Wargame Wednesday: Liechtenstein Part III

Wednesday , 19, December 2018 2 Comments


The final post of this series will cover Liechtenstein’s role in the Austrian – Prussian war and a discussion of how the principality avoided the great wars of the twentieth century. Links to Part I and Part II.

Austrian – Prussian War  / Seven Week’s War 1866

Stamp showing NCO and private from the 1866 campaign.

This war played a vital role in Liechtenstein’s military and political history.  Military, due to the fact that the unit mustered by Prince Johann II was the first distinct Liechtensteiner unit I can identify and political as Liechtenstein declared itself independent and neutral after the war’s conclusion.

Ostensibly, the war was fought over Schleswig-Holstein, recently taken from Denmark by both Austria and Prussia. Disagreements over Prussian threats to annex the new territory culminated in Prussia invading Holstein, and Austria calling for a mobilization of the German Confederation. Liechtenstein voted in favor of mobilization but despite significant pressure from Austria, would not send troops to fight against fellow Germans.  Eighty men formed a unit which was sent south to guard the Stilfser Joch (Stelvio Pass) on the borders of Austria and Italy.

The Liechtensteiner campaign lasted six weeks and they were soon home without any casualties or combat. Eighty one did return to Liechtenstein but the best sources state that the extra man was not an “Italian friend” or deserter but an Austrian liaison officer. I’m inclined to think that at the end of hostilities the Austrian chose to accompany the Liechtensteiners home as he lived nearby.

If you have some German then a short article on this campaign can be found here and I also detail available on this unit’s march route and some uniform pictures here.

Interesting items from the article in German linked to above:

  • Prince Johann II  faced tremendous internal pressure in the principality against deploying his troops and even more pressure from Austria who wanted the troops deployed to the Tyrol. In the end the prince visited the principality to explain his decision in person and see the troops depart. These pressures had a lot to do with the permanent establishment of the army soon after the war.
  • “The prince had 1836 trained and equipped troops” available. No information if that accounted for militia and reservists but suspect the majority were. I’m surprised at the high number of troops and will look into it.
  • The recruits were trained to swim and used the pond at Vaduz Castle for their swimming lessons. It may sound strange that emphasis was given to swimming lessons but keep in mind the mountainous terrain and the need to cross swiftly flowing mountain rivers. Bridges were few so fording or ferries were common during a march.  In his paper Our Ancestors as Mercenaries in Foreign Service Otto Sege discusses many cases of drowning in the historical record to include a barge accident in 1755 on the Rhine near Balzers, in which a Graubündner (Grisons) recruit detail intended for service in the Netherlands was lost.
  • As reported by a newspaper correspondent the soldiers said that “the not particularly well equipped Tyrolean women seemed to like them a little” (“De nicht besonders hübsch ausgestatteten Tirolerinnen scheinen ihnen wenig zu gefallen).  German speakers let me know if this is correct. I can report that contemporary Tyrolean women are well equipped…at least by my standards. Update from the comments: “They do not seem to like the Tyrolian women very much, who are not very attractively appareled/outfitted.”.  Smart guys.  Thank you David.

The 20th Century

Liechtenstein entered into a customs treaty with Austria in 1852 that initially brought economic improvement, especially in the form of a textile industry.

During the First World War Liechtenstein managed to remain neutral but suffered severely under the Allied embargo against the Central Powers. The Liechtenstein prince’s main land holdings and capital were still located in Austria Hungary (remember that it wasn’t until 1938 that Prince Franz Josef II moved to Liechtenstein) and the economic output of this capital must have helped the Austrian Hungarian war effort but, beyond the economic embargo, the principality was able to maintain its neutrality throughout the war.  I’m wondering about the nature of the Swiss enforcement of this embargo as the Swiss were neutral themselves. They must have been strict in enforcing this embargo to avoid being cut off themselves by France and Italy.  This will be a point of future research.

In 1923 a customs treaty was signed with Switzerland and this, more than anything else, kept Liechtenstein out of the Second World War.

In 1939, the National Socialist Volksdeutsche movement in Liechtenstein attempted a coup, but it failed and the movement suppressed.

As with the First World War the political maneuvering by Prince Franz Josef II to keep his country out of the war, while maintaining extensive economic assets in the Reich, must have been both desperate and fascinating.

The nearest thing to a military related event the principality experienced was that after the war, many soldiers from the 1st Russian National Army of the German Armed Forces crossed the border from Austria to escape the occupying Red Army. Liechtenstein refused to repatriate them, though many did voluntarily return to the Soviet Union. Argentina accepted the rest.

This is the first time I heard of the 1st Russian National Army though its formation in early 1945 gives a hint of its actual importance and impact.



Any review of Liechtensteiner military history has to take into account historical warfare and campaigns that crossed the territory of the modern day principality or it would be a very short review. I manged to undercover interesting information, especially concerning the mercenary tradition and hope this series adds more insight into the usual English language information found on the internet.

Reading the German Wikipedia article I found I missed the Old Zürcher war (1444-1446), and the Appenzell war (1505). Research continues but it is difficult for a non-German speaker. Once I gather enough information I will update Wargame Wednesday readers with a future post.

In the meantime I’ll also start studying for the next in the Micro State Military History Series: San Marino.





  • David VanDyke says:

    D(i)e nicht besonders hübsch ausgestatteten Tirolerinnen scheinen ihnen wenig zu gefallen–

    My limited German says the Google translation is suspect (it always is), so I ran it past my German translator. He translated it as:

    They do not seem to like the Tyrolian women very much, who are not very attractively appareled/outfitted.

  • Scott Cole says:

    Thanks. The wording did seem off.

    This shows that by reporting this for news back home these Liechtensteiner soldiers were not only good swimmers but smart.

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