Baltic Cross

Baltic Cross was instituted in the beginning of June 1919 by the Baltic National Committee (Baltischer National Ausschuss) that was created on November 08, 1918 and represented German Baltic population in Courland and Livonia Latvia at the time. Baltenkreuz that was introduced and existed in one class only had a statute of a commemorative badge to be issued to the Baltic militia (Landeswehr) personnel and German volunteer units in the Baltic area (Südlivland and Kurland) that had been fighting Bolsheviks for at least three months in 1918-1919.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and in fact Baltic Cross was introduced only after the Baltic National Committee governing body failed in their attempts to authorize decoration of distinguished Freikorps personnel with Prussian Iron Cross in May 1919, right before decisive battle of Riga. An issue was discussed with the VI Reserve Corps (VI.Reserve-Korps) headquarters but a hostile reception was given by Hans Baron Manteuffel-Szoege (19.01.1894 – 22.05.1919), commander of Landeswehr Stoßtrupp and one of Landeswehr’s representatives in the Baltic National Committee. He declared particularly that “a life and death struggle is fought by Balts for their very survival and not for rewards”.

Soon after the Baltic Cross had been instituted a Commission in charge of its awarding was raised. A letter sent to the VI Reserve Corps headquarters by the Baltic National Committee on July 07, 1919 clarified that Baltenkreuz should have been worn as a ribbon in tunic’s buttonhole in image and likeness of the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd Class.

According to unconfirmed reports design of the Baltenkreuz was elaborated by Baron Rapp, Baltic National Committee member, and was based on heraldry of the Teutonic Order.

The badge has a shape of an equilateral Greek cross being an emblem of the Teutonic Order and its Baltic, or Livonian branch. Another narrow Greek cross is superimposed on its base symbolizing simplified variant of a golden Jerusalem cross that was granted according to legend  to Teutonic knights by the kings of Jerusalem for gallantry and valor displayed during defense of the Holy Land against infidels. Ends of this inner cross are decorated with symbol of the French Royal House, golden fleurs-de-lys granted to Teutonic knights by the king of France Louis IX, or commonly Saint Louis (25.04.1214 – 25.08.1270).

Baltenkreuz was made of silver or bronze. Wide exterior cross had oxidized or lacquered black finish (sometimes silvered one) while inner cross was gilt. Numerous types of the Baltic Cross depend on manufacturer and period they were produced. The very first batch of badges was made by the Berlin-based company “J.Godet & Sohn” but according to the above-mentioned letter from July 07, 1919 they turned out to be faulty, were rejected and sent back for further improvement.

Award documents of early pattern that were printed in 1919 were 213x173 mm and bore stamp of the Baltic National Committee as well as autotype of its head, Wilhelm von Fircks (14.08.1870-10.12.1933). Documents issued after middle of December 1919 had initial site of the Committee headquarters (Mitau, now Jelgava) changed to Wehlau (since 1946 Znamensk), where organization had been evacuated to recently. Liberation of Riga from Bolsheviks made the Baltic National Committee fully but unwisely  confident of the forthcoming liberation of all the Baltic states and the long-expected end of war. Thus award documents stated that Baltenkreuz was issued as a badge commemorating struggle against Bolsheviks in 1918-1919. Backside of document explained that badge should be worn on a breast suspended from a ribbon or as a ribbon in tunic’s buttonhole. A stamp on reverse “Cross is issued” certified decoration with an award but sometimes it was substituted by a hand-written affirmation in ink.

It’s worth mentioning here as well that numerous decorations with the Baltic Cross of the West Russian Volunteer Army (WRVA) personnel were made in 1919. Upon receipt of relevant confirmations from the Baltic National Committee by telegraph unit commanders issued temporary printed or hand written award documents of various patterns affirmed by their respective stamps and signatures. Those temporary documents were exchanged to official ones as soon as the latter arrived to troops’ positions.

Next pattern of official award documents were printed by Otto Kümmel from Königsberg within late 1920 – first half of 1921. They can be identified by the name of his printing office in the lower left corner and indication of Mitau as the headquarters site. As far as by that time the Baltic National Committee HQ situated neither in Mitau nor in Wehlau, its actual location (Zohlen) was written by hand every time an award document was issued.

Decoration with a Baltenkreuz was recorded in a Soldbuch of an awardee as a legal entry.

As it was stressed in the very beginning of an article the Baltic Cross was instituted in one class only but two different manners of wearing a badge, as a breast pin or suspended from a ribbon, had given rise to some false notations of allegedly existence of two classes of a decoration.

Soon after an institution of Baltenkreuz its pin-back type was quite uncommon and a decoration was worn as a ribbon in buttonhole or a ribbon bar (Feldspange). It was only worn as a privately purchase decoration on parade mounted medal bar on solemn occasions provided serviceman had a chance to order it from a certain manufacturer.

Officially instituted 25 mm wide silk ribbon of Baltenkreuz came in white and blue colors of the Baltic militia (Landeswehr). It was white with a 9 mm wide central blue stripe bordered by two thin 2 mm blue stripes closer to both edges. Unofficial ribbons with various width of blue stripes are known to exist as well.

Ribbon bars to be worn on field uniform were made of official and unofficial ribbons and their width varies from 25 to 30 mm. Some of them are even decorated by crossed swords device or Baltenkreuz miniature.

Later on pin-back type of Baltenkreuz became popular and was worn as such in most cases. Nevertheless there’s a photographic evidence of a simultaneous unofficial wearing of a pin-back award together with a ribbon in buttonhole or a ribbon bar. Moreover two badges, pin-back and one suspended from a ribbon were sometimes worn on a tunic!

16 mm miniatures of the Baltic Cross were manufactured as well and were worn with civil attire.

Necessity to change statute of Baltenkreuz became crucial soon after West Russian Volunteer Army (WRVA) under command of the count Major-General Pavel Bermon(d)t-Avalov (04.03.1877-27.12.1973) was raised. Several German Freikorps, e.g. Eiserne Division, Deutsche Legion, Freikorps von Diebitsch and Gruppe von Plehwe formed a part of WRVA. It was then that commander of the VI Reserve Corps (VI.Reserve-Korps) Major General Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz Gustav Adolf Joachim Rüdiger Graf von der Goltz, 08.12.1865-04.11.1946) offered Baltic National Committee authorities to consider Baltenkreuz as a full-fledged military decoration and not a commemorative badge by making changes to its statute. He believed that WRVA personnel who performed feats of valour deserving Iron Cross were eligible for the decoration with the Baltic Cross. Nevertheless General’s initiative was rejected as the Committee was keen on maintaining constructive relationship with the provisional government of Latvia and thus informed WRVA Headquarters on October 24, 1919 that “only officers and other ranks of the Baltic militia (Landeswehr) and other Freikorps who served in those units and fought Bolsheviks for at least three months in the Baltic area before July 01, 1919 were eligible for decoration with Baltenkreuz”. However offer made by von der Goltz spread throughout troops and the Baltic Cross since then was nicknamed “Iron Cross of the Balts” by soldiers. By the way it was exactly then that official production of pin-back Crosses had been started and the first batch of badges was manufactured by Berlin-based “J.Godet & Sohn”.

The first decorations of Freikorps personnel with Baltic Crosses were made within summer of 1919 – first half of 1921 and total number of awards comes to 21,839 pieces.      

The second phase of decorations fell on 1930-1934 when Association of former Baltic militia fighters (Vereinigung ehemaliger Kameraden der Baltischen Landeswehr) issued crosses to veterans who never received them though were eligible for award. Damaged or lost award documents were replaced with those of a new pattern that bore stamp of an Association and autotype of its secretary. Exact number of veterans decorated with Baltenkreuz in 1930-1934 remains unknown as all the records that had been stored in German Home Ministry archives were irretrievably lost during the WWII.

According to a Decree published on November 14, 1935 (Verordnung zur Ausführung des Gesetzes über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen vom 14.November 1935) that put into effect a Supplement to the Law regarding state awards of April 07, 1933, Baltenkreuz gained status of a state decoration and was allowed for wearing by ex-Freikorps fighters.

Baltenkreuz was in high favour with post-WWII era German authorities as well. According to Section 6, paragraph 2 of the federal Law regarding Titles, Medals and Decorations (Gesetz über Titel, Orden und Ehrenzeichen) that was put into effect on July 26, 1957, the Baltic Cross was permitted for display and open wear alongside with another Freikorps award, the Silesian Eagle

The author thanks Konstantin Nikolaev (Russia), a military historian, an author and a renowned expert on Freikorps decorations for providing an extract from his book “The Baltic Cross and other decorations of German volunteer units in the Baltic Republics, 1918-1919”.

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