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Zeebrugge Raid: Brock's Smokescreens


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Does anyone have any info as to how Brock's smoke innovation actually worked? What was the system and materials used?

I'm asking because my great uncle John Rouse (A.M.II, RNAS) died during the raid on board the destroyer Myngs, which was one of the ships involved in laying the smoke screens.

He was one of three servicemen manning the three funnels from which the smoke was emitted.

Evidently the acid tank at his station exploded (or was hit by shrapnel) which resulted in him going overboard (his body never found and he is thus one of the three men commemorated alongside Brock in the Zeebrugge churchyard memorial).

I know Brock came from the Brocks Fireworks family, and that he was credited with numerous innovations from the Stratford station - but I'm intrigued as to exactly what was the smoke generation solution - which clearly involved the use of acid and was clearly dangerous!

Any clues greatly received...


John H

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Only one bit of this helpful but this is my entry on Thomas Slater Price in my Great War Trail of Birmingham. Arthur Langley was CO at Stratford from May 1918.....

‘Corris’, Maney Hill Road. In addition to Arthur Langley (see 31, Francis Road Stechford) another former King Edward's School pupil served at the Stratford Experimental Station, London, of the Royal Naval Air Service. Born in 1875 in Wednesbury, Thomas Slater Price had attended King Edward’s School between 1887 and 1890. In 1891 his family were at 23, Stafford Street, Wednesbury where his father Thomas, a schoolmaster, was head of a family of eight children. In 1892 he began a course at Mason College, the forerunner of Birmingham University, where he achieved a first class science degree in 1895. In the same year he became Priestley research scholar in Chemistry at the College going on a year later to study under Professor Wilhelmn Ostwald at the University of Leipzig. In 1898 he studied at Professor Arrhenius’s laboratory at the Hogskola, Stockholm. Both these professors were eminent men and won Nobel prizes for Chemistry in 1909 and 1903 respectively. These experiences enabled him to achieve a doctorate at Mason College in 1900. He was at a new family home in Walsall Street, Wednesbury at the time of the 1901 census when he was described as a ‘lecturer in Chemistry’. This was probably at the Birmingham Municipal Technical College in Suffolk Street because in 1903 he became head of the Chemistry Department there. His tenure, which lasted until, 1920, was interrupted by the war. In 1905 he married Florence, also from Wednesbury, and by 1911 they were living in Maney Hill Road, Sutton Coldfield, with two young children, his brother, brother-in-law and one servant. In December 1917 he held the rank of lieutenant commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, having joined in 1916, and was based at Stratford, east London. He was in charge of the research laboratory and the Prussic Acid and Smoke Mixture Producing Plants. His work on chloro-sulphuric acid led to the production of the ‘artificial fog’ for the Zeebrugge Raid in April 1918. That year he was also the Admiralty Chemical representative on the Chemical Warfare Committee. For his war work he was awarded the OBE (military). By 1931 he was Professor of Chemistry at Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh,from where he retired in 1940. He died on October 29 1949.

Obituary in ‘Nature’. December 31 1949.

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It would appear that this was Chlorosulfuric acid (CSA) very nasty stuff of which great care needs to be taken (like taking care not to be within ten miles of the stuff)

The following extract from a translation of a Soviet document explains

"During the First World War for the purpose of camouflaging smoke generation chlorosulfonlc acid was used - it is an incomplete acid chloride of sulphuric acid:

At ordinary temperature technical chlorosulfonic acid is a heavy liquid, of different colours - from yellow to brown - which fumes in the air.

Chlorosulfuric acid is obtained from sulfuric anhydride and phosphorus chloride

The process of smoke generation of Chlorosulfuric acid is based on the fact that its vapours, when it is sprayed from devices, react with moisture of the air with the

formation of sulfuric acid and hydrogen chloride"

In other words when dispensed in air in a spray, it readily absorbs moisture and forms dense white fog of hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid. Highly corrosive in any concentration.

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Hello John, not quite what you asked for, but thought this award to Brock may be of interest.

BROCK Frank A OBE - Killed in action Major RAF 79D115 N/E

Vice Admiral Dover N/E N/E Operations on Belgian Coast 23.04.18

Zeebrugge & Ostend N/E

Was in charge of the experimental base at Dover.

He worked with a great energy to obtain the materials for an effective system of smoke screening and organising the means and of plans and of eventually developing the resources with which the force finally set out. These were of great value even on the adverse circumstances which arose on the Mole. Major Brock was very keen on obtaining knowledge of the range finding apparatus used by the enemy.


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