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The EK1

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 occupied trenches.

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 wounded.

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 days success".

For a further action on the Styr and Stochod click HERE

For the Bavarian Prinz Adalbert's description go HERE