Drama in Kattegat May 1940
by Bjørn Jacobsen
At 01.30 the 4th May 1940 HMS Seal (37M) sailed into the
Kattegat, the narrow strait between Denmark and Sweden.
The experienced submarine captain Lt.Cdr Rupert Philip Lonsdale
had trimmed the submarine so only the top of the tower was above
water. Kattegat was constantly patrolled by German aircraft and
warships and was a very dangerous area for a large British
The daylight came early in May and SEAL was spotted by an
observation aircraft at 02.30. SEAL dived immediately.
SEAL’s mission was minelaying the shallow strait between Læsø
and the Swedish coast.
SEAL was a minelayer Porpoise class submarine with a crew of 60. The 50 mines
were placed between the deck and the pressure hull and were discharged th
rough a hatch in the stern.
After laying the mines, which only took 45 minutes, SEAL tried to return to Britain.
The problem was that after they were spotted by the reconnaissance aircraft
early in the morning, German U-boat destroyers were actively searching for SEAL.
Even worse, the water was no more than about 30m deep, which made it
impossible for SEAL to hide in deep water.
Lonsdale decided to wait for the darkness and then try to escape into the North
Sea. SEAL settle therefore on the seabed at only 20m depth, hoping not to be
discovered. Suddenly the crew in the silent submarine heard a scraping sound
on the starboard side and then an explosion at the stern. SEAL has been
damaged by a German mine!
The time is now 18.30
No one was injured, but the rear minelaying compartment was damaged and SEAL took in about 130 tons of water and one of the diesel engines was damaged.
After lying on the bottom until dark, Captain Lonsdale tried to surface the submarine. This proved very difficult, but after trying everything, including dropping the 12-ton lead keel, he managed, at last, to get SEAL to the surface.
Time was now 01.10 May 5th.
Losing the lead keel was not good because without this keel SEAL would have difficulty diving. Captain Lonsdale, therefore, tried to take SEAL into Swedish waters. They soon discovered that the rudders were destroyed by the explosion and the submarine was running in a circle. In desperation they tried to reversing the submarine towards Sweden. This went better, but soon the last engine lost both lubrication and oil pressure and stopped.
It was now 02:30
The Sea Plane
In Kattegat and Skagerrak, British submarines caused major problems for the German transport of war materials to Norway. Since 8th April, a total of 12 British submarines were in the area, causing a lot of trouble for the German ships.
The Luftwaffe had the task to monitor the waters and find the British submarines.
At 02:00 May 5th, two Ar196 seaplanes from 5./BFG 196
(5th squadron in Bordfliegergruppe 196) took off from
their base in Aalborg.
The aircraft codes were 6W+IN and 6W+EN.
The mission was to patrol the sea between Skagen and
the Swedish coast. The British submarines surfaced at
night to recharge the batteries and the best way to
discover them was being over the area at dawn.
At 02:30 the 6W+IN with Uffz. Böttcher as pilot and Lt.zS Mahrens as observer flew quite near the Swedish territorial waters. The speed was low and the height not more than 50 meters.
Suddenly Mahrens saw a shadow on the starboard side. The Arado swung sharply to the right and went even lower. In the semi-darkness they could clearly see a submarine tower! The submarine had the bow high in the water and the stern hidden under water. The submarine seems to be heading east towards Sweden.
The plane fired a volley With the 20mm cannon in front of
the bow of the submarine and flashed the "K"
(the international sign for "stop immediately") with a signal
lamp. Then Morse code "which ship?"
On board the submarine, Captain Lonsdale gave orders to
respond something unreadable - he hoped to gain time and
to convince the plane that it was a Swedish submarine.
But Lieutenant Mahrens saw through the bluff and attacked
the submarine with both bombs and guns.
After a couple of attacks, the seaplane was out of
ammunition and Mahrens decided to alert German warships
and headed for shore.
At the same time appeared the other Ar196 (6W+EN), piloted by Lt.zS Schmidt and Uffz. Sackritz as observer.
They just had seen 6W+IN attacks the submarine.
The pilot in 6W+EN immediately took the aircraft up to 1000m and dive bombed the submarine while they used both 20mm cannons and the machine guns.
After the second attack, this aircraft was also out of ammunition for the 20mm cannons and continued, therefore, to circle the submarine while shooting with the movable 7,9mm machine gun.
SEAL Surrender to the Ar196
Shrapnel from the Arado’s 20mm cannons had wounded two of the crew and the bullets had struck a hole in the port ballast tank. This led to a sharp listing to port while the stern was under water due to the mine explosion
It was not possible to correct the submarine, which sunk lower and lower in the water. Both the captain and crew were convinced that the SEAL was about to sink. At this time, Captain Lonsdale had destroyed all the secret codes and prepared two deep bombs, set to detonate
at 15 meters depth.
These were never used because there were no ships in the
vicinity that could take the crew. Many of the crew could not
swim and the captain dared not sink the submarine without
insurance that the crew was rescued.
He then gave orders to bring up a white tablecloth from the
mess and hoisted it in the mast as a sign of surrendering.
Lt.z.S Schmidt aboard 6W+EN could not believe his eyes
when he saw the white flag!
Had two small Ar196 managed to conquer a giant British sub?
This must be a bluff!
What if the submarine suddenly started and disappeared under
the surface? Not a soul would believe this story. He needed
proof! And what proof was better than the captain?
Lieutenant Schmidt landed the plane, taxed to the submarine
and demanded that the captain should swim to the plane and
At this moment the first Arado (6W+IN) came back after having
notified the German navy. The radio communication was
exceptionally poor and the Morse signals were used to
communicate with the boats.
The 6W+IN began to circle the submarine while 6W+EN was in the water.
Soon afterwards the submarine captain jumps in the water and swam to 6W+EN, crawled up on the float and
was helped into the cockpit.
It is this moment that is presented in the diorama.
Then the 6W+EN flew back to Aalborg with the captain as a prisoner of war.
It was not every day an Ar196 flew a reconnaissance trip and returned with a real British submarine captain!
In Aalborg, the Geschwader Commander to KFlGr.906, Major
Lessing discovered that one of his airplanes had landed with
an English submarine captain. He found a very wet and cold
man wearing a woollen sweater, pants and socks.
It was Lieutenant-Commander Lonsdale.
The papers showed that Lonsdale was 35 years that day and
he was well taken care of by the German pilots in Ålborg.
But this was a birthday he would never forget.
At 06:30 arrived the first German ship, the submarine destroyer
UJ-128, and took the rest of the crew as POWs
The submarine was then towed to Frederikshavn and was used mostly for propaganda purposes by the German
Later in May and June 1940 three Swedish and one German boat sunk after hitting the mines from HMS SEAL
After the war, Captain Lonsdale was routinely brought to court in Britain for having surrendered SEAL to the enemy. He was acquitted of all charges.
From a German propaganda film. Flags in the mast of SEAL: The German Kriegsmarine,The White Tablecloth and British Ensign
In Fredrikshavn: Germans studying the holes caused by the Ar196 20mm cannons
SEAL in Fredrikshavn harbor
I plan to build the diorama like this:
SEAL listing to port and the hull behind the tower is under water.
The Ar196 have maneuvered close to the submarine to take the captain POW.
I have also decided to build diorama in scale 1:48 which might be a problem because
the sub is huge! 90 meter means nearly 1.90m in 1:48.
But since more than half of the sub is under water, I might pull this off anyway.
The Arado is no problem. Italeri has a nice Ar196 A2 in 1:48. With small adjustments,
it can be one of the planes.
Building SEAL is worse. SEAL have to be built completely from scratch with whatever
I have at hand: Plastic, styrene, putty and parts from all kind of old kits (most useful are
a German Submarine kit in 1:72 and a small German coastal submarine kit in 1:48).
But most of all, I have to rely on the drawings of SEAL and a lot of improvisation.
I am using polystyrene as
the base for SEAL and start
to shape hull according to
The shape is long and
narrow with a marked
narrowing in the middle of
the foredeck. I start by glueing
1mm styrene plates on the
sides of the submarine.
The tower is made partly of
parts from the kit of the
German coastal submarine
XXIII, styrene plates and
pieces from old kits.
The building is based on
photos of SEAL
The gun position in front of
the tower is entirely made
of plastic pieces from old kits.
This was a 4 inch (10cm)
ships cannon which was
not used under attack from
the German aircraft.
It is reasonable to believe
that the cannon were totally
unsuitable as anti-aircraft
Much of the deck is taken
from the German submarine
kit, but much is also scratch built. There is a lot of filling and sanding before the transition between deck and hull were good.
I have followed the ship drawings of the Porpoise class as close as possible and I think the result is reasonably similar to SEAL
Then the submarine crew is
made, painted and glued in
place, some in the tower and
some on the deck, waving
white tablecloths as signs
Now is the time to start with the Ar196. There is no problem with this aircraft. It was just building straight from the Italeri box.
The only problem was the
6W+EN decals which had
to be hand made.
The aircraft is painted in
RML 72/73/65 which was
the standard camouflage
for the German seaplanes.
This paint was relatively
gloss in contrast to the paint
on land-based aircraft.
Then three of the drama's
main characters are placed
in the Ar196 (6W+EN):
Submarine Captain Lt. Cmdr. Lonsdale: Soaked and just wearing
sweaters and trousers enter the float after swimming to the aircraft.
Pilot Lt.z.S. Schmidt: Trying to keep the plane into the wind as close
to the submarine as possible while he communicates with Lonsdale.
Observer Uffz. Sackritz: Manning the machine gun, keeping the
crew at bay.
It is important that the propeller on the Ar196 looks like it’s spinning -
and this is a problem.
I have not fitted an electric engine in the plane and the only option
I could think of to transform the propellers of a static airplane to the
dramatic appearance of props in motion was the PropBlur, which is
a thin brass plate sculpted as a rotating propeller.
By painting it light gray, it can actually impose a spinning propeller.
The 6W+EN did not have a spinner.
I therefor had to throw away the spinner in the Italeri kit and make
my own propeller hub.
The SEAL is now glued to the base and the ocean around the
submarine is to be created.
For this, I use Sculptamold which is kind of paper Mache which I
just need to add water.
It’s easy to work with and has good adhesion to the surface,
and best of all it is easy to sculpt.
Then the water and the sea spray are painted with ordinary acryl paint.
To give the sea a “wet” look, I use the Woodland Scenics
I have made room for the sea plane’s float in the waves and painted
sea spray, caused by the propeller, around where the front of the
aircraft would be. You might see this in the picture to the right.
In the back of the diorama, I plan to put a cardboard plate to get more
depth and reality.
On the cardboard, I paint sea, dark clouds and the Ar196 (6W+IN) in
the air, circling the sub.
It is very early in the morning, just before sunrise, so the atmosphere
is a little dark and intimidating.
At last, the Arado Ar196 6W+EN is glued to the sea
and the diorama is finished!
The diorama is now on display at
Springeren Maritime Museum in Ålborg (DK)
It is actually the same place as the Ar196 was based and where Captain Lonsdale was brought in as a very wet and cold POW.
I hope you enjoyed this website!
Thank you for visiting!
Please do not hesitate to ask if you have questions