The Order of the Iron Crown was instituted on 5 June 1805 by Napoleon Bonaparte, following his coronation as the King of Italy. With the collapse of Napoleon’s empire, Imperial Austria regained its traditional control over Lombardy, and on 7 April 1815 Emperor Franz I replaced the Iron Crown with a civil and military order of merit but retained its original name.
The order was made up of the Lombardy Iron Crown, with the original eagle replaced by the double-headed Austrian eagle, clutching the imperial sword and orb in its claws and bearing a dark blue shield on its breast, embellished with an F (for Franz) on the obverse, and the year of its recommissioning (1815) on the reverse. The eagle was held by a sash which flowed out of the golden imperial crown, and the whole was suspended on a yellow tri-fold with blue outer stripes.
On 12 February 1860 a war decoration was added for meritorious service in direct combat with the enemy. This took the form of two laurel branches placed over the outer edges of the eagle’s wings. Finally crossed swords were introduced in 1917 as a further distinction for personal bravery before the enemy.
The Iron Crown was awarded according to three classes. Until 18 July 1884 the 1st class conferred the title of Privy Councillor on the recipient, the 2nd the status of baron and the 3rd that of hereditary knight. During the First World War the order tended to be awarded for bravery by commissioned officers rather than for distinguished military and civil service. With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, apart from the Order of the Golden Fleece, all the chivalric orders were formally abolished.
Captain Josef Kolbe received the Order of the Iron Cross, 3rd class, with the war decoration on 12 October 1916 for his distinguished service in Trentino. The ribbon on his medal ribbon bar bears the crossed swords, which were presumably awarded at a later date.
War Archives, Vienna: http://www.oesta.gv.at/site/6154/default.aspx