World War One: Surface Fleet

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Zeebrugge Raid

A printed sheet for a newsvendor stand for The Evening Press with the headline 'Zeebrugge Bombarded by British Ships', dating from World War One.

This was an attack on 23rd April 1918 against the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend, both of which were being used by the German Navy as a base for submarines. It was originally proposed by Sir John Jellicoe shortly before his dismissal in 1917 and approved by the Admiralty in February 1918.

The main attack was to be against Zeebrugge with a smaller one against Ostend. The plan was for the elderly cruiser Vindictive to land 200 troops at the entrance to the Bruges Canal in order to destroy the shore batteries. However events did not go well, she moored in the wrong location putting her guns out of action and the prepared smokescreen to cover the Vindictive as she landed troops proved ineffective.

Blockships and part of the pier at Zeebrugge, burnt by the Germans before evacuation in 1918. It appears that some of the blockships had been raised by the Germans in order to clear the channel. (RNM)

The loss of the Vindictive's guns meant that the shore batteries could not be taken and fire from these damaged the three British cruisers Thetis, Iphigenia and Intrepid. These had been filled with concrete and it was originally intended to scuttle them in the inner harbour at the narrow entrance to the canal, this was not successful.

The Zeebrugge Raid took place on 23rd April 1918. The Royal Navy attempted to neutralize the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, which was used by the German Navy as a base for their U boats and light shipping.

The raid began with a diversionary attack against the mile long Zeebrugge mole. The attack was lead by the cruiser, HMS Vindictive, along with two Mersey ferries, Daffodil and Iris II. These were accompanied by two old submarines, which were filled with explosives to blow up the viaduct connecting the mole to the shore.

HMS Vindictive was to land a force of 200 Royal Marines at the entrance to the Bruges Canal, however, at the time of the landing the winds changed and the planned smoke-screen 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, HMS C3 succeeded in destroying the viaduct after it exploded.

Events at Ostend were even less successful, where the two old cruisers intended to block the harbour entrance failed to reach the harbour entrance. There were two hundred fatalities during the operations and a further three hundred wounded. Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded.

The action was represented at the time as a great British victory. In contrast the Germans saw it as a demonstration of their success in holding both ports, the British mission did not effect German shipping for more than a couple of days.


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