3 January 1933|
Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Rolf Steiner was a professional soldier of fortune, born in Munich, Bavaria on January 3, 1933. He 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.
In 1949, at the age of 16, 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.
French Foreign Legion
Having first served in the First Paratrooper Unit in northern Viet Nam 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 become 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.
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. Steiner flew to Port Harcourt via Lisbon, Portugal and enlisted into the Biafran army as a company commander. Steiner had success in the field, and was given the responsibility of organizing the 4th Biafran Commando Brigade as a Lt. Colonel. 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. Steiner found the Biafrans to be quick learners and highly motivated. 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. 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.
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. Unfortunately, following several confrontations with his Biafran colleagues, Steiner resigned from service, was then arrested, and expelled from the country in handcuffs.
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, 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.
- Die Irrfahrten, des Rolf Steiner Legionär ohne Legende (German)