Between the World Wars: Articles from the Syracuse Union, available through the New York State Newspaper Project

April 8, 1927 page 8

The Heroic Deeds of the "Sea Eagle"


Described in a compelling manner by retired German Corvette Captain Count Luckner


Count Felix von Luckner, truly one of the greatest sea heroes of his day, spent Sunday in Syracuse in order to deliver an advertised lecture that evening in the Arion Hall. Mr. Henry Mirbach Jr. insisted on having Count Luckner as his guest and on Sunday afternoon at 5 o'clock a banquet was held for him at Mirbach's Restaurant. Mr. Mirbach and his kitchen staff earned great praise. Attending with Count Luckner and Mr. Mirbach were Prof. Karl Altmann, director of the Arion; Mr. Carl Bausch, President of the Arion; Mr. Walter E. Mossdorf; and Karl Walter Spitzner from the ship "Vaterland" dressed in German sailor uniform. Count Luckner not only proved himself an excellent socializer but also a magician. He left the banquet in a most pleasant way.

As anticipated, the Arion Hall was too small to provide seating for all the visitors since there was such great interest once people heard about the Count's arrival.

The Arion [Singing Society] opened the evening with a wonderful song by Beethoven titled "Hymne an die Nacht" [Hymn to the Night] which was beautifully sung under the direction of Prof. Altmann. After this Count Luckner entered the stage, which was not built for any particular purpose. He was greeted with thunderous applause from an enthusiastic audience.

Count Felix von Luckner is a remarkable personality. And in his remarkable words the audience heard about becoming a seaman and the commander of the German auxiliary cruiser "Seeadler" [Sea Eagle] and its bold and adventurous voyages. Avoiding empty phrases and often falling into seaman's dialect, sometimes he spoke in an almost terse but always humorous manner. From the beginning of his speech to the all too soon ending the public was completely under his spell during the narrative.

After the Battle of Jutland, in which Luckner took part as an artillery officer, he was entrusted by the German Admiralty with the assignment of commanding an upgraded and armed sailing ship in the campaign to break the English blockade. He thoroughly and humorously described the preparations for the operation, which were kept top secret right down to the finest detail. A captured three-mast fully rigged ship at the Tecklenborg shipyard was sent to Geestenmünde and converted into an auxiliary cruiser in order to keep the shipyard workers from finding out the ship's new intended purpose. Numerous spaces had been built under the deck, supposedly to house marine recruits when in fact it was designated for future prisoners. A 1000 horsepower motor was installed even though the ship had 2600 square meters of sail surface. It was exactly copied from the Norwegian sailing vessel "Maletta" and identified with the same name. In the captain's cabin there was a portrait of the Nowegian royal couple. The crew was enlisted from a certain area where Norwegian was spoken and were designated to serve on deck. Other crew members stayed below deck in the aforementioned newly built spaces. Letters to crew members written by wives and sweethearts were falsified, books in Norwegian were stored onboard and the upper portion of the ship was panelled in wood.

When the refitting was completed and the ship was ready to begin its adventurous journey, a message arrived stating that the real Maletta had already left its harbor. This was too soon to fit into Count Luckner's plans. It was figured that if the English stopped the disguised German cruiser they could use the wireless to contact Norway and find out that this was the pseudo Maletta. The ship's carpenter was called to disassemble the porthole in the captain's cabin, smash some sections of the upper deck, then make some crude repairs to the damage so it looked as through the ship has suffered distress at sea. The name "Maletta" was painted over and the ship's papers and correspondence were altered.

Finally on December 20, 1916 all precautions were completed for departure and on the following day the anchor was raised, the German outpost chains were passed and three days later in darkest night the "Seeadler" (Sea Eagle) — this was the German name chosen for the ship — fortunately made its way through the mine fields and through the threefold enemy blockade. A tremendous storm, which tossed the ship back and forth like a nut in a shell, favored the undertaking because the blockade ships had sought out protected places. The crews barely noticed the bitter cold even when the ropes were covered with ice a quarter meter thick. The ship was freed from the ice with picks and axes and made maneuverable. It sailed between the Faroe Islands and Iceland into the Atlantic when English officers from a large cruiser boarded the Seeadler. They were outsmarted into letting these "brave Norwegians" continue their journey. Far from home and in enemy waters Christmas was celebrated.

Luckner could have continued his lecture for another 12 hours to tell about thousands of tons of enemy ships being sent to the bottom of the sea during the disguised voyage without sacrificing a single human life until eventually the Seeadler met its hour of fate and Luckner was captured. He could have told about how he escaped from prison on a small boat with four companions, about how they captured another ship and retrieved crewmen left behind on an isolated island, about how he was pursued by a flotilla of cruisers to recapture him and his crew, etc. However the time would not allow this and Count Luckner said he was prepared to come back another day.

And we are convinced that everyone who heard him (about 400 people had been in attendance) would return and bring some friends because his down to earth and candid persona won the hearts of all present from his first sentence. The Count is, as he admitted, no polished orator. His charm is in the openness of his character recognizable in every word and gesture. People notice that he is a human being who has a large heart beating in his chest. It is a seaman's heart which easily finds its way into the hearts of other people. And in his simple seaman's manner he may also succeed in his mission to build a bridge of renewed understanding between Germany and America.

After the close of his lecture Count Luckner shook hands with hundreds of visitors while the Arion sang "Mein Heimattal" (My Valley Home.) Monday he went to Rochester where he will hold a lecture that evening. Then the tour continues. He has invitations to Australia, New Zealand amd the South Seas and he will conduct his mission to the farthest ends of the earth.

We hope and wish that Count Luckner may come back here some day.

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Translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks