With his honour cleared, he stepped smartly up to the red baize-covered table, to salute the President (Captain C. F. W. Norris, D.S.O), who said to him quietly: I have much pleasure in handing you back your sword.
Members of the crew of H.M.S. Seal who had lived through the last fateful drama in the submarine, and shared five years in German prison camps with their captain, were jubilant at the verdict.
Afterwards, ex-Seal officers and men adjourned to the submarine head-quarters at Gosport for a celebration, and to congratulate Lieut.-Comdr. Lonsdale upon the findings of the court. With him was Lieut. T. A. Beet, who, earlier in the week, had also been honourably acquitted of two charges of failing to take steps to ensure the sinking of the submarine to prevent its capture by the Germans. In court, he had described the great gallantry of his captain.
In the court martial room to-day, Lieut.-Comdr. Lonsdale heard his friend (Captain G. C. Phillips of H.M.S. Dolphin) say of him: He behaved with great gallantry in a situation of almost intolerable danger. This is not a story of negligence, but of courage in adversity.
The decision came after the court had deliberated in private for 50 minutes.
Nazi Boast Untrue
During the hearing, it was revealed that the German claim during the war that the captured submarine was later operated by the Nazi Navy was untrue.
Captain G. B. H. Fawkes, of H.M.S. Dolphin, Staff Officer to Admiral (Submarines) said: Seal was never used operationally by the Germans, and to the best of my knowledge was never used by them at all.
Captain Phillips said that no half truths or evasive statements had been made by the accused or his witnesses.
All the witnesses were behind their Captain to a man. Those decent men had nothing much to work on except that their Captain would never let them down; and they would never let him down.
He maintained that the first charge did not deal with realities. It inferred that a submarine captain was expected to indulge in mock heroics with absolute disregard for the safety of his men.
Capt. Phillips added: Seal, literally by
the grace of God, had surfaced after being stuck on the bottom, unmanageable and partly flooded.
60 Men´s Lives
The accused had considered that as far as taking any effective part in the war was concerned, his situation was hopeless.
Under his feet he had 60 odd men whose lives he had got to save. He must have thought when the air attack started, that God had deserted him.
Yesterday, prosecution witnesses told how, after a 22-hour under-water ordeal, Seal was raised with difficulty from the bottom of the sea, where she lay damaged after carrying out a mine-laying operation in the Skager Rack. Then she was attacked by enemy aircraft, and the accused, after surrendering, swam to a German seaplane which landed near to the submarine, when ordered to do so by the occupants.
The accused officer gave dramatic evidence in the witness box. With Seal´s stern embedded in the ocean bed, he said, those around him seemed to become comatoze.
He described the first unsuccessful efforts to raise the Seal. I mustered my crew in the control room for prayers, he continued. I considered that we had done all that we could to get the ship off the bottom. The object of these prayers was to ask God to help us.
Eventually, Seal came to the surface rapidly.
Referring to the first attack by the German aircraft, he said, It was most evident to me that Providence had helped us and that Providence would continue to help us so that my crew would reach Sweden in safety, and that I would not have to take human life.
He ordered everybody except the signalman from the bridge, and several more attacks were made by aircraft,
before it became evident to him that their position was hopeless. They were in an area entirely controlled from the air, and could expect no help from home. They could not dive - the submarine´s only effective way of defeating air attack.
I told the signalman to flash `S.O.S. and surrender´ to the plane, he said. It never occurred to me that I should stop the engines and hoist the white flag, and the aeroplane, quite naturally, went on firing at us. This made me almost desperate.
I ordered the signalman from the bridge and the Lewis guns to be brought into action. I fired the Lewis guns until one after the other was jammed.
He considered that to swim to the plane was somewhat hazardous, and his mind was working in such a way that he felt that it was his duty as commanding officer to take on the job.
Lieut. Beet and the Coxswain both offered to go, but it only had the effect of making him more obstinate.
Accused read a letter from a German officer which stated: Your gallant crew destroyed everything of a secret nature.
At no time, added accused, did it ever cross my mind that the ship might fall into enemy hands, as there were no German ships visible.
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