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The k.u.k. Kriegsmarine Helps Create a Musical Legend

On July 1, 1910, the U-6, a new submarine, was commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian Kaiserliche und Königliche Kriegsmarine (i.e., Imperial and Royal Navy). 

Ordered in 1906 and laid down at the Whitehead Shipyard, in Fiume (Rijeka, Croatia), U-6 was one of three units of the new U-5 class.  About 105 feet long and with a crew of just 19, she displaced 240 tonnes surfaced and 273 submerged.  She had two propellers, and on the surface was powered by two gasoline engines (which could generate 500 horsepower) and by two battery-powered electric motors (which delivered 230 shaft horsepower), giving her a surface speed of 10-75 knots and a submerged speed of 8.5.  At economical speed she had an endurance of 800 nautical miles on the surface at 8.5 knots, but only 48 submerged at 6.5.  The U-6’s armament was modest: just two 17.7-inch torpedo tubes forward and four torpedoes, later supplemented by a 37mm quick-firing deck gun.

Although all three units of the U-5 class managed to have some success – U-6 sank the 750 ton the French destroyer Renaudin off Durazzo on March 18, 1916 – the class was a flop, all three boats being lost in action.  But the real historical importance of the U-6 lays not in her war record, but rather in an incident that occurred on the day she was commissioned, July 1, 1910.

The man named to be the first commander of the U-6 was Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp, the dashing 30-year-old scion of an old naval family.  Among the guests at the commissioning was the woman who had christened the U-6 the previous June, 20-year-old Fräulein Agathe Whitehead, the rather wealthy granddaughter of Robert Whitehead (who invented the “automobile torpedo” and founded the Whitehead shipyards).  Agathe and Georg married shortly afterwards.

During World War I, Baron von Trapp proved one of Austria-Hungary’s greatest naval heroes, completing 19 war patrols in various submarines, accounting for 11 merchant vessels sunk for a total of 45,669 tons, as well as a French armored cruiser and an Italian destroyer, not to mention at least one ship captured.  Meanwhile, the Baron and Agathe began a family, which numbered seven children by 1922, when Agathe died.

The Baron remarried in 1927, to Maria Augusta Kutschera, with whom he had three more children.  A decade later, the entire family fled Austria and the Nazi threat, settling in America and attaining fame as the “Trapp Family Singers.”

 

H. R. Knickerbocker: War Correspondent Extraordinaire

Hubert Renfro Knickerbocker (1898-1950), generally known as “H.R.” or “Red” due to his hair, was the among the most famous foreign correspondents between the world wars.  In the early ’20s he dabbled in journalism, but then decided to study psychiatry.  By chance he was in Munich pursuing this career when he became an eye-witness to Hitler’s “Beer Hall Putsch” of November 8-9, 1923.  Knickerbocker promptly filed some vivid stories and never returned to psychiatry.  The chief Berlin correspondent for the New York Evening Post and the Philadelphia Public Ledger for many years, Knickerbocker worked for William Randolph Hearst's International News Service and contributed occasional columns to several German newspapers.  A series on the Soviet “Five Year Plan” won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1931.  Knickerbocker was well known to most major European political figures of the day:   Hitler even had autographed copies of several of his books, and Knickerbocker regularly corresponded with Winston Churchill, Churchill’s son Randolph, Evelyn Waugh, Leon Trotsky, John W. Wheeler-Bennett and many others.  By the mid 1930s, Knickerbocker was earning $10,000 a year, today equivalent to about $400,000 on the ‘minimum wage’ standard.

In 1934 Knickerbocker’s Will War Come in Europe?, based on extensive interviews with scores of European leaders, predicted a general conflict in the near future, and he was an eye-witness to the preliminary conflicts and crises that helped bring about the Second World War, going to Ethiopia in 1935-1936, Spain in 1936-1937, China in 1937, and covering the Anschluss  and the Munich crises in 1938. 

Knickerbocker covered the early part of World War II from Berlin, through the Fall of France and the Battle of Britain.  Knickerbocker’s support for the Allies caused him to be expelled from Germany in late 1940.  He set up shop in a suite at London’s posh Savoy Hotel, where he lavishly entertained politicians, generals, and notables, who willingly supplied useful information. Reportedly, he once sent his publisher an expense report that read, in part, "To entertaining generals - $5,000".  From his base, Knickerbocker helped raise American support for Britain in his dispatches and the book Is Tomorrow Hitler's? : 115 Questions on the Battle of Mankind (1941). He staunchly opposed the “America First” movement, giving 88 lectures across the U.S. advocating why "we should go into war today."  In 1942, Knickerbocker was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, and followed “The Big Red One” across North Africa, Italy, and northwestern Europe.

After the war, Knickerbocker helped write Danger Forward: The Story of the First Division in World War II, and became an even more outspoken anti-Communist, with a series of commentaries on Mutual Radio. He covered several more crises and wars, until, while on an Asian tour, he was killed in an air crash at Bombay.

Like all correspondents, Knickerbocker worked hard to get the “scoop” on his competitors, sometimes filing a story before the events had fully unfolded.  Once this practice led to some embarrassment.

While covering the civil war in Spain in early November of 1936, Knickerbocker was with the Nationalist columns approaching Madrid, the fall of the which seemed imminent.  As did several other correspondents, Knickerbocker filed a story reporting the triumphal entry of the Nationalists into the city on the 8th, to the cheers of thousands, adding in little details, such as a dog that trotted along with the troops.  In fact, of course, the initial assault of the approximately 18,000 Nationalist troops, on November 8th, was halted by about 40,000-60,000 loyalists, mostly workers’ militia, anarchist volunteers, police troops, and loyal elements of the Spanish Army, with some help from the International Brigades (who managed to hog all the glory).  A 30-month siege followed.  Surprisingly, this incident did not significantly impair Knickerbocker’s reputation, and certainly does not detract from his The Siege Of Alcazar: A Warlog of the Spanish Revolution, which provides a remarkably frank and vivid picture of the early weeks of the war from the Nationalist side until just a few days before the assault on Madrid.  Although the book has been condemned by Spanish Republican sympathizers, Knickerbocker himself was expelled from Spain by the Nationalists, who even briefly imprisoned him.

Altogether a rather impressive record, yet today Knickerbocker is rarely mentioned among the great foreign correspondents of the mid-twentieth century.

 


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