Scharnhorst Order

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Scharnhorst Order
The Scharnhorst-Order medal and ribbon bar
Awarded by  East Germany
Eligibility Personnel of the National People's Army, Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic,Civil Defense of the DDR, Ministry of State Security, members of other institutions of the GDR, and foreign military personnel.
Awarded for Military services, contributions to the protection of the GDR, and strengthening the national defense of the GDR
Status No longer awarded
Established 17 February 1966
First awarded 1 March 1966
Next (higher) Banner of Labor
Next (lower) Military Order of Merit for the People and Fatherland
GDR Scharnhorst-Order bar.png

Ribbon bar

The Scharnhorst Order (German: Scharnhorst-Orden) was the highest medal awarded to the East German National People's Army (NVA). It was given for services to military or other strengthening of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Established on February 17, 1966, by the Council of Ministers of the GDR, it was awarded until the dissolution of the GDR in 1990.

Scharnhorst history

The medal is named after Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst, a Prussian soldier, military theorist, reformer and German patriot. Among his military achievements (he saw combat) were his military writings wherein he emphasized the importance of the "General Staff" and their ability to work and plan war and battle strategy. Scharnhorst was considered by the GDR to be a progressive military theorist and advocate for reforms in the Prussian military system, all foundations on which the National People's Army was created. Scharnhorst also linked the NVA to the traditions of German Peasants Revolution of 1848.


Klaus Bernsdor of Berlin was responsible for the medal's design. The portrait of Scharnhorst that appears on the medal was designed by sculptor Fritz Schulz, also of Berlin.

Award requirements

The order was given for outstanding:

  • Military services (primarily to generals and admirals)
  • Contributions to the protection of the GDR and
  • Strengthening the national defense of the GDR

To members, units, associations and other bodies (including civil facilities):

The Order was also presented to members of other institutions of the GDR who did not necessarily have to be involved in an armed organization. It was also presented to foreign military personnel, for example, the Maschall Viktor Georgi Kulikov of the Soviet Union. The order was always presented with an elaborately crafted document along with a one-time cash prize of 5,000 Marks.


The medal was first awarded on March 1, 1966. There were two initial recipients of the award, which was presented by Walter Ulbricht. They were Army General Heinz Hoffmann and Admiral Waldemar Verner. Other recipients are:


There are three versions of the Scharnhorst Order:

  • 1st Version 1966-1972: Produced in 900 gold-plated silver, with 5 rivets on the obverse.
  • 2nd Version 1973-1980: Produced in gilt non-ferrous metal, held to the medal with a central rivet on the obverse.
  • 3rd Version 1980-1989: Introduction of a patterned smooth back with no rivets, medallion is glued on.

Accurate measurements are difficult because of different versions and use of materials over the years. The sizes, therefore, are based on averages. They were:

  • Height, including eye: 45.45 mm to 46.37 mm
  • Width: about 42.5 mm
  • Total width of the daggers: about 30.2 mm
  • Weight: 44g to 44.5 g


The Scharnhorst Order was worn on the left breast suspended from a pentagonal ribbon in the Russian style. This medal could be issued to and worn several times by a single recipient. General Kessler, for example, received (and would wear) three Scharnhorst Orders.


  • Frank Bartel, Auszeichnungen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Berlin 1979
  • Auszeichnungen der Nationalen Volksarmee, Berlin 1994
  • Orden und Medaillen - Auszeichnungen der DDR, Leipzig 1983
  • Der "Scharnhorst-Orden", Militaria-Magazin, No. 46 1992
  • Militaria-Magazin, No. 114, October 2004