The Iron Cross (German: Eisernes Kreuz, listen (help·info), abbreviated EK) was a military decoration in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later in the German Empire (1871–1918) and Nazi Germany (1933–1945). King Frederick William III of Prussia established it on 17 March 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars (EK 1813). The award was backdated to the birthday (10 March) of his late wife, Queen Louise. Louise was the first person to receive this decoration (posthumously). Recommissioned Iron Cross was also awarded during the Franco-Prussian War (EK 1870), World War I (EK 1914), and World War II (EK 1939). During the 1930s and World War II, the Nazi regime superimposed a swastika on the traditional medal.
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The Iron Cross was usually a military decoration only, though there were instances awarded to civilians for performing military functions, including Hanna Reitsch, who received the Iron Cross, 2nd class, and Iron Cross, 1st Class, and Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, who received the Iron Cross, 2nd Class, for being civilian test pilots during World War II.
The Prussian Army black crosses pattée was also used as the symbol of the succeeding German Army from 1871 to March–April 1918, when the Balkenkreuz replaced it. In 1956, it was re-introduced as the symbol of the Bundeswehr, the modern German armed forces (with the "ends" of the white border removed, as in the Balkenkreuz of 1918).