Sunday, December 21, 2014

Bet You Wondered, Too

The Imperial Austrian Navy ensign

The Sound of Music came on television this evening, with the addition of sing-along captions.  This movie reminds me of two things:  first, that when it arrived at the Willow Lawn theater in the back of Willow Lawn shopping center in Richmond in 1964, it stayed for years.  Even Rocky Horror didn't have that kind of longetivity!  Second, I have always wondered about the gruff old Baron von Trapp, who was a retired Austrian admiral, which made as much sense to me at the time as a Swiss or Bolivian admiral.  What part of land-locked didn't the writers understand?

OK, I soon figured out that the former Austrian Empire controlled states along the Adriatic Sea that today are parts of Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenego and would probably have had a navy.  But I still wondered if he was indeed an admiral other than in the movie, and why he was so wealthy.  After all, being retired from a defunct military probably doesn't usually leave one a huge pension, or much of anything except your old uniforms.  Until this evening, I let those questions fall through the drain holes of memory, but now I had to have some answers.

LtCdr von Trapp

Above is the real Georg Ludwig von Trapp, who did have a 20-year career in the Austrian Navy, but was not an admiral by the end of it all in 1918, but a Lieutenant Commander.  He was not a bureaucrat, however; he was decorated for his brave service during the Boxer Rebellion (1900) in Chinese waters, and commanded a U-boat in World War I as well as the submarine base, both successfully.  His first wife's father invented the modern torpedo, ironically enough, and that wife, who died of scarlet fever, was the source of his wealth.  And he was indeed a baron, an inheritance from his father.

After the imperial Navy (which during WWI could boast 98 ships, six of which were submarines) was parceled out to the new Yugoslavia and some of the Allies, Austria only operated three old patrol boats on the Danube River in the interwar and WWII years.  It enjoyed a small resurgence in 1958, when two new river patrol boats were built and commissioned, but the end of the Cold War entailed military budget cuts and the whole saga ended with their retirement in 2006.

And our hero's second wife, the singing nun Maria?  She was 25 years younger than her husband Georg when they married, and outlived him by 40 years.  Her full name was Maria Augusta Kutschera.  One last factoid, and you will know all you'll ever need to about the movie vs. real life:  the family escaped to Italy, not Switzerland.

Two of Austria's submarines


1 comment:

  1. No, I never wondered. Scotty take us out of orbit.