Mid 1916 was a worrying time for Germany, the
Verdun offensive had exacted a high price for little gain, the French and British
armies were attacking on the Somme and in the East General Brussilow had
overrun the Austrians, and was now passing through Bukovina and Southern
Galicia approaching the Carpathians. Hungary was once again in danger.
A handful of German divisions had been
thrown in to try and prop up the crumbling Austrian forces, but more help was now
needed to bring the Russians to a halt.
German forces, including the 11th Bavarian
Infantry Division were to advance from their positions between the Stochod and Styr and strike the Russians in the right flank.
The 11th Bavarian Division had a
particularly difficult zone; much of it was either swamp or forest.
On the 25th of June 1916 an advance was
planned with the I. Batl./22. Bavarian Infantry Regiment (b.I.R.) attacking in
a southwesterly direction, while the III./3. b.I.R. attacked southwards. The
gap that was to develop between these two battalions would be filled by the
II./3. b.I.R., the two point companies being the 8th and 6th. These companies
would automatically attach themselves to the advance of the neighboring
battalions when they advanced at 7 am.
It was to be a memorable day for the 8th
and 6th company, the commander of the 8th would win the coveted Max Joseph Orden,
Alfred Lamberts of the 6th company would win an Iron Cross 2nd class.
The German artillery opened fire at 6am,
the Russians wasted little time responding. Their artillery, accompanied by
machine gun fire and rifle fire answered angrily. Especially worrying was a
machine gun on the right flank that covered the staging area the two companies
would use for their attack. The German artillery observer concentrated his Guns
on this MG position, situated on a small rise, but it was not silenced. The
infantry began to complain that the artillery had wasted too much ammunition on
the immense wheat fields behind the enemy lines instead of the defensive hard points.
To reach enemy lines the companies would
advance through 200m of bush, them across 400m of open field and swamp.
At 6.50am orders were given to fix bayonets
and attach chinstraps. An officers briefing at 6.55am confirmed that most enemy
fire had already been subdued. The machine guns on the right flank were still
firing, but too high to be of major concern.
Left: A short Biography of Ritter von Steiner
The moment for the attack came... and
passed... there were no bugles or whistles from the main attack battalions.
Orders arrived; the companies were to wait for the attack battalions to
advance, whenever that was to be.
At 6.12 it came..."Attack!"...
the flanking battalions started forward, the 8th company moved forward, as did
the 6th company to its right. The Russian machine guns fired but once again too
high. The men advanced rapidly and entered the Russian lines before the German
Artillery had time to move their fire forward. Steiner commanded his troops
from the edge of the trench. Many Russian soldiers had disappeared into the
wheat fields behind their positions, the rest either surrendered or died
resisting the German attack.
To the right a section of the 6th company
had broken into the Russian lines, but to the left there was still no sign of
the III. Battalion. Here the Russians began to realize that the 8th company’s
right flank was unprotected, and right away began a counter attack with hastily
assembled troops. Steiner prepared his flank for defense. The Russian assault
waves began to form, the Germans were aware of much movement in the wheat
fields. A heavy machine gun MG08 arrived in the company lines and was right
away put in position. Belt after belt was fed through the MG and caused
horrific losses in the Russian ranks.
At the head of a group of his men Steiner
advanced and managed to break the Russian counter attack. The enemy disappeared
into the wheat fields again. Men of the 7th company arrived and helped secure
the left flank. There was still no sign of the III. Bataillon.
At 7.40am, the men of the 8th company
finally had a moment to take a drink of water and eat some bread.
Suddenly on the right flank there was
commotion in the 6th Company position. Heavy fire and the shouts and screams of
the Russian assault waves could be heard. The men of the 8th fired into the
wheat field in front of them, there was no response. In front of the 6th
company things were different however and the men fought desperately to defend
themselves. On the right flank of the 6th company the Russians succeeded in
breaking into the trench after subduing the Bavarians with machine gun fire.
Above: Men of the 8th Company wait for the attack
Losses increased by the minute. The company
commander of the 6th was wounded; Leutnant Frey took over and right away began
to consolidate the defense on his right flank. A captured Russian machinegun
began to fire, but almost right away the crew was shot down. The Russians sent
wave after wave into the attack pushing the Bavarians back step by step. Soon
there were just a handful of men under Feldwebel-Leutnant Olschewski left to
hold the Russians back.
The situation was critical, the gains of
that morning hung in the balance.
Once again Leutnant Steiner was at hand.
Gathering 20-25 of his men, he hurried to the aid of the 6th company. Their
combined fire tore holes in the Russian ranks and halted their pushes forward.
Steiner and his men, along with Leutnant Frey and the remains of the 6th
company threw themselves at the Russians and in bitter hand to hand fighting
they cleared the positions of enemy soldiers.
At 8.30am the 7th company sent two sections
to take over the right flank. Their neighbors were a platoon of the II./22.
Bavarian Infantry Regiment. The rest of the Battalion had been pinned down by
the Machine Guns on the right flank. The II. Bataillon objective remained in
Russian hands and fire from these trenches caused losses throughout the day.
Throughout the day the Russians launched
counter attacks, but these were badly coordinated and the German fire caused
terrible losses. In some places the bodies of the Russian soldiers lay in
stacks. By the end of the days thousands of bodies lay in front of the newly
As night fell the Russian attacks slackened
off. It had been a heroic but bloody day for the Bavarians. The II. Battalion
of the 3rd Bavarian Infantry Regiment had suffered 55 dead, 5 missing and 182
Above: Steiner in the captured Trench
Leutnant Steiners proposal for his
Ritterkreuz of the Max Josef Orden said "on the 25th of July 1916 during
the Brussilow Offensive, in the Kolonie Emilin sector, his bravery and
initiative combined with élan saved the day and contributed enormously to the
For a further action on the Styr and Stochod click HERE
For the Bavarian Prinz Adalbert's description go HERE