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Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille

Warrior Merit Medal

With greater emphasis of Wilhelm II on the overseas colonial aspect of the German policy being made, occupation authorities here and there faced serious problems with appropriate reward of local volunteers, especially tribal chiefs, who expressed their perfect willingness to collaborate with commanders of Schutztruppe (“protective troops”) and police units. For the latter, absence of special decoration was of paramount concern taking into account the fact that knowledge, skills and bravery of certain natives, referred to as “Askaris”, saved lives of great number of German soldiers and policemen during risky operations against rebellious aborigines in hostile African environment. 

The very first interim solution was decoration of distinguished natives with the Prussian Warrior Merit Medal (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille) instituted in 1835 by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III as an award for non-Prussian lower ranks and NCOs (nichtpreußische Mannschaftsdienstgrade). However, that medal was incidentally presented to Prussian subjects. At the time the events took place design of the Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille already underwent certain changes, the last having been made in 1872.

Attempt to legitimate decoration of natives with lower classes of the Prussian Red Eagle Order for Non-Christians (Rother Adler-Orden für Nichtchristen) that was instituted by the King Friedrich Wilhelm IV as far back as on February 26, 1851, turned out into an ignominious failure. The main reason for rejection of that suggestion was that Berlin-based decision makers were concerned about unwittingly insulting German NCOs who had no chance to be awarded with the “regular” Red Eagle Order for courage displayed. Thus, aborigines who were never regarded equal to Schutztruppe personnel in terms of status and descent, were deemed unworthy of such reward.

German commanders of colonial units clearly faced absence of an adequate effective method of reward of black soldiers and policemen by the end of 1891 and informed Berlin authorities of a problem they faced. In the end, institution of a new decoration was considered the only viable solution to remedy that awkward situation, and appropriate information was published on the pages of the “German Colonial Magazine” (“Deutsches Kolonialblatt”). The very first issue (Volumen 1) of the journal appeared in 1890, while the last one (Vol.32, Nummer 6) came out in January 1921. Publication initially titled “Bulletin of the German Empire Protectorates” (Amtsblatt für die Schutzgebiete des Deutschen Reichs) changed its name in 1905 to “Bulletin of Protectorates in Africa and South Seas” (Amtsblatt für die Schutzgebiete in Afrika und in der Südsee), and finally to “Bulletin of the State Colonial Department” (Amtsblatt des Reichskolonialamt) in 1919.

Thus, new medal was instituted on May 11, 1892 by the Emperor Wilhelm II as a decoration of the German Empire. However, it were aborigines serving in police and colonial troops of German East Africa (Deutsch Ostafrika) only who were eligible for decoration with the medal. That colony included territories that are nowadays known as independent states of Burundi, Rwanda and the mainland part of present Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika), as well as northern provinces of Mozambique. It’s also worth mentioning here that as a “general” decoration, i.e. that of the German Empire, Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille wasn’t part of the Prussian award system.

Imperial Order of Wilhelm II stipulated that Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille I.Klasse) had to be presented to “colored officers” (farbige Offiziere) on personal order of the Kaiser himself, while Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse) was intended for “colored soldiers” (farbige Soldaten) for outstanding merit during combat operations. In practice, however, Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse was presented to aborigines in NCO ranks and posts as well.

According to the Imperial Order of Wilhelm II issued on March 25, 1893, decoration with Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille of both classes was extended to aborigines who inhabited all the other overseas colonies of Germany.

The third amendment to the statute of the medal divided both classes of the medal into two grades – “Golden” (Goldstufe) and “Silver” (Silberstufe). Thus, only those decorated with the Silver Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class could be made holders of the Golden Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class.

Commanders of colonial troops units were authorized to sign applications for decoration with Warrior Merit Medal that were subsequently submitted to the head of the corresponding colonial administration. Those applications contained name, surname and rank of the distinguished aborigine, description of feat of arms or merit, as well as class and grade of the Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille.

A few words should be said here about unique system of ranks natives of German East Africa (but only of that colony) were promoted to when joining German police and army units. Those ranks were: Ombascha (Gefreiter), Schausch (Unteroffizier), Bet-Schausch (Sergeant), Sol (Feldwebel) and Effendi (analogue of a Junior officer).

Application endorsed by the head of the colonial administration was submitted to the Imperial Chancellor (Reichskanzler) who served both as the Kaiser’s first minister and as the presiding officer of the upper chamber of the German parliament. It was only after his approval that the document was reported to His Majesty. Unfortunately, due to remoteness of overseas colonies from Berlin that particularly caused long delivery times of decorations to the Dark Continent, years could have passed since application was signed by the unit commander and medal received by a distinguished aborigine. That were realities on the ground even during pre-WWI era.

At least one case of nullification of decoration with the Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille is known to exist, even though legal requirements were blatantly violated. Such a situation was described on page 40 of the book “Askari and Fitafita. “Colored” soldiers in German colonies” written by Thomas Morlang (Askari und Fitafita. “Farbige” Söldner in den deutschen Kolonien. Thomas Morlang, Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag, 2008). “Bestowed decorations could be revoked as was experienced by Effendi Ali. Commander have deprived him of the Warrior Merit Medal after several disciplinable punishments and presented his award to another serviceman who was deemed worthy of it”.

Lists of recipients of Warrior Merit Medals of both classes were published on the pages of the “German Colonial Magazine” mentioned above.

“General” Warrior Merit Medal (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille) of both classes was worn on the left side of the breast suspending from the ribbon of the Prussian Warrior Merit Medal (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille) for combatants that was black with two wide vertical white stripes at edges. Two other ribbons the Prussian Warrior Merit Medal could have been theoretically worn with –  white with two wide vertical black stripes at edges, i.e. for non-combatants, and white with two wide vertical red stripes at edges, i.e. that of the Red Eagle Order – were not applicable for the “general” Warrior Merit Medal as the latter was introduced for combatants only, albeit black-skinned. 

Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class

Order signed by Wilhelm II on May 11, 1892 described new medal as “an enlarged Warrior Merit Medal [i.e. Prussian Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille of 1872 Model – author] bearing portrait of His Majesty similar to that from East African coins instead of the cipher. Otherwise it looked the same”.

Design of an obverse was based on a bas-relief of Wilhelm II created by Emil Weigand (20.11.1837-25.03.1906), medalist of the Berlin Royal Mint, in 1890.

An obverse of the circular medal with raised border showed portrait of the Emperor facing left (or right, in heraldic perspective) wearing parade uniform of the Regiment der Gardes du Corps, unit he was chef of. The bust was circumscribed “Guilelmus II Imperator” in capital letters in Latin. Initials of the medalist, “E.W.”, were situated close to the lower left part of the portrait.

Silver coins issued by the German East Africa Company (Deutsch-Ostafrikanische Gesellschaft) and manufactured at the Berlin Royal Mint in 1891-1893 – ¼, ½, 1, 2 Rupees – as well as pieces of German East Africa (Deutsch Ostafrika) minted in 1904-1914 – ¼, ½, 1 Rupee – had same obverses.

A reverse with raised border showed German inscription “Warrior Merit” (“Krieger Verdienst”) running in two lines in capital letters and surrounded with wide laurel wreath tied with a ribbon at the bottom.

Krieger-Verdienst-Medaillen were minted of silver at the Berlin Royal Mint with production cost of each piece worth 3,81 Marks.

Surface of “Golden” Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille I.Klasse in Gold) was gilt, while “Silver” Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Silber) was pure silver. Gilding of “Golden” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class was provided on demand by famous Berlin-based jeweler Emil Wiechmann. Goldplating of the first three “Golden” medals in November 1895 cost 32,5 Marks.

Both Golden and Silver Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class measured 39,2 mm in diameter, but their weight slightly differed: the former weighed 22,8 g (without ribbon), while the latter 22,6 g.

The first three “Golden” medals were minted in October 1895, five more in August 1898. The third and last batch of medals containing 25 pieces was manufactured in 1917.

The very first sample “Silver” Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class was minted in June 1891, two more sample pieces were made in July 1892. As for the official batches, the first one (five medals) was manufactured in March 1895, the second one (ten pieces) – in August 1898, the third one (sixty pieces) – in 1915, while the fourth and the last one (125 medals) – in 1917. 25 medals of those 125 were plated with gold (see above).

Thus, totally 33 “Golden” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class and 178 “Silver” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class including three sample pieces were manufactured.

There were very few cases of decoration with the “Golden” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class, and only three such awards have been documented.

In 1900 Gaber Mohamed, Sudanese bearing the rank of Effendi (the highest rank for native volunteers, equivalent to German Subaltern Officer) who served with Schutztruppe in German East Africa became the first African serviceman to be decorated with Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille I.Klasse in Gold. As required by Statute of the award, at the time of decoration Gaber Mohamed was already made holder of Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille I.Klasse in Silber that was bestowed on him at the beginning of 1897 for bravery during suppression of Hehe rebellion in Autumn 1894. Before that Gaber Mohamed was decorated with Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Silber having fought in the Battle of Bagamoyo on May 08, 1889. At that time the city was still an administrative centre of German East Africa, first under auspices of the German East Africa Company and then the German Imperial Government. Dar Es Salam became the new capital of the colony in 1891. The very first award received by Gaber Mohamed was British Egypt Medal presented to the brave Sudanese for his participation in the Battle of Suakin (February-March 1884).

It was also reported in 1904 that decision was made to present “Golden” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class to the Nama tribe chief Hendrik Witbooi (ca.1830-29.10.1905) and his close companion Samuel Izaak (1856-?). It’s not known whether award ceremony actually took place as on October 10, 1904 Hendrik Witbooi together with Jakobus Morenga (1875-19.09.1907) led anti-German revolt that was suppressed only in 1907. Diehard supporters of the late Witbooi were forced to flee to the Cape Colony while rest of his partisans laid down their arms and returned to their pre-war business. Once Witbooi was a German ally who rendered military support, provided land and cattle having signed a treaty with Germans on September 15, 1894. Moreover, it was Hendrik Witbooi’s tribe that served alongside the German colonial army and fought against the Herero for three years, from 1901 until 1904.

Eight “Silver” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class were awarded before the Great War broke out, sixteen more were presented between September 1914 and December 1915. One of three sample silver medals experienced quite unusual fate being presented in 1908 by Wilhelm II as a personal gift to his secretary W.Brühl who was known as an avid collector of awards and decorations.

Come spring 1918, commander of German Colonial forces (Schutztruppe) Major General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (20.03.1870-09.03.1964) obtained permission to present 25 “Golden” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class, 100 “Silver” Warrior Merit Medals 1st Class, 300 “Golden” Warrior Merit Medals 2nd Class and 2,000 “Silver” Warrior Merit Medals 2nd Class. Whether those decorations were presented to distinguished aborigines isn’t known yet.

For the sake of completeness two unique table Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class are worth being described here as well.

The first medal measuring 39,2 mm and weighing 21,6 g was one-of-a-kind piece minted of copper. Except for the eyelet, it’s design was absolutely similar to the issued decoration.

The second medal, probably a prototype, measuring 39,2 mm and weighing 24,4 g was manufactured of bronze. However, its reverse bore inscription “Kriegs Verdienst” instead of “Krieger Verdienst”.

Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class

Unlike 1st Class award, Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class had appreciably different design. According to the Order of Wilhelm II of May 11, 1892, it “must represent current Warrior Merit [i.e. Prussian Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille of 1872 Model – author]”.

An obverse with raised border had cipher “WR” (standing for the Latin “Wilhelmus Rex”) topped with the Royal Prussian crown. A reverse with raised border showed German inscription “Warrior Merit” (“Krieger Verdienst”) running in two lines in capital letters and surrounded with thin laurel wreath tied with a ribbon at the bottom.

Surface of “Golden” Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Gold) was gilt, while “Silver” Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Silber) was pure silver. According to Jörg Nimmergut, some “Golden” Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class were manufactured of pure gold.

Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse measured 25 mm in diameter; silver grade decoration weighed 8 g approximately.

Nimmergut also alleged that Prussian Military Honor Medal 2nd Class (Militair-Ehrenzeichen 2.Klasse) of 1864 pattern was sometimes presented instead of “Silver” Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class. The former had obverse with raised border and German inscription “War Merit” (“Kriegs Verdienst”) in capital letters in two lines surrounded with wide laurel wreath tied with a ribbon at the bottom. A reverse with similar border showed cipher “WR” (standing for the Latin “Wilhelmus Rex”) topped with the Royal Prussian crown.

Unlike Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class, 2nd Class decorations were presented in large numbers. Thus, German Colonial Magazine informed its readers in one of 1896 issues that Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Silber was awarded to a Cameroonian Sergeant Skeul and five lower ranks – Fabissi, Siafa, Sia, Thomas and Makoro.

Available data for the period 1888-1914 indicate that 1,491 African volunteers were awarded with “general” Warrior Merit Medals of both classes as well as with Prussian Warrior Merit Medals. Decorations with the latter took place in 1888-1892.

To sum up, seven variations of the Warrior Merit Medal could be singled out:

1. “Golden” Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille I.Klasse in Gold).
2. “Silver” Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille I.Klasse in Silber).
3. Table Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class manufactured of copper.
4. Table Warrior Merit Medal 1st Class manufactured of bronze with inscription “Kriegs Verdienst” on reverse.
5. “Golden” Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Gold).
6. “Silver” Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Silber), similar to the Prussian Warrior Merit Medal (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille) of 1872 pattern.
7. “Silver” Warrior Merit Medal 2nd Class (Krieger-Verdienst-Medaille II.Klasse in Silber), similar to the Prussian Military Honor Medal 2nd Class (Militair-Ehrenzeichen 2.Klasse) of 1864 pattern.

Warrior Merit Medal 1