During 1938 the notorious World War I raider commander and Nazi apologist Count Felix von Luckner toured Australia. His visit is the subject of a recent conference paper by Rowan Cahill (part author of the Seamen’s Union of Australia History).
Drawing on formerly classified information and security dossiers held in the National Archives (Canberra) the paper proves what many progressive people suspected at the time, that the Count was not just an innocent, good-natured German visitor, but a man with a mission on behalf of his Nazi masters.
Von Luckner first came to Rowan’s attention when researching the history of the SUA; E.V. Elliott and veterans of the wartime Union told him of their belief that the presence of German mines in Australian coastal waters during World War II owed a lot to groundwork done in 1938 by the Count and the crew of his luxury diesel auxiliary schooner ‘Seeteufel’, which was equipped with sophisticated radio and hydrographic gear.
The German minefields were laid in October/November 1940. Before being cleared in 1941 they disrupted local shipping, claimed three ships sunk, damaged two others, and killed merchant mariners.
Over the years Rowan has maintained an interest in the Count, and in 1985 discovered an Investigation Branch (forerunner of ASIO) dossier on the German nobleman. This file made clear that whilst in Australia the Count
- engaged in suspicious survey work of East Coast port facilities and waters;
- met with members of the large Australian German community and encouraged pro-Nazi sentiment;
- met with Italian fascists in Queensland. Furthermore, it is clear he was sent to Australia by the German Government to weaken opposition to Germany’s aggressive ambitions.
Further discoveries by Rowan in Archive files revealed the existence in Australia from 1934 onwards of a German Nazi organisation based in the Sydney office of the Hamburg-Amerika Line: and that whilst in Australia von Luckner met with highly placed Australian quasi fascists from the former New Guard and the secret paramilitary Old Guard organisations. These Australians were well respected Who’s Who types with familiar household names.
Not content with these discoveries, Rowan forcefully alleges that von Luckner’ s 1938 presence in the South Pacific and Australian waters was a necessary prelude to the murderous activities in the area during 1940 by the German raiders Orion, Komet, Storstad and Pinguin.
The paper, titled ‘Return of the Sea Devil: Van Luckner in Australia, 1938’, is thoroughly documented and is an interesting and exciting revelation of historical secrets, Copies may be purchased from the Author, Address; “Wattlewood”, Tulloona Avenue, Bowral, NSW 2576. Cost: $6.00 (including postage)