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Wing Commander Frank Arthur Brock

Frank Arthur Brock (29 June 1888 – 23 April 1918) was a British First World War Royal Air Force Officer who devised and executed the smoke screen used during the Zeebrugge Raid on 23 April 1918, the British Royal Navy's attempt to neutralize the key Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge.

Background[]

Brock was born in Cheam, Surrey, the son of Arthur Brock of Haredon Sutton, Surrey, of the famous C.T. Brock & Co. fireworks manufacturers.[1][2] He was educated at Dulwich College[3] where he blew up a stove in his form room.[4] Frank Brock went into the family business in 1901 (later becoming a director) where he remained until the outbreak of the First World War.[5]

He originally obtained a commission in the Royal Artillery but was within a month loaned to the Royal Naval Air Service to which he transferred, becoming a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Lieutenant on 31 December 1914.[6] He was a member of the Admiralty Board of Inventions and Research and had founded, organized and commanded the Royal Navy Experimental Station at Stratford.[7]

Among his many developments were the following:[7]

  • The Dover Flare - used in anti-submarine warfare.
  • The Brock Colour Filter
  • The Brock Bullet (or Brock Incendiary Bullet or Brock Anti-Zeppelin Bullet) - the first German airship to be shot down was destroyed by this bullet).

By the time the Royal Naval Air Service merged with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, Brock had risen to the rank of Wing Commander and had been awarded the O.B.E. for services to king and country.

Zeebrugge Raid[]

On the night of 22–23 April 1918, the Zeebrugge Raid began when an armada of British sailors and marines led by the old cruiser, HMS Vindictive, attacked the Mole at Zeebrugge, Belgium, in order to negate the serious threat to Allied shipping, that was being posed by the port being used by the Imperial German Navy as a base for their U-boats and light shipping. Brock brought on board with him a box marked 'Highly Explosive, Do Not Open' which actually contained bottles of vintage port which were drunk by his men.[8] For the attack, Brock was in charge of the massive smoke screens that were to cover the approach of the raiding party:

Brock's new and improved smokescreen, or "artificial fog" as he preferred to call it, was ingenious. Essentially, a chemical mixture was injected directly under pressure into the hot exhausts of the motor torpedo boats and other small craft or the hot interior surface of the funnels of destroyers. The larger ships each had welded iron contraptions, in the region of ten feet in height, hastily assembled at Chatham. These were fed with solid cakes of phosphide of calcium. Dropped into a bucket-like container full of water, the resulting smoke and flames roared up a chimney and were dispersed by a windmill arrangement. It was more toxic than its predecessor. Taking in a lungful was an extremely unpleasant experience.[9]

At Zeebrugge, Brock, anxious to discover the secret of the German system of sound-ranging, begged permission to go ashore, not content to watch the action from an observation ship. He joined a storming party on the Mole and was killed in action.[10]

He is commemorated by a special memorial at the Zeebrugge Memorial [11] because his body was never recovered. The Zeebrugge Memorial commemorates three officers and one mechanic of the Royal Navy who died on the mole at Zeebrugge and have no known grave. The memorial stands in Zeebrugge Churchyard where 30 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated. 17 of the burials are unidentified but a special memorial commemorates the officer of the Royal Naval Air Service known to be buried among them.[12]

Henry Major Tomlinson wrote of Wing Commander Brock: A first-rate pilot and excellent shot, Commander Brock was a typical English sportsman; and his subsequent death during the operations, for whose success he had been so largely responsible, was a loss of the gravest description to both the Navy and the empire.[13]

References[]

  1. Alan St. Hill Brock, (1922), Pyrotechnics: The History and Art of Firework Making, (D. O'Connor:Great Russell Street, London)
  2. Warner, Philip, (1978) The Zeebrugge Raid, page 29, (William Kimber:London)
  3. Hodges, S, (1981), God's Gift: A Living History of Dulwich College, page 101, (Heinemann: London)
  4. John M. Bourne, (2001), Who's Who in World War One, page 28, (Routledge:London)
  5. Alan St. Hill Brock, (1922), Pyrotechnics: The History and Art of Firework Making, page 166, (D. O'Connor:Great Russell Street, London)
  6. O'Connor, M. Airfields & Airmen of the Channel Coast. Pen & Sword Military, 2005. p.52 ISBN 1-84415-258-8
  7. 7.0 7.1 John M. Bourne, (2001), Who's Who in World War One, page 38, (Routledge:London)
  8. John M. Bourne, (2001), Who's Who in World War One, page 39, (Routledge:London)
  9. Lake, Deborah, (2002) The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids 1918, (Leo Cooper:Barnsley)
  10. Cecil Faber Aspinall--Oglander, (1951), Roger Keyes: Being the Biography of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Keyes of Zeebrugge and Dover, page 246, (Hogarth Press)
  11. Commonwealth War Graves Commission BROCK, FRANK ARTHUR
  12. Commonwealth War Graves Commission ZEEBRUGGE MEMORIAL
  13. Henry Major Tomlinson, (1930), Great Sea Stories of All Nations, page 369, (G.G. Harrap & co. ltd:London)

14. Harry Smee, (2020), Gun Powder and Glory, (Casemate).

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