Germany – Third Reich: An Exceptional Knights Cross Winner’s Document Group to Gefreiter Karl Orth, 13th (Infantry Field Gun) Company, 453rd Grenadier Regiment, 253rd Infantry Division, one of only two recipients of all three classes of the Iron Cross on the same day for an extraordinary act of gallantry during a Red Army attack on 19th February 1944 during which he was wounded after only being on the frontline for just 7 weeks!
A rare and interesting document group relating to one of the few recipients of three gallantry awards on the same day, resulting in the award of his Knights Cross, it consists of 3 award certificates, 9 photos, 13 original newspaper cuttings (two of the same article), a copy of a 253rd Infantry Division Order of the Day describing Orth’s act of bravery, 6 congratulation letters, a telex from the Mayor of Bad Durkheim, a Commander-in-Chief 9th Army’s Order of the Day listing Orth’s award of the Knigths Cross, an official Knights Cross award list including Orth’s name, a handwritten card of congratulations from his former workplace with a large number of his comrades’ signatures and a handwritten sequence of music to celebrate Orth’s birthday in 1944.
- The Iron Cross 2nd Class awarded by Divisional HQ on 1st March 1944 as a Grenadier, 13/453rd Grenadier Regiment. Signed by Becker as Generalleutnant and General Officer Commanding 253rd Infantry Division
Becker was awarded the German Cross in Gold on 18.10.1941 as Oberst and Commanding Officer 18th Infantry Regiment (6th Infantry Division), the Knights Cross on 1.11.1942 as Oberst and Commanding Officer 18th Infantry Regiment and the 829th Oakleaves on 14.4.1945 as Generalleutnant and General Officer Commanding 253rd Infantry Division.
- The Iron Cross 1st Class awarded by Divisional HQ on 2nd March 1944 as a Grenadier, 13/453rd Grenadier Regiment. Signed by Becker as Generalleutnant and General Officer Commanding 253rd Infantry Division.
- The Black Wound Badge awarded on 9th March 1944 at 262 War Hospital, Vilna for a wound received on 19th February 1944 as a Grenadier, 13/453rd Grenadier Regiment. Signed by a Stabsarzt and Chief Doctor of the Hospital.
- 5th March 1944 – A Copy of a 253rd Infantry Division Order of the Day giving a brief description of Karl Orth’s action on 19th February 1944 near Starina which led to the award of the Knights Cross on 3rd March 1944. The General Officer Commanding congratulates Orth on his award and holds him up as a shining example of bravery to all members of the Division. This copy has been sent by the Division to the Duisburg Mayor who then passed it to Orth’s wife on 15th March 1944.
- 17th March 1944 – A Commander-in-Chief of the 9th Army’s Order of the Day listing those officers/soldiers under command who had been awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 29.2, 3.3, 6.3, and 12.3.1944, and the German Cross in Gold on 21.2.1944 – The Order was enclosed in its own official 9th Army folder dated 17.3.1944
- An official undated listing of those officers/soldiers who had been awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross in late February/early March 1944.
- Fuhrer HQ, 6th March ‘Hero’s Act of a Duisburg Grenadier’ – He was decorated on the same with the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class and the Knights Cross. A short description of the action which led to Karl Orth’s award of the Knights Cross. The article ends with the announcement of the Fuhrer’s award of the Knights Cross as well as the Iron Crosses 2nd and 1st Class. It gives the detail of Orth’s place and date of birth, his fathers’ occupation as well as Orth’s civil occupation and finally saying Orth now lived with his family.
- Fuhrer HQ, 6th March ‘A Grenadier prevented a breakthrough’ – A Duisburg Soldier decorated on the same day with the Iron Crosses 1st and 2nd Class and the Knights Cross. A short description of the action which led to Karl Orth’s award of the Knights Cross.
- ‘The Deed of Grenadier Orth from Duisburg – Penetration attempts to the south west of the Beresina turned away, heavy Soviet losses. There are two copies of this article giving a short description of the action which led to Karl Orth’s award of the Knights Cross.
- ‘A Grenadier as a shining example’ – The Feat of Arms of Soldier Orth from Duisburg. A quite detailed description of the action which led to Karl Orth’s award of the Knights Cross.
- ‘He had only been 7 weeks at the East Front’ – A very brief description of the action which led to Karl Orth’s award of the Knights Cross. There is a good size photo of Karl Orth in uniform wearing his Silver German Sports Badge with no other decorations.
- ‘Our Home – Knights Cross Holder Karl Orth’ – With the Father of the decorated person – a keen sportsman and a brave soldier – An article which gives quite a bit of information about Orth’s father, family, his youth and early manhood. It also describes the reaction of Orth’s father to his son’s award of the Knights Cross. There is a good/head shoulders photo of Orth in civilian dress – he looks a fit man.
- ‘The Deed of Grenadier Orth’ – Three separate articles – the first by the Duisburg Mayor (Herr Freytag) thanking Orth’s Divisional Cmmander for the copy of the Divisional Order of the Day (See military documents above), ‘The Town Council’s letter of Congratulations’ – the second by Herr Freytag with a copy of his letter on behalf of Duisburg town to Orth on the occasion of his award of the Knights Cross ‘An incentive for everyone’ – a copy of a letter sent to the Duisburg Mayor by a German woman from Sondershausen/Thuringia expressing her pride in what Karl Orth has achieved.
- ‘Duisburg honours Knights Cross Holder Orth’ – Worthy recognition of an amazing achievement – A copy of a letter from the Mayor of Duisburg to Orth expressing the town’s pride in his achievements on the battlefield and wishing him a speedy recovery.
- ‘Honour to whom Honour is Due’ – A short paragraph describing Karl Orth’s welcome by Duisburg-Wedau local political leaders, members of the SA and Hitler Youth and Marksmen during a visit by Orth to his home town whilst recuperating from his wounding. There is a photo of Orth, wearing his Knights Cross, marching past the front of the welcoming parade with two political leaders.
- ‘Wedau honours its Knights Cross Holder.’ – March Past of Party and Rifle Associations A description of a welcoming parade Karl Orth received from his home town Duisburg-Wedau whilst on leave recuperating from his wounding. There is a head/shoulders photo of Orth wearing his Knights Cross.
- ‘ A good Marksman and Comrade’. A short notice about Karl Orth’s involvement in the local Rifle Club and his success as a Marksman.
- ‘Van et Holtke op et Stockse’ – The Duisburg Marksmen are also proud – An article consisting of 4 paragraphs, the second of which describes the Duisburg Marksmen’s reaction to Karl Orth’s award of the Knights Cross.
Letters and Documents:
- Duisburg, 7.3.1944 – A letter of congratulations from Dr Wolf as the Director of the Duisburg Copper Works where Orth worked prior to his call-up for military service.
- Duisburg, 8.3.1944 – A letter of congratulations to Orth from Herr Josef Klinkenberg on behalf of all members of Orth’s Rifle Club in Duisburg.
- Cologne-Lindenthal, 9.3.1944 - A letter of congratulations to Orth from the German Rifle Association on behalf of all members of the Association.
- Bad Durkheim, 9.3.1944 – A telex to Orth from the Mayor of Bad Durkheim inviting him for along stay at the town of his birth with his family after his recovery.
- Duisburg, 14.3.1944 – A letter to Orth’s Divisional Commander from the Mayor of Duisburg (Herr Freytag) acknowledging the receipt of the Division’s Order of the Day. The Mayor states that he has passed a copy to Orth’s wife and expresses the town’s pleasure at the high award – the tenth Knights Cross to a Duisburg man. The letter is forwarded to 453 Grenadier Regiment which it received on 27th March.
- Landau/Pfalz, 20.3.1944 – A note of congratulations to Orth from the Landau Recruiting Officer wishing him a speedy recovery in the hope that he will soon be able to come and give a talk to the local youth about his experiences at the front.
- Duisburg, March 1944 – A handwritten A4 size card of congratulations signed by 76 of his former comrades of the electrical workshop in the Duisburg Copper Works. It expresses pride and pleasure of all in the first award of the Knights Cross to a former member of the Copper Works.
- Essen, 13.4.1944 – A letter of congratulations to Orth from the Deputy Gauleiter of Gau Essen.
- An undated programme of music on the occasion of the birthday of the Knights Cross Holder – Gefreiter Orth. The musical pieces are by Pollack, Suppee, P. Lincke, Carena, Grieg, Verdi and Bahre.
A good series of 9 photographs which cover the Knights Cross presentation ceremony – before and after the event. There is one original WW2 photo, a copy of an original with the other 7 being produced by the Photo Archive of the ‘Bundesarchiv’.
- A modern copy of a good postcard size photo of Karl Orth sitting on a chair in a room. He is in uniform as a Gefreiter wearing a 1943 field cap and his decorations which include the Knights Cross. Karl Orth has signed this photo after WW2.
- A small good head and shoulders photo of Karl Orth in uniform wearing a 1943 field cap and his decorations which include the Knights Cross.
- Orth sitting on his hospital bed, dressed in his pyjamas, looking at an Oberfeldwebel ‘Der Spiess’ approaching him with his uniform so he could get dressed for the presentation of the Knights Cross.
- Orth, now dressed in uniform with his cap and gloves in left hand, turns and waves to his fellow patients as he sets off with ‘Der Spiess’ for the presentation ceremony. He is wearing the Black Wound Badge and the German Sports Badge in Silver.
- Orth in a pensive mood prior to the presentation ceremony alongside an Army Leutnant, Army Hauptmann and a Luftwaffe Oberleutnant.
- Orth being presented with the Iron Cross 2nd Class. The photo shows the decoration ribbon being threaded through the second button hole below the collar. This action is being carried out by what looks like a relatively junior officer.
- Orth, standing to attention, in front of the parade of fit/injured hospital inmates with the Knights Cross draped around his neck and the Iron Cross 2nd Class threaded through the button hole – there is no sign of the Iron Cross 1st Class. A senior officer (it is not clear if he is of General rank) is to his front making a speech to all those present which is being recorded by a war reporter.
- Orth being interviewed, after the presentation, by a war reporter which is being recorded. He is standing next to a well decorated Army infantry Hauptmann (Iron Cross 1st Class, Silver Infantry Assault Badge, Close Combat In Bronze and Silver Wound Badge.)
- Orth now stands and watches the same Army Hauptmann (see para 8 above) being interviewed by the same war reporter.
Karl Orth was born in Bad Durkeim on 16th April 1906 which is located on the edge of Pfalzerwald, 24kms to the west of Mannheim. His father Karl Orth, was a carpenter. He was the eldest of 3 brothers, and also had a younger sister. He was educated at the Bad Durkheim Elementary School. On leaving education he learnt the trade of painter and decorator and later worked as a journeyman in the town and the surrounding area.
A keen sportsman, who took part in athletics, played football as a goalkeeper and was also a boxer, he had been awarded the German Sports Badge in Silver. At the beginning of June 1939 he left Bad Durkheim and moved to Duisburg in the Ruhr and settled in Duisburg-Wedau. He retrained in the electrical trade and became an electrical engineer in the Duisburg Copper Works. He was a marksman and shooting instructor in the Duisburg Rifle Club. He was a married man with a young daughter (several years old in March/April 1944).
Karl Orth was called up on 31st March 1943 for active service when he was almost 37 years old. It is most probable that his employment as an electrical engineer was classed as a reserved occupation and so prevented his earlier call up.
It was not until 31st December 1943 that he arrived on the Eastern Front, and it was after less than 7 weeks at the front, that on 19th February 1944 he was to perform the act that led to the award of his Knights Cross on 3rd March 1944, alongside both the Iron Cross 2nd Class and Iron Cross 1st Class, this is only one of two known occasions hat all three of these awards have been awarded to an individual at the same time, the other being Grenadier Gunther Halm, who received his awards in North Africa.
Orth’s Knights Cross was awarded when he took over the command of an Infantry Field Gun Platoon as a Grenadier after its commander had been killed and beat off two further attacks despite being wounded and is covered in the Divisional Order of the Day, published on 5th March 1944:
‘The Fuhrer has awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross to Grenadier Orth, 13/453rd Grenadier Regiment. Grenadier Orth is 37 years old, married and a soldier since 31.3.1943 and in the East since 31.12.1943.
No war decoration as previously awarded to him
Grenadier Orth has seized the command of this platoon on his own initiative after his Infantry field gun Platoon commander fell in action after a successful fight with 100-200 strong enemy attack during the heavy defence battles on 19.2.1944 near Starina.
A renewed attack in the strength of about 150 men on the fire position was beaten off in a direct shoot under his command with leaving behind 50 dead enemy and because of this his comrades were spurred on again and again to resist. The Bolshevists fled.
Now only 2 Grenadiers were still not wounded. Under the command of Orth and as a result of the transference of his battle…. Comrades – also on those who were wounded – dragged the field gun in a team effort from the fire position which was no longer usable as a result of enemy pressure. The Platoon occupied a new position despite heavy enemy fire. Orth organised munition resupply and set up the Platoon again for defence.
There the brave Grenadier is wounded by a shot in the thigh. Nevertheless he did not leave his post and successfully fended off a new carried forward enemy attack in the strength of 100-150 men despite heavy enemy fire.
Only after fending off this attack when an Obergefreiter, who was to take over command, arrived in the fire position did the wounded Grenadier Orth allow himself to be brought to the dressing station.
This outstanding act of Grenadier Orth shows that in a most serious situation a brave, combat inspired soldier with clenched teeth and steely determination is in the position to accomplish the greatest and most heroic achievements; that he spurred on his comrades to the same brave acts through his heroic example.
Every soldier a Grenadier Orth!
I express to Grenadier Orth – at the same time in the name of the whole Division – my particular thanks and my particular recognition and congratulations on his high decoration.
Signed by Becker, the Divisional Commander.
Karl Orth spent a period of time recovering from his wounds in hospital, and although it is unclear if he saw any more frontline action in the remainder of the war, we do know that he survived.
An exceptionally scarce group to one of only two known recipients of the Iron Cross 2nd Class, Iron Cross 1st Class and Knights Cross on the same day.