The last groundpounder in Liechtenstein
The tiny principality of Liechtenstein, cuddled between Austria and Switzerland, today has a population of about 37,000 and has always been one of the smallest modern nations since its inception. With alliances going back to the old Holy Roman Empire, the country was smushed up by Napoleon into the Confederation of the Rhine and later became part of the 38-member German Confederation in the 19th Century after he was sent to Elba. Membership in the latter forced the principality to form its own military force, by terms of the confederation.
Garrisoned at Vaduz Castle, they drilled on its grounds and mounted regular guard duty. With a national population of just 6,000 souls at the time, the entire force was less than the size of a small light infantry company.
When the Seven Weeks’ War broke out in June 1866, which was basically a family feud among all the German-speaking nations of Europe, Fürst Johann II of Liechtenstein eschewed direct combat in the campaign but instead sent his mighty 80-man Army to guard a key pass near Aufkirchen/Santa Maria on the Tyrolean border of Austria against the Italians, releasing its normal garrison of Austrian troops to fight elsewhere.
Legend has it that, once peace broke out, on September 4, 1866, the Army returned home without incident, all its men in tow to include one Kaiserjäger Lieutenant Radinger, formerly of the Austrian Army, proving that “Liechtenstein has gone to war with 80 soldiers and returned with 81!”
In 1868, the thrifty country, with the Confederation dissolved, disbanded their required military and furloughed their soldiers, remaining officially neutral and disarmed during both World Wars. A Veterans group was formed in the 1890s and counted over 100 members.
However, at least one of the veterans of the Seven Weeks’ War remained on tap for photos.
Andreas Kieber, born in 1844 in Mauren, lived until 1939 and his image was captured, in his old uniform, at Vaduz Castle several times in the twilight of his life, still standing post.
The images were used in a number of postcards of the day, and show the soldier complete with his cartridge box and Mannlicher rifled musket topped with a giant Yataghan sword bayonet.
Today a wax statue of Kieber is in the Landesmuseum in Vaduz.
While the country’s constitution requires men under 60 to stand ready for service, the closest thing the principality has to a military is Harmoniemusik Vaduz a group of 55 musicians who wear a variant of the old Army’s uniform complete with a badged and plumed cylinder shako– but do carry swords, just in case.