To the Last Salute
Georg von Trapp
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Buy *To the Last Salute: Memories of an Austrian U-Boat Commander* by Georg von Trapp, tr. Elizabeth M. Campbell online

To the Last Salute: Memories of an Austrian U-Boat Commander
Georg von Trapp, tr. Elizabeth M. Campbell
University of Nebraska Press
196 pages
March 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The Sound of Music made the von Trapp family of Austria something of a cultural touchstone with its story of how they were forced to flee their country, which had been annexed by Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler and his cronies tried to coerce Austrian military men to serve the German army. Georg von Trapp was one of these men that Hitler wanted, a successful U-Boat commander during World War I for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which had territory in what is now known as northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has coasts along the Adriatic Sea.

Georg von Trapp’s granddaughter Elizabeth M. Campbell read his memoirs, written in German and published in Austria in 1935, of his service during World War I. Wanting to share his story with the English-speaking world, she began her quite competent translation of her grandfather’s book. Interesting and informative, the text is a rare history of an Austro-Hungarian involved in the War.

Most histories one reads from the Central Powers side are German; this book provides great insight into Germany’s secondary ally which was not able to keep up with them. The Austrians did not have the military geniuses as the Germans did, but they did have problems which Germany did not. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was made up of various ethnic groups who did not always cooperate or coexist well. The problems in present-day former Yugoslavia bear contemporary witness to this. The Austrians were somehow able to keep control of the Empire, but things began to fall apart when the Empire’s army was being defeated by the Allies. In von Trapp’s book, glimpses of the Austrian Army’s participation on the Western Front show up, an aspect of the War neglected or overlooked by popular histories of the War;he popular view is that Germany fought alone on the Western Front and that the Austrians only fought on the Eastern Front and against Italy. Germany also had better war equipment than the Austrians, whose own was second-rate and prone to needing repeated repairs. After the Empire surrendered, it separated into several different countries. The title of the book refers to von Trapp raising and saluting the Austro-Hungarian flag, then lowering it for the last time in November 1918.

Georg von Trapp tells of his and his various crews’ sailing adventures and conflicts in the Adriatic Sea, the Ionian Sea, and the Mediterranean. In their U-boats, which could not stay below the water’s surface for too long or the crew would suffocate from fumes and lack of oxygen, they took on ships both large and small as well as other U-boats. German U-boats were better equipped, which infuriated the Austrians - they felt like their vessels were junk compared to the Germans’ and the Allies’.

As an eyewitness, von Trapp gives his accounts of U-boat attacks; often these vessels would fire torpedoes while on the surface of the water. He also provides information about how the U-boat crews learned how to deal with the Allies’ new weapons and tactics, as well as showing some of the Austrian tactics. Georg von Trapp was a highly decorated war hero, but many times his crews did not receive decorations, though he always sought to have them rewarded. His crews held him in high regard because he treated them well and did what he could for them.

Reading this book, one can see why Hitler and his Nazis wanted von Trapp to serve in their own U-boats. He realized, though, that these Nazis were not good people. He did not want to help them, and he and his family knew that the only way he could avoid serving the Germans was to leave the country. The von Trapps succeeded in escaping the Nazis and were able to emigrate to America. The family used their musical skills to help make a living, and they also went into the hotel business. They still have a hotel in Stowe, Vermont called the Trapp Family Lodge. Georg von Trapp lived to see the Nazis defeated, but his family decided to stay in the United States instead of returning to Austria. He died in 1947 from complications caused by the fumes and other chemicals that he was exposed to in his U-boat days.

Elizabeth M. Campbell, aside from being a granddaughter of Georg von Trapp, is a graduate of Middlebury College and the director of annual giving and communications at the Cotting School in Lexington, Massachusetts. She includes several black-and-white photographs, some taken by von Trapp’s crews. Though an index is not included, maps and endnotes are.

This book is highly recommended to those interested in the von Trapp family, the musical The Sound of Music, World War I from an Austro-Hungarian view, and U-boats.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., 2007

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