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In The Sound of Music, how can Capt. von Trapp be a veteran of landlocked Austria's navy?

July 7, 1995

Dear Cecil:

The recent network showing of The Sound of Music called to mind the musical's two howling bloopers: how can Captain von Trapp be a captain in the Austrian navy if Austria is a landlocked country, and why do the von Trapps, refugees from the Nazis, "climb every mountain" into what on the map looks like Berchtesgaden's back yard? What about the real von Trapps? How did they actually escape Austria, and what navy was the captain in? (I know that before 1918 Austria held the coast of Yugoslavia, but then why would Hitler be hot to get his hands on somebody who hadn't smelled salt water in twenty years?)

Cecil replies:

You've answered your own question, bro. During World War I Georg Trapp commanded a submarine launched from the Adriatic port of Fiume, then held by Austria-Hungary. He wreaked havoc on allied shipping but in vain. Having lost the war, A-H lost the port and the rest of its coastline as well. Trapp's wartime exploits, which made him a national hero and earned him a baronetcy, hadn't eluded the notice of Berlin, however. After the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938 he was offered command of a new submarine that was eventually to be based in the Adriatic. The captain was in his mid-50s at the time, and his World War I sub had been only 40 feet long with a crew of five. But he did have combat experience, knowledge of the local waters, and guts.

In the movie it looks like the Trapps escape by sneaking out their back yard and over the mountains into what on the map is obviously Germany. But that's only in the movie. In fact they made the excuse that they were going mountain climbing in the Alps, about 100km south. They kept going into Italy, at the time not firmly allied with Germany, and wound up in the U.S.

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