The Eastern Front Medal, widely known as “Ostmedaille” was instituted on May 26, 1942 to commemorate selfless service of German military personnel and non-combatants including female personnel of the German Red Cross at the Eastern Front from November 15, 1941 to April 15, 1942. It was also awarded to German allies – Romanians, Hungarians, Italians and Spaniards.
Ostmedaille was presented to above mentioned personnel of all branches of service who met one of the following requirements:
- Active combat service within at least 14 days in the specified area of the Eastern Front;
- 30 combat sorties for Luftwaffe flight personnel;
- Being wounded or frostbitten severe enough to be qualified for the Wound Badge (Verwundetenabzeichen);
- Service in a combat zone within at least 60 days even if not engaged in actual fighting.
Commanders holding a rank of battalion commander and upwards had a right of conferring Ostmedaille. Eastern Front Medal was awarded posthumously as well, and in this case a medal was sent to the next of kin of a fallen soldier. Ostmedaille was also kept in the family after demise of its holder.
Medal was presented in a rectangular paper envelope bearing the name of award on obverse and the name of manufacturer on reverse. However, shortly after the medal was instituted only a ribbon was initially issued to soldiers to be worn in the second buttonhole of the tunic, a space normally reserved for the Iron Cross 2nd class ribbon.
Design of Medaille “Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/42” was elaborated by SS-Unterscharführer Ernst Krause, war correspondent and artist attached to the elite Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler division. More than 90 drafts were rejected before the project presented by Ernst Krause had been approved by authorities.
Eastern Front Medal had a circular shape and bore an image of German M35 steel helmet on top of a horizontally placed German M24 hand grenade immediately below the ribbon loop.
An obverse showed a German eagle with a squared swastika in its claws and a laurel branch behind. Reverse had an inscription “Winter Campaign in the East 1941/42” (“Winterschlacht Im Osten 1941/42”) in capital letters of different height running in three rows. Crossed laurel branch and sword were situated at the bottom.
Ostmedaille that measured 36x44 mm (including the ribbon loop) was made of zinc or so-called Buntmetall and had blackened surface while helmet and outer rim were finished in a polished silver effect. Depending on a manufacturer, minor design details, weight and dimensions may differ insignificantly.
Ribbon of Ostmedaille was made
Medaille “Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/42” was worn mounted on a bar only with parade and walking out dress. The most common way was to wear its ribbon in the second button hole of the tunic beneath Iron Cross 2nd class and War Merit Cross 2nd class ribbons or just as a field bar (Bandspange).
Though being highly esteemed award, Ostmedaille was given plenty nicknames by frontline soldiers the most common being “Frozen Meat Medal” (“Gefrierfleischmedaille”) due to numerous frostbites suffered by military personnel during winter campaign. Other unofficial nicknames were “Frost-Medaille”, “Schneemann mit Stahlhelm”, “Nordlicht-Erinnerung”, “Tundra-Orden”, “Rollbahn-Medaille” and “Urlaubs-Ersatzmedaille”. Ribbon colors were also not spared from military cynicism and sometimes were decrypted as “Black night, white snow and Red Army on both sides” (“Schwarz ist die Nacht, weiß ist der Schnee und von beiden Seiten die Rote Armee”).
Miniatures of various sizes for wearing on civilian attire were available for private purchase from different manufacturers.
Decorations with Ostmedaille continued until October 15, 1944. Approximately 3 million medals were presented, but the total number of awards manufactured exceeded that figure.
According to the “Law regarding Titles, Orders and Honor Badges” (“Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen”) that was issued in West Germany on July 26, 1957, wearing of Medaille “Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/42” was allowed provided the swastika was removed from its design. As a result denazified 1957 pattern Ostmedaille lacked National Socialist symbol on its obverse.