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ejwalshe

Zeebrugge Raid, 22-24 April 1918

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ejwalshe

The British naval raid on German submarine activity at Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast was a propaganda success despite failing to secure its military objective.  By 1918 British sea power was hard-pressed by Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare against both Royal Navy and Merchant Navy shipping.  Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes, the commander of the Dover Patrol, devised a plan to trap the German U-boats by blocking their access to the North Sea at Zeebrugge and Ostend.  Zeebrugge Mole provided shelter for U-boats in the harbour and protected access to their inland base.  The plan called for Marines and demolition parties to attack the mole while three British ships were deliberately sunk in the harbour to block U-boat access.

The Iris assisted the main raiding ship HMS Vindictive.  The raid was only partially successful, with British casualties of 227 dead and 356 wounded.  After the war, the Iris returned to service as a Mersey ferry, with her name changed to Royal Iris in recognition of her role at Zeebrugge.

 

The raid did not succeed in blocking the submarine canal but was hailed in Britain as a daring and courageous attack, raising public morale.  Also known as the 'St George's Day Raid' (23 April) it made a deliberate appeal to English patriotism.  Contemporary posters used the name of the 'Vindictive' as a powerful rallying cry; a symbol of undaunted British spirit. 

Artist Charles John De Lacy has chosen to show the dramatic moment when British troops land from HMS 'Vindictive' to storm the mole, while troops on the ferryboats 'Iris' and 'Daffodil' are poised to follow.   De Lacy's high drama and academic approach illustrates the popular appeal of the raid which restored public confidence in the might of the British Navy.

In the selection of the Men to receive the Victoria Cross Rule thirteen was not strictly adhered to.  It is believed that it was the intention to award one of these awards and it is clear that only one ballot took place.  The evidence being the results of the vote by the members of the 4th Battalion.  Two men were awarded the Victoria Cross in a ballot held on the 26th April at the Royal Marine Depot at Deal.  The ballot contained both Officers and Men of the 4th Battalion, contravening Rule 13 of The Royal Warrant for the Victoria Cross, dated the 29th of January 1856.  The ballot results, included the names of both officers and men. The two VCs being awarded to Sergeant Norman Finch with 91 votes and Captain Edward Bamford with having 34 Votes then crossed out and adding 64 Votes. The reasons for the alterations are not explained.

 

Captain Alfred Francis Blakely Carpenter VC
Lieut. Richard Sanford VC
Lt.-Commander Percy Thompson Dean VC
Lt.-Commander George Nicholson Bradford VC (posthumous) 
Major Edward Bramford VC
Sergt. Norman Augustus Finch VC
Able Seaman Albert Edward McKenzie VC
Lt.-Commander Arthur Harrison VC (posthumous)

 

The account of Captain Edward Bamford of the Royal Marines Light Infantry was that on the night of the 22nd and 23rd of April 1918, St. George's Day, from HMS Vindictive, he landed, under great difficulty in the darkness. on the Mole with three platoons of Royal Marines In the face of intensive enemy fire he led the Company with great disregard for personal danger; setting a magnificent example to his men. When he was satisfied with the safe establishment of the first strong point, he then led his men in an assault on an enemy battery on the left Captain Bamford was born in London on the 28 May 1887. He died in Shanghai, China, at the young age of 41 on 29 September 1928. He held three other honours, Legion d'Honneur (France); Order of St. Anne, third class, (Russia.); Order of the Rising Sun, Fourth Class (Japan.)

 

The account of Sergeant Finch, of the Royal Marine Artillery, tells us that on the 22 and 23 of April 1918,
Sergeant Finch was the second in command of the pom-pom and Lewis gun in the foretop of HMS Vindictive. During one period, the Vindictive sustained hits every few seconds. The officer in command and Finch kept up a perpetual flow of fire. Two heavy enemy shells hit them directly on the foretop; killing or disabling the others. Severely wounded himself, Sergeant Finch kept harassing the enemy, entrenched on the Mole, from his battered and exposed position. Another direct hit finally put the rest of the armament out of action. Sergeant Finch, later to become a Lieutenant, was born in Handsworth, Birmingham on Boxing Day 1890. He was a Sergeant-Major in the Queen's Bodyguard of Yeoman of the Guard in 1961.

His VC was Gazetted on the 23 of July 1918. He died in Portsmouth, Hampshire on 15 March 1966 and was cremated at Porchester. His ashes were transferred to Southampton and from there the trail ends. His only known memorial is at the Eastney Barracks, Royal Marines Museum, Southsea.

 

Only twenty-three men and two officers initially faced the assault.  Kaptainleutnant der Reserve Schütte (Iron Cross), commander of the battery was on the Mole at Zeebrugge with 2nd in command Oberleutnant Adolf Rodewald (Iron Cross).  He, along with Leutnant Zimmermann led a handful of men in a counter attack against elements of the British landing party who were attempting to capture and knock out the mole battery guns. Leutnant Zimmerman (Iron Cross) and Oberleutant Adolf Rodewald (Iron Cross) of the 1st Marine-Artillerie Regiment led the Sturmabteilung (literally Storm Detachment).  

 

Fighting with super-human ferocity,  Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes estimated the German defenders numbered over 1,000.  Gruppe Rodewald had formed into fighting sections.  With additional men of the Kaierliche Marine emerging from a bunker, including Torpedo-Obermatrose Hermann Künne of Torpedoboot S 53 who attacked a British officer armed with a revolver and cutlass.  Künne had a cutlass of his own, slashed the officer in the neck, and received a mortal blow in return.  Both lay dead within a few feet of each other on the quayside.  The Second World War German destroyer Z19 was named Hermann Künne in his honour.  Hand-to-hand fighting continued.  After only twenty five minutes, the Germans were firmly in control.  

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