MIGHTY HISTORY

In 1866, 80 men went to war — this is why 81 came home

Apparently they made a friend.

Today, Liechtenstein is a small country – the fourth smallest state in Europe and sixth smallest in the world. It rests on the banks of the Rhine between Switzerland and Austria. It was named after the Princes of Lichtenstein, who united the County of Vaduz and the lands of Schellenberg in 1719, forming their small but charming Principality of Liechtenstein.

They managed to remain neutral (and thus largely avoid) both world wars. In 1943, the principality went so far as to ban the Nazi party. By this time, indeed, they didn't even have an army, having disbanded it completely in 1868.

And yet their final deployment in 1866 remains notorious for two reasons: first, they lost no battles and suffered zero casualties (having avoided all fighting). Second, they left with a force of 80 men — and returned home with 81.

Or so the legend goes...


liechtenstein map

During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Liechtenstein sent an army of 80 strong to guard the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy while a reserve of 20 men stayed behind. While the deployed force was there to defend the territory against any attack from the Prussian-allied Italians, according to War History Online, "there was really nothing to do but sit in the beautiful mountains, drink wine and beer, smoke a pipe and take it easy."

In the main theater of the war, the Battle of Königgrätz would earn Prussia a victory, decisively ending the war.

The Battle of Königgrätz by Georg Bleibtreu

So the men of Liechtenstein marched home. When they returned, however, their numbers had grown to 81.

But who was the extra man?

According to The World at War, an Austrian liaison officer joined them. Lonely Planet seems to share a version naming the newcomer an "Italian friend" — other sources have suggested that he was a defector.

None of the stories seem to be substantiated — but no one has debunked them either.

Meanwhile, Liechtenstein remains a thriving and successful country — that still has no army to this day.