- Pour le Mérite
The award was a blue-enameled Maltese Cross with eagles between the arms based on the symbol of the Johanniter Order, the Prussian royal cypher, and the French legend Pour le Mérite ("for Merit") arranged on the arms of the cross.
A civil version of the order, for accomplishments in the arts and sciences, still exists in the Federal Republic of Germany.
The Pour le Mérite was first founded in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia, named in French, the language of the Prussian royal court at the time. Until 1810, the Order was both a civilian and military honor. In January of that year, King Frederick William III decreed that the award could be presented only to serving military officers. The Pour le Mérite is correctly called an "order", in which a man or woman is admitted into membership, and should not be referred to as a "medal" or "decoration".
In March 1813, Frederick William III added an additional distinction, a spray of gilt oak leaves attached above the cross. Award of the oak leaves originally indicated extraordinary achievement in battle, and was usually reserved for high-ranking officers. The original regulations called for the capture or successful defense of a fortification, or victory in a battle. By World War I, the oak leaves often indicated a second or higher award of the Pour le Mérite, though in most cases the recipients were still high-ranking officers (usually distinguished field commanders fitting the criteria above; the few lower ranking recipients of the oak leaves were mainly general staff officers responsible for planning a victorious battle or campaign). In early 1918, it was proposed to award the oak leaves to Germany's top flying ace, Manfred von Richthofen, but he was deemed ineligible under a strict reading of the regulations. Instead, Prussia awarded von Richthofen a slightly less prestigious honor, the Order of the Red Eagle, 3rd Class with Crown and Swords. This was still a high honor, as the 3rd Class was normally awarded to colonels and lieutenant colonels, and von Richthofen's award was one of only two of the 3rd Class with Crown and Swords during World War I.
In 1866, a special military Grand Cross class of the award was established. This grade of the award was given to those who, through their actions, caused the retreat or destruction of an army. There were only five awards of the Grand Cross: to King Wilhelm I in 1866, to Crown Prince Frederick William of Prussia (later Emperor Frederick III) and Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia in 1873, to Tsar Alexander II of Russia in 1878, and to Helmuth Graf von Moltke in 1879.
The Pour le Mérite gained international fame during World War I. Although it could be awarded to any military officer, its most famous recipients were the pilots of the German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte), whose exploits were celebrated in wartime propaganda. In aerial warfare, a fighter pilot was initially entitled to the award upon downing eight enemy aircraft. Aces Max Immelmann and Oswald Boelcke were the first airmen to receive the award, on January 12, 1916. Although it has been reported that because of Immelmann's renown among his fellow pilots and the nation at large, the Pour le Mérite became known, due to its color and this early famous recipient, as the Blue Max, this story is probably an urban legend.
The number of aerial victories necessary to receive the award continued to increase during the war; by early 1917, it generally required destroying 16 enemy airplanes, and by war's end the approximate figure was 30. However, other aviation recipients included zeppelin commanders, bomber and observation aircrews, and at least one balloon observer.
Although many of its famous recipients were junior officers, especially pilots, more than a third of all awards in World War I went to generals and admirals. Junior officers (army captains and lieutenants and their navy equivalents) accounted for only about 25% of all awards. Senior officer awards tended to be more for outstanding leadership in combat than for individual acts of bravery.
Recipients of the Blue Max were required to wear the award whenever in uniform.
- Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria, German field marshal; awarded the Pour le Mérite in August 1915 and the oak leaves in December 1916.
- Lothar von Arnauld de la Perière, German U-boat commander during the First World War, awarded the Pour le Mérite in the autumn of 1916 for sinking 200,000 tonnes of Allied shipping. By the end of the war, he had sunk more than 450,000 tons, the most by any U-boat captain, and been awarded an autographed photograph of the Kaiser, and a royal letter of commendation in the Kaiser's handwriting.
- Rudolf Berthold, high ranking German ace. Shot to death by German communists in 1920, he was falsely said to have been strangled with the ribbon from his Pour le Mérite.
- Otto von Bismarck, Prussian and German chancellor during the unification period; decorated in 1884 with the Pour le Mérite with oak leaves.
- Gebhard von Blücher, Napoleonic-era Prussian field marshal who led Prussian forces at the Battle of Waterloo.
- Werner von Blomberg, decorated as a major in June 1918, later Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the German Armed Forces from 1935 to 1938.
- Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, Prussian general (later field marshal) decorated with the Pour le Mérite in the 1864 German-Danish War and the Oakleaves in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War.
- Fedor von Bock, decorated as a major in April 1918, later a field marshal in World War II.
- Oswald Boelcke, with Max Immelmann, among the first aviator recipients.
- Hermann von Boyen, Napoleonic-era Prussian general and Minister of War; simultaneously received the Pour le Mérite and the Oakleaves.
- Christian Leopold von Buch, a German geologist and paleontologist.
- Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow, Napoleonic-era Prussian general; also received the oak leaves.
- Leo von Caprivi, Prussian general, decorated in 1871 for merit in the Franco-Prussian War; later Chancellor of Germany.
- Nikolaus Burggraf und Graf zu Dohna-Schlodien, German auxiliary cruiser commander; one of only two junior officers to receive the highest military honors of the five main German states: the Pour le Mérite, Bavaria's Military Order of Max Joseph, Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry, Württemberg's Military Merit Order, and Baden's Military Karl-Friedrich Merit Order.
- Friedrich Christiansen, decorated as Naval Pilot Oberleutnant (13 personal victories, although the number may be as high as 21, including shared victories) on 11 December 1917, later General der Flieger and Wehrmachtsbefehlshaber in den Niederlanden (Supreme Commander of Wehrmacht forces in the Netherlands) during service in World War II.
- Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of the German General Staff from 1914 to 1916; awarded the Pour le Mérite in February 1915 and the oak leaves in June 1915.
- August von Gneisenau, Napoleonic-era Prussian general (later field marshal); first decorated in 1807, received the oak leaves in 1814.
- Hermann Göring, decorated as an ace pilot in June 1918, later Reichsmarschall, head of the Luftwaffe, and second in command of Germany's Third Reich.
- Robert Ritter von Greim, World War I ace and World War II field marshal. He also received Bavaria's highest military honor, the Military Order of Max Joseph, and as a native Bavarian, was ennobled; thus Robert Greim became Robert "Ritter von" Greim.
- Karl Wilhelm Georg von Grolman, Napoleonic-era Prussian general; also received the oak leaves.
- Franz Hipper, German admiral; he also received Bavaria's highest military honor, the Military Order of Max Joseph, and as a native Bavarian, was ennobled, becoming Franz Ritter von Hipper.
- Paul von Hindenburg, German field marshal and later President of Germany; awarded the Pour le Mérite in September 1914 and the oak leaves in February 1915.
- Max Hoffmann, German staff officer; awarded the Pour le Mérite in October 1916 and the oak leaves in July 1917. Considered a brilliant strategist, Hoffmann also received the highest military honors of Bavaria (the Military Order of Max Joseph) and Saxony (the Military Order of St. Henry, both the Knight 1st Class and the Commander's Cross).
- Oskar von Hutier, German general known for the Hutier tactics, infiltration tactics designed to break the stalemate of trench warfare; awarded the Pour le Mérite in September 1917 and the oak leaves in March 1918.
- Max Immelmann, with Oswald Boelcke, one of the first aviator recipients.
- Ernst Jünger, novelist and the last living holder of the Pour le Mérite at the time of his death in 1998.
- Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein, German officer in the Near East campaigns of World War I.
- Friedrich Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau, received the Pour le Mérite for brutal fighting in the German East Africa campaign of 1905-07. He was also the Kommandant of Stalag Luft III, the setting for the movie The Great Escape.
- Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who led German forces in the guerrilla campaign in German East Africa.
- Otto Liman von Sanders, German general who served as adviser and commander of Ottoman forces in World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite and the oak leaves simultaneously in January 1916 for his role in the defeat of Allied forces in the Battle of Gallipoli.
- Friedrich "Fritz" Karl von Lossberg, World War I master-strategist; expert in the Defence in depth; and roaming Chief of Staff. Awarded 21 September 1916 (Somme); oak leaves on 24 April 1917 (Arras).
- Erich Ludendorff, German general of World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite in August 1914, one of the earliest World War I awards, for the siege of Liege, Belgium; received the oak leaves in February 1915.
- August von Mackensen, German general (later field marshal) of World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite in November 1914 and the oak leaves in June 1915.
- Helmuth Graf von Moltke, known as "Moltke the Elder"; first decorated in 1839 as a junior officer serving as an advisor to the Ottomans in their campaigns against Muhammad Ali of Egypt, later chief of the Prussian General Staff in the wars of German unification; he received the oak leaves in 1871 and the Grand Cross in March 1879. Moltke also was inducted into the civil class of the order in 1874.
- Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke, Chief of the German General Staff at the outbreak of World War I. Known as "Moltke the Younger," he was the nephew of Moltke the Elder.
- Karl Friedrich Max von Müller, captain of the famous German commerce raider, the light cruiser Emden during the first few months of World War I.
- Karl August Nerger, German auxiliary cruiser commander; one of only two junior officers to receive the highest military honors of the five main German states: the Pour le Mérite, Bavaria's Military Order of Max Joseph, Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry, Württemberg's Military Merit Order, and Baden's Military Karl-Friedrich Merit Order.
- Theo Osterkamp, naval aviator and World War I ace; he also scored six victories in World War II and became a Luftwaffe general.
- Peter III of Russia, who received the Pour le Mérite in 1762 when, after succeeding to the Russian imperial throne, he withdrew Russia from the Seven Years' War and made peace with Prussia.
- Ernst von Pfuel - Prussian general and Prime Minister of Prussia.
- Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the '"Red Baron," the top-scoring ace of World War I. Richthofen also received Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry and Württemberg's Military Merit Order, as well as lesser awards of numerous other German states.
- Erwin Rommel, decorated as an Oberleutnant in December 1917, later a Field Marshal in World War II and commander of the German Afrika Korps.
- Gerhard von Scharnhorst, Napoleonic-era Prussian general.
- Reinhard Scheer, German admiral and commander of German naval forces in the Battle of Jutland.
- Eduard Ritter von Schleich, better known as the "Black Knight", destroyed 35 enemy aircraft.
- Ferdinand Schörner, decorated as a Leutnant in December 1917, later a field marshal in World War II.
- Walther Schwieger, German U-boat commander who sank the British liner RMS Lusitania.
- Hans von Seeckt, German staff officer in World War I; awarded the Pour le Mérite in May 1915 and the oak leaves in November 1915. After the war, he was instrumental in organizing the postwar German army (the Reichswehr).
- Alexander Suvorov, Russian generalissimo
- Alfred von Tirpitz, German Grand Admiral, decorated in August 1915.
- Ernst Udet, second-highest-scoring German ace of World War I.
- Werner Voss, fourth-highest-scoring German ace of World War I.
- Otto Weddigen, German U-boat commander of World War I; also received Bavaria's Military Order of Max Joseph and Saxony's Military Order of St. Henry.
- Albrecht, Duke of Württemberg, German field marshal; awarded the Pour le Mérite in August 1915 and the oak leaves in February 1918.
- Ludwig Graf Yorck von Wartenburg, Napoleonic-era Prussian general (later field marshal); also received the oak leaves.
- The German ancient noble family of Pfuel are the only family to have been awarded five Pour le Mérite.
In 1842, King Frederick William IV of Prussia founded a civil class of the order, the Order Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts (Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste), with the three sections: humanities, natural science and fine arts. Among famous recipients of the civil class of the Pour le Mérite in the first group of awards in 1842 were Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Jakob Grimm, Felix Mendelssohn, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and August Wilhelm Schlegel. Foreign recipients in the "class of 1842" included François-René de Chateaubriand, Louis Daguerre, Michael Faraday, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Franz Liszt. When a vacancy occurred the Academy of Arts and Sciences nominated three candidates, one of whom the king appointed.
Later recipients included Thomas Babington Macaulay (1853), John C. Frémont (1860), Theodor Mommsen (1868), Charles Darwin (1868), Thomas Carlyle (1874) (who never accepted any other honor), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1875), William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1884), Heinrich von Treitschke (1887), Johannes Brahms (1887), Giuseppe Verdi (1887), Camille Saint-Saëns (1901), Luigi Cremona (1903), John Singer Sargent (1908), Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1910), Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1911), Sir William Ramsay (1911), Max Planck (1915), Albert Einstein (1923), Gerhart Hauptmann (1923), Richard Strauss (1924), Wilhelm Furtwängler (1929), Käthe Kollwitz (1929) and Ernst Barlach (1933). As a Jew, Einstein was forced to give up his award by the Nazi government in 1933, and a number of others, such as Kollwitz and Barlach, also were deprived of the award by the Nazi regime.
In 1952, the President of West Germany, Theodor Heuss, revived the civil order as an autonomous organization under the protection of the German President (although it is not a state order like the Bundesverdienstkreuz). This revived civil order is awarded for achievements in the arts and sciences. Active membership is limited to thirty German citizens, ten each in the fields of humanities, natural science, and medicine and the arts. Honorary membership can be conferred on foreigners, again to the limit of thirty. When a vacancy occurs the membership selects a new member. Among those inducted in 1952 were Otto Heinrich Warburg, Otto Hahn, Paul Hindemith, Reinhold Schneider and Emil Nolde. Later recipients include Arthur Compton (1954), Hermann Hesse (1954), Albert Schweitzer (1954), Thomas Mann (1955), Oskar Kokoschka (1955), Carl Orff (1956), Erwin Schrödinger (1956), Thornton Wilder (1956), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1956), Werner Heisenberg (1957), Gerhard Ritter (1957), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1957), Percy Ernst Schramm (1958), Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1961), Karl Jaspers (1964), Otto Klemperer (1967), Carl Zuckmayer (1967), Henry Moore (1972), Raymond Aron (1973), George F. Kennan (1976), Friedrich Hayek (1977), Karl Popper (1980), Eugène Ionesco (1983), Hans Bethe (1984), Gordon A. Craig (1990), Rudolf Mößbauer (1996), Umberto Eco (1998), Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1999), and Wim Wenders (2005). The most recent recipients, in 2006, were economist Reinhard Selten, historian James J. Sheehan, and legal scholar Christian Tomuschat.
Only three persons received both the military and civil versions of the Pour le Mérite. These were Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, who received the military class in 1839 and the civil class in 1874, Otto von Bismarck, who received the military class in 1884 and the civil class in 1896, and Hermann von Kuhl, who received the military class in 1916 and the civil class in 1924.
Similar orders in other countries
Besides Prussia, several other states of the former German Empire also conferred similar awards for the arts and sciences. These included the Kingdom of Bavaria's Maximilian Order for Art and Science (Maximiliansorden für Kunst und Wissenschaft), the Duchy of Anhalt's Order of Merit for Science and Art (Verdienstorden für Wissenschaft und Kunst), and the Principality of Lippe's Lippe Rose Order for Art and Science (Lippische Rose, Orden für Kunst und Wissenschaft).
A number of other countries have founded similar high civic honors for accomplishments in the arts and sciences. The sovereign of the Commonwealth realms confers the Order of Merit and Order of the Companions of Honour. The Republic of Austria confers the Austrian Decoration of Honor for Science and the Arts, founded in 1955. Like the Order Pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts, this was in a sense a revival of an earlier imperial award, in this case the Austro-Hungarian Decoration of Honor for Art and Science (Österreichisch-Ungarisches Ehrenzeichen für Kunst und Wissenschaft), which existed from 1887 to 1918. Unlike the German award, however, the design of the modern Austrian award is unlike that of its imperial predecessor.
Other countries also may recognize accomplishments in the arts and sciences, but with more general orders also awarded for accomplishments in other fields. France's Légion d'honneur is an example of a decoration often conferred for accomplishment in many fields, including the arts and sciences. Belgium awards either its Order of Léopold or Order of the Crown for outstanding accomplishments in the arts and sciences, and may award its Civil Decoration for lesser accomplishments in these fields.
- The Blue Max, 1966 film
- Hieronymussen, Paul (1967)' Orders and Decorations of Europe in Color, The Macmillan Company, New York
- van Wyngarden, G. (2006). Early German Aces of World War I, Osprey Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-841-76997-5
Orders and decorations of the Kingdom of PrussiaOrder of the Black Eagle • Order of the Red Eagle • House Order of Hohenzollern • Order of the Crown • Johanniter Order • Order of Louise • Pour le Mérite •
Wilhelm-Orden •Order of Merit of the Prussian Crown • Ladies Merit Cross • Cross of Merit for Women and Girls • Kulm Cross • Iron Cross • Gold Cross of Merit of the Military
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