The Iron Cross (German: About this sound Eisernes Kreuz (help·info)) is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem.
The military decoration called the Iron Cross which existed in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later in the German Empire and Third Reich, was established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia and first awarded on the 10th of March in 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars. The recommissioned Iron Cross was also awarded during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, and World War II. The Iron Cross was normally a military decoration only, though there were instances of it being awarded to civilians for performing military functions. Two examples of this were civilian test pilots Hanna Reitsch who was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class and 1st Class and Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, who was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, for their actions as pilots during World War II.
The Iron Cross was used as the symbol of the German Army from 1871 to March/April 1918, when it was replaced by the bar cross. The Iron Cross was reintroduced as an award in the Wehrmacht in 1939 with a Swastika added in the center during the Third Reich in World War II. In 1956, the Iron Cross resumed its German military usage, as it became the symbol of the Bundeswehr, the modern German armed forces. The traditional design is black and this design is used on armored vehicles and aircraft. A newer design in blue and silver is used as the emblem in other contexts.
Adolf Hitler restored the Iron Cross in 1939 as a German decoration (rather than Prussian), and continued the tradition of issuing it in various classes. Legally, it is based on the enactment (Reichsgesetzblatt I S. 1573) of 1 September 1939 Verordnung über die Erneuerung des Eisernen Kreuzes (Regulation for the Re-introduction of the Iron Cross). The Iron Cross of World War II was divided into three main series of decorations with an intermediate category, the Knight's Cross, instituted between the lowest, the Iron Cross, and the highest, the Grand Cross. The Knight's Cross replaced the Prussian Pour le Mérite or "Blue Max". Hitler did not care for the Pour le Mérite, as it was a Prussian order that could be awarded only to officers. The ribbon of the medal (2nd class and Knight's Cross) was different from the earlier Iron Crosses in that the color red was used in addition to the traditional black and white (black and white were the colors of Prussia, while black, white, and red were the colors of Germany). Hitler also created the War Merit Cross as a replacement for the non-combatant version of the Iron Cross. It also appeared on certain Nazi flags (mostly the Third Reich flags) in the upper left corner. The edges were curved, like most original iron crosses.