top of page

German WW1 and WW2 Iron Crosses



Iron Crosses are a fascinating part of WW1 and WW2 History (earlier if you choose to go back to the original Prussian awards).  They are also an interesting and elite artefact to collect.  


They represent military gallantry, albeit from the other side of those major conflicts for Aussie collectors. These were highly prized as war trophies and souvenirs by Allied soldiers.

Identifying and buying the right Cross can be a little daunting and even a bit complicated for the newcomer in a number of ways.  

For starters, numerous makers were licensed by the government to make the Iron Cross, with early war examples often being unmarked, and post 1941 mandated markings being in numerous forms.


Some Crosses were made as 'Award Pieces' that would have been issued to the recipient from their Unit upon earning the decoration. As German troops had the custom of actually wearing their awards and decorations into combat (as seen in virtually all wartime images) many soldiers legitimately made private purchases of licensed versions their awarded Crosses for field wear.

There are wonderful experts out there who can take just one good look at a Cross and tell you whether it's real or fake, and possibly even who made it.  They do this from years of handling them and also analysing the small idiosyncrasies of the design, placement of the numbers etc. that characterise certain makers.


If you have the time, joining some online expert chat rooms and social media groups can be useful to tap friendly experts and build some knowledge. Watch out for the condescending 'rivet counters' though who may not be as welcoming as they should be to new collectors.  Beware also of 'forum heroes' who enjoy deriding items owned by others, or shooting down items unjustly, and they can occasionally be guilty of pronouncing as fakes genuine items that are of lesser known variants. There are some crosses that even experts will be divided on as well.

For most militaria collectors, they are in the hands of honest dealers to be open with what it is that they are selling. Beware of less open and honest dealers who can pass off aged fakes as the real deal. Be aware that some dealers who may not have detailed knowledge, may innocently be passing off a fake that they themselves fell for as a genuine item.  It wouldn't be the first time that even experienced dealers and collectors had fallen for a clever fake of German militaria. 

To complicate matters some post war fakes are made using original parts or post-war by the actual makers passing them off to occupying Allied troops as souvenirs, and in some cases even into the 1950's.

The types of Iron Cross are:

Iron Cross Second Class / EK2


Awarded with a length of ribbon in the German national colours of black, white and red.  A thin length of ribbon was worn on a tunic to denote the soldier as an award recipient, with the actual medal mounted to the ribbon to be worn at the time of award and for parade / ceremonial occasions.  Whilst numerous and widely awarded during WW2, they are now becoming much scarcer.   Certain makers and styles are even more sought after and command higher prices.

Iron Cross First Class / EK1

Awarded for additional acts of valour to those already awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. Worn on the left tunic pocket with no ribbon.  Affixed with either a pin back or screw back. Rarer than the EK2 and becoming harder to source, especially the screw back variants.  Like with the EK2, certain makers and forms are more sought after and valuable than others.

Knight's Cross of The Iron Cross / KC

The highest grade of the Iron Cross Award.  Worn on a length or ribbon and a loop around the neck. Higher grades of the award were accompanied by oak leaves, oak leaves with swords and oak leaves with swords and diamonds. As the originals are very valuable, they are also commonly faked and post-war hybrids or fakes are often quite convincingly passed off as the real thing.  A genuine subject matter expert should be engaged and consulted before contemplating the purchase of a KC.

A few tips for buying an Iron Cross (these are by no means exhaustive as experts may look at numerous other factors):

Does the dealer have money back assurances?


This is always a good sign, and a good thing to have up your sleeve should it subsequently prove to be a cleverly faked item.  Sadly they are out there.

Is it magnetic? 

Whilst it is the 'Iron' Cross, which will make most magnetic, not all genuine Iron Crosses are actually magnetic.  Non magnetic versions were made as cheaper private purchases options for field wear or second pieces by awardees.  A simple fridge magnet can show you that a cross is magnetic and can be a big indicator that you have an original.  


Having said that, at least one maker of high quality reproductions has made magnetic reproductions in the past, but these don't show up too frequently thankfully.   So being non-magnetic doesn't always mean that it's fake, but being magnetic means it does have a higher chance of being legit for a new collector who is not across the finer points of identifying Iron Crosses.


Is it of three sectioned / three piece construction?

The black painted Iron Core had its silver frame soldered together over the top of the iron core in two pieces from either side.  So some telltale signs to look for here are:

- When you look at the silver frame side on can you see a join / line running down the side of the frame?  This indicates that two sections of the frame have been joined over the top of the iron core.

- Can you slide a piece of paper between the core and the inner corners of the frame? If the frame is tight you can't always do this by the way, it works on ones that have become slightly loose over time.

- Does the silver frame have any black paint on it? Genuine manufacture has the black painted iron core in the centre, then the silver frame mounted from either side. Single piece moulded fakes can therefore have paint on the lower inside portions of the silver coloured frames that adjoin the supposed black painted iron core from being painted after moulding. 

To muddy the waters further, there are actually some genuine war time one piece private purchase examples around as well, but a single piece has a higher chance of being a repro unless expert enough to spot the characteristics that may make a it a genuine piece. 

Patina and general look of the Cross

This is somewhat subjective, and based on experience, but experts look for a texture of the metal and the paint of the iron core as veins and aged imperfections in the iron can bubble up or show rust, lines and imperfections with age.  Be aware though that pristine examples can actually have that 'brand new' look and feel as well.  Some crosses may have had the black paint on crown or swastika scratched / worn off by the wart time owner (or a post war owner), and some may have had paint touch ups during the war or post war.  Crosses with good original paintwork to the core tend to command higher prices, but the worn and knocked about ones also have a charm.



Not all genuine Iron Crosses are marked. There are many fine and highly sought after Crosses that are not marked.  Early War crosses are usually not marked.  


After 1941 there were certain requirements for makers to mark the Crosses. These markings can appear in a variety of places and numbers, or combinations of letters and numbers that indicate which supplier made the Cross.


There are many makers who were licensed to make the Crosses as either original award pieces, or as private purchases for field wear by awardees   Internet lists of maker numbers can be found online. Some are numbers  some combinations of letter and number.


Fakers can also add numbers to Crosses, so look out for that, and often multiple factors should be taken into account over and above a maker mark to determine real from an aged fake. 



In the course of WW2 militaria collecting and study, museums and private collectors will acquire items of all nationalities, including German. We see this as a legitimate aspect of militaria research  and collecting.  


We make no political or revisionist statements whatsoever, merely provide an online platform for military antiques and collectables of all styles for educational purposes, private and public museums, collecting  and research etc.


To see more on our policy  in this regard CLICK HERE.

Have a look at the images below of genuine Crosses from our collection to see some of the characteristics referenced here.


The Iron Cross, prized gallantry award and Allied war trophy

Screen Shot 2021-08-18 at 7.45.21 am.png
bottom of page