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1918 version in black
1939 version in black
20 July 1944 version in gold
Layout of the Award Document for the 20 July 1944 Award Badge (example: Rear-Admiral Voss' Wound Badge in Black)

Wound Badge (German: das Verwundetenabzeichen) was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied bombings, it was also awarded to injured civilians. It was ultimately one of the most common of all Third Reich decorations, yet also one of the most highly prized, since it had to be "bought with blood".

The badge had three versions: black (representing Iron), for those wounded once or twice by hostile action (including air raids), or frost-bitten in the line of duty; silver for being wounded three or four times, or suffering loss of a hand, foot or eye from hostile action (also partial loss of hearing), facial disfigurement or brain damage via hostile action; and in gold (which could be awarded posthumously) for five or more times wounded, total blindness, "loss of manhood", or severe brain damage via hostile action. Badges exist in pressed steel, brass and zinc, as well as some base metal privately commissioned versions. Those of the First World War were also produced in a cutout pattern.

All versions of the Wound Badge were worn on the lower left breast of the uniform or tunic. The badge was worn below all other awards on the left. It is thought that more than 5 million were awarded during World War II. In 1957, a revised version of the Wound Badge was authorised for wear; however, the previous type could still be worn if the swastika was removed (for example by grinding).

The unaltered Second World War version is shown in the illustration to the right.

Wound Badges were primarilly manufactured by the Vienna mint, and by the firm Klein & Quenzer. At first, the Wound badge in Black was stamped from sheet brass, painted semi-matt black, and had a hollow reverse with a needle pin attachment. From 1942, Steel was used to make the badges, which made them prone to rust. The Wound Badge in silver was made (before 1942) from silver-plated brass, and (after 1942) from laquered zinc, and had a solid reverse with either a needle pin or a broad flat pin bar. The Wound Badge in Gold was a gilded version of the Wound Badge in Silver.

"Automatic" Iron Cross

On 1 June 1940, Hitler decreed that any recipient of the Wound Badge in Silver or Gold be automatically awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class if that individual did not already have that decoration. This pluralism meant that, for example, a sailor who lost a hand or foot in action while serving on an E-boat at the Kuban bridgehead would receive not only the Wound Badge in Silver, but also the Fast Attack Craft War Badge, the Kuban Shield, and the Iron Cross 2nd Class, purely on account of the wound sustained.

Wound Badge of 20 July 1944

The 20th of July Wound Badge is by far the rarest of these awards, as it was only issued to those injured during the failed attempt on Adolf Hitler's life at the Wolf's Lair headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia. Twenty-four were present when the bomb detonated. One officer was killed and three succumbed to their wounds a short time later. Hitler, believing this to be a "moment of destiny" for him, personally directed the designing of a special badge commemorating the event.

The 20 July Wound Badge is based on the common Wound Badge, but the helmet is slightly higher and larger; it also bears the date "20 Juli 1944" and a facsimile of Hitler's signature below the helmet and date.

The 20 July Wound Badges were made in all three grades of black, silver, and gold. All of these wound badges were made by the Junckner firm and were made out of solid hallmarked silver. Recipients who had already been previously awarded regulation Wound Badges were awarded the 20 July Wound Badge in a higher grade.

Unlike the Wound Badge in Black, the 20 July Wound Badge in Black was not all black. Only the helmet and wreath were black; the background was in silver so that the date and facsimile signature could be seen. The 20 July Wound Badge in Gold also had a silver background with the helmet and wreath colored gold. The 20 July Wound Badge in Silver has black highlights on the helmet swastika, the date, and the facsimile signature. Unlike the standard Wound badges, these Wound Badges were of two-piece construction.

Hitler presented the survivors with the special wound badge as well as a unique award document in a ceremony on 2 September 1944. Although Hitler had been injured in the bombing, he did not give one of these badges to himself. Hitler had earned his own Wound Badge (in black) in World War I. He had awarded himself the Golden Party Badge number 1, but this was a political badge and not a military medal.

The four posthumous awards were sent to the recipients' next-of-kin. These medals were all plated in gold, including the background.

The badge replaced the basic 1939 Wound Badge on those persons who were presented the 20 July Badge. It is important to note however that this badge was more a personal gift from Hitler to those involved, and was intended to be a treasured one-off souvenir of a momentous historical event, and thus was not expected to be worn. While Field Marshal Keitel and Colonel-General Jodl for example did wear their 20 July wound badges on their tunics, other recipients preferred to wear their regulation wound badges.

Recipients of the 20 July wound badge could have their 20 July wound badges upgraded if they earned higher grades of the Wound Badge. Konteradmiral Hans-Erich Voss eventually had the 20 July Wound Badge in all three grades, earning it in black on 20 July 1944, and having it upgraded twice for subsequent battles.

Of the 24 people in the room the bomb exploded, four were killed and only seven actually physically injured (the other 13 merely being shaken and suffering ruptured eardrums), yet all 24 (except Hitler himself) received the 20 July Wound Badge, which highlighted the purely commemorative nature of the badge.

References

  • LTC John R. Angolia, For F├╝hrer and Fatherland: Military Awards of the Third Reich (1976), R. James Bender Publishing. ISBN 0-912138-14-9
  • E.W.W. Fowler, Nazi Regalia (1992), Brompton Books Corp. ISBN 1-55521-767-2
  • Robin Lumsden, Medals and Decorations of Hitler's Germany (2001), Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-178-1
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