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How to Identify World War II Ribbons and Medals

Jimmy is a war buff who has written extensively about WW I and WW II. He lives in Scotland.

Welcome to the complete guide to British, American and German World War II Campaign medals, ribbons and clasps

Welcome to the complete guide to British, American and German World War II Campaign medals, ribbons and clasps

World War II Campaign Medals and Ribbons

Millions of medals were presented to the brave young men who fought for their countries during World War II. The medals were given to soldiers as a symbol of gratitude for defending their country on the field of battle. Each medal had a different ribbon signifying where that medal was earned.

This is a complete guide to British, American and German World War II Campaign medals, ribbons and clasps.

The Silver Rosette is worn when a soldier wears his medal ribbon without the medal.

The Silver Rosette is worn when a soldier wears his medal ribbon without the medal.

WW II British Campaign Medals

Campaign service by British soldiers during WW II was rewarded by a series of eight stars, similar to those medals presented to soldiers who fought in WW I.

No more than five stars could be worn by any one soldier, and clasps were presented to those soldiers who had further service. No recipient could wear more than one clasp on any one star.

When a recipient wears his ribbon with the medals removed, the clasps that the person had earned are usually represented with a silver rosette on the appropriate ribbon.

The eight campaign stars were made of a copper-zinc alloy and had no markings on the reverse side. They were issued with no inscriptions or personalisation to the recipient because it was considered an unnecessary expense.

However, stars presented to soldiers from the British Commonwealth countries, such as Australia, were personalised by their government with the recipient’s name and the campaign where they earned it, such as El Alamein, Monte Cassino, D-Day and the other great battles and campaigns of World War II.

The ribbons are said to have been designed by King George VI and have a symbolic heraldic significance.

1939–1945 Star

The 1939–1945 star was the overseas war service star for WW II. To earn this star soldiers had to complete six months of active service, except for aircrews who had to complete two months of operational service.

This campaign star was the only one awarded to men who saw only active service in France in 1939–1940, Norway in 1940 or in Greece and Crete. The award was also given for various commando operations and to soldiers who did not serve overseas.

The ribbon has three stripes: dark blue to represent the Merchant Navy and the Royal Navy, red to represent the Army and light blue to represent the Royal Air Force.

Only one clasp was awarded with the 1939–1945 star, and that was to Air force personnel who participated in the Battle of Britain.

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When this ribbon is worn without the medal, the clasp is represented by a gilt rosette rather than the normal silver rosette on the other campaign ribbons.

Atlantic Star: 1939–1945

The Atlantic Star was presented to those who served in the Battle of the Atlantic. Under constant threat of German U-boat attacks, these brave sailors continued to keep supplies moving from America to Britain and her allies.

The star was awarded mainly to Royal and Merchant Navy personnel, but some RAF squadrons and Army Gunners stationed on Merchant Naval Vessels also received it.

The faded green, white and blue stripes represent the colors of the Atlantic Ocean.

There were two clasps awarded with this medal, military personnel who qualified for the Air Crew Europe Star or the France and Germany Stars, but only one clasp could be worn—usually the first earned.

When the ribbons are worn without the medals the clasps are represented by a silver rosette.

Air Crew Europe Star: 1939–1945

The Air Crew Europe Star was awarded to RAF aircrews for operational flights from Britain over Europe. Before an airman could earn this star, the 1939–1945 Star had to be earned first.

Personnel who later went on to earn the Atlantic Star or the France and Germany Star wore a clasp marking the first one earned. They did not receive additional stars and only one clasp could be worn.

The ribbon is light blue with yellow and black outer stripes. The colours represent the continuous service of the Air Forces by night and day.

The Air Crew Europe Star is the least awarded campaign medal of the eight stars, and it is often faked by counterfeiters.

When wearing the ribbons without medals or clasps, the clasps are represented by a silver rosette.

Africa Star: 1940–1943

The Africa Star was awarded to personnel who served in Africa. It rewarded service to those who battled with the Italian and German forces, most notably against Rommel's Afrika Korps in Egypt, Lybia, Tunisia and Morocco.

Naval personnel also received the Africa Star if they were part of the escort duty on the African coasts. Those who served on the isle of Malta also received this award.

The ribbon for the Africa star bears the blues and reds of the three military services, and the red of the army in the centre with a wider stripe. The beige background represents the African desert.

Three clasps were awarded with this star although only one could be worn. This star was mainly awarded to Naval personnel and RAF crews, as well as soldiers of the 1st Army who had served in Tunisia and Algeria between November and December 1942, and troops of the 8th Army who had served in the battle of El Alamein between 1942 and 1943.

A silver rosette replaces the clasps when the ribbons are worn without the medals.

Pacific Star: 1941–1945

The Pacific Star was awarded to Army, Navy and Air force personnel for service in many areas of the Pacific region including Singapore, Malaya, Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Pacific during the re-taking of Japanese-occupied islands.

Many of these stars were presented to British Commonwealth forces or naval personnel engaged in the Pacific Islands campaigns.

The Pacific Star ribbon contains the colors of the three services with yellow representing the island beaches and green representing the jungle.

There was only one clasp awarded with this medal. Personnel who won the Burma Star after the Pacific Star were awarded the Burma clasp.

A silver rosette signifies the Burma clasp when the ribbon is worn without the medal.

Burma Star: 1941–1945

The Burma Star was awarded for service during the fight against the Japanese in Burma. The jungle, rivers, hills and heavy terrain mixed with the tropical climate made this one of the hardest-earned medals of WW II. Tropical diseases, insects and heat exhaustion made life for the soldiers very difficult. This star was also awarded for battles in Assam, Bengal and for service on the Chinese frontier. Later in the war, this medal was awarded to those who served in Malaya during the re-conquest.

The Burma Star was awarded to British Army, Naval and Air Force personnel as well as to the Commonwealth forces that fought alongside them.

The broad dark blue stripes on the ribbon represent British forces, the red stripe represents Commonwealth forces and the bright orange stripes represent the sun.

The Pacific clasp was the only clasp awarded with this medal. It was for those who served in Burma after they had served in the Pacific campaigns.

When the ribbons are worn without medals the clasp is represented by a silver rosette.

Italy Star: 1943–1945

The Italy Star was presented to Army, Naval and Air Force personnel for service in Italy, Pantellaria and Sicily. Despite its name, it was also awarded for service in the following areas: the Aegean, Corsica, Elba, Greece, Sardinia, Yugoslavia, Southern France and Austria.

Before personnel could earn the Italy Star they had to have qualified for the 1939–1945 Star. However, if they had served late in the war and didn't have enough time to earn the 1939–1945 Star, Army and RAF personnel were presented with the medal anyway.

The orange, green and white stripes represent the Heraldic colors of Italy.

No clasp was ever awarded with the Italy Star.

France and Germany Star: 1943–1945

Despite its name, the France and Germany Star was presented to all armed forces personnel who served in northwest Europe, including Holland and Belgium. Service in southern France was rewarded with the Italy star.

This medal was awarded for the most decisive operations of the war including the D-Day landings and the liberation of occupied countries in occupied Europe.

Personnel who later earned the Atlantic Star were presented with the Atlantic clasp, the only clasp awarded with this medal.

There was no Air Crew Europe clasp awarded with this medal, as many are led to believe.

The blue, red and white stripes on the ribbon represent the allied forces of Britain, France and America.

Defence Medal and the 1939–1945 War Medal

Defence Medal

The Defence Medal was awarded for the defence of Britain; most notably members of the Home Guard. The medal was also awarded to civilians, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and the military.

The medal could also be earned to those who served overseas in areas threatened or subjected to air attacks, and it could be awarded by itself or with other WW II awards.

The green on the ribbon represents England’s verdant land; the black stripes represent the Blackout and the orange flame-colored stripe represents air attacks.

1939–1945 War Medal

This medal was issued to anyone who had 28 days of service in uniform. It was awarded along with any other service medals and to those who served but did not earn a campaign award.

The blue, red and white stripes on the ribbon represent the colors of Great Britain.

American WW II Service Medals

The American service medals were created solely for WW II, and they were awarded based on the theatre of combat in which they were earned.

These medals were specifically commissioned for service in the following regions: the Europe-Middle Eastern Theatre, the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre and the American Theatre.

Women were recognised for their part played in the war with a Women's Army Corps Service Medal.

All military personnel who took part in the WW II were rewarded with the Victory Medal.

The Women's Army Corps Service Medal was awarded for military service in both the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women's Army Corps

The Women's Army Corps Service Medal was awarded for military service in both the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women's Army Corps

Women's Army Corps Service Medal

The Women's Army Corps Service Medal was awarded to women for service during the WW II to recognise the contribution of women to the Army.

It was presented to women who served in the Woman’s Auxiliary Corps from 10 July 1942 to 31 August 1943. It was also presented to women who served in the Women's Army Corps between 1 September 1943 and 2 September 1945.

The ribbon is bright green with a gold stripe on either side representing the branch colors of the Women's Army Corps.

No clasps, bars or stars were awarded with this medal. Still worn on ceremonial occasions, the medal is now obsolete because the U.S. Army has integrated men and women. There is no longer a separate corps for women.

American Campaign Medal

American Campaign Medal

American Campaign Medal

The American Campaign Medal was awarded for service between 7 December 1941 and 2 March 1946 for service within the American Theatre.

The ribbon features oriental blue on the left, right and centre along with bands of white, black and scarlet. The blue stands for the Americas. The central blue, white and red represents the continuance of the defence after Pearl Harbor. The white and black stripes and the red and white stripes represent the German and Japanese enemy.

The American Campaign Medal was awarded for 30 days' service outside the continental United States but within the American Theatre of Operations between 7 December 1941 and 2 March 1946; or, an aggregate service of one year within the continental United States during the same period under the following circumstances:

  • On permanent assignment outside the continental limits of the United States.
  • On permanent assignment as a member of a crew of a vessel sailing ocean waters for a period of 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days.
  • For service outside the continental limits of the United States in a passenger status or on temporary duty for 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days.
  • For service in active combat against the enemy and awarded a combat decoration or furnished a certificate by the commanding general of a corps, higher unit, or independent force that the individual actually participated in combat.
  • For service within the continental limits of the United States for an aggregate period of one year.

Bronze service stars were authorized by both the Army and Navy and represent participation in engagements with the enemy

The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal was awarded to any member of the U.S. military to serve in the Pacific Theater from 1941 to 1945.

The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal was awarded to any member of the U.S. military to serve in the Pacific Theater from 1941 to 1945.

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal

The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal was awarded to personnel who served in the Pacific Theatre between 1941 and 1946, under any of the following conditions:

  • On permanent assignment in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre.
  • For service in a passenger status or on temporary duty for 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days.
  • For service in active combat in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations against the enemy and awarded a combat decoration or furnished a certificate by the commanding general of a corps, higher unit, or independent force that the individual actually participated in combat.

The yellow ribbon has white and red on each side to represent the Japanese colors. The centre blue, white and red stripes are taken from the American Defence Service Medal ribbon and refer to the continuance of American Defence after Pearl Harbour.

A bronze star is worn on the ribbon to indicate participation in designated campaigns for the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre.

A bronze arrowhead is worn on the ribbon to indicate participation in a combat parachute jump, combat glider landing or amphibious assault landing within the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre.

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal

European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal

The European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal was awarded to personnel between 7 December 1941 and 8 November 1945 for active service in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre. To qualify for this medal soldiers had to have served under any of the following criteria:

  • On permanent assignment.
  • In a passenger status or on temporary duty for 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days.
  • In active combat against the enemy and was awarded a combat decoration or furnished a certificate by the commanding general of a corps, higher unit, or independent force that he actually participated in combat.

The ribbon is mostly green, representing the green fields of Europe. The brown represents the sands of Africa. The centre blue, white and red stripes are taken from the American Defence Service Medal ribbon and refer to the continuance of American Defence after Pearl Harbor. Green, white and red are the Italian colors, and the white and black colors represent Germany.

A bronze star is worn on the ribbon to indicate participation in designated campaigns, and a bronze arrowhead is worn on the ribbon to indicate participation in a combat parachute jump, combat glider landing or amphibious assault landing within the European-African-Middle Eastern theatre.

World War II Victory Medal

World War II Victory Medal

World War II Victory Medal

The World War II Victory Medal was awarded to all military personnel who served during World War II.

The congressional authorization for the World War II Victory Medal included members of the Armed Forces of the government of the Philippine Islands. It also specified the ending date would be the date of the termination of hostilities as proclaimed by the president.

President Harry S. Truman officially ended the state of hostilities on 31 December 1946.

The edges of the ribbon revisit the multi-colored rainbow ribbon of the Allied World War I Victory Medal. This again honors all the allied nations. The wide red centre represents the new sacrifice of blood by World War II combatants. The thin white lines separating the central red band from the outer multi-colored bands represent the rays of new hope, two of them signifying that this was the second global conflict.

German World War II Campaign Awards

German World War II Campaign awards were not limited to medals and ribbons. For some campaigns and battles, soldiers were awarded shields which were worn on the arm; and for others they were awarded cuff titles which were worn on the cuffs of their jackets.

German Campaign Medals

Deutsches Schutzwall-Ehrenzeichen (West Wall Medal)

This medal was first awarded in 1939–1940 for personnel who worked on building fortification on the western borders of Germany. This border was known as the West Wall, better known to Allied troops as Siegfried Line.

The medal was again used in 1944 for those who worked again on the western borders in expectation of an Allied invasion.

The ribbon is golden brown with a white stripe towards each edge. The designs on the ribbon and on the medal are the same so that it can be identified as such.