Kreuz für Verdienste um das Militär-Brieftaubenwesen
Merit Cross for Military Carrier Pigeon Service
Kreuz für Verdienste um das Militär-Brieftaubenwesen was instituted on December 17, 1917 as a Prussian (not German) decoration by the Prussian War Ministry and was awarded to patriotic-minded members of the Association of German Societies of Military Carrier Pigeons Breeders (Verband Deutscher Militär-Brieftaubenzüchter-Vereine) who donated their pet birds for the war effort or otherwise rendered outstanding services to the military carrier pigeon service of the combat army in a challenging economic environment.
Come 1914, the Association numbered ca. 19,000 members in 1,700 societies, and
and the number of pigeons raised exceeded 750,000. Shortly after the Great War broke out, more than 10,000 pigeon-breeders were conscripted into the German army and many perished in the first few months. Since November 1914 and until the end of the war the lists of KIA pigeon breeders were published on the pages of the magazine published by the Association. The population of pigeons decreased as well: some were shot by hunter wannabes, while others were “called to the colors”. The military pigeon stations were thinned out as well as significant number of birds have been handed over to hospitals. In the summer of 1914, the German army had two military pigeon stations only, losing significantly in this respect to the French and British. However, due to the mobile nature of the initial stage of the Great War, i.e. in 1914-1915, the German command did not give special importance to winged mail carriers. Their importance, however, has increased markedly with the beginning of the trench warfare, and in the second half of the war postal pigeons were already used quite actively to transmit reports over short distances. At the same time, the Supreme Command ordered a large-scale construction of mobile military pigeon stations. The “subordination” of winged postmen underwent significant changes: before 1916 they were under the control of engineer troops, and since then they have been placed at the disposal of the telegraph and telephone units of military intelligence. It was then that the need for trained birds increased dramatically, and the military turned to civilian breeders for help. In 1916-1918 mobile military pigeon stations housed ca. 200,000 young birds that were donated for the needs of the combat army by members of the Association through special collection points.
Design of the Kreuz für Verdienste um das Militär-Brieftaubenwesen was elaborated by the Professor Paul Sturm (01.04.1859-21.12.1936), sculptor and medalist of the Prussian Royal Mint. Decoration had a shape of the Greek cross, i.e. cross with arms of equal length, as in a plus sign, with slightly rounded ends of its arms. Circular medallion bearing portrait of Wilhelm II facing right in profile was superimposed on the obverse of the cross with wide plain border. Its arms bore images of oak leaves with acorns. Upper arm of the reverse showed a pigeon flying eastwards above inscription “For Merits to the Military Carrier Pigeon Service” (“Für Verdienste um das Militaer Brieftaubenwesen”) in five horizontal lines in capital letters. The last word went beyond the arm and was placed at the top of the central beam of the cross. Left and right arms showed a battle scene featuring five German soldiers fighting from a trench: two throwing grenades, three firing a machine gun. Lower arm showed German soldier attaching report to the foot of a pigeon withdrawn from a portable container.
Crosses measuring 39x38 mm and weighing 16,72 g were minted of iron at the Prussian Royal Mint (Preusische Staatsmünze) in Berlin. Totally 549 pieces were manufactured by October 1918, and 469 were awarded: 18 crosses on 13 October 1918, 342 – on 22 October 1918, 39 – on 22 February 1919, 70 – on 8 October 1919. Photographic evidence as well as biographical research suggest that apart from civilian breeders who have donated their pigeons to the field army, decoration was awarded to military personnel. Thus, SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Sachs (24.12.1880-23.08.1956), who commanded various telegraph units during the Great War in the rank of Hauptmann, was one of the holders of that rare award.
Kreuz für Verdienste um das Militär-Brieftaubenwesen was worn on the left side of the breast suspended from a light blue silk ribbon.