The Zeebrugge Raid
, which took place on 23 April 1918, was an attempt by the British
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...
to neutralize the key Belgian
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...
port of Bruges-Zeebrugge. The port was used by the German Navy
The German Navy is the navy of Germany and is part of the unified Bundeswehr .The German Navy traces its roots back to the Imperial Fleet of the revolutionary era of 1848 – 52 and more directly to the Prussian Navy, which later evolved into the Northern German Federal Navy...
as a base for their U-boats and light shipping, which was a serious threat to Allied
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...
shipping, especially in the English Channel
The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...
A raid on Zeebrugge was first proposed in 1917 by Sir John Jellicoe
Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, 1st Earl Jellicoe, GCB, OM, GCVO was a British Royal Navy admiral who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in World War I...
, but was not authorised until Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes
Admiral of the Fleet Roger John Brownlow Keyes, 1st Baron Keyes, Bt GCB KCVO CMG DSO RN was a noted British admiral, with an active service life that included 19th-century African anti-slavery patrols to the Allied landings in Leyte in World War II...
created a plan for a blocking operation
A blockship is a ship deliberately sunk to prevent a river, channel, or canal from being used.It may either be sunk by a navy defending the waterway to prevent the ingress of attacking enemy forces, as in the case of HMS Hood at Portland Harbour; or it may be brought by enemy raiders and used to...
which would make it difficult for German ships and submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...
s to leave the port. The raid was formally approved by the British Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...
in February 1918 and launched two months later consisting of 75 volunteer ships and 200 soldiers.
The cruisers involved in the blockade—including —were equipped in Chatham, an operation which involved over 2,000 workers for the special fitting out, and stripping out (in the case of the ships to be sunk) of all unnecessary equipment including their masts. Iris
and the submarines were fitted out in Portsmouth. The fleet made its rendezvous at Swin Deep about 8 mi (7 nmi; 12.9 km) south of Clacton. Almost none of the participants were aware of their target.
The first opportunity for the raid was early April 1918, and on 2 April, a first attempt was initiated and Zeebrugge was subjected to an initial air raid by 65 Squadron from Dunkirk. The success of the raid depended upon smoke screens to avoid a massacre of the British Fleet, but as the wind direction was unfavourable, the attack was called off. By this time, Zeebrugge was visible to the fleet, and the fleet to the Germans in Zeebrugge. Seventy-seven ships of all sizes—some with their lights already switched off—had to make a sharp turn to the west and return to their bases.
The raid began with a diversionary attack against the mile-long Zeebrugge mole
A mole is a massive structure, usually of stone, used as a pier, breakwater, or a causeway between places separated by water. The word comes from Middle French mole and ultimately Latin mōlēs meaning a large mass, especially of rock and has the same root as molecule.Historically, the term "mole"...
. The attack was led by the old cruiser, Vindictive
, with two Mersey ferries
The Mersey Ferry is a ferry service operating on the River Mersey in north west England, between Liverpool and the Wirral Peninsula. Ferries have been used on this route since at least the 12th century, and continue to be popular for both local people and visitors.The current fleet consists of...
SS Royal Daffodil was built in 1906 and scrapped in 1938. She was built as Daffodil for service on the River Mersey and renamed Royal Daffodil in recognition of her part in the Zeebrugge Raid.-Pre war:...
and Iris II
. The three ships were accompanied by two old submarines, which were filled with explosives to blow up the viaduct
A viaduct is a bridge composed of several small spans. The term viaduct is derived from the Latin via for road and ducere to lead something. However, the Ancient Romans did not use that term per se; it is a modern derivation from an analogy with aqueduct. Like the Roman aqueducts, many early...
connecting the mole to the shore. Vindictive
was to land a force of 200 Royal Marines
The Corps of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, commonly just referred to as the Royal Marines , are the marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom and, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, form the Naval Service...
at the entrance to the Bruges Canal. However, at the time of the landing the winds changed and the planned smoke-screen
thumb|right|205px|A [[U.S. Army]] [[Humvee]] laying a smoke screenA smoke screen is smoke released to mask the movement or location of military units such as infantry, tanks, aircraft or ships....
to cover the ship proved ineffective. The marines, whose objective was to destroy German gun positions, immediately came under heavy fire and suffered heavy casualties. Vindictive
—spotted by German gun positions—was forced to land in the wrong location, resulting in the loss of the marines' heavy gun support. Eventually, the submarine —commanded by Lt. R. D. Sandford—destroyed the viaduct as planned, by explosion. Sandford was awarded the Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....
for this action.
The plan to sink three old cruisers to block the flow of traffic in and out of the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge did not go as planned. The failure of the attack on the Zeebrugge mole resulted in heavy German fire on the three blocking ships, , and , which were filled with concrete. Thetis
did not make it to the canal entrance, after it had hit an obstruction and was scuttled
Scuttling is the act of deliberately sinking a ship by allowing water to flow into the hull.This can be achieved in several ways—valves or hatches can be opened to the sea, or holes may be ripped into the hull with brute force or with explosives...
prematurely. The two other ships were sunk at the narrowest point of the canal.
The submarines C1
—under Lieut. A.C Newbold — and C3
— under Lieut. R.D. Sandford — were old, each with a volunteer crew of one other officer and four ratings. They each had five tons of amatol packed into their fore-ends and were to be driven into the viaduct and then blown up to prevent reinforcement of the German garrison on the mole. The crews were to abandon their submarines shortly before the collision with the viaduct, leaving the submarines to steer themselves automatically, but during the passage from Dover, C1
parted with her tow and consequently arrived too late to take part in the operation.
- Lieutenant R. D. Sandford, R.N. Wounded
- Lieutenant J. Howell Price, D.S.C., R.N.R. Coxswain
- Petty-Officer W. Harner, O.N. 228795 Wounded
- E.R.A. A. G. Roxburgh, O.N. 272242
- Leading Seaman W.G. Mayer, On.N. 22196
- Stoker 1., H. C. Bindall, O.N. K5343 Wounded
- Lieutenant A.C. Newbold, R.N.
- Lieutenant S.A. Bayford, D.S.C., R.N.R.
- Petty-Officer H. G. Jones, L.T.O., O.N. 17 994
- Petty Officer G. T. Newman, O.N. 213236 Coxswain
- E.R.A. W. H. R. Coward, O.N. 1495
- Stoker Petty-Officer F. J. Smith, O.N. 299134
The blockships were not in the correct position when sunk and only managed to block the canal for a few days. The Germans removed two piers in the western bank of the canal, near the blockships, and created a channel through the silt near the blockships' sterns. They were thus able to move submarines past the blockships at high tide.
The Zeebrugge Raid was promoted by Allied propaganda as a key British victory and resulted in the awarding of eight Victoria Crosses. Of the 1,700 men involved in the operation, 300 men were wounded while more than 200 were killed. Among those killed was Wing Commander
Wing commander is a commissioned rank in the Royal Air Force and the air forces of many other Commonwealth countries...
Frank Arthur Brock
Frank Arthur Brock was a British First World War Royal Air Force Officer who devised and executed the smoke screen used during the Zeebrugge Raid on 23 April 1918, the British Royal Navy's attempt to neutralize the key Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge.-Background:Brock was born in Cheam, Surrey,...
, the man who devised and commanded the operation of the smoke screen.
Some of the casualties were buried in England, either because they died of their wounds en route
or because their comrades had recovered their bodies with the intention of repatriating their remains. Two are buried in the Hamilton Road Cemetery, Deal, Kent.
Hamilton Road Cemetery is a combined municipal and military burial ground situated in the coastal town of Deal, Kent, in South East England. Opened in May 1856, it was created to provide a new burial ground for Deal at a time when its general population was expanding and when previous, often ad hoc...
At least nine are buried in Dover's St. James's cemetery.
On April 23, 1964, some of the 46 survivors of the raid, along with the families, the mayor of Deal, and a large Royal Marines Honour Guard, held a service of commemoration for their fallen comrades at the Royal Marines Barracks in Deal, and a tree was planted near the officers' quarters in remembrance. The event gained major press coverage and was reported in The Deal, Walmer and Sandwich Mercury newspaper, dated 23 April 1964, and April 30, and a message to the veterans from a by-now very ill Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...
was read to those assembled.
There are two memorials to the Zeebrugge Raid in Dover. the first is the Zeebrugge Bell, which was given to Dover by the King of the Belgians in 1918, and is to be found with a memorial plaque in Dover's Town Hall. the second is the Zeebrugge memorial in St James's Cemetery. A regular memorial service is held there.
- Prince, Stephen (2010); The Blocking of Zeebrugge – Operation Z-O 1918; Osprey Raid Series #7, Osprey Publishing; ISBN 9781846034534
The Deal, Walmer and Sandwich Mercury newspaper, dated 23 April 1964, and 30 April 1964.