Felix Graf von Luckner (1881-1966) was one of WW I’s most interesting naval figures. To say that he was a colorful figure is an absolute understatement! Today we are offering a fine autographed photograph of the man nicknamed the Seeteufel (Sea Devil). Von Luckner came from an aristocratic family and did not want to follow the life path required by his father. Instead, he left home at a young age and traveled around the world taking any number of physically-demanding jobs: working in a circus, as a lumberman, and many positions requiring heavy labor. His father wanted him to join the cavalry, but von Luckner said he would not return to his family until he could wear his Emperor’s naval uniform. He returned to Germany in 1911 and passed his exams for the merchant fleet. He joined the Kaiserliche Marine in 1912 and returned home as a naval officer. His first posting was aboard the S. M. S. Panther, one of the six-ship S. M. S. Iltis Gunboat Class that saw service off South America’s coast and in the Caribbean. With WW I’s advent, von Luckner found himself posted to the battleship S. M. S. Kronprinz Wilhelm. He commanded one of her main turrets, and acquitted himself well at 1916’s Battle of Jutland (Skagerrak).
He next was given his first command, the S. M. S. Seeadler (Sea Eagle). It was a highly unusual ship, a three-masted, steel-bodied sailing ship that had been captured by a U-Boot. It then was converted to a Commerce Raider that boasted two 105mm (10.5cm) cannons, as well as machine guns. Now war-ready, the ship departed from Germany in December 1916.
During its 225-day voyage, the S. M. S. Seeadler sank or capture fifteen allied ships. Von Luckner was very careful to preserve the captured crew members’ lives, for which he was greatly respected. His ship was forced aground in a bad storm during September 1917. He and his crew were captured and made POW’s by New Zealand. He, however, was not willing to remain a POW and led a daring escape in the New Zealand commandant’s speedboat. Unfortunately for the plucky von Luckner, they were caught and remained in New Zealand’s hands until the war’s end.
After the war, von Luckner wrote a book about his adventures. This brought him to Lowell Thomas’s attention, who then helped make him famous in the U.S. He visited the U.S., made many public speeches, and even met Henry Ford, who presented him with a car!
During the Nazi regime, he was recruited to join and publicly endorse Hitler. Had he agreed, he might have been awarded a high-profile job in the Kriegsmarine. He refused to rescind his status as a Free Mason, however, that and other anti-Nazi activities eventually led the Nazis to call for his death as the war was ending (fortunately for von Luckner, they were unable to carry it out). After WW II, he moved to Sweden with his second wife (a Swede) where he lived until his 1966 death.
[One final note about von Luckner. He had unusually large hands that were very powerful. He could bend a coin between his fingers or tear a phone book in half. He even did this to a New York phone book]!
Our offering today is the Graf’s photograph. The photo is printed on a heavy piece of paper, whose overall measurements are 8″ x 11 ¾.” The image’s measurements are 6 ½” x 7 ¾.” Von Luckner appears in the Kaiserliche Marine’s gala dress uniform. It most likely is a post WW I pose. His uniform is arrayed with two large medal bars and numerous pinback awards. He is wearing a Johanniter Order at his throat. His large, bold signature appears underneath the image. He wrote it with the purplish grease pencil often used in daily Imperial German Navy and Army operations. The photo and signature are in excellent condition. It is one of the better samples that I have seen, and is ready for framing.