Forgotten Episodes of the First World War (Presses de l’Université du Québec, 1994): The Assault on Bad Steinberg

One of the men involved was Tobias Schiller, a young officer who had been briefly fêted as the conqueror of Neutral Moresnet during early 1915 when the German army was short on good news. It’s unknown how or why he became involved, but he requested support in January 1918. The official request bears his signature, but only makes an oblique reference to its substance, namely was wir besprochen (what we discussed). The topic of discussion was so important that a combat unit was assigned to aid Schiller.

The assigned unit was the 66th Assault Company of the Deutsches Heer, a formation of Sturmtruppen (usually known as “Stormtroopers” in English) trained in advanced Hutier tactics of infiltration and combined-arms attack. The men were armed with the very latest in Imperial equipment, including MP-18 submachine guns, “artillery-model” Luger P08 pistols modified for rapid fire, and M1918 Stahlhelm steel helmets. An arsenal requisition form that has survived contains a request for Bergmann MG15 light machine guns as well as Stahlhelm-type body armor of the sort issued to snipers and sappers on the Western Front; it’s unknown if these requests were actually fulfilled. But in any event, the men with Schiller were crack troops that were among the most potent soldiers in the world at the time.

The 66th, drawn from the men prepared for Operation Michael that was scheduled to begin on March 21, 1918, assaulted the city of Bad Steinberg beginning on February 28. Despite the fact that Bad Steinberg was a Prussian town, and had a population of approximately 3000, the operation was carried out with military precision. Eyewitness accounts, suppressed at the time, indicate that the sounds of heavy combat were audible for some distance. A battalion of artillery stationed nearby may or may not have even shelled the town.

To this day, no explanation for the attack exists, and no mention of Bad Steinberg–or its people–is found in any official record after February 1918.

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