Photo: Public Domain
Submarine Pioneer (1910–1914)
Photo: Courtesy of
von Trapp family
During & Post WWI Continued..
Georg's First & Second Global Circumnavigation (1898–1901)
End of WWI & 1920s
For four days, Georg and his crew stalked and calculated the cruisers route. Using the full moon to illuminate his target, he and his crew executed the first ever underwater, night-time attack in the Adriatic. At a 500 meter distance, 2 torpedos, running at 40 knots, were launched. After 2 impacts, 10 seconds apart, the cruiser listed and sank 9 minutes later, beneath the Mediterranean Sea.
k.u.k. Marine-Akademie, circa 1900
Fiume (Rijeka, Croatia) Officer Training School of the Austrian-Hungarian Imperial Navy
45,669 Gross Nautical Tonnage Sunk
With the new and improved SM U-14 back in action, from April to October 1917, Georg sank 11 vessels with a total of 45,669 GNT (gross nautical tonnage). On April 28, 1917, while on patrol off the coast of Greece he sank the 5,315-ton British tanker, Teakwood, which was headed from Port Arthur (Texas, USA) to Port Said (Egypt). On May 3rd, again on patrol in the same area, he sank the 1,905-ton Italian steamer Antonio Sciesa. In July, Georg was able to conduct a ruse on the French fleet that was blocking the harbor at Corfu (Greece), by hoisting the French tri-color the Submarines former national flag, and passed unchallenged. Continuing, the SM U-14 was able to sink the Greek steamer Marionga Goulandris, near Cape Matapan (Greece).
On August 20th, again successfully evading the Otranto Barrage (between Italy and Greece), SM U-14 headed through the Straits of Otranto, and over the next 11 days sank five ships, with a combined tonnage of 24,814 GNT (over half of her total tonnage sunk). Departing from the submarine base at Cattaro (Kotor, Montenegro), Georg and crew headed into the Ionian Sea and sank the French steamer Constance on August 23rd, northeast of Malta. On August 24th, SM U-14 sank the British steamer Kilwinning, loaded with coal and general cargo, heading for Port Said (Egypt). On August 26th, the British steamer Titian was sunk while on en route to Alexandria (Egypt). On the night of August 27th and 28th, the 3,627-ton turret deck British steamer Nairn was sunk near Benghazi (Libya), on her way from Malta to Port Said (Egypt) with coal. On August 29th, the Italian steamer cargo ship Milazzo was sunk east of Malta. At 11,744 tons, the Milazzo was the largest ship sunk by SM U-14 and the largest cargo ship sunk by an Austro-Hungarian submarine. On September 1st, Georg concluded his patrol and returned to Cattaro (Kotor, Montenegro).
During a five-day span in October, three more ships fell to the young Captain's skill. On October 19, 1917, 150 nautical miles (280 km; 170 mi) from Malta, the British ship Elsiston carrying military stores between Malta and Suda Bay (Crete), was sunk. On the same day, the 3,618-ton British ship Good Hope, laden with iron ore for Middleborough (Massachusetts, USA), was sunk. The Italian steamer Capo di Monte, met its end 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi) from Candia (today Heraklion, Crete), while on her way from Karachi (India) to Malta.
Maria Theresa Order
Fort Pei Tang
As part of a 100 strong detachment of Austro Hungarian Navy sailors, and an allied force of 8500 men comprised of approximately 1800 Germans, 1500 French, and 5000 Russians, Georg was ordered to take the fort. After an early morning heated exchange of ship to shore shelling, they advanced under heavy fire. Wading through mud and running across mined land, they stormed toward the fort. Most men were injured and killed from the exploding landmines. Not even the cavalry was spared. Finally scaling its mudbrick wall defenses, the fighting was over by late evening. Allied flags were hoisted over the captured fort.
For his part in the fort Pei Tang offensive, Georg was later awarded the Silver Bravery Medal 2. and 2. Class and War Medal. Class. He was on board the SMS Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia, which, together with the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, SMS Aspern and a company of 160 Austrian marines had arrived to assist. This force went on to help bring the situation in Peking under control. The bloodshed was finally brought to an end with the Chinese Dowager Empress Cixi surrender.
With the boxer uprising over, the SMS Zenta had completed its East Asia mission. In late July 1901, she departed Chefu (Zhifu) to the sounds of the Radetzky march being played. She finally arrived back in Pola (Pula) on October 1, 1901 (almost 2 years after her departure) to a hero’s welcome and the award of the silk Flag of Honour for her Chinese actions.
Georg never shared much of this experience with his children; what he did share were some interesting anecdotes from a short furlough into the Chinese countryside.
FREE: Updates and history trivia
Boxer Rebellion (1899)
“Seine Majestäts Uboote” – means His Majesty’s U-boats; majesty: Emperor of Austro-Hungary
of "Our Navy" by Alfred Freiherr von Koudelka, Vienna 1899
– SM U-14, British ship Kilwinning, 3,071 GRT
– SM U-14, British ship Titian, 4,170 GRT
– SM U-14, British ship Nairn, 3,627 GRT
– SM U-14, Italian ship Milazzo, 11,477 GRT
– SM U-14, British ship Elsiston, 2,908 GRT
– SM U-14, British ship Good Hope, 3,618 GRT
– SM U-14, Italian ship Capo Di Monte, 5,902 GRT
Map of TAKU Forts, 1899
The Greek ship Cefalonia was not sunk, but taken as a war prize
Torpedo Boat 52 & U-boats
After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Austria-Hungary declared war against the Kingdom of Serbia, on July 28, 1914. Stationed in the Bocche di Cattaro (today Bay of Kotor), Georg was given command of Torpedo boat 52, which was part of a 10 torpedo boat fleet patrolling the Straights of Otranto, the crucial entrance, from the Mediterranean, into the Adriatic Sea.
Whoever held this stretch of ocean commanded the Adriatic. Allied cruisers had been spotted entering Otranto, but hadn't been challenged as of yet. Discussions among the torpedo boat crews inevitably touched on U-boat warfare, which Georg felt would give the Austro-Hungarian Navy an edge in defending their coastline. On the evening of April 16, 1915, he was given the unexpected order, to give over his command of Torpedo boat 52 and return to Pola (Pula). The next day, Georg received his new commission as captain of U-boat SM U-5, christened 6 years earlier by Agathe Whitehead, by now his wife of four years.
In 1914, the Austro-Hungarian U-boat fleet commanded by Franz Ritter von Thierry, consisted of seven largely experimental craft. Operating mainly in the Adriatic Sea, they seldom ventured outside of the Otranto Straits. Their limited range and small size were capable of only a few day missions. They were the ‘stepchildren’ of the Imperial High Command who was mainly interested in dreadnaughts and found it difficult to fund the new invention. This deplorable state of affairs meant captain and crew had to rely on their own ingenuity to maintain their craft, even make their own spare parts.
In the spring of 1914, Georg was part of the staff on board the SMS Monarch which was on a Mediterranean training mission with the Austro-Hungarian Navy dreadnoughts Viribus Unitis, Tegetthoff and the pre-dreadnought Zrínyi. Amongst other ports of call were Egypt and the Holy Land, with a visit to the Austro-Hungarian hospice in Jerusalem. A few months later, the tragic assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie took place on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, thus lighting a match to the arms race that had been building up in the various Empires worldwide.
Photo: Public Domain
Photo: Courtesy of von Trapp family
SM U-6 with Georg and Crew, circa 1913
Continued Training & Promotions
While still in the South China Sea, Georg graduated to Cadet 1. Class on July 1, 1901, had celebrated two birthdays, and rang in the new century 1900. He continued his training in Fiume (Reijka) and was promoted to Linienschiffsfaehnrich (ship of the line Ensign) on May 1, 1903. In 1904, he completed the officer’s sea-mine course, 1907 the officer’s torpedo course, as well as a course on “how to fly a hot air balloon”. On November 1, 1908, at age 28, he became Linienschiffsleutnant (ship of the line Battleship Lieutenant) stationed to Fiume (Reijka) where the first U-boats (submarines) were being built at the Whitehead Torpedo Factory. He volunteered to train in this new craft which initially was meant to only defend the coastline. The Whitehead Torpedo Factory had built two Holland Class submarines, SM U-5 and SM U-6, as part of a plan to evaluate foreign submarine design. Georg would later go on to train in and captain these submarines.
Both SM U-5 and SM U-6 U-boats were commissioned into the Austro-Hungarian Navy in the early 1900s and served as training vessels – making up to ten cruises a month, for the next 4 years. The double-hulled, tear dropped shaped submarines were just over 105 feet (32 m) long and, depending on whether surfaced or submerged, displaced between 240 and 273 metric tons (265 and 301 short tons). They were powered by twin gasoline engines and battery-powered electric motors when diving. The two 45-centimeter (17.7 in) bow torpedo tubes featured a unique, cloverleaf-shaped hatch design that rotated on a central axis. The submarine could carry up to 4 torpedoes.
Sinking the Léon Gambetta (1915)
Life After the Navy–Founded Shipping Companies
The new year of 1919 heralded many changes. Georg had been born, raised, and lived on the Austro-Hungarian Empire's Adriatic Coast. When this area was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy with the post-war land redistribution, he and his family were given Italian citizenship. However, they could not stay in their homeland on the coast, since Georg was on the war criminals ’wanted list’ for sinking Italian ships during WWI. Therefore, he and his family decided to opt to move to inland Austria.
Georg threw himself into two new enterprises. By early 1920, with the intent of providing seafaring jobs to former Austrian Navy personnel, Georg with two Partners founded Vega-Reederei-Hamburg/Greiswald. The enterprise was a fleet of small schooners, plying the waters of the North and Baltic Sea. Eventually, they had offices in Vienna, Austria and Hamburg, Germany. A year later they had their first 600 tdw schooner, GERTRUD, flying the new Austrian flag, and the following year their second schooner the TONI was added. The company was sold a few years after. However, in 1921 while still managing Vega-Reederei-Hamburg/Greiswald, Georg founded his second ship merchant enterprise, the Rhein-Donau-Express-Schiffahrt’s-A.G. For the next nine years Georg build up this successful and lucrative maritime business, capturing so much of the Rhein and Donau river shipping market that his fellow competitors eventually bought him out.
Awarded–Military Maria Theresa Order
Despite the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, many years after WWI the Austrian military sought to commemorate and award WWI veterans their due service recognitions. Based on Georg's extraordinary wartime accomplishments and his previous decorations, he was encouraged to apply for the highest military war service honor in Austria, the Maria Theresa Order. In 1921, he submitted his first application for the award, yet was informed that it lacked sufficient details. In 1923, he applied again, this time adding with more detailed descriptions on the significance of his submarine warfare actions and their contributions to naval warfare. In 1924, he received this prestigious award. With this award, he was elevated to the title 'Baron'.
On July 1, 1910, two years after arriving in Fiume, Georg was given the command of SM U-6 which he held until 1913. He intimately came to know the capabilities of the Holland type U-boats, and what it took to command them.
Gross Registered Tonnage is a ship's total
internal volume expressed in "registered tons". Each ton is equal to 100 cubic feet (2.83 m3). Gross registered tonnage measures the total permanently enclosed capacity of a vessel as its basis for volume.
Georg's Naval Training
In 1894, at age 14, Georg Ritter (Knight) von Trapp followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the k.u.k. Kriegsmarine stationed in the Adriatic Sea. He was accepted into the Maritime-Academy at Fiume (today Rijeka, Croatia), called k.u.k. Marine-Akademie, the officer training school of the Austrian-Hungarian Imperial Navy. To qualify, one had to have graduated with honors from middle school and pass an entrance exam.
The Academy taught thirty-one subjects including German, Italian, French, English, oceanography, meteorology, shipbuilding, ship machine building, naval tactics, naval law, naval signals, ship maneuvers, sailing vessel rigging, etiquette, as well as learning to play an instrument. Georg chose the violin. Further lessons included the importance of valor and honor, which were to become the cornerstone of life for a naval officer.
Photo: Public Domain
French Submarine Curie Becomes SM U-14
In an effort to replace the five larger, undelivered U-7 Class submarines (that the Austrians had to sell to the Germans at the outset of the war) the Austro-Hungarian Navy now focused on salvaging the largely intact French submarine Curie, sunk in Pola (Pula) harbor after getting entangled in the harbor defenses. On December 21, 1914, the day after her sinking, the salvage crews raised the submarine in five stages. Finally brought to the surface on February 2, 1915, she was cleaned refurbished, renamed SM U-14 and ready to be put into service.
From mid-October 1915 to January 1918 Georg von Trapp took over the SM U-14 command. As second Commander, after its rechristening, he was its' most successful. In early February 1916, SM U-14 and SM U-4 were on joint patrol near Durazzo (today Durrës, Albania). On February 7, SM U-4 missed scoring a hit on the British Birmingham-class cruiser, HMS Lowestoft, who subsequently released a depth charge that damaged SM U-14. With both fuel tanks leaking and all of her externally mounted torpedoes crushed, Georg and crew just made it back to port and put in for needed repairs.
For 8 months, from February to November 1916, SM U-14 went through an extensive refit and modernization. A new, German-style, conning tower replaced the French-designed wet lookout platform. She was equipped with more powerful diesel engines, increasing her power output from 480 to 840 brake horsepower (360 to 630 kW). Larger fuel tanks were installed, nearly quadrupling her range, up from her former maximum of 1,700 nautical miles (3,100 km), to 6,500 nautical miles (12,000 km). After a cost of 655,000 Kronen it became the Austro-Hungarian Navy’s largest submarine.
Baron Captain Georg von Trapp, circa 1915
Submarine conning tower
Last Days & Last Salute
By the end of 1917, even though the Austro-Hungarian Empire was looking to end the war, the German Empire insisted that “surrender would only be in victory” and so WWI dragged on. Conditions for civilians and the Austro-Hungarian forces became increasingly dire. Food shortages across the Crown States created gangs of local bandits and defections from the Navy. Slow chaos was taking place across the Adriatic coast. The officers and crews were very aware of the increasingly dire situation.
While waiting to command one of the two new U-boats being built in Fiume (Rijeka), on May 1, 1918, Georg was made Korvettenkapitaen (Corvette Captain) and took over as commander of the U-boat Station in the Bocche di Cattaro (Bay of Kotor). Here, after four years, three months, and fourteen days having fulfilled their sworn duty and given all to Crown and country, on November 1, 1918, the surrender order came from the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal War Navy. Baron Captain Georg Ritter von Trapp had the honor of raising and lowering the naval flag in Cattaro (today Kotor, Montenegro) for the very last time. With a 21 cannon salute, the 140-year-old Austrian Imperial Navy ended. In a bittersweet moment, at the very last, SM U-14 entered the Bocche (harbor), flag waving, one last time. It was time to go home. An era and a 24-year Naval career had ended.
Georg stood as one of the most successful and decorated submarine captains of the WWI Austro-Hungarian Navy. All the torpedoes he fired were Whitehead torpedos which by now were installed in all the navies around the world. His multi-ethnic crew from across the Empire felt a close bond of love and respected for their captain. The record he was most proud of, was that not one officer or sailor died under his command. The Austro-Hungarian Naval flag, given in honor to him, stayed proudly displayed in his homes throughout the rest of his life. Despite his profession, he was a proponent of peace over war.
Photo: Courtesy of Vega Reederei
The sinking of the battleship-cruiser Léon Gambetta, 1915
German postcard from a picture of German-Austrian painter, Alexander (Alex) Kircher
Iron & Steam
Georg’s subsequent furlough was followed by an assignment to the navigation staff, on the protected torpedo cruiser, SMS Zenta. On his second circumnavigation, Georg’s training was moving into the new maritime age of iron and steam. Leaving Pola on November 10, 1899, calling on Port Said, Suez, Aden, and Colombo they reached Singapore on January 3, 1900, continuing on to Hong Kong, January 22nd. Here news of the unrest in China caused a change of travels plans to stay in Asia. Passing through the strait of Formosa (today Taiwan Strait) the SMS Zenta survived a typhoon, arriving late in Shanghai harbor to a cheering reception. With orders, to continue north for coal refueling she continued onwards. Her ships log finds her in Nagasaki, Kagoshima, and Sasebo from May 25th to May 30th.
FAMILY HISTORY: Georg's Naval Career
The Evening Republican, April 30, 1915
Meadville, Pennsylvania, USA
Photo: Courtesy of von Trapp family
Corvette SMS Saida II
Watercolor by artist August Freiherr von Ramberg
© 2015-2022 Stichting Georg & Agathe Foundation. All rights reserved.
Baron Captain Georg von Trapp
– SM U-5, French ship Léon Gambetta, 12,416 GRT
– SM U-5, Italian ship Nereide, 225 GRT
– SM U-5, Greek ship Cefalonia, 1,034 GRT (Prize)
– SM U-14, British ship Teakwood, 5,315 GRT
– SM U-14, Italian ship Antonio Sciesa, 1,905 GRT
– SM U-14, Greek ship Marionga Goulandris, 3,191 GRT
– SM U-14, French ship Constance, 2,469 GRT
Georg's WWI Stats
U-boats commanded by Captain Georg von Trapp & the ships he and his crew sank (1 prize):
Austro-Hungarian Navy U-boat Captains, circa 1917
Captain Georg von Trapp, second row from the bottom, sixth man in on the left, from left to right
Austro-Hungarian Navy Coat-of-Arms
Georg's years of experience and mature, well-trained crew had successfully tracked and sunk the French armored cruiser, Léon Gambetta. The ensuing tragedy for the sailors could have been avoided, had the French cruiser not left without an accompanying ship, whose job it was to help with rescue operations. Consequently, there was no one to aid the sailors. Seeing the tragedy unfold, Georg scanned the horizon through his periscope, but the sea was empty of any possible help. His small U boat could not take on more weight! SM U-5 dove beneath the waves, where the exhausted crew was left to take in what had just occurred. With two well-placed torpedo hits, SM U-5 had proven the viability of submarine warfare as a stealth craft with destructive power. This was to become the new maritime defense strategy for the ages.
Captain Georg von Trapp was honored with the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Knight's Cross of the Leopold Order and the German Empire's Iron Cross. He was soon celebrated and promoted by the Austrian press, he found his image printed on postcards and youngsters wore sailor’s hats embroidered with his name. He, on the other hand, confronted the true cost of war, fellow navy men drowned from SM U-5’s actions. Georg tremendously regretted not being able to help in the rescue effort. In his book “Biss zu letzten Flaggenschuss” (To the Last Salute), written in 1935, it muses: “So this is what the war looks like! Here behind him are hundreds of drowned sailors, people who have done nothing to him, who have fulfilled their duty as he himself has, against whom he has nothing personal, with whom, on the contrary–already through their same profession–he feels himself connected”. With his second in command, Hugo von Seyfferditz, Georg shares: “…our handiwork is horrible….”….. “Now, we have the ‘salad’ – (mess)…. What will we now do with these Frenchman? Couldn’t they even take along one vessel? It’s unbelievable irresponsibility. How should we now help them? What a huge mess!”
Five months later, August 5, 1915, Georg went on to sink the Italian submarine Nereide off the island of Pelagosa after the Nereide’s failed torpedo attack on the SM U-5. On August 29, 1915, while on patrol, Georg was able to capture as a prize, the 1,034-ton Greek steamer Cefalonia off Durazzo (today Durrës, Albania).
SMS SAIDA II
Four years later, on July 1, 1898, at the age of 18, Georg graduated Cadet 2. Class. Together with his classmates, he was assigned to a schooling ship, the corvette SMS Saida II. She carried 42 officers and 313 seamen. Her world circumnavigation, took them from Malta through the Suez Canal, heading east through the Indian Ocean, the Marquesas Islands and on to Australia. This wooden sailing ship represented a fighting ship from a bygone era and was quite a sight to behold in foreign ports.
She was welcomed with open arms wherever she docked. The Melbourne newspaper ‘The Argus’ wrote upon her arrival there: “At 2,400 tons, she is a wooden vessel of the old-fashioned type of naval architecture. She is armed with 11 large guns and three rapid-firing guns. She possesses great breadth of beam, high bulwarks, large roomy decks, tall raking masts, and can spread large quantities of canvas. She has however, auxiliary power in the shape of steam engines of 1,200 horsepower… After the anchors were dropped last night the Austrian Consul and various naval officers made the usual complimentary visit to the commandant and officers”.
At the request of the SMS SAIDA II’s Fregatten Kapitaen Guido Couarde, she was granted an extension of her trip, by Emperor Franz Josef I. The excitement of the cadets was cut short when the first rumblings of unrest on mainland China of the secret ‘Boxer’ society began. On June 9, 1899, orders were sent to return to home port at Pola, Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Pula, Croatia).
In 1935, Georg wrote and published his WWI memoir Bis zum letzten Flaggenschuss (To the Last Salute) describing his submarine experiences during War World I. It became the most widely read book on the Austro-Hungarian Navy, within Europe, even read by the past German Kaiser Wilhelm I. For a time, it was required reading for Austrian High School history curriculum. From 1925 to 1938, he lectured and gave radio interviews about his naval career in Austria and Germany.
Trapp Family Singers Manager
In 1933 the Austrian A.C. Lammer Bank failed and with it, the von Trapp and Whitehead families lost a large part of their wealth. Georg had previously invested in the start-up Austrian bank as a patriotic act to help support the Austrian impoverished post-WWI economy. Before and after writing his WWI memoir, his family had begun getting recognized for their musical ability. At the beginning of the von Trapp musicians' career, Georg performed on stage and radio a few times with his family: singing folk song and playing quartets as first violin. When the family's repertoire changed from folk songs to early chorale music, Georg moved from "front-of-house" to "back-of-house", taking care of transportation, logistics, equipment, and contracts, etc. He toured every season with his family, often driving the group between U.S. cities, attending to concert needs, as well as giving radio and newspaper interviews. Additionally, Georg hosted their summer Trapp Family Music Camp and played violin with his children in a family Quartet. He is acknowledged by his family as "the quiet support behind the family's success." For more information visit www.vontrapp.org.
Prior to WWI
During & Post WWI
14 ships, total tonnage of 61,328 GRT: Sunk 60,294 GRT (11 ships 47,653 GRT & 2 warships 12,641 GRT) and Prize 1,034 GRT (1 ship)
Archduke Ferdinand & wife Sophie Assassination
June 28, 1914 Sarajevo
Decorated WWI Hero...
Baron Captain Georg von Trapp served the 20th century Austro-Hungarian Navy for 24 years and was one of their most decorated commanders.
13th–19th Century Austrian Imperial Navy
Between the 13th–18th century, there had been only minor attempts to establish an Austrian Navy mainly focused on defending its waterways (rivers). In 1797, with the Treaty of Campo Formio, the Venetian naval fleet and facilities came under Austrian Imperial rule and were the foundation of the future Austrian Navy.
19th–20th Century k.u.k. Kriegsmarine
In 1867, the Imperial Navy became the Austro-Hungarian Navy after the formation of the Dual Monarchy, formally the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal War Navy (in German: kaiserliche und königliche Kriegsmarine, abbreviated as k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, in Hungarian: Császári és Királyi Haditengerészet, abbreviated as Cs. és Kir. Haditengerészet). In the later part of the 19th century, the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Navy was in the process of modernizing its fleet. The new innovations of the industrial age of coal-fired steam engines, torpedo boats, iron cruisers and eventually ironclads with gigantic mounted turrets, were the wave of the future. Vessels with more speed, firepower, and stronger hulls were being built. Empires the world over were each revamping their navies as well, to reflect the new might of the ages. Engineers found themselves inventing ever newer ideas to present to the Admiralties. The last wooden sailing ships had been turned into schooling vessels that circumnavigated the globe a few last times.
Returning to the now aging U-boats, Georg saw that SM U-5 still needed regular venting from the gasoline fumes. Her speeds under water were still slow, and the periscopes still did not retract quickly enough. Operating them was a constant balancing act of vigilance and tricky choices. Nonetheless he understood the viability of the submarine as an attack craft and hoped to use the SM U-5 successfully to help bring an early end to the war.
On April 27, 1915 he got his chance. Out on patrol, after days of searching, he and his crew discovered the unidentified cruiser that had been spotted - a French “Victor Hugo” type - using the cover of darkness to evade detection.
Photo: ©Georg & Agathe Foundation
Photo: Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University
SM U-14 (1917–1918)
In these early U-boat days, Georg's time was filled with intense, dedicated training in this defensive craft. As a pioneer and first-generation submariner trainee, it took immense courage and a sense of adventure to volunteer for this naval technology in its infancy. The mechanics and operating procedures were learned in real time.
The invention was so new that no one understood its abilities. Without an existing training manual, each day was a learning curve and the continued near mishaps became the guidelines for manufacturing improvements. The early submarine designers had given very little thought to the operating crews.
SM U-5 and SM U-6 were incredibly uncomfortable as well as dangerous. The gasoline motors ventilated into the craft threatening the crew with carbon monoxide stupor. Some submarines kept white mice in cages to warn of impending danger (like canaries in a coal mine). Entire crews often succumbed and only had one man was left standing to get the U-boat back into harbor.
Navigational maps of underwater obstructions were nonexistent and commanders had to receive orders, by relay flags, viewed through the thick-glassed periscopes. For diving emergencies, early submarines were equipped with a phone buoy that would be floated to the top to establish contact. Later models offered a device that made oxygen to prolong the survival rate below, to 72 hours, eventually 96.
1935 Baron Captain Georg von Trapp
Portrait for his WWI memoir, Bis zum letzten Flaggenschuss (To the Last Salute)
The Great War / WWI Begins (1914)
Photo: SM U-5, circa 1915, Courtesy of von Trapp family
Photo: Die k.u.k. Kriegsmarine, Edition Winkler Hermaden, reprint
SMS Zenta, circa 1899
Photo: DNS May 31, 1900
The Capture of the Forts at TAKU
Early 20th Century by Fritz Neumann
Photo: Public Domain
1920s Commerical Registry
One of two shipping companies founded by Georg
Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal War Navy & 4 Years Training
Photo: Kriegsarchiv Wien (War Archive Vienna)
Inspiring the Next Generations
Photo: Public Domain
The SMS Zenta had been launched in 1897 and represented one of the new iron ships in the Austro Hungarian fleet, a transition away from wooden vessels. Her overall length was 96.88 meters (317 ft 10 in) and a beam of 11.73 meters (38 ft 6 in). Her two four-cylinder vertical triple-expansion steam engines, each drove a single propeller shaft with eight Yarrow boilers for an average total of 8,160 indicated horsepower (6,080 kW), achieving a maximum speed of 21.87 knots (40.50 km/h; 25.17 mph).
She also had the extra protection of an armor deck, two layers of 12.5 millimeter (0.49 in) plates and 50 millimeters (2.0 in) over the engine and boiler rooms. Further, she was armed with two 45 centimeter (17.7 in) torpedo tubes, eight 40-caliber Škoda 12 centimeter (4.7 in) quick-firing guns, eight 44-caliber 4.7 centimeter (1.9 in) Škoda guns, and two 33-caliber 4.7 centimeter Hotchkiss guns.
the city of Tientsin (Tianjin) in defense of the Peiho River delta, the coastal gateway to Peking. Taking Tientsin, upstream, was crucial to freeing the embattled Westerners, still further upriver, in the capital city. On June 3rd, upon arriving at TAKU, the captain and a detachment of one officer, two midshipmen, and 30 sailors took the train to Peking, for a requested meeting with the legations. Behind them, the railway lines came under attack, cutting off their return route. Marooned in the capital, as hostilities escalated, the French, Austro-Hungarian and Italian legations decided to evacuate to the defendable French Embassy. The following day the Austrian legation buildings were set afire by the “Boxers”. On June 7th, the SMS Zenta sent a further detachment of 73 men to Tientsin, to help hold the railway against Boxer forces. On July 8th, Eduard Thomann Edler von Montalmar, captain of the SMS Zenta, was wounded by hand grenade shrapnel and died soon after of his injuries in Peking. In the effort to bring the rebellion to an end, another detachment from the SMS Zenta’s crew took part in the September 22nd, storming and taking of fort Pei tang. Of all their engagements, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Austro-Hungarian Navy seamen fought the most bitter combats in the attacks against the fort of Pei Tang.
1930s & 1940s
Honored & Remembered
In 1995 the only military officers training institute for the Austrian Armed Forces, the Theresianische Militärakademie (Theresian Military Academy) founded by Empress Maria Theresia, selected to honor Baron Captain Georg von Trapp for its Academy Battalion Company A's graduating class's namesake. Academy tradition is that every graduating class chooses a person from Austrian war history as their inspiration and name for their class. Eighty-eight graduates chose "Ritter von Trapp" as their example of: personal bravery in the face of the enemy (for which Georg received the Military Order of Maria Theresa), leadership as a U-boat commander and military know-how during WWI. The official graduation was January 18, 1995. Two years later, July 11-15, 1997, the graduates attended an official ceremony and celebration in Stowe, Vermont.
Captain Georg von Trapp
WWI post card printed
Commander of the
Stationed in the Adriatic Sea, the Austro-Hungarian U-boat fleet during WWI consisted mainly of units manufactured in Kiel, Germany, Pola (Pula), and Fiume (Rijeka), Austro-Hungary. They were in service throughout the war against Italian, French, and British shipping in the Mediterranean Sea.
Photo: Public Domain
1901–1909 Making Lieutenant & U-boat Beginnings
1997 Memorial Badge
1935 WWI Memior,
Bis zum letzten
(To the Last Salute)
As news reached Austria-Hungary that the “Boxer Rebellion” in China was fast getting worse, with Georg on board, the SMS Zenta as the Austrian Empire’s only naval representative in the distance waters, was directed to lend support to the Austrian and foreign legations under attack in Tientsin (Tianjin) and Peking (Beijing). As the situation worsened, the Western powers joined forces, an allegiance of eight nations. As part of the western international ship delegation, SMS Zenta sailed for Tientsin (Tianjin) where chaos reigned. Leaving Sasebo May 30th, with orders to continue to TAKU (Dagu), her engagement in the Boxer Rebellion had begun. The forts at Taku, across the bay at Pei tang and up river at Schan hai kwan, were approx. 60 km (36 mi.) southeast of
Submariner Pioneer and Early U-boat Captain
Baron Captain Georg von Trapp was famous in his day for heroism at sea and highly regarded by his comrades. He never forgot his naval roots and it's core tenants in his life. For his WWI achievements, Georg received Austria's highest award, the Military Order of Maria Theresa. In 1995, his memory was honored by the graduating class of Austria's Theresian Military Academy.
Photo: ©Georg & Agathe Foundation
Example of inside a German U-boat 1918
SM U-14 , circa 1917
Honoring the von Trapp
and Whitehead Heritage