June 8th, 2010
Wreck of the \”Seeadler\” part 1 (Posted via HF Radio from Mopelia Atoll)
While in our last island Maupiti, we had a nice dinner with friends from \”Na Maka\” and a lovely American couple from Guadalajara, David and Eileen.
The owner of the \”Pension\” (family style hotel), Gerrad; told us about a World War 1 German Shipwreck, \”Seeadler\” right outside Mopelia Pass.
This of course got us quite excited. A shipwreck we\’d never heard of, diveable in French Polynesia?
History: Count Captain Lt. Von Luckner, an aristocrat of French and German ancestry was to captain a captured American 3 masted sailing ship of 1500 gross tons and 275 feet. Formerly, \”Pass of Balhama\”, the ship was captured by a German U Boat and re-christend, \”Seeadler\” (Sea Eagle) and began \”raiding operations\” to harass allied shipping in WW1. Captain Von Luckner was both lucky and nimble and outfoxed several traps set for him at the tip of South America. His hallmark was that of the gentleman aristocrat adventurer/warrior. He prided himself on never taking a life in battle!
However, when \”firing a shot\” across a British merchant ship, the shot fell short, exploding a boiler and killing a young British sailor. Captain Von Luckner was distraught! He held a very formal burial at sea ceremony and apparently was disturbed by the event most of the rest of his life.
His classic style was to \”fire a shot across the enemies bow\”, have them see the hopelessness of the situation, surrender and promptly take the crew aboard, invite the Captain and officers to dine with him, then sink their ship. He had done this at least 16 times. He treated the captured crews so well, they often joined in his crew and he offered rewards to anyone who spotted enemy cargo ships for the taking.
Eventually, his luck ran out. He brought his \”Seeadler\” to this atoll, Mopelia in far western French Polynesia to avoid detection by the Australian and more specifically, New Zealand Navies. They were indeed hunting him. In a sudden westerly shift of the winds, \”Seeadler\” was at one moment on a protected shore and then next aground hard on the reef outside the pass. Realizing the vessel was lost, he ordered it burned to try and avoid enemy detection. Eventually, he took a small boat and sailed to Samoa where he was \”bluffed\” by a suspicious local policeman into surrendering. The police officers gun was apparently not loaded!
Captain Von Luckner and his small crew were interned on a New Zealand P.O.W. camp and despite this, managed to escape in a small boat. He was in search of another vessel and finally captured again where he spent the rest of the war in New Zealand. The fate of his remaining crew on Mopelia was another story.
They commandered a French vessel and sailed to Easter Island where they ran aground on an uncharted reef and were captured and interned by the Chilean Navy in Valpariso until the end of WW1.
This is NOT where the story ends however……
Captain Von Luckner returned to Germany where he was a folk hero. Hitler, tried to co-opt him for propaganda into the Nazi party. Von Luckner hated Hitler and everything he stood for. Von Luckner was a Mason, and the Nazis hated the Masons. This was the final straw for Hitler & the Nazis. Von Luckner\’s speaking tours in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand had packed audiences listening to his WW1 tales. His battle flag today hangs in the Auckland, New Zealand Maritime Museum.
While on these tours, instead of hailing the virtues of the \”Third Reich\”, Von Luckner went out of his way to tell the Western World of the dangers of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. Enraged, Hitler wanted Von Luckner killed and if it were not for his immense public popularity in Germany, he certainly would have been murdered. Kept throughout WW2, as a civilian, under house arrest in Halle, Germany.
Halle had been spared the carpet bombing by the Allied Air Forces, mostly because it was a huge POW camp with tens of thousands of American and other Allied prisoners of war. Seeing the futility of the German side, Von Luckner drove across Allied lines in a car, met with reporters and was taken to American Commander General Terry Allen where he told the General he could negotiate with the German High Command to bring a peaceful surrender of Halle thus saving needless casualties on both sides. Count Von Luckner delivered: Halle fell without a fight.
After the war, the Russians said that the Americans were \”never there\” and interned Von Luckner. Due to his services to the US, General George S. Patton personally had he and his wife released from Russian custody and escorted to Sweden where they lived with the Countess\’s family.
And now you know the rest of the story!
There was a book, recently published (2005), \”Voyage of the Seeadler\” (Sea Eagle may replace \”Seeadler\” on an Amazon search.
This book details the life of Count Captain Lt. Von Luckner.
The parallels are far too strong, and I believe he was the inspiration for the WW2 movie, \”Sea Wolf\” starring John Wayne as the German Captain.
I believe it was the only movie John Wayne played a German Officer?…..You IMBD hounds can confirm this.
Keep In Touch, lots of \”Seeadler\” photos to be posted when we get internet.
Scott and Cindy