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A letter from POW Camp......

.from Rupert Lonsdale to Mrs Poland in Seal village:
 date or camp unknown, but probably Marlag.
(Courtesy of Mrs Stevens, Seal village)




Dear Mrs Poland,


Within the last few days I have had a talk with each one of my crew who are in this camp.  
Despite a hard winter, enforced idleness, and the unnatural life led by any prisoner they all look fit;
 I cannot emphasis this too much; they really do look well. which is great credit to them and I would be grateful if you could let their next of kin know as you kindly did before.
 We are thankful for many things; a just camp officer; our excellent theatre and actors; our ( to us) first class orchestra of 16 musiciams who play orchestral and dance music; the splendid library of over 2,000 books; teachers who take classes in many subjects - maths; seamanship;languages, engineerinGg shorthand etc; and the football ground.
 All these things help to counteract the many hours when there is very little to do.  People at home cannot realize what happiness letters,  photographs and the occasional parcels give to us.
 All told we have received some 260 parcels of books or cigarettes from the village of Seal, a wonderful total - and that does not include the many things you have sent us in our clothing parcels.
 We are most, most grateful for all of these.

Have you any news of Mayes, Williams, Harper and Cambridge, who are not in this camp?
 We would like to know how they are
 With many thanks and every good wish to you all from usand may we see you soon.
 Yours very sincerely,




The story of HMS SEAL

Frederick & Violet Williams and their 3 sons,

about late 1945

In memory of my wife’s grandfather,


Stoker 1st Class, C/K 56812, POW no: 9631



Attacked while laying mines, this is the dramatic story of HMSubmarine SEAL, the only submarine to be captured by the Germans in World War 2.


In Memory of
C/JX 137224, H.M.S. Seal, Royal Navy
who died age 24
on 9 September 1940
Son of Benjamin and Edith Eliza Barnes, of Brooke, Norfolk.
Remembered with honour

Newspaper cuttings & transcripts

Seal presumed lost

Seal’s bell

Crew reunion

Courtmartial April 9, 1946

Courtmartial April 10, 1946

Courtmartial April 11, 1940


POW camps map


In 1941 the Germans opened a Navy (Marlag) camp at Sandbostel (Stalag 10B), between Hamburg and Bremen.  Here also were taken the Seal's  officers.  However, on June 19, 1941, the whole of Marlag was shifted to Westertimke, 20 miles away, where the Officers, Petty Officers and ratings were put into three separate sections.   A year later 500 ratings said farewell to their officers when they were taken to Silesia to build factories.  Here many of the crew were split up into different working parties and lost contact till after the war.
From the end of 1942 till the end of the war, life at Westertimke went on as well as the prisoners could
make it. Some were pre-occupied with escape, others with the Marlag Amateur Operatic Society. Some found
a faith in God which was not just another form of "escape" but was to change their lives.  Rupert Lonsdale already
had a strong Christian faith and had led his men in prayers during the enemy attacks on the submarine.  He went on
to serve God in the Anglican Church. Of those who continued to try and escape - "Tubby" Lister, Trevor Beet and Clark - it was Lister who was later to make a home run from Colditz.  
Accomodation was great improvement at Westertimke, and Clark shared a room with Lonsdale and 4 others.  

Other inmates included Peter Buckley, the CO of HM Submarine "Shark".

“Seal” adopted by Seal village


Lonsdale was always concerned for his men, and he was cheered by the association the crew had had with the village of Seal, near Sevenoaks, in Kent. people of the village had adopted the sub during her commissioning.  Before the war, "adoption" was not taken too seriously - a few books and records were sent.
However, an official committee was formed by Miss Dorothy Coleman, but no sooner had they got organized than the news came that SEAL had been lost with all hands. Six months later, on finding out the crew were prisoners, Miss Coleman contacted the Admiralty, and soon all the village families were asked to adopt a crew member and keep in contact. Parcels were sent, and before long Miss Coleman had made contact with Lonsdale.  She did much in helping look after the crew's welfare;  twice she travelled to Liverpool to trace a crewman's family after they were bombed out of their home, and thus had
not written to the men.  Tom Vidler's wife and children lost their home in Hastings and so journeyed to Seal. Miss Coleman arranged accomodation and Mrs Vidler became the local church verger till the end of the war!
Lonsdale himself regularly sacrificed his monthly ration of letters on behalf of his crew. Thankyou letters that arrived in Seal were the high-spots of the village's existence.  After the war the crew visited the village, and paid for a new cricket pavilion to say thanks to the village.

Homeward Bound

With the Russians approaching, orders came on January 21, 1945, to march westwards. Many of the ratings endured the privations of a 1000 mile walk through Poland, Czechoslovakia and Poland to meet up with the Americans in Germany. Meanwhile the officers at Westertimke thought liberation was at hand, with the Allied armies only 15 miles away.  But on April 9th 1945 the whole Marlag camp was forced onto the road. Chaos reigned as fighters shot up the column, and in one raid a great friend of Lonsdale's was killed. Liberation came when they reached Lubeck.

In 1946 Courtmartial proceedings were taken against Lonsdale and Lt Trevor Agar Beet for failing to scuttle the sub and allowing it to fall into enemy hands, but they were acquitted.

From the Coxwain's Diary.....


30th April, 1940  

1940hrs..Embarked mines. Sailed from Immingham PM
4th May               

0215.....Bombed by German a/c whilst charging batteries on surface.  DIVED.
0230.....Proceded to minelaying billet at 40ft.

                       0800.....Layed mines from 60ft.
                       0830.....Proceeding "N" at 40 ft; sighted Germans A/S vessels.

                                     Altered course to NW at varying depths.
                      1800.....Boat unaccountably heavy aft.  A/S vessels closing.
                      1825.....Main motors stopped.  Boat settling on bottom at 120ft
                      1830.....Explosion aft.  After compartment & mess deck flooded. "Up spirits".

May 5th               

0100.....Surfaced. Boat not under control.
0300.....German plane sighted. sporadic action.  Two wounded.
0345.....Bombers arrived. Action over!  Destroyed C.B.'s
0500.....German trawlers arrive.  Wounded embarked

0530.....Remainder embarked.  Sailed for Friederikshaven, Denmark.

May 6th               

P.M.  Arrived Kiel

June 1st

                                                Arrived Thorn, Poland.

K. Higgins
Coxwain, HMS Seal.

In late April, 1940, Seal left Blyth in Northumberland for Immingham to collect 50 mines for another minelaying operation.   For Operation FD7 she was to enter the Kattegat, between Denmark and Sweden, to lay her mines.

A large minelaying sub such as  SEAL entering such waters,was a particularly frightening and dangerous operation.  

And so, on April 29th she set sail on yet another patrol.  At 2.27am on May 4th, the sound of aircraft sent her into emergency dive, and for the next 29 hours she was hunted by the enemy.  After being strafed, bombed and then nearly sunk, Lt Commander Rupert Lonsdale took the decision to surrender in the early hours of 5th May, unfortunately the day of Lonsdale's birthday.


SEAL was sailed into Kiel to face a long engineering and technical "interrogation" by the German Navy's experts, while the crew were taken into captivity. Fortunately SEAL's ASDIC has been destroyed, but the Germans discovered that the torpedo firing devices were of a better design - Admiral Doenitz subsequently ordered the British design to be introduced, so one benefit for the Germans was that they were influenced to make a better torpedo-detonation device for the German weapons which were at that time highly unreliable.

In spite of reservations by German officers, SEAL was repaired and re-fitted.

On Nov 30, 1940 the former HMS Seal was commissioned as UB commanded by Fregkpt. Bruno Mahn. He was an U-Boat veteran from the World War I (Commander of SM UB-21) and at this time 52 years old.   While the High Command would have liked her to become operational,  too many problems were encountered. The High Command began to  realise that they would not make a success of turning their prize into a German Navy unit and sending her against British shipping.  Therefore UB had limited value for the Kriegsmarine except for training and propaganda uses.  


On July 31, 1941 UB was decommissioned from the Kriegsmarine. By mid 1943 she was stripped of equipment and left derelict in Kiel Harbour. After subsequent bomb damage in allied air raids, on May 3, 1945 she was scuttled in Heikendorf Bay (in position 54.22N, 10.11E). Her wreck was later raised and broken up.

The fate of the Crew

After interrogation, the Petty Officers and ratings left Kiel by train and eventually found themselves at Stalag 20A at Thorn, in Poland.  One member of the crew, P.O. Barnes, succeeded in escaping along with an army Sgt Major. Taken in by the Polish underground, they reached Warsaw where they lived for three weeks before being guided to the Russian frontier. However, border guards took their watches and money, stripped them  and told to run for it.  Shots rang out and Barnes was hit and fell, but the Sgt Major escaped unhurt and eventually reached home.  Barnes was never heard of again.