Military Wiki
Zeebrugge Raid
Part of the First World War
Zeebrugge raid.png
Diagram of Zeebrugge harbour after the raid
Date23 April 1918
LocationZeebrugge, Belgium
51°21′28.66″N 3°11′50.64″E / 51.3579611°N 3.1974°E / 51.3579611; 3.1974Coordinates: 51°21′28.66″N 3°11′50.64″E / 51.3579611°N 3.1974°E / 51.3579611; 3.1974
Result Indecisive
 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland  German Empire
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Admiral Sir John Jellicoe
United Kingdom Roger Keyes
United Kingdom Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon
German Empire Admiral L. von Schröder
75 ships
1,700 men
Casualties and losses
227 dead
356 wounded
1 destroyer sunk
8 dead
16 wounded

The Zeebrugge Raid, which took place on 23 April 1918, was an attempt by the British Royal Navy to block the Belgian port of Bruges-Zeebrugge. The British intended to sink older British ships in the canal entrance, to prevent German vessels from leaving port. The port was used by the Imperial German Navy as a base for U-boats and light shipping, which were a threat to Allied shipping, especially in the English Channel.


A raid on Zeebrugge was initially studied in detail by Vice Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, Commander of the Dover Patrol, as early as 1915. The raid was formally proposed at the Admiralty in 1917 by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe but was not authorised until Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes adapted Bacon's plan for a blocking operation, which would make it difficult for German ships and submarines to leave the port. The raid was formally approved by the British Admiralty in February 1918 and launched two months later, consisting of 75 volunteer ships and 200 soldiers.[1]


The cruisers involved in the blockade—including HMS Vindictive—were equipped in Chatham, an operation which involved over 2,000 workers for the special fitting out and stripping out (in the case of the ships to be sunk) of unnecessary equipment, including their masts. Iris, Daffodil and the submarines were fitted out in Portsmouth. The fleet made its rendezvous at Swin Deep, about 8 mi (7.0 nmi; 13 km) south of Clacton. Almost none of the participants were aware of their target.[2]

The first opportunity for the raid was early April 1918 and on 2 April the fleet sailed and Zeebrugge was bombed by 65 Squadron from Dunkirk. The success of the raid depended upon smoke screens, to protect the British ships from the fire of German coastal artillery but the wind direction was unfavourable and the attack was called off. Zeebrugge was visible to the fleet and the fleet to the Germans in Zeebrugge. Seventy-seven ships of all sizes, some with their lights already switched off, had to make a sharp turn to the west to return to their bases.[3]

The raid

Graphic depiction of the raid from Popular Science Magazine July 1918

On 23 April a second attempt was made, in conjunction with a raid on the neighbouring harbour of Ostend. The raid began with a diversion against the mile-long Zeebrugge mole. The attack was led by an old cruiser, Vindictive, with two Mersey ferries, Daffodil and Iris II. The three ships were accompanied by two old submarines, which were filled with explosives to blow up the viaduct connecting the mole to the shore. Vindictive was to land a force of 200 Royal Marines at the entrance to the Bruges Canal to destroy German gun positions. At the time of the landing the wind changed and the smoke-screen to cover the ship was blown offshore. The marines immediately came under heavy fire and suffered many casualties. Vindictive was spotted by German gun positions and forced to land in the wrong location, resulting in the loss of the marines' heavy gun support. Eventually the submarine HMS C3 commanded by Lt. R. D. Sandford, destroyed the viaduct by explosion. Sandford was awarded the Victoria Cross for this action.[4]

The attempt to sink three old cruisers, to block the flow of traffic in and out of the Port of Bruges-Zeebrugge failed. The failure of the attack on the Zeebrugge mole resulted in heavy German fire on the three blocking ships, HMS Thetis, Intrepid and Iphigenia, which were filled with concrete. Thetis did not make it to the canal entrance, after it hit an obstruction and was scuttled prematurely. The two other ships were sunk at the narrowest point of the canal.[5] The submarines C1 under Lieut. A.C Newbold and C3 under Lieut. R.D. Sandford were old, each with a volunteer crew of one other officer and four ratings. They had five tons of amatol packed into their fore-ends and were to be driven into the viaduct and then blown up, to prevent reinforcement of the German garrison on the mole.[6] The crews were to abandon their submarines shortly before the collision with the viaduct, leaving the submarines to steer themselves automatically but during the passage from Dover, C1 parted with her tow and arrived too late to take part in the operation.[7][Note 1]



Obstructed channel after the Zeebrugge Raid

The blockships were not in the correct position when sunk and only managed to block the canal for a few days. The Germans removed two piers in the western bank of the canal near the blockships and dredged a channel through the silt near the blockships' sterns. The Germans were then able to move submarines along the channel past the blockships at high tide.[8] Bacon wrote in 1931 that the operational failures were due in part to the recently appointed Keyes (an Admiralty man) changing the plans made by Bacon, a seagoing Commander with intimate knowledge of the tidal and navigational conditions in the Ostend and Zeebrugge area.[9]


The Zeebrugge Raid was promoted by Allied propaganda as a British victory and resulted in the awarding of eight Victoria Crosses. Of the 1,700 men involved in the operation, Wise recorded 300 were wounded and more than 200 killed.[10] Kendall gave figures of 227 dead and 356 wounded.[11] One destroyer was sunk. Among the dead was Wing Commander Frank Arthur Brock, the man who devised and commanded the operation of the smoke screen. Some of the casualties were buried in England, either because they died of their wounds en route or because their comrades had recovered their bodies with the intention of repatriating their remains. Two men were buried in the Hamilton Road Cemetery, Deal, Kent. At least nine men were buried in the St. James's Cemetery, Dover.[12] German casualties were eight dead and sixteen wounded.[13]


On 23 April 1964, some of the 46 survivors of the raid, families, the mayor of Deal and a large Royal Marines Honour Guard held a service of commemoration for their fallen comrades at the Royal Marines Barracks in Deal; a tree was planted near the officers' quarters in remembrance. A message from Winston Churchill to the ex-servicemen was read to those assembled and the event was reported in The Deal, Walmer and Sandwich Mercury newspaper on 23 and 30 April 1964.[citation needed] In Dover there are two memorials, the Zeebrugge Bell with memorial plaque in the Town Hall, given to Dover by the King of the Belgians in 1918 and the Zeebrugge Memorial in St James's Cemetery, where a regular memorial service is held.[14][15]

See also


  1. Submarine C3: Lieutenant R. D. Sandford, R.N. Wounded, Lieutenant J. Howell Price, D.S.C., R.N.R. Coxswain, Petty-Officer W. Harner, O.N. 228795 Wounded, E.R.A. A. G. Roxburgh, O.N. 272242, Leading Seaman W.G. Mayer, On.N. 22196, Stoker 1., H. C. Bindall, O.N. K5343 Wounded. Submarine C1: Lieutenant A.C. Newbold, R.N., Lieutenant S.A. Bayford, D.S.C., R.N.R., Petty-Officer H. G. Jones, L.T.O., O.N. 17 994, Petty Officer G. T. Newman, O.N. 213236 Coxswain, E.R.A. W. H. R. Coward, O.N. 1495, Stoker Petty-Officer F. J. Smith, O.N. 299134.[citation needed]


  1. Newbolt 1931, pp. 241–243.
  2. Newbolt 1931, pp. 244–249.
  3. Newbolt 1931, pp. 251–252.
  4. Newbolt 1931, pp. 252–261.
  5. Newbolt 1931, pp. 261–262.
  6. Newbolt 1931, p. 245.
  7. Newbolt 1931, p. 260.
  8. Newbolt 1931, p. 265.
  9. Bacon 1932, pp. 161–166, 223–227.
  10. Wise 1980, p. 205.
  11. Kendall 2009, p. 11.
  12. CWGC 2010, p. a.
  13. Karau 2003, p. 210.
  14. IWM 1918, p. a.
  15. IWM 1918, p. b.
  16. Kendall 2009, p. 256.


Further reading

External links

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