Medals of Austria-Hungary

Page © 1998 Micheal Shackelford.
Text by M.Shackelford and Hendrik Meersschaert.
Images from H.M. collection and other sources.

-The Order of the Golden Fleece - One of the most ancient of chivilaric knighthood orders. The Order was of such limited membership as to lie outside this study, but is included here for identification.
- Established in 1430 by Duke Phillip III of Burgundy, the Order came be an Austrian Order (or more properly, a Habsburg Order) when Maximillian of Habsburg (husband of Marie, Phillip's granddaughter) became Sovereign of the Order. Membership was always stricly limited, and usually only extended to members of the Imperial family and the highest of the nobility in Austria and abroad. As with other ancient knighthood orders, this Order comes in only one grade. The badge, a gold 'fleece' suspended from a highly stylized "B" (for Burgundy) was worn from the neck on a scarlet ribbon.
Following the split in the Habsburg house into Spanish and Austrian branches, there came to be both an Austrian Order and a Spanish Order. Both are still in existence today. One had to be Catholic and of good character to receive it. Except for Imperial archdukes and foreign nobility it was usually only given late in life as a reward for a lifetime of service to the Imperial family.
The last Habsburg emperor, Karl (1916-1918), awarded seven knighthoods to the order after he was removed as Emperor and before his death in 1922. Karl's grandson, Otto, presides as Sovereign of the Order today.

- The Military Order of Maria Theresa. Founded by the Empress Maria Theresa on 22 June 1757 as a reward for merit for senior military officers. The order was to be granted as a reward for acts of military valor and to perpetuate the memory of the brave officers receiving it. An officer had to command in a battle or a unit in a winning action to be eligible for the higher grades. For even the lowest class (Knight) an officer had to perform highly significant feats of valor and extreme devotion to duty, to be considered for the Order . With such strict requirements, the Order was sparingly awarded. As with many high orders the decoration was to be returned to the Chancellery of the Order on the death of the holder.
Like most Austrian Orders, it came in three classes or grades:

- The Austrian Imperial Leopold Order - Established by Emperor Francis I in 1808 in honor of his father, Leopold, who reigned as Emperor for only two years. The Order was intended to provide the Empire with an order that was a bit more 'available' than the existing senior orders (see above) at the time.
The Knights Grand Cross were also addressed by the Emperor (as Grand Master of the Order) as "Cousin" as with Grand Cross members of the St. Stephen Order. Collars and insignia were returnable upon death of the member, the collar to the Grand Master and the insignia to the Registar.
The badge consists of a red enameled cross, with white enamel edging. In the medallion at the center of the cross are the initials FJA, in gold, on a red enamel background. In the ribband is the text "INTEGRITATE ET MERITO". The ribbon of the Order is red with two thin white edge stripes. There were three grades:
Knight Grand Cross, (19th cent. engraving of obverse, and reverse) Knight Commander and Knight Ordinary.

- The Austrian Order of the Iron Crown - This was the the most commonly awarded Austrian Order during the Great War era. During the latter part of the war, the Order of the Iron Crown functioned as an officer's bravery award. Unlike most orders, it came to be awarded more than once to the same recipient -- taking on more the characteristics of a bravery - medal - than a chivalric - Order-.
Originally an Italian Order (the Coronne de Fer), the Iron Crown came into Austrian use when Austria resumed control of Northern Italy in 1815 following the defeat of Napoleon's forces. Like many other chivalric orders, there was originally to be limited membership: 20 First Class, 30 Second and 50 Third Class, but the number greatly increased with time. Even though Austria lost most all her Italian territories in the various "little" wars between 1859-70 , Austria retained use of the Iron Crown as an "all purpose" order.
The First Class emblem was larger than the other two and worn in ceremonial occasions on a golden yellow sash with two thin blue stripes near the edges,
shown here in a 19th cent. engraving.The Second Class emblem was larger than the Knight's and worn from the neck, as seen here. The Third Class, or Knight's, was worn on the breast from the yellow and blue ribbon.

- The Royal Hungarian Order of St. Stephen - Established in 1764 by the Empress Maria Theresa (acting as Queen of Hungary) for award to her -noble - Hungarian subjects for civil merit. There was no military application of this order. It is rare, but we include it here for identification, in case it shows up in portraits. The Order came in the usual three grades, worn in the usual manner. The ribbon of the Order was violet with two small dark green side stripes.

- Militär-Verdienstkreuz (Cross for Military Merit) Awarded to officers, in peace time, for distinguished service through zeal and perseverance, in war time for valour and fine leadership. The cross, in white enamel with red enamel borders, was originally instituted on 21 October 1849 by Emperor Franz Joseph I and in 1860 the "Kriegsdekoration" (War Decoration), a gilded laurel wreath appearing between the arms of the cross, was added for distinction in action. On 23 September 1914 the decoration was reorganized into three classes :

On 13 December 1916 crossed gilt swords to be attached on the ribbon were instituted while from 1 August 1917 onwards, subsequent awards of the 3rd Class could be identified by trapeze shaped, gilt bars. The obverse medaillon of the cross bears the word "VER / DIENST" (Merit), the reverse is in plain white enamel.

- Tapferkeits Medaille (Bravery Medal) Awarded to non-commissioned officers and other ranks for a deed of bravery in war. This medal was instituted on 19 July 1789 in 3 classes : the Gold Medal, the Large Silver Medal (also called 1st Class Silver Medal) and the Small Silver Medal (2nd Class Silver Medal). On 14 February 1915 a Bronze Medal (50% bronze, 50% gunmetal) was added. During the 1st World War two types of the "Tapferkeits- Medaille" were issued : a first type bearing, on the obverse, the bust of Emperor Franz Joseph I with the text "FRANZ JOSEPH I V.G.G. KAISER V. OESTERREICH" (Franz Joseph I, by the grace of God, Emperor of Austria) and on the reverse, within a laurel wreath with crossed flags at the bottom, the words "DER / TAPFERKEIT" (For Bravery, in German) and a second type, issued after Franz Joseph's death in November 1916, bearing, on the obverse, the bust of Emperor Karl with the text "CAROLVaS D.G. IMP. AVST. REX BOH. ETC. ET REX APOST. HVNG." (Karl, by the grace of God, Emperor of Austria, King of Bohemia etc. and Apostolic King of Hungary). The reverse is similar to the first type but for the word "FORTITVDINI" (For Bravery, in Latin). On 29 November 1915 bars, trapeze form and in rustless iron, were installed for subsequent awards of the same class. An order of 15 September 1917 made officers also eligible, under special conditions, for the Gold or Silver Classes and in those cases a gilt or silver "K" was affixed to the ribbon. By mid March 1918 the Vienna Mint had struck, during the war, some 950,000 bronze, 384,000 small silver 2nd Class, 143,000 large silver and 3,700 gold medals.

- Verwundetenmedaille (Wound Medal) Awarded to members of the Army or Navy who were wounded in battle. This medal in grey metal bears, on the obverse, the head of Emperor Karl and has along the upper rim his name 'CAROLVS'. The reverse (shown in the enlargement) has the text "LAESO / MILITI" (to the military wounded) and below "MCMXVIII" (1918 in Roman figures). The medal was instituted on 12 August 1917 but only struck in 1918 which explains the year on the reverse. According to the number of wounds received, the ribbon has 1 to 5 central red stripes, bordered black.

- Eisernes Verdienstkreuz (Iron Cross for Merit) Awarded to soldiers or civil servants of lower rank for merit. This decoration was instituted on 1 April 1916 and could be awarded with or without an imperial crown. For service at the front, gilt swords attached to the ribbon were instituted on 13 December 1916. The cross could be suspended on the ribbon of the Bravery Medal in case of war merit or on a plain red ribbon for merit in times of peace. Awards of the latter kind were apparently never made. The obverse has a central medaillion in which the imperial monogram "FJ" (Franz Joseph) is placed within an inner circle bearing the motto "VIRIBUS UNITIS" (by united forces). The reverse (shown in the enlargement) bears the year of institution '1916' within a stylised wreath. The larger part of recipients of this decoration can be found among members of the medical corps, the field railroad corps and the military postal services.

- Militär-Verdienstmedaille (Medal for Military Merit) Often called 'Signum Laudis' from the text on the reverse, this medal was awarded to NCO's and other ranks for exceptional merit in war or peace. Instituted on 12 March 1890 by Emperor Franz Joseph I, it was issued on a plain red ribbon for peace merit, in silver or gilt bronze. On 1 April 1916 Franz Joseph added a higher class, the Large Medal for Military Merit. For merit whilst in view of the enemy, crossed gilt swords were attached to the ribbon and in February 1917 Karl I instituted silvered bars for a second and third award of the small medal, gilt bars for the Large Medal. In November 1916, at the succession to the throne of Karl I, the medals were adapted. The obverse was changed to have the new Emperor's bust and a corresponding text : "CAROLVS D.G. IMP.AVST.REX BOH.ETC. ET REX APOST.HVNG" (see Bravery Medal) and the suspension was altered to have 2 crowns on oak and laurel leafs (Emperor's crown of Austria, King's crown of Hungary). At first the oak and laurel leafs were repeated on the reverse, later in the war the suspension's reverse was plain. The reverse itself bears the words "SIGNVM / LAUDIS" (sign of esteem) within an oak and a laurel branch.

- Karl-Truppenkreuz (Karl-Troops Cross) - Awarded to all troops (militias included) who served in the field against an enemy for a minimum of 12 months and participated in at least one battle. The cross was instituted on 13 December 1916 and between 1 July 1917 and 30 June 1918 some 651,000 were struck. The grey metal cross has on its obverse arms the words "GRATI // PRINCEPS ET PATRIA // CAROLVS / IMP. ET REX" (Thanks - Sovereign and Fatherland - Karl, Emperor and King) and on the reverse, on the upper arm the two crowns for Austria and Hungary and the letter "C" (Carolus), on the other arms "VITAM ET SANGVINEM // MDCCCCXVI" (with life and blood - 1916).

Austrian Pilots Badge: This is the Austro-Hungarian Army pilots badge worn during the early and mid-war years. The badge is of two-piece construction and features gilting and enammeling and is one of the prettiest of WWI avaition badges. In the center is an eagle flying over the landscape and looking for prey. The leaves represent a spray of oakleaves. Several German pilots flying with Austrian units and passing Austrian flight qualifications and examinations wore this badge. Manfred von Richtofen was one of these, and during the early part of his carreer flew observation planes on the Russian front.
Following the death of Franz Joseph in 1916, and the ascension of his nephew Karl to the imperial throne, the design of Austrian pilots badges was changed. The new badge, had Karl's cypher in the shield at the bottom and two crowns at the top.

Medals of the Austrian Republic

With the end of the war, also came the end of the Habsburg monarchy. The Republic of Austria issued a few medals directly related to the Great War. Hungary was officially separated from Austria by the terms of the peace treaty and separately issued a commemorative medal.

- Tiroler Lanesdenkmünze (Tyrol Province Remembrance Medal) Awarded to all Tiroleans whos served in the First World War and also to those who, between 1915 and 1918 participated in defending the Tirol Province (amongst them were German mountain troops). This bronze gilt medal was instituted on 7 February 1928 and awards were stopped end March 1940. During that period some 120,000 were awarded. The obverse shows the Tirolean Eagle and the reverse bears, within an oak leaf wreath, the words "DAS / LAND TIROL / DEN / VERTEIDIGERN / DES / VATERLANDES/ 1914-1918" (The Tirol Province to the Defenders of the Homeland, 1914-1918).

- Kreigserinnerungsmedaille (War Commemorative Medal) Awarded to all who served in the First World War. This medal was instituted on 21 december 1932 and on 10 November 1933 gilt crossed swords were decreed. These were to be attached to the medal's ribbon for those who served under fire at the front, wounded and POW who had behaved with honour.
The obverse depicts an eagle with wings opened downwards, standing on an upright shield with the Austrian weapon. Along the lower rim are the words "FÜR ÖSTERREICH" (For Austria). On
the reverse, within an oak leaf wreath, the dates "1914-1918".

Post-War Hungary

- Commemorative Medal of the World War. Awarded "with helmet and swords" to soldiers and other combattants or "without helmet and swords" to all other war participants or to the nearest relative of a soldier KIA. This medal was instituted on 26 May 1929 by the Regent, Admiral Horthy. The obverse shows the weapon shield of Hungary surmounted by a crown and, if so awarded, with swords underneath the shield. The reverse bears the text "PRO DEO ET PATRIA / 1914-1918" (for God and Fatherland 1914-1918) and, if so awarded, with a WWI helmet over the dates. In case of the award "without helmet and swords", the ribbon is white with green-red-white side stripes.