Sunday, July 22, 2018
HMS Vindictive

Prime Minister David Lloyd George spent the night of 22 April 1918 wide awake. He was noticeably on edge all that long night as he waited with growing impatience for news from the continent - what Sir Winston Churchill would later call ‘the finest feat of arms in the Great War’. The raid of which he spoke was that planned against the port installations of Zeebrugge and Ostend.

The importance of these ports to Germany were paramount, and to the British their capture or destruction was of equal importance. First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Jellicoe pessimistically declared in June 1917 that, if the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge were not denied to enemy forces, the Allies could easily lose the war. A land assault was planned by General Sir Douglas Haig, but the Prime Minister was not prepared to accept the projected casualties; especially after the disastrous campaigns at Messines, the Third Ypres and the Battle of Passchendale.

What was needed was another option. Aerial attack by aircraft of the RAF was also considered inadequate, which left the Royal Navy and the Marines.

Zeebrugge, and to a lesser extent Ostend, had been utilised by the German navy as a base for coastal torpedo boats which harassed Allied shipping to the continent. These small fast craft were inexpensive to build and man, and caused considerable destruction of much larger and more expensive warships and supply ships.

Planning for the Zeebrugge raid had commenced in late 1916, as it was felt a full invasion of the Belgian coast would come with too high a price in men and equipment. In November 1916, then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith gathered the heads of the armed forces for a conference. Sometime during the meeting he turned to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson and said, “There is no operation to which the War Committee attaches greater importance than the deprivation to the enemy of Ostend and Zeebrugge.”

Within that day, detailed planning commenced and key appointments were made. Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt proposed an amphibious assault on the mole that stretched out into the North Sea at Zeebrugge, and the sinking of blockships at the entrance to the Bruges Canal. All of 1,698 men, including officers and 660 Royal Marines, started two months of intensive special training for the operations to come. Crucially, every last man was a volunteer.

Naval Preparations
Over one-hundred small and medium-sized vessels were collected in the Thames estuary hidden away from spies and reconnaissance aircraft. Many were given extra armament. For the Royal Navy, this meant adding some unusual equipment to the veteran cruiser HMS Vindictive, including an 11-inch Howitzer flame throwers, stokes mortars and a dozen long-hinged brows on her port side to allow the Royal Marines off at speed.

Five elderly cruisers of 3,600 tons, HMS Brilliant, HMS Iphigenia, HMS Intrepid, HMS Sirius and HMS Thetis were selected to be used as the block ships. For this role, each had 1,500 tons of concrete poured into their hulls as well as electrically-fired scuttling charges. Two obsolete submarines, C1 and C3, were loaded with large explosive charges in their forward compartments, and the upper works of the Mersey ferries Iris II and Daffodil were provided with bulletproof plating backed up by mattresses.

The date chosen for the attack was 11 April and, under the command of Rear Admiral Roger Keyes, the force sailed. At 2300, the force split into two with those ships destined to attack Ostend under the command of Commodore H Lynes sailing on a different course. Rear Admiral Roger Keyes onboard the destroyer HMS Warwick continued on to Zeebrugge. At the stroke of midnight, the ships commenced a blistering bombardment of both ports while a large flotilla of motor torpedo boats laid a smokescreen. Sadly for the British, the wind that night was not ideal and the smokescreen was ineffective, forcing Keyes to reluctantly cancel the operation and return home.

On the second attempt on 13 August, the wind - this time a gale - once again tore into the British plans, forcing Keyes to cancel the attack.

The weather was not the only problem to befall the raid. British secret operational orders for the grounded fast torpedo boat CMB33 were obtained by Admiral von Schroder, the Commander of German coast defences. Fortunately, the Germans failed to make the most of the information and failed to fully protect Zeebrugge.

For Keyes, he hoped that, third time, would be lucky when the fleet sailed on the afternoon of 22 April, the eve of St George’s Day. This gave Keyes an idea to boost morale. From his ship, he signalled “St George for England”. Captain AFB Carpenter, in command of HMS Vindictive replied, “May we give the dragon’s tail a damned good twist.”

The German defences at Zeebrugge were impressive. Lined up against any attacking force were 225 guns of which 136 were 6-15 inch. As the British monitors HMS Erebus and HMS Terror started their bombardment at 23.50, the Germans fired back at the glimpsed targets seen through the heavy smokescreen. At 23.50, however, the defenders were shocked to see the 5,750 tons of the cruiser HMS Vindictive tearing towards the mole at just 1,500 metres distance. They did not panic, but instead wrought deadly withering fire onto the British cruiser, decimating the naval and marines’ storming parties which had been standing ready on her upper deck and superstructure. Among the dead were their commanders Captain H C Halahan and Lieutenant Colonel B N Elliot.

The first block ship, HMS Thetis, sailed out of the smokescreen into withering fire before fouling on a net obstruction, and then grounding. Her crew set the scuttling charges and abandoned the ship away from her planned position. HMS Thetis was a failure, but the next ship, HMS Intrepid was not. Lieutenant S Bonham-Carter took his ship straight into the canal’s mouth and scuttled her. Her sister ship HMS Iphigenia followed her in. The pair effectively blocked the canal by turning their wheels hard over and sticking fast in the tight and narrow entrance.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - April 2018 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!


Most Popular

  • Isle of Man Steam Packet to be Taken Into Public Ownership +

  • By Brittany Ferries from Ireland to Spain +

  • Murray Robinson 1955~2018 +

  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

  • Dutch Superyacht Yards Set New Records +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Focus on Giant Saudi Arabia Complex +

    Ras Al Khair The International Maritime Industries giant shipyard complex at Ras Al Khair, on the Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia, will come Read More
  • Bridge Crews ‘Formed Different Views’ +

    Huayang Endeavour Seafrontier Conflicting views as to what had been agreed between the bridge teams of one ship overtaking another in the Dover Read More
  • Ship Completes Work on Irish Sea Windfarm +

    Seajacks Scylla In mid-May, the largest jack-up vessel operated by the windfarm installation company Seajacks UK, of Gt Yarmouth, completed work on Read More
  • Special Heavy Lifts for Tyne Jackets +

    Aegir Five highly-complex heavy lifts have taken place on the Tyne by the Dutch deepsea heavy lift ship Aegir, 50,228gt, operated Read More
  • Runaway Barge Crosses North Atlantic +

    Malik I The Ballyglass RNLI lifeboat had an unusual vessel to deal with on the evening of May 14. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Seabed Mining Venture Starts from California +

    Maersk Launcher The Maersk Group, of Denmark, has ventured into seabed mining. Read More
  • Cranes Boost Capacity of Elizabeth Terminal +

    Zhen Hua 20 Four new giant gantry cranes arrived at APM Terminals at Elizabeth, New York, at the end of April as part Read More
  • Tanker Holed in Collision off New York +

    Tofteviken A Norwegian tanker suffered a 30ft long gash in her hull in a collision with a fishing vessel off New Read More
  • Appeal Over Developing New Master Plan +

    Enterprise To operate in California, ports must have a master plan approved by the California Coastal Commission that guides their development Read More
  • Shipyard Prepares Carrier for Laying Up +

    Enterprise In April, the Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries completed the inactivation of the former US Navy aircraft Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3


  • China Set to Ban Foreign Ships from Breaking Yards +

    Chittagong Shipbreaking Yard China is to ban overseas ships being broken up at its demolition yards from the start of next year. Read More
  • Carnival Wins Conditional Approval for Terminal +

    Brisbane Cruise Terminal Model The plan by the world’s largest cruise ship operator, the Carnival Group, of Miami, to build an Au$158mn cruise terminal Read More
  • Training Ship Set to Berth on Campus +

    MOL Marine Academy Next month, a new maritime academy will be opened in the Philippines by the Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines Read More
  • Kotug Takes Over Joint Venture Australian Tugs Firm +

    KT Maritime Tug Kotug Australia has acquired the Teekay Shipping Australia half of their joint towage venture KT Maritime Services. Read More
  • Class Approval for LNG Ore Carrier +

    Hyundai LNG Carrier The South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has received approval in principle from the Londonbased classification society Lloyd’s Register Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • Upgrade Planned for Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier +

    Admiral Kuznetsov Russian News Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, will be refitted to prolong the warship’s operational life. Read More
  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Stena Confirms Three E-Flexers for the Irish Sea +

    Stena E-Flexer Stena Line has confirmed that the first of its new RoPax ferries currently under construction in China is planned to Read More
  • By Brittany Ferries from Ireland to Spain +

    Connemara As Irish Ferries ramps up its Dublin to Cherbourg service with the arrival of the new purpose-built WB Yeats, Brittany Read More
  • Transport Scotland Buys Northern Isles Ropax Trio +

    Hamnavoe The Hamnavoe, Hrossey and Hjaltland had previously been chartered by Transport Scotland from Royal Bank of Scotland and operated by Read More
  • Irish Ferries’ New Fast Craft Enters Service +

    Dublin Swift Irish Ferries has introduced the fast ferry Dublin Swift into service between Dublin and Holyhead, the 101m craft becoming the Read More
  • St Helena Finishes Career +

    RMS St Helena At last, after much delay, subsequent to the construction of the new airport on St Helena, the island’s namesake ship Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • New Bridge Challenges Melissa +

    Melissa The organisers of the charter barges working from Ipswich are worried by plans to build a road bridge across the Read More
  • German Schooners +

    Thor Heyerdahl Two German schooners based at Hamburg are regularly making voyages under sail with general cargoes across the Atlantic. Read More
  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

    BP Distributor A collection of fine images of coastal tankers delivering fuel to the Southern Scottish town of Kirkcudbright took my eye. Read More
  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • P&O Ferries Set to Lift Capacity at Teesport +

    Bore Song In May 2018, P&O Ferries announced that it plans to lift capacity on its Zeebrugge-Teesport route by almost 25 per Read More
  • New Generation of RoRo’s by Knud E. Hansen for Grimaldi +

    Grimaldi Hybrid Over many years Knud E. Hansen has been one of the world’s leaders in terms of ship design, with a Read More
  • Isle of Man Steam Packet to be Taken Into Public Ownership +

    Ben my Chree Manannan The news of the Isle of Man Government’s acquisition of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company announced in May, Read More
  • Major Marine Fabrication Returns to Southampton +

    SMS Pontoon Good positive news from Southampton where marine engineering services firm SMS is, presently, midway through a contract to build three Read More
  • ITF Inspectors Help Repatriate Ukrainian Seafarers +

    Avonmore Crew In this, the second decade of the 21st century, I am still often astonished, saddened and angered by the treatment Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • The Way Towards Superyacht Ownership +

    Monaco Yacht Show When it comes to buying a superyacht, mostly owners will start with smaller yachts and progress in overall length towards Read More
  • Dutch Superyacht Yards Set New Records +

    Irisha The steady stream of superyachts being launched in Holland is a very visible sign of the prominence of the Dutch Read More
  • ‘Ten Pound Poms’ . . . The Emigration Boom to Australia After WWII +

    New Australia With the cessation of hostilities after the end of WW2 in 1945, a number of Immigration Schemes were introduced by Read More
  • Symphony of Light Hong Kong +

    Symphony of Lights Cruise passengers on a vessel that includes Hong Kong within their itinerary, may have witnessed Hong Kong’s ‘A Symphony of Read More
  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

MV Forrest

MV "Forrest" - Celebrating 50 Years of Service

Ever since the early days of the 19th century, the Falkland Islands have always had a shipping service both within Read More
SS Hellas Liberty

A Venerable Veteran - SS Hellas Liberty

Lovers of the traditional merchant navy visiting Piraeus should not fail to view the museum steamer SS Hellas Liberty. The Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features


Safmarine Memories

With around three-quarters of the Safmarine fleet trading between South Africa and the UK in 1967, the year in which Read More

Murray Robinson 1955~2018

Since our acquisition of Sea Breezes in 2008, one of the strengths of this magazine, which I first read as Read More
  • 1
  • 2