Blue Max -- the German Pour Le Merite medal.

Blue Max — the German Pour Le Merite medal.

Strictly speaking, the Blue Max is anything but a lapel pin. Nevertheless, since I have several military pins, it belongs in my collection.

Although it may sound incongruous, Germany’s highest military medal awarded during WWI was the decidedly French sounding Pour le Merite (“For Merit,” also known as the “The Blue Max”).

The award dates back to 1667 when, in the German state of Brandenburg, the Ordre de la Generosite—the Order of Generosity—was created by Frederick William I. Given that French was the language of the royal court the naming of the merit award would have appeared a natural choice.

The award’s name was subsequently modified in June 1740 to Pour le Merite by Frederick the Great. Frederick planned to issue the new award to subjects performing with particular merit in the coming conflict with Silesia.

Until January 1810 the award could (and was) awarded to civilians in additional to military personnel. Frederick William III however decreed that henceforth the award could only be presented to serving military personnel, although a civil class for arts and science was initiated in 1842.

Following the death of his wife, Queen Louise, Frederick determined to create the “Oakleaves” (seen on four sides, surrounding the cross) in her honor. The Oakleaves (which was formally documented in 1813) was available for presentation to Pour le Merite holders in the event of additional extraordinary achievements.

The Pour le Merite, along with all other imperial orders, was similarly abolished along with Kaiser Wilhelm II’s abdication on November 9, 1918. Once again however a civil class of the award was re-introduced in February 1922.

Curiously, receipt of the Pour le Merite need not only be a once-only honor. Some recipients were awarded the medal on two and even three separate occasions—although on the other hand the unfortunate Count Franz Florentin Valory received his award some 21 years after the events actually cited.

During the WWI (1914-18) the award gained its greatest fame. It was awarded to commanders operating on all fronts and in all forms of warfare. In the aerial war a fighter pilot was initially entitled to the award upon downing eight enemy aircraft. Max Immelmann was thus the first airman to receive the award, after which it became known—on account of its color and its recipient—as the Blue Max among his fellow pilots.

The qualifying total was subsequently revised to 16. Although the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, readily qualified for the award he was not however—and to Erich Ludendorff’s surprise—awarded the supplementary Oakleaves.

The last surviving recipient of the military Pour le Merite—Ernst Junger—died in 1998.

Location: 11-A1

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