1/5/08

Die "SEEADLER"


Der Seeadler

Durante la primera guerra mundial el navío Gladis Royal navegaba plácidamente rumbo a BSAS, cargado de excelente carbón ingles, surcaba las aguas solitario por que en aquella derrota no habia nada que temer de los u-boats alemanes, por otra parte estos no habian declarado la guerra total al comercio naviero ingles, las horas pasaban lentamente, y los marinos que no estaban en guardia tomaban sol sobre cubierta.Todo estaba en paz.

El vigia señalo un punto en el horizonte, las blancas velas lo delataron como un clipper, todos los veleros que aun surcaban los mares eran aliados o neutrales, Gran Bretaña gobernaba sobre el agua!

El alto mando de la marina de guerra alemana no cometeria la locura de tratar de quebrar el bloqueo con un barco tan lento pensaron los ingleses a bordo, no llevaba bandera pero que problema habia! seguro era amigo!

Hasta que estallo la tormenta el clipper giro rapidamente, de su costado bascularon planchas azomo un cañon que trono, y rapidamente se izo la bandera de la marina imperial alemana, el veterano capitan ingles no podia creer lo que veia, ordeno que subieran la "union jack" inmediatamente virar a babor y maquinas fondo, pero inmediatamente 2 proyectiles de 105 mm pasan silbando sobre el puente de mando, mientras un tercero pulveriza la caseta de control, parecia imposible, pero no, era un buque aleman disfrazado, un corsario.

Catorce triunfos ninguna victima



Vamos a contar la historia de este anacronico corsario, combatiente de los ultimos años de la gran guerra, que a lo largo de su carrera hundio a 3 mercantes y 11 veleros enemigos, con perdidas para el comercio aliado de 25 millones de dolares de esa epoca! y que pese a todo no causo ninguna victima mortal entre las dotaciones de los barcos que hundio.

La idea de utilizar un velero como corsario ya rondaba en las mentes de algunos miembros del estado mayor aleman de la kriegmarine, pues si aparte de tener que romper el bloqueo aliado era el aprovisionamiento de combustible, cosa que era solucionada con el uso de un velero




Conde Felix von Luckner

(Felix, Conde von Luckner; 1886-1966) Oficial de la Marina alemana, n. en Dresde y m. en Malmö, conocido por el sobrenombre de «El Diablo del Mar» por sus audaces singladuras durante la I Guerra Mundial. Participó en la batalla de Jutlandia como teniente de la Marina de Guerra imperial alemana. En 1916 asumió el mando del Seeadler, corsario disfrazado de pacífico velero, con el que consiguió atravesar el bloqueo inglés y, sin sufrir una sola baja, destruyó mercantes aliados por valor de más de 25000000 de dólares hasta ser capturado cerca de las islas Fiji en 1918. Persona no grata a los nazis durante la II Guerra Mundial, vivió, protegido por su popularidad, en Halle, donde en 1945 preparó la rendición de la ciudad a las tropas americanas.


Algunas caracteristicas tecnicas de corsario:

Shipyard: Kaiserliche Werft, Danzig
Laid down: Mid 1890
Launched: February 2, 1892
Commissioned: March 15, 1893
Fate: exploded at Wilhelmshaven April 19, 1917 while being used as a mine hulk
Struck: retired from active service January 1914
General Characteristics
Displacement: 1,630 tons; 1,864 tons fully loaded
Length: 82.6 m
Beam: 12.7 m
Draught: 4.42 m
Propulsion: 2 screws, 3 cyl. triple Expansion Engines, generating 2,888 shp
Speed: 16.9 knots
Range: 3,040 NM at 9 knots
Complement: 166
Armament: 8 rapid fire 10.5 cm (4.1") 35-calibre guns, 5 3.7 cm revolver guns, 2 35 cm torpedo tubes

Barcos que hundió


Las principales victimas del velero fueron logicamente sus pares del lado aliado, y se da el caso curioso de que en febrero de 1917 se detiene a un velero ingles, Luckner se da cuenta de en ese barco había navegado parte de de su juventud.

Allí antes de hundirlo encontró la litera donde tantas veces había dormido, y penetro en la cámara del capitán, en la que nunca se había atrevido a entrar.

En el timón todavía se leía, medio borrado por el tiempo su nombre grabado a cuchillo.
En contra de sus costumbres no presencio el hundimiento.

Se encerró en su camarote, tal vez para que sus hombres no le vieran llorar por una página perdida de su juventud.

La presa mas difícil y en cuya presa se ve claramente su astucia fue el vapor ingles Hongart, de 8600 tn armado con 2 piezas de 150mm, casi el doble de los que "calzaba" el Seeadler,

Al preguntarle la hora cronométrica no contesto y siguió su camino, como las piezas Krupp solo tenía un alcance efectivo de unos 4000 ms. era necesario si se le queria capturar que el vapor cambiara de rumbo.

Se había embarcado en Alemania un aparato productor de humo, que fue puesto inmediatamente en uso, mientras a bordo del Seeadler se prenden bengalas de humo para simular un incendio. El vapor ante este "teatral" accidente, se acerca al velero alemán, y cuando esta frente al él este iza la bandera de guerra y el guion encarnado de los corsarios, que junto a la driza lleva pintada una calavera blanca.
El velero dispara su pieza de 105 mm pero en el barco ingles no cunde el pánico, si no que por el contrario acelera las maquinas y los hombres empiezan a preparar las baterías de 150 mm, si los ingleses hubieran hecho a tiempo a poner en batería sus dos piezas ese hubiera resultado el fin del corsario, por lo que Luckner ordena a tres de sus hombres que suban a los palos con megáfonos, de golpe se rompe el silencio y en perfecto ingles se escucha "a los torpedos!!", Rapidas escenas de panico en el buque ingles y los hombres agitando toda la ropa blanca que tenian a mano, hasta el cocinero agita su delantal.
Una vez hundido el barco el capitan ingles charla con Luckner, asombrado por el engaño al ver las dos viejas piezas de 105 mm, se encoleriza, y suplica:"Por favor comandante no informe de esto es una verguenza para mi".


Buques hundidos por el Seeadler:

Gladys Royal...................... mercante..............................3628 tn
Lundi Island....................... mercante..............................4500 tn
Hongart............................ ...mercante..............................8500 tn
Carlos gauno V................... velero....................................2200 tn
Perce................................... velero.......................................368 tn
Antonin............................... velero ....................................3071 tn
Buenos aires....................... velero ................................... 1811 tn
Pinmore.............................. velero.....................................1983 tn
British yeoman...................velero.....................................1953 tn
La Rochefocauld.................velero.............. ......................2200 tn
Dupleix............................... velero.....................................2206 tn
A.B.Johnson........................ velero......................................529 tn
R.C.Slade............................ velero.......................................673 tn
Manila................................. velero.....................

El terreno más provechoso de caza fue sin dudas las costas frente a Brasil, allí en pocos meses hundios dos vapores y 7 veleros.

El 7 de marzo detiene y hunde al Rochefoucauld, de bandera francesa, cuyo capitán se lamenta ardientemente de que después de la guerra nunca más le dieran el mando de otro velero, puesto que imprudentemente no había hecho caso del consejo de los capitanes de otros dos veleros franceses, que anclados junto a él en el puerto de Valparaíso, habían esperado que el almirantazgo, les señalara las rutas seguras, por temor a los u-boot.
Luckner sonríe y les pregunta el nombre de los dos veleros anclados junto a el...desaparece un momento y vuelve con los dos capitanes de aquellos barcos hundidos, también por él, el francés grita de alegría, ya no será el único tonto de la flota.

Al cabo de varios meses de hacer presas, los entrepuentes del clipper están abarrotados. Y transborda a sus prisioneros al siguiente velero para enviarlos a tierra.
Pero, para que no lleguen demasiado pronto cierra sus mástiles, hasta dejarlos con pocas velas, así le dará tiempo a escapar, y pasar al pacifico, lo que lograra después de una dura lucha con los feroces vientos del otoño austral. Ya en el Mar Pacifico, la suerte cambia, solo capturara tres pequeñas goletas americanas, con cargamentos de poco valor.
Durante semanas y semanas, dan vueltas alrededor del ecuador, en las rutas oceánicas más frecuentes, pero nada.
El calor es terrible, el agua escasea y llega por fin, aparece el beri-beri a bordo, se impone una escala para que descanse la tripulación, embarcar alimentos frescos, y hacer guardia.
La isla elegida, es atolón Mompelia, del archipiélago de la sociedad. Allí, el 3 de agosto de 1917, cuando ya quedaba poco para terminar el aprovisionamiento del buque y zarpar otra vez hacia el atlántico, vieron que el mar se hinchaba a toda velocidad hacia ellos. Se corto inmediatamente la cadena del ancla , se intento arrancar el motor. Se inyecto aire comprimido, nada.
Desesperados, hacen girar los cilindros manualmente, nuevamente nada: La ola de más de 10 mts de altura levanto el velero, cuando, por fin demasiado tarde el motor arranca. El velero se levanta y, tomado de costado, es proyectado contra la superficie de coral.
Los mástiles y el castillos se desploman.El seeadler es ya una pura ruina.
Ya no volvera a navegar mas.Los ingleses no pudieron cazar nunca al corsario, solo los elementos pudieron contra el.Su fin, vino no por obra de los cañones de algun barco de la Navy, si no por un maremoto.Un barco con tanta suerte, solo podia perecer de esta manera a mano de los dioses, no a la de los hombres.En total, el corsario hundio mas de 30.000 tn, o sea unas 20 veces su propio toinelaje, y ademas, ostento otro record imbatido desde entonces: Fue el ultimo barco de guerra de vela que doblo el cabo de hornos, aunque le costo tres semanas y media de dura lucha, por el mal tiempo.

Algo del diario de Von Luckner volcado al libro Seeteufel


"el 2 de agosto, aproximadamente a las 9:30am, a punto de mandar un bote con quienes estaban autorizados a estar en tierra, vimos en el horizonte una ola que comenzo a desplazarse de una forma particular. ¿ Que era eso ? inicialmente asumimos que era una Fata Morgana, luego de algunos momentos nos dimos cuenta que este oleaje se acercaba mas y mas, al mismo tiempo creciendo en tamaño y velocidad. Era un maremoto causado por un terremoto submarino. Esta monstruosidad se acercaba cada vez mas, la nave estaba surcando la ola que le precedia. Podiamos contar los segundos que nos quedaban para intentar salvar la nave. Todos escuchabamos el sonido de los motores. Demasiado tarde!! La ola enfurecida, nos agarro por debajo, levanto la nave y la estrello contra los corales.
Los mastiles, la corona de nuestro barco, se rompieron en mil pedazos, grandes bloques de coral que pesaban mas de cien libras y grandes como barriles, se soltaron cuando impactamos el banco y fueron lanzados como granadas a la nave. Luego que la ola paso, alli se encontraba nuestro orgulloso "Seeadler", destrozado en mil pedazos y reducido a un naufragio en los corales.

Der Seeadler

La bandera del seeadler en el museo de Auckland



Félix von Luckner era el capitán de este buque corsario que, en la Primera Guerra Mundial hundió catorce cargueros de las fuerzas aliadas.
El SMS Seeadler paró en Mopelia porque la tripulación y los pasajeros presentaban síntomas de escorbuto, y buscaron una isla casi deshabitada para conseguir alimentos frescos (coco y pescado), Resulta que encalló en el arrecife mientras estaba fondeado cerca del paso, por fuera. La causa aún hoy se dicute, porque la versión del capitán sobre un enorme tsunami, parece bastante fantasiosa.
Perdido el barco, Von Lückner, acompañado de cinco de sus camaradas, navegó en un bote salvavidas hasta las Islas Cook. Allí fue hecho prisionero cuando se dirigía a Fiji.
El resto de sus hombres, que se habían quedado en Mopelia con los prisioneros americanos de los tres últimos cargueros detenidos, se apoderaron, a principios de septiembre, de una goleta llegada para la copra. Salieron en direccíon a Chile, pero encallaron al buscar un fondeo alrededor de la Isla de Pascua.
Von Luckner terminó la guerra como prisionero en Nueva Zelanda. Luego, escribió el relato de sus aventuras, e hizo ciclos de conferencias, donde contaba lo del tsunami.




Seeadler

This vessel was the only sailing ship to be used as an Armed Merchant Raider, she carried a great deal of mystique that could be owed to her flamboyant Commanding Officer, Felix Graf von Luckner, also known as The Sea Devil. Should you enter into a discussion of this era with anyone with but a passing knowledge of these Raiders, it will always be von Luckner, who is remembered, and spoken about.

Seeadler painting commissioned by the US Company W R Grace

Seeadler painting commissioned by the US Company W R Grace

He was a past master at selling himself and his ship, although Seeadler achieved success, it was not the most successful Armed Raider of WW1, but if her Captain had lived in our present times, I am certain he would have been an exceptional Marketing Director!

Providing coal for the German Armed Merchant Ships around the globe was a daunting task, thus the use of a sailing ship (fitted with a diesel auxiliary engine) would tend to alleviate this problem.

However, the other side of the coin, was the fact that very few German Naval Officers were experienced in sail.

To achieve success in this medium would hinge on first finding, and then selecting the right man, but, one such Naval Officer was von Luckner.


Count Felix von Luckner, 1919, Naval Officer of Seadler 1916 - 1917

He had been born on the 9th. of June in 1881, and had run away to sea as a 12 year old, to serve as a cabin boy in the Russian full rigger Niobe. In pre war days he had sailed at Cowes in England aboard the Krupp yacht Germania, and had seen service in the American Golden Shore, a four masted schooner, and had also sailed in the British Pinmore in 1902, she was another four master. Further experience in sail was gained in the German Caesarea, and the Canadian schooner Flying Fish, thus he had a very reasonable grounding in the art of serving at sea under sail.

Von Luckner had passed examinations for his Mate's ticket, and by 1908 had joined the steamer Petropolis, belonging to Hamburg-Sudamerikanisch, it was his intention to serve for nine months, and then volunteer to serve in the Imperial Navy for a year, and thence to gain his Naval Commission. He was finally called up for the Navy in February of 1912, and was sent to the gun boat Panther.

During the early part of WW1 he was present at the Battle of Heliogoland Bight, and at Jutland he was in charge of a gun turret in the Dreadnought Kronprinz.

It is reported that von Luckner's story telling abilities made him something of a favourite with Kaiser Wilhelm 11, so it was no great suprise that he was appointed Captain of the first sailing ship to be fitted out as a Raider, despite the fact that he was only thirty four years old, and that he had to overcome the raised objections of Senior Officers who thought they were more deserving of this command.

Built on the Clyde in 1888, Pass of Balmaha was owned by the River Plate Shipping Company of New York, and in June of 1915, fully loaded with cotton bound for Archangel, she was stopped by a British patrol north west of Cape Wrath, a boarding party was put on board, and she was ordered to proceed into a Scottish port so that she could be examined.

Pass of Balmaha

Pass of Balmaha

But before this sailing ship could reach port, a German Submarine U-36, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Graefe seized her, put a Midshipman in command and sent her off to Cuxhaven, with the British boarding party still in her hold. At this stage the ship was named Walter, and the decision was made to convert her into an Armed Raider.

Two 8.8 cm. guns were mounted and hidden behind hinged gunwhales, just aft and behind the forecastle, machine guns were also mountedon board.

The ship known in Naval records as Seeadler or Sea Eagle, had a registered tonnage of 1,571, and fully loaded was 4,500 tons, she was 83 metres long with a 11.8 metre beam, and a draught of 5.5 metres, and under her deisel engine could make about 9 knots. Sails were her main means of propulation, and the force of any available wind would obviously determine her maximum speed at any given time.

At this time in history, there were many sailing ships plying the world's oceans, and the large four masted barques carrying wheat from Australia to Europe still operated until about 1939.

In seeking to disguise Seeadler as a similar Norwegian vessel Maleta. (during my research, I have found this ship sometimes spelt as Maletta, but have chosen to use the form most commonly used.)

With typical German thoroughness prevailing, in von Luckner's cabin, pictures of both the King and Queen of Norway, plus King Edward V11 of England were all featured. Norwegian instruments such as a barometer and chronometer were also in evidence, and a number of his crew could speak Norwegian.

A number of unforseen delays took place, and when the German Maleta was ready for sea, her true sister had sailed from Denmark, and all this planning came to nought.

Another search of Lloyd's Register to come up with a suitable name brought to light, Carmoe, but no one seemed to know where she might be found, but at the last minute, a Norwegian newspaper revealed that the real vessel carrying that name had only recently been stopped and examined by British patrols, once again foiled.

There is some evidence to suggest that von Luckner named his ship Irma, after his fiancee, but the name Hero seems to have been chosen, a Norwegian with a load of timber bound for Melbourne, Australia. Seeadler carrying false papers and a deliberately damaged log book, slipped out of the river Weser on the 21st of December 1916, skirted up the coast of Norway, to then sneak round the tip of Northern Scotland, and run free into the Atlantic.

Within two days, von Luckner and his company of 6 Officers and 57 other men, were coping with a howling gale, at least it helped to explain the soaked state of his log book etc, should they be stopped by a British blockade ship, and subsequently boarded for a routine inspection.

As part of the ploy to convince any British boarding party that his ship and crew were Norwegian, von Luckner had a slim young sailor masquerade as his wife, complete with a suitable blonde wig.

Come Christmas Day 1916, Seeadler having battled the elements for three days was south west of Greenland, when out of the rain a large ship appeared, it turned out to be the British 15,000 ton Armed Merchant Cruiser, Avenger, she immediately signalled the sailing ship to heave to, and await its boat carrying an inspection party.

All went well, and his ship's disguise proved successful, but at the last moment, as the two British Officers were about to leave the scene, von Luckner noticed with some trepidation that the Seeadler's propellor was very evident. His ship was purporting to only be a simple sailing vessel, so thinking and acting very quickly, von Luckner grabbed a rope and swung it towards the British boat, so that they could pull themselves forward. This distraction caused the Officers to focus their eyes on this rope, saving any embarrassment, and the propellor remained a secret.

Now the timber deck cargo covering up the hatches was ditched over the side, and Seeadler assumed her true role as a German Raider.

On the 9th of January 1917 von Luckner came upon a black hulled, single funeled steamer. He now hoisted a request for a time signal, not an uncommon proceedure from a sailing ship that had been out of sight of land for some time, and wished to fix her position. Many steamship Captains, having served their time in sail would welcome the opportunity to view close up a fine clipper ship under press of a full suit of sails.

Then, too late, Seeadler would announce her true identity by running up the German Naval Ensign, and firing a warning shot to stop her intended victim. The ship in sight proved to be the 3,268 ton Gladys Royle, a British vessel loaded with coal, out of Cardiff and bound for Buenos Aires.

A shot was fired across her bows, a second shot followed the first, then a third passed over the funnel, it was enough, and Gladys Royle quickly hove to, and a German boarding party laid and fired scuttling charges, and the ship slowly sank stern first. The crew were taken onboard Seeadler.

The next day another steamship, unnamed, and not flying any flag, crossed ahead of Seeadler, whose question "What Ship?" remained unanswered, von Luckner now steered his ship across the steamer's bows. Under the International Rules of the Road at Sea, steam gives way to sail, but notwithstanding this rule, von Luvkner was forced to take avoiding action as the steamer simply ignored him. and steamed resolutely on.

The German Ensign now fluttered to the masthead, and a shot was fired across the bows of this recalcitrant ship, but the Captain of the 3,095 British Lundy Island, remained stubborn, he reasoned that by steaming directly into the wind, he could outrun this German sailing ship beating up into the wind.

Seeadler now took up this challenge seriously, and opened fire with real intent to stop her quarry, the funnel was pierced by a shell, one burst on deck, and a further two shells entered through the hull. The struggle was over, the steamer lowered boats and hove to, von Luckner ordered the British Captain to come onboard his ship, but he was totally ignored, so off went a German boarding party to investigate. It appears that British Lundy Island carried a cargo of sugar from Madagascar, it was thought that this was too valuable a cargo to quickly surrender to a mere sailing ship, hence the decision to try and outrun Seeadler.

When the first shells struck home, the crew rushed to the boats leaving their Captain to take the wheel himself, but the rudder chain had been parted by an incoming shell, leaving the ship to wallow helplessly.

Captain Bannister was left alone on board as his crew abandoned ship.

Later, Bannister told von Luckner he had previously been captured by the German Raider, Mowe, and had been granted parole, which he had broken, he was thus not too keen on becoming a Prisoner of War for the second time.

Von Luckner continued his journey southwards, and by the 21st. of January was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, level with both Brazil and West Africa.

The French 2,199 ton, three masted barque Charles Gounod, loaded with corn for Bordeaux was intercepted and scuttled. From the Frenchman's Log Book, information was gleaned about sailing ships she had met, and their intended routes.

It was necessary for a ship like Seeadler to seek out, and gather information of the whereabouts of possible victims, from whatever source she could, and captured documents from ships met, and sunk, proved invaluable. Von luckner's command, unlike her fellow Raider, Wolf, did not carry a seaplane that could extend her horizon. The ship's radio was not as advanced as this equipment had become by the time that the Raiders of WW2 were let loose on the world's oceans, to prey upon Merchant Ships carrying goods on outwards journeys to America, and the Empire, and essentials, particularly food stuffs on the return trip to Britain.

On the 24th. of January, Perce, a small 364 ton three masted schooner from Canada was met, her crew including the Captain and his new bride were taken aboard Seeadler, and gunfire was used to quickly sink her.

Another sailing ship was sighted on the 3rd. of February, and it proved to be the French four masted 3,071 ton Antonin loaded with saltpetre from Chile. Although Seeadler's diesel engine was not operating, she proved to be the faster ship under sail, and the Frenchman was very soon overhauled.

Machine gun fire ruined her sails, she stopped, and hove to, her crew were taken aboard the Raider, and scuttling charges quickly sank this proud vessel.

Now on the 9th. of February, an 1,811 ton sailing ship Buenos Ayres from Napoli, again loaded with Chilian saltpetre was met and despatched.

Ten days later Seeadler sighted a four masted barque which immediately crammed on more sail, and started to draw away from the German, but now aided by the diesel auxiliary engine which was in working order again, the Raider commenced to gain on her target. When ordered to state her name, this ship responded with Pinmore, she was a 2,431 ton ship, her cargo, grain, her Captain, James Mullen.

This British ship built on the Clyde in 1882 and registered in Greenock, Scotland, and now owned by Tridonic Limited, had, by coincidence been home for von Luckner, back in 1902 during his merchant ship days.

The German Captain now took Pinmore into Rio de Janeiro for supplies, and according to his memoirs, he bandaged up his hand, so that he could avoid having to sign any customs documents as Captain Mullen.

It is suggested that this claim, like many of the flamboyant von Luckner's yarns proved to be somewhat far fetched, as Captain Mullen was very well known in Rio.

Eventually scuttling charges were used to sink this British ship.

The next ship to be stopped was the Danish barque Viking, but as her cargo was untoward, she was released and allowed to proceed unmolested.

On the 26th. of February, Leutnant Preiss sighted a ship looming out of the morning mist, after closing for 15 minutes, it proved to be the British 1,953 ton threemaster barque British Yeoman. She had sailed under the Red Duster prior to 1916, being registered in Vancouver British Columbia, but her new owners were American. Captain Armstrong asked for news of the war, and von Luckner said he would signal all this information, and promptly hoisted three flags C I D, their meaning, "Stop immediately or I will fire."

The boarding party found a cargo which included live chickens and pigs, all of which were quickly transferred to their new owners, a most welcome addition to by now, a very mundane diet, after being at sea for some time. Scuttling charges sank British Yeoman, some distance off the Brazilian coast.

Seeadler was making her presence felt on these trade routes where sailing ships plied, but, although she had sunk 7 ships, their total tonnage was not really significant. A great deal of effort for a relatively little return.

That same evening, a light astern slowly revealed a large four masted barque, but von Luckner maintained a position ahead of this ship until at dawn she could be identified as the French Le Rochefoucauld. Seeadler now signalled, "Stop! We have important news." The Frenchman naturally very obediently slowed down, only to be met with unmasked German guns, and a German Ensign suddenly in view at the masthead, too late she understood that she had been outwitted by von Luckner and his ship.

The boarding party discovered that the French ship had only recently been stopped by a British Cruiser, and that the French Captain had ordered this record be removed from his Log, in the hope that this Cruiser might catch Seeadler unawares, as her presence in the area was well known.

The French barque was sunk on the 27th. of February.

By the evening of the 5th. of March, Seeadler had moved far enough southwards to raise the Southern Cross, a stellar constellation that confirms to anyone at sea that they are now sailing well below the equator.

The German ship now found a four masted barque standing out against the moonlight, von Luckner, using a signal lamp told the barque to "Stop immediately! German Cruiser."

Now a quite bizarre incident took place, the French Captain rowed across to Seeadler, convinced that another French vessel was playing a practical joke on him, this was only a hoax, but to both his suprise and chagrin, he suddenly found himself the prisoner of a German Naval Officer, and his command Dupleix, of 2,206 tons about to be sunk.

The next victim found by Seeadler on the 10th. of March, was asked to pass the chronometer time, but this signal was ignored, so von Luckner ordered a smoke generator to be ignited, and so simulated a fire was burning in his ship. The Horngarth of 3,609 tons, its large stern gun very much on view, now turned back to render assistance to this burning sailing vessel.

Von Luckner acted quickly, up went the German Ensign, and a single shot from the 8.8cm.gun put the British ship's radio out of action. The boarding party set, then exploded scuttling charges, by this time they were most experienced in quickly blowing up captive ships, Horngarth's crew were embarked aboard the Raider.

The German Captain was now faced with the same problem that his counterparts encountered in WW2. What to do with the increasing number of prisoners now on board? Almost 203 of them needing to be fed daily, and safely housed on board.

Another 10 days brought a solution in the shape of the French four masted barque Cambronne, of 1,863 tons. But the prisoners and their disposal still posed their own set of problems, it was not practicable to release a sufficient number of German sailors to sail Cambronne to a position where von Luckner wanted her to proceed. If he merely put his prisoners aboard, and then released this ship, she would most likely sail to the nearest port to alert the world at large about Seeadler, her position, and her recent exploits. This dilemma was solved by removing the top gallant masts from the Frenchman, and destroying any spars and sails. These actions ensured it would allow sufficient time for Seeadler to clear the area and make good her escape.

Captain Mullen ex Pinmore was placed in command of the Frenchman.

The Royal Navy were aware of the presence of the German ship in the general area where she was operating, and the Armed Merchant Cruiser, Otranto, plus the Cruisers Lancaster, and Orbita were all set to spring the trap on Seeadler as she rounded Cape Horn.

Von Luckner pausing in his rush for Cape horn, went off to the Falklands, threw overboard a large metal Iron Cross in memory of Admiral von Spee and his men who perished there in the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December of 1914.

Whilst earlier to this engagement, von Spee had been successful against the British Admiral Craddock at Coronel.

Seeadler now ran into hurricane conditions, and was forced well south of the Horn before moving into the Pacific on the 18th. of April, the bad weather had actually proved to be a boon for von Luckner, as he thus escaped the British net, and now sailed northwards along the coast of Chile.

During this time of inactivity, von Luckner ordered property taken from his prisoners to be thrown overboard, and he ensured these were all marked with the name Seeadler, the obvious inference being that his ship had been sunk. There seemed to be no end to the fertile imagination of this audacious German Naval Officer, who continued to scheme, and seek out new ways to exploit his role as an Armed Raider loose on the high seas.

The British also played games, in an apparent attempt to restore confidence to ships sailing and trading in this arena, they broadcast a message "Seeadler gone down with all flags flying, Commander and crew taken prisoner and now on their way to Montevideo." Or had some of the cast aside gear from Seeadler been recovered by the Royal Navy? and they were trying to exploit the situation regarding the doughty von Luckner and his ship. From this distance in time, it may appear that these actions were somewhat childish but, one cannot know what effect it had at that time on the various players in this drama of the sea.

By early June, Seeadler was eastwards of Christmas Island, and now learned that the United States had joined in the war.

Von Luckner's next victim was the 529 ton four masted schooner A B Johnson from San Francisco, she was destroyed by fire on the 14th. of June, and on the following day, R C Slade, another American four master of about 673 tons met a similar fate, yet one more small American schooner Manila, on the 8th. of July was sent to the ocean floor.

Some 29 prisoners including one woman were now on board, they needed feeding, exercising and in general looking after, the role of the Raider's crew could so quickly change. At one moment they are called upon to fight, and maybe put their lives at risk, then after a successful engagement, when the target crew have been taken onboard, their role changes to one of nursemaid.

It has always been a suprise to me, and somewhat of a mystery, how individual Armed Merchant Ship crews could be kept motivated over long spells at sea, thousands of miles from home and loved ones, the dull, daily routine, with an endless horizon stretching in all directions, with but the rolling sea in sight. How did Captains and Officers keep themselves ready at all times? let alone their crew?

I do not profess to know the answers to my own questions, was it possibly in the type of people selected to be a crew member aboard one of these ships? Was it a love for and of the Fatherland? or pure parriotism? I do not know, and of course I digress!

After several weeks of fruitless cruising along the Doldrums, Seeadler was well overdue to be laid up so that her fouled bottom might be scraped clean again, so she put into Mopelia Island, about 450 kilometers from Tahiti, this circular atol was some 10 kilometers in diameter, and had a deep sheltered lagoon. But, Seeadler was forced to anchor outside the reef, as the water was too shallow to allow her to make a pasage into the shelter available inside the lagoon.

On the 2nd. of August, disaster struck!

If one accepts von Luckner's account of events, this is what happened.

"At about 0930 (9.30 AM) he had noticed a strange bulge on the eastern rim of the sea.... at first we thought it was a mirage. But it kept growing larger. It came towards us. Then we at last recognized it... A TIDAL WAVE, such as is caused by a submarine earthquake and volcanic disturbances.

"The danger was only too clear. We lay between the Island and the wave. We dared not raise sail, for the wind would drive us onto the reef. So, our only hope of getting clear of the Island was on our motor. The huge swell of the tidal wave was rushing towards us with breakneck speed. The motor did not stir. The mechanics worked frantically. They pumped compressed air into the engine. We waited in vain for the sound of ignition.... by this time the oncoming tidal wave was only a few hundred yards away. We were lost."

The force of the water carried Seeadler bodily onto the reef, she was dismasted, and her hull broached by huge lumps of coral. She became a total wreck.

Seeadler on Mopelia Reef, 2-8-1917

There have been conflicting reports of what actually happened to von Luckner's ship, some American prisoners claim the ship ran aground onto the reef whilst the majority of her crew and the prisoners were picnicing on the Island.

Tidal wave records make no mention of such activity around August of 1917.

Whatever one accepts as the truth is of no great consequence, all the crew and their prisoners survived, but were now stranded on Mopelia Island.

The crew salvaged what they could from the wreck, two of the ship's boats were still intact, some provisions and firearms were collected.

Von Luckner now decided to take 5 crew, his Navigator Leutnanmt Kircheiss, Engineer Krause and three seamen, in one of the 10 metre lifeboats, rigged as a sloop, and rather ironically named Kronprinzessin Cecile, after a former trans Atlantic liner of that name. He proposed to sail via the Cook Islands to Fiji, capture a sailing ship, return to Mopelia for the rest of his crew, and the prisoners, and then resume his raiding activities, he was forever "The absolute optimist."

So, on the 23rd of August, this intrepid band set off, three days later reaching Aitu Island in the Cook Group, pretending to be Dutch - American seamen trying to cross the Pacific Ocean to win a bet. The New Zealand Resident provided the group with enough fresh supplies to carry them onto another island in the Cook Group, Aitutaki. Here they posed as Norwegians, but this time the New Zealand Resident was very suspicious, but he had no means of arresting or detaining von Luckner and his five companions, and the German Captain reading the situation, decided to quickly exit this port, and sailed on to Rarotonga.

The approach to Rarotonga harbour was made in darkness, there at anchor, without lights was what appeared to be a large ship, looking very like an Auxiliary Cruiser. Von Luckner was alarmed, was this ship waiting to trap them? He was not going to wait, quickly turning Kronprinzessin Cecile about, he sped off for Fiji.

The supposed Auxiliary Cruiser, was in fact, the run aground Maitai, not at all posing a threat to the German sailors.

By the time they had raised the Fijian Island of Wakaya, and anchored, the group were exhausted, they had traversed some 3,700 kilometers of lonely ocean in an open boat, a commendable feat of endurance and seamanship skills.

The people here seemed to swallow the yarn that they were shipwrecked Norwegian sailors, but not one sceptic, named McPherson, he set off for the police station at Levuka, it had been the old capital of Fiji, prior to the British using Suva as their administrative centre.

Sub Inspector Hills with a party of Fijian policemen manned a cutter and set out to investigate this strange group that had suddenly arrived at Levuka. Bad weather forced them back to harbour, but the German group would have had little trouble in coping with Hills and his party.

Now by chance, the inter-island steamer Amra arrived at Levuka, it was requisitioned by Hills, and sailed for Wakaya arriving close to daylight on the morning of the 21st of September.

Hills called on von Luckner and his men to surrender, bluffing that the gun on board Amra would blow them out of the water, not wishing to cause any bloodshed, the German Captain decided that for his men and himself the war was over. It was only later that he learned that Hills had tricked him into this surrender, Amra did not mount any guns at all, for this sailor who had lived by his wits and bluff for so long it must have been a sad and bitter moment.

Now whilst von Luckner and his five men were enroute to a Prisoner of War Camp on Motuihe Island near Auckland New Zealand, back at Mopelia Island, the small French Island Trader Lutece, anchored off the reef. Leutnant Kling from Seeadler had learned by radio that his Captain had been captured, now rowed out to this schooner and captured her at gunpoint.

A deed worthy of his swashbuckling Captain von Luckner.

The crew of Lutece were quickly put ashore to join the American prisoners, and all the German sailors went aboard, and course was set for the west coast of South America.

The boat left behind by Kling was now sailed by the Master of A B Johnson, Captain Smith, and three American seamen some 1,600 kilometers to Pago Pago, arriving on the 4th of October 1917, here, they were able to alert the authorities all about the exploits of Seeadler, and to report that forty four sailors were still stranded at Mopelia Atol.

But back to Kling, hoping to refit Lutece, now renamed Fortuna, at Easter Island, prior to attempting to round Cape Horn, this vessel now ran into uncharted rocks off Easter Island, and sank. All the German sailors scrambled ashore to be collected by Chilian authorities and be interned for the remainder of the war.

Although it appeared that the war had ended for von Luckner, still he plotted. The Commandant of the prison camp, Lieutenant Colonel C. Harcourt Turner, could communicate with the mainland by telephone, but also at his disposal was a fast motor boat Pearl. With Leutnant Kirscheiss and a few other prisoners, von Luckner, on the 13th of December grabbed Pearl and sped off to freedom, making for Mercury Island close to the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula.

This motor boat was fitted with a dummy machine gun and then von Luckner boldly stopped Moa, a 90 ton scow owned by Leyland O'Brien Timber Company, she was only carrying the Master and four other men, Moa was boarded, von Luckner indicating "You are Prisoners of War to Germany."

Up fluttered the German Ensign, and they set off for Kermadec Islands, north east of New Zealand, reaching this destination in five days.

Pearl which was being towed, was suddenly swamped by an inrushing wave, she quickly sank, taking the very valuable radio with her to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, thus depriving von Luckner of his major source of information.

At the time of seizing Moa, she had been close to another scow Rangi, her Captain had observed a party board Moa from a boat, and then noted that she sailed off away from New Zealand. He took his ship into Port Charles to report his suspicions.

It so happened, that an hour later, the government cable layer Iris, armed with two six pounder guns arrived on the scene, having been given the story about Moa, she set off in pursuit, rightly assuming that Moa would make for the Kermadec Island group.

On the 21st of December, Moa made it to Curtis Island in the Kermadec group, and von Luckner sent off a boat to raid the stores depot that he knew was there.

Smoke now appeared on the horizon, sail was quickly raised, but in ninety minutes Iris overhauled Moa, and firing shots across her bows brought von Luckner to once more surrender.

As he came aboard Iris, he commented " You left the door open, you cannot blame me for walking out!"

At last, this time the war really was over for this wily German Naval Officer, von Luckner had indeed put up a good fight. He spent the remainder of the war in various prison camps around New Zealand until he was repatriated to Germany in 1919. In the mid thirties, von Luckner sailed around the world in his private yacht Vaterland, and when he visited New Zealand , was very warmly welcomed. During WW2 he lived in Germany, and moved to Sweden, dying there in 1966.

He lived an adventurious life, grabbing every day by the scruff of the neck to extract the utmost from his environment. von Luckner served his country, and his Navy well, he was a man for his time, and it is unlikely that we will ever witness the likes of "The Sea Devil "again, it is now a totally different world that we all live in today.

See also "The Search for Count von Luckner" by HL Dixon and "Life as von Luckner's Prisoner" by C Singer



This site was created as a resource for educational use and the promotion of historical awareness. All rights of publicity of the individuals named herein are expressly reserved, and, should be respected consistent with the reverence in which this memorial site was established.

Copyright© 1984/2008 THE NAVAL HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AUSTRALIA, INC and Mackenzie J. Gregory All rights reserved

Die Piraten des Kaisers






Graf Luckners legendäre Fahrt mit der Seeadler




















Graf Luckner

Felix Count von Luckner: Biography




He lived an extraordinary life. Here is a time line:


1881 9th of June born near Dresden, grown up at his father's estate Pennrich.


1897 Runs away from his grandmother in Halle. Under the name of Phylax Lüdicke hires on Russian ship "NIOBE."


up to 1903 Voyages on ships belonging to various shipping companies, mainly in the Australian - American regions.


1903 Gets his mate's commission at the Lübeck Navigation College.


1903/04 After passing his examinations serves as an officer on the ship "PETROPOLIS"


1904/05 Serves as a volunteer in the Imperial German Navy.


1907 Gets his master's certificate at the Papenburg nautical college.


1910/14 Married to Petra Schulz from Hamburg; serves in the imperial navy.


1911 Promoted to the rank of a lieutenant junior grade.


1913/14 Serves on SMS "PANTHER" at the West African Station.


1914-16 Officer on SM cruiser "KRONPRINZ"


1914-17 Participates as an artillery officer in the Skagerrak Battle; Commands as a captain the auxiliary cruiser “SEEADLER”; sank 14 ships and tried not losing any lives both among his men and the men of the sunk ships, only one seaman (the freighter “Horngarth” from Cardiff) died after having injured by hot water caused by a leak in a steam pipe. This damage was caused by a shell of the “SEEADLER”.


1917 Loss of the "SEEADLER" at Mopelia Island; Voyage with "KRONPRINZESSIN CECILIE", the 6 metre "SEEADLER" lifeboat, rigged as a sloop. Capture and internment in New Zealand. Escape with motorboat of the commandant of the prison at MOTOHUI/New Zealand. Grabs coastal sailing boat "MOA". Recapture.


1919 Repatriation to Halle a.d. Saale; his father dies; 1st lecture at "Saalschloss Brauerei" in Halle.


1920 In Leipzig "birth" of the journey to America and idea to purchase a ship. Involved are: von Haase, Dr. Fritz Kirst, P.G. Kersten, General Lettow von Vorbeck.


1921 Luckner rigs the former Norwegian prize "THYRA", a four mast schooner, to become the first training ship of the German navy, renamed in "NIOBE", and is appointed her first captain; in May he is admitted to the freemason's logde "Zur Goldenen Kugel Nr. 66" in Hamburg.


1922 His discharge submitted and leaves the Navy as a lieutenant commander.


1924 Foundation of the society "Graf von Luckner Weltumseglung" (Count of Luckner Circumnavigation of the World); purchase of the four mast schooner "VATERLAND"


1926 Conversion of the "VATERLAND" for the display of samples of German products; September start of the "Circumnavigation of the World."


1927 Series of lectures in the U.S.A. "GOOD WILL MISSION"; Was given the freedom of the city of San Francisco, CA (honorary citizen); later also honorary citizen of Miami, FL, and Minot, ND.


1928 Return journey to Germany; Second journey to the U.S.A.. Renaming of "VATERLAND" in "MOPELIA"; Honorary President of the "Scouts."


1933 Frequent stays in Berlin. "MOPELIA" "moored" in the U.S.A.


1935 "MOPELIA" completely burnt out in the free port of Bremerhaven; Visit with his wife to Great Britain.


1936 Participates in the opening ceremony for the Navy Memorial in Kiel; Purchase of the "SEETEUFEL", a two mast schooner.


1937 Great journey round the world with "SEETEUFEL" starting from Oslo to the Caribbean, Panama Canal.


1938 Coconut Islands, Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Ceylon, Aden, Suez Canal, around the Mediterranian, Italy, Gibraltar, England.


1939 Arrival in Germany.


1940/1945 Lives in his mother's house, Alte Promenade 13, in Halle; all lecturing activities and publishing of his books prohibited.


1945 April 16th, negotiates with the American forces and prevents the destruction of Halle by air attack and artillery shelling; in connection with the return of the American forces he leaves Halle and goes to the western part of Germany appointment as honorary colonel of the 104th US Infantry Division "Timberwolf."


1953 April 9th awarded the Great Order of Merits of the Federal Republic of Germany;
von Luckner is a member of the “Association of former Halle citizens”


1956 E.F. MacDonald, President of Zenith Radio Corporation, supports the suggestion that the Nobel Peace Prize should be awarded to Felix Count von Luckner.


1964 End of April together with his wife he visits Halle in order to bury his half-brother Carl. On this occasion meeting with members of the Saltworks Brotherhood im Thale zu Halle in a private home.


1966 Died April 13 in Malmö/Sweden;
April 28th buried at the OHLSDORFER graveyard in Hamburg under over-whelming sympathy of the public and the press worldwide; the “Stars ‘n Stripes” states: “Felix Count von Luckner was the German ‘good guy’”




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