Maritime Topics on Stamps :

Count von Luckner and his SEEADLER!


Felix Count of Luckner was born in Dresden in June 1881. He died on 13 April in 1966 at Malmoe.
He was a "jack of all trades", naval officer, pirate, writer, and a global ambassador of "international understanding" on many lecture tours. Yet his life is also marked by a number of paradoxes.
The German Post celebrated his 125th birthday with the edition of the above stationary in June 2006.

As a 13 year old boy, he ran away from home and enrolled under the name "Phylax Liidecke" on the Russian full-rigged ship "Niobe". In 1903 he acquired the mate patent and, in 1907, the captain's license.
From 1910 on he sailed as a naval officer and when WW I broke out in 1914 he was on board of SMS "Panther". From October 1914 to August 1916 he served as an officer on the SMS "Kronprinz" (Crown Prince) and took part in the Jutland battle.
In December 1916 he became commander of the auxiliary cruiser "Seeadler" (Sea Eagle), a sailing ship.
At the end of 1916 German warships could barely operate any more outside the blocked areas of the Allies, since Germany had no supply bases for coal.
Why not go back to wind power? A sailing ship needs no fuel and can operate very far. They equipped a sailboat to become a raider.

    Ship data:
  • Name: "Seeadler" ex "Pass of Balmaha" ex "Walter"
  • Three-masted full-rigged ship
  • Built in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland
  • Length 75m
  • 1570 tdw
  • Remodeled 1916 at Tecklenborg, Geestemünde
  • equipped with a two-stroke diesel auxiliary, running 9 knots max.
  • Armament two 10.5 cm guns, two machine guns
  • the ship was captured in 1915 by the German submarine U-36.

Disguised as the Norwegian wooden sailing ship "Irma" the "Seeadler" put to sea on 21 December 1916 for its first raid.
The first obstacle was the British blockade line. And indeed a British cruiser stopped the ship near Iceland.
A British boarding party entered the ship, questioned the crew members and searched the whole ship. The German crew however deceived the British.
Their camouflage was perfect, including a sailor who pretended to be the captain's wife.

The privateering against Allied merchant ships began. In about six months, 15 vessels were captured and 14 of them sunk. One ship was kept and used for the prisoners.
All raids combined only one sailor of the British ship "Horn Garth" died, not in combat but from burns.
On the right side the French bark "Antonin" is seen, sunk on February 3rd, 1917.

good bye

Here you see a theatrical scenic postcard "The Last Message", but it somehow fits Count Luckner.

The captured sailors were treated well; they got the same food like the crew.
Captains and officers of the sunken ships were sitting with Graf Luckier at the same dining table.
There was even a "captains club."
As the number of prisoners on board reached 263, the French bark "Cambronne" was captured and was sent with all the prisoners to Rio de Janeiro, where they arrived safely.

Among the 15 captured ships, there were also 3 steamers sunk.

When the prisoners arrived in Rio, the Allies knew where the "Seeadler" roamed about.
Luckner had to leave the South Atlantic. For nearly four weeks, he and his seamen struggled hard against severe storms to round Cape Horn. They finally made it and reached the Pacific.
Supplies began to run short. They needed to fill up with fresh water and provisions, and headed to the island Mopelia, which is part of the Society Islands.
Cap Hoorn
Cape Hoorn

On the 2. of August, 1917, the "Seeadler" ran aground on the reef of Mopelia. Why and how it happened remains a mystery still today. Different stories are told.
Some relate to an anchor maneuver or a bad anchorage. The officer on duty may have made a mistake, but what it was, is not said.
Other sources claim a lack of caution, causing the boat to strand.
Yet another source accused the officer on duty, he may have shifted the motor lever to reverse instead of forward, which had accelerated the push further onto the coral bank, instead o coming loose.
It was very careless to leave the ship close to a coral reef at anchor without guard, was very negligent.
Asserts another statement. In his book Count Luckner himself talks of a huge tidal wave of unimaginable proportions.
An ocean flour quake might have caused this wave, and smashed the "Seeadler" onto the reef. A "Tsunami" ? The engine supposedly failed.
Chances are that Luckner was ashamed of such carelessness and did not want to admit it, or, he attempted protecting his officer on guard.
If there was anybody on guard at all.

On Ripapa Graf von Luckner was detained 109 days.
Luckner did not want to stay on the island Mopelia. He had saved a motorboat, 6 meters in length from the wreckage. He equipped the boat with a rig and a machine gun.
On August 23rd, 1917 they took to sea under the name "Kronprinzessin Cecilie" (Crown Princess Cecilie). Count Luckner and five men on board, heading for the Fiji islands.

He planned to hijack a ship, and then go back and pick up the rest of the crew left on Mopelia.
The voyage took four long weeks. The boat developed a leak, rain was pouring, waves swapped over, the drinking water became brackish, the food was rotting and soon enough nothing but dry bread and water was left. Scurvy became apparent.
Near Wakaya Island they entered an American schooner intending to privateer her.
But a "government steamer" came up, and Luckner and his crew were taken into custody.
They were first taken to the island of Suva, later on to Motuihi in Auckland.

a schooner
The "Iris"
In December 1917 Luckner once again escaped, this time with a 9-meter-long powerboat, named "Pearl". He captured a small schooner, the "Moa". He got supplies from a base on Curtis Island.
However the cable boat "Iris" found and stopped the "Moa", which had a cannon on board. Again they were taken into custody and interned in Littleton, Ripapa Island.
In July 1919, Count Luckner was released from internship and returned back to Germany.

The "Seeadler" crew, which he had left behind on Mopelia, raided the French schooner "Lutece" in September 1917. They baptized the ship "Fortuna" and sailed up to the Easter Islands. There, they ran on a reef, supposedly it was not charted.
They were brought to Chile and lived there as free people until the end of the war.

The grounding should have been stored a few hundred kilos of pure gold on the "Seeadler".
Until now this treasure has not yet been discovered!
Supposedly Count von Luckner had informed the hiding of the treasure for the historian Ralf Lasa shortly before his death.
But the Treasury has not yet been recovered. Treasure map and various articles of the "Seeadler" will are now in a museum in Sweden. Presumably, Count von Luckner spun yarn here!

In 1921 Graf von Luckner became commander on the "Niobe", the new sail training ship of the German navy.
In 1922 he resigned from the German Navy with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Navy authorities had forbidden that he would sail under the black-white-red flag,
the flag of the German Imperial State.

Luckner began a number of lecture tours in Europe and America.
He was an honorary citizen of San Francisco, and wrote several books, "Sea devil's world trip" was his main work.
However according to some, ghost writers may have written at least part of it.
Between the wars Luckner bought the schooner "Vaterland", and when she was destroyed by fire in 1935 in Bremerhaven, he bought the schooner "Seeteufel" (Monkfish).
On the "Seeteufel" he sailed one more time around the world, to visit all the ports and places of his "Seeadler" adventure.


Luckner As said at the beginning, Count von Luckner was always a colorful personality.
In Germany he sympathized with new nationalist political movements, though he did not join the NSDAP, the Nazi Party.
Luckner helped a Jewish Woman escape from the Gestapo with a false passport. This was proved a fact.
But there were relatively many contradictions, such that an official Honoring planned was dropped.
He also had to defend himself in front of a special court of honor, accused with membership in a Masonic Lodge.
For this reason, Luckner's books were temporarily removed from German libraries, and he put under a lecture ban.
Fact is however, that Count von Luckner has prevented a massive bombardment of the German city Halle by the Americans.
He was therefore sentenced to death in absentia. When the war was over, Luckner was appointed an honorary colonel of the U.S. Division "Timberwolves".
Still in the 1950s he toured Germany, demonstrating his strength tearing telephone books and crushing coins.
In 1953 he received the "Great Bundesverdienstkreuz" for his courageous engagement for the city of Halle.
Nobody is perfect, and all in all many people associate with the name of Felix Graf von Luckner traditional positive values, such as courage, braveness, fairness, good seamanship and understanding of peoples!

The "Seeadler" on a personalized stamp

Felix Graf von Luckner, Seeteufels Weltfahrt, Bertelsmann Verlag 1956
Felix Graf von Luckner, Wikipedia Internet Encyklopaedia
SMS Seeadler (Hilfskreuzer), Wikipedia Internet Enzyklopädie
Der Pirat des Kaisers
Kaiserliche Marine, Felix Graf von Luckner Luckner

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