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Author Topic: HMS Seal  (Read 4410 times)

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Offline Dave Smith

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Re: HMS Seal
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2017, 13:39:36 »
A most interesting story bilgerat, thank you. My father, an electrical fitter on subs. at Chatham Dockyard, worked on Seal &, as was usual in those days, all the families of workers were invited to the launch. I well remember it, for I was 8 and mechanically minded, so going on board was quite an experience; details are lost in the sands of time I'm afraid. I also remember the Navy Days & a biplane dropping bags of flour over the side onto a submarine in the harbour, which had guns very loudly banging at the a/c.

Offline Bilgerat

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Re: HMS Seal
« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2012, 15:08:01 »
Here is the full story of HMS Seal, with details of her surrender to the Germans and what happened to the boat and her crew afterwards when she was in Kreigsmarine service.

HMS Seal was a Grampus class minelaying submarine built at Chatham immediately before the outbreak of the second world war.

She was laid down on No 7 slip on 9th December 1936 and was lauched into the Medway on 27th September 1938. She commissioned at Chatham on 24th May 1939 with Lt Cdr Robert Lonsdale RN in command.

She was a very large submarine for her day, displacing 1810 tons on the surface and 2157 tons dived. She was armed with 6 21" torpedo tubes, all in the bow and carried 2 reload torpedoes for each tube. In addition to this, she carried a 4" gun and machine guns on the conning tower. Her size is shown in the picture below.

After trials and workup in Tor Bay based out of Dartmouth, she moved to Gosport to carry out torpedo trials. On the day of her first deep dive, 1st June 1939, news arrived of the loss of HMS Thetis in Liverpool Bay, while conducting the same kind of trials. The news hit her crew hard as many of them had lost friends on the Thetis.

On 4th August, she departed Gosport bound for China her sister boats Grampus and Rorqual, but whilst on passage, the second world war broke out, so Seal was ordered to stay at Aden. While based there, she made two war patrols looking for Italian submarines which , it was feared, may be towing German submarines while Italy had not yet joined the war. The Italians were then legally neutral and any vessel they might have been towing, whoever it belonged to, was off limits. On being ordered to return home, she escorted a damaged destroyer in the Mediterranean.

On returning home, she conducted a war patrol in the North Sea, being attacked by a German aircraft, without damage or casualties. After augmenting a convoy escort to Halifax, Nova Scotia (which took 2 weeks), she settled into the North Sea patrol routine as part of the Norway campaign, based out of Rosyth

In February 1940, she took aboard an armed boarding party and was assigned as part of the hunt for the German vessel Altmark, but HMS Seal went on to play no part in that incident. On one of her returns to Rosyth, she was met by Vice Admiral Max Horton C-in-C Submarines, who commented that she was far to clean and tidy to be a war-time submarine and that something must be wrong. On being shown the boats log, he changed his mind completely and told Lt-Cdr Lonsdale that he had a "damn good crew".

In April 1940, Germany invaded Norway and Lt-Cdr Lonsdale took HMS Seal into Stavangerfjord, a dangerous operation, especially in a boat the size of Seal. On entering Stavanger harbour, he found a number of merchant vessels, but all were flying neutral colours. His requests to attack a seaplane base and land a shore party to sabotage a railway were refused and all the German naval vessels HMS Seal encountered had too shallow a draft to be attacked with torpedoes, so a disappointed HMS Seal left and returned to Rosyth. On the way there, she narrowly avoided being torpedoed in the same place and at the same time that HMS Thistle was lost the same way.

HMS Seal was then in collision with a merchant vessel and was due to return home to Chatham for repairs and refit after having been in continuous service for more than a year, but her sister-boat HMS Cachalot had been rammed and needed urgent repairs and was a higher priority, so Seal was instead sent to Blyth, in Northumberland to be patched up and after repairs was ordered to take on HMS Cachalot's minelaying duties. She was assigned to Operation DF-7, to mine the Skagerrak, the shallow stretch of water between Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The shallow depth of the Skagerrak made such an operation dangerous for any submarine, let alone one the size of HMS Seal. Captain Bethall, the CO of the flotilla tried and failed to persuade Vice-Admiral Horton to reconsider but was sunsuccessful.

On 29th April 1940, HMS Seal departed Immingham carrying 50 mines, bound for the Skagerrak. On entering there, she encountered her sister-boat Narwhal which had stirred up the Germans by scoring six hits with six torpedoes. Seal dived to a shallow depth and in the clear water was spotted by a German aircraft which attacked and slightly damaged her early in the morning of 4th May 1940. She dived to 90 feet to avoid further damage. Later that morning, she found her target area crawling with German anti-submarine vessels so diverted to her secondary target area, where she laid her mines. After that, she turned and headed for home.

She was again spotted by the Germans and and with them on her tail, she began to take evasive action. A further group of 9 German anti-submarine MTBs were spotted coming from a different direction. With too much daylight left for a surface chase and with the Skagerrak being too shallow for a submarine the size of Seal to dive deep and make a run for it, Lt-Cdr Lonsdale lost his pursuers by following a zig-zag course and then decided to wait it out on the sea-bed. What he didn't know was that HMS Seal had entered an un-charted minefield and one of her hydroplanes had snagged a mine-cable. At about 6.30 pm, the mine was swept on to Seal's stern by the current and exploded, severely damaging the boat. Pandemonium followed and it soon became clear that the boat was starting to flood, so the watertight doors were closed and all her crew accounted for. In what appeared to be a stunning stroke of luck, the Germans hadn't spotted the explosion and had moved away. After making temporary repairs and inspecting the boat, it was decided that an attempt at surfacing the boat would be made, at 10:30pm, when it was dark. This failed and with the boats stern firmly stuck on the bottom, the bows rose to an alarming angle and the attempt was aborted. With the air quality in the boat deteriorating, the crew began to pump out the flooded stern of the boat and to pump air into the stern trimming tanks. They then made another attempt to surface the boat, this time dropping the drop-keel, which weighed 11 tons. One this had been dropped, the boat would not be able to dive again. More high-pressure air was used to blow the ballast tanks, but again, the boat failed to surface. By this time, the crew were succumbing to the effects of CO2 poisoning. A third, unsuccessful attempt was made, this time using the main motors as well as the ballast tanks.

Lt-Cdr Lonsdale, a devout christian then led his men in the Lords Prayer, before ordering his men to the forward part of the boat, to try to use their combined weight to pull the stern out of the mud, though many fainted or were sick as a result of the lack of oxygen in the air. Londale considered ordering an escape from the boat, but this was discounted because it would have involved flooding the boat and most of the crew would have drowned before getting out.

The boats engineers then found they could operate a salvage blow which had a tiny amount of compressed air left in it. On opening the valve, the boat began to move upwards and Seal made it to the surface at 01:30. On the way up, one of her main motors caught fire, but it went out on its own due to the lack of oxygen in the air. After the pressure was released and fresh air got into the boat, the crew suffered blinding headaches due to the oxygen-deprivation. On climbing to the bridge, land was sighted and realising the Seal was not going to make it across the North Sea to home, Lonsdale decided to head for Swedish Waters and ordered the boats code books and sonar equipment to be destroyed. He informed the Admiralty of his decision. Unfortunately, they were unable to decipher the replies. If they had been able to, they would have known that the Admiralty had told them "Understood and agreed - best of luck" and "Safety of personnel priority after the destruction of the ASDICs".

At 02:30 on 5th May, Seal was spotted by the Germans and attacked by three aircraft. Lt-Cdr Lonsdale who was on the bridge, attempted to fend off the Germans with the bridge machine guns, but they jammed. Unable to defend herself or escape, with her batteries dead and having wounded men aboard, Lonsdale decided to surrender and a white flag was hoisted. Two of the German attackers were seaplanes and one of them landed alongside the stricken submarine and signalled Lonsdale to go to it. On the day of his 35th birthday, Lt-Cdr Lonsdale surrendered his boat to the enemy. The crew of HMS Seal waited on the casing until 06:30, when the German anti-submarine trawler UJ-128 came alongside and took them off. The submarine, badly holed and listing was expected to sink of her own accord and although attempts were made to scuttle the boat, she didn't sink and was towed into Friedrichshaven. All 60 officers and crew from HMS Seal became Prisoners of War.

Seal with her crew on the casing waiting to be taken off.

Seal being inspected by the Germans

Seal after arriving in Friedrichshaven

At Friedrichshaven, Seal underwent temporary repairs to make her seaworthy and on 11th May 1940, was towed to Kiel. Admiral Carls thought that Seal would be a war-winner for the Germans, despite the fact that fully repairing the boat would cost three times the price of one U-Boat and that obtaining spare parts would be impossible. Nevertheless, the boat was repaired and commissioned into the Kreigsmarine as U-B in November of 1940. Her new commander was Fregattenkapitan Bruno Mahn, who, at 52 years of age, was the oldest submarine commander in the German Navy, a veteran of U-Boats from the First World War.

The Germans put her to use as a training boat and as a propaganda exhibit, but it took another year for Krupps to fabricate her mechanical system and her post-repair trials began. These revealed so many snags and the cost of putting them right was so high that the Kreigsmarine decided that Admiral Carls's war winning asset was a liability and paid her off in the summer of 1943. She was then stripped and dumped in a corner of the dockyard at Kiel. The only value the Germans did get from her was that they discovered that the detonators on the British torpedoes were far better than their own and the design was copied into the German torpedoes.

U-B was sunk in the same allied air raid which destroyed the German Heavy Cruiser Hipper. After the war, the wreck was raised and broken up.

The crew of HMS Seal were subject to routine interrogation by the Germans, but this was conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and none of the crew were abused by the Germans in any way. The officers and the crew were separated and held in various POW camps until the war ended. Two members of HMS Seals crew did manage to escape from captivity. PO Barnes took part in a mass break-out from Stalag XX A in Poland and made contact with the Polish Resistance. He and a soldier made their way to the border with the Soviet Union, but the Russian border guards instead robbed and stripped them and told them to run, shooting at them as they did so. The soldier made it back to Britian, but PO Barnes was never seen again. One of the engineers, Don 'Tubby' Lister made a number of escapes and was eventually sent to Colditz. Realizing that escape from there was next to impossible, he teamed up with a crew member from HMS SHark, "Wally" Hammond and insisted they be relocated from there on the grounds that they were not officers. The deception worked and they were moved to a more open POW Camp, which they subsequently escaped from, making their way to Switzerland, being repatriated from there to the UK.
Lt Trevor Beet saw it as his duty to escape and made a number of failed escape attempts before also being incarcerated at Colditz for the rest of the war.

The bulk of the Commissioned and Non-Commissioned officers were held in a camp near Westertimke, where they had a quiet time until April 1945, when the allied forces were at Bremen, 15 miles away. The Germans attempted to march them to Lubeck, but on the way, the column was attacked by Spitfires. Shortly after they arrived at Lubeck, the war ended. Apart from PO Barnes and AB Smith, who went overboard when the boat surfaced, the entire crew survived the war.

In 1946, Lt-Cdr Lonsdale and Lt Beet faced a court-martial for surrendering their boat to the enemy. This is normal procedure in the navy and the pair were both honourably acquitted.

HMS Seal was the only Royal Navy vessel surrendered to the enemy in the entire Second World War. It is for this reason that, with the exception of a recovery and support vessel which briefly served in 1991, the Royal Navy has not had another vessel bearing that name.

"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

Offline Bilgerat

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HMS Seal
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2010, 20:04:26 »
Apparently, the surrender and the circumstances behind it were a source of embarrasment to the RN - and is quoted as the reason why there hasn't been another HMS Seal since.
"I did not say that the French will not come, I said they will not come by sea" - Lord St Vincent

Offline LenP

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HMS Seal
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2010, 21:00:00 »
Here's some more info and pics:

As it says at the bottom of the page:

'The full story of HMS/M Seal can be found in "Will Not We Fear" by C E T Warren and James Benson, first published 1961'

It's a good read.

Offline de Mol

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HMS Seal
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2010, 16:37:34 »
May be of interest HMS SEAL was given the identification name UB by the
then "Kriegsmarine".

de Mol.


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HMS Seal
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2010, 15:56:16 »
Found this little article in volume three of 'The Second Great War' from 1946.


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