Divine intervention in times of conflict

Regular visitors to this website will know that it features many articles describing how God is active in today's world just as He was in Biblical times. When a person is in a right relationship with the Lord and prays to Him with a clean heart about some particular matter, they can expect their prayers to be heard and answered in some special way.

Recently, I came across an example of answered prayer which brings a special message of hope and encouragement to our troubled world. Although our world is full of conflict and strife, let us not despair, because God can and does answer faithful prayers in even the worst of situations and conditions. As we shall see, He answers prayers in a "conflict situation" just as easily as in times of peace and tranquillity.

This particular incident occurred during the Second World War, and took place amongst a stricken crew on board a submarine which was trapped on the seabed. The miracle of Divine Intervention which occurred would never have happened if it hadn't been for the Christian devotion of the subs commander, Rupert Lonsdale.

Both of Rupert's parents were devout Christians and with their help and guidance he too came to accept Jesus Christ as his Saviour during his teenage years. His personal relationship with God was based on repentance and faith in Christ and he firmly believed that through His Cross and Resurrection he had eternal life.

As a young man he joined the Royal Navy and in 1927 when he was 22 years old he volunteered for submarine service. Such were his gifts of leadership he was soon promoted and by 1934 was given his first command. Rupert did not fit the typical image of a submarine commander, swashbuckling and hard-drinking. Instead he was a quiet man with no wild ways. He was a man who took God and devotion to following God profoundly seriously. Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1939 he was further promoted and given command of a submarine called "Seal".

On Monday 29th April 1940, Seal sailed out from Immingham on a secret mission to lay mines where German shipping was pouring out of Northern Germany into the Atlantic. Unknown to Lonsdale and the crew it was regarded as a suicide mission by High Command and they weren't expected to return.

On the 4th May Seal successfully laid 50 mines across the appointed area and started to head for home. It was then that they were spotted by enemy aircraft. German UJ boats with underwater listening equipment were called in, and what followed was a deadly game of cat and mouse between the German Navy and Seal which went on for many hours. Finally, after an incredible 16 hours underwater, the crew sighed with relief feeling certain they had escaped death. The crew relaxed, and food was served. All of a sudden at about 19.00 a violent explosion rocked the sub and slowly it sank 90 feet to the seabed. Two rear compartments had been completely flooded with an estimated 130 tons of water entering the stern of the boat. There was no panic. Lonsdale was in the control room at the centre of the crisis. He remained calm, alert and focused. The weight of the crew's trust was on him. Their lives were in his hands. It was a crushingly lonely time for him.

After nightfall, Lonsdale gave the order to surface. Momentarily the sub began to rise but then it slowly sank back to the sea floor. The problem was that the weight of the water inside the boat was pressing the damaged stern into the mud. The bow was pointing upwards to the water's surface at an angle of 25degrees. They made several more attempts to surface but the stern would not budge. Every man onboard knew that they faced death. There was no ventilation and the air was becoming foul. Even in a sitting position they were gasping for air. To take 3 paces had the same effect as a 100 yard sprint under normal conditions. Seal had now become their metal coffin.

23 hours had now passed since Seal had dived and they had reached the end of all human resources. What happened next was God's part of the story and has been officially documented. Lonsdale turned to those around him in the control room and said "We have tried everything we can think of to get to the surface, but without result. None of us can think of anything else. I am going to call the crew together and we shall say some simple prayers. Our object will be to ask God to help us".

The very idea of praying stirred the crew. It is recorded that only 2 men out of the 59 refused to pray. This is how he began. "We have been in some tight spots before and we've come through. With God's help we shall do so again. I think it is time we said the Lord's Prayer together, but first I want to ask God to help us. "Dear God" he prayed, "we have tried everything in our power to save ourselves and we have failed. Yet we believe that You can do things that are impossible to men. Please, O Lord, deliver us. "Lonsdale started the Lord's Prayer and found himself joined with a lot of voices more full of reverence and feeling than he had ever believed possible. The sounds of praying eventually stopped. Lonsdale continued, "And now I think we should all quietly say our own prayers to God." He stood silent, head bowed. Finally the impromptu service was over.

The answer to their prayers came almost immediately when it flashed into Lonsdale's mind what they were to
do. He calmly explained to the crew that he had an idea but it would require the cooperation of them all to put it into action. Although they were feeling half dead, they rallied to his orders. First, he ordered a rope to be rigged up along the length of the slopping submarine. Then he ordered every man to climb up the slope to the forward part of Seal, by holding on to the rope. Lonsdale was using his men as human ballast in the hope that their combined weight at the front of the sub would provide enough leverage to loosen the stern. The forward compartments filled with men too weak to talk and Lonsdale gave final orders to surface. The last two tanks were blown and the engines were put on full power. Slowly, agonizingly, Seal shuddered from end to end. Then she broke free from the seabed and levelled out. Ever so slowly she then rose to the surface.

Lonsdale's lifestyle of prayer had long included brief "arrow" prayers that nobody knew about. Now he whispered "Thank you Lord". Most of the crew both then and upon later reflection were convinced that they had experienced Divine guidance and many of them came to a real faith in Christ as a result of it. Even one of the two men who had refused to pray was spiritually changed.

In order to save the lives of his crew Lonsdale surrendered Seal to the Germans and he and his men became prisoners of war. As a prisoner of war, Lonsdale helped conduct church services in the camps to which he was sent and after the war became an ordained minister in the Church of England.

Lonsdale witnessed for Christ in submarines, in prisoner of war camps and in more than half a dozen churches where he was a minister. He died in Bournemouth in 1999 aged 93 survived by his wife Ethne and son John. Over his study desk hung a painting with the words "Faith sees through tears written below it. "When I am down" he said "I find that kneeling and giving my life and problems to God enables me to find Him and His grace."

Rupert Lonsdale experienced many moving and tragic events in his life but his personal relationship with God grew closer each time. He was no "fair weather Christian" and his faith and trust in God is an example to us all. Having experienced and witnessed so much suffering he was once asked to define his basic beliefs. What he stated should be an encouragement to anyone who has, or is going through a time of suffering or loss.

This is what he wrote:
"I don't see how anyone cannot believe that there is a Power who created the universe. Some Mind must have created the orderliness of the stars and the solar system. Consider the phases of the moon; the regularity of the tides and seasons; the implanting of a magnetic North Pole; the fact of gravity. All these point to an infinite Master Mind beyond our understanding in greatness.

The Bible tells us that evil has entered into this creation. I believe in the everlasting mercy and patience of God, though if people carry on being rebels against God, it must end in being put out of His Kingdom.

I believe in Christ as the Son of God. No man ever spoke or acted as he did. His power over evil, His wisdom and love show that He was above all other men. He was the true image of God. Yet He was a man knowing weariness, frustration and suffering—tempted like us, yet without sin. Those around Him knew these truths.

The Bible tells us all this and I believe the Bible is true. Christ showed us what God is like. By faith in Christ, Christians have forgiveness and eternal life. Heaven is unspoilt by evil. Those who have never received God's forgiveness may not take their unforgiven sin into God's holy presence after death. During this life real believers grow more into Christ's likeness.

I also believe in the Devil, cunning, strong, and always ready to draw us away from being fashioned by God. The Devil can be successfully resisted when we ask for God's help.

Nothing will ever shake me from my belief that God is Love, despite the things I have seen happen to other people in war, not to mention the things that have happened to me. [Editor: Rupert's first wife died giving birth to his only child, his second wife died of cancer in 1961, and his third wife died of a brain tumour in 1986]. I believe that God has a plan for each one of us and we must put our lives in His hands. More needs to be written about the Holy Spirit, the Cross and the fact of the Resurrection which are the heart of my faith..."

When we watch the news and see tragic events unfold before our eyes, let us remember that God is there in the midst of it all, supporting, sustaining and strengthening. He is right there in the middle of such suffering ever ready and ever able to answer the prayers of the faithful no matter how great their particular difficulty may be - even the prayers of a submarine crew trapped on the seabed in war time!