michael the Brave was reinstituted once again on October 18, 1944 by the Royal Decree No.1935, because its design featured date “1941”, the year Romania declared war on the USSR. It’s worth mentioning here that decorations issued from the end of August until the mid-October 1944 were those of its initial 1916 model, bearing politically neutral date “1916”.
Order of Michael the Brave, Model 1944 had the same shape as described above but with an official addition of two crossed swords behind the cross pointing upwards (57 mm for the 1st and 2nd classes and 38 mm for the 3rd class of an award) that were found previously only in Prague and Vienna issues. The name of the decoration was changed to “Order of Michael the Brave with Swords” (Ordinul Mihai Viteazul cu spade).
An obverse of the Order of all three classes bore cipher of the King Mihai topped with the royal crown, situated in the very centre of the cross. A reverse of the Orders of the 2nd and 3rd classes had the date “1944” in the centre.
Altogether Ordinul Mihai Viteazul cu spade was awarded to 486 officers, with 159 decorations, i.e. 32 per cent, being made postmortem. The Order of 1944 model was awarded to three eminent Soviet military leaders: Marshal of the Soviet Union R.Y.Malinovskij (August 04, 1945), Marshal of the Soviet Union F.I.Tolbuhin (May 09, 1947) and Colonel General I.Z.Susajkov (May 09, 1947).
The following figures may be helpful to tally up the number of Orders issued during the WWII: 15 persons (1st class), 63 officers and 13military units (2nd class), 1,510 officers and 118 military units (3rd class).
Post-war decorations with the Ordinul Mihai Viteazul cu spade were made until December 1946, several orders were issued in February and in May 1947. Order of Michael the Brave was abolished on December 30, 1947, the same day the King Mihai I was forced to abdicate and the single-party People’s Republic was established.
After the Revolution of 1989 occurred in Romania, a batch of low-quality duplicates of the Order were minted and issued to the former holders of “original” decorations that were lost or deliberately destroyed during the socialist years.
Order of Michael the Brave with different design was finally restored in three classes and entered the Romanian award system according to the Law No.29 of March 31, 2000 (Lege privind sistemul naţional de decoraţii al României) and the Law No.327 of 08.07.2003 (Lege privind Ordinul Mihai Viteazul).