Thursday, May 24, 2007

Our Favorite Heroes - The Benevolent Sea Devil: Felix Count von Luckner

From Amazon, the write up for The Cruise of the Sea Eagle: The Amazing True Story of Imperial Germany's Gentleman Pirate:
On December 21, 1916, a three-masted sailing ship slipped out of the river Weser in northern Germany. Her captain had false papers, a deliberately damaged logbook, and a young sailor with a blonde wig to pose as his wife. The ship sailed under a false flag, and even her name - the Hero - was a ruse. So begins the amazing true story of The Cruise of the Sea Eagle, author Blaine Pardoe's account of Felix von Luckner, the Imperial German Navy raider set upon the high seas to sink Britain's vital wartime supply ships during World War I.

Using sheer determination, pluck, and the quick of his wits, von Luckner steered clear of the British Navy to board and sink as many merchant ships as he possibly could. Within a month, he had already boarded and sunk three vessels. But unlike Germany's vaunted submarine fleet, the gentleman pirate made room on his ship for all prisoners, and never fired a shot unless it was unavoidable.

Von Luckner's adventures include the tale of the Dupleix. When confronted by the Seeadler's message - Stop Immediately. German Cruiser - the French captain thought a colleague was playing a practical joke and rowed out to the German raider. The Dupleix was sunk soon thereafter. When chased by no fewer than three British Navy ships, von Luckner evaded capture by rounding the Horn in a heavy storm, raiding ships all the way. He marked his prisoners' personal effects with the word "Seeadler," causing the British to crow that the Seeadler had sunk, which gave von Luckner more time to slip away. And when the Seeadler ran aground on Mopelia Island in the Pacific, von Luckner and five crew members sailed nearly 2,500 miles in an open boat to raid again in an effort worthy of Shackleton, only to be captured. What happened after he escaped caps what is perhaps the most remarkable tale of piracy and adventure since Daniel Defoe's vivid imaginings, a tale all the more remarkable since it actually occurred in an era when pirates were still possible.

From the excellent Ye Old Editor, Tales of the Sea, Ships and Other Musings by George Frederic Brobyn:
... now comes the most incredible story of World War I, which makes our Knight a real member of that legend of the Round Table on a par with Sir Galahad. Captured prisoners quickly found out that they were in no danger and were allowed much recreation time on deck. The food was far better than they ever had aboard their mother ships. Even the bunks were better than 99 percent of the ships sailing at that time. Finally, no work was required. The Captains were also treated well and were invited to dine with Von Luckner at the Captain’s table every day.

When the prisoners quarters filled to its 260 capacity, Von Luckner concluded that his guests must go to the nearest port, Rio de Janeiro, in the next prize captured. It turned out to be the French bark, the CAMBRONNE. This ship was well provisioned and Von Luckner appointed the most senior of his “Captain’s Club” to take it in, but only after the upper masts were removed. As a condition of their release, Von Luckner asked for and received from each freed Captain a promise that they would not try to converse with any ships, and would sail directly to Rio. Each one stood by his promise. This agreement allowed the SEEADLER time to make her getaway.

Von Luckner honored his departing captains with a fine banquet. Then he paid off every captured seaman what he would have earned if he had not been captured and had been allowed to finish his voyage. All this, from his own private funds. All the officers and seaman prisoners shook his hand and wished him well when leaving the ship to board The CAMBRONNE.

It was during this transfer that the Count received the title of “The Sea Devil”, a term of real affection from both his own crew and his enemies alike. He always referred to it proudly to the end of his life ....
There's also a Felix Count von Luckner site where donations deservedly are being collected to create a memorial in his name for saving his home town of Halle from destruction during WWII.

You can also read more about this truly remarkable and honorable man at Ahoy - Mac's Web Log Naval, Maritime, Australian History and more:
Count Felix von Luckner known as the Sea Devil, captained Seeadler, a sailing vessel carrying an auxiliary engine, and fitted out as an Armed Merchant Raider in World War 1. He was a dashing character with a great imagination, who fought his enemy both with flair and fairness. He claimed never to have harmed anyone purposely.
Wikipedia has even more:
At the age of thirteen, Luckner ran away from home to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He signed up, under the assumed name of "Phylax Lüdecke", as an unpaid cabin boy on the Russian sailing ship Niobe travelling between Hamburg (Germany) and Australia. His story might have ended there, since the Russian Captain refused to turn the ship around just to pick Felix up out of the water when he fell overboard in the middle of the ocean. The Chief Mate negotiated the costly delay of turning the ship around by pointing a harpoon directly at the captain. A huge albatross swooped down and seized Luckner’s hand in its beak but Luckner grabbed a leg of the albatross. Although pecked severely, he hung on for his life. The flapping of the huge wings and the gathering of other birds gave the crew of the lifeboat a point to aim at in his rescue ....

Jack-of-all-trades Arriving at Fremantle, Western Australia, he jumped ship and for seven years followed a bewildering array of occupations: seller of the Salvation Army's War Cry, assistant lighthouse keeper (having to abandon the job when discovered with his hotel keeper's daughter by her father!), kangaroo hunter, circus worker, professional boxer due to his exceptional strength, fisherman, seaman, a guard in the Mexican army for President Díaz, railway construction worker, barman, and tavern keeper. He served a short time in a Chilean jail accused of stealing pigs, suffered broken legs twice, and was thrown out of hospital in Jamaica for lack of money. Luckner was also an accomplished magician – Kaiser Wilhelm was fascinated by his tricks and frequently invited Luckner aboard his yacht to entertain important dignitaries ....
Some men become famous as soldiers, Felix Von Luckner brought a nobility - and kindness - to the infamy of war.

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