The Sea Devil...

...the Adventures of Count Felix von Luckner, the Last Raider Under Sail,  from Osprey Publishing

Title: The Sea Devil

Author: Sam Jefferson

Publisher: Osprey

ISBN: 978-1-4728-2788-3

This new hardback book from Osprey tells a story that I for one knew little or nothing about before I read it and author Sam Jefferson has done a good job of telling the story.  In December 1916, Count Felix von Luckner was in command of SMS Seeadler, which was a metal hulled, three masted sailing ship.  Originally the 'Pass of Balhama', she was renamed the Seeadler ('Sea Eagle'), fitted with twin auxiliary engines and two hidden 105mm guns.  With the aid of a disguise as a Norwegian ship and a cargo of timber, he managed to bluff his way past a Royal Navy warship that was part of the blockade to prevent raiders getting out of Germany, and supplies getting in.

Having successfully broken out into the Atlantic, he began a series of successful interceptions of Allied Cargo ships.  Even more remarkable he managed to do it with only a single fatality on just one of the vessels he had to shell in order to get them to stop and surrender.  His treatment of all the prisoners was exemplary, quite different to the murderous reputation applied to German raiders by the British press.  He and his ship managed to avoid the British hunt for him, but when the ship was in need for maintenance, to scrape the hull, he was unable to get into the anchorage he went to.  While anchored and with both crew and prisoners ashore, the ship drifted onto the reef and was wrecked.  They managed to salvage provisions and two of the ships' boats.  The captain and five of his crew set sail in one of the boats to try and find/capture another ship.  It goes on to describe what happened to von Luckner and his men as they managed to sail over 2,300 miles before being captured.  The crew he left behind also tried to escape their island but were eventually captured.  Even their prisoners said how well they were treated.  The success of a sailing ship as a raider came as a surprise, the gentlemanly behaviour shown towards their prisoners was in contrast to the image of U-Boat attacks and that painted by the British Press.  Not only did he survive WW1 but also WW2, as he did not die until 1966 at the age of 84.

It is a fascinating story, not only for the success of the voyage of a sailing ship as an armed raider, the good treatment of their prisoners but also for my own mind in how we have believed the image generated by the wartime press.

Thanks to Osprey Publishing for this review copy.