Military Order of the Iron Trefoil was instituted on December 27, 1941 by the Order of the ruler, or Poglavnik of the Independent State of Croatia Dr.Ante Pavelić (14.07.1889-28.12.1959) as the highest military decoration for exceptional merits achieved either by orders of the highest command or by personal incentive that led to a remarkable and considerable success in fighting against the enemy. Award was introduced in four classes, each of them in its turn having an additional grade for outstanding services in the shape of an oak wreath (“stupanj s hrastovim grančicama”). By the very end of the WWII, on April 10, 1945, statute of the decoration was extended with an institution of its highest class, the Grand Order of the Iron Trefoil, with or without an oak wreath. However, it was never issued due to objective reasons and remained on paper since its introduction.
Members of the Croatian Home Guard, i.e. Armed Forces (Hrvatsko Domobranstvo, or Domobrani), Ustasha units (Ustaška vojnica) as well as allied military personnel were eligible for decoration with the Order. Military Order of the Iron Trefoil was widely issued to German officers. Though no restrictions regarding military rank of the holder were stipulated in the statute, Croatian Cross was mainly reserved for officers.
Recipients of the two highest classes were conferred knighthood and thus added chivalric title “Vitez” (Knight) to their names that granted them some benefits. Dr.Ante Pavelić was made the Grand Master of the Order.
Military Order of the Iron Trefoil had a shape of the stylized trefoil leaf being a traditional Croatian heraldic symbol. Henceforth, eight-pointed cross of unique shape was made of blackened silver with a narrow silver edge. Central round medallion bore national emblem that consisted of the Croatian coat of arms – checkerboard made of red and white fields with an addition of the superimposed Ustasha insignia, capital letter “U” in blue color. Arms of the cross were decorated in their central part with the traditional Croatian interlace of three-ribbon pattern (hrvatski pleter).
A reverse had a horizontal inscription “For Homeland Ready” (“Za Dom Spremni”) in capital letters in its centre that represented an official salute of Ustashas. The upper and lower arms of the cross were inscribed with the date the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed: “10.IV.” and “1941”.
Military Order of the Iron Trefoil, 1st class was worn as a neck order, its 2nd class was attached to the left part of the tunic by a pin soldered to its reverse, its 3rd class was worn as a ribbon placed through the second buttonhole below the collar of the tunic. The lowest, 4th class was worn on a traditional Croatian triangular ribbon on left chest.
Badges of the Order of the two highest classes measured 52 mm with a 13 mm central medallion; two lowest classes measured 42 mm with a 12 mm medallion.
As it was noted above, an additional grade to each class had a shape of an open wreath made of two green oak branches intersecting at the bottom and framing the central medallion.
Military Order of the Iron Trefoil was worn on a “military ribbon” made of 40 mm wide red silk with two 3 mm vertical white stripes at its edges. The bar of the Order, 4th class would be worn with or without miniature oak wreath. Holders of the Order, 3rd class wore 26 mm wide ribbon in the buttonhole with an oak wreath, provided a recipient was decorated with such.
Unauthorized wearing of the Order was punished with a month in prison or a fine worth 50,000 Kunas.
Approximately 2,000 Orders of all the four classes were awarded that makes Vojnički red željeznog trolista quite uncommon Croatian decoration.
The only holder of the Military Order of the Iron Trefoil, 1st class with an oak wreath was Dr.Ante Pavelić (1942). Three recipients of the Order, 1st class were Vojskovođa (Marshal) Slavko Kvaternik (25.08.1878-13.06.1947), the Minister of the Armed Forces (February 11, 1942); SS-Obergruppenführer Artur Phleps (29.11.1881-21.09.1944), commander of the 7.SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division “Prinz Eugen” (end of 1943-beginning of 1944); Pukovnik (Colonel) Rafael Boban (22.12.1907-?), commander of the Black Legion (February 22, 1945).
Military Order of the Iron Trefoil, 2nd class with an oak wreath was awarded three times only (once in 1943 and twice in 1944), same class without additional distinction – 12 times. The same figures for the 3rd class are estimated at 50 and 64 pieces, respectively.