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The War Merit cross award was created by Adolf Hitler in 1939 as a successor to the non-combatant Iron Cross which was used in WW1.
The award was graded the same as the Iron Cross: War Merit Cross Second Class, War Merit Cross First Class, and Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross.
The award had two variants: with swords given to soldiers for exceptional service in battle above and beyond the call of duty (but not worthy of an Iron Cross which was more a bravery award), and without swords for meritorious service behind the lines which could also be awarded to civilians.
Recipients had to have the lower grade of the award before getting the next level