Author(s): Sam Jefferson
In 1916, a three-masted ship named Hero sailed under Norwegian colors out of the Elbe River in Germany. Loaded with cargo and ostensibly bound for Australia, she was in reality a German raider: the Seeadler, commanded by German aristocrat Count Felix von Luckner. She was tasked with destroying as many British merchant vessels as possible.
Told from the viewpoint of the utterly out-foxed and infuriated British Admiralty trying to capture this mysterious raider, The Sea Devil follows von Luckner's extraordinary exploits. Born into a proud German military family, he ran away to sea at the age of thirteen, returning eight years later with a knowledge of navigation and a position as officer in the German Navy, ready to take command of the Seeadler and attempt to run the Baltic blockade.
Cleverly disguising the Seeadler as a Norwegian sailing vessel, with one of his crew dressing up as his wife, von Luckner fooled the British into allowing the Seeadler through the blockade. Von Luckner went on to destroy fourteen ships, but in the most gentlemanly fashion: his modus operandi was swashbuckling adventure interspersed with champagne interludes, and only one man died in the raids.
These unusual techniques caused much confusion back at the Admiralty, which was unable to keep pace with von Luckner until a Danish ship reported his whereabouts near Australia. Preparing for his escape, von Luckner paid his hundreds of prisoners for their time in captivity, gave them a captured boat of their own to sail away in, and turned for the South Seas via Cape Horn. It was now a race against time between von Luckner's schooner and the fastest British cruisers sent to capture him. They all sped toward Cape Horn, the most dangerous stretch of water on the planet.
This was WWI fought in the way many hoped it might be when it started in 1914: over by Christmas, lots of fun to be had, nothing too serious . . . And this is the story of a truly extraordinary character.
Swashbuckling adventure and lashings of champagne: this classic war story is far removed from life in the trenches. Tasked with destroying as many British merchant ships as possible, German aristocrat Felix von Luckner and his ship the Seeadler succeeded in spectacular fashion, taking 14 British vessels with the loss of only one life, in between hosting lavish parties for their prisoners and evading the British Admiralty in a daring game of cat and mouse.
Sam Jefferson is a journalist and maritime historian, and is one of the leading authorities on the clipper ship era. He is a former Deputy Editor of Sailing Today, and writes regularly for Classic Boat, Sailing Today and Traditional Boats and Tall Ships. He is the author of Clipper Ships and the Golden Age of Sail, Sea Fever, and Gordon Bennett and the First Yacht Race Across the Atlantic, all published by Bloomsbury.