A Short History of the “Blue Max” Medal

Kapitanleutnant zur See Friedrich Christiansen by Ivan Berryman. (GS)

During a patrol on 6th July 1918, Christiansen spotted a British submarine on the surface of the Thames Estuary. He immediately turned and put his Hansa-Brandenburg W.29 floatplane into an attacking dive, raking the submarine C.25 with machine gun fire, killing the captain and five other crewmen. This victory was added to his personal tally, bringing his score to 13 kills by the end of the war, even though the submarine managed to limp back to safety. Christiansen survived the war and went on to work as a pilot for the Dornier company, notably flying the giant Dornier Do.X on its inaugural flight to New York in 1930. He died in 1972, aged 93.

On 8 May 1667 in the Germanic principality of Brandenburg Prince Friedrich Wilhelm founded the Order of Generosité (aka the ‘Gracecross’), a military and civil order that was created for rewarding loyal subjects for outstanding service. Initially it was a simple gold cross with a precious stone in the middle, but in 1685 the medal took on a new look that was very like the Order of St John. The basic design is that of an eight-pointed Maltese Cross, enamelled in sky blue, with an eagle with upswept wings between each arm. The upper arm bears a hand-painted letter ‘F’ (for Friedrich) surmounted by the electoral crown. The other three arms have the words ‘Gene’, ‘Rosi’ and ‘Te’ on them. The reverse was plain blue enamel. It was worn around the neck from a long black ribbon 1½ inches (38mm) wide.

On 9 January 1740 the award was renamed and established as the Orden Pour le Mérite by Friedrich II (the Great). The most obvious change was the wording: the ‘F’ and the crown were retained on the upper arm, but now it became ‘Pour’ on the left arm, ‘leMe’ on the right arm and ‘rite’ on the lower arm, originally in italics but changed in 1832 to the Roman style; the whole medal is 52mm wide. Silver stripes were also added to the black ribbon. The wording is in French because it was the favoured court language at the time. Holders of the Order of Generosité were allowed to continue wearing it, but if they were awarded the Pour le Mérite they were required to return it. The medal saw many inconsistencies in appearance and construction between 1740 and the 1800s. The Pour le Mérite with ‘Brilliants’ was a special award that was encrusted with diamond-like gems.

On 18 January 1810 the Pour le Mérite was reserved as a military order. It could be (and was) awarded more than once to the same person, and in fact was awarded three times to one person. On 10 March 1813 the Oak Leaves were established by Wilhelm III in memory of his wife Queen Louise, and would be awarded for extraordinary achievements; these were gold, but later were made from silver and measured 17mm by 20mm. From 17 December 1817 the Oak Leaves ribbon would have another silver stripe, down the centre. The ‘Peace Class’ of the Pour le Mérite was created in 1842 for Art and Science, and women were eligible for this award. Between 1842 and 1913 no fewer than 324 awards were made, including three to the military. The ‘Crown’ attachment came next, established by Wilhelm IV in 1844. This was for those who had held the Pour le Mérite for fifty years and was first awarded to Generalmajor du Pac de Badens et Sombrelle of France. The Crown was gold and measured 17mm by 14mm. On 18 September 1866 the Grand Cross and Star were established by Wilhelm I; only ever awarded five times, it was never awarded again after his death. The Grand Cross was twice the size of the Pour le Mérite and a companion Star was worn on the breast. On 27 January 1903 the Kaiser bestowed the Pour le Mérite on the gunboat SMS Iltis in recognition of the bravery of her entire crew during the Boxer uprising; this is the only time that the award has been given in this way. In its 173 years up to the First World War the Pour le Mérite had been awarded 4,743 times.

There was no set criteria for the award of the medal. The Army General Headquarters staff provided recommendations to the Kaiser’s military cabinet and the awards were determined by the Adjutant General’s department. However, the Kaiser could (and did) award it directly in reward for glorious or decisive victories, and often for a single act. During the war a total of 687 awards were made.

On 9 November 1918 all imperial orders were abolished with the Kaiser’s abdication. The Peace Class was reinstituted on 31 May 1952 and survives to this day.

Hauptmann Ernst von BRANDENBURG

Ernst von Brandenburg was born in Westphalia on 4 June 1883. After leaving school he volunteered for the army as a cadet, joining the 6th West Prussian Infantry Regiment Nr 149 in Schneidemuhl. In 1911 he was assigned to the Research Institute for the Aviation System to look into the merits of military aviation. By the outbreak of war he was the regimental adjutant with the rank of Oberleutnant, and his regiment was soon in action on the Western Front. During his first year in action he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class but was also wounded so severely that he was declared unfit for trench warfare. On 1 November 1915 he applied for the German Army Air Service and was accepted

After training as an observer in the spring of 1916, Brandenburg was assigned to a reconnaissance unit attached to the infantry. He carried out many missions, for which he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Knight’s Cross of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order. Then on 10 January 1917 General Hoeppner asked him to form a bomber squadron for the express purpose of bombing England, particularly London. The problems likely to be encountered on such a raid were many, including the unreliability of the available bombers and the weather. Kagohl 3, also known as the ‘England Geschwader’, was duly formed and intense training begin. The Gotha bombers did not have sufficient fuel capacity for the round trip so auxiliary tanks had to be fitted. The three-man crews were given extra thick clothes and the bombers were equipped with oxygen which the men could suck from, although most crews said they would have preferred cognac. The 14,000ft bombing altitude gave the bombers a great deal of protection as no Allied fighter at that time could reach that height.

Although attached to the Fourth Army, Kagohl 3 operated independently and received orders from OHL. By June 1917 the squadron was ready, but the British weather intervened, twice, but at 10am on 13 June eighteen Gothas took off from Ghent and headed towards England. As they crossed the Channel alarm bells started ringing in England and at 1pm the bombers reached London. Anti-aircraft fire commenced but, due to the poor siting of the guns and lack of training for the crews, this was ineffective, and the Gothas bombed docks, railway stations and warehouses. Of the thirty British fighters sent up to intercept them, not one was effective. A few of the Gothas were hit but not badly enough to bring them down, and two hours after dropping their bombs the whole squadron landed in Ghent.

The next day, 14 June 1917, Brandenburg was summoned to Supreme Headquarters and in front of the Kaiser described the whole raid in detail; he was immediately promoted to Hauptmann and the Kaiser personally awarded the Pour le Mérite and invited him to stay for the weekend. He was one of only two Bombengeschwader commanders to be given this honour. On his return to the front his Albatros, piloted by Oberleutnant Freiherr von Trotha, took off, but as the aircraft lifted from the airfield the engine spluttered and the Albatros crashed back to the ground. Brandenburg was pulled from the wreckage severely injured, his shattered leg having to be amputated.

After recovering, he returned to his squadron and organised many more raids, but he was soon taken off the active service duty list. At the end of the war the squadron was disbanded and Brandenburg returned to Germany. In 1924 he was appointed Director of Civil Aviation and helped to form the Luftwaffe. Former senior army officers were enrolled in commercial pilot schools and some 27 million marks were channelled to the Reichswehr through the ministry for military aviation. However, with the rise of the Nazis, he was pushed aside in favour of Ernst Udet. Not much is known about the rest of his life.

He died in Berlin in 1952.

Kapitänleutnant zur See Friedrich CHRISTIANSEN (13 victories)

The son of a sea captain, Friedrich Christiansen was born on 12 December 1879 in Wyk on Fohr. The naval tradition in his family ensured that on leaving school in 1895 he joined the merchant navy, with which he served until 1901, when he volunteered for military service, serving on MTBs. After a year with the MTBs, Christiansen went back to the merchant navy and was appointed as second officer on Preussen, then the biggest sailing ship in the world. In 1913 he decided to learn to fly and after graduating became an instructor at a civilian flying school in 1914.

At the outbreak of war Christiansen was called up and posted to Zeebrugge as a naval aviator, flying Brandenburg W12 seaplanes over the North Sea and England. He even bombed Dover, for which he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class. For the next year he carried out raids and reconnaissance patrols, making C-Staffel one of the most successful units in the German Naval Air Service. Leutnant der Matrosen Artillerie Christiansen was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and the Knight’s Cross with Swords of the Royal Hohenzollern House Order on 27 April 1916.

Christiansen shot down his first opponent on 15 May 1917, when he brought down a Sopwith Pup while on patrol near Dover. On 1 September he was promoted to Oberleutnant and given command of the Naval Air Station at Zeebrugge, and celebrated by shooting down a Porte FB2 Baby flying-boat near Felixstowe. On 11 December 1917 he shot down the airship C27, and was awarded the Pour le Mérite on the same day, having completed 440 missions.

On 15 February 1918 he shot down a Curtiss H12b flying-boat, followed by two more on 24 and 25 April. In June and July he brought down three more F2a flying-boats from Felixstowe. On 6 July he attacked the submarine C–25 while it was on the surface, killing the captain and five of her crew; Christiansen believed the submarine had sunk but in fact she limped back to harbour. Christiansen was credited with shooting down thirteen enemy aircraft by the end of the war, but he may also have ‘sunk’ some vessels and shot down into the sea some aircraft that are often credited to him but cannot be confirmed. His total may have been as high as twenty-one or twenty-seven according to some records.

After the war he returned to the merchant navy and for a while worked for the Dornier Company. In 1930 he flew the largest seaplane in the world, the Dornier Do X, on its maiden Atlantic flight to New York. In 1933 he joined the German Aviation Ministry to help rebuild the air force and was appointed Korpsfuhrer of the NSFK in 1937. After the fall of Holland in 1940, Christiansen was appointed commanding officer of occupied Holland, a post he held until the end of the war, when he was arrested and imprisoned by the Allies. On his release he returned to West Germany. He died at the age of 93 at Innien on 5 December 1972, fifty-four years after the award of his Pour le Mérite–thus entitling him to the fifty-year Crown had it still been awarded.


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