Kriegsverdienstkreuz was instituted in one class only on December 08, 1914 “during dark times of war against multitude of enemies who opposed us by taking up arms” by the last Prince of Lippe Leopold IV (Leopold Julius Bernhard Adalbert Otto Karl Fritz Georg Gustav zur Lippe, 30.05.1871-30.12.1949) who reigned from September 26, 1904 until November 12, 1918. Succeeding to the throne on October 25, 1905 he had been initially governing the Principality since 1904 as regent. War Merit Cross was issued to the subjects of that tiny German state regardless of their descent, social status, military rank and position. Servicemen were issued with decoration for bravery on the battlefield while civilians for exceptional merits on the home front. As for the military personnel, holders of decoration were mainly officers, NCOs and lower ranks of the 3rd battalion of the Infanterie-Regiment Graf Bülow von Dennewitz (6.Westfälisches) Nr.55. Subjects of the Principality serving in other German units were also eligible for decoration. Nominations for an award were submitted by unit commanders to the War Ministry of Lippe that decided appropriateness of decoration. As a rule, decoration with the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd class automatically led to awarding of the War Merit Cross. However, exceptions to that rule existed as well.
After demise of the holder of the Kriegsverdienstkreuz decoration was kept by the closest relatives of the deceased as a token of remembrance and was not to be returned to issuing authorities.
War Merit Cross had a shape of the flat equilateral Teutonic cross with polished edges and pebbled surface. An obverse of the cross bore a cipher of the prince Leopold IV – fancy letter “L” topped with the crown of Lippe – on its upper arm, and its lower arm had the year of the institution of the decoration, i.e. “1914”. Round laurel wreath tied with a ribbon tie at its bottom was superimposed on the central part of the obverse of the cross. The very centre bore an image of traditional pentapetalous rose of Lippe. A reverse had an inscription in capital letters “For War Merits” (“Für Auszeichnung im Kriege”): “Für” on the upper arm, “Auszeichnung im” as a central line, and “Kriege” on the lower arm of the cross.
Decoration was worn on the left side of the tunic suspended from a ribbon. Two types of the latter were instituted: for frontfighters (Kämpferband) and non-combatants (Nichtkämpferband). Ribbon for frontline fighters was manufactured of yellow silk with two thin vertical white and red stripes at its edges. Ribbon for non-combatants was made of white silk and had yellow and red stripes instead. The ribbon was 35 mm wide, width of each stripe was 3,9 mm. Type of the ribbon was indicated in the award document as either “Kriegsverdienstkreuz” (War Merit Cross for frontline fighters) or “Kriegsverdienstkreuz am weißen Bande” (War Merit Cross for non-combatants). Some holders of award preferred to wear not the cross itself or ribbon bar, but ribbon in a tunic buttonhole in a manner the ribbon for the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd class was worn. Women decorated with the Kriegsverdienstkreuz am weißen Bande wore it on traditional women bow.
Official batch of decorations numbering 20,000 pieces approximately was minted by the Pforzheim-based court jeweler company “Fabrikation deutscher und auslandischer Orden und Bijouterie Carl F.Zimmermann Pforzheim”. Ribbons were manufactured by the Berlin-based “Erste Berliner Fahnen-, Fahnennagel, Abzeichen-, Orden-, Ordensband- und Scharenfabrik Paul Küst”. Initially, in 1914-1915 awards were presented in cardboard envelopes of wine-red colour measuring 68x59x6 mm with a button. The cross itself was wrapped in a butter paper. For economic reasons, since November 1915 those cardboard envelopes were replaced with cheap rectangular envelopes made of beige paper bearing name of the decoration printed in two lines in black script: “Fürstlich Lippisches Kriegsverdienstkreuz”.
War Merit Cross measuring 42x42 mm, 3,5 mm thick and weighing 18,5 g approximately was made of gilt bronze. Miniatures measuring 16,5x16,5 mm were manufactured as well. Due to the shortage of bronze at the closing stage of the Great War, a batch of War Merit Crosses was manufactured of gilt zinc in 1918 thus violating statute of the decoration that stipulated awards to be made of “Geschützmetall”, i.e. bronze. Those scarce pieces measured 41,1x41,1 mm, 3,8 mm thick and weighed ca. 18,1 g.
Kriegsverdienstkreuz was also minted by the Berlin-based companies “J.Godet & Sohn” and “Gebrüder Godet & Co”; Lüdenscheid-based “Wilhelm Deumer” and “Abzeichen-, Orden- und Metallwaren Fabrik Albert vom Hofe”; “Orden-, Abzeichen- und Metallwaren Fabrik Petz & Lorenz” (Unterreichenbach) as well as “Vaterländische Fahnen Fabrik GmbH” (Cologne) up to the end of the WWII. Their production was sold as duplicates to the holders of the decoration upon presentation of appropriate award documents. Depending on a manufacturer, minor variations were not unusual.
Kriegsverdienstkreuz was presented from December 13, 1914 until June 28, 1922. Totally 18,375 War Merit Crosses for frontfighters and 1,117 pieces for non-combatants were awarded.
Quite mysterious unofficial variation of the Kriegsverdienstkreuz with a pin-back attachment is worth being described here as well. No documents related to institution or presentation of such nonofficial decoration were ever found in Lippe-Detmold archives, though they safely survived both World Wars and are available for research by military historians. Several versions accounting for appearance of pin-back War Merit Cross are the following:
- Exclusive pieces manufactured for presentation to prominent persons from entourage of Leopold IV;
- Kriegsverdienstkreuz 1.Klasse patterns that were never instituted officially;
- Unauthorized post-WWI badges issued by a certain German manufacturer, e.g. Berlin-based “J.Godet & Sohn” sold to the Great War veterans around 1920s.
Gala portrait of the Prince of Lippe Leopold IV from 1918 wearing uniform of the Infanterie-Regiment Graf Bülow von Dennewitz (6.Westfälisches) Nr.55 seems to be the one and the only example of pin-back War Merit Cross “in wear”. No photo or RPPC (real photo postcard) of the ruler wearing that strange decoration is known to exist, though.
Obverse of the pin-back War Merit Cross corresponded to that of the issued Kriegsverdienstkreuz, save it had salient shape. Two types of attachment are found on those crosses: either vertical pin and catching hook soldered to reverse of upper and lower arms of the cross, or screw and wide nut.
Pin-back War Merit Cross was produced by several manufacturers that still remain unknown for certain. However, those could be “Fabrikation deutscher und auslandischer Orden und Bijouterie Carl F.Zimmermann Pforzheim” and “J.Godet & Sohn”. Steckkreuz measuring 40,5-42x40,5-42 mm, 3,3 mm thick and weighing 15 g approximately was manufactured of gilt bronze.