To the Last Salute: Memories of an Austrian U-Boat Commander
by Georg von Trapp, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2007, $21.95.
This memoir was originally published in 1935, but unless you could master Bis zum letzten Flaggenschuss, you had to wait 72 years for Last Salute. Which is incredible, given that its author is Georg von Trapp, patriarch of the immortal family singers portrayed in The Sound of Music. This Austrian U-boat commander, as he modestly describes himself, was Austro-Hungary’s top submarine ace in World War I.
Within this slim but well-illustrated book, you’ll find neither the stern martinet of the musical—von Trapp was popular among his crews, who hailed from all parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire— nor an account of his 10 adoring children by two marriages. Regrettably, you will not find a comprehensive tally of his war record, either, though the captain logged 19 patrols and was credited with sinking 12 cargo ships totaling 45,669 tons, as well as the 12,500-ton French armored cruiser Léon Gambetta in the first night submarine attack and the 225-ton Italian submarine Nereide in a torpedo duel. What you will find is a significant account of the little-known Adriatic naval war by a good-humored, thoughtful and finally melancholy leader.
Von Trapp’s two early U-boats were gasoline-engined, and he explains that if the enemy didn’t get you, in time the fumes would. He sounds the theme of U-boat crews as one organism, of loss of compassion for one’s enemy, and of suffering on the home front. Throughout underlies the sorrow of a great naval officer whose country lost not only a war but its seacoast and, therefore, its navy.
Von Trapp touchingly reveals that he was loyal “to the last salute of our flag.” When it appeared in 1938 that the Nazis would insist he sail under their flag, he led his family in a successful escape from his beloved Austria.
Originally published in the October 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.