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Uncle Samís Brick Battleship

When plans were announced for the Chicago World Columbian Exposition of 1892-1893, the U.S. Navy decided to get into the act by arranging for a replica of the new Indiana (BB-1) Class battleships then under construction to be built on shore of Lake Michigan. 

At 348-feet in length, with a beam of 69, the “ship”, dubbed the USS Illinois, was a virtual full-scale replica in brick, plaster, metal, and wood, of the new 10,288 ton battleships then under construction, Uncle Sam’s first “first class” battlewagons, the Maine and Texas, then under construction, being technically “second class” battleships.   The “ship” was provided with fully appropriate lighting, so that it could be illuminated at night, while its interior had quarters for officers and enlisted men, a galley, and some working spaces, though no engine room, and many of the fittings, such as anchors, boats, cranes, and more were real, as were some of the smaller guns aboard, so that salutes could be fired. 

With a crew provided by the Navy, the “battleship” Illinois proved to be one of the hits of the exposition. But when the fair closed down, most of the buildings were torn down. The Navy had to decide what to do with the “ship”.   In the end, an elegant solution was found, rather than tear down the structure, the Navy transferred it to the Illinois Naval Militia, which used it as an armory and training vessel for several years, until it began to deteriorate, and was torn down. 

As for the Naval Militia, the maritime cognate of the National Guard, founded in the late 1880s, it served as the Navy’s first reserve component, rendering excellent service from the Spanish-American War to the First World War. Afterwards overshadowed by the Naval Reserve, several states still maintain a Naval Militia, most notably New York, which has been continuously in service since 1889.

 

The Degrees of the Iron Cross

The Iron Cross was created by the King of Prussia in 1813, during the “Befreiungskrieg -- War of Liberation" from Napoleon. Drawing its inspiration from France's Legion d'honneur, the new decoration could be awarded to officers and men for acts of heroism in battle and to senior commanders who won victories.  The Iron Cross was awarded for the Campaigns of 1813-1814 and during the Waterloo Campaign in 1815, but not during the Revolutionary War of 1848-1849, nor the Schleswig-Holstein Wars (1848-1850 & 1864), nor the Seven Weeks War with Austria (1866), apparently because these were in a sense civil wars, with German fighting German, rather than genuine foreign conflicts. The decoration as revived during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and again for the First World War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945).

As originally conceived, the Iron Cross had only three degrees, Second Class, First Class, and Grand Cross, and it remained thus until the Second World War. Hitler added five additional degrees, primarily as a morale boosting measure. As a result, there were eight degrees by the end of the end of the Second World War.

  1.  Eiserneskreuz 2. -- Iron Cross 2nd Class
  2. Eiserneskreuz 1. -- Iron Cross 1st Class
  3. Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes-- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
  4. Ritterkreuz mit Einchenlaub -- Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves
  5. Ritterkreuz mit Einchenlaub und Schwertn -- Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
  6. Ritterkreuz mit Einchenlaub, Schwertn, und Brillianten -- Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
  7. Ritterkreuz mit Goldaneneichenlaub, Schwerten, und Brillianten -- Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
  8. Grosskreuz der Eiserneskreuz -- Grand Cross of the Iron Cross

The Grand Cross has been awarded three times, twice to unquestionably deserving officers, Marshals Blucher and Hindenburg, and once to Adolph Hitler’s buddy Hermann Goring.

The Iron Cross tended to be awarded rather liberally. During the 1870-1871 war about 40,000 were distributed and during World War I nearly a million of the 2nd Class and about 145,000 of the 1st, including one of each to Adolph Hitler. Total awards for World War II don’t seem to have been calculated, but over 7,000 of the basic Knight’s Cross appear to have been handed out, and several hundred of the higher grades.

Although the Iron Cross has not been awarded since the end of the Second World War, a supply of them was struck in West Germany during the Cold War, so that recipients could trade-in their swastika-bedecked Nazi-era decorations for a more traditional one.

 


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