Great Commanders Of The Biafran War Part II : Lt. Col Rolf Steiner
By Iwedi Ojinmah 27 days ago
War is a terrible thing. Anybody who has witnessed it will agree with the Latin saying that War is sweet to those who haven't experienced it. One such war was the Biafran conflict and while somethings are better left alone, others need to be revisited if not for any other reason, then for the mere fact that we should not try and repeat such an event. Man must celebrate his humanity and not his inhumanity and learn from his mistakes. Bearing this in mind the Awareness has gone back in time and picked 10 major players from the Biafran war and has attempted to review their performances and what made them such dominant characters in that vicious confrontation.
We have both villains and heroes on our list.
Our first was EA Etuk and our second is the German Born, but Biafran naturalised Lt. Col Rolf Steiner
Rolf Steiner was the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother. His father was a decorated fighter ace in World War I, serving in Manfred von Richthofen's elite squadron.
In 1949, at the age of 16, after serving as a decorated member of the Hitler Jugend during the defense of Berlin, Steiner decided to study for the priesthood. He intended to become a Catholic missionary in Africa. Following an affair with a nun at school, however, he decided that the military offered a more interesting life. When he was 17, Steiner enlisted in the French Foreign Legion at Offenburg, and was sent to Sidi-bel-Abbes in Algeria. This satisfied his goal of going to Africa. His devout Catholic mother was so disappointed that she broke off contact with him.
Having first served in the First Paratrooper Unit in northern Vietnam against the Viet Minh, he was in the detachment that parachuted into Suez in the 1956 Suez crisis. He was later posted to Algeria where he met his future wife Odette, a Pied-Noir. The Legion hardened Steiner, and he was taken not only by the bravery but by the loyalty of his Russian, Hungarian, and French counterparts who, despite being adversaries only a few years before, were now steadfast comrades.
While fighting the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) uprising in Algeria, Steiner became active in the anti-De Gaulle Organisation armée secrète (OAS) through his wife.He was eventually arrested, sentenced to nine months in prison, and then released into civilian life.
But again Africa came calling and this time it was in the Congo where he served alongside the hundreds of European Merc's who were being deployed both by the pro-Belgian forces and the rebels as well.
In 1967, he made contact with former colleague Roger Faulques, who was organizing a mercenary unit for the newly independent Republic of Biafra. Steiner flew to Port Harcourt via Lisbon, Portugal and enlisted into the Biafran army as a company commander. Steiner had immediate success in the field, and was given the responsibility of organizing the 4th Biafran Kommando Brigade as a lieutenant colonel.
As we now know, the first three brigades actually didn't exist; the army created this bit of disinformation to confuse the Nigerian Federal forces. Steiner used a skull and crossbones as his regimental symbol, which he thought would constantly remind his troops of the risks inherent to war, rather than any reference to the pirates' Jolly Roger or the Nazi SS.
They were to be known as the Biafran Kodo and were hated and detested by the Nigerian troops. At one stage the Federal troops refused to take any Kodo’s prisoners and would shoot them instantly upon spotting the notorious death head patch on their sleeves.
Steiner found the Biafrans to be quick learners and highly motivated unlike the Africans he fought with in the Congo and he soon loved them as they loved him. He would weep openly during burials and eat their local food alongside them, regardless of how measly.
On May 25, 1968, he led a successful behind-enemy-lines mission against a Nigerian air field in Enugu, destroying six Russian-made bomber and fighter aircraft. Months later he replicated the same feat at Port Harcourt which forced the Nigerians to deploy much more troops as a rear guard than they had planned. They simply never knew when and where Steiner and his lads would show up.
Steiner, far from being a mercenary, fought for the Biafrans without pay according to Chinua Achebe, serving long after most other European soldiers of fortune had left the cause. He became the first Biafran Mercenary to have a bounty put on his head by the Federal Army when he adopted Biafran citizenship and adopted a step-son.
Steiner's guerilla warfare skills served the Biafran cause far better than the conventional warfare training most of the other commanders had received at Sandhurst. After the loss of Calabar where the Biafran Mercenaries were routed he repeatedly confronted their tactics of charging head on by full frontal attack.
He was ignored leading to the decimation of their troops during Operation Hiroshima,and attempt to recapture Onitsha from the Nigerian 2nd Division, where the Biafrans again charged brand new Russian Howitzers resulting in their total rout and the death of Steiner’s close friend, the Belgian, Marc Goosens.
Following several confrontations with his Biafran colleagues, Steiner resigned from service, was then arrested, and expelled from the country in handcuffs after almost being shot by Ojukwu's bodyguards. Only the intervention of Ojukwu himself saved his life.
According to Frederick Forsyth, Ojukwu's close buddy, the expulsion happened at the stipulation of Forsyth himself, as Forsyth had found out that Steiner was spreading rumours that Forsyth was an agent of MI6 -which was the truth as Forsyth would later on confess himself. ( CLICK HERE FOR MORE ON THAT )
Following his return to Europe, he learned through his contacts in charitable foundations of the plight of Christians in southern Sudan. He offered his services to Idi Amin, then commander of the Ugandan Army, who was funding the Anyanya rebel forces, and was dispatched to the war zone. There not only did he provide the Anyanya with military training, but helped to resolve internal bickering between the various southern tribes. He also used his agricultural and medical skills with civilians to improve their quality of life.
Eventually he quarreled with Col. Joseph Lagu, an Anyanya leader, and was ordered by Lagu to leave the Sudan. Deciding to return to Europe, Steiner stopped in Kampala, Uganda and unwittingly became involved in the power struggle between Amin and President Milton Obote. When he refused to implicate his benefactor Amin in treason, Obote had him arrested and flown to Khartoum on January 8, 1971, charged with "crimes against Africa."
He spent three years in prison, where he was severely tortured, and was eventually sentenced to death by the Sudanese courts (ABOVE), which was commuted to twenty years on "humanitarian" grounds. It was only through pressure from the then West German government that he was finally released from prison.
Steiner retired (BELOW) to Germany where he remarried and wrote his memoirs, which were published in 1976 as The Last Adventurer
Related: How The Igbo Flavoured Jamaica
It is a must read for every student of the Biafran War.