We have prepared an overview of the rarest, most honourable, and most challenging naval decorations to obtain in actual naval combat and service.
USA: Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration in the USA, is awarded to members of the US Armed forces who distinguish themselves through conspicuous gallantry at the risk of their own life in battle. This award was established during the Civil War. The Navy’s version of this decoration had a specific design, and appeared in 1861, earlier than the Army’s own version. This medal's key element is an allegoric image of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, repulsing the discord. After World War I this medal was awarded only in cases of outstanding valour, quite often posthumously.
In 1942, the Medal of Honor was awarded to Albert H. Rooks, the commander of cruiser Houston, who fell on board his ship while he was fighting against the Japanese fleet during the Battle of Sunda Strait.
Japan: Order of the Golden Kite (Kinshi Kunsho)
The Order of the Golden Kite was the only decoration the members of the Imperial Japanese Navy and Army could be awarded for personal bravery and heroic deeds in battle. This order had seven classes. Besides the kite itself, the order bore the images of various items of Samurai weaponry. This award, of a respective class, of course, could be given to an ordinary sailor as well as an admiral. Quite often, the order would be awarded after the death of the recipient.
In 1943, the Order of the Golden Kite was posthumously conferred upon Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet.
USSR: The Medal of Ushakov
The Medal of Ushakov was established in 1944, during the height of World War II. It became a naval equivalent of the much respected Medal for Bravery. The decoration depicts an image of Fedor Ushakov, once of the most renowned Russian naval commanders of the 18th century. This medal was awarded to sailors and starshinas of the USSR Navy for bravery and gallantry demonstrated in battle in theatres of naval operations. In rare cases, junior officers could be awarded with this medal.
In February 1945, the Medal of Ushakov was conferred upon the 1st Class Starshina Grigoriy Mitrofanovich Davidenko, the commander of a mine sweeper, who fought starting from the very first day of World War II and took part in hundreds of combat operations.
United Kingdom: Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration that can be awarded in the United Kingdom, and was first awarded in 1857 for heroism demonstrated in combat situations. A special version of the Victoria Cross that had a distinctive blue ribbon, and was conferred upon the seamen of the Royal Navy, had existed until 1918. The image of the cross has remained unchanged since the establishment of the order—the image of a lion, British crown, and its ‘For Valour’ inscription. Despite the fact that a military serviceman of any rank can get this award for acts of bravery, this decoration is conferred on very rare occasions, which places even more emphasis on its prestige.
This award was conferred upon Lieutenant Victor Crutchley for gallantry demonstrated during the Ostend Raid in May 1918. During World War II, Victor Crutchley took part in combat operations in the Pacific in the rank of Rear Admiral of the Royal Australian Navy.
Germany: The Iron Cross (Eisernes Kreuz)
The most renowned German military order is undoubtedly the Iron Cross, established in 1813 during the Napoleonic Wars. The Iron Cross had several classes and was awarded to any member of the German Armed Forces for combat services, notwithstanding their rank and position. The shape of the cross is reminiscent of the cross associated with knights of the Teutonic Order.
During World War II, one of the highest classes of this order—Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves—was awarded to Bernhard Rogge, the commander of the auxiliary cruiser Atlantis which was the most effective commerce raider of the Kriegsmarine.
France: Military Medal (Médaille Militaire)
Established in 1852, the Military Medal is one of the highest military awards in France. This medal is awarded to the non-commissioned officers for valour displayed in combat action, and is second only to the Order of the Legion of Honor. In special cases, generals and admirals serving as commanders-in-chief can be awarded with this medal as a supreme award.
In World War II, the Military Medal was awarded, among others, to Admiral Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu, who was a key person in building the naval branch of the Free French Forces, and who took active part in a number of battles.