• Si Biggs

The Raid on Zeebrugge - 23 April 1918 - 'For England and St George!'


Mounted by two thousand men of the 4th Battalion Royal Marines and Royal Navy under the command of Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes.

The objective was to deny the Port to German submarines.

An appeal was made to the Grand Fleet for volunteers for special service on 23 February 1918. Very few of the participants were aware of the objective.

The cruisers involved in the blockade, including HMS Vindictive, were equipped in Chatham by over 2,000 workers for the special fitting out or (in the case of the ships to be sunk) stripping out of unnecessary equipment, including their masts. Iris, Daffodil and the submarines were converted in Portsmouth. The fleet made its rendezvous at Swin Deep, about 8 mi (7.0 nmi; 13 km) south of Clacton.

The first opportunity for the raid was early April 1918 and on 2 April the fleet sailed and Zeebrugge was bombed by 65 Squadron from Dunkirk. The success of the raid depended upon smokescreens to protect the British ships from the fire of German coastal artillery but the wind direction was unfavourable and the attack was called off.

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 to return to their bases

On 23 April a second attempt was made, in conjunction with a raid on the neighbouring harbour of Ostend. The raid began with a diversion against the mile-long Zeebrugge mole. The attack was led by an old cruiser, Vindictive, with two Mersey ferries, Daffodiland Iris II. The three ships were accompanied by two old submarines, which were filled with explosives to blow up the viaduct connecting the mole to the shore. Vindictive was to land a force of 200 sailors and a battalion of Royal Marines at the entrance to the Bruges Canal, to destroy German gun positions. At the time of the landing the wind changed and the smokescreen to cover the ship was blown offshore. The marines immediately came under heavy fire and suffered many casualties.

Vindictive was spotted by German gun positions and forced to land in the wrong location, resulting in the loss of the marines' heavy gun support.

Eventually the submarine HMS C3 commanded by Lt. R. D. Sandford, destroyed the viaduct with an explosion. Sandford was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. The attempt to sink three old cruisers, to block the flow of traffic in and out of the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge failed.

The failure of the attack on the Zeebrugge mole resulted in the Germans concentrating their fire on the three blocking ships, HMS Thetis, Intrepid and Iphigenia, which were filled with concrete. Thetis did not make it to the canal entrance, after it hit an obstruction and was scuttled prematurely. The two other ships were sunk at the narrowest point of the canal.

The submarines C1 under Lieutenant A. C. Newbold and C3 under Sandford were old, each with a volunteer crew of one other officer and four ratings. They 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. During the passage from Dover, C1 parted with its tow and arrived too late to take part in the operation. Sandford, in command of C3, elected to steer his ship into the viaduct manually instead of depending on the automatic system


Daffodil rams HMS Vindictive against the mole. The Marines and Naval Landing Party are going in up ramps

the entire 4th Battalion Royal Marines was awarded the Victoria Cross for the action, triggering Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross warrant stipulating that a ballot must be drawn to select the recipients. Although the Victoria Cross rules specify that four Victoria Crosses should be awarded this way (one to an Officer, one to an NCO, and two to other ranks) they were not observed and only two Victoria Crosses were awarded. This was the last time that Victoria Crosses were awarded by ballot, although the rule still exists within the Victoria Cross warrant. In a mark of respect to those involved in the raid the Royal Marines have never raised another 4th Battalion. Keyes, in the destroyer Warwick, signaled to the fleet the ancient battle cry St. George for England!, Carpenter signaled back from Vindictive: “May we give the dragon’s tail a damned good twist.” Read More/ Web Link: Wikipedia

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