Rolf Steiner

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Rolf Steiner
RolfSteiner RomanDeckert 12052013.jpg
Born (1933-01-03) 3 January 1933 (age 87)
Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Allegiance France
Oas logo public.svg Organisation armée secrète

Rolf Steiner is a retired professional mercenary, born in Munich, Bavaria on January 3, 1933.[citation needed] He began his military career as a French Foreign Legion paratrooper and saw combat in Vietnam, Egypt, and Algeria.[citation needed] Steiner rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel commanding the 4th Commando Brigade in the Biafran Army during the Nigerian Civil War, and later served with the Anyanya rebels in southern Sudan.[citation needed]

Early life[edit]

Rolf Steiner was the son of a Protestant father and Catholic mother.[citation needed] His father was a decorated fighter ace in World War I, serving in Manfred von Richthofen's elite squadron.[citation needed]

In 1949, at the age of 16, Steiner decided to study for the priesthood.[citation needed] He intended to become a Catholic missionary in Africa.[citation needed] Following an affair with a nun at school, however, he decided that the military offered a more interesting life.[citation needed] When he was 17, Steiner enlisted in the French Foreign Legion at Offenburg, and was sent to Sidi-bel-Abbes in Algeria.[citation needed] This satisfied his goal of going to Africa.[citation needed] His devout Catholic mother was so disappointed that she broke off contact with him.[citation needed]

French Foreign Legion[edit]

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.[1] He was later posted to Algeria where he met his future wife Odette, a Pied-Noir.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] He was eventually arrested, sentenced to nine months in prison, and then released into civilian life.[citation needed]


In 1967, while living in Paris, he made contact with former colleague Roger Faulques, who was organizing a mercenary unit for the newly independent Republic of Biafra.[citation needed] Steiner flew to Port Harcourt via Lisbon, Portugal and enlisted into the Biafran army as a company commander.[citation needed] Steiner had success in the field, and was given the responsibility of organizing the 4th Biafran Commando Brigade as a lieutenant colonel.[citation needed] The first three brigades actually didn't exist; the army created this bit of disinformation to confuse the Nigerian Federal forces.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Steiner found the Biafrans to be quick learners and highly motivated.[citation needed] On May 25, 1968, they led a successful mission against a Federal Nigerian air field in Enugu, destroying six Russian-made bomber and fighter aircraft.[citation needed] Steiner, far from being a mercenary, fought for the Biafrans without pay, serving long after most other European soldiers of fortune had left the cause.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed] Unfortunately, following several confrontations with his Biafran colleagues, Steiner resigned from service, was then arrested, and expelled from the country in handcuffs.[1] According to Frederick Forsyth, this 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.[2][citation needed]

According to Chinua Achebe, Steiner worked for the Biafrans pro bono.[3] He was rewarded with Biafran citizenship.[citation needed]


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.[4] 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."[5][6] He spent three years in prison, where he was severely tortured, and was eventually sentenced to death by the Sudanese courts, which was commuted to twenty years on "humanitarian" grounds. It was only through pressure from the West German government that he was finally released from prison.

Steiner retired to Germany where he remarried and wrote his memoirs, which were published in 1976 as The Last Adventurer.[7]

In fiction[edit]

Frederick Forsyth's popular novel about mercenaries, The Dogs of War, has Steiner as a friend and rival of the mercenary leader who is the protagonist.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Baxter, Peter (2014). Biafra The Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970. Helion & Co Ltd. pp. 49–51. ISBN 9781909982369.
  2. ^ BBC article Frederick Forsyth reveals MI6 spying past
  3. ^ Chinua Achebe (2012). There Was a Country: A Memoir. The Penguin Press. ISBN 9781101595985. Retrieved 2019-09-26.
  4. ^ Severino Fuli Boki Tombe Ga'le (2002). Shaping a Free Southern Sudan: Memoirs of Our Struggle, 1934-1985. Loa Catholic Mission Council.
  5. ^ Deng D. Akol Ruay (1994). The Politics of Two Sudans: The South and the North, 1821-1969. Nordic Africa Institute. p. 154. ISBN 9789171063441. Retrieved 2019-09-26.
  6. ^ Sally Dyson (1998). Sally Dyson (ed.). the birth of Africa's greatest country : from the pages of Drum magazine. Spectrum Books. pp. 199–200. ISBN 9789780290146. Retrieved 2019-09-26.
  7. ^ Steiner, Rolf Steiner, with the collaboration of Yves-Guy Berges ; translated by Steve Cox (1978). The last adventurer. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 9780297773634.
  8. ^ Frederick Forsyth (1974). The Dogs Of War. Random House. pp. 94, 105. ISBN 9781446472545. Retrieved 2019-09-26.

External links[edit]