Orden Pour Le Mérite (Blue Max)


The German empire's preeminent state, Prussia, bestowed its highest military honor, membership in the order Pour le Mérite, on 81 airmen during World War I. Popularly known as the Blue Max, the medal bore a crowned F for Frederick the Great, who established the order in 1740. The medal was inscribed in French, which was then the language of the Prussian court in that Frederick was a great admirer of French court customs and insisted the language be used in his court. In contrast to the U.S. Medal of Honor and Britain's Victoria Cross, the Blue Max was presented in large numbers to senior military leaders and royalty as well as to officers for bravery in battle.

The award came in one class, that of knight. It was worn around the neck on a cravat. There was also a higher award of the order called the Orden Pour le Mérite mit Eichenlaub (the Order for Merit with Oakleaf). No combat flier received the order with Oakleaf during the war although Manfred von Richthofen was proposed for it.

The first awards presented to aviators were given to Oswald Boelke and Max Immelmann on January 12, 1916. They had each scored eight victories on that day. As the war progressed it became increasingly difficult to meet the progressively higher requirements to be awarded the Blue Max. By the end of the war, the last two aviators to be presented the award had 30 victories.

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