The military decoration called the Iron Cross which existed in the Kingdom of Prussia, and later in the German Empire and Third Reich, was established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia and first awarded on 10 March 1813 in Breslau, during the Napoleonic Wars. The recommissioned Iron Cross was also awarded during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, and World War II. The Iron Cross was normally a military decoration only, though there were instances of it being awarded to civilians for performing military functions. Two examples of this were civilian test pilots Hanna Reitsch and Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, who were awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class and 2nd Class respectively for their actions as pilots during World War II.
The Iron Cross was used as the symbol of the German Army from 1871 to March/April 1918, when it was replaced by a simpler Greek cross. In 1956, the Iron Cross resumed its German military usage, as it became the symbol of the Bundeswehr, the modern German armed forces. The traditional design is black and this design is used on armored vehicles and aircraft. A newer design in blue and silver is used as the emblem in other contexts.