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Item: Knight's Cross Oak Leaves #356
Knight's Cross Oak Leaves #356
Price: $5,925.00

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Luftwaffe Oberst Dr. Ernst Kuhl

The Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to the Knight's Cross was originally instituted on 3 June 1940 for the intended purpose of recognizing further meritorious actions performed by an individual who was already the holder of the Knight's Cross. During all of World War II, there was an overall total of eight hundred sixty three (863) awards of this decoration made, with nine (9) of these going to foreign (non German) individuals.

ABOVE is a composite photograph simultaneously showing both the front and reverse side views of Luftwaffe Oberst Dr. Kuhl's Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to the Knight's Cross. Physically measuring seven eighths (7/8") inches in width (29mm) by fifteen sixteenths (15/16") inches in height (21mm), the main body of this piece was produced using a solid construction design that has a bow that results in its reverse side appearing slightly concave. Reciprocally, the ribbon suspension bar was separately made and permanently attached to the back of the oak leaves via use of a silver welding technique. As seen in this photo, both pieces are made out of .800 grade quality silver, that has taken on a deep tarnish patina due to oxidation over a period of many years.

Presented here is Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) Number #356 (three hundred and fifty six), which was awarded to Luftwaffe Oberst (Colonel) Dr. Ernst Kuhl on 18 December 1943. This award was presented to Oberst Dr. Kuhl for his exceptionally meritorious service on the Eastern Front from 27 August 1942 through 7 August 1943, while serving as the Geschwaderkommodor (wing commander) of Kampfgeschwader (combat air group) Number #55 "GREIF".

Oberst Dr. Kuhl would subsequently go on to serve as the Commander of Fliegerfuhrer Nord (Ost) from 8 August 1943 through 11 March 1944, as well as the Commander of the 5th Flieger Division in Norway from 19 December 1944 until 8 May 1945, at which point he was arrested by British forces for investigation of possible war crimes.

Subsequently held in a limbo status for over two and one half (2 1/2) years, he was finally released by Allied Forces on 9 September 1947 without any charges being laid. Discharged from military service, he returned to occupied Germany and took up residence in the City of Munster, where he died on 2 February 1972 at age 83.

Some Interesting Historic Footnotes

The first official award of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross was made to General Eduard Dietl on 19 July 1940 for his stubborn defense of Narvik during the campaign in Norway.

While it was normally necessary for winners of the Oak Leaves to have previously won the Knight's Cross, several exceptions to this standard occurred, mostly in the presentation of this decoration to non German personnel.

Rushed into production, the design for the Oak Leaves was directly copied from previous Imperial era clasps. As such, the stylised "L" that serves as its center leaf vein is identical to the one used in Prussian clasps honoring Queen Louise, the wife of King Freidrich Wilhelm who founded the Iron Cross in 1813.

ABOVE is a photo showing an enlarged frontal view of Oberst Kuhl's Oak Leaves. Rushed into production in 1940, it was a virtual copy of previous Imperial era three (3) leaf clasps.

BELOW LEFT is a full reverse side view of this item, Clearly visible is its solid construction and extensive tarnish / patina. Also visible is the .800 grade silver content mark.

BELOW RIGHT is a full reverse side view of this item from another angle . Clearly seen is the number 356, which has been individually punched into this item one digit at a time, as evidenced by the slight difference in height between the numbers.

ABOVE LEFT is an enlarged view of Oberst Kuhl's Oak Leaves from a different angle.

ABOVE RIGHT is an enlarged photo further demonstrating the slight difference in the depth of strike and positioning of the numbers 3,5 and 6 respectively, indicating that they were each individually punched into the reverse side of this decoration for identification purposes.

BELOW LEFT is a full reverse side view of this item, Clearly seen is the edge wear from use. Also visible is the .800 grade silver content mark and suspension loop wear.

While this items' obvious quality, age and construction design all are able to stand on their own respective merits in qualifying it as a unique historic artifact, the story of this particular decoration would be incomplete without understanding the background of the man who earned and received it, as well as the service context in which it was presented.

Oberst Dr. Kuhl's Background and Military Service History

Consistent with this intent, it is recorded that Ernst Kuhl was born in Breslau, Germany on 18 March 1888. In 1910, at age twenty two (22), Oberst Kuhl began his active service career as an officer candidate in the German Army. During World War One (WW I) he would go on to distinguish himself as a combat oficer in both the infantry and the newly formed German Air Service, winning the 1914 Iron Cross First and Second Class, as well as several other service longevity and participation awards.

ABOVE is a full color drawing of the unit emblem of Kampfgeschwader 55 / KG-55, (nicknamed "GRIEF"), that was commanded by Oberst Dr. Kuhl at the time he won his Knight's Cross on 17 October 1942, as well as the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross on 18 December 1943. One of the work horse units of the German Luftwaffe during World War II, KG-55 flew an unequalled total of 54,272 combat missions, delivered over 8,000 tons of cargo and dropped over 61,000 tons of bombs, while losing almost one thousand five hundred men (1,500) in killed and missing in action. Moreover, it actively participated in every major campaign fought on the European continent, to include the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk respectively where despite Germany's loss, it still nevertheless peformed with great courage and dedication.

He remained in military service for ten (10) years after World War I, until eventually being involuntarily discharged in 1928, after eighteen (18) years of continuous service, as a result of budgetary cuts made by the Weimar Government. He nevertheless remained in the reserves (ersaztheer), while privately pursuing a successful business career.

In 1936, at forty eight (48) years of age, he was recalled to active duty in the newly established Luftwaffe (Air Force) with the rank of Major. Subsequently performing with great success in several training schools, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Oberst (Lieutenant Colonel) in September 1939. Thereafter, he took active part in the campaigns in Poland (1939), France (1940), Netherlands (1940), Belguim (1940), Britain (1940) and Barbarossa (1941). During this latter campaign, he personally participated as a wing commander in the critical battle of Kiev (1941), Kharkov (1942) the Caucasus Oil Fields (1942), Stalingrad (1943) and Kursk (1943).

ABOVE is a rare photograph of then Oberstleutnant der Reserve and Geschwader Kommodore Dr. Kuhl (standing center) which was taken on the Eastern Front sometime between September 1942 and August 1943.

In August 1943, following the battle of Kursk, he was promoted and given command of Fliegerfuhrer Nord (Ost) on the Eastern Front. He subsequently thereafter took active part in the increasing dangerous and desparate efforts of the Luftwaffe to stem the tide of the Soviet offensives of the Summer and Winter of 1944. In December 1944, he was singled out for an independent command of the 5th Flieger Division in Norway, of which he assumed actual command on 19 December 1944. He thereafter remained in this post until 8 May 1945 when, following Germany's capitulation, he surrendered his forces to the British.

In addition to winning both the Knight's Cross (17 October 1942), and the highly prized Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to the Knight's Cross (18 December 1943), he was also the winner of the 1939 Iron Cross First and Second class, the Grand Cross of Merit, the Luftwaffe Front Flying Clasp in Gold, the German Cross in Gold, the Luftwaffe Flugzeugfuhrerabzeichen (Pilot's Badge) and the extremely rare Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (Goblet of Honor), which was personally presented to him by Reichsmarschall Hermann Georing.

Moreover, he was personally commended by name for courage under fire and exceptional military leadership in the Taglische Wehrmachtbericht (Armed Forces Daily Summaries) that were directly submitted to der Fuhrer on 11 April and 24 June 1944 respectively.

In modern warfare, the fighter pilot in any air force normally receives the lion's share of public fame. For the most part, this is simply due to the individual character of fighter pilot operations, which easily captures the public's admiration. It is, however, also greatly enhanced by the ability of the population at large to keep track of the number of enemy aircraft a fighter pilot has personally shot down, with a certain number qualifying for "Ace" category status.


Despite a lack of air supremacy, during the critical battle of Stalingrad, KG-55 delivered a total of three thousand five hundred (3,500) tons of supplies to the encircled Sixth (6th) Army, while evacuating in excess of ten thousand (10,000) German wounded. Seen in the photo above is a December 1942 delivery of supplies to Pitomnik Airfield by Junker's Ju-88 and Heinkel HE-111 aircraft bearing the squadron emblem of KG-55.

Consequently, the Kampfgeschwader (Battle Formation Groups) of the Luftwaffe, such as KG-55, despite their enormous contribution to Germany's war effort through their flying of close ground support, cargo delivery and high / low altitude percision bombing missions respectively are far less known to the average historian or collector than the more highly regarded Jager (hunter) Fighter Squadrons, or "Jagdgeschwader", about which numerous book have been written.

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