THE CHAIN LOCKER
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Felix von Luckner - click for Luckner Society site
Not sure how regular a blogger I'll be, but you never know 'till you try. This first post will be a development of an earlier post I'd made on CheckThis - a post about a hero of mine, Felix von Luckner, of SEEADLER fame. 

Additional info about von Luckner (a fascinating character) - and the square-rigged SEEADLER's WWI exploits as a commerce raider, during which she captured 14 ships, including several large steamers - can be accessed using links on the Links & Enthusiasms page of this website. Here's an  von Luckner appetizer:

Felix Count von Luckner

Felix Luckner is a fellow I learned about only recently, in reading Lowell Thomas' book The Sea-Devil's Fo'c'sle  (copyright 1929, Country Life Press, Garden City, NY). The book is one I picked up in a second-hand shop for a couple of bucks, and it sat on the shelf for several years before I bothered to read it.  It's mostly first-person accounts of Luckner's adventures, and lots of fun to read. Thomas had written a previous book about Luckner titled Count Luckner, the Sea-Devil, of which I haven't located a copy yet. The book I do have is strongly but fairly cheaply bound, apparently intended for a popular audience, so I don't know how many copies might have survived. On the other hand, as a popular book a fair number of copies were probably printed, which sweetens the odds. I hope to find a copy of the earlier book soon. 

(Edit: I found a copy of the earlier Lowell Thomas book, as well as another book - The Cruise of the Sea Eagle, by Blaine Pardoe, ISBN 1-59228-694-1, which provided a lot of interesting material. Pardoe's book in particular has a lot of historical detail, in spite of his irritating habit of misusing some seagoing lingo in the process. I'd recommend them both. But the most fun is to start with one of the Thomas books - they may contain some apocryphal bits, but they're immense fun, and really capture the essence of Luckner's outsized personality!)


My initial impression of Luckner - drawn from the amusing anecdotes of life at sea before the mast, in the Kaiser's Navy, and after the war in Lowell's 1929 book - was that he was something of a self-promoter, a fascinating character but possibly not an admirable one. 

There was enough there, though, to make me look further. A bit of research turned up several intriguing facts. For instance: although an ardent patriot who must have keenly felt Germany's humiliation after WWI, and who had helped to rebuild the German Navy after the war, Luckner refused to fall into line for Hitler, and suffered for it; also, that he'd helped a Jewish woman escape Germany; and that near the war's end, as Allied forces advanced on his home town of Halle, he'd courageously undertaken a mission through the lines to negotiate a surrender of the town to prevent its being destroyed by artillery and bombing. For the last service he was honored by the Nazis by being marked for death, and by the town's inhabitants by the establishment of a Society and Museum. See the link:

Felix Count Luckner Society

Luckner personifies for me independence of spirit and personal strength of character. But he also, crucially, represents something often missing (and vastly underrated) in public life today: the spirit of fun. He never seems to have taken himself very seriously. One gathers the impression that even raiding Allied shipping aboard the armed sailing ship SEEADLER (SEA EAGLE) in WWI (during which raids he killed only one man, and that accidentally), that Felix Luckner was having the time of his life. Personally acquainted with the Kaiser and the Czar, he was never taken in by the glamor. Consider his description of the guests at the Czar's court:

"I had to keep looking at some of the cavalry officers - what fine fellows, long beards, long coats. There was a great contrast of faces. The officers, Russian and German, had something in common, intelligent faces, stupid faces, but fairly honest faces, the faces of disciplined men and men who hope to fight some day. You could see that the military officers of the Czar were loyal and good soldiers. But look at the courtiers and aristocracy. Their faces freeze you, cynical, egotistical. You can see that they are people crazy with the sense of their power and wealth, who think they are so far from the rest of mankind that the rest of mankind has no claim on them. They are cruel. You can see cruelty in their smiles and their eyes. If they fancy they are neglected or slighted, all the devil's evil rises in them. They are full of envy. Hatred is born in them."

Luckner, a Teutonic giant of a man renowned for his strength, physical presence and commanding personality,  seemed to personify the German Superman the Nazi Party pretended to idealize. Yet, when presented with one in Luckner - albeit a pretty independent one who probably wasn't above a bit of humorous disrespect - the Nazis couldn't stand him! Nor he them - a fervent German patriot, he saw through  their hijacking of patriotic feeling in order to manipulate the German public. 

It's a lesson we should keep in mind. . . aren't these humorless, bombastic times? I think so. I also think that some current so-called American patriotism - distorted into shapes that rob us of our privacy and freedoms - bears a distant resemblance to the distorted Nazi German patriotism that Luckner rightly scorned.

Like Luckner, I'm a veteran who fought for his country. I don't intend to see the freedom I fought for taken away in the name of "patriotism". The word goes in quotes because some of the "patriots" who invoke it aren't concerned with real patriotic feeling; they're using the false article as cover for less honorable motives, like increasing their own power - and insulting our intelligence. The last refuge of the scoundrel. . . I admired Luckner's ability to discern and stand up for true patriotism!

Well, there's a lot more to Felix Luckner than I could tell in a short post. And much more I have to discover myself! Let me recommend to you this original - this genial lover of life and humanity, this strong man who never took his strength too seriously - for further study and enjoyment. 

Reid