World War II
In 1942, during the second world war, British civil engineer Guy Maunsell designed a small series of naval fortresses for the English. Stationed in the ocean, the platforms were designed with two massive concrete pillars, on top of which a platform would be laid– a very basic design to say the least. To install these beasts out at sea, they were constructed on a barge, which was then floated out to its destination, and deliberately sunk. Once the barge rested on the ocean floor, all that was visible were your pillars rising 60 feet out of the water. On the platform running over the two, miniature military bases with anti-aircraft guns were set-up and ready to intercept units by both air and sea.
While there were a few bases of this nature, we’re going to focus on one called the HM Fort Roughs. Fort Roughs was towed about 7 miles from Essex before it was set on a sandbar and ready to operate. Almost 300 men worked on this platform, which was about 170 by 90 feet– not very big, as far as platforms in the ocean go (I’ll let you know who’s competing in that category when I find out). This particular station was in charge of scaring away German’s who were laying mines off the coast of England, because that’s just what those rascally Germans would do.
The base was occupied all the way through WWII, which ended in May of 1945 after Adolf Hitler realized that invading several world powers at once was a bit of a “whoopsie” move. In the 11 years that followed the war the English used the base for a number of odd jobs with a smaller operating staff, until it was finally abandoned in 1956. Buoys marked “HM Fort Roughs” surrounded the platform, the only reminder that it was once occupied by any forces.
Fort Roughs in 1942, when cameramen only had one wobbly arm to work with.
Prince Roy Bates
August 29, 1921 Roy Bates was born in Ealing, London. He served in the British army during WWII with a very extensive career, ranging from campaigns in Italy to North Africa. Despite numerous injuries, snake bites, frostbite, and even a bout of malaria, Bates survived the war and returned to England as a fisherman. More precisely, Bates was a post-war hustler that ran boats full of meat, fish, and rubber into a Britain that was still crippled by war.
In the early 60’s, when the BBC airwaves were dominated by major record labels, illegal, homebrewed operations called pirate radio stations began popping up across the nation to give the people what they wanted: better music. Bates, ever the people’s hero, set his eyes on one of these aforementioned naval fortresses as a base for his own pirate radio station. At first, he went for naval fort “Knock John,” another one of these platforms that had been abandoned after the war. There, Bates ran his very popular “Essex Radio.”
Unfortunately, though not unexpected, it was quickly fined for 100 pounds (roughly 1,700 pounds in 2017) by the government for committing broadcast violations within UK jurisdiction. Now facing insufficient funds, the radio station closed on Christmas Day, 1966. Bates had originally picked the platform believing that it was outside of their jurisdiction in the first place. All was not lost, though. Another one of these platforms, Fort Roughs, was technically in international waters, Bates realised. Seeing his opportunity, Bates and his 15 year old son Michael went to claim the platform. They were surprised, however, to see that somebody had already taken it– a group of squatters running their own station: Radio City.
We’re not just talking about any old asshole though, we’re talking about Roy “Snakebite” Bates. Bates and his son Michael, armed and dangerous, stormed the platform by surprise and evicted the squatters. Despite having the equipment leftover from Radio Essex, though, the Bates family decided not to use the platform as a pirate radio station after all. See, by the time they had occupied the platform, the UK had passed a law prohibiting any broadcasts from the ocean, no matter how far you remove yourself from the coast. So, naturally, Bates decided to turn the platform into his own country, where the rules didn’t apply. Welcome to Sealand, folks.
Since the platform was on international waters and had been long since abandoned by the UK military, Roy’s attorney assured him that he could claim it. He did exactly that– he laid claim to the platform and called it “Sealand.” There were those that wanted to test this claim, though– such as Ronan O’Rahilly of another pirate radio station, Radio Caroline. He and a small group of men came to take the country of Sealand by force, but were repelled when Roy and Michael used molotovs and guns. O’Rahilly and his goons fled Sealand, never to return.
In 1968, the Bates family suffered another attack– and it came in the form several British engineers. Aboard their small, royal navy boat, the men had come to service one of the navigational buoys that still floated around Sealand, warning other ships to avoid Fort Roughs in case of inclement weather. Roy’s son Michael was aboard the platform with his sister that day. After already trespassing in Sealand’s nautical territory, the engineers had the nerve to begin catcalling the young woman, making what Michael called “obscene gestures.” Not wishing to allow these men to insult Sealand’s integrity, Michael started shooting at them.
They were warning shots, Michael says, but bullets are bullets and these engineers don’t get paid enough to deal with 16 year olds claiming their dad owns his own country. The engineers promptly returned to the UK and tattled to the government. When the Bates family wasn’t aboard the platform, they did still live in England, and so they were quickly called to court for a firearms violation. The father and son answered the call, and so begins the greatest landmark court case in Sealand history.
The judge’s conclusion on the case was surprising, to say the least. After much deliberation, and the unearthing of many statutes dating as far back as the 1700s, “This is a swash buckling incident perhaps more akin to the time of Sir Francis Drake, but it is my judgment is that the UK courts have no jurisdiction.” Roy and Michael got off without no consequences. This was Sealand’s first de facto recognition as a micro-nation.
Wanting to make sure something like this never happened again, the royal navy demolished every remaining sea fortress. Michael recalled that after they’d destroyed one of the forts visible on the horizon, helicopters and tugboats buzzed by the platform, with engineers shouting the words “you’re next!”
Roy decided to take his moment in the spotlight and ran buck-fucking-wild with it. He declared he and his wife the Prince and Princess of the Principality of Sealand. Principalities, as it turns out, are much less paperwork when you’re starting your own micronation.
Roy and Joan, who decided that princes were better than kings, for whatever reason.
By 1975, the Bates started ramping up the fun at Sealand. They developed their own flag, a half red and half black flag with a white stripe running diagonally through the two. Roy’s wife proposed the nation’s motto: “E Mare Libertas!” or, “From The Sea, Freedom!” They even developed a coat of arms, which depicts two mer-lions (lion half on top), their flag on a shield at the center with a knight’s helm above it, and a gauntlet rising above it all with many jagged arrows clutched in its fist.
New Competitive Sport: Try to quickly describe any coat of arms.
Just look at this shit.
That’s not all, though. Sealand began selling its own passports and stamps, wrote its own national anthem (without lyrics, I’m afraid), and even developed its own currency: the
Sand Sea Dollar.
A decision better known as the missed opportunity of the fucking century.
1978, Trouble in Sealand
In 1978, the Bates family received word from a Dutch diamond merchant, inviting them to meet in Austria where they could discuss a business proposition. Roy and his wife Joan accepted the invitation, while Michael (now in his mid 20s), remained at Sealand to maintain the platform. When Roy arrived in Austria, he was surprised to find that there were no diamond merchants waiting for him, Dutch or otherwise. What might have come as a greater shock, though, was when Roy couldn’t get ahold of Michael.
He phoned some nearby fishermen, hoping they might have some answer as to what happened to his son. The only useful bit of information they could provide was that a helicopter had been seen hovering over Sealand. Meanwhile, back at Sealand, a group of Dutch, Austrian and German mercenaries had boarded the platform. Michael, who had allowed the group’s helicopter to land, was taken hostage by the men, and thrown into a cell without food or water. The group was led by a German lawyer named Alexander Achenbach, who had declared himself the prime minister of Sealand. Via speedboats, jetskis, a helicopter, and many guns, Sealand had been captured.
It’s hard to tell if any of this is real, or a really bad James Bond fanfiction.
Now if we’ve learned anything by this point, it’s that you do not fuck with ol’ Snakebite Bates and his concrete platform. Roy set to work planning a counter-attack, but was interrupted when he learned that his son had been deposited in the Netherlands. The young man had been left behind without any ID, but that didn’t stop him from finding his way back home to his father, who was super disappointed in him for allowing the helicopter to land in the first place.
Roy and Michael hired out the assistance of a fellow helicopter pilot to assist them in the fight for Sealand. This pilot, I should mention, worked on the James Bond franchise. The trio flew against the wind to mask the sound of their approach, and chose to attack at daybreak. As the helicopter quickly swooped onto the platform, Roy and Michael slid down a pair of ropes and dropped to the platform. Roy was armed with a sawed-off shotgun, and Michael with a pistol– though in the process of sliding down he dropped it, and it accidentally fired. This single accidental shot was enough to scare the already surprised mercenaries, and Sealand was surrendered to the Bates family without any bloodshed.
The captors were taken hostage, in a sweet hostage reversal move that only Roy Bates could pull off. Achenbach and his goons were charged with treason against Sealand. The would-be pirates were held at a bond of 75,000 German Marks, the equivalent of $35,000, or 2,700 pounds. When the German government said “uh, no,” they sent an ambassador to Britain, asking them to intervene. The British government said “uh, no,” and reminded them that, due to their 1968 ruling, Sealand was not within U.K. jurisdiction. In what must have been the most degrading move ever committed by a German ambassador, they went to Sealand directly to negotiate the release. Achenbach and the mercenaries were released at the mercy of the Bates, dropping the discussion of ransom for whatever reason.
Once back home, the invaders decided to take the bullshit to the third degree and declared themselves the “Sealand Rebel Government,” a government in exile that rightfully deserved the micronation. Achenbach declared himself the prime minister of Sealand, but the poor fool didn’t understand that Sealand was a principality and didn’t allow for prime ministers.
Achenbach would remain steadfast in his ownership of Sealand by loudly crying about it for many years until his death, though he left someone named Johannes Seiger. I learned some of this by visiting the website of the Sealand rebel government, but it’s all written in German and it doesn’t translate perfectly to English.
“The primary task of the Principality of Sealand is to give people access to free energy – the Vril energy – through Vril technology. Be aware that only a few reach this point. In the following chapters enter a wonderful world with energizing possibilities. Signed – The responsible staff of the Principality of Sealand.”
As far as I can tell Mr. Seiger is using the Sealand name to sell eco-friendly flashlights. This is apparently a long-running battle for them, judging by one quote.
“Our previous efforts to offer this technology to all states of the world have so far failed for reasons that we can not and do not want to go into here.” Something about this makes me sad. I think it’s the fact that they went from being bad at a rebel government to being bad at selling eco-friendly flashlights. It’s like if ISIS lost the war and became a blockbuster, and then they went bankrupt.
Sealand From The 80’s to Now
Next, we’re jumping ahead to 1982– to the Falklands War, where Argentina fought against the United Kingdom over two coastal territories in the South Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, Roy was approached by the Argentinian government with an offer to buy the platform. This way, the Argentinians said, they could bring the fight “right to Britain’s doorstep.” Bates broke another government’s heart that day and said “no.”
In 1997, every passport given out by the principality of Sealand was revoked, due to nearly 150,000 being in circulation. To my knowledge, you may purchase a new post 1997 passport through Sealands website, sealandgov.org. In 2006, a fire ravaged the deck of Sealand, but was extinguished and repaired with no casualties. In 2007, after Sweden forced the Pirate Bay to relocate its base of operations, the pirating site attempted to purchase Sealand, but the offer was declined. For the next ten years, Sealand decided that if it was going to be sold, then Sealand would be setting the price. Through the Spanish real estate agency “Inmo Naranja,” the micronation was up for grabs at 750 million euros, which is roughly $906 million. Nobody took the offer, though. I guess Achenbach’s flashlight business hadn’t scraped together that kind of cash by then.
With the offer retracted, Sealand was back to business as usual, selling passports, lordships, and other merchandise to whoever was eccentric enough to buy it. On October 9, 2012, ol’ Snakebite Malaria-Man Bates left this earthly realm at the age of 91. His wife Joan followed him on March 15, 2016, my 20th birthday. The original prince and princess of Sealand may be gone, but prince Michael carries the torch.
To close out the article, I’d like to celebrate 50 years of Sealand with an old quote from Roy. “I may die young, I may die old– but I won’t die of boredom.” That’s how I’d like to end it, anyway, but instead I’ll end it with a quote from the usurper Johannes Seiger:
“Would somebody just buy these goddamn flashlights?”
As always, I’d like to give a big thanks to my sources for this.
https://youtu.be/NhlCrm1pSWM?t=44 Sealand overview
General info, whole story
https://www.sealandgov.org/media/ Sealand page
Stay tuned over the next few posts, because the podcast is getting close to launch with a month’s worth of episodes already prepared. Wherever it ends up being hosted, it will always be free to listen to.