This high quality reproduction is a fantastic addition to any collection. Please note this medal comes with the black and white ribbon shown in photos.
The Pour le Mérite, known informally as the Blue Max (German: Blauer Max), was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest order of merit. It was awarded strictly as a recognition of extraordinary personal achievement, rather than as a general marker of social status or a courtesy-honour, although certain restrictions of social class and military rank were applied. The award was given as both a military (1740-1918) and civil (1740-1810, after 1842 as a separate class) honour.
The award was founded in 1740, by Frederick the Great; it was intended primarily as a military honour, but was also sometimes given for civil accomplishments. New awards of the military class ceased with the end of the Prussian monarchy in November 1918.
A separate civil class of the Pour le Mérite, the Pour le mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste, was created in 1842 to honour accomplishments in the arts and sciences. This version of the order was revived as an independent organization in 1923, and again in 1952, with the President of Germany replacing the King of Prussia as head of the order. This version of the honour is still active.
The order is effectively secular, and membership endures for the remaining lifetime of the inductee, unless renounced or revoked.
No women were admitted to the military class of the Pour le Mérite during the entire time of its existence, however women have been admitted to the civil class of the order since 1929. To date, female honourees remain a small minority of the membership, both in terms of active and historic totals.
The Pour le Mérite was founded in 1740 by King Frederick II of Prussia. It was named in French, which was the leading international language and language of the Prussian royal court of that era. The French name was retained, despite the rising tide of nationalism and increasing hostility between French and Germans during the 19th century, and ironically many of its recipients were honoured for acts performed in wars against France.
Until 1810, the Order was given as both a civilian and a military honor.
The Pour le Mérite is an "order", in which a person is admitted into membership, and should not be referred to as a "medal" or "decoration".
In January 1810, during the Napoleonic wars, King Frederick William III decreed that the award could be presented only to serving military officers. In March 1813, the king 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.
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. AcesMax 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.
The last new member admitted to this class of the order was flying ace Theo Osterkamp, on 2 September, 1918.
The military class of the Pour le Mérite became extinct as a result of the German revolution, with the end of the Prussian monarchy at KaiserWilliam II's abdication as King of Prussia (and as Emperor of Germany) on 9 November 1918. It was never awarded thereafter; however the honour continued to be recognized for, and worn by, previous recipients.
Helmuth Graf von Moltke, known as "Moltke the Elder"; first decorated in 1839 as a junior officer; he received the oak leaves in 1871 and the Grand Cross in March 1879. Also inducted into the civil class of the order in 1874.
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.
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.
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 Battle of Gallipoli.