By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Blocking of Zeebrugge
Author: Carpenter, Alfred F. B.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Blocking of Zeebrugge" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Frontispiece: STORMING THE MOLE.  _Drawn by Charles De Lacy from
details supplied by the Author_]







  The Riverside Press Cambridge



  The Riverside Press






In appreciating the military reasons which directed the operations
connected with the blocking of Zeebrugge, it is desirable to recall to
mind the general naval situation at the beginning of 1918.

Briefly stated, the German High Seas Fleet was contained within the
waters of the Heligoland Bight by the British Grand Fleet, whilst
German submarines were engaged on vast operations, having for their
object the stoppage of the trade of Great Britain, and interference
with our lines of communication.

In the face of such an attack, the aim of Great Britain was either to
destroy the enemy submarines, or, failing destruction, to prevent their
egress from their bases.  Convoy operations, patrol operations, and
mining operations in all seas were carried out to achieve the former
aim, and accomplished great results.

But enemy submarines continued to be built almost as rapidly as they
were destroyed.  It was essential, therefore, to take what measures
were possible to render useless their bases and interfere with their
freedom of exit, and it was with this military object that plans for
the blocking of Zeebrugge were initiated.

Emphasis has been laid on the military reason which underlay this
operation, because an erroneous impression has existed in some quarters
that the Zeebrugge operations were more in the nature of an offensive
designed to lower the morale of the enemy and enhance that of the
British Navy, which, as a whole, had little opportunity of coming to
grips with the enemy.


Whilst these moral results undoubtedly were felt after the operation,
they were not the military reasons, reasons alone which justified so
complex and difficult an undertaking, reasons which were never lost
sight of during the planning and carrying out of the operations.

The plan was surely laid; simple in general design, details were worked
out with foresight and exactitude.  The factors of surprise,
mystification, and diversion were utilised to the utmost.  The
resources of science were given full scope.  Training to carry out the
plan proceeded with energy and understanding, co-ordination and
co-operation being apparent throughout.  It was carried out with

In Captain Carpenter's book we are let into the full secret, and are
led step by step through the various phases referred to above, which
were to be crowned by the glorious achievement of St. George's Day,
1918.  His pages bring out once again the moral and military virtues of
the British Navy, Officers and Men.  They demonstrate that the spirit
which existed in our Naval Wars of past centuries, wars which laid the
foundation of the Empire, remains undiminished in the naval personnel
of to-day.

It is for us to ensure that these glorious traditions are understood by
all, and in being understood are handed on to those who come after us.
This book, in placing on record the matchless qualities displayed by
all concerned in the blocking of Zeebrugge, I welcome for this purpose.

  _Admiral of the Fleet_
  19_th July_, 1921




C'est dans un sentiment de solidarité que s'est réalisée l'union des
Alliés, en 1914, quand la cause de la Civilisation s'est trouvée

A tous les moments critiques de la guerre, l'union s'est ainsi
resserrée devant le danger, et lorsqu'il s'est agi de fermer un des
repaires d'où les sousmarins ennemis menaçaient les communications
vitales des Alliés, dans une manoeuvre splendide, avec un esprit commun
de sacrifice absolu, le port de Zeebrugge a été attaqué et
definitivement fermé.

Le Commandant du _Vindictive_ a tenu à rappeler les détails de
l'opération dans laquelle il a joué un rôle si brillant, et son livre
constituera un précieux enseignement et donnera aux générations futures
un exemple splendide.[1]


[1] When in 1914 the cause of civilisation was menaced, it was the
instinct of solidarity that brought about the Union of the Allies.

At every critical moment of the war, in the face of peril, this bond
was renewed; and when it became a question of closing one of the lairs
from which the enemy submarines threatened the vital communications of
the Allies, the port of Zeebrugge was attacked and closed once and for
all by a superb manoeuvre involving a common spirit of supreme

The Captain of the _Vindictive_ has undertaken to tell in detail the
story of the action in which he played so brilliant a part, and his
book will afford a valuable record and set forth a fine example to
future generations.




Few incidents of the Great War had a greater influence in inspiring
enthusiasm in the fighting forces and increasing their morale than the
successful attack upon Zeebrugge; and it will long remain as an example
of what can be accomplished by the thorough co-ordination of the
elements of a sound plan with the various limiting conditions of place,
time, state of sea and air, and the material equipment suitable and

The reader of this volume will at once be struck by the painstaking
care with which it was necessary that each detail be worked out, and
each unit assigned its particular task to be executed at a specified
time and place.  Also that the amount of detail was necessarily so
great, and their dependence one upon another so vital to ultimate
success, that the whole may be compared to a complicated mechanism so
designed to meet peculiar conditions that the failure of any part--any
unit or group--or a material change in any of the conditions, would
have deranged essential elements of the plan and might have jeopardised
the success of the expedition.

But the principal lesson to be learned from the attack is not so much
the thoroughness of the preparation and training and the efficiency of
the weapons, essential as they of course were, as it is the influence
of the spirit and the initiative and loyalty of the {xii} personnel
that carried it out.  These elements supplied the "steam," the
flexibility, and the lubrication that ensured the harmonious working of
the whole mechanism of which they were the soul.  The basic principle
was the splendid morale of the personnel inspired by the high character
of its leaders.

Apart from the great interest of this narrative to the laymen, as a
military exploit of the most brilliant character, and an inspiring
story of heroism in war, it will always prove of great value to those
military men of both branches of the service who realise the tremendous
influence of the morale of their forces--the confidence in the ability
of the leader which encourages initiative and inspires the highest type
of loyalty.




  (_Burgomaster of Bruges_)

Ainsi que tous mes concitoyens j'ai appris avec une grande satisfaction
que la fameuse attaque de Zeebrugge par le _Vindictive_ allait faire le
sujet d'un livre publié prochainement par Capitaine Alfred F. B.
Carpenter, un des héros qui ont pris une part glorieuse à cet exploit.

Cette entreprise de la Marine de Guerre Anglaise a été assurément une
des faits de guerre les plus extraordinaires des temps anciens et
modernes.  Elle a été accompliée avec une énergie et une audace qui a
déjoué toutes les prévisions des Allemands.

Ainsi en dépit de toutes les difficultés, de tous les dangers, et de
pertes cruelles, l'assaut prodigieux du mole a jeté l'épouvante parmi
les ennemis et en même temps le _Vindictive_ et les bateaux qui le
suivaient ont embouteillé dans leur repaire les abominables U.B.

La cannonade entendue à Bruges nous avait déjà donné l'éveil et bientôt
les rumeurs que les Allemands n'avaient pu intercepter et la
consternation qu'ils tentaient vainement de dissimuler nous ont appris
que l'Angleterre avait frappé un grand coup.  Un tel événement releva
tous nos courages.

Nous espérons qu'à Zeebrugge, sur le territoire de Bruges, un
magnifique monument immortalisera ce fait inoui, mais c'est avec le
plus grand intérêt que nous connaîtrons par le livre de Capitaine
Carpenter toutes les circonstances de cette histoire héroïque et {xiv}
les noms des hommes qui ont donné une nouvelle gloire à la Marine

  _Bourgemestre de Bruges_

[2] It was with great satisfaction that I and all my fellow citizens
learned that the famous attack on Zeebrugge by the _Vindictive_ was to
be the subject of a book, to be published in the near future, written
by Captain Alfred F. B. Carpenter, one of the heroes who took a
glorious part in that exploit.

This enterprise of the British Navy was assuredly one of the most
extraordinary feats of war in both ancient and modern times.  It was
accomplished with such energy and audacity as to baffle all the German

In spite of all the difficulties, dangers, and cruel losses, the
wonderful assault on the mole created consternation amongst the enemy;
and the ships which followed the _Vindictive_ bottled up the abominable
submarines in their base.

The sound of heavy firing heard in Bruges had already warned us; later,
the receipt of rumours which the Germans had been unable to intercept,
and their consternation which they were vainly endeavouring to conceal,
proved to us that England had struck a mighty blow.  Such an event
renewed our courage.

We hope that at Zeebrugge, which is within the territory of Bruges, a
magnificent memorial will eventually immortalise this unprecedented
action, and it is with the greatest interest that we shall learn from
Captain Carpenter's book all the circumstances of this heroic episode
and the names of the men who added this new glory to the British Navy.



As a result of having delivered many lectures, under official auspices
and in compliance with private invitations, on "The Blocking of
Zeebrugge," the author has received several requests to record the
story in more permanent form.  Underlying these requests there appears
to be a feeling that first-hand accounts of enterprises in the Great
War should be of some value towards preserving that spirit which
rallied all classes of individuals in the British Empire, in the Allied
Countries, and in the United States of America, to the common cause of
upholding civilisation in the face of danger.  That opinion, indeed,
has been openly stated to the author in Great Britain, by leading
members of the educational profession and of the Church, by naval and
military officers and others.  Opinions of a similar type also have
been received from the United States, where, during a recent series of
visits to many of the larger cities, the author personally experienced
that solid friendship for Great Britain which is sometimes hidden
beneath surface irritations of a political nature.

Misunderstandings must occasionally arise between communities and
between the members of any single community; they readily take root and
develop into serious argument where the existence of a _common cause_
is forgotten.  For that reason the author feels that the
above-mentioned opinions are not without foundation.  Whilst attempting
to show that co-operation between the several units of a fighting force
{xvi} and confidence between superiors and subordinates are important
factors towards success in war, he has made this humble endeavour to
induce the belief that co-operation and confidence in other walks of
life are no less necessary.

There is danger of this blocking enterprise being allotted a false
position in the contemporary histories of the late war owing to the
somewhat prevalent custom of describing war operations with little
reference to the various considerations, factors, and events which gave
them birth.

The man-in-the-street is sometimes carried away by enthusiasm or
despondency, as the case may be, when unexpected events occur during
hostilities; he is apt to give little thought to the "why" and
"wherefore" of the occurrences.  That fact has been exemplified clearly
enough with respect to this particular event, for, on all sides, one
heard the public verdict, given in the colloquial vulgarism of the
period, that the affair was a fine "stunt." The word "stunt," as
unmusical to the ear as it was offensive to those concerned in the
operations, has been defined as "a voluntary act, spectacular, usually
unnecessary, sometimes involving risk, and designed to attract
attention." However, the man-in-the-street meant well, and, after all,
could justifiably plead that his lack of education on naval matters was
to blame.  The author has therefore addressed this book to the
man-in-the-street, and has endeavoured to "put him wise," as our
cousins across the water are in the habit of remarking.

The official despatches dealing with the blocking operations on the
Flanders coast were published early {xvii} in 1919, and, as far as
despatches can go, gave a splendid account of the enterprise forming
the subject of this book.  But despatches are strictly limited in
length and necessarily deal more with cold-blooded statements of fact
than with psychological aspects.  When one reads despatches of the
great leaders of the past concerning the operations in their campaigns
one cannot fail to notice the almost complete absence of any reference
to the moral factor in war.  Yet Napoleon himself declared, "The moral
is to the physical as three is to one."  Material results can easily be
gauged under peace conditions, whereas moral effect on human nature in
war is only discoverable from one's own war experiences, which are
necessarily limited, and from the experiences of others as set forth in
the historical records of past wars.  It was partly for that reason,
presumably, that Napoleon studied the campaigns of Cæsar and Hannibal
although their instruments of war were long since out of date.

The usual reasons for the omission of the moral factors from despatches
are twofold.  Firstly, the leader from whom the despatch emanates may
consider it inadvisable to publish his preconceived ideas as to the
eventual effect of the operations on the morale of the enemy; this
concealment is especially necessary if the despatch is published before
the declaration of peace.  Secondly, the writer of the despatch is
often unaware, at the time of writing, of the effect already obtained
against the enemy's morale; such effects may not be discoverable for
many months after the operations have been concluded.  Under certain
circumstances it may also be temporarily {xviii} inadvisable to present
to the enemy, through the medium of despatches, information concerning
psychological effects on one's own personnel.  These omissions,
therefore, must not be taken to infer that the moral factors were
ignored.  It is clear, then, that post-war accounts of operations may
be far from superfluous whether considered from the point of view of
the man-in-the-street or that of the student of war.

Without some conception of the strategical situation arising from the
German occupation of the Flanders coast it would be difficult to grasp
the true nature of the enterprise described herein.  An examination of
the strategical outlook alone, however, would be insufficient.  The
geographical and hydrographical, and even the meteorological,
situations largely influenced the choice of tactical methods to be
pursued for the attainment of the object in view.  It is therefore
important to consider the situation from these various standpoints in
some detail.

The book has been divided into two parts.  Part I deals with the
Situation, the Object, the General Plan for the attainment of the
Object, the Preparatory Work involved, and the various occurrences up
to the eve of the Attack.  Part II describes the events which occurred
during the operation itself, and includes some consideration of both
the material and moral results of the enterprise and the lessons to be
drawn therefrom.

For the illustrations the author is much indebted to the Admiralty, Air
Ministry, Imperial War Museum, and Press, to whom he makes this
grateful acknowledgment.


With regard to the personal side of the story, it may be as well to
point out that many of the officers and men concerned were mentioned in
the official despatch; that fact lessens one of the difficulties
attached to the author's task.  A compromise between the purely
impersonal attitude and the very natural desire to render full justice
to each individual, regardless of the reader's patience, has been aimed

The author trusts that the reader will be tolerant of omission and
repetition, and will forgive the rather obvious shortcomings of a
literary nature which, alas, appear all too frequently in the book.

  8_th March_, 1921




    Introduction by Admiral Earl Beatty

    Appreciation by Marshal Foch

    Appreciation by Rear-Admiral Sims, U.S.N.

    Appreciation by Count Visart

    Author's Preface

I.  The Strategical Situation.  The German Bases
    in Flanders.  The Conception of the Plan

II.  The Local Situation.  The Local Defences

III.  The Outlying Obstacles.  Considerations of Salvage

IV.  Past Experience.  Smoke Screens.  The Chances of Success

V.  Planning The Operation.  Matters Affecting
    the Plan.  Attacks on the Mole

VI.  The Vessels Involved: Their Duties.  The Rescue Work

VII.  Matters affecting the Passage.  The Supporting
      Forces.  The German Sea-Forces.  The
      Preparatory Work

VIII.  The Personnel.  Secrecy.  Training.  Some Personalities

IX.  The Waiting Period.  The Volunteering Spirit

X.  Meteorological and Tidal Conditions.  Visibility

XI.  The Orders and Instructions.  The Time Factor


XII.  The First Attempt.  The Return to Harbour

XIII.  The Second Attempt and Return.  Preparing for the Third
       Attempt.  Rewriting the Orders.  German Optimism



I.  The Start.  The Oversea Passage

II. The Approach

III.  The Commencement of the Attack

IV.  The Fight on the Mole.  H.M.S. Iris

V.  The Attack on the Railway Viaduct

VI.  The Smoke Screening.  Subsidiary Attacks

VII.  The Work of the Blockships

VIII.  The Retirement

IX.  The Material Results

X.  The Moral Effect

XI.  Some Remarks on the Enterprise

Appendix.  A List of Vessels and Craft in the Operations




Storming the Mole . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_
    Drawn by Charles De Lacy from details supplied by the author

Captain Alfred F. B. Carpenter

A Portion of the German Battery on the Lighthouse
  Extension of the Mole

View of the Canal Entrance with its Curved Piers

Aerial Photograph of the Canal Entrance

The Northeastern End of the Mole

The Blockships fitting out for the Enterprise

H.M.S. Vindictive before Fitting Out

A Portion of the Broad Part of the Mole

The Outer Wall, Showing the Parapet Pathway
  Sixteen Feet Above The Floor of the Mole

H.M.S. Vindictive's Specially Constructed Gang-Ways

One of the Monitors

H.M. Ships Iris (right) and Daffodil

Lieut.-Col. Bertram N. Elliot

Lieut.-Commander Arthur L. Harrison

Wing-Commander Frank A. Brock

Captain Henry C. Halahan

Vice-Admiral Sir Roger J. B. Keyes (missing from book)

Diagrammatic Sketch of the Attack
    Drawn By Charles De Lacy From Details Supplied By The Author

H.M.S. Vindictive's Bridge and Flame-Thrower Hut (right)


The Fight on the Mole
    Drawn by Charles De Lacy from details supplied by the author

Lieut. George N. Bradford

Lieut. Claude E. K. Hawkings

Lieut. Richard D. Sandford

Commander Valentine F. Gibbs

The Railway Viaduct

Aerial Photograph taken through the Clouds a Few
  Hours after the Enterprise

The Three Blockships shortly after the Attack

Intrepid and Iphigenia

The Western Side of the Blocked Channel

The Eastern Side of the Blocked Channel

H.M.S. _Vindictive_ at Dover after the Attack

H.M.S. _Vindictive_ on her Return to Dover


Chart showing the Relative Positions of Dover,
  Zeebrugge, Heligoland, and the Exits from the North Sea

The Canal System of Belgium

The Port of Zeebrugge

Chart of Dover to Zeebrugge

Plan of Canal Entrance Channel

Sectional Sketch of Sunken Blockships

Section of the Mole through No. 3 Shed

Specimen Diagram for ascertaining Available Period








The main function of a navy in war is that of obtaining the command of
the sea.  The purpose for which such "command" is desired is the
utilisation of the sea-lines of communication and the denial of the
same to the enemy.

Soon after the commencement of the war in 1914 the sea-lines of
communication across the English Channel assumed considerable, if not
paramount, importance for the transfer of personnel and material from
Britain to the Allied forces in France.  It was equally incumbent on
the navy to maintain the trans-Atlantic and other lines of
communication along which the necessities of life and war were carried
to the Allies in all theatres of war.

[Sidenote: The Strategical Situation]

The first step towards obtaining "command of the sea" is the removal of
the obstacles which stand in one's way.  In this particular case the
main obstacle (admittedly constructed for the purpose) was the German
High Seas Fleet.  Thus the first duty of the British Grand Fleet was
that of destroying the {4} so-called High Seas Fleet, or, if
destruction was found to be impracticable, of reducing it to
inactivity.  The German Fleet was fully alive to that fact, and, almost
throughout the war, hid themselves away in their naval bases under the
protection of their coast defences.  Thus, as events showed, the High
Seas Fleet did not prove to be a very serious obstacle to our Command
of the sea; but, and this fact is easily forgotten, we could not
_foresee_ the continuance of their ineptitude and lack of spirit.  The
German submarines, however, were a formidable obstacle, indeed.  It is
unnecessary to reiterate what is already common knowledge on that point.

Submarines, by their nature, have certain limitations.  Except in the
case of the submarine cruisers, which only materialised in the latter
part of the war, such craft are considerably hampered in their
movements by their comparatively small radius of action.  Owing to the
geographical situation of Germany, her submarines were forced to expend
an important percentage of their fuel during the outward and homeward
voyages between their bases and the trade routes.  This expenditure
cannot merely be judged by the distances which had to be traversed; the
expenditure of fuel in the submarine bears some relation to the _whole
circumstances_ of the voyage.

The endurance of the personnel is another important factor, and is
similarly affected by the circumstances under which they are employed.
For instance, in waters patrolled by enemy vessels, high speed must
always be readily available and the strain on the personnel, consequent
on the danger of sudden attack from surface craft, aircraft, or other
submarines, {5} to say nothing of the presence of mine-fields, is
increased.  Thus the longer the passage that the German submarines were
forced to undertake in comparatively narrow and dangerous waters--such
as the North Sea--the less work could they do on our more important
trade routes.  That statement is closely connected with the subject of
this book.

It did not require very much intelligence on the part of the German
Admiralty to realise that the possession of bases on the Flanders coast
would greatly facilitate their submarine campaign owing to the
consequent reduction of the voyages to and from the trans-Atlantic, or
Channel, trade routes.  Flanders was therefore used, as will be
explained later in detail, to provide advanced bases for German

The coast of Flanders lent itself to other naval uses.  In addition to
the _guerre-de-course_ tactics of the enemy--i.e., the direct attack on
Allied merchant vessels--it was always open to Germany to take their
whole main fleet to sea for the purpose of seeking advantageous
conditions for bringing a portion of our Grand Fleet to action.

Movements of modern fleets under war conditions necessitate the use of
various types of small craft to precede them--e.g., mine-sweepers for
clearing channels for the fleet to pass through, destroyers for
supporting the mine-sweepers and for driving back the enemy's small
craft, light cruisers for scouting purposes, etc.  Mine-sweepers and
torpedo craft, by virtue of their small size, are unable to keep the
sea for long periods.  It will therefore be realised that, in the event
of the High Seas Fleet putting to sea for operations in southern
waters, the Flanders coast provided {6} Germany with an advanced base
from which their light craft could operate.

The German torpedo craft based in Flanders, therefore, would be able to
serve a double purpose, viz., that already mentioned and that of
attacking our patrol craft, our coast and our merchant vessels when
opportunity offered.  The mine-sweepers could also serve a double
purpose in that they were required to sweep channels for the ingress
and egress of submarines based in Flanders whilst being suitably placed
for sweeping duties in advance of the main fleet.  That Flanders was
also suitable for aircraft bases is as well known as it is obvious; but
it may not be generally understood that such aircraft would also be of
special value to the main fleet under the conditions stated above.
Thus, to sum up, the occupation of the Flanders coast by the German sea
forces would be of treble value--to provide, firstly, a base for the
submarines employed on commerce destruction; secondly, a base for the
advanced flotillas and aircraft operating in conjunction with the main
fleet in the event of the latter coming south; and, thirdly, a base
from which to attack our southern coasts or sea-patrols and from which
to indulge in air raids against British and French territory.

The foregoing consideration of the possible uses of Flanders to the
German Navy shows the inherent value of an advanced base in that
locality; the intrinsic value obviously depended upon the existence of
suitable harbours for use as bases.  Let us now examine the
geographical situation.


In the latter part of 1917 the Flanders coast, as far westward as
Nieuport, was in the possession of the {7} Germans.  The northern
extremity of the line separating the German and Allied armies was
situated approximately on the Yser Canal, which emanates from Nieuport
harbour.  The latter was dominated by the gun-fire of both armies; its
use was, therefore, denied to both.  The only other harbours on the
coast of Flanders were Ostende, Blankenberghe, and Zeebrugge.  These
will be described in some detail presently.

[Sidenote: The Flanders Coast]

The Flanders coast consists mainly of flat country barely elevated
above the level of the sea.  Sand-hills along the shore act as a
barrier between the sea and the land.  Parallel to the shore the tidal
current runs to and fro with considerable velocity.  The tendency for
the tidal current to wash away the sand from the shore is partially
countered by the use of groynes, such as are similarly used to maintain
our own coastline in many parts of England.  Although the groynes on
the Flanders coast are carried well out into the sea--they are often
100 yards in length--the movement of sand along the coast is very
considerable, and, as will be explained later, has a strong influence
on the harbour situation in that locality.

The approaches to the coast are beset with shoals reaching to a
distance of eight miles from the land.  These shoals have always
provided serious obstacles to navigation.  During times of peace the
charts of this locality had been kept corrected by virtue of continual
surveying.  The shoals were frequently moving and new shoals appeared
from time to time.  The channels required almost constant dredging.
For obvious reasons during the occupation of Flanders by the Germans it
was not possible for the Allies to continue either the surveying or the


Before the war navigation off this coast required the use of many
facilities such as buoys and lighthouses.  At the best of times buoys
are not very dependable as navigational aids owing to their tendency to
break away in heavy weather or to drag their anchors along the bottom.
Their positions need to be "fixed" from time to time by means of angles
to shore objects, or by methods of astronomical observation, and then
compared with the positions shown on the charts.  Lighthouses, however,
unless they are of the small type without lighthouse-keepers, are more
efficient aids to the navigator.  During the war the lighthouses east
of Nieuport were only used by the Germans during short periods when
specially required for their own craft; the majority of the buoys were
withdrawn and the remainder were moved to new positions which were
frequently altered to prevent the Allies from making use of them.
Thus, during the war, the charts available to the Allies were very soon
obsolete; no others were obtainable.  Navigation off the Flanders
coast, for Allied vessels of any size, therefore, became decidedly

The tides on the coasts, in addition to running alternately eastward
and westward with considerable velocity, also caused large differences
in sea-level amounting to fifteen feet between the highest and lowest
states of the tide.

[Sidenote: The Canal System]

Mention has already been made that the only harbours on the coast
eastward of Nieuport were situated at Ostende, Blankenberghe, and
Zeebrugge.  But these were not natural harbours.  They had been
artificially cut out of the coast-line by means of {9} dredging.  The
entrance channels were preserved by piers built out into the sea and by
dredging operations designed to retain the desired depths of water.


Ostende, before the war, had been much used as a commercial harbour,
and was therefore provided with numerous wharves, basins, and docks.
It was a suitable harbour for all classes of submarines and torpedo
craft.  Blankenberghe was a little harbour about nine miles east of
Ostende and three miles west of Zeebrugge.  Its depth was exceedingly
small; it could, therefore, only be used for shallow draught vessels
such as fishing boats, motor boats, and the like.  It was true that the
rise of tide, amounting to approximately fifteen feet, would enable
larger vessels to enter or leave near the time of high water, but any
naval vessel stationed in a harbour from which it can only proceed to
sea during a limited portion of the twenty-four hours at once loses
much of its value.  Zeebrugge could accommodate vessels up to a
considerable size: the harbour works and depths will be described in
detail presently.  Although these three places provided the only
harbours on the coast, there was a harbour of great importance at
Bruges, about eight miles inland from Zeebrugge.


Bruges harbour was also entirely artificial, consisting of locks,
basins, and waterways built on the canal system.  Bruges was connected
to the sea by means of canals running to Zeebrugge and Ostende, these
canals converging on the waterways of Bruges in such a manner that
vessels of a certain limited size could pass from Ostende to Zeebrugge,
and vice versa, without actually proceeding into the open sea.  A
series of small canals also connected Bruges to Antwerp, via Ghent, but
this canal system, being only constructed to accommodate barges, did
not materially add to the value of Bruges as a harbour for sea-going

Of the three canal systems connecting at Bruges, the canal to Zeebrugge
easily held first place in importance.  This canal was built by the
Belgians.  It was commenced in 1896 and completed in 1907.  Six and a
quarter miles in length, it was almost entirely straight throughout.
It could accommodate torpedo-boat destroyers or submarines, both of the
largest size, and could, if required, have been used by light cruisers.

[Sidenote: The Harbours in Flanders]

At the seaward end of the Ostende and Zeebrugge canals, locks were
constructed so that vessels could pass from the canals to the sea, or
the reverse, at any state of the tide, without lowering the level of
the water in the canal.

The above-mentioned harbours were used for naval purposes by Germany as
follows.  Bruges was chosen as the main naval base.  Shelters for
protecting submarines from aerial attack, floating docks, repair
workshops, all the other facilities which go to make a modern dockyard
for small vessels, and the necessary stores and ammunition, were to be
found there.  The {11} number of naval craft based on Flanders appeared
to vary considerably; but, at the beginning of 1918, approximately
eighteen submarines and twenty-five destroyers or torpedo-boats would
be at Bruges on an average day.  The submarines lay in the special
shelters which were covered by roofs of reënforced concrete several
feet in thickness.  Bruges, then, was not only the dockyard but also
the resting-place of practically all the German naval craft based on

The sea exits from Bruges, as already mentioned, were situated at
Ostende and Zeebrugge.  There was some doubt, however, whether the
Bruges-Ostende canal could be used for the passage of anything larger
than very shallow draught vessels such as motor boats or barges.  The
Ostende canal was known to be narrow, tortuous, and shallow; it had
been constructed many years earlier than the Zeebrugge canal.

At Zeebrugge and Ostende a few German craft were usually stationed for
duties of an immediate nature such as mine-sweeping, patrolling, and
duties connected with the defence of the coast.  These harbours were
specially useful as taking-off places for vessels which had
concentrated in readiness for operations at sea, or as bolt-holes for
the same craft when pursued by our patrol vessels.  Both harbours were
open to bombardment from the sea; that reason, more than any other,
probably influenced the Germans to use Bruges for their main base.
Ostende, being more open to attack from the sea and air than was
Zeebrugge, was the less important harbour of the two.

Blankenberghe harbour, owing to its small size and shallow depth, was
used as a base for the German {12} armed motor boats; it is believed
that about thirty were stationed there.  This harbour, being
unconnected with the canal system, was not in direct inland
communication with Bruges by water.

In addition to the submarines and torpedo craft already mentioned, the
Germans had a large number of trawlers based on the various harbours
for mine-sweeping and patrol duties.  At Zeebrugge they had their
largest seaplane base in Flanders; another seaplane base was situated
at Ostende.

In due course Flanders had become a veritable hornet's nest.  Let us
consider for a few moments to what extent these hornets could trouble

[Sidenote: Our Lines of Communication]

Across the English Channel, and especially in its eastern portion, we
had established lines of communication of tremendous importance.  It is
no exaggeration to state that, every few _minutes_ of the day and
night, a vessel, of one sort or another, left the English shore for
France with her cargo of personnel, guns, ammunition, food or fuel,
etc.  Day after day, night after night, for months on end, a constant
stream of vessels poured across the Channel in support of the Allied
armies or on the return trip to English ports with wounded, men to whom
a welcome spell of leave had been granted, empties for refilling, motor
transport vehicles for repair, and the like.  The wounded were carried
in hospital ships; but, as the world knows and can never forget, the
Germans ruthlessly torpedoed them whenever the chance offered,
regardless of the Geneva Convention, heedless of the damnable
inhumanity of the proceeding, seeking only for opportunities for
indulging in the frightfulness which formed part of their Kultur.


All these vessels were continually open to attack, not only from
submarines but also from the surface craft and aircraft based in
Flanders.  At any chosen moment, preferably at night or during misty
days, these hornets could emanate from Ostende or Zeebrugge on their
deadly missions.  Further westward our trans-Atlantic lines of
communication offered innumerable opportunities for the German
submarine commanders to display their brutality against comparatively
defenceless merchant vessels, or to attack transports carrying
munitions of war and troops from the American Continent.  The passage
through the English Channel afforded the most direct route for German
submarines proceeding to, or returning from, their hunting-grounds.

The mercantile traffic off the southeast coast of England and in the
entrance to the Thames was also within easy reach of the German bases
in Flanders; so were our seaside resorts, such as Ramsgate and Margate,
which provided favourable opportunities for bombardments with resultant
casualty lists of innocent women and children.

Dunkerque and Calais on the French coast were the nearest seaport
objectives to the Flanders coast; they both experienced frequent aerial
attacks and an occasional bombardment from the sea.

As a counter to the German craft in Flanders the British Admiralty had
established a force known as the "Dover Patrol."  As the name implies,
this force was primarily based on Dover.  Their duties were mainly
those of protecting the transports bound across the English Channel,
preventing the German naval craft from passing through the Straits of
{14} Dover, and watching the exits from Bruges so as to obtain timely
information of concentrated German forces putting to sea.  The story of
the Dover Patrol is of intense interest, but so many pages would be
required to do it even bare justice that I can only refer the reader to
books written especially on that subject.  Suffice it to say here that,
day and night, winter and summer, fair weather and foul, the Dover
force patrolled the sea so successfully that the German attempts to use
their surface craft for attacking the Allies were few and far between.
The difficulties of preventing the submarines passing through the
Straits of Dover were immense.  We must realise that the maximum
portion of a submerged submarine visible above water amounts to a
periscope of a few inches in diameter.  Compare that dimension to the
width of the Strait which at its narrowest part is twenty miles.  _A
few inches in twenty miles_--if I have calculated aright that means
that the visible portion of the submarine would cover little more than
_one-millionth_ part of the surface between Dover and Cape Grisnez.
And when we also realise that the periscope would only be raised above
water for a few seconds at long intervals we shall begin to understand
the difficulty of the problem.  Yet, as we know now, the Dover Patrol
force, under the direction of Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, eventually
rendered the passage through the Straits to all intents and purposes
impossible for a submarine.  All honour to the Dover Patrol!

[Sidenote: The Dover Patrol]

A point which, until recently, unaccountably seemed to have escaped
notice was that the work of the Dover Patrol was carried out on behalf
of all the {15} Allies and of the United States.  It was not a British
force acting solely in British interests.  Though it is difficult, and
perhaps invidious, to apportion the credit for protecting the Allied
lines of communication, yet there is no shadow of doubt that the troops
from Canada and from the United States of America owed to the Dover
Patrol force a tremendous debt of gratitude for their safe passage
overseas.  Recognition of this fact has since been shown by the
erection at New York, and on the French coast, of memorials to the
Dover Patrol.  When the late war has faded into history, and those of
us who took part have long since "gone west," such memorials will
remain to bear witness to the splendid sacrifice and unselfish
gallantry of those hardy seamen who did their utmost to uphold the
honour of civilisation and to destroy the forces working for its
overthrow.  (This opportunity of acknowledging the success of their
extremely arduous efforts, humble and brief though the acknowledgment
may be, partially counterbalances my regrets at not having had the
chance of serving with the "Dover Patrol" except on the occasion which
this book is designed to describe.)

[Illustration: CAPTAIN ALFRED F. B. CARPENTER, V.C., R.N.]

The final closing of the Straits, however, was far from accomplished by
the spring of 1918.  At that time we had reason to believe that a large
percentage of the total Allied losses in merchant ships was caused by
the Flanders submarines, and that the percentage was on the increase.

Now patrol work of the type described above is essentially defensive in
its nature.  This statement is not intended to imply that the Dover
Patrol force were always employed on defensive tactics; such was {16}
by no means the case.  Our monitors frequently bombarded the coast
defences and the harbour works at Ostende and Zeebrugge; our motor
boats were continually patrolling close off the three coast harbours,
watching for opportunities to torpedo any German vessels which ventured
to sea; our mine-laying craft were employed, night after night, in
laying mines to the detriment of the German submarines.  But from time
to time various suggestions had been made that we should adopt still
more offensive measures against the enemy.  It is a very simple matter
to make suggestions, but by no means so simple to accompany them with a
reasoned statement, based on logical deduction, which will _convince
the authorities_ of their value.  Until a particular Plan has been put
into execution it may, in the literal sense, be rightly designated a
"paper scheme."  It is both unreasonable and unfair to attach a
derogatory sense to the term.  It is equally unreasonable for authors
of schemes which have not passed the paper stage to belittle operations
when the latter, based on schemes which differed from their own, have
actually taken place with successful results.

[Sidenote: Paper Schemes]

Whatever suggestions were made, it is clear that there could be only
two radical methods of attaining our object.  The most satisfactory, of
course, would have been the recapture of the Flanders coast and of
Bruges, with all the hornets in their nests, by means of military
operations.  Unfortunately that was impracticable; the Allied armies
were not yet sufficiently strong.  The only alternative to capture of
the craft in their harbours was that of preventing them putting to
sea--i.e., destroying or blocking {17} their exits.  Several schemes
for blocking operations had been proposed.  In tactical method they had
varied from blowing up the harbour entrances, as suggested by the
Halifax disaster, to "building in" the entrances under cover of poison
gas.  Whether such methods were considered too risky, too expensive, or
too hopelessly fantastic is more than the author of this book knows.

An attack on Zeebrugge had been strongly advocated by an eminent flag
officer in November, 1916, but no details were given by him as to the
nature of the operation.  In May, 1917, detailed proposals for an
attack had been submitted to the Admiralty by another distinguished
officer.  This attack involved a landing on the Mole at Zeebrugge, the
general idea of which was not dissimilar from that eventually followed.
This particular scheme had not earned the approval of Their Lordships,
nor was it considered suitable by the Vice-Admiral then in command at

Many months after the blocking of Zeebrugge had become an accomplished
fact two earlier schemes came to light--these having emanated from the
author of that submitted in May, 1917.  In November, 1917, however, the
only previous proposals which were available for consideration by the
Planning Division of the Staff were those of November, 1916, and May,
1917, mentioned above.

In November, 1917, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe was First Sea Lord and
Chief of the Naval Staff.  He had requested the Director of Plans to
consider, amongst many other things, the possibility of blocking the
Belgian ports.


The Plan was _evolved in the Admiralty_, being commenced on November
13th, and laid before Their Lordships on December 3d.  The Plan was
accepted as feasible, and earned Their Lordships' decision to have it
carried out.  No previous Plan had reached that stage.  The original
edition of the Plan did not emanate from another country, or from
civilian sources, or from any other source outside the Admiralty
buildings in Whitehall except in so far as the details of one
particular phase of the operation were the outcome of conversations, at
the headquarters of the Air Force, with an expert on the formation of
artificial fogs.

[Sidenote: The Conception of the Plan]

The foregoing definite fact has been purposely inserted to correct
other statements which have been published elsewhere, presumably in
error.  I shall deal with the details of the Plan in a subsequent

Before leaving the consideration of the _origin_ of the Plan, I should
like to emphasise one particular point.  Perhaps this can be most
readily illustrated by a simple simile.  An uncorked bottle, containing
some noxious fluid, stands upon the table.  You realise the
disagreeable results which will follow on the escape of its contents.
You cork the bottle.  Now your action is so obviously correct that you
scarcely give it another thought.  If any credit was due to anybody you
would probably take it to yourself; you would not apportion any
particular merit to that fond parent who first initiated you into this
obvious solution of the problem.  In the case, therefore, of the
Blocking of Zeebrugge one need not apportion credit to the person who
first _suggested the mere idea_; the credit is entirely due to the man
who, in spite of all the difficulties, {19} evolved a _method_ of
"corking the bottle" and who, later, overcoming the great obstacles in
the way, carried the method into execution.

Before we pass on to review the difficulties of blocking the exits from
the German bases it would be advisable to consider the probable effects
of such an operation; this being the logical sequence actually followed
before the details of the Plan were formulated.

The results to be attained by blocking the exits would probably be as
follows.  Firstly, there would be a reduction in the number of Allied
vessels sunk by mine or submarine warfare; secondly, a decrease in raid
activity on the part of the enemy torpedo craft; thirdly, the loss of a
convenient advanced base for small craft operating in conjunction with
certain movements of the High Seas Fleet; and, fourthly, the reduction
in the number of enemy vessels available for the purposes mentioned.

The first two results concerned reduction of enemy activity arising
from the longer passages involved by the use of more distant bases such
as Heligoland or the German rivers from which the small craft could
continue their depredations.  The third result speaks for itself.  With
regard to the fourth, it has already been stated that, on an average
day, there would be many torpedo craft or submarines resting and
repairing at Bruges.  If the exits were blocked the use of these craft
would be denied to the enemy, just as effectually as if they were sunk,
for as long as the exits remained unopened.  This loss to the enemy,
temporary or permanent, could doubtless be described in terms of
reduction of Allied losses of {20} merchant tonnage.  The Admiralty
authorities could probably have calculated, within fairly correct
estimates, the average loss of merchant tonnage caused to the Allies by
a single enemy submarine or surface torpedo craft.  Our former average
loss per given period would thus be lessened in proportion to the
number of enemy vessels bottled up in the canals during that period.

[Sidenote: Results to be Obtained]

There would, of course, be other, less important, consequences arising
from the blocking of these exits; e.g., the inconveniences caused by
the necessary transfer of fuelling and repair facilities elsewhere, the
extra work thrown on the escorting vessels in the Bight, and the fact
that the craft already at sea and operating from the Flanders coast
would be forced to curtail their current trips if they desired to
arrive at their new bases with their usual reserves of fuel.

All these material gains to the Allies would be of considerable
importance, but the moral effect was not unworthy of consideration.
The more audacious an undertaking against an enemy the more intense
will be the victor's enthusiasm consequent on success, and the greater
the despondency and loss of moral to the vanquished.  Attempts to block
a hostile port in the face of carefully prepared defence measures may
certainly be described as audacious, unless the word "impertinent,"
which the author is inclined to allocate to this particular event, is
deemed to be more truly descriptive.  If we endeavour to imagine what
our own feelings would be on hearing that enemy vessels had entered one
of our strongly defended harbours and blocked the entrance, we shall
arrive at some idea as to the probable moral effect produced {21} by
such an enterprise.  In spite of the almost entire absence of activity
on the part of the High Seas Fleet, the Germans had never ceased to
sing its praises with all the bombast of which their waning spirit was
capable.  It was not difficult, therefore, to estimate the dejection
and consternation that would spread throughout Germany when the success
of our efforts became known.  The loss of prestige in the German Navy
would be not merely certain but perhaps of vital consequence later on.




[Sidenote: Zeebrugge Mole]

The village of Zeebrugge stands near the entrance to the
Zeebrugge-Bruges canal.  At about half a mile inland from the coast at
Zeebrugge the canal lock was situated.  To seaward of the lock, the
entrance channel, being open to the sea, was tidal.  On the eastern
side of the entrance channel, about midway between the lock and the
coast-line, a small tidal harbour had been constructed for the use of
fishing craft.  This tidal harbour was of no special value for naval
purposes, owing to its small depth.  From the coast-line the entrance
channel was continued into the sea for a distance of about two hundred
and seventy yards by means of estacades--i.e., wooden piers.  These
piers, curving outwards from the shore, are conspicuous in the
illustrations.  For the purpose of protecting the canal entrance from
rough seas, which might interfere with the passage of vessels to and
from the canal, the famous Zeebrugge Mole had been constructed for the
Belgians.  Semi-circular in shape, it emanated from the shore at a
distance of about half a mile to the westward of the canal entrance;
thence it curved round to the northward and eastward.  This curved Mole
protected a roadstead, of some three hundred acres in extent, from
northerly and westerly gales.  Easterly winds did not cause such heavy
seas as those from the directions already named owing to the protection
afforded by the Netherlands coast.

[Illustration: PORT OF ZEEBRUGGE]


The construction of the Mole was a colossal task.  There are no similar
works of such magnitude in Great Britain or the United States.  When
lecturing in the latter country I always made a point of emphasising
that fact to our American cousins; their unfailing humour never failed
to appreciate this little friendly "dig."

The total length of the Mole was over one and a half miles.  For
purposes of description it may be divided into four portions.
Commencing at the shoreward end, the first portion of the Mole took the
form of a stone railway pier built into the sea for a distance of two
hundred and fifty yards.  This pier was connected to the second
portion, which consisted of an iron-piled railway viaduct three hundred
and thirty yards in length.  This, in turn, was connected to the third
portion, which formed the Mole proper.  The latter was built of
concrete blocks on its seaward and shore sides, the central part being
filled with gravel and paved with granite.  The width of this portion
of the Mole was no less than eighty-one yards, and its length about
eighteen hundred and seventy-five, or rather over a land mile.  At its
northeastern end, the fourth portion consisted of an extension piece,
two hundred and sixty yards long and fifteen feet broad, with a
lighthouse at its eastern extremity.

If the Mole had been constructed solid throughout its entire length,
the task of keeping the channel, leading to the canal entrance, or the
roadstead, at a convenient depth would have been impossible owing to

Silt may be defined as the movement of sand or mud, according to the
nature of the sea bottom in the {24} locality, due to current.  The
bottom of the sea in this locality was sand.  The current off the
Flanders coast is caused by tide--it is usually spoken of as tidal
stream.  Tidal streams reverse their direction of movement about every
six hours.  Now the movement of sand caused by a tidal stream tends to
deposit that sand in or against any irregularity with which it meets,
whether the latter is a groove on the sea bed or an obstacle such as a
wreck.  This deposit first takes place from one direction, and then,
when the tidal stream reverses, from the opposite direction.  It will
therefore be seen that, where a channel is artificially cut on the
floor of the sea, silt will continually tend to fill that channel again
until the bottom is level once more.  And a ship which grounds in a
locality affected by silt will have sand deposited against her sides
much to the detriment of salvage operations.  These facts are well
enough known to seamen and have an important bearing on this narrative.

[Sidenote: Concerning Silt]

Suppose for a moment that the entire Mole had been built in solid
formation--i.e., that the tidal stream had no free passage under the
viaduct.  The west-going stream would tend to carry sand into the
roadstead between the Mole and the canal entrance, whereas the
east-going stream would be unable to remove the deposit a few hours
later.  Thus the roadstead would soon have become useless, and access
to the canal would have been impracticable.

The sand along the whole Flanders coast was extremely susceptible to
movement.  Such tendency was partially countered by the extensive use
of groynes.  These latter, however, could not be carried {25} very far
out into the sea owing to the difficulties of construction and repair.
There were, therefore, no artificial barriers to prevent the movement
of the sand to the eastward or westward beyond a short distance from
the shore.  Hence the necessity for keeping a portion of the Mole open
to allow the tidal stream to flow in both directions.  Even so, a large
shoal had formed in the roadstead, and reduced the acreage available
for anchorage purposes.

When first designed the open viaduct was of shorter length than that
eventually constructed; the alteration was considered necessary after
local experience of the silt had been obtained.  The iron piles, or
pillars, on which the viaduct was supported were of great strength and
much interlaced with steel rods to allow for severe buffeting in heavy
gales and to take the strain of railway traffic.  A portion was
actually demolished by a gale when under construction, and the
completion of the Mole was consequently delayed for many months.

When making enquiries in search of expert advice on questions of
salvage, I had an interesting conversation with an individual who had
had considerable experience in salving vessels in other waters.  Maybe
this book will remind him of our discussion.  In his opinion salvage
work presented no great difficulties.  It was only a matter of
obtaining the necessary apparatus, he thought, and any
vessel--concrete-filled or otherwise--could be removed in a month or
so.  "How about silt?" I asked.

"Oh, silt shouldn't make much difference," he replied, and added, "but
we have no silt to speak of in that part of the world, so I cannot say
for certain."


We then discussed the possibilities of salving a blockship at
Zeebrugge, for he had been informed of the proposed operation.
Eventually our conversation nearly resulted in a wager; that we came to
no terms was perhaps due to the fact that payment might have
necessitated application to a war widow.

The first and second portions of the Mole had not been materially
altered by the Germans during their occupation.

[Sidenote: The Outer Wall and the Parapet]

The third portion of the Mole will require detailed description.  In
peace days the Mole had been used as a commercial wharf as well as a
breakwater.  Ships used to secure alongside its inner wall.  All the
necessary facilities, such as bollards for securing hawsers, fixed and
travelling cranes for loading or unloading cargo, and arrangements for
embarking passengers, had been provided.  A large railway passenger
station, nearly two hundred yards long, was situated near its
southwestern end; a goods station and a coal shed, both very large
buildings, stood further to the northeastward.  The floor level of this
portion of the Mole was about nine feet above the level of high tide.
On the outer (seaward) side a high wall, of great strength and
thickness, had been constructed for the purpose of preventing rough
seas from breaking over the Mole and damaging the sheds or washing away
the railway.  The top of this wall was twenty feet above the floor
level of the Mole and therefore twenty-nine feet above the level of
high tide: at low tide it towered forty-four feet above the sea.

The fourth portion of the Mole was really formed by a continuation of
the outer wall, which extended beyond the third portion to the


The appearance of all portions of the outer wall, as viewed by anybody
situated in a boat alongside it, was exactly similar throughout its
entire length from the lighthouse to the railway viaduct.  Thus the
individual in the boat, except in the unlikely event of being able to
see over the top of the wall, would be unable to tell, at all
definitely, whereabouts his boat was situated relative to objects on
the Mole.  But this fact had not been accidentally overlooked by the
designer of the Mole; there was no object in taking it into
consideration, for there was then no idea of any vessel berthing
alongside the outer wall.  For instance, there were no bollards, no
cranes, no capstans for working hawsers, in fact no arrangements
whatever for berthing a ship.  I have already stated that this outer
wall was of great thickness, varying from twenty-five feet on the sea
bottom to ten feet in that portion standing above the floor level of
the Mole.  Four feet below the top of the wall there was a pathway,
nine feet broad, running the whole length of the wall.  This pathway
was known as the parapet.  The parapet was bounded on its seaward side
by the four-foot wall just mentioned; on its inner side iron railings,
three feet high, were placed to prevent anybody falling from the
pathway to the floor of the Mole sixteen feet below.  Flights of steps
led up from the Mole floor to the parapet, but these flights were very
few and far between.

That portion of the outer wall which formed the lighthouse extension of
the Mole was broadened, above the sea level, to about seventeen feet
throughout its length.  The pathway was similar to that just described,
but fifteen feet in width.  This portion of {28} the Mole was hollow, a
tunnel inside it running from the third portion of the Mole to the base
of the lighthouse.

The navigable channel from the open sea to the canal entrance could
only be maintained in an efficient state by means of continual
dredging, owing to the silt.  The channel passed close to the
lighthouse at the end of the Mole, and then in a fairly direct line,
for a distance of three-quarters of a mile, to a position midway
between the extremities of the two piers marking the canal entrance.
Thence the deep water channel passed slightly to the westward of the
central line between the piers.  This latter portion of the channel had
become exceedingly narrow by virtue of the sandbanks which had formed
on either side of it and which actually uncovered at low water.  A
vessel drawing more than twelve feet or so was forced to keep exactly
in the middle of this dredged channel to avoid grounding.  Photographs
taken at or near high tide gave the channel the appearance of extending
from one pier to the other, at least a distance of one hundred yards;
those taken near low water showed how narrow the channel really was.
In the region of the two piers the silting of the sand was more rapid
than elsewhere: the narrowest part of the channel was situated near the
shore ends of these piers.

[Sidenote: Defences on the Mole]

The Germans had not rested satisfied with either the Mole, the canal
entrance, or the lock as they found them.  The Mole itself had been
transformed into a fortress, and further defences had been constructed
for the purpose of guarding the canal.

PIERS.  This photograph was taken at high tide.  Note the Mole in the

Batteries were placed on both sides of the canal entrance.  These
ranged from four-inch guns to {29} twelve-inch guns.  Barbed wire
entanglements were erected along the shore line; trenches, containing
machine guns, were dug close behind them.  It was believed that a boom
of some sort, capable of being hauled across the channel or removed at
will, was kept handy to the outer lock gate.  The gate itself,
"caisson" is the correct technical term, was withdrawn into an armoured
housing, impervious to shells or bombs, when the lock was opened to
allow vessels to pass through.  The caisson was also provided with an
armoured roof for defence against aerial bombs.  The lights on the
wooden piers were only lit when specially required to guide a German
vessel to the entrance.

On the Mole a very large seaplane base was established with the
original passenger station as its principal building.  Several other
buildings for housing seaplanes, fuel, or bombs, and workshops were
erected by the Germans close by.  A merchant steamer, the _Brussels_,
formerly commanded by the ill-fated Captain Fryatt, whom the Germans
did to death so abominably, was moored alongside the station, and was
believed to be used as living quarters for the personnel of the
seaplane base.

The broad portion of the Mole was used as a base for submarines passing
through Zeebrugge _en route_ for Bruges or to the open sea; it was also
used for such torpedo craft and mine-sweepers as were required for
immediate duty in that locality.  From the north-eastern large shed to
the lighthouse the Mole had been turned into a veritable fortress.  It
was believed that the lighthouse was used as the Mole signal station.
A battery of six or seven guns was situated on {30} the lighthouse
extension of the Mole.  These guns were at first surmised to be
3.5-inch guns, but it is probable that they were larger--in fact, up to
5.9-inch guns firing a shell of approximately one hundred pounds in
weight.  It was believed that the guns of this battery could fire out
to sea and could be turned to fire towards the shore.

Any vessel approaching from seaward and passing into the dredged
channel, _en route_ to the canal, would be within the danger zone of
this battery, from the latter's extreme range out at sea to the canal
lock, always provided that the state of the visibility allowed the
vessel to be seen.  Incidentally, owing to the situation of the deep
channel, the vessel would be obliged to pass within _a few yards_ of
this battery when rounding the Mole end.  A vessel endeavouring to
berth alongside the outer wall would have to approach close to this
battery, i.e., on a westerly course.  At first sight it might appear
feasible to approach _from_ the westward on an easterly course and thus
avoid passing close to the battery, but that is not so.  High tide and
slack stream do not coincide on this coast.  For about three hours on
each side of high tide the streams run _to_ the eastward: at other
states of the tide there would be insufficient depths of water for a
vessel to berth alongside.  It would therefore be necessary to approach
from the eastward, i.e., to stem the tidal stream.

before the enterprise, showing the sandbanks narrowing the entrance
channel.  At the top of the photograph a dredger at work indicates the
position of the approach channel]

Now let us imagine for a few moments a duel between this battery and a
warship within--say--one thousand yards.  The reader probably knows
that such a distance nowadays comes within the definition of
"point-blank range"; i.e., a range at which a gun {31} practically
cannot miss a ship.  Picture, then, an average-sized vessel of three
hundred feet in length.  The guns could hardly miss her--in fact, the
gunners could select which particular portion of her should serve as
their target.  The ship's guns would return the fire.  The most
vulnerable portions of the battery ashore are the guns themselves.  The
muzzle of each gun showing just above the wall would, as viewed from
the ship, cover barely one square foot in size.  Now at golf we call it
a "fluke" when a golfer holes out from the tee although he has attained
his object.  (I apologise for this to non-golfers.)  Similarly, if the
ship's gun _hits_ the shore gun we should call it a "fluke," although
that is the object forming the target.  And, as already implied, if the
shore gun _misses_ the ship, that also will be a "fluke."  On the face
of it, it certainly does not look as if the ship would stand much
chance, even at a distance of one thousand yards.  But how if she is
closer?  If a thousand yards is point-blank range, how shall we
designate a hundred yards?

At the eastern end of the broad part of the Mole, and on its floor
level, the Germans had erected a battery of three heavy guns.  These
were so placed that they could fire on any incoming vessel immediately
she rounded the lighthouse.  Woe betide a vessel attempting to do so in
the face of such guns.  The latter were probably of the 5.9-inch type.
Under water, immediately below this battery, we eventually found some
submerged torpedo tubes, but I am not aware as to whether they were
constructed before the blocking operation or not; their direction of
fire was similar to that of the guns above them.


Close westward of these batteries of heavy guns and torpedoes, and
standing against the high outer wall, the Germans had constructed a
long shed of reënforced concrete; this shed provided the living space
for the personnel of the Mole garrison.

The total numbers of Germans on the Mole probably reached not less than
a thousand.  Although this number may include the personnel of the
seaplane base yet they would all be available for the defence of the
Mole in case of an attack.

Slightly to the westward of the garrison's quarters, trenches had been
sunk in the floor of the Mole and surrounded by three complete sets of
barbed wire entanglements.  It was believed that the usual accessories
of a coast fort--e.g., searchlights and range-finders, etc.--were
placed on the outer wall parapet, and that there would probably be some
small guns there also.

[Sidenote: The Booms and Torpedo Craft]

So much for the Mole itself.  Across the channel the Germans had placed
booms.  One of these, consisting of four Rhine barges, was moored
between the eastern end of the broad part of the Mole and a buoy
situated two hundred and seventy yards to the southward.  These barges
were filled with stone, had nets slung beneath them, and were connected
together by wire hawsers.  If a surface vessel attempted to pass
between the buoy and the Mole she would be brought up by this boom and
probably damaged by collision with one of the barges.  If a submarine
attempted to dive underneath the barges she would be caught up in the
nets.  The other boom consisted of entanglement nets moored between a
series of buoys to the southeastward of the barges.  Any ship
attempting {33} to pass through them would probably have her propellers
entangled, with the result that her engines would be brought to a
complete stop.  Thus, whichever boom was encountered by a ship, the
latter would, at the least, be partially disabled and stopped.  The
Mole batteries could then have sunk her at their leisure by gunfire.
The only route by which a vessel could pass clear of these two booms
was that between the southeastern barge and the northern entanglement
net; i.e., within two hundred and fifty yards of the heavy gun battery
on the Mole.  But even if, by dint of good fortune or special good
management, a vessel managed to pass the Mole batteries and the booms,
she would still have to run the gantlet of the naval vessels in the
anchorage and the batteries on shore before reaching the canal.

  a. The shadows of the parapet wall and of the lighthouse
     at its extremity
  b. The Mole batteries
  c. Trench system surrounded by barbed wire
  d. German torpedo craft alongside Mole
  e. The barge boom
  f. The boom of entanglement nets]

The German torpedo craft, which were available for local duty, used to
berth alongside the inner side of the Mole, close to the westward of
the barge boom.  By virtue of their guns, torpedoes, and searchlights,
and the fact that they probably kept up steam in readiness for instant
action, these craft provided a valuable addition to the Mole and canal

The foregoing description of the local defences at Zeebrugge has
probably been sufficiently detailed to lead to the conclusion that the
Germans were fully alive to the possibility of attacks on the Mole or
canal.  Whether or not they considered that such attacks would only
form part of some more ambitious operation, such as a military landing
on the coast, our enemies had left practically no stone unturned to
repel them.  The defence measures must have {34} appeared, especially
to those on the spot, to be more than sufficient.

It is well known that, although the possession of detailed local
knowledge will usually be of great value towards the formation of plans
of attack, there are occasions when local knowledge is apt to make
local difficulties loom extremely large.  For instance, in this
particular case, the navigational difficulties caused by the strong
tidal stream, the difficulty of recognising objects on the low-lying
shore during darkness, the uninviting appearance of the outer Mole wall
as an obstacle to be surmounted, and many other matters would probably
have induced the belief, in those who were actually acquainted with
these difficulties, that such attacks would have no chance of success.
There is, therefore, reason to believe that, although they realised an
attack might be attempted, the Germans were perfectly satisfied that
the defences could neither be improved nor penetrated.

The reader will probably have arrived at the conclusion that the
Germans were devilish in their thoroughness.  Yet there was still one
joint left in their armour--and we penetrated it.  But I must not




Thus far I have only dealt with the local defences of Zeebrugge.  But
there were many other obstacles in our way--such as the coast
batteries, mines, surface patrol vessels, submarines, aircraft, and the
vagaries of the weather in addition to the navigational difficulties
mentioned in the first chapter.

The coast-line of Flanders bristled with guns.  The section of the
coast from three miles west of Ostende to six miles east of Zeebrugge,
approximately twenty-one miles in length, was defended by two hundred
and twenty-five guns; one hundred and thirty-six of these were of the
heavy type, i.e., six-inch and above, up to fifteen-inch guns.

At one period of the war, soon after the Germans first obtained
possession of that locality, the coast defences had been few and far
between.  In those days our ships used to bombard from such short
ranges as ten thousand yards.  In course of time heavier guns were set
up on shore so that our vessels were forced to keep at a more
respectful distance.  The first bombardments from ten thousand yards
had been answered by the establishment of German guns having a range of
fifteen thousand yards.  When better weapons became available for
bombardment from twenty thousand yards the Germans replied with guns
{36} firing up to twenty-five thousand yards.  And thus the duel
continued.  Finally, the ranges increased to upwards of forty thousand
yards (twenty-three land miles).  Monitors were specially constructed
for this purpose and their marksmanship was wonderfully accurate.  This
accuracy is borne out by the fact that scarcely any damage was caused
to the residential quarter, although Ostende was bombarded again and
again; yet works of military importance, such as docks and railway
stations, closely adjoining the residential quarter, were hit time
after time.

In a straightforward gunnery duel between a ship and a fort, within the
effective range of each, the former stands no chance.  In these days,
however, such duels savour little of the old-time broadside fighting
between ships.

Even the largest and most modern coast guns are of comparatively small
avail for defensive purposes unless the attacking ships are visible, or
unless the firing can be controlled satisfactorily by such indirect
means as the use of aircraft for observational purposes.  At night the
attackers must be illuminated by star-shell, flares, or searchlights.
Under the ordinary fog conditions--i.e., when the whole locality is
obscured by fog--aircraft cannot observe the results of firing nor can
the attacking forces be illuminated.

Under exceptional fog conditions--i.e., when a fog (natural or
artificial) lies between the shore guns and the attacking vessels, the
latter being in clear weather--good co-operation between the batteries
and aircraft in daylight enables the fire to be directed so accurately
as to ensure destruction to vessels which remain in the danger zone.

[Illustration: A portion of Chart 1406, showing the Dover Strait, the
waters between Dover and Zeebrugge, the shoals, the extent of the
German minefields, the section of fortified coast (shaded), and the
danger zone of the German batteries.]


The only alternative to directed firing is that of barrage firing, such
as is used so greatly in modern land warfare.  The defence guns can
establish a shell barrage, for a limited period, across any zone which
the attacking ship is attempting to penetrate _en route_ to her
objective.  The vessel which steams into an efficient heavy gun barrage
from modern guns is unlikely to survive.

[Sidenote: German Coast Defences]

I afterwards visited one of the large German batteries near Ostende,
called the Jakobynessen battery, which mounted fifteen-inch guns and
fired projectiles weighing nearly one ton each--seventeen hundredweight
to be precise.  They were mounted in specially constructed gun-pits
amongst the sand-hills close behind the shore, and were so well hidden
that they could not be seen from a distance of little more than a
single gun's length.  The projectiles stood over six feet high and were
murderous-looking instruments of warfare.  These particular guns, and
there were others of a like nature, could probably have ranged up to
sixty thousand yards (over thirty-four land miles).

The whole area off this section of the coast, up to about twenty miles
to seaward, was included in the danger zone of the coast batteries.  No
vessel could maintain her position in that area, under ordinary
conditions of visibility, for more than a few minutes at the outside
limit.  The reader may consider, however, that a ship desiring to
attack the coast would merely have to approach in foggy weather or
under cover of darkness.  In foggy weather she would be unable to
locate her objective--so that can be ruled out.  At night she might
conceivably arrive within a few thousand yards without being seen or
heard.  {38} But immediately she was located by the defences the latter
would fire their star-shell and switch on their searchlights.  The
whole area would thus be illuminated like daylight.  The vessel
discovered under such conditions would probably be blown to pieces
within five minutes.

Thus it is manifest that ships cannot approach a hostile coast, in the
face of modern defences, under the ordinary conditions of daylight or
darkness, or in fog.

We will now consider the mine problem.  The German mine-fields extended
to a distance of several miles from the coast.  We had reason to know
of their presence; from time to time, as reported in the press, our
vessels had been blown up.

Mine-fields off one's own coast provide a certain measure of defence.
But they are also an embarrassment in that one's own vessels cannot
pass through them, when approaching or leaving harbour, unless safe
channels are kept clear for the purpose.  This applied to the
mine-fields under review.

[Sidenote: The German Mine-fields]

The reader may possibly have jumped to the conclusion that all we had
to do was to navigate calmly through the German safe channels.  It
certainly sounds plausible.  As a matter of fact, such an idea borders
on the ridiculous.  Let us think this matter out carefully.  Our forces
could not pass through such channels unless they possessed information
as to the positions of those channels.  But if such information were
received, the chances would be long odds on the information having been
"made in Germany."  Far from such information being correct, therefore,
the positions mentioned would probably be those of the most dangerous
mine-fields.  Nevertheless, suppose {39} we received information which,
from the nature of its source and data, we had every reason to credit;
and suppose we acted on such information.  Well, on the voyage across
the sea, or even before we actually start, the enemy discover that we
intend to attack.  What will they do?  Their argument would be as
follows: "The British are coming over to attack us; they may have
discovered the positions of our safe channels; we dare not take any
chances so we will mine our own safe channels immediately."
Mine-layers, kept ready for instant use, would be sent to sea at once.
In a very short space of time, probably an hour would be more than
sufficient, the previous safe channels would have been converted into
areas of the greatest danger.

There are alternative methods which the attackers may adopt.  Firstly,
they may advance to the attack preceded by a force of mine-sweepers.
Now mine-sweeping is a very slow process if it is to be carried out
thoroughly.  It is inconceivable that a large force of these vessels
could steam about, mine-sweeping, near the enemy's coast for a
considerable period without being discovered.  Their discovery would
give the whole show away; the enemy would know that we were
approaching; the whole element of surprise would be lost.

The other method open to the attackers is that of proceeding to their
objective without mine-sweepers, after having carefully weighed the
probabilities of danger existing on the various alternative routes,
and, on arriving at the danger area, passing through it and _chancing
the result_.  And that is what we did--we chanced it!  But I am
anticipating once more.


Outside the German mine-fields, and in any inshore areas which were
unmined, German patrol craft would probably be stationed.  Patrol
craft, in comparatively narrow waters, are effective for discovering
the approach of surface vessels in clear weather by day or night.  The
_minimum_ harm that they could do to the attacking force would be that
of reporting the latter's approach.  A single alarm rocket might be
sufficient.  It is, therefore, almost inconceivable that the patrol
vessels could be passed without the alarm being given.  Any gun-firing
would, of course, act as an alarm; ramming, a much more silent method,
would be the best course open to the attacking craft if they
encountered the patrols.

There were two other forms of patrol, however, which could provide even
more serious obstacles.

Submarines, stationed on the route between the attacker's base and the
objective, could patrol at periscope depth.  The passing of the
squadrons, viewed through the periscope of the unseen submarine would
be reported by wireless telegraphy immediately the submarine could come
to the surface.  Thus, long before the attack commenced, the defenders
would be perfectly well aware of the attacker's approach, whereas the
latter would imagine that their mission was unsuspected.  This use of a
submarine, as a lookout, would be of infinitely greater importance, in
such an event as this, than her use as a torpedo vessel.

Aircraft patrolling off the coast--say at a height of five thousand
feet--would be able to see as far as the southeast coast of England,
provided the atmosphere were clear.  Under average conditions of {41}
visibility there would be no difficulty in discovering a naval force
several miles distant.  Such discovery would be immediately reported to
the defences with the same result as that just described in the case of
the submarine.  The Germans had a strong force of seaplanes based on
the Flanders coast.  These machines were generally patrolling the
vicinity--_provided the Allied aircraft were not about_.

[Sidenote: Summary of Obstacles]

We have now arrived at the stage where we can make a summary of the
main obstacles in the way of a blocking enterprise at Zeebrugge.  There
were (_a_) the aerial patrol; (_b_) outlying submarines; (_c_) surface
patrol vessels; (_d_) mines; (_e_) uncharted shoals; (_f_) lack of
navigational aids; (_g_) coast defence batteries and illuminating
apparatus; (_h_) the guns on the Mole; (_i_) the obstruction booms;
(_j_) the harbour defence craft; (_k_) the shore batteries defending
the canal; (_l_) the difficulties of seamanship in a tideway; and
lastly (_m_) the vagaries of the weather.

In connection with a blocking enterprise at Ostende the same obstacles
applied with the exception of those resulting from the presence of the

The list is undoubtedly formidable _though not yet complete_.  The
operation, on the face of it, did not seem to be altogether simple.

In writing this book I may be taken to task for concentrating on the
operation at Zeebrugge and leaving the Ostende stories untold.

The latter operations, there were two, would necessitate a volume to
themselves.  And--this is the all-important point--I am not competent
to render a first-hand account of them because I was not in the
position of an eye-witness.  Let us hope that the story {42} will be
written some day, so that the splendid work of poor Godsal,[1] who
afterwards lost his life at Ostende in my old ship, and of his gallant
troop may be properly recorded.

[1] Commander A. E. Godsal.

Owing to the fact that we were uncertain as to the extent to which
Ostende could be utilised as an exit from Bruges, we naturally decided
to assume its efficiency; i.e., to assume that blocking the craft in at
Bruges would necessitate blocking both Zeebrugge and Ostende.

The harbour entrance at Ostende was somewhat similar to the canal
entrance at Zeebrugge.  There were two piers flanking the entrance
channel, the whole area being commanded by shore batteries.  The only
other comparison between the places which calls for mention here is as
follows.  Whereas the Mole at Zeebrugge provided additional obstacles
against entry, it also acted as a landmark from which the canal
entrance could be found.  At Ostende the defence obstacles would be
less complicated, but the harbour entrance would be more difficult to

Now, the decision to block both exits naturally led to the conclusion
that they should be blocked simultaneously if practicable.  Otherwise
the operation at one place would serve as a warning to the other.  For
instance, it would have been rather absurd for us to block Zeebrugge
one night with a view to coming along on the following night to block
Ostende.  The absurdity would have been only slightly less in degree if
we blocked one exit at--say--midnight with the idea of blocking the
other at 2 A.M.  For the defence batteries at the two places would
naturally be in {43} telephonic communication, and even half an hour's
notice at the second exit would be sufficient to prepare a very warm
reception for us.  Simultaneous blocking was our aim; thus the whole
operation was directed to that end, a fact which influenced the events
to be related.

It has been suggested that "blocking the exit" was not the best method
of preventing the egress of German vessels from the Zeebrugge canal.
An alternative method, that of destroying the lock-gate by gun-fire,
was referred to.  The idea sounds plausible enough at first.  As a
matter of fact, many attempts had been made, by means of long-range
bombardments, to achieve that end.  They had all failed.  The lock-gate
appeared to have a charmed life.  Huge shell had burst in its vicinity
and yet it still remained intact.  The suggestion was then put forward
that the lock-gate should be bombarded _from close range_ under cover
of smoke or gas.  This suggestion was accompanied by the opinion that
an attempt at blocking the channel would be futile.  I am much puzzled
at this idea of close bombardment.  For it was as obvious, as it was
known to be a fact, that the Germans would withdraw the gate into its
armoured recess immediately a bombardment was suspected.  This would
have been the work of a few moments; the outer lock-gate would have
been rendered absolutely immune from destruction.

The argument that there were two lock-gates, outer and inner, and that
the Germans could not withdraw both, owing to the fear of the canal
running dry, also sounds plausible until it is closely examined.
Firstly, however, it is clear that the canal would only run dry if both
lock-gates were opened _at low tide_; secondly, an {44} inshore
operation at low tide would preclude the use of any craft other than
those of shallow draught; thirdly, owing to the presence of the outer
wall of the Mole, whose height would be over forty feet at low tide,
the bombarding vessels could only obtain a direct line of fire at the
lock from a position inside the Mole where the extensive shoals would
allow very little room for manoeuvring, to say nothing of the defences
on the Mole itself; fourthly, the canal, even if emptied, would refill
from the rising tide within a few hours, and there was no certainty
that the temporary evacuation of the water would cause serious damage;
and lastly, one may assume, if there was really any substance in the
idea, that the Vice-Admiral whose many long-range bombardments had
failed to achieve their purpose would have long since attempted a
short-range attack.

So, the decision to block the entrance at Zeebrugge having been
reached, the best position for blocking had to be considered.  It has
already been shown that the narrowest portion of the channel to seaward
of the lock was situated near the shore ends of the wooden piers.
Another position even narrower in size was that of the lock-gateway
itself.  But the mere width of the position chosen was by no means the
only consideration.

The actual sinking of the blockships in position did not provide the
final argument; a point of great importance concerned the
practicability of removing them out of the channel; it is of little use
to block a channel in such a manner that it can easily be unblocked.
This matter concerns the art of salvage.

Salvage is a highly technical subject, but a few {45} remarks at this
stage are necessary if the reader is to appreciate the extent to which
considerations of salvage affected the problem under discussion.

Salvage operations must vary according to the circumstances of each
particular case.  The size of the vessel, the damage which she has
sustained, the manner in which she is resting on the bottom of the sea,
the nature of the ground, the tides, the depth of water, the degree of
exposure to rough seas, the proximity of shelter for salvage craft, and
the distance from the land are all factors of importance, but they by
no means exhaust the list.

One of our main purposes in considering salvage operations was that of
ascertaining the chief obstacles to salvage, so that we could provide
the enemy with as many of those identical obstacles as lay in our power.

Another important object, concerning the immediate problem at
Zeebrugge, was that of deciding the best type and size of vessel to be
used in addition to the question of what particular damage each vessel
should receive, and how she should be fitted to defy attempts at

There are three principal methods of removing a sunken ship.  First,
bodily removal with the aid of some lifting agent.  Second, dispersion
by explosive means.  Third, piecemeal removal by cutting away.

Regarding the first-mentioned method, a small vessel can be lifted by
passing hawsers beneath her and securing the ends to salvage craft on
the surface overhead.  The hawsers being hauled taut at low tide, the
vessel will lift off the bottom when the rise of tide lifts the salvage
craft, and can then be {46} transported bodily elsewhere.  Larger
vessels can be lifted by the use of compressed air, or by pumping out
the vessel after closing all holes under water.  Provided the ship is
upright the compressed air method can leave out of account the damage
sustained below the vessel's normal waterline, but the remainder of the
hull must be rendered airtight.  Air can then be pumped into the hull
until the vessel is lifted, and she can be towed away as required.

This method has been used successfully when removing large vessels, but
the practicability of rendering them airtight chiefly depends on the
damage which they have sustained.  The pumping-out method,
comparatively speaking, is the most simple one to adopt, provided that
the damage to the hull is small.  The damaged portion must be repaired
by divers unless the more elaborate method of building a
coffer-dam--i.e., a sort of dock--around the ship, is pursued.  Divers
cannot work in a strong tidal current or in rough weather.  The repair
of holes under water is rendered extremely difficult, if not actually
impossible, when the bottom of the ship is badly holed with the ship
resting on the damaged portion.  The ship must be made watertight, or
nearly so, below the surface of the sea before she can be lifted.  The
word "watertight" is qualified here because, as a matter of accuracy,
the ship can be pumped out and lifted, provided that the pumps can
eject water at a greater rate than the latter is flowing in.  Before
passing on to consider the next method it may be as well to remark that
special difficulty is experienced when moving sand--i.e., silt--has
access to the holes in the ship.

Dispersion by means of explosive charges may, {47} under certain
circumstances, be a simple operation, but, on the other hand, there are
certain conditions which put this method outside the pale of choice.
For instance, in the case of a ship sunk in a narrow channel where much
silt is experienced, the explosive method is almost worse than useless.
For every explosion in a given section of a vessel will tend to shatter
that portion into several pieces.  Each piece falls to the bottom and
forms a new obstruction.  Silt then enormously aggravates the
situation, for the sand will collect against the obstruction until it
becomes a miniature sandbank.  Such shoals are then difficult to
remove.  A bucket-dredger--i.e., a vessel fitted with an endless chain
of buckets for scooping up the bottom--will break her buckets as soon
as they encounter the steel kernel of the shoal.  On the other hand, a
suction dredger--i.e., a vessel designed to suck up sand off the
sea-bottom--cannot raise solid material.  Neither type of dredger can
remove the _cause_ of the shoal; any removal of sand under such
conditions is merely temporary; the sand will recommence building up
the shoal as soon as the dredger ceases work.  Dredging against such
obstacles is of little more use than dredging against rocks.

There remains the third method, namely, piece-meal removal by means of
"cutting away."  Cutting away can be accomplished, in the ordinary
course of events, by means of acetylene gas cutters or by pneumatic
tools.  Acetylene gas will cut through steel with little more effort
than a knife cutting through india-rubber.  But acetylene gas cannot be
used under water and cannot cut through large thicknesses of cement.
Pneumatic tools provide a very laborious and {48} tedious means of
cutting large quantities of steel.  Work under water entails the use of
divers.  Thus, the removal of a ship by the piecemeal process is an
exceedingly prolonged undertaking, especially as each piece must be
lifted out when cut away; for reasons already stated the pieces must on
no account be allowed to fall to the sea-bottom.

From the foregoing remarks we arrive at the following conclusions.  The
blockships should be too large to lift off the bottom by the hawser
method.  They should be extensively damaged and sunk in such a manner
that they would rest on the damaged portion of the hull.  They should
be fitted to counter "cutting away" tactics, and should be sunk in
positions where silt would render impracticable the explosive method of
dispersion; the damage should be so situated as to give the silting
sand access to the hull through the holes in the latter.

These general anti-salvage considerations, however, did not furnish us
with all the data required.  They required to be dealt with in greater
detail, and the matter of dimensions was another important factor.

It was essential to render impossible the passage of the German naval
craft out of the canal _over the top_ of the sunken blockships.  The
tide at Zeebrugge rises fifteen feet between its low and high levels.
Allowing six feet as the minimum depth required to float small naval
craft, it will be seen that the upper portion of each blockship should
reach to within six feet of high tide level, or, at least, nine feet
above low tide level, when resting on the bottom.  The height of the
blockship's hull, therefore, would need to be equal to the depth of the
sea at low tide level plus, at {49} least, nine feet.  Now, the choice
of vessel is naturally limited.  In the midst of war it is unlikely
that a navy would possess many craft, if any, which were not already in
use for other purposes.  Thus, the dimensions just referred to would
have to fall within certain limits, namely, those corresponding to the
dimensions of the only vessels from which one is likely to be able to
choose.  That part of the total height due to the rise of tide was
beyond control; it would be the same anywhere in the same locality.
Thus, the position chosen for the blocking must necessarily have a low
tide depth of such an amount as would make the total depth at high
water correspond to the total height of the available hulls.

Then again the number of ships required would depend on the relation
between their horizontal dimensions and the breadth of the channel to
be blocked.  For instance, a single vessel whose beam dimensions were
approximately equal to the breadth of the lock gateway would be
sufficient to block the latter, provided that the height of her hull
also agreed with the conditions just mentioned above.

Now, it had to be borne in mind that if a vessel was sunk in the lock
gateway the "cutting-away" method would be greatly facilitated by the
erection of cranes and machinery, within a few feet of the vessel, on
dry land.  This position, being so far removed from the tidal current
which runs parallel with the Belgian coast, was unaffected by silt.
Thus, although the lock gateway, by reason of its small breadth, could
be completely blocked by any suitable vessel sunk therein, the work of
salvage would be very much less difficult here than elsewhere.


Further out, between the wooden piers at the canal entrance, the
navigable channel was approximately one hundred and twenty feet in
breadth; i.e., slightly over one-third of the whole distance between
the piers.  A vessel of one hundred and twenty feet in length,
therefore, would require to be turned dead across the navigable channel
before sinking if she was to block {51} every inch of it.  Obviously, a
vessel of three hundred feet in length would not require to turn
herself to anything like the same extent.  The maximum depth in this
position was believed to be about thirty-six feet at high tide level.
Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that a blockship sunk between the
wooden piers would need to have a hull whose height was not less than
thirty feet, and to have a length of at least one hundred and twenty

[Illustration: Plan of CANAL ENTRANCE CHANNEL]


In this position the silt was known to be very active.  That fact,
taken in conjunction with the exposure to rough seas, the presence of
the tidal current, and the impracticability of erecting salvage plant
on the land within easy reach of the vessel, rendered it obvious that,
all things considered, the position between the wooden piers would be
the ideal blocking position if suitable vessels were available for the
purpose, and if such vessels were damaged and sunk with due regard to
anti-salvage considerations.


It is common knowledge that when vessels are fitted out as blockships
they usually carry a goodly cargo of cement.  The general notion,
however, about the use of this material is that it is merely intended
to make the ships heavier and thus less capable of being lifted.  That
is only partially correct.  There is another and more important use for
cement, namely, as a counter against the use of acetylene gas for
cutting the ships to pieces.  The general scheme is that of placing the
cement in just those positions where cutting would be most necessary;
in our case, in those portions of the ship which would be above the
lowest level of the tide and up to within six feet of the highest tide
level.  The depth of our chosen position being twenty-one feet at low
water and thirty-six feet at high water, this meant that the cement
would need to be placed between the levels of twenty-one feet and
thirty feet above the keel, provided that the ship was sunk in an
upright position.  With regard to the latter proviso, steps must be
taken to guard against the eventuality of the ship resting on her beam
ends on the sea-bottom as a result of capsizing when foundering.  This
cautionary measure necessitated placing the cement between the levels
of twenty-one feet and thirty feet from her beam ends at either side of
the vessel as well as between the same vertical distances from her
keel.  Nothing should be left to chance that can be provided for in

It was clear enough that the task of ever getting the ships into the
desired positions for sinking would be far from simple; having attained
that object it would be the height of stupidity to sink the ships in
such a manner, and so fitted, that their removal would be comparatively


After the operation had been successfully completed I could not help
being rather amused at a certain individual who expressed the opinion
that "the Germans are so cute that they'll probably remove the
blockships in a day or two."  Why were some people always so ready to
credit the Germans with everything that's wonderful?  The reasons were
not far to seek; such ideas arose partly from natural ignorance on
technical matters and partly because the Germans never ceased to assure
us how marvellous a nation they were.  And some of us believed it!
_Verb. sap_.

With all the difficulties in the way of attainment, what counter
considerations were there to make the attempt worth the undertaking?




What were the chances of success?

The lessons of personal experience and of past history are the chief
guides when calculating the probability of success in any operation.
He who ignores history acts unwisely.  He who studies history and
proposes to attempt something which has always failed hitherto either
may be excessively foolish or may be aware of a new factor affecting
the situation.  He may be merely flying in the face of Providence or
basing new proposals on a well-considered judgment of the new

[Sidenote: Analogous Operations]

Naval history contains a few examples of operations somewhat analogous
to that under investigation.  The more noted are the attacks on
Martinique in 1794, on Teneriffe in 1797, the attack on Ostende in
1798, the cutting out of the _Hermione_ from Puerto Cabello in 1799,
the sinking of the American steamer _Merrimac_ at Santiago de Cuba in
1898, the Japanese attempts to block the entrance to Port Arthur in
1904, and, during the late war, the attempt to block the Rufigi River
by a British collier in November, 1914.

In none of these cases were the conditions quite parallel to those at
Zeebrugge and Ostende, but some features of each bore a certain

The attacks on Martinique and Puerto Cabello {55} showed the great
value of determination and initiative in the face of powerful shore
defences.  They also showed the disadvantage accruing to the defence
force by reason of the latter's ignorance as to the true nature and
object of an attack by sea forces.

The attack on Santa Cruz, Teneriffe, was led by the immortal Nelson
himself.  It involved the storming of the Mole which was defended by
the enemy's batteries.  Two attempts were made.  The first was carried
out in the face of adverse weather conditions which rendered "surprise"
impossible; the attack was withdrawn soon after the landing parties had
left their ships.  The second attempt, made two days later, was also a
failure, but a glorious failure indeed.  Very few of the boats reached
the Mole, which, however, after a desperate encounter was captured by
the storming parties.  The latter were unable to advance owing to the
fire from the hostile batteries.  Nelson, who, it will be remembered,
lost his right arm in this engagement, failed in his object.  This
failure provided the outstanding interruption to the long list of
victories gained by our greatest naval hero of all time; Nelson himself
expressed his feelings of disappointment and physical incapacity with
the words "I go hence and am no more seen."

The attack on Ostende in May, 1798, was directed against the lock gates
for the purpose of interfering with the concentration of the flotillas
destined for the invasion of England.  This attack had originally
included a blocking operation, but that idea was apparently abandoned.
The attack, carried out in the face of a rather feeble defence, was
completely successful, but a severe gale prevented the {56}
re-embarkation of the forces, with the result that over one hundred and
sixty were killed or wounded and nearly eleven hundred and fifty were
taken prisoners--an interesting point in view of the fact that only
about half a dozen casualties occurred during the attack itself.  The
embodiment of the main principles of fighting led to success on that
occasion as they will usually do under similar conditions.  The moral
effect in England, in spite of the heavy losses, is recorded as having
been most beneficial.

The blocking attempts at Santiago and Port Arthur, carried through with
complete indifference to danger in each case, were failures.

[Sidenote: Main Factors of Difficulty]

The main difficulties with which blockships must contend may be briefly
stated as follows:

(_a_) That of _locating the destination_ in darkness, increased by the
absence of the usual local navigational aids such as lighthouses,
buoys, etc.

(_b_) That of _reaching the destination_, when located, in the face of
the enemy's opposition.

(_c_) That of _turning and sinking the vessel_, after reaching the
destination, so that the channel will be efficiently blocked.

Dealing with these difficulties in detail, the reader is probably aware
of the fact that navigation is by no means an exact science.  On the
open sea a captain is usually satisfied if he knows his position to
within three or four miles.  When approaching the coast this wide
margin of safety must be considerably reduced--hence the need of
lighthouses, buoys, fog signals, and so forth.  The upkeep of such aids
is naturally in the hands of the power which occupies the coast {57}
concerned.  Thus, under war conditions, one aims at removing all
navigational aids, as far as one's own requirements will allow, which
may assist the enemy.  By this means, the enemy when approaching one's
coast, must either trust to the rather inexact methods used in the open
sea or they must establish their own navigational aids beforehand.  The
objection to the latter is manifest; craft sent ahead to lay down
buoys, etc., are apt to give one's intentions away, and it is open to
the enemy to remove such aids as soon as they are placed.

With regard to the second main difficulty, namely, that of reaching the
destination, when located, in the face of the enemy's opposition, the
difficulty here is so obvious as to render detailed remarks unnecessary.

With regard to the difficulty of turning and sinking the vessel
satisfactorily, this is largely a matter of seamanship.  With wind and
tide both affecting a vessel it is seldom possible either to keep her
stationary over a particular position or to turn her through a large
angle without such aids as tugs, hawsers, and anchors, etc.

But a ship does not go down instantaneously, nor is it a simple matter
to sink her in an upright position.  One end of the ship is likely to
sink before the other: most of us have seen photographs of a ship with
her bows or stern standing vertically in the water just before the
vessel makes her final plunge.  Whilst the ship is actually sinking the
local current is apt to move her considerably before she is resting on
the bottom throughout her whole length.  Thus the third difficulty can
only be surmounted by a specially fine display of seamanship, and, in
such cases as we are {58} reviewing, this display must be rendered
under the most trying conditions imaginable.

Now, in the case of the blocking attempt at Santiago the _Merrimac_,
Lieutenant Hobson of United States Navy, failed to reach her desired
destination after it had been located.  The attempt could scarcely have
been more gallantly made, but the difficulties, arising from
insufficient opportunity to make complete preparations, almost
foredoomed the operation to failure.

At Port Arthur, the Japanese made three attempts to block the exit
against the egress of the Russian Fleet.  No less than eighteen
blockships were used.  In spite of great determination and splendid
self-sacrifice on the part of all concerned no blockship managed to
sink herself in the correct position.

During the late war the difficulty of sinking the ship satisfactorily,
after reaching the desired position, was made manifest both in the
River Tigris and in the Cameroon River.  In each case our enemies, the
Turks and Germans respectively, _endeavoured to block their own
channels before we even arrived on the scene_.  In the absence of all
opposition from an enemy, in broad daylight, and at their own leisure,
they sunk their ships and _failed to block the channels_--two clear
illustrations of seamanship difficulties.

All the searchings into past history failed to discover one single
occasion in which a blocking enterprise of any real similarity to that
desired had succeeded.  That fact, taken into conjunction with the
difficulties brought to light by a detailed consideration of the
problem, was neither productive of encouragement nor conducive to


The reader will probably admit, at this stage, that the difficulties of
blocking the highly fortified canal entrances at Zeebrugge and Ostende
appeared almost insuperable.

But where there's a will there's often a way.  A way had to be found.
_A way was found_.

[Sidenote: The Use of Artificial Fogs]

The factors which combined to make "the game worth the candle" were as
follows: firstly, the use of smoke screens; secondly, the element of
surprise and the use of diversionary measures; thirdly, detailed
preparation and determination combined with efficiency.

The use of smoke screens provided a factor which had been absent in
previous attempts in history.

Mention has already been made of the great deterrent afforded by the
presence of hostile batteries and of the varying degrees of efficiency
of gun-fire as a defence against attacks from the sea.  If smoke could
be utilised in such a manner as to hide the attacking force from the
batteries without completely blinding the former, and if at the same
time the attack could be made under cover of darkness so as to prevent
aircraft from assisting those batteries, a set of conditions less
unfavourable to the attackers would then be forthcoming.  Obviously,
this necessitated the smoke drifting shorewards ahead of the
approaching vessels; i.e., the assistance of a wind blowing more or
less directly towards the shore.

It is well here to caution the reader against a commonly erroneous idea
in this connection.  It is often supposed that the use of smoke was a
sort of panacea for all evils, that it provided a counter to all
obstacles.  This was very far from being the case, as will now be {60}
explained.  Firstly, let us consider the navigational difficulties.
Smoke could not possibly assist the ships to avoid shoals when
approaching the coast.  Smoke could not prevent the vessels from being
seen and reported by surface patrol craft, submarines, or aircraft
during the trip across the sea.  The danger from mines could not be
avoided by the use of smoke.  It has already been pointed out that it
is quite difficult enough to locate one's destination on a dark night
when the lighthouses have been extinguished and other navigational aids
withdrawn.  Even a landsman will realise that if, as an addition to
such inconvenient conditions, one places an artificial fog between the
approaching vessels and their destination the problem is not going to
become any more easy to solve.  The utmost that one could gain from the
use of smoke was some measure of protection from the shore batteries,
but, as just shown, such use provided a further obstacle to be
surmounted.  Then again there is nothing so fickle in the life of a
sailor as the wind.  If the wind died away or changed to an off-shore
direction, smoke might be practically useless for covering one's

I have sometimes been asked why we made no use of poison gas clouds.
There were two main reasons.  The last thing we desired was to risk
killing those downtrodden Belgians who were still allowed to reside in
their unhappy country.  In addition to that, the fickleness of the wind
might waft the poison gas in the direction of our own vessels.

[Sidenote: Surprise Essential]

With regard to the element of surprise and the use of diversionary
measures, one of the principles laid down by Stonewall Jackson is,
"Always mystify, {61} mislead, and surprise the enemy."  The meaning of
surprise is apt to be misconstrued.  In an operation of this kind one
could not arrange for the blockships to arrive suddenly "as a bolt from
the blue" at a moment when the enemy have no suspicions whatever that
any trouble is brewing.  Thus, surprise and mystification had to go
hand in hand.  The only practical method in such cases, whether in
trench warfare or in sea fighting, is to give the enemy as much to
think about as one possibly can, to make him wonder what on earth is
going to happen next, to mislead him into believing the eventuality is
very different from that intended, and, then, as the late war
expression so aptly puts it, "when the enemy has the wind up," surprise
him by carrying out your main object in view.

Diversionary measures in this particular case were not difficult to
evolve.  Many different reasons obtained for employing our sea forces
off the Flanders coast.  To mention a few, there were bombardments from
the sea, landing operations on the shore, supporting the flank of the
military in their land attacks, mining or mine-sweeping operations,
laying submarine traps, supporting aerial attacks, and so on.  The
presence of our vessels might indicate any one of these objects and
each would call for a different set of defensive measures.

The full development of defensive measures cannot be attained until one
can clearly ascertain the attacker's object.  Even when the latter has
been discovered, the time required to bring all your powers of defence
into action must vary according to how far you have just previously
been misled.  Our best {62} course, therefore, was to ensure that our
object would be discovered so late in the proceedings that it would be
attained before full advantage of the discovery could be utilised.
Initiative usually pertains to the attacking force.  Where the defence
is open to several different forms of attack, the defending commander
is apt to be so apprehensive beforehand, and so perplexed at the time,
that his position will be weakly defended at all points.  As the attack
develops and he receives an _apparent_ indication of its object he will
make haste to concentrate all his defence measures at the threatened
position, and then, if the attackers have acted wisely, there is
considerable likelihood of his being taken by surprise too late to
guard efficiently against the real blow.  Uneasy lies the head of the
commander who is forced to adopt the defensive role in war.

The diversionary measures actually undertaken will be described

[Sidenote: Attention to Detail]

Determination and efficiency are not unknown in His Majesty's Navy.
But efficiency of a particular description was required, and this would
necessitate special training, which, if practicable, must be continued
until every officer and every man knew instinctively what to do and how
to set about it, no matter what circumstances might arise, and until
every piece of machinery and every device, however intricate, had been
proved to be satisfactory for the purpose in hand.

What then were the chances of success?  Who could say?  Clearly enough,
there must have been a divergence of opinion on this point.
Difficulties loom large.  Optimism, on the other hand, is a very
pleasant {63} encouragement.  I believe, however, that even the most
optimistic individual concerned in the enterprise was not entirely free
from qualms as the event drew nearer.  Complete success seemed at times
to be so much to hope for.  But Sir David Beatty and Sir Roger Keyes
wouldn't hear of failure, and that alone did much to ensure success.
They did not set themselves up on pedestals as men who _could not
fail--they left no stone unturned to ensure success_.  It would be
difficult to imagine anything more calculated to bring about failure
than any sign of doubt, or hesitation, on the part of the leaders of an
enterprise.  There _must_ be no failure--that was the long and short of
it--it was the spirit which governed the actions of the great leaders
of the past.

But sentiment alone is insufficient to guarantee success.  It is but a
foundation stone on which to commence the building.  Rotten timber
erected on the firmest foundation will not provide adequate protection
against the lightest gale.  Nobody realised this more fully than
Vice-Admiral Keyes, who was determined that every link of the chain
should be of maximum strength commensurate with elasticity and general
handiness.  Many were the hours given to the consideration of the
smallest details; without such work an operation becomes a mere gamble.




A war operation, such as this, passes through various stages before it
can be put into execution.  It emanates originally from a suggestion.
If the suggestion seems to bear further consideration certain
individuals are ordered to appreciate the situation, that is, to
thoroughly thrash out all the arguments for and against and to weigh
the chances and effects of success and failure.  Should the results of
such an appreciation be favourable, the investigation leads to the
formation of a Plan.

[Sidenote: Formation of a Plan]

Plans are based, to a considerable extent, on the personnel and
material believed to be available.  In like manner the calculations as
to future requirements of personnel and material are based on the types
of operations which are likely to be carried out.  But it is
conceivable that a projected plan may be found to involve the
unforeseen use of material to the detriment of other operations already
in view.  Thus the feasibility of putting a naval plan into operation
cannot be judged unless fairly complete details are given as to the
numbers and types of ships, men, and stores involved.  The formulated
results of such investigation, arising out of the original suggestion
may be designated the first edition of the Plan.

The authorities then consider the Plan both from the view of general
outlook and from that of detailed {65} requirements.  Let us suppose
that the Plan is considered to be of value, and that no objections hold
good as to the practicability of execution provided the ships and men
_are_ available.  This latter proviso then requires attention.  Many
questions have to be considered.  Can the ships be diverted from their
present duties?  What special alterations or additions are necessary?
Can the dockyard undertake the work?  If so, to what extent will other
work in hand be interrupted?  Will the men require special training?
Are the necessary stores ready at hand?  How long will the preparations
take?  And so on.  A hundred and one points must be carefully enquired
into.  It is only after a great deal of investigation, correspondence
with various departments, and conferences for co-ordinating the results
of enquiries, that the details can be arranged.  A plan served up in
the form of a mosaic is of little more use than the works of a
chronometer contained in half a dozen different boxes.

In course of time decisions are arrived at and orders are issued for
the preparatory work to be taken in hand.  But it is unlikely that all
the proposals contained in the first edition of the plan have been
agreed to.  Modifications are almost sure to be necessary.  Perhaps the
suggested vessels are required for other purposes and substitutes must
be forthcoming.  The technical experts may decide that different types
of material would lead to improvement.  Possibly the facilities for
special training of the personnel are not available at the moment.  The
plan must, therefore, be re-drafted on the basis of the personnel and
material available, and must take into consideration the dates by which
the various phases of the preparatory {66} work can be completed.  All
this takes time and serves as a reminder, indeed, that patience is a
virtue.  The second edition of the plan is evolved and the next stage
is reached.

But put aside, for a moment, the question of what material and
personnel are available.  When a plan, conveying a general idea, has
come under the critical examination of the Higher Command to the extent
of being "passed" for the commencement of detailed preparation, it has
then to be _gradually built up_ from the operational point of view.
Additions will almost always be necessary as the investigation
proceeds, and some time will elapse before the plan can be considered
as complete in every particular.

A further duty then devolves upon the operational staff.  They must
produce the orders necessary to give effect to the plan as detailed in
its final edition.

[Sidenote: Writing of the Orders]

This again is no small affair.  The writing of orders is a high art in
itself.  Orders must not be too centralized or too cut-and-dried.
Ample allowance must be made for initiative, while realising that mere
go-as-you-please methods are likely to lead to disaster.  It is usually
the unexpected that happens in war.  A single set of orders cannot
cover every eventuality.  And even if it could, nobody would have
either the time or inclination to wade through such a voluminous
document.  This is clearly enough exemplified in legal matters.  Laws
are framed to cover every possible case, but as often as not they fail
to attain such success.  Even so, how many ordinary folk can be
bothered to wade through a legal document?  What with the alternatives,
and saving clauses, such publications are dull to a degree.  The
marriage laws are {67} typical of this.  A man may not marry his
grandmother.  That clause was presumably inserted for the discomfiture
of that unique individual who _might_ contemplate such a peculiar

The issue of orders needs careful training and much experience.  Orders
must be fool-proof--that is the guiding axiom.  If an order is
misunderstood it is ten chances to one that the fault lies with the man
who gives the order.

If I have sorely tried the patience of the reader it is because of my
endeavour to emphasise the point that the order "carry on" is not
sufficient to put a suggestion into execution in the matter of a few
hours.  New situations have to be met by fresh dispositions, and this
fact has come very much to the fore in these days of strife.

The operations on the Flanders coast were the outcome of some months of
hard work--mental as well as manual.  A few details of the plan may now
be worthy of consideration.

On December 3, 1917, the plan had emanated from an Admiralty Department
under the direction of Rear-Admiral Keyes, Director of Plans, to give
him his titles at that time.  The nature of the operation and the
customary procedure, having regard to the locality concerned, would
entail its execution coming under the command of the Vice-Admiral at
Dover.  The latter apparently desired to modify the plan and submitted
his proposals on December 18th.  He suggested the idea that an attack
on the Mole, not previously mentioned in the plan, should accompany the
blocking operations.  As a diversion (pardon the anticipation) this
idea was eventually embodied after {68} exhaustive consideration had
shown it to be necessary.

[Sidenote: Vice-Admiral Keyes]

As already stated this particular type of diversion was somewhat
similar to that included in a previous scheme, referred to on page 17
as having been forwarded in May, 1917, which at that time was
considered impracticable by the Vice-Admiral at Dover.  The actual
method proposed on December 18th by the latter for giving effect to his
idea of a Mole attack was not followed, for it happened that
Rear-Admiral Keyes took over the Dover Command, with the acting rank of
Vice-Admiral, after his own plan had been submitted, and nearly four
months before it could be carried out.  The coincidence--if it was a
coincidence--was extremely advantageous.  An operation can be so much
better worked up by an officer who has handled the plan from its
inception.  But in the ordinary course of events such an arrangement is
impracticable.  An admiral or general in active employment in the face
of the enemy, as a general rule, has not sufficient spare time for the
formation of plans in every detail, nor has he a superabundance of
staff officers for the purpose.  No words of mine could ever do justice
to Sir Roger Keyes, so I will not make the attempt.  Suffice it to
record that every soul in the enterprise possessed complete confidence
in his leadership; this fact was half the battle won before we even

Admiral Keyes was given an absolutely free hand by Their Lordships; all
the details, from A to Z, were worked out under his direction.  The
"paper scheme" rapidly developed into practical shape; I will endeavour
to describe the data and arguments from {69} which its final shape was
evolved.  Before doing so, however, it may be as well to put on record
a fact that might escape the notice of the reader.  The responsibility
of the Officer in Command of an operation must necessarily be great,
but the responsibility of the Higher Command, in this case the Board of
Admiralty, which has to either sanction or disallow the execution of
proposed operations, is by no means small.  That they sanctioned it in
this case and also chose the right man to carry it out must never be

Having reached a decision as to our object and considered the obstacles
in the way of attainment, let us now pass on to the manner in which it
was proposed to overcome the various difficulties.  We will commence
with the most important phase of the operation, namely, the actual
blocking and the nature, requirements, and duties of the blockships.

Reference to the previous description of the locality and to the
principles governing the use of blockships serves to show that a single
vessel of the light-cruiser class, or above, would suffice as far as
dimensions were concerned.  But nothing possesses such a large element
of chance as war; for that reason it was considered advisable to
provide at least three blockships at Zeebrugge and two at Ostende.

With regard to the requirements of each blockship, they may be briefly
stated as follows.  Firstly, she must have the ability to proceed under
her own steam to her destination.  The task of towing a blockship into
position in the face of enemy opposition is quite impracticable.
Secondly, her draught of water must not be excessive, having due regard
to the depth of {70} the channel.  Next, she would require a certain
degree of defensive power; it would be rather heartrending, after all
one's efforts at taking a blockship to within a short distance of her
destination, if any small enemy craft could approach without hindrance
and sink the ship before her destination was actually reached.

The blockships must also be handy vessels, so that they would be
manageable up to the last moment, provided they escaped serious damage.
It has been stated previously that these ships must be so fitted and
sunk that their removal would be extremely difficult.  Five old light
cruisers which were available, or rather which could be replaced at
their present duties, were chosen for the purpose.  They were H.M.S.
_Thetis, Intrepid, Iphigenia, Brilliant, and Sirius_; the first three
being destined for Zeebrugge and the others for Ostende.


A few months previously a couple of steamers had been fitted out for
some such operation under another Vice-Admiral, but it will be seen
that, as a result of detailed investigation of all the obstacles and
factors affecting the problem, the Plan described herein differed from
its predecessors in that respect; in fact the arguments against the use
of merchant vessels were considered from the outset to be overwhelming.

[Sidenote: Hazards of the Blockships]

The work of surmounting such difficulties as escorting the blockships
across the seas and locating their destinations would require the use
of other units, and will, therefore, be described later.  Speaking
generally, the actual tasks of reaching their destinations _when
located_ and of sinking themselves in position, difficult though they
were, could best be left to the pilotage and seamanship of the
blockship officers.  {71} Here again, the author is anxious to lay
special emphasis on the fact that successful results of the blocking
operation--such as had never been attained in history--were absolutely
dependent upon the good work of the blockship personnel; to them would
the credit be due.

At Ostende, the work of the blockships, with regard to reaching their
destination, was confined to that of running the gantlet of the shore
batteries when once the entrance had been located, but the
latter--i.e., the location of the entrance--presented considerable

At Zeebrugge, there would be less difficulty in finding the entrance if
the Mole extremity, three-quarters of a mile to seaward, could be
located.  But a serious factor existed here which was absent at Ostende.

Blockships proceeding into Zeebrugge would have to risk the fire of the
Mole batteries during the first part of the approach.  They would then
have to steam in _behind those batteries_ and run the gantlet of the
batteries ashore.  Now this was a pretty big proposition.

In the second chapter it was shown that the three-gun battery situated
on the broad portion of the Mole at its northeastern extremity, taken
in conjunction with the establishment of the barge boom and
entanglement nets, rendered it extremely hazardous for the blockships
to round the Mole _en route_ to the canal entrance; in fact it was
almost a certainty that they would be sunk by the Mole guns.

Nevertheless, the canal entrance was our objective.  Somehow, by hook
or crook, the blockships were intended to reach it.  Thus, one of the
first local {72} problems requiring solution was that of removing,
temporarily or otherwise, the obstacle afforded by the three-gun Mole
battery.  Similarly, though perhaps in a lesser degree, we had also to
take into account the battery of six smaller guns on the lighthouse
extension of the Mole.

[Sidenote: Object of Attacking Mole]

Considered in a general manner, there were three lines of enquiry from
which a solution of the problem might be forthcoming.  Firstly, that
concerning the destruction of the guns or their crews, or both, or
diverting their fire, by means of action from a distance.  Secondly,
that of attaining a similar result by action on the spot.  Thirdly,
that of rendering the blockships invisible during their passage.  These
may be dealt with briefly.  The first method entailed the use of either
gun-fire or poison gas.  The outcome of a gun-fire duel between a ship
and a battery has already been described sufficiently to show that the
chances of destroying the battery guns are exceedingly small.  The use
of poison gas has been shown to be inadvisable.  The third method--that
of rendering the blockships invisible to the battery--would have
entailed the use of a smoke screen.  If such a screen could have the
effect mentioned it is obvious to the meanest intellect that it would
also have the effect of hiding their destination from the blockships
just at the critical period when it would be absolutely essential to
see exactly where they were going.

concrete submarine shelter (white)]

And so no method would suffice, except the second mentioned above,
namely, destroying the guns or their crews, or both, or diverting their
fire, by means of action _on the spot_.  This entailed an attack on the
Mole itself, carried out by vessels actually berthed {73} alongside.
The author, although well aware of the unpardonable fault of
repetition, desires at this stage to lay great emphasis on the fact
that an attack on the Mole itself could only be designed as a
diversionary measure calculated to directly assist the blockships past
one of the positions of danger.  The reader is requested to pardon
anticipation.  Subsequent to the operation, many of the public appeared
to have formed the idea that the attack on the Mole was the main
attack, and that the use of the blockships was a sort of afterthought.
I shall have more to say about this later.

Just as the three-gun battery provided a serious obstacle to the
passage of blockships round the Mole end, so also would it prevent the
similar passage of other vessels endeavouring to secure alongside the
berthing wharf on the inner side of the Mole preparatory to attacking
the Mole batteries.  Thus, if the Mole was to be stormed, _the storming
parties must land on the outer side of the Mole_, remembering that the
three-gun battery could not fire to the northward owing to being twenty
feet below the top of the high outer wall.  But the outer wall of the
Mole was never intended for use as a berthing position for vessels, and
probably never had been used by any vessel for such a purpose--hence
the complete absence of all berthing facilities as described in an
earlier chapter.  The development of the argument concerning this
projected attack had led us to the point where we needed to consider
seriously the practicability of getting any vessel, or vessels,
alongside the outer wall, of securing there, and of landing men thence
for attacking the Mole batteries.

The depth of water, the construction of the Mole, {74} the rate of the
tidal current, and many other matters required careful examination.
The depth was a doubtful matter; but, the operation being timed to take
place near high tide so that the blockships could enter the canal,
there was every likelihood of its being sufficient.  Breakwaters when
also intended as wharfs are usually built with their inner sides--i.e.,
the sides protected from bad weather--vertical like the face of an
ordinary wall, but with their seaward sides formed of large blocks of
material dropped more or less indiscriminately, one above the other, so
that the wall will be jagged for the purpose of breaking up the waves
in bad weather.  In such cases a ship could not possibly secure to the
seaward side without being severely damaged, and certainly could not
remain there.  At Zeebrugge, however, we had reason to believe that the
seaward side of the Mole was nearly vertical and that no danger would
accrue from jagged blocks of stone or concrete.

[Illustration: SECTION of MOLE through No. 3 Shed]

At high tide the tidal current on the Belgian coast is flowing at its
greatest speed--a phenomenon nearly always found in comparatively
narrow waters--and its rate was expected to be about three and a half
miles per hour, its direction of flow being to the eastward.  So far,
then, the matter of reaching a position alongside chiefly concerned the
art of seamanship if we leave the enemy's opposition out of account.
Next we had to consider the problem of securing alongside and of
disembarking the storming parties.  The most simple method of berthing
alongside a wall, in the case of a sizable vessel, is to place the
vessel roughly in position and then to use tugs to push her bodily
against the wall, afterwards securing the {76} hawsers in the usual
manner.  This led to the idea of having a second vessel to act as tug
and of providing special means to take the place of the ordinary
hawser-and-bollard method of securing.

The wall on the outer side, as previously described, rose to a height
of twenty-nine feet above the level of high water.  This height was far
above that of the deck of an average vessel.  The fact that the landing
would have to be made on a narrow parapet, high above the level of the
Mole proper, was also hardly calculated to assist matters.  The
probable existence of guns on the parapet itself, so placed as to be
able to rake the decks of a vessel alongside, and the possible presence
of obstructions placed by the Germans on the outer side of the Mole,
had to be taken into account.  It has also been mentioned above that
the use of smoke screens necessitated a wind blowing towards the shore;
thus the Mole itself could afford no protection from the wind or sea.

The Austrian military failure on the River Piave, during the late war,
afforded a good example of the disabilities resulting from insufficient
room to debouch a force which has crossed an obstacle into the enemy's
territory.  Clearly, it might be very awkward if the storming parties
were unable to descend from the parapet rapidly enough to forestall any
enemy attempts at concentration near the storming point.

All these considerations led to the choice of H.M.S. _Vindictive_ for
carrying the main portion of the storming parties.

The attack on the Mole might also provide an opportunity for destroying
material thereon.  Although this was obviously a secondary
consideration it was {77} an opportunity not to be missed.  The amount
of destructive work which could be done would depend upon the
circumstances of the moment, but it was decided to have a special
demolition party, provided with the necessary gear, to accompany the
primary attacking forces.


Clearly enough, it would be somewhat futile if one only began to
consider the work of demolition as soon as the moment arrived for such
work to commence.  With the object of being prepared in all respects
careful consideration, therefore, was given to the different methods of
demolition which would be most suitable under varying circumstances.
Following such consideration it would be necessary to train one's
demolition parties in this technical pursuit and to provide a
sufficiency of suitable destructive material.

[Sidenote: Plans for Demolition]

When making preparations for an operation of this, or similar type, one
is apt to allow secondary objects to loom too large unless great
caution is taken to prevent it.  In this particular case, however
correct it might be to fully prepare, down to the smallest detail, for
everything in advance, it was necessary to bear in mind that demolition
on the Mole could hardly assist the blockships to seal the canal exit
and, even if successful, could not bring us very great benefit.  Thus
it was clear that demolition should only be prepared for and undertaken
provided that it did not hinder the attainment of our main object in
the smallest particular.

H.M.S. _Vindictive_ had to be fitted with a special deck from which
gangways could be extended to bridge the gulf between the ship and the
top of the twenty-nine-foot wall.  For this purpose she was given {78}
a large number of gangways poised at an angle of about forty-five
degrees from the ship's side.  The idea was that on arriving alongside
the Mole, the gangways would be lowered till they rested on the top of
the wall.  The storming parties, at a prearranged signal, should run
out along the gangways and jump down to the parapet pathway four feet
below the wall top.  They should then get across the pathway, over the
iron handrails on its inner side, down to the floor level of the Mole,
sixteen feet below, and then start the work.  Now, one cannot expect
men carrying all their accoutrements and paraphernalia, such as rifles,
machine-guns, flame-throwers, bombs and grenades, rifle and gun
ammunition, and such-like to jump down a drop of sixteen feet on to a
stone surface.  So it was arranged that the advanced storming parties
should carry long storming ladders to place against the wall on its
inner side and thus facilitate access to the floor level.  Seamen were
to land first, both for the purpose just stated and for securing the
ship to the Mole after the _Vindictive_ had been pushed alongside the
Mole by another vessel.

of the parapet anchors for grappling the Mole can be seen at the end of
the bridge in the background]

[Sidenote: Fittings in _Vindictive_]

Owing to the absence of bollards for securing hawsers, special
grappling irons, fitted with double pronged hooks, with hawsers
attached to them and the ship, were designed for the purpose of hooking
on top of the wall.  In reality we proposed using the methods of the
good old days when vessels grappled each other and indulged in
hand-to-hand fighting between their respective storming parties.  The
weight of these grappling irons necessitated the use of special davits
for suspending them in a similar manner to that used for the gangways.
Special weapons, such as {79} bomb-mortars and flame-throwers, to be
worked from the ship, were provided for clearing the Mole immediately
abreast the ship prior to sending the storming parties over the top.
The _Vindictive_ also carried most of her original gun armament for
engaging enemy vessels _en route_, for shelling the six-gun battery on
the lighthouse extension of the Mole, and for defending herself against
attacks, when at the Mole, from enemy vessels in a seaward direction.
Special howitzers were carried for engaging the shore batteries after
the ship was secured, and rapid-firing guns were placed in the
fighting-top of the foremast for engaging the batteries on the Mole.
The wall being at least twenty-nine feet above the water, no gun at a
less height could fire over it in a downward direction.  Much other
special material--peculiar to the operation in hand--was required, but
space does not admit of describing it all in detail.

The reader will already have realised that the _Vindictive_ was to be a
weird craft indeed--something very different from the usual run of
warships even in these days.

Now, as regards the storming of the Mole, it would have been a
dangerous policy to put all "our eggs in one basket."  There was no
small chance of the _Vindictive_ being mined _en route_, owing to her
heavy draught, or of being sunk by gun-fire, owing to the large target
which she would present, before reaching the Mole.  It was, therefore,
decided to use two other vessels in addition to the _Vindictive_.

The ferry steamers _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ were chosen for carrying a
portion of the storming parties to the attack.  There was considerable
difficulty in finding {80} two vessels suitable to our purpose; time
did not permit of constructing special craft before the projected date
of the operation.  It must be remembered that we could not write round
to all the naval and mercantile ports explaining our requirements.  An
officer, sent on a tour for the purpose, unostentatiously visited the
likely places until he found these two vessels.  I often wonder what
imaginary yarns he conjured up for the purpose of stifling curiosity.

[Sidenote: _Iris_ and _Daffodil_]

The _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ were both well known to Liverpool folk, being
used for conveying passengers across the River Mersey many times daily.
They were extremely handy craft, could each carry fifteen hundred men
if required, and drew very little water, but they possessed two serious
disadvantages.  Firstly, their decks were so low as to necessitate the
use of long storming ladders for reaching the parapet.  Secondly, their
steaming qualities were comparatively poor, judged from the point of
view of the operation for which they were required.  Just picture their
ordinary daily employment for a moment.  Waiting alongside one of the
piers at Liverpool till their usual quota of passengers had embarked,
they would make the short trip across the river to the Birkenhead shore
and then wait once more.  During this second period of waiting the
steam pressure would be increased in the boilers in readiness for the
next short voyage across the river.  Compare that employment with a
trip of nearly one hundred miles across the open sea.  It will then be
evident that the task allotted to these two ferry vessels was by no
means simple from the engineering point of view alone.

All this, however, was carefully thought out, and {81} it was decided
that their advantages outweighed their disadvantages.  Both craft, by
nature of their work, were designed to stand heavy bumping alongside
piers; their draught was small, and, as already stated, they were easy
to handle.  After minor alterations they proceeded to the port of
assembly in charge of their naval crews and adopted the title H.M.S.,
much to the amusement of those of us who made their acquaintance for
the first time.  It is rumoured that one of these two vessels arrived
at her destination _with her anti-submarine escort in tow_, which thus
early showed that proud spirit to which she so justly proved her right
on St. George's Day, 1918.

The first duty of the _Daffodil_ on arrival at the Mole was to be that
of pushing the _Vindictive_ bodily alongside.  The former vessel was to
place herself at right angles to the latter, bows against the latter's
side, and to continue pushing until _Vindictive_, which would
previously have anchored, was secured by means of the grapnels.
_Daffodil_ was then to drop alongside _Vindictive_ and her parties were
to climb over the latter and up to the Mole.  The _Iris_ was to go
alongside the Mole ahead of _Vindictive_, to anchor, to grapnel the
parapet, and to land her storming parties by means of ladders against
the wall, her decks being too low to allow the use of large gangways as
carried in _Vindictive_.

In the event of _Vindictive_ being sunk, _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ were to
storm the Mole as best they could and do everything possible to knock
out the three-gun battery or divert its fire from the blockships.

It was believed that the Mole garrison consisted of about one thousand
men.  But what of {82} reënforcements arriving from the shore?  Access
to the Mole would entail the crossing of the viaduct by such
reënforcements.  Therefore the viaduct must be destroyed.
Consideration on this point led to a decision to utilise one or more
submarines filled with explosives and to blow them up under the
viaduct, so as to cut the latter in twain.

This particular phase of the operation had not been included in the
original Plan evolved at the Admiralty.  As previously stated the first
edition could not be expected to cover every single investigation of
every point in the problem.  The attack on the viaduct, after a large
amount of experimental work ordered by Vice-Admiral Keyes, took the
following shape.

Two submarines, each carrying several tons of high explosive, were to
accompany the expedition.  They were each to carry a crew of two
officers and four men, who, after securing their craft underneath the
viaduct, were to light the time fuses and then to take to the boats.
Each submarine carried a small motor-driven dinghey for this latter

So much, then, for the blockships, storming vessels, and submarines at




In addition to the special vessels mentioned in the preceding chapter,
many other vessels and craft were required to assist in the operation.
One can imagine the amateur reckoning up the probable number as
follows.  Three blockships at Zeebrugge and two at Ostende, three
storming ships and two submarines at the former place.  That makes ten
vessels of sorts.  Allow a few more for other purposes--say, fifteen
altogether.  As a matter of fact, there were one hundred and sixty-two.
Let us see why so many were required.

Take the requirements necessitated by the use of smoke screens.  It has
already been stated that the section of coast on which the Germans had
established heavy gun batteries was twenty-one miles in length.  Smoke
screens were required to mask those guns so that the approach of the
blockships and storming vessels should remain undiscovered until the
latest possible moment.  This meant that a large number of craft were
necessary for smoke screening alone.  Again, if the smoke screens were
to be efficient the smoke would have to be emitted within a short
distance of the coast; i.e., in comparatively shallow water.  Thus
shallow-draught vessels were necessary.  Shallow draught goes
hand-in-hand with small dimensions.  The carrying capacity of small
craft is very {84} limited; this constituted an additional reason for
employing large numbers.

Further craft were required for assisting to locate the destination,
for dealing with enemy vessels putting to sea during the attack, for
defending our ships against other enemy vessels already at sea, for
assisting to tow some of the smaller units across the seas, for
rescuing the crews of the blockships, and for various diversionary
measures.  The latter included long-range bombardments from the sea and
subsidiary attacks on the Mole, the units required being monitors and
their attendant craft and fast motor boats.  Other diversionary
measures, not requiring naval vessels for their accomplishment, were
bombing attacks by aircraft and bombardments from our shore guns.


The aircraft were intended to attract the attention of those on duty in
an overhead direction, whilst encouraging the remainder to keep under
cover.  The long-range bombardments would tend to keep the enemy's
larger batteries occupied in expending ammunition in their endeavour to
locate and silence our guns.  Subsidiary attacks, carried out by fast
motor craft against the Mole, and against German vessels berthed at its
inner side, were calculated to confuse the situation as far as the
enemy were concerned.  It was arranged that the R.M.A. siege guns on
the northern flank of the Allied army should bombard for the purpose of
simulating a prelude to a land attack.

The reason for the employment of one hundred and sixty-two vessels, not
including aircraft, will now be somewhat more clear.  The various
classes comprised cruisers, submarines, ferry-boats, monitors,
destroyers, motor launches, small motor boats of a fast type, {85} and
one ordinary ship's steamboat; the latter was to be used in connection
with rescuing the crews of the submarines.

With the exception of the blockships, storming vessels, and submarines,
the majority of the craft were drawn from the forces attached to the
Dover Command; these latter, being in full commission already, did not
require new officers and men to be specially appointed for our
purposes.  Seven French torpedo craft and four French motor launches
were included in the operation.  The aircraft were drawn from the 61st
and 65th Wings of the Royal Air Force.

Space does not admit of describing the work of all these units in
detail, but it may be of interest to mention one or two.

[Sidenote: Precautions Against Fatigue]

Whenever an operation of this description is afoot, it is extremely
advisable that the personnel destined to take part in the more hectic
part of the fighting should not only be trained to the last ounce, but
quite fresh on arrival.  The individual cannot give of his best when
fatigued--a truism exemplified again and again during the late war.
But ships do not cross the ocean without any effort on the part of
their personnel.  It is not a case of merely turning on a tap, saying,
"hey presto," and going to bed.  Far from it.  Engines do not revolve
merely for the asking.  Large vessels carry large engineering
complements, but always require about half on duty at a time when at
sea.  Small craft may have small engines, but their complements are
also small.  So, whether the vessel be large or small, the work below
calls for strenuous duties from the engineering personnel--only those
who have undertaken such duties can realise the {86} immense effort and
the accompanying fatigue which falls to their lot.  Then again the ship
cannot navigate herself.  The steering and the lookout duties both call
for great concentration of attention, especially at night when steaming
without lights in the close company of other vessels, in the vicinity
of shoals, and in enemy waters.  Guns' crews must stand by the guns so
as to be ready at a moment's notice.

Now, this expedition would have to steam many miles across the seas.
How then could the crews be fresh on arrival?  This particular problem
was solved as follows.  Arrangements were made to provide each
blockship with a number of men, over and above the minimum required at
the climax of the operation, for the purpose of handling the vessel and
its engines during the passage overseas whilst those men required for
the "final run" would be resting.  Extra officers could not be spared
for this purpose.

The _Vindictive_, _Iris_, and _Daffodil_ were differently situated in
this respect.  It was intended--as I shall explain presently--to bring
these three vessels back on completion of the operation; the total
number of personnel on board need not be kept down to the barest
minimum.  In fact, they were each to carry two complete sets of
personnel, namely, those remaining in the ship throughout and those
landing on the Mole.

The submarines, motor launches, and fast motor boats, owing to lack of
accommodation, could not be given extra personnel for the trip across;
it was, therefore, decided to tow all such craft throughout the greater
portion of the passage across the seas.  Even that decision did not
relieve the crews of all {87} duty, but gave them some respite, and,
what was equally important, helped to ensure their arrival in the
vicinity of their place of duty.

[Sidenote: Rescue Work]

The rescue work required much thought.  Bearing in mind the main object
which had to be attained, it will be understood that all such questions
as rescue work and retirement, however important from the point of view
of humanity, must be relegated to a comparatively secondary

One cannot wage war without "breaking eggs."  He who attempts to do so
will seldom accomplish anything worth while.  The lives of men are,
indeed, a precious responsibility on the shoulders of their leader, but
his primary duty in action is to obtain the utmost value from his men
rather than to adopt the negative attitude of merely preventing their
lives from being lost.  This does not signify that lives should be
thrown away without a thought.  Not one life should be sacrificed in
the execution of superior order unless the order is absolutely
essential to the success of the work in hand, or, putting it in another
way, unless the life is given so that others may live.  The leader,
therefore, has a difficult problem to solve.  How far is he justified
in risking failure through the natural desire to preserve life?  The
armchair critic, who has never been faced with such responsibility, who
can have no conception of the different situations which arise in war,
may sneer at the leader who places too great a store on the lives of
his subordinates, or may hurl accusations of callous indifference at
the superior whose successful operation is accompanied by a long
casualty list.  But we can leave any such critic to his sneers and
accusations, knowing, as we do, that he is {88} least dangerous to the
community in war-time if he remains in his chair.

Each blockship, as already stated, was to carry the minimum number of
personnel which could bring success.  But the minimum number was large.

During the "final run" to their destinations they would require the
engineering and stokehold parties, lookouts, guns' crews for
self-defence, the navigation party conning and steering the ship, and
complete spare navigation parties for taking over command in an
emergency.  These with a few others, such as signalmen, brought the
total in each ship up to no less than fifty-three.

In the case of the _Merrimac_ at Santiago, during the Spanish-American
war, Lieutenant Hobson was accompanied by only about half a dozen men.
At Port Arthur the Japanese blockships, at each of their attempts, also
carried very small crews.  But it must not be forgotten that all those
attempts failed.

Now, it was decided to give each blockship a large lifeboat and some
life-saving rafts, and also to arrange for other craft to proceed to
the rescue.  The chances of recovering any of the personnel certainly
appeared to be very remote, especially when one realised that the
rescue would have to be effected practically underneath the enemy's
guns, and even behind their trench defence system on the coast-line.

The chances of rescue must bear some relation to the numbers to be
rescued.  For this reason it was decided to disembark the oversea
passage crews from each blockship before arriving within the danger

[Sidenote: Motor Launches for Rescue Work]

When the question arose as to which of the motor {89} launches should
be used for effecting the rescue of the crews from the blockships,
volunteers were asked for.  In spite of the almost incredible
difficulties and tremendous risk involved the number of applications
for this dangerous task was most embarrassing.  Eventually lots were
drawn and the winners were greatly envied by their less fortunate

The organisation necessary to ensure efficient co-operation, and
co-ordination of effort, was no small matter.  Every vessel, however
small, had important duties to fulfil.  At any moment during the
operation success might depend on the action of a single unit: it would
be difficult to conceive any circumstances where the value of
initiative would be more pronounced.  Nothing could be left to
chance--any suggestion of possible failure was unthinkable.




Safe passage across the seas, especially from the navigational point of
view, provided much food for thought.  The liability of new shoals to
form and of old shoals to move their position, the consequent lack of
dependence on the charts, and the absence of the usual navigational
aids have already been mentioned.

These navigational difficulties, increased by the low visibility which
obtains at night, combined to form the first of the three main
obstacles to be encountered in blocking operations of this nature,
namely, the difficulty of locating the destination.

Considerable amusement was caused in naval circles, subsequent to the
operation, when a certain individual, from another country, published a
special piece of "inside information," to wit, that the method whereby
_Vindictive_ reached Zeebrugge Mole was a great secret, known only to
Captain Carpenter and one other, involving intricate calculations in
connection with astronomical phenomena.  I was extremely interested in
this suggestion for it was the first that I had heard of it.  As a
matter of fact the safe navigation was largely the outcome of a very
fine piece of work by two officers specially lent from the Hydrographic
Department of the Admiralty.[1]

[1] Captain H. P. Douglas and Lieutenant-Commander F. E. B. Haselfoot.


The major portion of the area through which the various forces were to
pass was surveyed under great difficulties.

[Sidenote: Object of Special Survey]

The surveying vessels were often forced to remain within the danger
zone of the German batteries, and, owing to shortness of time, had to
utilise every possible opportunity for fixing positions of buoys,
taking soundings, examining areas where new shoals were suspected,
marking the limits of old shoals, laying down special marks to assist
the passage of the expedition, and to enable the bombarding vessels to
take up their positions with accuracy.  Old obstructions had to be
removed and wrecks had to be correctly charted.  The vagaries of the
weather rendered the task all the more difficult, and interference from
the enemy was experienced on more than one occasion.  Incidentally both
these officers were on board H.M.S. _Botha_ when she rammed and sank
the German torpedo-boat A-19, which was out with a few others on one of
their very infrequent tip-and-run escapades off Dunkirk; this was a
pleasant interlude for these hard-worked officers.  No country in the
world can boast of such an efficient Hydrographic Department as our
own.  Their work in the war passed almost unrecorded, but none the less
appreciated by those of us "who went down to the sea in ships."  No
praise could be too great for the work of the surveyors employed on our

It will be readily understood that little reliance could be placed on
large conspicuous buoys laid by us near the enemy's coast.  On
discovering such navigational marks the enemy would presumably either
move them a mile or so, for the purpose of interfering {92} with our
navigation, or else remove them altogether.  Buoys, to be of any
practical use, must be conspicuous, hence the likelihood of their being
seen by the enemy unless placed in position at the last possible
moment.  This alternative was actually followed; it does not require
much imagination to realise the difficulties and dangers in placing
them in readiness for the operation and in removing them again on each
occasion when the operation was postponed.

The strong tidal stream in the southern portion of the North Sea
renders navigation rather anxious work in misty weather, or in
darkness, especially as the normal rate of the current is much
influenced by weather.  Naturally, there is less danger of hitting a
shoal which one is endeavouring to avoid, if the ship is steaming
either directly with or against the current; the error in such cases is
confined to the time at which any particular position will be reached.
But when steaming _across_ the current a small eccentricity on the part
of the latter may make all the difference between reaching the desired
position and missing it altogether.  The current running parallel to
the Belgian coast attains a speed of about three knots under normal
conditions.  Should a three-knot allowance be made when steaming across
the tide there would be a serious error of position at the end of an
hour's run if the tidal stream happened to be running at the rate of
two and three-quarters or three and one-quarter knots; it must be
realised that a ship cannot discover the rate of the tidal stream in a
given area until she has completed her passage through it; i.e., until
she has already suffered from its eccentricities.

For the purposes of the particular case under review {93} it was
necessary for the expedition to arrive at an _exact_ position, thus
tidal calculations and navigational aids assumed great importance.  But
they alone were insufficient to ensure accurate navigation.  Compasses
must be correct, or their errors known, and the speed of the ship due
to its own engines requires to be carefully gauged.  For a given speed
of engine the speed of a ship varies according to her draught and the
state of the ship's hull under water.  All these considerations will
serve to show the extreme necessity for working out courses, speeds,
and times beforehand with the utmost accuracy, for repeatedly checking
them to ensure the absence of clerical error, for reconsidering
allowances for the vagaries of the elements, and for correcting the
results from day to day according to the tidal differences due to the
ever-changing phases of the moon.  The careful navigator always follows
a similar procedure, but, in ordinary cases, he knows that a fault in
position can probably be remedied in time to avoid untoward incident.
In our movements, however, there would be small chance of remedy if the
blockships failed to find the canal entrance, or if the submarines were
unable to locate the viaduct, or if the storming vessels missed the

[Sidenote: Clearing the Mines]

Preparation for the passage across the seas involved yet another matter
of considerable importance.  Vast numbers of mines had been laid, both
by ourselves and by the enemy, during the previous three and a half
years, in the areas through which the expedition must pass before
reaching the permanent German defence mine-fields near the Flanders
coast.  Doubtless other mines had dragged with the tide {94} across our
desired route.  Special mine-sweeping work was, therefore, necessary to
render the major portion of the passage even tolerably safe from mines.
The reader can probably appreciate the difficult nature of that task
with its attendant risks and necessity for thoroughness.

In addition to the one hundred and sixty-two vessels whose duties have
been mentioned, other supporting squadrons were necessary far out at
sea.  The possibility of our intentions having become known to the
enemy had to be borne in mind.  In such an event the enemy would, of
course, adopt special measures to ensure giving the expedition a warm
reception on arrival, but a most important eventuality for us to guard
against was that of meeting a superior concentrated enemy force already
at sea waiting to intercept us _en route_.  Scouting craft, both aerial
and naval, were therefore required; it was also advisable that our
fighting fleet should be conveniently situated in case the chance arose
of defeating any such counter to our expedition.

[Sidenote: German High Seas Fleet]

Whenever we employed our small craft to operate in enemy waters we had
to bear in mind a certain possibility.  The enemy on becoming aware of
our movements, or intentions, and perhaps feeling unusually courageous,
_might_ say, "Here are a number of small enemy vessels close to our
harbours, let us engage them with the whole strength of our fleet and
thereby achieve a great victory for the Fatherland."  And so, in case
the German Fleet left their harbours, unlikely though it might be, our
Grand Fleet was always "in the offing" at such times ready to meet the
so-called High Seas Fleet and send them down to the place where they
ought to go.


The man-in-the-street must have wondered what the Grand Fleet was doing
at sea so often in view of the fact that the enemy hid themselves
almost throughout the war.  The difficulty lay in the fact that we
could not be perfectly certain that the constitution of German naval
valour would continue to include ninety-nine per cent of discretion.
Time after time the Grand Fleet hoped against hope that they might meet
the enemy.  The operations off the Belgian coast seemed to hold out yet
another slender hope; this, pardon the anticipation, proved to be as
forlorn as usual.  The history of the High Seas Fleet, with respect to
their oft-repeated desire to try conclusions with the Grand Fleet, can
be briefly narrated.  In the four and a quarter years following the
outbreak of war the High Seas Fleet came out once, and once only, with
the express intention of meeting the Grand Fleet--and that was to
surrender!  On the one other occasion when they met our fleet,
incidentally by accident, they concentrated all their efforts at escape
and then claimed the victory.  The German Navy never had any
traditions--now they have one less!

The reader may well ask what connection these remarks have with the
subject of the blocking operation.  A very close connection indeed.

Napoleon--perhaps the greatest student of war and certainly one of the
greatest generals that the world has seen--remarked, and repeated again
and again, that in war "the moral is to the physical as three is to
one."  Every great leader understands the value of morale and every man
who has served his country in war has at least a subconscious
realisation of the moral factor.


Just consider the moral effect of the German inactivity.  In our men
the uppermost feelings towards the enemy were those of contempt.  There
is small need to consider the morale of the High Seas Fleet, for is it
not recorded by their own Admiral, von Scheer, that the men mutinied at
the last because they believed they were being sent out to fight our
fleet?  Take the case of our Dover Patrol force.  They knew that the
enemy could choose their own time for dashing out of the Belgian ports
to attack our cross-channel communications.  They knew that the chances
of intercepting such enemy under adverse conditions, such as during
darkness or fog, were very small.  Yet month after month passed by and
the enemy surface craft did next to nothing.  Sometimes our advanced
patrols came into touch with enemy patrols.  On each occasion, I
believe almost without exception, the enemy craft turned and ran at
utmost speed for home.  In the case of our small motor boats there had
been meetings with those of the enemy within a mile or two of the
latter's bases: here again, there is no recorded instance of one, or
even two, of their craft standing up to one of ours.  The reader will
understand the resultant moral effect.  Some day perhaps we shall hear
the romantic story of these adventurous small craft working from the
Dover area--how one of them coolly steamed in underneath Ostende Pier
one night to repair her engine whilst the German sentries paraded up
and down just overhead, how another ran in behind Zeebrugge Mole in
broad daylight and fired her torpedoes at German vessels berthed
alongside, and so on.  Is it difficult to imagine the feeling of
superiority and confidence possessed by our personnel?


[Sidenote: German Morale]

The morale of the German naval forces in Flanders concerned us much
more closely than that of the High Seas Fleet.  Under ordinary
circumstances we should have been exceedingly apprehensive of any
German torpedo craft at Zeebrugge or in the vicinity, especially those
at Blankenberghe, but experience had served to show that they were none
too ready to further the "über" portion of "Deutschland über Alles."
Thus we were all the more ready to take risks which may have seemed to
be uncommonly close to the border-line between "justifiable" and the

In recounting the preparations which followed naturally upon the main
considerations connected with the problem in hand there has been a
certain amount of unavoidable anticipation.

It has already been explained that the conduct of the operation fell to
the Vice-Admiral commanding the Dover Patrol, and that a very large
number of vessels of various classes and many specially trained
personnel were required.  Thus the fitting out of the vessels, the
preparation of material, and the training of the personnel also came
under the direction of the Vice-Admiral.

It must not be forgotten that the ordinary work of the Dover Patrol
could not be interrupted even for one day at this period.  The lines of
communication across the Channel, important as they had already been
throughout the war, were now of such vital importance that the Allied
situation on the main battle front depended on the work of the Dover
Patrol more than ever before.  During February and March, 1918, when
the preparations for our enterprise were in full {98} swing, and
especially during the latter month, the Germans were concentrating
every possible effort to break down the Allied resistance.  Their final
great "push" was in full swing and the Allied troops were being hard
pressed almost to the point of giving way.  British, Colonial, and
American reënforcements were being poured into France by every
available route; guns, ammunition, and stores were passing across the
Channel in an endless stream of shipping.  The situation was critical
to a degree.  If the Dover Patrol force had failed at such a time the
war might have had a very different ending.  And in the midst of this
terribly anxious period we were forced to request great additional
effort for the purposes which the author is endeavouring to describe.

One may be pardoned for thinking that the blocking operation, with all
its complicated requirements, should have received undivided attention,
but such a thing was impossible.  Those were busy days at Dover.
Special material, such as artificial fog apparatus, had to be
constructed and fitted in the craft concerned.  The use of the
apparatus had to be practised with a view to discovering the conditions
under which the best results could be obtained.  Neighbouring commands,
such as at Portsmouth and The Nore, were exceedingly helpful in this
latter respect.  The use of howitzers, flame projectors, bomb-mortars,
grappling irons, scaling ladders, and many other fighting appliances
not usually found in men-o'-war had to be investigated.

[Sidenote: Production of Smoke]

A special factory was established at Dover under Wing-Commander
Brock--of whom I shall have much to tell--mainly in connection with the
{99} developments and use of artificial fog, but also to further the
design and production of other material.  Sixty men worked at this
factory.  Their output, both in quality and quantity, was most
satisfactory in spite of the many handicaps with which such innovations
have to contend.  The difficulty of obtaining special material, when
the output of every large firm in the country was already earmarked for
other purposes, was not lessened by the fact that our urgent demands
could seldom be supported, owing to the necessity for secrecy, by
explanations as to the purposes in view.

The use of artificial fog in war was by no means an entirely new idea.
The device had already been utilised by our naval forces off the
Belgian coast, and a quantity of data on the subject was available as a
result of its use in fighting on land.  But all forms of fog
screens--and there were many--had hitherto possessed disadvantages
which would militate against satisfactory results in an enterprise such
as we contemplated.  The main difficulty attached to the smoke
apparatus at Dover was that a very visible flame was emitted; this
would have completely given our presence away as the smoke was intended
to _hide our presence_ and cover our advance.  Some attempts had been
made to surmount this difficulty, but experiments proved the apparatus
to be hopelessly unsuited to our requirements.  The reader, however,
will not desire to be introduced to a highly technical treatise on this
subject.  Suffice it to say that, as a result of prolonged experimental
work, a new type of fog was evolved which satisfied all requirements.
The trials were not altogether devoid of humour.  It is rumoured that
on one occasion a fog produced in the Dover {100} Straits refused to
dissipate itself for three days, with the result that mercantile
captains said some very hard things about the clerk of the weather.

The blockships and _Vindictive_ were fitted out at Chatham.  That
dockyard was already being taxed to its utmost.  The situation demanded
that every man should strive to exceed his previous utmost efforts--one
of the few points on which our enemies may congratulate themselves.
Secrecy was, of course, essential.  Yet in the case of the ships
fitting out at Chatham the number of men who played an indirect part in
the operation ran into four figures.  The same thing applied at
Portsmouth where the _Iris_, the _Daffodil_, and the submarines
destined to attack the railway viaduct at Zeebrugge were fitted out.
The director of Naval Construction, Sir Tennyson D'Eyncourt, and the
Director of Dockyards, Rear-Admiral L. E. Power, brought all their
valuable knowledge, and that of their respective staffs, to bear on the
problem.  Much of the usual formality governing inter-departmental
procedure was waived.  Paper work was reduced to a minimum.  The real
nature of the operation was made known to few at that period.  The war
had taught men not to ask questions unless the information was an
absolute necessity.  Nevertheless many must have wondered what was
afoot; special steps had to be taken, therefore, to prevent leakage of
information, of which more anon.




No naval or military training is necessary to realise that the success
of any war operation is mainly dependent upon the personnel.  In these
days of machinery and munitions, however, we are apt to become
ultra-materialistic in our imagination.  We read of so many million
rounds of ammunition, so many thousand tons of merchant shipping, such
and such new-fangled weapons.  But the necessity for efficient
personnel is, after all, the crux of the whole matter.  What use a ship
without a crew, or an aeroplane without a pilot?  Truly the question of
personnel is paramount.  No belligerent state ever suffered from a
surplus of fighting men in the midst of a war.  How strange it seemed
to us in those critical days that we had ever been content to rely on
an overseas expeditionary force of only 150,000 men.

The ordinary use of warships against the enemy involves no special
requirements of personnel beyond those which can be foreseen when the
ships are originally designed.  Design naturally results from projected
employment whether the design be constructional or instructional.  But
for the purposes of this unusual kind of operation special types of
officers and men were required and special training had to be arranged
for.  The operation itself--in official {102} parlance--was considered
to be _hazardous_.  Success would depend upon the work of the personnel
to an unusual degree.  This fact was early recognised.

It is difficult to define the type of men required.  They should be
volunteers as far as that was practicable.  They must be "all out for
business."  In view of the hazardous nature of their enterprise it was
advisable that they should be unmarried.

In the Grand Fleet alone there were many thousands of men spoiling for
a fight.  Nor was this surprising.  During nearly four years of
waiting, tuned up to the last note of efficiency, there had been only
one action in which the major portion of the main fleet was engaged,
and only a few smaller actions in which opportunities were available
for the crews of our large ships to show their worth.  But how many of
the public realised the vastness of its work?--the incessant
patrolling, the continual sweeps up and down and across the North Sea,
with only a glimpse of an enemy vessel on the rarest occasions, and
that but a momentary vision of her stern disappearing at the utmost
speed as the vessel fled to her nearest port of refuge.  As a
blue-jacket was heard to remark, "It's always tip and run with devilish
little of the tip."

The everlasting practices, manoeuvring, and drills, designed towards
the attainment and upkeep of efficiency, may have been novel enough for
the first few months, but the novelty soon wore off.  Not that the men
ever showed any sign of weariness.  It was more a case of hope deferred.

I was in that fleet for three years and three months and can speak from
experience.  One marvelled at the spirit of the men.  They were always
ready for "the {103} day"--hungry for it, praying for it.  Even the
theatrical entertainments, which they organised in their spare time,
were brimful of topical allusions to the absent enemy.

[Sidenote: Grand Fleet Personnel]

The personnel of the Grand Fleet--I especially allude to those who had
served in the Fleet from the outbreak of war--were, indeed, spoiling
for a fight.  They had read from time to time of the splendid actions
fought by their contemporaries in other theatres of the war; it was
only human that they should feel extremely envious of these others.

It must not be forgotten that the efficiency of our main fleet at the
outbreak of war was mainly due to the untiring efforts of its
personnel.  The work of the fleet in the years immediately preceding
the war had been exceedingly strenuous; very different from the sea
life of a decade earlier.  The days of "hurrah" cruises, when gunnery
practices took second place to festivities, had long since passed.
Manoeuvres, firing exercises with guns and torpedoes, night attacks and
steam trials at sea were alternated with "rests" in harbour, where
evolutions, drills, and instructions of all sorts, conferences and war
games had kept us pretty well occupied.  Admittedly, then, service in
the main fleet required a high state of efficiency; an individual who
fell short of this requirement was not wanted.  Thus, speaking
generally, the personnel of the main fleet at the outbreak of war were
only there because they were considered to be deserving of a place on
the efficiency roll.  Yet many of these very officers and men had not
seen an enemy ship since the outbreak of war.  It is not difficult,
therefore, to imagine their envy of those others to whom {104}
opportunities had been vouchsafed to prove their worth in action.

The choice of the personnel for our particular enterprise had to be
governed, to a certain extent, by those most readily available.  The
question thus arose as to whether the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand
Fleet, Sir David Beatty, would consent to lend any of his officers and
men for the operation.  The Vice-Admiral was anxious that the Grand
Fleet should be given a share in this affair.  The Commanders-in-Chief
of the three southern dockyard ports and the Commandants of the Royal
Marine Artillery and Light Infantry were also consulted; many personnel
at these latter establishments would be awaiting draft in the ordinary
course of events and might, therefore, be more easily spared than those
from the Grand Fleet.

[Sidenote: Selecting the Men]

If the German High Seas Fleet had shown any activity it is a doubtful
matter whether Sir David Beatty would have allowed his officers and men
to leave the fleet.  It must be understood that it was not merely a
case of borrowing these men for a day or two, but for a period of
several weeks, so that they could be specially trained for their
somewhat unusual duties.  Sir David Beatty, however, considered that
the risk of rendering his ships temporarily short-handed was justified
in view of the importance of our expedition.  His chief difficulty lay
in the matter of selection.  Owing to the necessity of secrecy he could
not issue an ordinary memorandum to all and sundry stating our object
and asking for volunteers.  So each Flag Officer was requested to
produce a certain number of officers and men from his own particular
{105} squadron.  Likely individuals were to be asked if they were
prepared to undertake something "hazardous"; no further intimation as
to the nature of the enterprise was to be promulgated.  Similar methods
of selection were adopted at the naval and marine depots.  It is not
difficult to imagine the buzz of excitement which passed through each
ship when rumour suggested that there was something afoot.

If the nature of the operation had been divulged and volunteers
requested, there would have been twenty thousand names sent in.  That
was the Commander-in-Chief's own opinion.  But the secret must be
safeguarded.  So the selection was made by the officers--so many men
from each ship, seamen, stokers, and marines.  At that stage the
selected men knew nothing except that they were required for something

Life in the fleet was not altogether free from hazard in the ordinary
course of events.  With one's living space surrounded by the most
destructive of high explosives in close proximity, perhaps a matter of
inches, with the seas either mine-strewn or, in the absence of mines,
containing lurking submarines, with the ever-present danger of
collision between vessels steaming at high speed without lights on the
darkest night, it cannot be said that naval life in war-time carries an
insignificant insurance premium.

But the coming operation was something different.  It was declared to
be "hazardous."  If the usual life at sea as described above carried no
such descriptive title, the word "hazardous" meant much.

Though little enough was known as to the business ahead, it was
sufficient to raise the envy of the great {106} majority of men who
were not fortunate enough to be selected.  One could well imagine the
little knots of men who gathered together in the evening and discoursed
on the injustice of being left behind.  The intense interest with which
the special training of the chosen few was watched could almost be
felt.  For boat-pulling, physical drill, and route marching, commenced
immediately, were the order of the day, just to prepare the men for the
more intensive training to follow.

A good deal of consideration had to be given to the choice of officers.
The question of seniority of the blockship commanders gave food for
thought.  Each of these vessels would also require at least three
executive officers.  The chance of the captain being bowled over early
in the proceedings was none too small.  So the conning and steering
arrangements and the whole system of command in each ship was to be
triplicated.  Thus each officer must be ready to take over the
responsibility of command at a moment's notice.  Similar considerations
affected the choice of officers for the storming vessels.  Still
further executive officers were required for charge of the storming
parties.  Engineer officers must be forthcoming for these special
vessels.  At first all these officers, just as in the case of the men,
knew nothing of the circumstances under which they were required,
except that it was for a hazardous business.

The majority of the officers and men for the blockships and storming
vessels were drawn from the Grand Fleet; most of the remainder were
obtained from the naval depots.

[Sidenote: The American Battle Squadron]

When visiting the United States of America at the {107} end of 1918 I
was often asked to explain why American naval personnel were not
included in the enterprise.  On more than one occasion there were
strong evidences of disagreeable insinuations having been circulated
through pro-German influences.  It was suggested that relations between
the British and American squadrons in the Grand Fleet left much to be
desired, and that feelings of jealousy had caused us to decline
American assistance for the purposes of our enterprise.  Nothing could
be further from the truth.  The American battle squadron was never
referred to as such.  They formed the "sixth" battle squadron of the
Grand Fleet.  Their ships and ours constituted _one_ fleet, working for
a single end and guided by common sentiment.  For the furtherance of
successful co-operation the Americans had literally "thrown overboard"
everything that could weaken the combination.  Their signalling
arrangements, tactical manoeuvring, and special gunnery methods had all
been brought into line with ours.  The unselfishness and sacrifice
involved can only be fully appreciated by members of our own sea

From the day of their arrival the Americans had been actuated with but
one purpose, namely, that of leaving no stone unturned to enhance their
value as a reënforcement.  Admiral Rodman, who commanded the Sixth
Battle Squadron, was ever in close touch with Admiral Beatty.  The
genuine friendship between his squadron and the rest of the fleet will
never be forgotten in our service.  There was but one fleet.  But the
question of utilising their personnel for our immediate affair was
governed by something more than cordiality and co-operation.  Secrecy
had to be {108} maintained.  If we had transferred a few score American
officers and men to Chatham, where there were no American ships, for
special training with our own, curiosity would have been aroused at
once, comment would have followed and, in a very short while, the
secret might have been public property.

Admiral Beatty and Admiral Rodman had discussed the whole subject and
decided that American assistance was inadvisable for the reason given.
I was also asked if it was true that an American officer had come over
to Zeebrugge in _Vindictive_ as a stowaway.  It was not true.

Admiral Rodman had previously held an important post in connection with
the Panama Canal, and he let us have the benefit of his experiences
with regard to questions of salvage.  Nearly a year later he was kind
enough to attend a large meeting with the author in New York, where, in
no uncertain language, he nailed the pro-German insinuations to the

[Sidenote: Captains of Blockships]

Amongst the first officers to leave the Grand Fleet were those destined
to command the blockships; the fitting out of the latter had already
commenced.  The usual custom concerning seniority for command of light
cruisers was waived, these officers, whose ranks varied from a
Commander to a Lieutenant of less than three years' standing, being
selected from those available mainly by virtue of their character and
capability.  Those selected to command _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ were also
sent south as early as practicable.  On arrival at Dover they were told
the "secret."  It was probably self-control combined with the somewhat
artificial reserve arising from good discipline which enabled them to
refrain from giving vent to {109} their feelings of elation.  One of
them told me that he had the sensation of being released from prison;
the opportunity of being able to show his worth had come at last.  Each
officer read through the "plan" so as to make himself acquainted with
the broad outlines of the whole enterprise.  One of the blockship
commanders expressed the opinion that the blocking of Ostende would be
"easy meat" compared to the undertaking at Zeebrugge, and he earnestly
requested that he might command a blockship destined for the latter
place.  This request was granted.  Incidentally his opinion was wrong.
Subsequently, thanks to his own splendid efforts, he caused his
comparison between the two places to appear all the more erroneous by
assisting to make the blocking of Zeebrugge seem relatively simple.

The main ideas governing the preparatory work, as already stated, had
been evolved under the direction of Admiral Keyes.  Many questions,
however, of a more local description remained to be decided on the
spot.  The blockship officers, therefore, thoroughly investigated every
detail which bore on their duties and devised many local improvements,
especially in connection with the handling of the vessels.

They left nothing undone to ensure a successful issue of their efforts.
No other subject held any interest for them in those days.  Just how to
take their ships to their allotted positions--that was their one
consideration.  The question of being rescued after their work was
completed held a very secondary place.  Perhaps the rescue vessels
might be able to do something towards it.  Perhaps not.  Anyway, that
mattered nothing in comparison with the crucial {110} point.  And so
they schemed and discussed and organised and tested.  And what a grand
reward they obtained for their labours!

I should like to mention in passing that the first blockship officer to
come south was Lieutenant Ivor B. Franks, in whose hands much of the
early work connected with fitting out the blockships was placed, with
splendid results which reflected great credit on him.  He commanded
_Iphigenia_ during the first two attempts made against Zeebrugge, but,
most unluckily for him, he developed appendicitis just before the final
attempt.  It was largely due to his earnest entreaties that Admiral
Keyes gave the command to the previous second-in-command, who was a
Lieutenant of only one year standing.  Once again Lieutenant Franks,
for whom we all felt the greatest sympathy, had shown the value of his

During this period the constructive work on the ships proceeded apace.

The _Vindictive_ rapidly changed her appearance.  Every unessential
fitting that could be removed in the time at our disposal was wafted
away.  The foremast was cut off just above the fighting-top.  The
mainmast was removed altogether and a large portion of it was fitted
horizontally across the deck, extending several feet over the port side
of the ship, as a bumpkin designed to prevent the port propeller from
bumping against the Mole at Zeebrugge.

Special fenders were fitted on the ship's side to prevent damage to the
latter when secured to the Mole, and a fender of colossal proportions
was added to the port side of the forecastle for the express purpose of
bumping the Mole on arrival.


Other alterations and additions have been described in Chapter V.

H.M.S. _Hindustan_, Captain A. P. Davidson, D.S.O., was lent as a depot
vessel for our officers and men who had been concentrated at Chatham.
There was then no living accommodation on board _Vindictive_ or in the

[Sidenote: Informing the Officers]

The Vice-Admiral took an early opportunity of assembling all the
officers and making the whole plan known to them collectively.  The
secret was to be kept from the men until later, in accordance with the
principle of never divulging a secret to anybody except those to whom
the information is indispensable.

The personnel specially required for storming the Mole at Zeebrugge
were divided into three main parties, viz., Seamen storming parties
under the command of Captain Henry C. Halahan, D.S.O., R.N., Marine
storming parties (drawn from the 4th Battalion) under the command of
Lieutenant-Colonel Bertram N. Elliot, D.S.O., R.M.L.I., and a
demolition party consisting of both Seamen and Marines under the
command of Lieutenant-Commander Cecil C. Dickinson, R.N.

The Marine Infantrymen were put through intensive training at one of
the southern depots; this training was arranged and personally
supervised by Lieutenant-Colonel Elliot, whose powers of imagination
and organisation were of a high order and whose optimism was very
encouraging.  He was tremendously enthusiastic from the first moment
when he was let into the secret.  As second-in-command of the Naval
Forces in Servia he had previously rendered splendid service and had
been awarded the D.S.O.  {112} After the fall of Belgrade I believe
that he had traversed the entire country on foot in his endeavour to
help his force to safety.  I remember a lady telling me that she and
her friends had been much interested on recent nights in watching a
large party of Marines indulging in peculiar antics on a hill opposite
her house; also that the hill was partly covered with strips of canvas
in a seemingly aimless fashion.  I expressed my astonishment at the
strange proceeding.  Incidentally the canvas strips were laid out to
represent different portions of Zeebrugge Mole, though, at that period,
the men believed they represented some enemy position elsewhere.

[Sidenote: Intensive Training]

The Marine Artillerymen, destined to man the howitzers and some other
guns in _Vindictive_, were trained at another depot.

The seamen were largely trained at Chatham under military supervision
and advice; the excellence of this training received a well-deserved
tribute in the official despatch.  The demolition parties were also
trained at Chatham.

Training in night fighting was the main idea.  Instruction in bombing,
bayonet fighting, and all types of trench raiding was given.  The men
believed that they were required for some special service in France;
their enthusiasm was unbounded.

[Illustration: LIEUT.-COL. BERTRAM N. ELLIOT, D.S.O., R.M.L.I.,

Taking everything into consideration and looking at the operation of
attacking the Mole from a general point of view, it was not dissimilar
to a trench raid on a large scale.  The preparatory bombardment, the
rush "over the top," the probability of encountering barbed wire, the
descent to the main level of the Mole, the hand-to-hand fighting in the
dark, and {113} finally the clearing of dug-outs, all combined to liken
that phase of the operation to one of the many night raids with which
the military were so well acquainted on the western front.  The senior
officers of the Seamen and Marine storming parties had both gained much
experience of such fighting ashore.  It was to be a raid of the first
water, a super-raid.  The military officers were most enthusiastic
about our men.  They declared that these men could carry any position.
For they were all picked men; and even so some of them were weeded out
as not quite reaching high-water mark at the game.  It was generally
conceded that the Hun, wherever he was to come to close quarters with
such antagonists, would have an uncomfortable evening.

It has been mentioned above that special personnel were not required
for the large majority of vessels which were already in full commission
and employed on active duty in the Dover Command.  The personnel
required for the blockships and storming vessels and for other special
purposes amounted to eighty-six officers and sixteen hundred and
ninety-eight men; of these, seven hundred and fifty, in the aggregate,
were drawn from the Royal Marines.

Having been working in the Plans Department of the Admiralty when the
operation was originally thought out under Admiral Keyes, my further
services had been lent to him, after he took over the Command at Dover,
in connection with the operational staff work.  Very much to my delight
I had then been offered the billet of navigator of the expedition, and
my duties were to include those of placing _Vindictive_ alongside the
Mole.  The Vice-Admiral originally {114} proposed to direct the
operation from on board _Vindictive_, but was forced to the conclusion
that he could do so more satisfactorily from a destroyer, thus avoiding
the possibility of being confined to any single position in the area of
the attack.  In the Vice-Admiral's absence Captain Halahan, appointed
in command of the seamen storming parties, became the Senior Executive
Officer in the ship.  It was pointed out that that fact would result in
the unusual case of the Senior Officer on board not being responsible
for the handling of the ship.  Captain Halahan would not even listen to
any suggestion of difficulty arising from such a situation, and, I am
anxious to record this fact, he proposed that his acting rank of
Captain should be transferred from himself to me, so that the officer
responsible for handling the vessel should also be the Senior Executive
Officer on board in accordance with the usual service custom; in other
words that he should be made junior to myself.  This proposal was
typical of Halahan, who, in my opinion, was one of the finest fellows
that our Service ever knew.  His death brought an irreparable loss to
the Navy.  Throughout the greater part of the war he had been in
command of the naval guns on the northern front and within field-gun
range of the enemy for no less than three years.  He had fought in most
of the great battles on that part of the Allied lines.  A more
efficient, earnest, upright, and altogether large-minded officer never
fought for his country or paid the supreme sacrifice more readily.  The
days which we spent together working at the details of the enterprise,
his wonderful enthusiasm, and his certainty of success are
unforgettable.  I feel that I could not {115} continue this story
without recording my unqualified admiration for this splendid officer.

Needless to say, it was unnecessary to carry his proposal into effect,
for his unselfishness had served to guarantee that all questions of
rank were immaterial where the only thing that really mattered was the
attainment of our object.

I regret that my lack of literary ability prevents my doing justice to
such men.

[Sidenote: Wing-Commander Brock]

It would be difficult for anybody to speak too highly of Wing-Commander
Frank A. Brock.  He was a rare personality.  An inventive genius, than
whom the country had no better, it was his brain that differentiated
this blocking enterprise from all previous attempts in history in one
most important particular.  The difficulty of reaching the destination
in the face of a strenuous opposition had hitherto brought failure, but
he provided an antidote in the form of a satisfactory artificial fog
designed to protect the blockships from the enemy's guns during the
critical period of approach.  That in itself was a wonderful
achievement, but his inventive mind was not satisfied therewith.  To
him we owed the special flares intended for turning darkness into light.

A special buoy was wanted--one that would automatically provide its own
light on being thrown into the water.  Brock made so little of the
problem that he produced such a buoy, designed, constructed, and ready
for use in less than twenty-four hours.  Special signal lights were
required.  Brock produced them.  Flame projectors, far exceeding
anything hitherto known, were mooted.  Brock produced them also.  No
matter what our requirements were Brock was {116} undefeated.  With a
highly scientific brain he possessed extraordinary knowledge of almost
any subject.  He had travelled much and could tell you all that was
worth knowing of any country from Patagonia to Spitzbergen.  He was no
mean authority on old prints and books, was also a keen philatelist,
and was blessed with a remarkable memory.  Wherever he went he carried
with him a pocket edition of the New Testament, which was his favourite
possession; his knowledge of the contents was quite unique.  And with
it all he was a great shot and an all-round sportsman.  His fine
physique was well remembered by many a Rugby footballer from the days
when he played in the pack of one of the leading club fifteens.  His
geniality and humour were hard to beat.  But of all his qualities,
optimism perhaps held first place.  At times we, who were far from
being pessimistic, thought his optimism excessive, but it was justified
absolutely with regard to the success of the enterprise.

Sad to relate, the only occasion on which I can remember his optimism
failing to carry him through was connected with his own personal
safety.  He had telephoned up to Halahan in our office and mentioned
having broken a looking-glass.  "That means seven years bad luck," said
Halahan, in a jocular spirit.  "Never mind," came the instant reply,
"it shows that I'm going to live for another seven years, anyway."

Both Brock and Halahan had done so much to ensure our success, it was
indeed sad that they did not survive long enough to see the results.

My readers will excuse me, I feel sure, for bringing such personalities
to their notice.  It is very difficult {117} to continue the story
without writing of many others to whom we owed so much in the
preparatory work.  But there will be a chance of mentioning some of
them later on, when we come to the actual description of the fight.




At last all constructive preparations were completed; the various ships
and small craft were commissioned and concentrated at their respective
starting-points.  The blockships and _Vindictive_ steamed out to the
loneliest of anchorages in the Swin Deep, situated about eight miles
south of Clacton, Essex.  It was a curious looking squadron that
steamed down the Medway that day, the blockships with their funnels
looming extra large in the absence of masts and the _Vindictive_ with
her gangways protruding into mid-air like almonds in the side of a
tipsy cake.  The _Hindustan_ looked respectable enough.  She was mother
to us all and her captain was a very tolerant and helpful father.

[Sidenote: Embarkation of Marines]

The _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ joined us almost immediately.  The Marines
embarked a few days later.  They had been sent to a southern port on
the understanding that they were off to France; the officers alone knew
the truth.  They duly boarded the waiting transport with stores,
ammunition, and baggage, the latter labelled to a French port.  They
must have wondered where they would sleep that night.  The transport
duly left harbour and headed for the French coast, but presently
altered course in a most unusual manner.  Word was passed round that
the course was peculiar; all crowded on deck in their endeavour to
solve the problem.  It was a misty day with the rain {119} coming down
in torrents; the land was soon obscured.  The officers chuckled at the
general bewilderment, but held their peace.  At last the transport
eased down and finally stopped engines.  Out of the mist loomed the
_Iris_ and _Daffodil_, into which vessels the Marines were transferred.

A second voyage was then commenced, but it was not of long duration.
Other ships presently hove in sight, and strange craft they appeared.
Cruisers without masts and another looking like a home for lost
coal-tips.  These were the blockships and _Vindictive_.  Then appeared
a recognisable vessel--the _Hindustan_.  Some of the Marines went to
the latter, the remainder to _Vindictive_.  I can well remember the
astonished look on their faces as these men boarded my ship.  Even the
heavy downpour of rain seemed to be unnoticed.  One man remarked as he
came on board, "Well, it's darned good to be aboard a blessed
something, but I'm blowed if I know what she is."

That day and the next were spent in settling down.  On the evening of
the second day the men were told the secret.  In _Vindictive_ they all
mustered on the quarter-deck and after bridge.  Sunset had long since
been heralded by the time-Honoured bugle call.  The evening twilight
was fading rapidly.  There was a stillness in the air which seemed to
be reflected from the tense attitude of the assembled men.  One could
have heard the proverbial pin drop.  It was my duty to take them into
our confidence.  After the nature of the enterprise had been outlined a
few sentences were sufficient to illustrate the task allotted to the
_Vindictive_.  It seemed advisable to point out that many other
operations of a hectic nature, besides those of {120} the blockships
and storming vessels, were to be attempted.  I emphasised this by
mentioning that if, during our visit to Zeebrugge Mole, they heard a
thunderous explosion they could say to themselves, "That's one of
them."  These words came back to me afterwards, as I shall relate in
due course.

As soon as the business in hand had been promulgated it was considered
advisable to exert a very rigid censorship on outgoing mails.
Correspondence was permitted, but strictly on the understanding that
the letters would be retained at one of the mail offices until the
operation had been completed.  This regulation was modified later owing
to the waiting period being unexpectedly prolonged.  Field post-cards
were then issued and could be posted in the ordinary manner.  There
were the usual sentences, such as "I am quite well," "I am not quite
well," "I have received your letter," "I have not received your
letter," etc., in the style of the French exercise books of one's
youth.  Such post-cards were familiar enough amongst the military, but
were a novelty to most of us; they caused a good deal of amusement,
especially when the sender omitted to delete the sentences which
misrepresented his feelings towards the intended recipient.

All shore leave was stopped; even cases of serious illness or accident
would have to go to _Hindustan_, and remain there, instead of to a
shore hospital.

[Sidenote: Concerning Secrecy]

Secrecy was absolutely essential, but not always easy to ensure.  At
our anchorage it was comparatively simple, but elsewhere we had to
depend more upon trust in our fellow men than rigid regulation.  The
secret was well kept, and fortunately so.  Surprise is mainly dependent
upon secrecy.  For if information {121} of an impending attack becomes
known there can be no hope of taking the enemy unawares.

I wonder how many people realise the necessity for keeping rumours to
themselves during war.  Rumours must be either true or untrue.  If
untrue they are not worth passing on.  If true, then untold harm may
result from repetition.  Suppose for a moment that the impending
operation at Zeebrugge had become a topic of general conversation.  In
due course the information would have reached our enemies and the
expedition would almost certainly have met with complete disaster.  The
lives of many picked officers and men would have been lost, and the
whole affair would have gone down to history as a fiasco.  Under such
circumstances each person who had repeated the rumour on its way to the
enemy would have been morally guilty of manslaughter--surely that is
not an exaggerated deduction.

Alas, human nature is often weak.  There is some modicum of
satisfaction in showing superior knowledge to one's neighbour.

The Japanese, in their war with Russia, set the world a wonderful
example of silence.  After losing a high percentage of their battleship
strength not a word was spoken and the world remained in ignorance for
many months.

A writer--I think it was Chesterton--once suggested that memorials
should be erected in recognition of negative qualities.  If that idea
were adopted I wonder how many tablets would be found to state that
"_Here Mr. So-and-so heard a rumour and did not repeat it to his

When dealing, in Chapter VIII, with the question {122} of the type of
personnel required for an enterprise of this description, I mentioned
that they should be volunteers as far as that was practicable.  The
reader may perhaps consider that the meaning of the word "volunteer"
was being unduly "stretched" if the men were to be unaware of the real
nature of the operation until they were already trained and actually
standing by to go across.  Nevertheless, the men were volunteers in the
true meaning of the word.  Let me explain.  It was of great importance
that no officer or man should take part in the enterprise unless he was
"for it," heart and soul.  So, as soon as the secret had been made
known and the men were thoroughly aware of all the difficulties and
risks involved, it was given out that any officers or men who wished to
withdraw could do so.  It was fully recognised that they might have
private reasons for wishing to avoid risks of an unusually high degree.
We were not concerned with the nature of such private reasons and we
wished to make certain that no pressure was brought to bear for the
sake of influencing their decision.  They were, therefore, informed
that any individual who desired to withdraw should merely give in his
name and remain behind.  They were further told that no reasons would
be asked and, to make doubly certain, that no reasons or explanations
of any description would be allowed under any circumstances whatever.
That was fair enough.  Not a single officer or man withdrew.

[Sidenote: Volunteering Spirit]

In _Vindictive_ there were several men, of non-combatant rating, who,
in the ordinary course of events, were destined to be left behind when
the expedition started.  They comprised cooks, stewards,
canteen-servers, and the like.  Some of them were not even {123} naval
men, but merely there as representatives of, or workers for, the firm
which provided the canteen.  They naturally knew the secret and they
openly expressed their desire to remain in the ship so as not to miss
the fun.  We decided to consider such requests.  Extra men would come
in handy for dealing with the wounded as well as for assisting with the
commissariat.  Eventually it was decreed that those who volunteered to
come over with us should give in their names.  As far as I can remember
every one of them volunteered.  It must be realised that these were not
fighting men; their sole training had been that of the camp follower.
Small chance of meeting the enemy in hand-to-hand combat would come
their way.  The work of tending wounded between decks--we already had
our full quota of stretcher bearers for working in more exposed
positions--and that of providing the necessary sustenance carries
little glory or excitement.  Nevertheless, these men volunteered and
they afterwards rendered splendid service.

Take another case.  When the _Vindictive_ was fitting out at Chatham
there was an officer on board, remaining from the previous commission,
for temporary duty.  He knew nothing definite of the coming operation,
but evidently thought a good deal.  His method of volunteering was to
remark: "I don't know, sir, what the old ship is going to do, but it
looks like dirty work and I should like to be there."  It was vulgar,
but expressive.  That officer remained with us, and afterwards covered
himself with glory.

In the blockships there were also incidents which served to illustrate
this thirst for dangerous employment.


Owing to the difficulties of rescue work, as has already been
explained, it was decided to send each blockship to her final
destination with the smallest possible number of crew; the number in
each case amounted to fifty-three.  Thirty-four extra men, however,
were required for getting each ship to the edge of the danger zone,
whilst the fifty-three on whom the final run depended were resting.
That meant that in each ship thirty-four men, who knew all about the
coming event, who had experienced much hard work and considerable
discomfort, were to be disembarked just when the fight was about to
begin.  One can imagine their feelings, but questions of individual
disappointment could not be allowed to affect the plan of action.  The
disembarkation of these "surplus" crews was to be carried out with the
aid of small craft specially detailed for the purpose.  In the
_Intrepid_ one day there was a minor edition of a mutiny.  Several men
demanded to see their captain.  The latter ordered them to state their
business.  "Well, sir," said the spokesman, "me and my mates
understands as how some of the crew have got to leave the ship on the
way across to Zeebruggy.  The 'jaunty'[1] says it's us lot and we ain't
a-goin' to leave."

[1] Master-at-arms.

Their captain explained the situation.  He pointed out that there would
be too many for one rescue boat and that overloading might lead to the
loss of everybody.  But the men were inclined to be adamant.  Finally
their captain decided to take a spare gun's crew and ordered the
"mutineers" to draw lots for the honour.  The sequel is worth recording
even if it {125} necessitates anticipating the main story.  When this
particular blockship stopped during the oversea voyage, the craft
detailed to take off her surplus crew failed to appear alongside--she
had broken down.  So the whole crew went to Zeebrugge and,
extraordinary to relate, every soul of them was rescued.

This voluntary spirit was very heartening to all concerned.  I have
only mentioned a few specific cases, but there were many others of a
similar description.  It is no exaggeration to say that once the men
knew the secret they were more than mere volunteers--they were
_determined_ to come across with us.

[Sidenote: First Waiting Period]

It must not be assumed that all was in readiness as soon as the ships,
having been duly fitted out, had assembled at the Swin and embarked
their personnel.  Much remained to be done.  Steam trials, gunnery
practices, adjustment of compasses, and tests of all the special
material were indulged in.  Handling the ships from both the main and
auxiliary conning positions, testing communications, manipulating the
grappling irons and Mole gangways, drilling the guns' crews and
ammunition parties, training the stretcher parties, and giving
instruction in first-aid also helped to keep us fully occupied.

Of course it was impossible to practise sinking blockships or taking
storming vessels alongside breakwaters.  Breakwaters are only to be
found in such public places as Dover, Portland, etc.; it would have
been inadvisable to publish our intentions in such a manner.  Thus, as
far as these special vessels were concerned, the seamanship
difficulties could not be lessened by proper realistic practice.  The
suggestion that we might use _Hindustan_ as the Mole did not {126}
appeal to us much, especially as the _Vindictive_ was originally built
for ramming and consequently had a very large ram; we had no desire to
start badly by sinking one of our own battleships.

The life on board _Vindictive_, uncomfortable as it was owing to our
numbers greatly exceeding the normal complement, was not altogether
devoid of humour.  As one walked round the ship there would be a
blood-curdling yell and a party of men with fixed bayonets would charge
round a corner and hurl themselves upon an imaginary foe.  The steel
helmets, gas masks, and respirators gave these men a weird appearance,
such as one is unaccustomed to see on board ship.  Some carried
knob-kerries--loaded ash sticks; others grenades, flame projectors, or
machine-guns.  There was no half-heartedness about the men.  Clearly
enough they meant business; we had no misgivings about the result.
Those days were busy indeed.  When work had finished for the day
opportunities for sports arose, and there were occasional concerts in
the evenings.  The tugs-of-war evoked much friendly rivalry between the
various sea regiments--the seamen, stokers, Marine Light Infantry, and
Marine Artillery.  One afternoon a boxing tournament took place and the
fighting augured well for the near future.

One day, two officers from a blockship paid a call on the _Vindictive_.
Visiting cards were not required; we were obviously At Home.  But we
were quite mystified when one of the officers produced a small chunk of
iron and remarked that he had brought it on board in case we ran short
of ammunition.  He then explained that, during the passage from his
{127} vessel, some description of explosive missile had burst within a
few yards of his dinghey, and the piece produced had fallen into the
boat.  Incidentally he accused _Vindictive_ of firing the missile, but
we pleaded not guilty or alternatively, as the lawyers say, asserted
that he had no right to cross the firing line!  Apparently it was a
portion of a bomb of sorts fired from one of the ships, fortunately
without any other result than to cause considerable merriment to the
occupants of the dinghey.  Such an incident in the ordinary course of
events would have led to very pertinent enquiries, but we were too much
preoccupied with the business in hand to worry about such trifles.

The thoughts uppermost in our minds concerned the chances of favourable
weather conditions.  The barometers came in for an amount of tapping
which was not calculated to improve the instruments.  We all became
weather prophets those days.  Many and varied were the daily forecasts.

One night we rolled unpleasantly in a heavy gale and soon after
midnight a small vessel was seen firing distress signals.  This
provided an excellent opportunity for testing our illuminating rockets,
by the aid of which we observed a tug struggling to grapple a lighter
which was dragging its anchors.  The worst aspect of heavy weather was
the consequent expenditure of fuel which we could ill spare.  Thanks to
the Captain of _Hindustan_ our period of waiting was made as
comfortable as we could have hoped.  He was indefatigable in arranging
diversions for our amusement and in keeping us informed of the latest
war news.  Each day brought more serious reports from the battle front
in France and made us all the more anxious {128} to give the enemy a
nasty shock whilst cheering up our own troops.  During the late
evenings most of us sought for quiet corners where we could write
letters.  I think we all found those letters were very difficult, but
one's feelings at such a time are of too private a nature to bear

[Sidenote: The Coming Event]

Captain Halahan used to discuss every point of the coming enterprise
with me; his insight and keenness were most marked.  We often talked
far on into the night and always came to the conclusion that however
difficult the operation might be for our forces we would not be in the
German's shoes for anything.  We had a plasticine model of the Mole
chiefly constructed from the data obtainable from aerial photographs.
Colonel Elliot, commanding the Marine storming parties, and his
officers often joined us.  We all realised the difficulty of berthing
the storming vessels at exactly the desired position alongside the Mole
and endeavoured to make the storming plan as elastic as possible.  The
primary consideration--as far as that phase of the operation was
concerned--appeared to be that the ships should secure to the Mole
_somewhere_.  The mere presence of the ships, combined with all the
attendant noise and fireworks, would create a diversion of no mean
order.  The actual landing on the Mole and the occurrences that
followed would increase the diversion which had already commenced.
With regard to _Vindictive_ we originally aimed at securing her
alongside the Mole, heading to the westward, with her stern seventy
yards westward of the three-gun battery.  It was realised that there
might be considerable difficulty in recognising one's exact position
alongside the outer {129} wall relative to objects on the Mole itself.
Eventually, as will be described later, the ship secured to the
westward of the designed position, but, though the actual fighting on
the Mole was affected, the main object of the diversion was attained.

The blockship officers paid us many visits and we were all very cheery.
No less than four old shipmates had come down from my late ship in the
Grand Fleet--H.M.S. _Emperor of India_.  It was a curious fact that all
five of us were in the thick of the affair and all survived.  One
commanded the _Intrepid_ with another as one of his officers.  One
commanded the _Daffodil_.  One was on board _Iris_.  Their services
will be mentioned later.

One night we had an _Emperor of India_ dinner on board the _Intrepid_.
A storeroom of sorts did duty for a mess and I think the sub-lieutenant
cooked the dinner.  There was no serious talk that evening and I don't
think we forgot to drink confusion to the enemy.  When we broke up the
party we little knew that we should be conveying that confusion within
twenty-four hours.

I have described our life at the Swin in some detail, but what of the
other one hundred and fifty-four craft which were not with us?  They
were busily preparing too, but, for the most part, were actively
engaged in their ordinary Dover Patrol duties at the same time.  Little
peace can have come their way.  The aircraft, too, were very actively
employed.  Day after day they brought us back photographs of Ostende
and Zeebrugge, taken at great risk with a fine contempt for danger.  If
we wanted the details of any portion of the Mole it was forthcoming, in
the shape of an {130} aerial photograph, in a few hours.  This work was
carried out by the 61st Wing of the Royal Air Force.  Special cameras
were used for this purpose; I believe that they had been designed by
the previous Vice-Admiral at Dover.  We studied those photographs with
the aid of stereoscopes and magnifying glasses by the hour.  But
photography was not the only thing required of the aircraft.  They had
to prepare for the bombing attacks which would provide further
diversions; preparation required much observational work both by day
and by night.  The aircraft detailed for the bombing attacks were drawn
from the 65th Wing of the Royal Air Force.  These flyers were fine
fellows and no less determined to make the affair successful than the
rest of us.

Many of the smaller craft were commanded by officers of the Royal Naval
Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.  I have mentioned elsewhere
that the whole success of the operation might, at a critical period,
depend upon the action of a single unit.  Instructions leaving a high
degree of initiative to the recipient were, therefore, necessary.
Clear appreciations followed by rapid decisions were required.  The
Vice-Admiral emphasised that point most strongly.  He trusted his men,
whether Reserve or Volunteer or otherwise.  His trust was not
misplaced; all these officers commanding the small craft behaved most
admirably, exactly as was expected by those who knew their worth.




The periods during which the conditions would be favourable for our
enterprise depended upon various factors.  The extent to which we could
make use of any particular date during one of those periods depended,
in turn, upon meteorological conditions.

It has been shown elsewhere that, for the purpose of utilising the
artificial fog, we required a wind blowing more or less toward the
Belgian coast from seaward.  It was also necessary for the wind to be
light so that the small craft would not be hampered by rough seas.
Light winds are often accompanied by fog, especially in the North Sea,
and fog would be a serious obstacle.  Rain would be detrimental to the
use of aircraft.

The depths in the entrances to the canals at Zeebrugge and Ostende were
such that the blockships could only navigate during the period around
high water.  It was, therefore, necessary for the vessels to arrive at
about that state of the tide.

Again, it was essential to carry out the operation during the night for
reasons already mentioned.  In this respect, however, the word
operation must not be used too loosely; the periods of approach to the
objectives and of retirement therefrom must both be included in that
term.  The approach had to be {132} undiscovered till the latest
possible moment.  That necessitated darkness throughout the approach,
which latter may be considered as comprising the passage during the
last twenty miles of the oversea voyage.  Obviously the greater part of
the whole passage conducted during darkness the less would be the
chance of losing the element of surprise.

Likewise the retirement must be made before daylight if the
concentration of the shore batteries was to be avoided.  I have already
stated that the German guns could make things very uncomfortable for
ships up to a maximum distance of fifteen to twenty miles, provided
that the ships could be seen.  The retiring forces should, therefore,
be outside that range before there was sufficient daylight to see so
far; the latter state of visibility would obtain at least half an hour
before sunrise.  Allowing a speed of about ten knots for retirement,
this meant that the ships must leave the coast about two and a half
hours before sunrise after completing the operation.  The attack itself
was expected to continue for about one and a half hours.  The reader
does not require to be an advanced mathematician to realise that the
attack must commence not later than about four hours before sunrise,
that is, during the middle portion of the night.  Of course, the attack
was the all-important matter; any question of safe retirement must be a
secondary consideration.  Nevertheless, the question of retirement,
similarly to that of rescuing the blockships' crews, had to be taken
into account.

[Illustration: Specimen Diagram for ascertaining Available Period.
(Transcriber's note: this diagram occupied page 133 of the source book)]

From the foregoing it will be seen that the attack should be preceded
and followed by a considerable period of darkness, and should more or
less coincide {134} with the time of high tide.  The latter only occurs
about every twelve hours and takes place roughly fifty minutes later
each day.  The number of consecutive days on which high tide would
occur in the middle portion of the night was, therefore, very limited.

With regard to visibility, as far as naval operations are concerned,
strong moonlight is almost as disadvantageous as daylight.  Half the
nights per month may be termed moonlight nights in that respect.  The
state of the moon on any particular night is known beforehand, the
state of the clouds affecting moonlight may change from hour to hour.

Just one more calculation.  In mid-April the period sunset to sunrise
is about eleven hours in length.  Allowing two hours for the
approach-passage through the danger zone, one and a half hours for the
attack, and two hours for the retirement (to be completed half an hour
before sunrise), it follows that the maximum number of after-sunset
hours available for the open sea passage would amount to five.  That
was the best possible condition for us, but could only be utilised if
high water occurred about four hours before sunrise.  If high tide
occurred any later our time of arrival would necessarily be later and
our retirement could not be completed before daylight.  If high tide
occurred any earlier our time of arrival must be earlier, in which case
there would be less dark hours available for our open sea passage on
the way across.  The length of the open sea passage would be
approximately six hours.  Thus even on the most favourable date, some
of the open sea passage would have to be made in broad daylight.  Six
days before that (the tide being five hours earlier) the whole of the
open sea {135} passage would have to be made in daylight, only the
approach-passage, i.e., the last two hours of the whole trip, taking
place after sunset.

A rather complicated set of conditions, astronomical, tidal, and
meteorological, was thus required.

It was almost too much to expect that everything would be favourable
during the possible period; it is practically certain that a commander
who refused to move until all conditions were exactly as desired would
never accomplish anything.  Nevertheless we sincerely hoped that
fortune would be kind to us.

[Sidenote: Keenness of the Men]

The men were kept informed of the chances as forecast from the current
weather conditions; their eagerness for favourable predictions was
manifest.  There is much advantage to be gained by a commander taking
his men into his confidence.  In this particular case the men realised
that leakage of information would entail disaster; that was sufficient
to ensure that the confidence would be respected; the rigorous
censorship was there to make doubly certain.  It is always more irksome
for those who wait in ignorance than for those who know the reasons for
delay.  So after prayers each morning the latest forecast was divulged,
other items of interest were made known, and the keenness of the men
was maintained.




The work of drafting, reproducing, and distributing the necessary
orders and instructions to the large number of craft concerned was not
so simple as it may sound.  The amount of instructions required in an
operation of this sort can only be appreciated by those who have had
experience of staff work during war.  The command to "carry on" is only
applicable when the means have been provided and the manner of its use
has been made known.

[Sidenote: Synchronizing the Events]

To mention a few of the items: Separate orders for the oversea voyage
were required for each squadron destined to make the passage
independently of the remainder.  Others were needed for the voyage of
the main force, others to cover the aerial attacks and the long-range
bombardments.  The supporting squadrons must have their instructions.
Still further orders were designed to deal with the period of
"approach."  Then there were those for the main attack on the Mole, for
the demolition work, for the destruction of the railway viaduct, and
for the proceedings of the artificial-fog craft; also those for the
blockships and the rescue work.  The retirement required its own share.
Even now we have not mentioned those designed to meet possible
eventualities, such as encountering enemy vessels _en route_, or
returning to harbour if postponement of the enterprise was necessary.


Having decided _where_ and _how_ things should be done, the remaining
question was _when_ they should take place.  The operation with its
various phases and diversions could not be carried out on the
go-as-you-please principle.  Every item needed to be carefully fitted
in to suit the remainder.  The timing of each event was of paramount
importance.  A long-range bombardment or an aerial attack, if delayed,
might destroy our own vessels.  The blowing up of the viaduct was
calculated to render _hors de combat_ all human beings within a certain
distance--our own men on the Mole must not be endangered by it.  It
would be useless for the blockships to arrive before the fire of the
Mole batteries had been suitably diverted.  Aerial bombers flying at a
hundred miles per hour could not accompany the ships steaming at about
one-tenth of that speed.  The line of fire from the bombarding vessels
could not very well coincide with our approach course, hence the
necessity for the monitors to take up independent positions.  And so
on.  How could a satisfactory synchronisation of events be
arranged?--that was the problem.

There were only two methods to consider: firstly, that of centralised
command by signal; secondly, that of working in accordance with a
prearranged time table.

The former method was obviously impracticable.  Signals passed by
either the wireless or visual method, during the approach, would make
our presence known to the enemy and thus preclude all chance of taking
the latter by surprise.  After the attack had commenced signals would
be impracticable for obvious reasons, chief amongst them being the
deafening noise {138} and the presence of artificial fog.  So direction
by signal could be ruled out.

[Sidenote: The Timing Question]

Recourse was had to the time-table method.  A table was made out
showing the exact times (by clock) that the main force was to pass
through various positions and to arrive at the several destinations.
All other movements were to synchronise according to plan.  The time
table naturally varied for each day according to the projected time of
arrival of the blockships, this, in turn, depending on the time of high
tide.  But that was not all.  It was necessary to guard against
unexpected delays due to accident, and against vagaries of the tidal
stream.  Every unit should know, at a late stage of the oversea trip,
if the blockships were likely to be late or early, and the probable
difference between actual and projected time involved.

We would not be satisfied with the degree of punctuality usually
associated with certain railways.  A few minutes out, one way or the
other, might be serious; an error of half an hour would probably be
disastrous.  But the oversea passage involved a journey of
approximately a hundred miles for the blockships and storming vessels,
though rather less for the Dover contingents.  That fact, combined with
the usual unwieldiness of a fleet comprising over one hundred and fifty
vessels, was not likely to render punctuality very easy of attainment.
The disadvantages of daylight made it inadvisable to leave our bases
extra early for the sake of having plenty of time to spare.  Careful
calculations were necessary and the resulting time table was circulated
to all concerned.

Before leaving this consideration of the timing {139} question it may
be of interest to mention that the storming vessels were to be twenty
minutes ahead of the Zeebrugge blockships on arrival in the vicinity of
the Mole.  In that twenty minutes we were to get alongside and land the
storming parties; the latter were to take the necessary steps to put
the batteries out of action as far as the safety of the blockships was
concerned.  At the expiration of the twenty minutes the blockships were
to pass round the end of the Mole and make their dash for the canal
entrance.  The reader may wonder why twenty minutes was the chosen
interval.  Too long a time might allow the German defences to recover
from the initial surprise; too short a time might not enable the
storming vessels to complete their work before the blockships were seen
by the enemy.  Twenty minutes, short though it was, was chosen as a

All this operational staff work was carried out at Dover under the
direction of the Vice-Admiral, who, as previously stated, was already
overloaded with duties and responsibilities arising from the work of
the Dover Patrol.

The office accommodation was hardly palatial; the building might
certainly have been satisfactory as a small apartment house in pre-war
days, but, as the Admiral's office of our busiest naval command outside
the Grand Fleet, it was not quite up to standard.  The small staff were
pretty busy for a few weeks.  Meals were either bolted down or missed.
The night hours did not bring over-much sleep.

Visits to the Grand Fleet were also necessary; one grudged the hours
spent in the train.  Conferences and discussions, visits to the ships
fitting out at the {140} dockyards, inspection of special material,
trials of the artificial fog, and the above-mentioned expenditure of
stationery helped to keep one occupied.  Occasional aerial trips
assisted to clear away the cobwebs from one's brain; they constituted a
first-class tonic.

We had no printing-press.  All orders had to be typed and reproduced by
a duplicating machine.  Secrecy was as essential in this work as
elsewhere; information had to be confined to the minimum number of
persons.  The ordinary office staff had all the Dover Patrol work to
attend to; that was as heavy as it was unceasing.  It was a new
experience to turn the handle of the duplicator, and, in shirt-sleeve
garb, to clip up the pages.  We obtained the assistance of a civilian
clerk from the Admiralty, and I vow that individual discovered the real
meaning of "overtime"; incidentally he was a very rapid and accurate
worker and helped us enormously.

At last the office work was more or less completed.  Improvements were
thought out from time to time and had to be embodied, even up to the
eleventh hour.  That was natural enough, seeing that we had very little
previous experience to guide us in the detailed planning of the Mole
attack and blockship work.  It was a great relief when the paper work
was finished; those of us who had other business in hand could then
turn our attention to preparations of a more material nature, much of
which has already been described.




The first period, during which the tidal and astronomical conditions
would be favourable, approached.  The period was limited to about half
a dozen days for the reasons stated in a previous chapter.  The weather
looked ominous; none of us were very hopeful of an early start.  Those
last few days of waiting were rather trying.  So many things might
happen to prevent the operation from taking place.  Some of us were
inclined to be apprehensive, not of the result if we once came to grips
with the enemy, but of the operation being cancelled, or of its being
indefinitely postponed, which generally means the same thing.  Another
great attack on the Belgian coast had previously been planned and
prepared, but had never come off.  I hesitate to think of the effect on
the general morale of the personnel if our enterprise had suffered the
same fate.  Disappointment is hard enough to bear at any time, but on
such an occasion as this it would have just about broken one's heart.

On the eve of the first day of the first period our anxiety about the
weather was tremendous.  The wind blew hard that night.  The morning
had nearly dawned before some of us could make ourselves realise that
looking at the weather would not do any good.  We endeavoured not to
offend it by saying unkind words.  We touched wood many times when we
gave {142} vent to our hopes bred of optimism.  Patience is a virtue
indeed.  But the first day was obviously unfavourable, so we commenced
to wait for the second.

[Sidenote: Carry On]

At last there was a decided improvement.  A state of readiness was
ordered.  The wind had fallen very light and we were as hopeful as we
were anxious to be "up and doing."  The order to raise steam was next
received and followed shortly after by the order to "carry on" as
previously laid down in the time table.  All was bustle then.
Unnecessary baggage was transhipped to a harbour vessel against the day
when some of us might require it.  In due course the final arrangements
were made and we shortened in our cables.  Then we weighed anchors and
started off.  The officers and men of _Hindustan_ cheered us
vigorously; answering cheers were given as we steamed close past her.
_Vindictive_ and the blockships all cheered each other, enthusiasm was
in the air.  Thank goodness we were off at last.  Thank goodness, also,
that nothing had occurred to prevent our showing what we could do.
Those were the thoughts uppermost in our minds.

_Iris_ and _Daffodil_ were sent on ahead so that _Vindictive_ could
take them in tow when we were clear of the shoals.  It will be
remembered that _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ did not possess a high degree of
steaming power, either in the way of speed or reliability.

It had, therefore, been decided that _Vindictive_ should tow both these
vessels across the sea until in the near vicinity of Zeebrugge Mole;
that would help to ensure their arrival.  I read afterwards in one
account of this affair that _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ towed _Vindictive_
into action!

The squadron formed into "line ahead" in the order {143} _Vindictive,
Thetis, Intrepid, Iphigenia, Brilliant_, and _Sirius_.  The wind was
blowing rather weakly, but from a favourable direction.  The sea was
very calm and, altogether, conditions appeared to be most promising.
There were no glum faces in our little community just then.  As soon as
we had cleared the shoals we all stopped for a few minutes while
_Vindictive_ took _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ in tow; that accomplished, we
set course for Rendezvous A, where we had to meet the Vice-Admiral and
the remaining vessels from Dover.  During our passage through the
various channels between sandbanks we passed a large number of
homeward-bound merchant ships.  The contrast between them and our
vessels was not merely confined to the matter of appearance.

Each of these merchant ships was just completing a successful
operation, namely, that of bringing necessities of life to this country
after running the gantlet of the enemy submarines and mines.  On the
other hand, we were just setting out for the purpose of reducing such
risks in the future.  One could not help realising the fact that these
mercantile mariners had risked their lives over and over again without
ostentation, with small hope of glory, with practically no reward.
Fine fellows indeed!  What a debt of gratitude we all owed them!  Some
of them, doubtless, had been torpedoed three and four times, losing all
their effects each time, but here they were again with yet another
voyage to their credit.  We overtook a few vessels outward bound with
their troubles to come.  Some of these ships were neutrals.  We
wondered what they thought of us and how they would describe us when
they arrived at their destinations.  We could {144} reckon on the enemy
having agents at all the neutral ports with their "ears well trimmed to
the wind" when in the presence of neutral mariners from British ports.
We also wondered if these neutrals could fail to recognise the
difference between British and German treatment of merchantmen at sea,
and whether such recognition would not make them chary of talking too

Presently we sighted a large number of small craft.  They seemed to be
dashing up from every direction, at first in an apparently aimless
fashion, but presently one recognised the method in their madness.  At
schedule time we stopped, heading towards our goal.  The crowd soon
sorted themselves out.

The Vice-Admiral with his flag flying in the destroyer _Warwick_ took
up a position of advantage.  Destroyers and blockships took small motor
craft in tow.  Other vessels acted as tugs for the submarines.  Motor
launches, puffing for all the world as if they lacked training, thus
acting an untruth, assembled according to their ultimate duties.
Somebody remarked that we resembled a sea-circus, there were so many
turns taking place simultaneously.  One hardly knew which to admire
most.  The destroyers throbbing with latent energy, some of them
shouting through their safety valves that they were in a hurry to get
to business.  The motor launches, pretending the sea was rough and
often rolling heavily in their pretence, producing a similar impression
to that of a certain famous automobile which, though cheap, always
"gets there" even if some parts are missing at the end of the journey.
The C.M.B.'s (which, being interpreted, signifies Coastal Motor Boats,
though {145} the word "coastal" hardly seems appropriate) were tearing
through the water and almost leaping into the other element as if to
emulate the flying-fish.  Perhaps the word "crowd" was most suited to
the appearance of this heterogeneous collection of craft, but they were
very different from a crowd in their behaviour.

[Sidenote: The Signal to Proceed]

Punctually at the scheduled hour the signal was hoisted to proceed.
The expedition, making its debut as such, set course for the eastward.
Enthusiasm was at its highest pitch.  Final preparations were then the
order of the day.  In _Vindictive_ emergency rations and field
dressings were distributed.  Small arms were inspected, ammunition was
stowed ready for use.  Demolition charges were placed in a handy
position for rapid removal to the Mole, gangways were triced up, bombs
were fused, howitzers and flame-throwers were prepared.  Hoses were
flaked down for fire brigade uses, fire extinguishers were provided in
specially dangerous corners, duplicate charts were placed in the
conning tower.  To guard against the eventuality of all the navigating
personnel being rendered _hors de combat_ during the fight or the
charts being destroyed, the retirement courses were painted up on the
armour inside the conning tower.  A year later I found this painting
untouched, although the ship had been in the Germans' hands (after
being sunk by us at Ostende in May, 1918) for many months--I wondered
if they understood its signification.  All the other craft in company
were equally busy.

We passed through further rendezvous, B and C and D, etc., carefully
checking our progress at each so as to ensure working to the time table.


The bombarding and supporting squadrons had proceeded independently.
We were accompanied by aircraft during the daylight hours of our
passage; their special duty was that of scouting for German aircraft
and preventing those that might have seen us from giving any warning of
our approach.

The wind gradually became very fitful and made us rather apprehensive
of its changing to an unsuitable direction.  Surely we were not to be
robbed of our long-awaited opportunity at the eleventh hour.  Daylight
faded into twilight and the latter gave way to darkness.  It was a
clear night, but as black as india ink.  Presently a distant flash of
light was seen away to starboard.  Then another and another.  A compass
bearing laid from our charted position gave evidence of something
happening at Ostende.  Then searchlight beams were seen searching the
heavens in an uneasy manner.  What could it mean?  A hurried glance at
the time table explained everything.

[Sidenote: A Difficult Decision]

Our aircraft had opened the ball.  The booming of guns was heard quite
plainly and the glare of the flashes was distinctly visible.  Zeebrugge
then joined in the game.  In a little while we could make out the trail
of the "flaming onions," rushing heavenwards, hanging stationary for a
few seconds, and then slowly falling in their curiously serpentine
manner, for all the world like colossal snakes writhing in their death
agony.  The firing became more intense and we were more anxious than
ever to get to work.  It was obvious enough that our aircraft--the 65th
Wing of the Royal Air Force from Dunkerque--were setting about the
enemy in determined fashion.  Our turn was to come shortly, according
to plan.  Alas, "the best laid {147} schemes of mice and men gang aft
agley."  We had stopped to disembark the surplus blockship crews--_if
they could be found_, and to slip the small craft from their towing
hawsers in readiness to penetrate the danger zone.  The wind seemed to
have died away for a moment and then commenced to blow from a
_southerly_ direction.

Seldom has an admiral been faced with such a difficult situation.  A
decision had to be given, and quickly.  The nature of the operation
admitted of no delay.  The wind at the moment was hopelessly
unfavourable for our use of artificial fog.  The latter was essential.
It would mean sheer slaughter if there were no cover from the shore
batteries during the approach.  On the other hand, the wind might
change again.  Here was the whole expedition within a short distance of
our objectives.  The major part of the passage had been completed in
spite of all the difficulties and practically without incident.  The
aerial attack had commenced.  The monitors were shortly to send their
messages of destruction hurtling on their way to the enemy.  We had
been seen by all sorts of neutral vessels.  Most of the conditions were
favourable--the wind alone was seriously against us.  Another chance
might never come.  He who risks nothing attains nothing.  Discretion is
the better part of valour.  What was it to be?

In all the pages of naval history I cannot remember having come across
any occasion where a more difficult decision had to be made.  After
Teneriffe Nelson had realised his mistake of allowing impetuosity to
influence sound reasoning to the extent of attacking when the
conditions were unfavourable.  Not only {148} was that first attack a
failure, but it had foredoomed the second attempt to failure also.  The
Vice-Admiral avoided the same mistake--he ordered the operation to be
cancelled for that night.  Much has been written of the attack which
eventually took place.  References to the Nelson touch have not been
unknown.  But this latter comparison, as I have shown, was curiously
inapt if intended to cover the whole direction of the enterprise.

There was no time for feelings of disappointment.  We had to return at
utmost speed so as to be ready to start again next day if the
conditions allowed.  Our bases lay many miles to the westward, but we
were heading in an easterly direction.  "Course West" was signalled
immediately.  _Vindictive_ held the honoured post of "Guide of the
Fleet."  Complete instructions had been laid down for turning round at
night.  It must be remembered that we had seventy-seven craft in close,
very close, company.  We duly turned round, hoping that all craft had
received the signal.  Our hopes were not entirely realised.  In a few
moments the close company became too close for comfort.  Small craft
shaved across our bows so narrowly that they left the impression of
having gone through us.  Shouts were heard, mingled with the puffing
and spluttering of internal-combustion engines.  We wondered which
particular vessel we should sink first.  But out of chaos came some
semblance of order and presently we were homeward bound without any
very serious casualties.

Away in the distance there were occasional gun and searchlight flashes,
but the monitors had received the cancellation news in time to preserve
their silence.  {149} During the turn to the westward one of the small
craft, in imminent danger of collision, had momentarily switched on her
navigation lights.  Others followed suit until our force resembled
Brighton Esplanade indulging in a Venetian fete as viewed from the sea.
"Out Lights" was immediately ordered and passed from one craft to
another by megaphone or flash-lamp; darkness reigned once more as we
sped homeward.  Although we had shown a blaze of lights, the enemy
patrols, we heard afterwards, failed to see us; this was scarcely a
token of their efficiency.

[Sidenote: Value of the Attempt]

So it was a case of "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
This abortive attempt was by no means without value.  We had rehearsed
the concentration and the oversea passage of the main force; the other
vessels had practised reaching their various destinations; the aircraft
had carried out their attack; the routes and navigational aids had been
severely tested.  Naturally enough much valuable experience had been
gained and, after all, no harm had resulted provided that the enemy
remained ignorant of our efforts and intentions.  But certain incidents
had occurred to increase our reliance on the small craft.  During the
turn to the westward disentanglement without serious accident was only
achieved as a result of fine seamanship and initiative on the part of
those in command; these qualities had thus been evidenced under most
realistic and difficult conditions.  We felt that, if they could deal
successfully with such a situation as _that_, they could be relied upon
to tackle any situation, however difficult or unexpected.

A couple of incidents that occurred may illustrate the point.  During
the turning manoeuvre one of the {150} coastal motor boats received a
heavy blow in the bows from another craft.  A hole resulted and the
water commenced to pour through it.  She would probably have sunk in a
minute or two but for the resource of her commanding officer.  He
ordered one of the men to sit in the hole.  This reduced the inflow of
water, but can hardly have been a comfortable proceeding for the
individual concerned.  The boat was then worked up to high speed.  The
reader probably knows that the bow of one of these fast motor boats
gradually raises itself as speed is increased until the fore part of
the boat is completely clear of the water.  In this case the hole was
above the sea when twenty-seven knots had been attained.  The man who
had found a new use for his anatomy then withdrew himself.  Whether the
commanding officer of the boat desired to remain with the guide of the
fleet out of sheer friendship or whether he was uncertain of his
geographical position, I know not.  But he evidently decided to remain
in company.  _Vindictive_ was steaming at a modest ten knots or so; the
motor boat could not afford to proceed at less than twenty-seven knots;
so he steamed round and round the remaining seventy-six vessels until
daylight, when he was detached to his base.

[Sidenote: A Belated Motor Boat]

Another coastal motor boat, soon after leaving Dover on the outward
trip, developed some defect which put the engines out of action.  The
young officer in command obtained the services of a trawler to tow him
back to Dover, where, on arrival, he had the matter put right.  All
that took time.  He started off again about five hours late.  Now, the
occupants of this boat had no intention of missing the affair for which
they {151} had prepared so long.  They decided to get to Zeebrugge as
soon as possible--at full speed they might yet be in time.  So at full
speed they went, straight as a die for their goal, right across nets,
mines, and shoals.  The sixty miles were covered in less than two
hours.  The aerial attack was in full swing.  Searchlight beams were
passing dangerously near them, the heavens were filled with bursting
shell and flaming onions.  Suddenly out of the darkness loomed some
black shapes--"Houses ahead!" shouted somebody.  "Hard-a-starboard and
stop her!"  As she turned round to seaward they made out the town of
Blankenberghe; they had escaped running ashore by the narrowest of

On they went again for Zeebrugge Mole.  Things were quieter now.  That
was strange in itself.  What had happened to the long-range
bombardment?  Where were the smoke screens and why was nothing
happening at the Mole?  Our ships must be much overdue.  Whatever could
it mean?  Presently some strange craft were seen and a moment later the
motor boat was under fire.  So she sheered off and the commanding
officer did some hard thinking.  There was only one possible
explanation--the operation must have been postponed.  So the next item
on her programme was to return to Dover.  It wouldn't do to be late
getting back, so away they went--hell for leather--straight across
everything once more.  And they arrived back at Dover, after having
completed the whole voyage both ways, before their confrères who were
with the main force!

At dawn we had completed most of the open-sea passage on the return
journey.  The force split up--the various units deconcentrated.


_Vindictive_ and her old friends returned to her home of the last few
weeks.  The _Hindustan's_ enthusiasm of the day before gave place to
curiosity.  The former positions in the anchorage were reoccupied.
Coaling was then the order of the day; not a moment was to be wasted;
with luck we might start again before nightfall.

But it was not to be.  The conditions were hopeless and perhaps that
was all for the best.  We needed some rest.  As soon as everything was
in readiness for the second attempt, we piped down and then, for the
first time, we had a chance to talk things over.

It would be untrue to say that we were not disappointed.  The fear of
indefinite postponement was now much stronger.  But everybody realised
to the full that the chances of success under adverse conditions were
practically nil.  Discussion paved the way to many suggestions of
improvement--at any rate, we intended to derive what benefit we could
from the abortive attempt.




I will not weary the reader with a repetition of our life at the
Swin--the second edition differed little from the first.  There were
still chances of a new start during the present period.  The weather,
however, was most unkind.  We summoned up all the patience that we
could muster.  The news from the battle front in France was becoming
increasingly serious.  We felt that somehow or other, we didn't quite
know how, a successful operation on our part might help to stem the
German advance.  If only we could get started!

At last our second chance came.  The wind had changed back to a
northerly direction.  The "stand-by" order was received.  "Carry on"
followed.  Once again we started off, as enthusiastic as ever; if our
previous determination had not increased it was because no increase was

_Hindustan_ cheered us out again, and, in our inmost thoughts, we
thanked them.  Soon after we had cleared the Swin anchorage a destroyer
hove in sight and signalled that she had a letter for _Vindictive_.  We
ordered her to stop a couple of miles ahead of us and transfer the
letter by boat.  Commander Brock came on board with it; we had thought
he had been prevented from joining us.  "We must push in to-night,"
{154} that was the tenor of the letter.  The message was passed round
the ship and down the line of blockships.  It reflected our own
feelings--"We must push in to-night."  Once again we passed many
merchant vessels with their crews crowded on deck to view the unusual
spectacle which we made.  The wind had gradually increased in strength,
an uncomfortable sea was rising.  The prospects appeared none too rosy
for the small craft.  Some twenty miles had been covered when the
almost inevitable became a certainty--the operation was once more

The open sea had become so rough as to render the use of small craft
quite impracticable.  There was nothing for it, back we had to go once

Little enough was said on the subject this time; we were learning to
hide disappointment.  The reaction from all our hopeful optimism caused
us to wonder if any other chance would be offered us.  Surely this
enterprise was not to be stillborn after all the signs of life that it
had shown.  It is advisable, perhaps, not to analyse our thoughts too
fully, but they tended to breed fatalism.  We tried to look upon the
turn of events as a "rub of the green"; we endeavoured to appear

The men were wonderful; their behaviour was beyond praise.  If there
was any discontent it was carefully hidden.  The Vice-Admiral visited
us at the earliest opportunity and explained the situation to the
officers and men.  That gracious act was enormously appreciated; we all
felt, more than ever, that if _he_ could not bring off this operation
nobody would ever do so.

The first period of favourable tides was over.  The {155} next period
would not commence yet awhile.  Drills and practices were restarted.  A
second battleship was sent to the Swin to relieve the congestion in the
_Hindustan_.  _Vindictive, Iris_, and _Daffodil_ had no accommodation
for the Marine storming parties, which had to be transferred to the
_Hindustan_ and her sister depot.  The waiting period was not wasted.

[Sidenote: Lessons of First Attempt]

Opportunity now offered for embodying in the instructions the various
suggestions for improvements.  Each was fully discussed and considered
from all points of view.  Even further experiments with the artificial
fog were carried out.  It was then decided to rewrite all the previous
instructions which required modification as a result of the experience
gained during the two attempts.  This was a welcome change from the
confined life on board.  The Admiralty clerk reappeared at the
Admiral's office.

A most important discussion was held concerning the chances of the
secret having leaked out.  At first sight one might have thought that
the operation ought to be cancelled altogether, for had we not been
seen, and almost certainly reported, by a large number of neutral
vessels?  Such an eventuality was by no means outside the pale of
probability, and we also had to reckon with the chances of having been
seen by German aircraft and submarines.  Nevertheless, this obstacle to
our future success was imaginary rather than real.  To begin with, what
value would have been placed on such reports?  It would naturally
depend upon the source of the information.

Submarines or aircraft might have been mistaken; anyhow, their reports
could hardly provide conclusive evidence of our intentions.
Information received by {156} the Germans from neutral sources might
have been specially intended to mislead.  The probable effect of such
latter "intelligence" depends to a certain extent on the psychology of
the recipient.  The Germans were past-masters at chicanery; the first
inclination of such individuals is to disbelieve others; a prevaricator
always labours under that disadvantage.

There could, therefore, be no _certainty_ that our two abortive
attempts had given birth to a new obstacle.  History relates many
failures resulting from the imagination of difficulties which had no
real existence in fact.  One of the best examples, curiously enough,
was connected with the Walcheren expedition, where the imaginary
difficulties had loomed large, only a few miles to the eastward of
Zeebrugge.  It is no exaggeration to state that if we had allowed our
imagination to create half the obstacles which might have existed we
should never have decided upon the enterprise at all.

The drafting, typing, duplication, and distribution of the new editions
of instructions were completed in two or three days.  The dates of the
next period were worked out and a new time table issued.

It has already been shown that the chances of being discovered _en
route_ largely depended upon the number of daylight hours which would
be involved in the passage of the expedition.  Daylight, in itself,
does not necessarily imply a high degree of visibility.  If the weather
were sufficiently misty to reduce visibility, without militating
against safe navigation, daylight would not be so disadvantageous.  In
making out the period, therefore, we included an extra day at its
commencement for use if misty weather obtained; {157} should that day
be clear it would be inadvisable to attempt the enterprise.  That
decision was strictly in accordance with the principles on which the
enterprise was based.  But principles are intended as guides; it is a
false idea that they may never be departed from.  In an operation of
this description, depending upon a rather delicate combination of
circumstances and conditions, it was necessary to consider just how far
we should be justified in ignoring one unsuitable condition if all
others were favourable.

Once more we summoned up all the patience that we could muster.

[Sidenote: Their Lordships Visit]

The First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Eric Geddes, accompanied by Sir
Rosslyn Wemyss, who had relieved Lord Jellicoe as First Sea Lord, paid
a visit to _Vindictive_ and some of the blockships; it is probable that
they were exceedingly struck at the optimism of all concerned.

An incident, illustrating the spirit of the men, may be worth
recording.  It came to my ears that certain of the engine-room
personnel did not propose to remain below whilst the ship was alongside
the Mole; as they put it "they intended to land on the Mole for a run
round."  Of course, that would never do, so the ship's company were
informed that, however much their spirits might actuate their
intentions, any man who left his post during the action would be
summarily dealt with.  They knew what that meant.  Shortly afterwards
some stokers requested to interview their officer.  The interview was
somewhat as follows: "Me and my mates, sir, understand that we ain't
allowed to leave the stokehold and have a go at the Hun," said their
spokesman.  "Of course not," {158} interposed the officer; "you would
be deserting your post in action."  "Well, sir," continued the stoker,
"we wants to know if we may _guard the prisoners_ in the stokehold."
The request was not granted; it spelt too much discomfort for the

Soon the first possible date drew near.

In view of the eventual results it may be of interest to recall the
fact that on April 19th (three days before we actually started) Admiral
von Capelle, Secretary for the German Navy, made a speech in which he
said: "Even the greatest pessimist must say that the position of our
opponents is deteriorating rapidly, and that any doubt regarding the
final success of the U-boat war is unjustified."

I wonder if von Capelle remained an optimist much longer.

Another German of high culture and position had previously said,
"Questions of right or wrong, justification or no justification, do not
concern us.  The chief thing is that we are the stronger, and that if
anyone questions this fact we should smite him on the mouth till he
grows wiser."

Well, we _did_ question the fact, and not only questioned it, but we
put it to the test.




  "_One crowded hour of glorious life
  is worth an age without a name_"



A brief introduction to Part II of this book may assist the reader.
The previous chapters have dealt with the general idea of the
operation, the more important details of the plan, and the preparatory
work involved.

We are now approaching the actual events which occurred during the
operation itself as carried out at the third attempt.

For reasons stated in Part I, Chapter III, I do not propose to deal
further with the enterprise at Ostende; the preparatory work for the
blocking of that place has been fairly well covered in the foregoing
pages.  As a matter of historical interest a list of all vessels
employed in the simultaneous operations at Zeebrugge and Ostende is
given in the Appendix.  Doubtless the Ostende story will be told in due
course by one of those who took part in the operations at that place.

Unless the reader's mind has clearly grasped our intentions as
portrayed in the Zeebrugge plan it may be difficult to understand the
connection between the actual events which occurred.  The more
important details of the plan have already been described, but chiefly
under the consideration of each separate phase of the enterprise, or of
the duties of each class of vessel, rather than as related items of one
complete operation.  It may be advisable, therefore, to describe
briefly the various phases, in their proper sequence, {162} showing the
relation between them, even if this involves some repetition; thus the
way will be paved to a detailed narrative of the several events which
occurred, and the reader, whilst following any particular item, will be
enabled to keep the whole picture in view.

Briefly, then, the main points of the plan for the blocking of
Zeebrugge were as follows:

The expedition was to cross the seas during the afternoon and evening,
stopping for a few minutes about twenty miles from its destination for
the purpose of disembarking the surplus crews of the blockships.  At
about this time the first of the diversions, in the form of aerial
attacks, were to commence, to be shortly followed by the opening of the
long-range bombardments.  Meanwhile the expedition, working to a
prearranged time table, was to approach the coast.

At given intervals during the approach small craft were to be detached
to carry out the duties of smoke screening, of diversionary attacks, of
locating the destination, and of dealing with enemy vessels which might
emerge from their harbours or which were already at sea.

Immediately following the long-range bombardment, the storming vessels,
having located the Mole, were to proceed alongside the high outer wall
and land their storming parties over it to attack the Mole
batteries--this constituting the main diversion of the enterprise.  A
few minutes later, the submarines, having steamed into place beneath
the railway viaduct, were to blow up the railway.  Twenty minutes after
the storming vessels were due to arrive {163} alongside, the blockships
were to pass round the end of the Mole and were to make their dash for
the canal entrance, running the gantlet of the shore batteries, whilst
the Mole attack was in full swing.  On arriving in the canal the
blockers were to turn and sink their ships across the navigable
channel.  Rescue craft were to follow the blockships for the purpose of
rescuing the crews of the latter.  Meanwhile, the various diversions,
the smoke screening, and the work of the inshore supports, were to be
continued sufficiently long to enhance the chances of the rescue.
After an hour or so from the commencement of the attack on the Mole all
forces were to withdraw.

The foregoing brief summary serves to indicate that at any given moment
after the approach had once commenced there would be many different
events taking place simultaneously.

For instance, early in the proceedings there would be a combined aerial
attack and long-range bombardment whilst the main expedition, under
cover of darkness, was silently approaching over the mine-fields,
momentarily expectant of discovery by the enemy's patrol vessels.

Later--say, ten minutes after the storming vessels had arrived at the
Mole--the storming parties from _Vindictive, Iris_, and _Daffodil_
would be attacking the northeastern end of the Mole; _Vindictive's_
howitzers would be bombarding the shore batteries; small craft would be
bombing the central part of the Mole; submarines would be blowing up
the railway viaduct; the submarine's crews would be pulling away for
dear life; other small craft would be laying their smoke screens close
off the enemy's batteries and {164} attacking German vessels on the
inner side of the Mole; the blockships would be nearing the Mole in
preparation for their final dash; patrol vessels, in support, would be
guarding the attackers from enemy craft; star shell and search-lights
would be illuminating the darkness; the booming of heavy guns, the
yapping of quick-firers, and the crashing of shell would provide a
fitting accompaniment.

The enterprise was to be decidedly intensive.  If all went well the
defence should certainly be mystified and not a little worried by the
time the blockships arrived in the picture.

Thus, and thus only, should we be following out the maxim of Stonewall
Jackson, "Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy."

The enterprise divides itself naturally into three main phases, namely,
the Approach, the Attack, and the Retirement; as far as practicable
Part II will describe each of these phases in turn, whilst dealing more
or less separately with the work of each class of vessel.




The break of dawn on April 22, 1918, the first of the seven days of our
tabulated period, found many anxious individuals on deck discussing the
chances.  There was an almost entire absence of wind; the sea was
consequently as smooth as the proverbial mill-pond.  The general
feeling amongst us was that of straining-at-the-leash.  We had suffered
two major disappointments during the previous period, but we
instinctively felt that we had now arrived at a period of maximum
anxiety--we knew that the coming week would settle the matter once and
for all.  Presently light airs from the northward began to catspaw the
glassy surface and to increase in frequency and strength until they
settled down to a real northerly breeze.  Our hopes ran high, but the
matter of visibility still claimed our attention.  There was the usual
early morning mist; this was quickly dispelled when the sun rose above
the horizon.  It soon became evident that our hopes for misty weather
were to be denied us.  By 8 A.M. the visibility was extreme, as they
say in meteorological circles; one's horizontal range of vision from
shipboard was only limited by one's height of eye above the level of
the sea.  This condition, to say the least of it, was disconcerting.

It would be high tide at Zeebrugge and Ostende soon after midnight.
Arrival at such an hour would {166} entail making much of the oversea
passage in broad daylight, and this, as previously mentioned, would in
turn lead to grave risk of being seen by the German patrols, whether
the latter were in the air, on the sea surface, or submerged keeping
periscope watch.  Although this disadvantage might even lose us the
element of surprise on which we had concentrated so much effort, any
postponement of our departure until the morrow would entail a reduction
of our available period by one-seventh.  The armchair critic who knows
nought of such matters cannot easily conceive either the difficulty of
arriving at such decisions, or the weight of responsibility which lies
on the shoulders of the man by whom the decision must be given.

Early in the forenoon it was evident that all conditions except
visibility were in favour of starting our third attempt.  Our hopes ran
high in spite of the fact that previous experience had shown us how
fickle the weather could be.  Somehow we felt that our chance had come
at last.

We were in telephonic communication with Dover via a lighthouse in the
vicinity of our anchorage.  Perhaps the word "communication" rather
exaggerates the actual facts of the case.  The line apparently passed
through a certain holiday resort whose telephone exchange was below par
and whose operative, in the kindness of her heart, generally managed to
connect at least four persons simultaneously on our particular line.
The resulting cross talk, further confused by the eternal argument
between the tidal stream and the telephone cable, and our impatience at
any and every interruption, with its resultant increase of knowledge of
the vernacular to the lighthouse {167} crew, were hardly conducive to
easy conversation on important matters.  "Harold" was particularly
exasperating that morning.  Having fixed "Mabel" for lunch in a couple
of hours, he apparently thought it necessary to 'phone her details of
his past.

[Sidenote: Order to Start]

To the Vice-Admiral at Dover fell the responsibility of deciding
whether we should start or not.  After a discussion on the telephone
the die was cast--we were ordered to "proceed in execution of previous
orders."  The order was passed to the ships and the requisite
preparations were put in hand immediately.  We raised steam without
delay.  Baggage, final letters, and all unnecessary paraphernalia were
disembarked.  Once again determination and expectancy had expanded into
enthusiasm.  The time for "action" had arrived.

I do not think we had any feelings of anxiety now except with regard to
the weather.  Surely nothing would prevent the culmination of all our
hopes at this eleventh hour.  No suggestion of failure ever occurred to
us.  Our confidence in the face of the many obstacles, when considered
in cold blood months afterwards, may have seemed to be almost an
impertinence.  Everybody knew exactly what was expected of him.  There
was no actual excitement except that inseparable from intense
enthusiasm.  Last-minute orders or signals were not required,
everything worked just as smoothly as if we had been merely starting
off on a picnic.

Engines were reported "ready" shortly after lunch.  Just before
weighing anchor I had gone below to don my sea-boots and other
appropriate "togs"; on reappearing on deck I found several officers
grouped for {168} a final snapshot and was requested to join them.
Alas, that was indeed the last photograph for several of them.  The
cheering which had taken place on both the previous attempts was
indulged in once again as the ships proceeded to sea and was only
eclipsed by the cheers which welcomed the survivors to Dover on the
following day.

Of the earlier part of the oversea trip little need be written.
_Vindictive_ took _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ in tow and was closely followed
by the blockships.  In due course the Dover forces were sighted; the
combined force, accompanied by aeroplanes, formed on _Vindictive_,
which was "Guide of the Fleet."

The fast motor boats and the two submarines were taken in tow, and the
Vice-Admiral, with his flag flying in the Destroyer _Warwick_, directed
the whole movements and gave the signal to proceed as soon as all were
formed up.  The visibility had already decreased and sufficient clouds
were massing overhead to revive our anxieties about the weather.  Light
squadrons which had preceded us for the various duties of "supporting"
or "bombarding," etc., had not reported any enemy patrol craft.

D.S.O., R.N. (missing from book)]

On board each ship eleventh-hour preparations were being made--such as
rigging stations for attending the wounded, distributing first-aid
packages, passing hoses along in case of fire, fusing bombs and shell,
testing electric circuits, providing candle lamps in case of electrical
failures, grouping ammunition round the guns, donning clean
underclothing as a guard against septic wounds, darkening ship to
prevent any warning of our approach, placing spare charts in
alternative positions, testing smoke-screen {169} apparatus and
flame-throwers, and many other such things.

[Sidenote: St. George for England]

Before darkness set in a signal was received from the Vice-Admiral
reading "St. George for England."  It was reported to me as being a
personal signal to myself, but I subsequently ascertained that it was
intended as a general signal to be passed down the line of ships.  It
was made in the semaphore code from _Warwick_ and has often been
misquoted as a signal hoisted with alphabetical flags.

One garbled version described the signal as having been "flashed to all
ships just before reaching the Mole."  This story of a flash-light
having been used just when the ships were endeavouring to take the
enemy by surprise under cover of darkness is really too fantastic to
pass uncontradicted.  Believing it to be a private signal, a reply was
determined upon.  The reply[1] to the Admiral's signal, judged by the
ordinary standards, was somewhat impertinent, but impertinence was in
the air that afternoon.  Incidentally my signalman substituted the word
"darned" for "damned" and, when corrected, spelt the word "dammed" as a

[1] May we give the Dragon's tail a damned good twist.

Our prearranged time table had laid down the exact minute at which we
were to pass through certain lettered positions, the latter being
marked by buoys placed by the surveying officers mentioned previously.
Position G was to be the parting of the ways, namely the position at
which the forces destined for the inshore attacks on Zeebrugge and
Ostende should separate _en route_ for their respective destinations.
That position was so chosen that the forces should {170} arrive at
their destinations simultaneously, making due allowance for direction
and strength of the tidal stream and for actual ship-speed through the
water.  This idea of simultaneous operations at the two places was not
the only important factor for consideration; it was also necessary that
all other phases of the attack, such as long-range bombardments and
aerial attacks, should synchronise with the movements of the
blockships.  It was, therefore, necessary to either work exactly to
schedule as laid down in the time table or else inform all units of any
change in the zero time; the latter being the minute at which
_Vindictive_ should pass through position G.  This in turn necessitated
forecasting the zero time as a result of the observed times of passing
the previous positions.  We had left position A a few minutes ahead of
time and passed through position D with barely a minute in hand.  "No
alteration of zero time" was therefore communicated to all units.

After passing position D the whole assembly of vessels stopped for a
few minutes for the triple purpose of disembarking surplus blockship
crews, ascertaining the exact direction of wind (this information being
required for the use of the smoke screens), and reforming into
"approach order" after casting off the tow of the submarines and small
craft.  It was then pitch dark, the moon being entirely obscured by
clouds.  It has been stated elsewhere that the _Intrepid_ did not
disembark any of her surplus crews.  The small vessel detailed to take
these men failed to appear owing to a breakdown; this must have pleased
the _Intrepid's_ surplus crew who, it will be remembered, had shown a
strong disinclination to leave their {171} ship.  To some extent
_Thetis_ and _Iphigenia_ were similarly placed; history relates that
when the small vessels arrived alongside many members of the surplus
crews could not be found, so anxious were they to complete the
operation which they had begun so well.

No time was lost in reforming the squadron and we started off again for
position G.  At about this time all conditions of wind and sea were
still favourable, but slight rain had begun to fall and to reduce the
already very limited visibility.  The rain thus provided the first of
the incidents which could not be foreseen.

The result of the rain was twofold.  Firstly, it somewhat delayed the
commencement of the long-range bombardment on Zeebrugge owing to the
reduction in visibility rendering the monitor's position doubtful.
Secondly, and far more important, it acted very adversely against the
use of aircraft.  The difficulty and danger of flying in wet weather is
too well known to need enlargement here, but the difficulty of locating
the positions which were to be bombed was enormously increased.  As
related elsewhere our aerial bombers had made a magnificent attack on
the occasion of our first attempt and they had become none the less
determined to render a good account of themselves when the operation
finally took place.  Imagine their intense disappointment.  It was not
difficult for those who knew the splendid work of our Air Force to
realise that they would stop at nothing to achieve their object.  In
spite of all the difficulties it is impossible to conceive of greater
determination than was shown, but the rain rendered the attack
impossible.  The losses amongst these very gallant {172} airmen
amounted to a high percentage of those who started on their errand.

At position G the Ostende blockships parted company; inwardly we wished
them the best of luck.

The main portion of the oversea passage having been completed, the
"Approach" now commenced.




After zero time the remaining units kept in close company until such
times as each, according to their respective instructions, was deputed
to proceed independently to carry out its particular duty.

The force was preceded by the Vice-Admiral in _Warwick_ with some half
a dozen other craft in company ready to fall upon and destroy any enemy
patrol vessels which might be encountered.  We were now steaming
through the German mined areas and were hoping against hope that no
mines would be touched to the main detriment of the element of
surprise.  If any mine had exploded the enemy could not have failed to
have their suspicions aroused.  The rain gradually increased and the
wind became more fitful.  Hot soup was distributed to the men in
_Vindictive_ at about 10.30 P.M. and a "tot" of rum was served out
about an hour later to those who desired it.

About fifty minutes before midnight the hawser with which _Vindictive_
was towing _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ suddenly parted.  It was then too late
to retake these vessels in tow and, indeed, it would have been a
difficult and dangerous task in the rain and inky darkness with so many
vessels in close company, to say nothing of the loss of time and the
obstacle to accurate navigation.  Speed had to be somewhat eased
temporarily to allow _Vindictive_ to drop back to her original {174}
position relative to the other vessels.  In accordance with the plan
the blockships eased speed for the purpose of arriving at the Mole some
twenty minutes after _Vindictive_.

We were momentarily expecting to meet the German patrol vessels and to
be discovered from the shore.  Suddenly a light-buoy was seen.  A
hurried bearing laid down on the chart agreed exactly with the reported
position of a buoy off Blankenberghe.  Incidentally a captured prisoner
had recently stated that this buoy had been withdrawn or moved
elsewhere, but we had promulgated its original position to all
concerned because we suspected that this particular individual was a
disciple of Ananias.  This agreement between our position by
"dead-reckoning" and that of the buoy was decidedly heartening, for we
had obtained no "fix" for several miles and were running through a
cross tidal stream of doubtful strength.

The difficulties attached to forecasting the movements of tidal streams
were borne out in the case of the bombarding monitors, H.M.S. _Erebus_
and _Terror_.  In addition to being somewhat hampered by the low
visibility resulting from the rain, these vessels, on arrival at their
firing positions, discovered that the tidal stream was flowing in
exactly the opposite direction to that anticipated; this, in turn,
caused some delay in opening fire, but, as events subsequently showed,
the delay was of no great consequence.  The bombardment was carried out
without any further hitch.  The Germans do not appear to have been able
to locate the monitors until the firing was nearly completed.  The few
German shell which burst in the {175} vicinity of the firing ships were
doubtless directed by some means of sound-ranging and
direction-finding.  On finishing the bombardment the monitors took up
their positions for covering the subsequent retirement of the attacking

It may be stated here that, barring the impossibility of aerial attack,
the delay in commencing the long-range bombardment, and the parting of
the towing hawser, there was no hitch of any kind sufficient to alter
the general idea of the enterprise.  Everything was carried out to
schedule time.

[Sidenote: In Touch with the Enemy]

Soon after passing the Blankenberghe light-buoy the enemy appeared to
suspect that something more than a bombardment was afoot.  Star shell
were fired to seaward and searchlights were switched on.  That was
exactly what we had hoped for.  If only they would continue to
illuminate the atmosphere our navigational difficulties would be
enormously reduced.  The star shell were extraordinary.  They burst
with a loud report just overhead and lit up our surroundings to the
maximum of the then visibility.  Much to our surprise no enemy vessels
were encountered or even seen; presumably the enemy set the greater
dependence on their mines.

To the southward, that is, between us and the shore, our
smoke-screeners had laid down a "pea-soup" fog.  Nothing was to be seen
in that direction except the glare of searchlights and of gun flashes,
the latter being presumably directed against the fast motor boats which
had run into the anchorage behind the Mole for the purpose of
torpedoing vessels secured alongside.  At this stage the wind died away
completely and the rain was heavier than ever.


In _Vindictive_ we took up our action stations.  Our battery guns had
been instructed not to open fire until it was certain that our
individual presence had been discovered.  The guns in the fighting-top
on our foremast were in readiness to engage.  Rocket men had been
stationed to fire illuminating flares for the purpose of locating the
Mole.  The storming parties were under cover awaiting the order to
storm the Mole.  The cable party were in the forecastle standing by to
drop anchor at the foot of the high wall.  Other parties with wire
hawsers were stationed to assist the _Daffodil_ in her important task
of pushing _Vindictive_ bodily alongside.  Crews were standing by the
bomb-mortars and flame-throwers for clearing the Mole before sending
the stormers over the wall.  The Engineering and Stokehold personnel
were at their stations below for giving immediate response to all
requirements from the conning positions.  The first
lieutenant--Lieutenant-Commander R. R. Rosoman, R.N.--was in the
conning tower, from where the ship was being steered by the
quartermaster, in readiness to take over the handling of the ship
immediately I was rendered _hors de combat_.  It was a decidedly tense
period, but there were others to follow.

[Sidenote: Nearing the Goal]

At a given moment by watch-time _Vindictive_ altered course towards the
Mole--or rather towards the position where it was hoped to find the
Mole.  Almost immediately we ran into the smoke screen.  _The wind had
now changed to an off-shore direction_, diametrically opposite to that
on which the screening plans had been based.  I thought at the time
that this smoke screen was the thickest on record--that opinion was
changed later.


The visibility at this time can hardly have amounted to a yard--the
forecastle was invisible from the bridge.  The firing of star shells
and guns, and the flashing of searchlights became more frequent.
_Vindictive_ was being conned from the flame-thrower hut on the port
end of the conning-tower platform.  This position was especially
suitable in that it plumbed over the ship's side and thus provided a
very good outlook for berthing at the Mole.  There was a curious
absence of excitement.  Even the continued repetition of the question,
"Are you all right, sir?" from my first lieutenant--a prearranged idea
to ensure a quick change over of command--became monotonous.  Nothing
had yet been seen of the Mole from _Vindictive_.  This comparatively
quiet period was not of long duration.




A few seconds before the schedule time for the last alteration of
course--designed to take us alongside the outer wall--the smoke screen,
which had been drifting northwards before the new wind, suddenly
cleared.  Barely three hundred yards distant, dead ahead of us,
appeared a long low dark object which was immediately recognised as the
Mole itself with the lighthouse at its extremity.  We had turned up
heading direct for the six-gun battery exactly as arranged in the plan.
Those who know aught of navigation will realise how far this was a
fluke--probably the various errors in compass direction, allowance for
tide, etc., had exactly cancelled one another.  Course was altered
immediately to the southwestward and speed was increased to the utmost.

The Mole battery opened fire at once; our own guns, under the direction
of Commander E. O. B. S. Osborne, replied with the utmost promptitude.
The estimated distance at which we passed the Mole battery was two
hundred and fifty yards off the eastern gun, gradually lessening to
fifty yards off the western gun.  It was truly a wonderful sight.  The
noise was terrific and the flashes of the Mole guns seemed to be within
arm's length.  Of course it was, to all intents and purposes,
impossible for the Mole guns to miss their target.  They literally
poured {179} projectiles into us.  In about five minutes we had reached
the Mole, but not before the ship had suffered a great amount of damage
to both _matériel_ and personnel.

[Illustration: DIAGRAMMATIC SKETCH OF THE ATTACK.  Drawn by Charies De
Lacy from details supplied by the Author.
  A--H.M.S. Vindictive
  B--H.M.S. Daffodil
  C--H.M.S. Iris
  D--Coastal Motor Boats
  E--Steam pinnace
  F--Motor dinghey
  G--Submarine C3
  H--S.S. Brussels
  I--German destroyers
  J--To Blankenberghe
  K--Motor launches
  L--Entanglement net boom
  M--H.M.S. Phoebe
  N--H.M.S. North Star
  O--Position of approach channel
  P--Rescue craft
  Q--Rescue craft
  R--H.M.S. Iphigenia
  S--H.M.S. Intrepid
  T--H.M.S. Thetis
  U--Trenches on Mole
  V--Trenches ashore
  W--H.M.S. Warwick
  X--The barge boom
  Y--The Canal
  Z--German batteries]

[Sidenote: Running the Gantlet]

Looked at from the view of a naval officer it was little short of
criminal, on the part of the Mole battery, that the ship was allowed to
reach her destination.  Everything was in favour of the defence as soon
as we had been sighted.  Owing to the change of wind our special
arrangements for covering the battery with smoke had failed in spite of
the magnificent work of our small smoke vessels which, unsupported and
regardless of risk, had laid the screen close to the foot of the wall,
that is to say, right under the muzzles of the guns.  From the moment
when we were first sighted until arriving alongside the Mole the
battery guns had a clear target, illuminated by star shell, of a size
equal to half the length of the lighthouse extension itself.

To my mind the chief reasons for our successful running of the gantlet
were twofold, firstly, the fact that we were so close, and secondly,
the splendid manner in which our guns' crews stuck to their work.  With
regard to the former, a longer range would have entailed more
deliberate firing, and this in turn would have given time for more
deliberate choice of point of aim.  A few projectiles penetrating the
engine or boiler rooms, or holing us at the water-line, would have
settled the matter.  The range being so short one can conjecture that
the German gunners, realising that they could not miss, pumped
ammunition into us at the utmost speed of which their guns were capable
without regard to the particular damage which they were likely to
cause.  Their loss of serenity, due in the {180} first place to the
novel circumstances of the case, must have been considerably augmented
by the fact that our own projectiles were hitting the wall near the gun
muzzles--it was too much to hope that we should actually obtain any
hits on the guns themselves.

The petty officer at one of our six-inch guns, when asked afterwards
what ranges he fired at, said that he reckoned he opened fire at about
two hundred yards and he continued till close to the Mole.  "How
close?" he was asked.  "Reckoning from the gun muzzle," he replied, "I
should say it was about three feet!"

[Sidenote: Gun-fire from the Mole]

One can picture the situation as seen from the Mole itself.  A hostile
vessel suddenly looming out of the fog at point-blank range, the
intense excitement which resulted, the commencement of fire, the
bursting of shell on the wall, the ardent desire to hit something as
rapidly and as often as possible, the natural inclination to fire at
the nearest object, namely, that part of the vessel on their own level,
and the realisation that in a few moments the guns would no longer bear
on the target.  One can imagine the thoughts that were uppermost in
their minds, "Hit her, smash her, pump it in, curse those guns of hers,
don't lose a second of time, blow her to bits!" One cannot blame those
gunners.  To use a war-time expression, "They had the wind up."  We had
counted on that, we had concentrated all our efforts at "putting the
wind up."  Yet if anybody had seriously suggested that a ship could
steam close past a shore battery in these modern days of gunnery he
would have been laughed to scorn.  Yet it was easy.  The reason is not
far to seek.


Those who worship _matériel_ have followed a false god.  The crux of
all fighting lies with the personnel--a fact borne out again and again
on this particular night just as throughout past history.  If the
German gunners had been superhuman this tale would not have been told,
but human nature, reckoned with by the attackers, was on our side; the
initiative was ours.

The material damage was very great, but, though it may sound
paradoxical, of not much importance.  The upper works and upper deck of
the ship received the brunt of it.  The most serious matter was the
damage to our gangways.  Several were shot away and many others damaged
beyond further usefulness and, so far as could be observed at the time,
only four were left us for the work in hand.  Two heavy shell
penetrated the ship's side below the upper deck.  One passed in just
beneath the foremost flame-thrower hut and burst on impact.  The other
came through within a few feet of the first and wrecked everything in
its vicinity.  Two other heavy shell came through the screen door to
the forecastle and placed one of the howitzer guns out of action.  The
funnels, ventilators, bridges, chart-house, and all such were riddled
through and through.

The damage to the personnel was exceedingly serious.  Orders had been
given that the storming parties should remain below, under cover, until
the ship arrived alongside.  The number of personnel in exposed
positions was to be limited mainly to those manning the guns, rocket
apparatus, and flame-throwers.  The senior officers of the storming
parties, however, stationed themselves in the most handy position for
leading and directing the assault, with {182} the result that they were
exposed to the full blast of the hurricane fire from the Mole battery.
Military officers had always acted in a similar manner whatever their
instructions might be.  One cannot help feeling that in any fighting
service, where discipline is based on leadership rather than on mere
driving force, officers will do the same thing.  Captain Halahan,
commanding the naval storming forces, who had repeatedly told me this
was to be his last fight, was shot down and killed at the outset.
Commander Edwards, standing near him on the gangway deck, was also shot
down and completely incapacitated.  Colonel Elliot, commanding the
Marine storming forces, and his second-in-command, Major Cordner, were
killed on the bridge, where they had taken up a commanding position in
full view of the gangway deck.  Many others were killed or wounded.
The death of so many brave men was a terrible blow.  Nobody knew better
than they the tremendous risk attached to their actions--the pity of it
was that they should not have lived to see the success for which they
were so largely responsible.

[Sidenote: Arrival at the Mole]

At one minute past midnight the ship actually arrived alongside the
Mole, one minute late on schedule time, having steamed alongside at
sixteen knots speed.  The engines were immediately reversed at full
speed and the ship bumped the Mole very gently on the specially
constructed fender fitted on the port bow.

The conning position in the flame-thrower hut was well chosen, our
heads being about five feet above the top of the Mole wall.  We had
previously devoted many hours to studying photographs of the Mole {183}
with the idea of recognising objects thereon.  Our aerial confrères had
photographed every portion of the Mole from almost every conceivable
angle with both ordinary and stereoscopic cameras.  We had also had
picture post-cards and other illustrations at our disposal.  Though
none of us had ever actually seen the Mole itself we felt pretty sure
of being able to recognise any portion of it immediately.  In that we
were over-confident.  The smoke, the intermittent glare and flashes,
the alternating darkness and the unceasing rain, added to the
disturbance of one's attention caused by the noise and the explosion of
shell, rendered observation somewhat difficult.  As far as we could see
we were to the westward of our desired position.  The engines were,
therefore, kept at full speed astern and the ship, aided by the
three-knot tide running to the eastward, rapidly drifted in that
direction.  When sufficient sternway had been gathered the engines were
put to full speed ahead to check her.  A low building was then observed
on the Mole abreast the ship, but it was not recognised immediately as
the northeastern shed (No. 3), which we had expected to appear much
larger.  The distance in the uncertain light was also very deceptive,
the building in question appearing to be situated within a few feet of
the outer wall, whereas it must have been at least forty-five yards

But time was pressing.  Our main diversion had certainly commenced, but
at all costs we must have it fully developed before the blockships
arrived at twenty minutes past midnight.  The order was therefore given
to let go the starboard anchor.  A voice tube, for this purpose, led
from the flame-thrower hut {184} to the cable deck.  The order was
certainly not given _sotto voce_.  But the noise at this time was
terrific.  I could not be certain whether the order was received as no
answer was heard in reply.  Certainly the anchor was not let go.
Meanwhile the engines were ordered at full speed astern and full speed
ahead alternately to keep the ship in position; the manner in which
these orders were carried out by the engine-room staff, under the
command of Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Bury, was admirable.  No reply
being forthcoming to questions as to the delay in anchoring, Rosoman
left the conning tower and went below to investigate.  The din had now
reached a crescendo.  Every gun that would bear appeared to be focused
on our upper works, which were being hit every few seconds.  Our guns
in the fighting-top were pouring out a continuous hail of fire in
reply.  One could aptly say that we could hardly hear ourselves think.

At last I had news from the cable deck--this was a great relief as I
feared that the two heavy shell which burst between decks had killed
all the anchoring party.  The starboard anchor had jammed somewhere.
It had been previously lowered to the water's edge and nothing was
holding the cable, but it refused to budge.  The port anchor was,
therefore, dropped at the foot of the wall and the ship allowed to drop
astern until a hundred yards of cable had been veered.  The cable was
then secured.

The ship immediately swung bodily out from the Mole.  With the helm to
starboard she swung in again, but with her bows so tight against the
Mole, and her stern so far out, that the foremost gangways {185} just
failed to reach the top of the wall.  With the helm amidships the ship
lay parallel to the wall, but no gangways would reach.  With the helm
to port the ship again swung away from the Mole.  This was an
exceedingly trying situation.  Everything now depended upon the
_Daffodil_ (Lieutenant H. G. Campbell).

It will be remembered that, as a result of the towing hawser having
parted, and in consequence of our increase of speed when running
alongside, the _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ had been left behind.  We knew
that whatever happened we could absolutely depend on Gibbs[1] and
Campbell making short work of any surmountable difficulty, and our
trust was not misplaced.  They must have cut off a considerable corner
to have arrived as early as they did.  The _Iris_ steamed past us at
her utmost speed, which was very slow, and went alongside the Mole
about a hundred yards ahead of _Vindictive_ exactly as laid down in the
Plan.  Of her more anon.

[1] Commander Valentine F. Gibbs.

After we had been struggling against our difficulties alongside for
about five minutes _Daffodil_ suddenly appeared steaming straight for
our foremast in a direction perpendicular to the Mole.  Campbell pushed
her nose against us, hawsers were passed to his vessel, and he shoved
us bodily alongside the Mole, exactly in accordance with the Plan.
Really he might have been an old stager at tug-master's work, pursuing
his vocation in one of our own harbours, judging by the cool manner in
which he carried out his instructions to the letter.

[Sidenote: Grappling the Mole]

Immediately the two foremost gangways reached {186} the wall they were
lowered until they rested on it.  No other gangways were then
available.  The order was at once passed to "Storm the Mole."

Owing to the light wind of the preceding day we had not expected to
find any swell against the wall.  The scend of the sea, however, was so
heavy and so confused, as each wave rebounded, that the ship was
rolling considerably.  Every time she rolled over to port there was a
heavy jarring bump which was probably caused by the bilge on the port
side of the ship crashing down on the step of the Mole some few feet
below the surface.  The whole ship was shaking violently at each bump
and rolling so heavily that we were greatly apprehensive of sustaining
vital damage below the water-line.

The Stokes gun batteries had already been bombing the Mole abreast the
ship.  The flame-throwers should also have helped to clear the way for
our storming parties.  The order had been given to switch on the
foremost flame-thrower.  Unfortunately the pipe leading from the
containers to the hut had been severed somewhere below by a shell
explosion.  This was not noticed before the order was obeyed, with the
result that many gallons of highly inflammable oil were squirted over
the decks.  One hesitates to think what would have happened if this oil
had become ignited.

[Sidenote: Inferno]

Incidentally the actual nozzle of this flame-thrower was shot away just
after the order to switch on had been given by the officer in charge,
Lieutenant A. L. Eastlake, attached R.E., who held the proud position
of being the sole representative of the military on board the attacking
vessels.  Eastlake was the only other occupant of the hut and I don't
think he will {187} easily forget the brief period that we experienced
in that decidedly uncomfortable erection.  Sparks were flying about
inside, but somehow, at the time, one did not connect that pyrotechnic
display with the fact that they emanated from the medley of missiles
passing through it.  Curiously enough neither of us was hit, but our
clothing sadly needed repair--an experience which was common enough in
shore fighting, but unusual afloat where the missiles are generally
rather too large to pass through one's headgear without removing one's
head en route.

The other flame-thrower fared no better.  Commander Brock was in
charge.  He lit the ignition apparatus and passed down the order to
"switch on."  The whole outfit of oil ran its course, but unfortunately
at the very commencement the ignition apparatus was shot away, with the
result that the instrument was converted into an oil thrower instead of
emitting a flame.

Lieutenant-Commander B. F. Adams, leading a party of seamen, stormed
the Mole immediately the gangways were placed.  The only two gangways
which could reach the Mole were, to say the least of it, very unsteady
platforms.  Their inboard ends were rising and falling several feet as
the ship rolled; the outer ends were see-sawing and sliding backwards
and forwards on the top of the wall.  My own personal impression at the
time was that these gangways were alternately lifting off and resting
on the wall, but apparently that was not so.  The fact remains,
however, that the run across these narrow gangways with a thirty-foot
drop beneath to certain death was not altogether inviting.


The first act of the advance party, in accordance with the
instructions, was to secure the ship to the wail by means of the
grappling anchors.  A great struggle to do this was undertaken.  The
foremost grappling anchors only just reached the Mole.  Some men sat on
the top of the wall and endeavoured to pull the grapnels over the top
as they were lowered from the ship.  These grapnels, by virtue of the
use for which they were designed, were heavy.  That fact, combined with
the continuous rolling of the ship, made it exceedingly difficult to
control them.  Rosoman and a party of men on board joined in the
struggle, but a heavy lurch of the ship broke up the davit on which the
foremost grappling iron was slung and the latter fell between the ship
and the wall.

Adams' party were followed out in great style by the remainder of the
seamen storming parties led by their surviving officers, and then by
the Marines.  I propose to tell later of what occurred on the Mole
itself in so far as I have been able to gather from the parties

[Sidenote: Work of the _Daffodil_]

As soon as it was clear that the grappling anchors had failed us owing
to the heavy swell there was no other alternative than to order
_Daffodil_ to carry on pushing throughout the proceedings.

A curious incident which has never been explained occurred just
previously.  Some individual in _Vindictive_ had hailed _Daffodil_ and
called to them to shove off, "By whose orders?" came the response
shouted by Campbell from _Daffodil's_ bridge.  "Captain Halahan's
orders," was the reply.  As a matter of fact poor gallant Halahan had
been killed some ten minutes earlier.  "I take my orders from Captain
Carpenter," {189} shouted Campbell.  "He's dead," was shouted back.  "I
don't believe it," responded Campbell, and incidentally he was right,
though I have not the faintest idea what he based his belief on.  As
Mark Twain would have said, "the report of my death was much
exaggerated."  The incident was certainly curious, but of course (this
for the benefit of those who, during the war, saw spies and traitors at
every corner) there can only be the explanation that some poor wounded
fellow must have been delirious.

Campbell had been shot in the face, but such a trifle as that did not
appear to have worried him, and he continued to push the _Vindictive_
alongside from the moment of his arrival until the whole hour and five
minutes had elapsed before we left the Mole.  Originally the _Daffodil_
had been detailed to secure alongside _Vindictive_ as soon as the
latter was secured to the Mole and then to disembark her demolition
parties for their work on the Mole.  That part of the plan could not be
carried out, however, though several of his parties climbed over her
bows into _Vindictive_ on their way to accomplish it.

The demolition charges had been stowed outside the conning tower ready
for use; on the passage across we had come to the conclusion that this
was a case of risking the success of the whole landing for the
furtherance of a secondary object, and the charges had therefore been
removed to a safer position.  This change of arrangement was indeed
fortunate, for the deck on both sides of the conning tower became a
regular shambles during the final approach.  Yeoman of Signals John
Buckley, who had volunteered to take up a position outside the conning
tower in {190} readiness to fire illuminating rockets had remained at
his post until killed.  We found him there at the foot of his rocket
tube in the morning, a splendid fellow who had been as helpful in the
work of preparation as he was unflinching in the face of almost certain
death.  All the signalmen except one had been either killed or
completely disabled, and almost every soul on the conning-tower
platform had made the supreme sacrifice.

On the order being given to storm the Mole the storming parties had
rushed up every available ladder to the gangway deck.  At the top of
the foremost ladder the men, in their eagerness to get at the enemy,
were stumbling over a body.  I had bent down to drag it clear when one
of the men shouted: "That's Mr. Walker, sir, he's had his arm shot
off."  Immediately Walker, who was still conscious, heard this he waved
his remaining hand to me and wished me the best of luck.  This officer,
Lieutenant H. T. C. Walker, survived.

The high wall, towering above our upper deck, was now protecting the
hull of the ship from gun-fire; no vital damage could be sustained in
that way so long as we remained alongside.  The chief source of danger
from which vital damage might accrue before we had completed our work
at the Mole was that of the fast German motor boats stationed at
Blankenberghe.  The latter harbour was barely five minutes' steaming
distance away, and, as the enemy would now be fully cognisant of our
position, we might reasonably expect a horde of these craft to come to
the attack with torpedo.  It does not require much naval knowledge to
realise that the difficulty of avoiding torpedo fire {191} under such
circumstances would be wellnigh insuperable.  Where a torpedo craft of
that description can suddenly rush in from the outer darkness a large
vessel has to depend upon remaining unseen; but of course such tactics
were now impossible, and, still further, a torpedo could not be avoided
even if seen coming towards the ship.  That we were not attacked in
that manner was mainly due to the work of certain of our smaller craft
specially detailed to deal with the Blankenberghe force; former
experience of the latter also led us to believe that the German
personnel in those boats had no stomach for a fight.

[Sidenote: The Fight Aloft]

Our guns in the fighting-top were directing a murderous fire into their
special targets.  Chief amongst those were the heavy gun battery at the
end of the broad part of the Mole and the lighter battery on the
lighthouse extension.  In neither case could the enemy's guns bear on
the ship, and we had the advantage of taking the former battery from
the rear and giving the latter a taste of enfilading fire from its
western flank.  But there was another target of importance.
Immediately abreast the ship a German destroyer was berthed alongside
the inner wharf of the Mole only eighty yards distant from the ship.
We had an uninterrupted view of the greater part of her between the two
northern sheds, her bridges showing well above the ground-level of the
Mole.  Our guns in the fighting-top, in charge of Lieutenant Charles N.
B. Rigby, R.M.A., riddled that destroyer through and through.  We could
see the projectiles hitting the Mole floor whenever the gun was
temporarily depressed, and then shower upon shower of sparks as they
tore through the destroyer's upperworks.  The {192} vessel appeared to
have sunk, as very little of her upper deck could be seen, although we
had such an elevated view-point, but now I think it possible that the
wall protected her vitals and that she escaped complete destruction
from our gun-fire.

There seems little doubt that our fighting-top was now coming in for
the attention of most of the enemy guns.  Presently a tremendous crash
overhead followed by a cessation of our fire indicated that a heavy
shell had made havoc with poor Rigby and his crew of eight men.  As a
matter of fact, that shell had wrecked the whole fighting-top, killed
all the personnel except two gunners who were both severely wounded,
and dismounted one of the guns.  The only survivor who was not
completely disabled--Sergeant Finch, R.M.A.--struggled out from the
shambles somehow and, without a thought for his own wounds, examined
the remaining gun, found it was still intact, and continued the fight
single-handed.  He continued to serve this gun and again did great
execution until a second shell completely destroyed the remains of the
top and put Finch completely out of action.  The splendid work of
Lieutenant Rigby and his guns' crews had been invaluable, and one
cannot but attribute the complete success of our diversion very largely
to these gallant men.  Rigby himself had set a wonderful example; all
who knew him had never doubted that he would do so.  Finch survived and
was afterwards voted the Victoria Cross by the men of the Royal Marines.

[Sidenote: The Howitzers]

As soon as the ship had been securely anchored the howitzer guns manned
by the R.M.A., in charge of Captain Reginald Dallas-Brooks, R.M.A.,
{193} commenced to bombard the targets specially assigned to them.  The
German batteries on the mainland were shelling our position at the Mole
for all they were worth, but their efforts must have been hampered by
the continuous fire of our howitzers.  The presence of such weapons on
board ship was, to say the least of it, most unusual.  _Vindictive's_
nature had undergone an unusual change as soon as she was secured to
the Mole.  Our position was known to within a few yards.  Both
direction and range of the enemy's batteries had been worked out
beforehand for any position alongside the wall.  We were, therefore, in
the novel situation of being able to drop heavy howitzer shell upon the
enemy's batteries less than a mile away, a decided change from ordinary
battleship target practice where ranges of ten to fifteen miles were
the order of the day.

The 7.5-inch howitzer gun on the forecastle could not be used.  A heavy
shell had burst amongst the original gun's crew and had killed or
disabled them all.  A second crew was sent from one of the naval
six-inch guns in the battery and was just being detailed to work the
howitzer when another shell killed, or disabled, all but two men.  Soon
after opening fire the midship 7.5-inch howitzer was damaged by another
shell which killed some of the crew, but the remainder repaired the gun
under great difficulty and managed to resume the firing later on.  The
eleven-inch howitzer on the quarter-deck was extremely well handled.
This gun fired at a steady rate throughout the proceedings in spite of
the darkness, the fumes, the difficulty of manhandling such large
projectiles in a cramped-up space and the battering that the ship was
{194} receiving around them.  The behaviour of the R.M.A. throughout
was fine; they worked with a will which may have been equalled
elsewhere, but which has certainly never been surpassed; the example
set by Captain Brooks was altogether splendid.

Mention must be made of the pyrotechnic party, as we called them.
Having located and reached the Mole ourselves, an early duty was that
of indicating its extremity to the approaching blockships.  For this
purpose a rocket station was rigged up in my cabin below.  The rocket
apparatus protruded through a port in the stern of the ship and had
been placed at an angle calculated to carry the rocket behind the
lighthouse before bursting, so that the lighthouse would show clearly
against an illuminated background.  One of the party was told off for
this position, instructed as to the object to be attained, and ordered
to carry on according to his own judgment.  I believe this man had
never previously served afloat and had never been in action, but, like
the rest of them, he did his bit without the slightest hesitation and,
judging by results, with one hundred per cent efficiency.  Others of
the pyrotechnic brigade landed with the storming parties and worked the
portable flame-throwers, special flares, etc., before finally attending
the smoke-making apparatus and assisting with the wounded.  Lieutenant
Graham S. Hewett, R.N.V.R., was in command of the pyrotechnic party.

[Sidenote: The Viaduct Explosion]

A few minutes after the storming of the Mole had commenced a terrific
explosion was seen away to the westward, and we guessed that the
submarine party had attacked the viaduct.  A seaman was standing near
me at the time and brought back to me an old {195} remark of mine,
referred to on page 120, when he asked, "Was that it, sir?" The
explosion presented a wonderful spectacle.  The flames shot up to a
great height--one mentally considered it at least a mile.  Curiously
enough the noise of the explosion could not be distinguished.  The
experiences of the submarines will be related presently.

At about 12.15 A.M. the blockships were expected to be close to the
Mole, and a momentary glimpse of them was obtained as they passed close
to the lighthouse on their way to the canal entrance.  So far so good.
We saw nothing more of the blockships and received no further news of
them until the operation had been completed.  Nevertheless, no news was
good news under the circumstances and we felt quite confident that the
blockships had not been seriously hampered by the German Mole defences.
Our primary object was, therefore, attained; the diversion had been of
sufficient magnitude.

Our further tasks were firstly that of continuing the diversion until
the crews of the blockships had had a reasonable chance of being
rescued subsequent to sinking their vessels in the canal, secondly of
re-embarking our storming parties and withdrawing to seaward, and
thirdly of carrying out demolition work on the Mole during our stay
alongside.  It will be noticed that these three tasks are not mentioned
in their proper sequence of event but in their order of importance.  It
is obviously true that demolition work might be of assistance from the
point of view of diversion, but not to a great extent when one realises
that the enemy were already so animated with a desire to destroy our
ship that they would hardly care one way {196} or the other what our
particular action on the Mole might be.  The presence of the ship was
the main diversion and so, at all costs, the ship must be kept
alongside until the diversion was no longer required and until our
storming parties had returned.

At about half an hour after midnight the full force of the diversion
had been developed.  Although the ship was still being hit continuously
and the inferno showed no signs of abatement one can say that the
conditions had become stabilised.  As far as we could gather we could
not augment our efforts, but could only carry on for the time being.
So we carried on.

Being somewhat anxious as to the state of things between decks I took
the opportunity of a hurried visit below.  On my way down from the
bridge I met Lieutenant E. Hilton-Young, R.N.V.R., our parliamentary
representative.  He was attired in his shirtsleeves and minus any
head-gear.  His right arm was bandaged.  I remember that he was
breaking all the accepted rules of the drill-book by smoking a large
cigar as he performed his prearranged duties of supervising the
foremost six-inch guns and his self-appointed duty of cheering
everybody up.  On enquiry he informed me that he had "got one in the
arm."  I heard afterwards that even when he had collapsed, he refused
to, have his wound attended to, and had to be taken below by force.
Eventually his right arm had to be amputated, but with his unfailing
resource he did not let many hours pass by before commencing to educate
himself in the art of left-handed writing.

(RIGHT).  The fighting top is shown above, and from behind, the bridge.
The conning tower is below the bridge.  A large shell passed through
the hole to the right of the man in white uniform.]

Every available space on the mess deck was occupied by casualties.
Those who could do so were sitting on the mess stools awaiting their
turn for medical {197} attention.  Many were stretched at full length
on the deck, the majority being severely wounded.  Some had already
collapsed and were in a state of coma; I fear that many had already
passed away.  It was a sad spectacle indeed.  Somehow, amidst all the
crashing and smashing on deck, one had not realised the sacrifice that
was taking place.

[Sidenote: Scene Between Decks]

During a fight at sea the personnel below know little or nothing of how
things are going.  This especially applies to the stokehold and
engine-room personnel, who are, indeed, in an unenviable position.  It
applies, also, to the wounded who have been carried below.  It is not
difficult to imagine their feelings, especially when one considers how
rapidly a vessel may sink after sustaining a vital injury.  One does
not need to be an advanced psychologist to understand the importance of
keeping those stationed between decks supplied with information as to
what is occurring on deck.  So I shouted out something about everything
going splendidly, the Mole being stormed, the viaduct being blown up
and the blockships having passed in.  The cheer that went up will live
long in my memory.  Those who could stand crowded round and forgot
their wounds.  Some of those on the deck endeavoured to sit up to
ascertain the news.  I did not then know that I had been reported as
killed.  The crowd almost barred my way in their excitement, and the
question which caught my ear more than any other was, "Have we won,
sir?  Have we won?" just as if the whole affair had been a football

The medical officers and their assistants, under the direction of
Staff-Surgeon McCutcheon, were working at the highest pressure.  The
wounded were {198} literally pouring down every available ladder in a
constant stream.  Dressing stations had been improvised at intervals
along the deck.  The ward-room and the sick bay being the two main
stations.  Everything humanly possible was being done to render
first-aid and to alleviate suffering.  There was no lack of ready
helpers.  All those of the latter who could do so were bringing the
wounded down.  Many of the less severely wounded were attending to
those others who were badly hit.  A Marine with his own head bandaged
up was supporting in his arms an officer who was unconscious with a
terrible wound in the head, and only relaxed his hold when the officer
died.  The work of McCutcheon and his confrères was beyond all praise;
untiring energy, consummate care, and withal real brotherly bearing
characterised their actions.

The news of the blockships spread quickly, and one heard every now and
then renewed outbursts of cheering.  The news had reached the stokehold
and did much to relieve the tension amongst the personnel in that part
of the ship.  A few pieces of shell had fallen into the engine room,
but no damage had been done.

A return to the lower bridge showed little apparent change in the
situation.  Shell were still hitting us every few seconds and many
casualties were being caused by flying splinters.  Large pieces of the
funnels and ventilators were being torn out and hurled in all
directions--one wondered how much more of this battering the ship could
stand.  The exact nature of the various missiles and the direction from
whence they came were of course unknown to us.  It was afterwards
suggested that the shore guns to the {199} westward of Blankenberghe
were doing much of the mischief.  Certainly our position, tangential to
the Mole, brought such a thing into the realm of possibility, but it
would seem doubtful whether those German batteries, from which we were
probably invisible, would risk hitting their own guns on the Mole from
that flanking direction.  However, all our guns which could fire at the
enemy were fully occupied in accordance with the prearranged plan, so
there was no particular object in ascertaining the position of new

[Sidenote: Anxiety for the _Daffodil_]

Our chief anxiety at this period was the safety of _Daffodil_, which
seemed to bear a charmed life.  _Vindictive's_ hull was amply protected
by the wall itself, but _Daffodil_ was far more exposed.  As already
mentioned the loss of _Daffodil_ would almost certainly have entailed
the loss of the whole of the storming parties on the Mole.




As soon as the two foremost gangways reached the wall a party of seamen
led by Lieutenant-Commander Adams had commenced the storming of the
Mole.  Lieutenant-Commander A. L. Harrison, the senior officer of the
seamen storming parties, had been wounded in the head and was too dazed
to land on the Mole until later.  Commander Brock, having completed his
duties in the aft flamethrower hut, also stormed the Mole.

Adams and a handful of men made their way along the parapet to the left
and found an observation hut situated on it close by.  This was bombed,
but no occupants were found inside.  Brock is believed to have gone
inside this hut for the purpose of examining its interior; there is no
authentic evidence that he was ever seen again.  Adams stationed some
of his men to guard a ladder leading from the parapet to the floor of
the Mole and then returned to find us struggling with the grappling
anchors as already described.  Adams then reconnoitred again to the
eastward and located a German machine-gun firing at the parapet from
the trench system on the floor of the Mole.  Barbed wire surrounded
this trench, which interposed between _Vindictive_ and the three-gun
battery at the end of the broad part of the Mole.  The seamen were then
detailed to bomb the trench position, but in doing so they suffered
many casualties from machine-gun {201} fire.  The position on the
parapet was almost entirely exposed to gun-fire from the Mole itself,
the lookout station affording the only cover.  The German vessels
berthed at the inner side of the Mole had also joined in the fight.

The terrific noise, the darkness, the bursting of shell, and the hail
of machine-gun bullets rendered it exceedingly difficult for any one
individual to make such observations as would lead to a connected
account of the fighting on the Mole itself.

[Sidenote: A Splendid Sacrifice]

Just before arriving alongside the Mole, Lieutenant-Commander Harrison,
in supreme command of the seamen storming parties after Commander
Halahan's death, was struck on the head by a fragment of a shell; he
was knocked senseless and sustained a broken jaw.  On recovering
consciousness he proceeded over one of the gangways to the parapet,
where he took over command of the party detailed to attack the Mole
batteries to the eastward, Lieutenant-Commander Adams going back to
obtain reënforcements.  Gathering together a handful of his men,
Harrison led a charge along the parapet itself in the face of heavy
machine-gun fire.  He was killed at the head of his men, all but two of
whom were also killed, these two being wounded.

Harrison's charge down that narrow gangway of death was a worthy finale
to the large number of charges which, as a forward of the first rank,
he had led down many a Rugby football ground.  He had "played the game"
to the end.  To quote the final words in the official notification of
his posthumous award of the Victoria Cross--"Lieutenant-Commander
Harrison, although already severely wounded {202} and undoubtedly in
great pain, displayed indomitable resolution and courage of the highest
order in pressing his attack, knowing as he did that any delay in
silencing the guns might jeopardise the main object of the expedition,
i.e., the blocking of the Zeebrugge-Bruges Canal."

With Harrison's death the Navy lost an officer who was as popular and
as keen as he had been invaluable to the success of this particular
operation, especially in the preparatory work.

Able-Seaman McKenzie, one of the survivors of Harrison's party, finding
himself alone, did good execution with his Lewis gun in spite of being
wounded in several places; he eventually returned to _Vindictive_ after
accounting for a number of the enemy.

[Sidenote: Storming of the Mole]

The Marines, now commanded by Major B. G. Weller, R.M.L.I., had
followed the seamen over the gangways.

The prearranged details of the operations on the Mole had to be
somewhat modified owing to the fact that _Vindictive_ was further to
the westward than originally intended.  The reason for the latter has
already been given, but a further word may not be out of place.  The
responsibility for the actual position of the ship was entirely my own;
the error in position was, therefore, my own also.  When the attack was
originally planned the intention had been to endeavour to place the
ship with her stern seventy yards from the western gun of the battery
on the lighthouse extension.  Actually _Vindictive's_ gangways rested
on the Mole nearly three hundred yards to the westward.  One can only
conjecture what would have happened, under the circumstances of the
failure of {203} the smoke screen owing to the change of wind, if the
ship had proceeded past the six-gun battery at a speed sufficiently
slow for berthing so close to the battery itself.  Whether the ship
would ever have reached the Mole, or whether there would have been any
storming parties left on arrival alongside, can only be guessed.  It
certainly looks as if our mistake in position was as providential as it
was unintentional.

Lieutenant F. T. V. Cooke, who afterwards greatly distinguished
himself, led out the first party of Marines and silenced a party of
Germans who were observed firing at the parapet from a position near
No. 2 shed.  Another party under Lieutenant Lamplough then established
a strong point near No. 3 shed for the purpose of dealing with any
enemy approaching from the westward.  His party also attacked and
bombed a German destroyer berthed at the inner side of the Mole.

Another party was ordered to the eastward to reënforce the seamen.  As
soon as the position was more clear the main party of the Marine force,
under Captain E. Bamford, commenced an assault on the German positions
covering the Mole battery.

It is not possible to say how many of the storming parties reached the
Mole--the loss of officers and men and the resulting temporary
disorganisation naturally prevented the collection of definite
information.  Suffice it to say that a large number stormed the Mole in
furtherance of our diversion, and that the latter was undoubtedly
successful in that we attained our primary object of assisting the
blockships to pass an all-important obstacle in the Mole batteries.

Before passing on to other phases of the operation a {204} general idea
of the difficulties faced by the storming parties may be of interest,
together with a brief account of the manner in which these difficulties
were surmounted.

From the time of our arrival the Mole abreast the ship was subjected to
extremely heavy fire.  Presumably the shore guns, including the Kaiser
Wilhelm battery with its twelve-inch guns and the Goeben battery
(9.4-inch guns) situated almost within point-blank range, were shelling
the Mole for all they were worth, regardless of damage to their own
property or of danger to their own personnel.  That, of course, would
be a correct action, the repulse of the enemy always being of first

The parapet on the high wall was almost entirely destitute of cover.
The difficulty of placing the scaling ladders from the parapet to the
floor-level of the Mole and of descending them whilst carrying such
paraphernalia as rifles, bombs, flame-throwers, Lewis guns, etc., can
easily be imagined.  The difficulty would certainly not be lessened by
the fact that the men would have their backs to any enemy who might be
awaiting them on the Mole itself.  The fighting amidst entirely strange
surroundings in the face of properly organised strong points held by
the enemy would not be easy.  Add to that the certain losses and
consequent disorganisation entailed during the assault, the difficulty
of recognising friend from foe at night, and the blinding glare of star
shell or searchlights alternating with momentary periods of inky

[Illustration: THE FIGHT ON THE MOLE.  _Drawn by Charles De Lacy from
details supplied by the Author_.  Note the men coming down the outer
wall of the Mole from _Vindictive_]

Undoubtedly the assault would be difficult enough.  But what of the
retirement?  The bodies of any men {205} who were killed or disabled on
the Mole could only be re-embarked by way of the vertical ladders
against the wall.  It would be bad enough to descend them in the first
place, but a herculean task to carry a body twenty feet up a vertical
ladder under incessant shell and machine-gun fire.  Yet--and I think
this fact sums up the splendid gallantry of these men--of the large
number of men who stormed the Mole, many of whom were killed or
completely disabled, the total number left on the Mole after the
retirement, including both dead and wounded, amounted to little more
than a _dozen_.

[Sidenote: _Daffodil_ and _Iris_]

_Daffodil_, as already described, was prevented from landing her
demolition parties in the prearranged manner, but some of them, led by
Sub-Lieutenant F. E. Chevallier, had climbed into _Vindictive_ and made
their way to the Mole.  Lieutenant C. C. Dickinson, commanding the
demolition parties, and a party of his men on board _Vindictive_ had
landed at the commencement of the assault.  They placed a couple of
ladders, descended them, and then proceeded across the Mole, killing
some Germans who were apparently making for the ladders.  Demolition
charges were placed in position, but not actually exploded owing to the
presence of our own men in the vicinity.  There is little doubt that
the demolition parties would have been able to carry out considerable
destructive work if more time had been available.  Whatever the results
of their efforts it is certain that Dickinson, Chevallier, and their
men did all that was possible under the circumstances.

_Iris_ had reached the Mole and dropped her anchor at the foot of the
wall, about 12.15 A.M., her position {206} being roughly one hundred
yards ahead, i.e., to the westward, of _Vindictive_.  The heavy swell
was tossing her about like a cork, with the result that the use of the
parapet anchors was extremely difficult.  After several failures to get
these parapet anchors hooked to the top of the wall Lieutenant Claude
E. K. Hawkings, one of the officers of the storming party, ordered some
men to hold up one of the scaling ladders.  They could not actually
lean it against the wall; the rough nature of the latter and the
surging of the ship would have combined to break the ladder
immediately.  The ladder was, therefore, merely sloping towards the
wall without any support at its upper end.  Hawkings ran up it and
leaped to the top of the Mole, the ladder being smashed to pieces a
moment later.  He sat astride the wall for the purpose of fixing an
anchor and appears to have been immediately attacked by some enemy on
the parapet itself.  He was seen defending himself with his revolver
before he was actually killed.  It was terribly sad that his great act
should have cost him his life.

[Sidenote: Deaths of Hawkings and Bradford]

Lieutenant-Commander George N. Bradford, who was actually in command of
the storming party in _Iris_ and whose duties did not include that of
securing the ship, climbed up the ship's derrick, which carried a large
parapet anchor and which was rigged out over the Mole side of the ship.
The derrick itself was crashing on the Mole with each movement of the
ship, which, in turn, was rolling and pitching heavily; a more perilous
climb can scarcely be imagined.  Waiting his opportunity, Bradford
chose the right moment and jumped to the wall, taking the anchor with
him.  He placed the latter in position, but almost {207} immediately
was riddled with machine-gun bullets and fell into the sea between
_Iris_ and the Mole.  Gallant attempts were made to rescue his body,
but owing to the darkness and the rush of the strong tidal stream he
was swept away beyond recovery.

Nothing could have been finer than Bradford's efforts to secure the
ship.  He had been a splendid fighter in the "ring"; it was against his
nature to give in as long as there was the remotest chance of winning
through; his death brought us the great loss of a great gentleman.
Really, one cannot conceive greater bravery than was shown by these two
officers, who have set an example which will surely never be forgotten.

The anchor placed by Bradford had either slipped or been shot away,
with the result that _Iris_ suddenly surged out from the Mole.  It was
then obvious that the difficulty of securing to the Mole was
insuperable, so Commander Gibbs very rightly decided to land his men
across _Vindictive_.  He therefore ordered the cable to be slipped and
then steamed round the stern of _Daffodil_ and came alongside
_Vindictive_.  This change of plan, necessitated by the unfavourable
state of the sea, showed a highly creditable degree of initiative.  It
must be realised that these movements and proceedings of _Iris_ had
occupied over half an hour; it was about 12.55 A.M. before _Iris_ was
secured to _Vindictive_.  By that time the order for the retirement had
been given.  A few men scrambled out of _Iris_, but that ship was
almost immediately ordered to shove off.  She therefore left
_Vindictive_ and shaped course to the northward.  She had barely turned
when she came under a heavy fire from some enemy batteries.  Two large
shell and several small shell hit her, {208} and were closely followed
by three more large shell.  The lookout house at the port extremity of
the bridge was destroyed and a serious fire was caused on the upper

[Sidenote: Havoc in _Iris_]

Valentine Gibbs, who had remained on the bridge throughout the
operation, was mortally wounded.  I had known "Val," as we had always
called him, since he was a boy of thirteen.  Even at that age he had
shown himself to be absolutely fearless.  Later in life he pad risen
rapidly in his profession and would assuredly have been marked out for
high command in due course.  In peace days he had won the great race on
the Cresta Run at St. Moritz, in war he had volunteered for every
dangerous operation for which he had the remotest chance of selection.
At last his opportunity had come and he lived for nought else than to
put _Iris_ alongside Zeebrugge Mole.  I was told afterwards that in his
short periods of consciousness after being wounded he asked and
repeated but one question, "How are things going?" and he continued to
ask how things were going until he died.  I cannot write more of
"Val"--words and phrases fail to do him justice.

The havoc in _Iris_ was serious.  From _Vindictive_ she appeared to
have been sunk, for she suddenly disappeared in a cloud of smoke and

Major C. E. E. Eagles, D.S.O., in command of the Marine storming
parties in _Iris_, was killed, and many of his men were killed and
wounded at this period.  Artificial smoke was emitted and a small motor
boat also laid a smoke screen to shoreward of _Iris_--this probably
accounted for her sudden disappearance from view.



The navigating officer had been seriously wounded.  Lieutenant Oscar
Henderson took command.  Petty Officer Smith was illuminating the
compass with a torch in one hand and steering with the other.
Able-Seaman F. E. Blake, having extinguished the fire on the bridge,
employed himself in throwing overboard live bombs which were lying
amongst the burning debris on the upper deck.

_Iris_ had not received her share of good fortune.  Nevertheless,
although she actually failed to land her storming parties, there is
every probability that her proceedings assisted to enhance the success
of the diversion at the Mole and thereby materially assisted towards
the safe passage of the blockships, i.e., the attainment of our object.




In the previous chapter I mentioned that the explosion of the submarine
took place shortly after the storming of the Mole had commenced.

The immediate purpose in destroying the railway viaduct connecting the
Mole to the mainland was twofold: firstly, that of preventing the
Germans from sending reënforcements across to the help of the Mole
garrison; secondly, that of augmenting the main diversion.  There were,
however, ulterior objects also.  Firstly, the destruction in itself
would be a valuable part of the general work of demolition designed to
reduce the efficiency of the Mole as a naval and aerial base; secondly,
the loss of the railway would deny to the enemy the use of the Mole as
a place of embarkation for military purposes.  If deprived of railway
communication the Mole would lose a high percentage of its special war

Two old submarines, C1, commanded by Lieutenant Aubrey C. Newbold, and
C3, commanded by Lieutenant Richard D. Sandford, were chosen for the
purpose--each carrying a volunteer crew of one officer and four men in
addition to the officer in command.

The submarines were provided with special control apparatus so that the
personnel, after having set the apparatus to guide the vessel to its
destination, could abandon their craft before reaching the viaduct


For the purpose of abandonment each submarine was given motor-driven
skiffs and special ladders.  The latter might enable the crews to climb
up the viaduct and escape before the explosion took place, the motor
skiffs being supplied for escaping to seaward if that was found to be

Each submarine carried a heavy cargo of high explosive.  This latter
was fitted with time fuses and special instruments so that there would
be sufficient delay between the ignition of the fuse and the final
explosion.  At a prearranged minute after passing position G, the
submarines were to have slipped from their towing hawsers and then to
have made the best of their way to the viaduct.  Unfortunately C1 was
so much delayed by the parting of a hawser that she could not continue
her voyage to the viaduct without running the risk of hampering C3.
The latter, exactly in accordance with the Plan, slipped from tow and
proceeded under her own engines on the prearranged courses.  At
midnight the submarine appears to have been sighted in the light of a
star shell.  Searchlights immediately picked her up and some firing was
seen in their direction.  Artificial smoke was immediately made use of,
but the wind, having then commenced to blow towards the north, was
found to be unfavourable.  The firing was only of short duration and
the artificial smoke was switched off.  A few minutes later the viaduct
showed up clearly against a glare in the background and course was
altered to ensure striking exactly at right angles.  Sandford disdained
to use the control apparatus to take his submarine into her position.

The vessel was run under the viaduct, at a speed {212} of nearly ten
knots, immediately between two of the vertical piles.  She charged
against the horizontal and diagonal girders with such force as to
penetrate the framework of the viaduct as far as her own conning tower,
whilst being lifted bodily about a couple of feet on the frames.
Firmly wedged under the railway in a position about fifty yards from
the northern end of the viaduct the first part of the operation was
completed.  It is difficult to account for the small opposition offered
to her approach by the enemy.  Possibly they mistook her for a friend.
Another suggestion is that they thought she was endeavouring to pass
under the viaduct _en route_ to the canal, and that, knowing this was
impossible, they hoped to capture her intact.  That suggestion sounds
extremely unlikely.  Possibly the diversion caused by our efforts at
the other end of the Mole had distracted the attention of the defence
commanders; the men may have feared to take unexpected measures on
their own responsibility.  Whatever the reason for the lack of enemy
opposition, there was certainly no lack of difficulty.  The darkness,
suddenly giving way to the blinding glare of searchlights, the
navigational difficulties, and the necessary care in handling such an
awkward vessel combined to make their arrival a very fine feat.  But
finer was to follow.

[Sidenote: Destruction of the Viaduct]

Several of the enemy had appeared on the viaduct and commenced to fire
on her with machine-guns from close range; the latter cannot have
amounted to many feet!  The crew lowered a motor skiff and Sandford
ordered them to abandon ship.  He then fired the time fuse and jumped
into the boat.  Their purpose was now to steam away to the westward at
utmost speed {213} so as to get well clear before the explosion took
place.  Unfortunately the skiff's engine was useless--the propeller had
been broken!  Oars had been provided for such an emergency and the crew
pulled away from the viaduct for dear life.  As soon as the boat was
clear of the viaduct itself, the firing became intense, both from the
viaduct and from the shore.  The German searchlights were directed on
to the boat.

[Illustration: THE RAILWAY VIADUCT.  This aerial photograph shows the
break in the viaduct planked over by the Germans.  Three German
seaplanes are rising to attack the photographer's plane]

Many miracles occurred that night, but none more extraordinary than the
escape of this little boat with its two officers and four men.
Presently Sandford himself and his petty officer were severely wounded;
the stoker was also wounded.  The boat was hit again and again, but
fortunately the motor pump was working and the water could be rapidly
ejected.  Sandford was again wounded.

The skiff had managed to struggle about three hundred yards from the
viaduct, when there was a deafening roar as submarine C3, the viaduct
above her, the railway on the viaduct, and the Germans on the railway
were hurled to destruction.  It must have been a wonderful moment for
Sandford and his crew.

The enemy searchlights were immediately extinguished and the firing
died away.  A few minutes later a picket boat--the ordinary type of
steamboat carried by all large men-of-war--emerged from the darkness
and hailed the skiff.  The occupants of the latter were assisted into
the picket boat, which then proceeded seawards and placed them on board
the destroyer _Phoebe_.

The picket boat, under the charge of Lieutenant-Commander F. H.
Sandford, R.N., brother of the commander of the submarine, had been
detailed for {214} this rescue work.  She had made a great part of the
overseas journey under her own steam and had arrived in the nick of
time to effect the rescue.  Sandford--the Lieutenant-Commander--had
been largely responsible for working out the details of the attack on
the viaduct in addition to the preparations for the demolition work on
the Mole.  His handling of the picket boat--incidentally she returned
the whole way home again under her own steam--was excellent.

[Sidenote: Look Before You Leap]

Submarine C1 saw what was probably the glare of the explosion caused by
C3, but could not be certain whether the latter had reached her
destination or not.  They therefore waited until they considered ample
time had passed for C3 to have arrived at the viaduct if all had gone
well.  C1 then approached the Mole en route towards the viaduct and
sighted _Vindictive_ retiring to the northward.  This appeared to
signify that the forces were retiring and that the operation had either
been completed or had been found impracticable owing to the change of
wind.  Lieutenant Newbold, therefore, had to decide as to whether he
should continue for the sake of augmenting the destruction caused by C3
or whether he should haul off so as to be available for any further
services required.  It was a difficult decision to make.  He chose the
latter and earned the Vice-Admiral's commendation for doing so.

Those of us who were _au fait_ with the details of all phases of the
operation little thought we should ever see these heroic attackers of
the viaduct again.  The chances against manoeuvring a submarine into
the viaduct were very considerable, the chances of any {215} of the
personnel being rescued were apparently nil.  Nobody knew that better
than the personnel concerned.  The use of the control apparatus would
have greatly increased their chances of being rescued, but they refused
to consider preservation of life until the success of their undertaking
had been assured.  They cannot have expected to return.  Yet there was
no dearth of volunteers.  The personnel had been selected in much the
same way as those from the Grand Fleet.  If the secret could have been
made known beforehand and volunteers asked for in the ordinary way we
should probably have had the whole submarine service begging to be
allowed to take part.

The execution of this most difficult submarine operation was beyond all
praise; it was, indeed, a miracle that the crew of C3 lived to witness
the unqualified success of their efforts.  Before the night was ended
these gallant lives were again in jeopardy.

We heard afterwards that a German cyclist corps was hurriedly sent to
reënforce the Mole garrison, and, not knowing that the viaduct had been
destroyed, they were precipitated into the sea and thus infringed the
Gadarene copyright.




The author is particularly anxious that each phase of the operation and
the work of each class of vessel should be clearly understood, so that
the reader may fully appreciate the work of the blockships, the latter
forming the crux of the whole operation.  It will be convenient,
therefore, to describe in this chapter the proceedings of those small
craft whose work was not carried out in actual company of the
blockships themselves.

The general idea of the smoke screens has already been described.  A
large number of small craft, including coastal motor boats, motor
launches, and destroyers, were required for the purpose.

At given intervals after the force had passed through position G the
several units left the force to carry out their various duties.  The
latter comprised laying screens shoreward of the main line of advance,
further screens to cover the shore batteries on each side of Zeebrugge,
others close off Blankenberghe for the purpose of hampering the German
motor boats at that place, and a screen close off the German battery on
the lighthouse extension of the Mole.  The earlier screens were so
efficient that they undoubtedly prevented the enemy from discovering
our presence until we were close to our objective.  When the wind
changed, however, the ideal screening arrangements were no longer
possible.  Such an eventuality had been allowed for, and, in accordance
with {217} their instructions, the screening craft, regardless of the
great danger, ran inshore close to the German batteries and did their
utmost to ensure the attainment of our object.

[Sidenote: Coastal Motor Boats]

The coastal motor boat (C.M.B.) detailed for "fogging" Blankenberghe
was C.M.B. 16, Lieutenant D. E. J. MacVean, R.N.V.R.  Owing to
temporary difficulties with the engines, and uncertainty of position
due to drifting while carrying out repairs, this boat accompanied
_Vindictive_ to the Mole, which was first seen thirty yards away.
MacVean then proceeded to Blankenberghe harbour.  On arrival near the
entrance he came under fire of a four-gun battery, but placed his smoke
floats close to the entrance piers and kept renewing them at intervals
until the whole operation had ceased, when he returned to harbour.
This piece of work was typical of the C.M.B. flotilla, which, most ably
commanded by Lieutenant A. P. Welman, R.N., established a new naval

Welman, himself in command of C.M.B. 236, found it necessary to
undertake the duties of another C.M.B. in addition to his own, owing to
a difficulty in communicating a modification in the orders.  He was
personally responsible for a very important part of the screening,
namely, that close off the Mole batteries.  In spite of the
concentrated fire from the latter, and the difficulties due to the
change of wind, this gallant officer, who had always allotted himself
the most dangerous tasks, with the able assistance of two other
C.M.B.'s, maintained a fog screen which must have been an important
factor in our success.  C.M.B. 226 steamed close in under the Mole
battery {218} and laid smoke floats within a few yards of the guns.  It
is remarkable that these coastal motor boats should have escaped.  A
single shell would be sufficient to send such a frail craft to the

[Sidenote: Torpedoing the Enemy]

Before _Vindictive's_ arrival at the Mole two coastal motor boats had
left the force for the purpose of attacking German vessels inside the
Mole.  They soon lost sight of one another in the fog and became
separated.  C.M.B. 7, Sub-Lieutenant L. R. Blake, R.N.R., first sighted
the Mole about one hundred and fifty yards away and steamed close round
the lighthouse at high speed.  Having located the defence booms of
barges and nets he followed down the line of the latter until close
inshore and then stopped for the purpose of selecting a target.
Observing an enemy destroyer alongside the Mole he steamed straight
towards her at high speed and fired his torpedo at her.  He then
stopped to observe the result.  The torpedo was seen to explode near
the forebridge of the destroyer, but the conditions of visibility
rendered it impossible to ascertain the definite result.  During this
time he was being heavily fired at by machine-guns on the Mole and by
the shore batteries to the eastward of the canal.  Small enemy vessels
suddenly appeared and engaged him, and he was further fired at from a
dredger which had a machine-gun.  C.M.B. 7 had other duties to fulfil
in connection with smoke screening.  Whilst proceeding at high speed
for that purpose she collided with an unlighted buoy, which made a
large hole in her bows.  Speed was increased to lift the bows clear of
the water.  It soon became apparent that the damage which she had
sustained precluded all further chance of being usefully {219}
employed, so course was set for home.  An engine defect off Ostende
necessitated stopping; this, in turn, brought them into imminent danger
of sinking.  Eventually one of our destroyers took her in tow and
brought her safely to Dover.

The other, C.M.B. 5, Sub-Lieutenant C. Outhwaite, R.N.V.R., had found
herself within fifty yards of the Mole and had immediately altered
course to pass round the lighthouse.  She then sighted a German
torpedo-boat destroyer steering to the northeastward and at once
increased to utmost speed with the object of attacking her.  C.M.B. 5
was evidently seen in the light of star shell and the German switched
on her searchlight and opened fire.  As soon as the motor boat was
sufficiently close she fired a torpedo, which struck the destroyer in
the fore part of the vessel.  By this time some guns on the Mole had
taken up the firing.  Under concentrated fire from two directions the
motor boat was forced to haul off, and was unable to witness the fate
of the destroyer or to search for survivors.  This motor boat then
proceeded to the eastward and rendered useful assistance to the
smoke-screening vessels operating in that direction.

Three other coastal motor boats, Nos. 25, 26, and 21, had been detailed
for yet another form of attack on the Mole, namely, that of dropping
Stokes bombs on its western portion around the seaplane base.  These
three craft obtained many hits on the Mole from a range of only fifty
yards, one of them actually remaining stopped opposite the seaplane
sheds and pumping her bombs over the outer wall just as if there had
been no enemy in existence.

C.M.B. 32 waited until the blockships had passed {220} the Mole _en
route_ to the canal, and then, as soon as the moment appeared to be
favourable, she dashed in at utmost speed and fired a torpedo at a
German vessel berthed alongside the Mole.  The torpedo was heard to
explode, but the visibility prevented the actual result from being
observed.  This attack was carried out under extremely heavy
machine-gun fire.

The work of the other coastal motor boats, in connection with the
blockships' movements, will be described later.

[Sidenote: Destroyers]

Eleven torpedo-boat destroyers took part in the inshore operations;
many others were utilised as supports to seaward and as escorts to the
bombarding monitors.  The destroyer flotilla was commanded by Captain
Wilfred Tomkinson, under whose direction their work of preparation had
been carried out; he accompanied the Vice-Admiral in H.M.S. _Warwick_.

Of the eleven destroyers, H.M.S. _Warwick_, flying the Vice-Admiral's
Flag, had a roving commission so that the Vice-Admiral could direct the
whole operation and render assistance where necessary.  The most
favourable position from which to direct events was in the vicinity of
the Mole lighthouse.

Two other destroyers, _Phoebe_, Lieutenant-Commander Hubert E.
Gore-Langton, and _North Star_, Lieutenant-Commander Kenneth C. Helyar,
were also detailed to operate near the lighthouse.  These two vessels
experienced a very anxious time.  At the commencement of the attack
they patrolled in company with _Warwick_, Commander V. L. A. Campbell,
firstly with the object of preventing torpedo attacks by enemy vessels
from being directed against the storming vessels at the Mole, and
secondly for the {221} purpose of assisting the smoke screening if

Just before the Mole was reached at the commencement of the attack
these three destroyers, which had been stationed ahead of the main
force during the approach, eased down to allow _Vindictive_ to pass,
and then commenced their patrol.  They passed just inside an area of
very heavy barrage fire and they frequently came under fire from the
Mole.  The smoke screens made it very difficult for them to keep touch
either with the movements of other vessels or with each other.  Very
soon the _Phoebe_ and _North Star_ became separated from the _Warwick_;
the latter continued her patrol until the attack was virtually at an

_North Star_, on becoming separated from the others, proceeded towards
her patrol area, but had great difficulty in ascertaining her position
owing to the smoke.  Suddenly an enemy vessel was encountered and the
track of a torpedo was clearly seen in the glare of the enemy's
searchlight.  _North Star_ returned the compliment, but it is probable
that her torpedo missed similarly to that fired by the enemy vessel;
the latter was lost sight of almost immediately.  Continuing her
efforts to locate the Mole, she found herself close inshore to the
eastward of the Mole.  After putting her helm hard-over, some ships
were seen right ahead, and were recognised as the blockships making
their final run to the canal.  The Mole was then seen to the northward
and a torpedo was fired at a vessel alongside it.  At this moment
_North Star_ was lit up by a searchlight and the German batteries
opened a heavy fire upon her.  She passed close to the Mole and fired
three more torpedoes at vessels alongside it, but {222} the conditions
of visibility once more prevented the results from being observed.
When passing the lighthouse _North Star_ received several hits in the
engine-room and boiler-rooms and was completely disabled.  Her fate
will be recounted presently.

H.M.S. _Phoebe_, after becoming separated from _Warwick_, commenced to
patrol off the lighthouse in accordance with her instructions.
Presently she fell in with the steamboat which had rescued the crew of
Submarine C3.  The latter, who were in urgent need of medical
attention, were transferred to _Phoebe_, which vessel then continued
her patrol as before.  Later on _North Star_ was sighted in a crippled
state and _Phoebe_ at once went to her assistance.

[Sidenote: Fate of the _North Star_]

_North Star_ was still being illuminated by searchlights and heavily
fired at.  _Phoebe_ laid out a smoke screen to hide her and then took
her in tow--a most difficult operation under the circumstances.
Unfortunately the tow parted and the smoke screen drifted away before
the wind.  Once again heavy fire was directed at these vessels and they
were being frequently hit.  _Phoebe_ again took _North Star_ in tow,
but the towing wires were cut by shell explosions; to make matters
worse, the _Phoebe's_ steam siren was hit and commenced to fill the air
with its discordant shrieking, thus assisting the enemy to locate them.
_Phoebe_ next endeavoured to push _North Star_ bodily away from the
batteries, but this proved to be impossible.  The only other thing to
be done was to save _North Star's_ crew and to sink her to prevent
capture.  _Phoebe_, therefore, laid out another protective smoke screen
and lowered her boat for the rescue work.  Helyar in _North Star_ very
reluctantly had to order "abandon ship," {223} and this was carried out
by means of her boats and rafts.  One boat unfortunately capsized, but
the others were picked up and the whaler from _Phoebe_ made several
trips for survivors.

But _Phoebe_ had not given up hope.  She laid out yet another smoke
screen and made another attempt to take _North Star_ in tow, going
alongside her for the purpose.  Helyar and some of his crew had
remained on board _North Star_ and passed the wires to _Phoebe_.  The
_North Star_ was still being hit repeatedly by shell and commenced to
list over as a result of the damage.  _Phoebe_ then persuaded Helyar to
leave his ship and took him on board after embarking the remainder of
the crew.

On going astern to avoid the searchlights, another man was seen on
board _North Star_.  _Phoebe_ at once returned alongside and ordered
the man to jump across.  During all this time _Phoebe_ herself had been
repeatedly hit, resulting in several casualties, but Gore-Langton
considered that he ought to sink _North Star_ before leaving her.  His
ship then came in for increased fire from the German batteries, and as
a result of the smoke, was unable to locate _North Star_
again--probably she had sunk[1] already as she had certainly been in a
sinking condition when Lieutenant-Commander Helyar left her.  For
forty-five minutes the struggle to save _North Star_ had been carried
out within point-blank range of the German batteries, which had kept up
an incessant fire almost throughout.  _Phoebe_ herself had received
considerable damage and it seems almost a miracle that she survived the

[1] The wreck of _North Star_ was afterwards located on the bottom to
the northeastward of the lighthouse.

{224} ordeal.  Anything finer than the conduct of the commanders of
these two vessels, and of their ships' companies, cannot be conceived.
Yet it was only typical of the destroyer service as a whole, this
latter observation being perhaps the best commendation of all.  The
gallant crew of Submarine C3, previously transferred to _Phoebe_ from
the picket boat, had seen more than their share of the fighting.

The remaining destroyers, _Whirlwind, Myngs, Trident, Mansfield, Felox,
Morris, Moorsom, and Melpomene_, all carried out their patrolling
duties close to the northward of Zeebrugge without any incidents that
require special mention here.

Captain R. Collins, R.N., in charge of the motor launches, was on board
M.L. 558, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Chappell, R.N.V.R.  This
motor launch rendered useful work in assisting the blockships to find
the Mole before the latter vessels had penetrated the smoke screen, and
also directed the picket boat towards the viaduct _en route_ to rescue
the crew of the submarine.  Considering the dangerous locality in which
M.L. 558 was operating, she was fortunate in being hit by only one

M.L. 424, commanded by Lieutenant O. Robinson, R.N.V.R., was less
fortunate.  Soon after passing through the smoke screen she was badly
hit--her captain and two men being killed and another man wounded.  The
second-in-command, Lieutenant J. W. Robinson, R.N.V.R., finding the
launch was completely disabled, decided to abandon her.  Having got the
crew into the dinghey, he set fire to his boat and left her in flames;
the occupants of the dinghey were picked up by M.L. 128.


M.L. 110, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Young, R.N.V.R., was also
unfortunate.  She was struck and badly damaged by several shell, which
killed her commanding officer and a petty officer, another officer and
two men being wounded.  The second-in-command, Lieutenant G. Bowen,
ordered the crew to abandon the vessel in the dinghey.  This was done
after the launch had been sunk to prevent any possibility of its
capture by the enemy.  The survivors were picked up by M.L. 308.

The motor launches detailed for smoke-screening did splendid work, as
did all the launches which took part in the operation.  Some detailed
stories of the remaining launches will be given presently.




The blockships had eased down soon after passing through position G so
as to drop astern of _Vindictive_ sufficiently far to enable that
vessel and her consorts to create the necessary diversion.  The conning
and steering positions in each ship were triplicated and fully manned
so that, in the event of one position being destroyed, the handling of
the ship could immediately be taken over by another party.  Guns' crews
were standing by their guns ready to defend their vessels against
attacks by enemy craft or to retaliate against the batteries in the
hope of reducing the latter's fire.

At about midnight heavy firing was heard close at hand, but nothing
could be seen owing to the dense smoke screen which was then drifting
slowly to seaward.  During the first quarter of an hour after midnight
the blockships passed through an area which was apparently being
barraged with shell fire.  They were steaming in the order _Thetis_,
Commander Ralph S. Sneyd, _Intrepid_, Lieutenant Stuart S.
Bonham-Carter, and _Iphigenia_, Lieutenant Edward W. Billyard-Leake.

At twenty minutes past midnight the Mole was sighted right ahead in the
glare of the rockets fired from _Vindictive_; the blockships had just
been hailed by M.L. 558, who gave the direction of the lighthouse.

[Sidenote: Dash for the Canal]

_Thetis_ increased to full speed and, passing round {227} the end of
the Mole, steered for the extremity of the barge boom.  A fairly heavy
fire was being directed at her by such guns of the Mole-extension
battery as were still in action; as far as could be seen, nothing was
fired by the three-gun heavy battery at the end of the broad part of
the Mole.  The ship's guns opened fire at the lighthouse, which was
believed to be used as a signalling and observation station, and at the
southernmost barge; the latter was sunk.  At this stage _Thetis_ was
caught by the strong east-going tidal stream and was set towards the
boom of entanglement nets.  The ship passed over the latter between the
two northern buoys and tore the nets away with her momentum.  The piers
at the entrance to the canal were then sighted, but the propellers were
so badly fouled by the nets that the engines were brought to a stop.

AFTER THE ENTERPRISE.  Note the blockships sunk in the entrance, the
break in the viaduct, and the southern barge missing from the boom.]

It must have been at about this moment that the enemy first realised
the true nature of the enterprise.  The attacks on the Mole, the
blowing up of the viaduct, the explosions of torpedoes on the inside of
the Mole, the smoke, the rapid changes of visibility, and the terrific
noise on all sides had combined to leave the enemy in a hopeless state
of stupefaction as to our real intentions.  We heard afterwards that
they believed a forced landing on the coast was in progress.  The
impossibility of using one's defensive measures to the best advantage
when the initiative lies in the hands of the attackers has already been
referred to.  Suffice it to say that the enemy do not appear to have
discovered the real purpose of our operations until too late to make
the best use of their defensive measures.


_Thetis_ now came under extremely heavy fire both from the direction of
the Mole and from shore batteries near the canal.  Her six-inch gun on
the forecastle was replying to the shore batteries.  She appeared to
have grounded about three hundred yards from the canal entrance.
_Thetis_ now appeared to be settling down.  All chances of struggling
into the canal entrance appeared to be hopeless.  She had been hit
again and again and was on fire in several places.  She had taken the
brunt of the firing whilst her two consorts were following
comparatively undamaged.  She could do little more now than assist
_Intrepid_ and _Iphigenia_ to reach their objectives.  Prearranged
signals, therefore, were made to these other two ships guiding them to
the canal.  It must be remembered that it was now half an hour after
midnight.  _Intrepid_ and _Iphigenia_, in that order, passed close to
_Thetis_.  Thanks to the latter's signals they were able to locate the
entrance piers; the further movements of those two vessels will be
described in a moment.

As soon as _Iphigenia_ was clear Captain Sneyd in _Thetis_ ordered the
artificial smoke to be turned on, and had almost decided to abandon
ship when Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Boddie succeeded in getting the
starboard engine to go ahead.

The ship moved slowly forward for a short distance, but was apparently
dragging her stern along the bottom.  As far as could be seen she was
not only in the dredged channel leading to the canal, but was lying
across it.  The ship was undoubtedly in a sinking condition, so her
captain decided to blow the bottom out of her in accordance with the

[Sidenote: Sinking the Blockships]

The blockships had each been fitted with explosive {229} charges inside
the bottom of the ship.  These charges had been connected electrically
to a firing arrangement which could be operated from alternative
positions in the ship.  The petty officer in charge of the foremost
firing keys had been killed and they could not be found owing to the
fumes from bursting shell and those from the artificial smoke.  The
firing keys at the other end of the ship were, therefore, pressed after
the crew had been ordered on deck.  The charges immediately exploded.
The bottom of the ship was blown out; in a few moments the vessel had
sunk.  The upper deck was now just under water.  The ship's company
abandoned the ship, which was still under incessant fire, in the only
remaining boat and pulled away to the northward, where M.L. 526, which
had followed the blockships, picked them up.  The _Thetis'_ boat was
the cutter.  It had been badly holed by shell fire and was crowded to
its full capacity.  Some of the crew were wounded; Sneyd and his
second-in-command had been wounded and gassed.  The proceedings of M.L.
526, which also rescued some of the crew from another blockship, will
be described later.

_Intrepid_ had experienced a certain amount of shell fire when
approaching the Mole, having apparently passed through an area which
was being barraged by the enemy.  She passed the Mole without
difficulty and navigated between the obstruction booms.  The sinking of
the southernmost barge and the tearing away of the entanglement nets by
_Thetis_, with the resultant widening of the unobstructed channel, had
greatly reduced the chance of _Intrepid_ getting into trouble at this
point.  During the final run to the canal she had escaped serious
damage from gun-fire {230} because nearly all the German guns were
concentrating either on _Thetis_ or on the forces attacking the Mole.
Having located the entrance pier, passing close to _Thetis_ _en route_,
_Intrepid_ entered the canal and proceeded up the latter until just
inland of the coast-line.  Having reached the exact position as signed
to her, Lieutenant Bonham-Carter at once commenced to turn his ship
across the channel.  As soon as he found she could be turned no
further--it must be remembered that the navigable channel at that
position was exceedingly narrow--he decided to blow the bottom out of
the ship.  The crew had been previously ordered to take to the boats,
but Engineer Sub-Lieutenant Meikle and three ratings had not been able
to leave the engine-room when the charges exploded.  Fortunately these
four individuals escaped destruction.  The ship sank immediately.

AND IPHIGENIA.  The former the nearer to the camera]

One cutter full of men pulled out to seaward and was picked up by M.L.
526, which has already been mentioned as saving the crew of _Thetis_.
Another cutter pulled out to sea, actually past the Mole, and was
picked up by the destroyer _Whirlwind_.  Lieutenant Bonham-Carter,
Lieutenant Cory-Wright his second-in-command, Sub-Lieutenant Babb the
navigator, and four petty officers were the last party to leave the
sunken vessel.  They launched a raft and proceeded to paddle it towards
M.L. 282, which had followed the blockships into the canal.  Whilst on
the raft this party had a very trying experience.  The Germans had a
machine-gun on the shore within a few yards.  This gun and many others
had been pouring a hot fire into the ship.  A lifebuoy light had been
inadvertently left on the raft and automatically {231} lit up on
reaching the water.  This gave away their movements.  Every effort was
made to extinguish the light; they even sat on it, but could not either
obscure or destroy it for some time.  The machine-gun bullets were
cutting up the water all round them, and it was extraordinary that none
of the party was killed.  It is difficult to imagine any more awkward
situation.  By dint of great efforts they managed to reach the motor
launch and all got into her in safety.

[Sidenote: Completing the Block]

_Iphigenia_ had followed _Intrepid_ and had rounded the Mole with much
the same experience as the latter ship.  Having dropped somewhat astern
she increased to full speed and made for the canal.  By this time so
many star shell were being fired and so many searchlights being used
that there was not much difficulty in locating the entrance piers; she
was also assisted by the signals from _Thetis_.  Passing close to the
latter, _Iphigenia_ was twice hit by shell, one of which cut a steam
pipe, with the result that the forepart of the ship was enveloped in
steam.  In addition to that she shortly afterwards ran into thick smoke
and temporarily lost sight of the entrance.

Suddenly the western pier loomed up close ahead.  Lieutenant
Billyard-Leake ordered "full speed astern."  The ship ran between a
dredger and a barge; on going ahead again she pushed the barge up the
canal.  There appeared to be a gap between the bow of the _Intrepid_
and the eastern bank of the canal, so _Iphigenia_ was steered to close
it.  Turning his ship by going alternately ahead and astern,
Billyard-Leake managed to get her round well across the channel and
then grounded with his bows on the eastern side.  He ordered the crew
to abandon ship and exploded his {232} charges.  Exactly as had
occurred in the other two ships, the bottom was blown out and the ship
sank at once.  The upper deck was still above water.

The entire crew, officers and men, got away in a single cutter, the
other boat having been severely damaged.  M.L. 282 was then seen close
ahead of the ship.  The cutter pulled up to her and most of the crew
managed to get on board.  The remainder turned the cutter and again
pulled to the launch.  All except about three men, of whom one had been
killed, climbed into the launch at the second attempt.  The cutter
herself was secured to the bows of the launch, which, having just
picked up the raft party from _Intrepid_, was still heading up the
canal.  The launch went astern and backed out of the canal, stern
first, with the cutter in tow.  No less than a hundred and one
survivors from the blockships were on board the motor launch.  Under
ordinary circumstances such craft can carry from forty to fifty
passengers with a bit of a squash; a hundred and one passengers,
several of them wounded, must have crowded every inch of her deck.

M.L. 282, commanded by Lieutenant Percy T. Deane, R.N.V.R., and M.L.
526, commanded by Lieutenant H. A. Littleton, R.N.V.R., had followed
the blockships, exactly in accordance with the Plan, during their
perilous journey from the Mole.  These officers had been specially
chosen for the rescue work from the large number of volunteers for that
dangerous task.


M.L. 282 had steamed straight into the canal and stopped between the
two sunken blockships.  She came under heavy machine-gun fire from
close range, {233} but was not in the least deterred from the work of
rescuing the blockships' survivors.  The fact that this motor launch
was not sunk and that the crew survived was little short of a miracle.
Lieutenant Deane, with his precious cargo, turned his boat round as
soon as he was clear of the canal.  Owing to the steering gear having
been damaged, he was forced to steer by means of working the engines at
unequal speeds.  He passed as near to the Mole as was possible to
escape the gun-fire from that direction--the reverse of the usual
procedure being necessary under the peculiar circumstances in which
they found themselves.  After passing the Mole the launch was steered
to the north-westward and fell in with the Vice-Admiral's vessel,
H.M.S. _Warwick_.  Many casualties had been sustained as a result of
the continual fire which she had experienced.

[Sidenote: Rescue of the Crews]

M.L. 526 had steamed into the sunken blockships in the canal, embarking
many of _Intrepid's_ men from a cutter, and then proceeded to _Thetis_,
where all the survivors from that vessel were also embarked from a
cutter.  The motor launch had come under heavy fire from the shore guns
and her escape added one more item to the long list of miracles which
took place that night.  With sixty-five survivors Lieutenant Littleton
steamed out to sea past the Mole and made the entire passage to Dover
under her own steam, in spite of the gruelling which his frail vessel
had gone through.

The rescue work, as carried out by these two motor launches, compels
admiration.  Their chances of success had seemed to be exceedingly
remote.  Yet, in spite of all the difficulties, they had rescued no
less {234} than one hundred and sixty-six men from right under the
enemy's batteries.  It will be remembered that _Intrepid_ had not
disembarked her surplus crew at position D on the passage across, with
the result that she carried no fewer than eighty-seven officers and men
into the canal.  Of these, every single officer and man was brought
back to Dover, although one petty officer had been killed and one
officer mortally wounded whilst being rescued.

Of the crew of M.L. 282 one officer and two men (out of four) laid down
their lives in this splendid achievement.  Of all the blockships'
officers and men not a single living soul fell into the hands of the

In a subsequent chapter I shall give a more detailed description of the
results of the actual blocking.

There can be no two opinions concerning the handling of the blockships.
The utmost that can be said of the diversions, from the point of view
of their connection with the main object of the enterprise, is that
they assisted the blockships to pass a danger point nearly a mile short
of the canal entrance, and, to a lesser extent, diverted _some_ of the
enemy's attention during the final run to the blocking position.


From the vicinity of the Mole batteries to their final destination the
blockship commanders had to depend almost entirely on their own
efforts.  Running the gantlet of modern batteries at point-blank range
would ordinarily appear to be foolhardy in the extreme.  Yet these
officers made light of the task and showed that difficulties cannot
always be judged by first impressions.  The navigation alone was
hazardous enough; concentration of thought in that particular direction
must have been greatly hampered by the {235} kaleidoscopic conditions
of the situation.  But perhaps the finest feat of all was the splendid
display of seamanship in the face of extraordinary difficulty.  The
complete absence of local knowledge, the opposition of the enemy, and
the unavoidable lack of practice in sinking vessels under such
conditions, all combined to make the task appear quite impracticable.
Yet all difficulties were surmounted and the object of the operation
was achieved.

[Sidenote: Well Done, Blockships]

Of all the happenings on that memorable night the outstanding feature,
which turned success from a possibility into a certainty, was the
magnificent handling of the blockships by Commander Sneyd and
Lieutenants Bonham-Carter and Billyard-Leake.  This fact cannot be too
strongly emphasised, for, although it was naturally and fully realised
in the Navy, there were indications that it was not so well grasped by
the man-in-the-street.




It had been arranged that the storming parties on the Mole should have
twenty minutes' warning of _Vindictive_ leaving the outer wall.  A
maximum length of stay alongside had also been laid down so that, under
certain circumstances, watches would provide some guide as to the
amount of time available.

The warning signal for leaving the Mole was to consist of a succession
of long and short blasts on the siren, or a particular method of waving
the searchlight beams, or, if all other means failed, a message
conveyed by runner.

At about 12.50 A.M., three-quarters of an hour after _Vindictive's_
arrival alongside, the question of the length of stay was considered.
The blockships had been seen passing the lighthouse _en route_ to the
canal, the viaduct had been blown up.  The diversion on the Mole had
throughout served to attract the fire of a large number of enemy
batteries.  From this followed the deduction that some chance of rescue
work had probably offered itself to our motor launches.  It was likely
that in another twenty minutes these latter vessels would have
definitely succeeded or failed in their object.

[Sidenote: Beginning of the End]

The primary object for which the attack on the Mole was designed had
been attained.  There remained the secondary object of demolition.  The
only guns in _Vindictive_ which could have borne directly on the Mole
had been put out of action.  Her upper {237} works were still being hit
every few seconds with a continually increasing list of casualties
amongst those in exposed positions.  Owing to the failure of the Mole
anchors no member of the storming parties could hope to return if
_Daffodil_ was disabled.  That the latter vessel had thus far escaped
destruction was little short of a miracle.  The maximum period allowed
for the operations of the storming parties would expire at twenty
minutes past one.  Thirty minutes remained.  If the warning signal was
made immediately, the storming parties would have their maximum time
cut down by only ten minutes.

The question which arose out of the foregoing considerations was as to
whether it was worth while to remain alongside during the last ten
minutes for the sake of demolition work whilst risking, _at the least_,
the loss of the whole of the storming parties then on the Mole.

Shortly after 12.50 A.M. the order was given to make the retirement
signal.  _Vindictive's_ sirens had both been shot away.  The starboard
searchlight had received a direct hit from a projectile and had been
hurled off the bridge down to the upper deck.  The port searchlight had
also been put out of action.  An order was passed to _Daffodil_ to make
the retirement signal on her siren.  The latter spluttered and gurgled
whilst emitting a veritable shower bath, but presently began to show
signs of being useful.  A low groan developed into a growling note
which in turn travelled gradually up the scale until loud enough to be
heard at a distance.  The signal was repeated several times and then
came an anxious period of waiting.

At about this time a large stack of Stokes bomb {238} boxes, containing
fused bombs, was set on fire by a shell.  All the fire-extinguishing
apparatus in the vicinity had already been shot away.  The chief
Quartermaster, Petty Officer E. G. Youlton, whilst shouting to others
to take cover, extinguished the fire by hauling out the burning boxes
and stamping on them.  A few moments later the fire broke out afresh.
Youlton repeated his very gallant efforts and succeeded in saving a
very awkward situation.

[Sidenote: The Recall]

The storming parties commenced to return to the ship almost at once.
Many of the ship's company, officers and men, assisted in carrying the
wounded on board over the gangways, which were as rickety as ever.  One
Marine carried a disabled man on board, placed his charge on the deck,
kissed him on both cheeks and was heard to remark, "I wasn't going to
leave you, Bill."

I have seen both statements and illustrations to the effect that our
storming parties, before leaving, erected a staff on the Mole and
hoisted a Union Jack upon it.  It may seem a pity to spoil a good
story, but this event was quite imaginary.  A memento of our visit,
however, was prepared in the shape of a board to which were attached
our visiting cards bearing the letters P.P.C., but there is no very
clear evidence as to whether this memento was left on the Mole, though
I believe that was the case.

A shell burst just outside the conning tower whilst three of us were
discussing the probability of any men being still on the Mole.
Lieutenant-Commander Rosoman was shot through both legs; Petty Officer
Youlton had an arm shattered; a very slight wound in the shoulder was
my own share of the damage.


By the time that fifteen minutes had elapsed from the sounding of the
retirement signal practically all the storming parties had returned.
No more men were seen to come back, but I had given a definite promise
that the full twenty minutes' notice would be allowed.  After repeated
assurances from other officers, backed up by my own personal
observation, that no others were returning we decided to leave the
Mole.  The cable had already been unshackled ready for slipping
overboard when no longer required.

Lieutenant-Commander Rosoman, in spite of his wounds, accompanied me to
the conning tower.  He absolutely refused to sit down, but remained
standing so that he could keep a lookout through the slit in the armour.

The conning tower was of very small dimensions.  Four wounded men had
previously crawled inside and had died where they lay.  Three or four
other wounded men had crawled in later on and had collapsed.  One of
the telegraphs to the engine-room had been shot away, but the telephone
was intact.

All the other compasses having been destroyed, we had to depend upon
the conning-tower compass.  The magnetic directive force on a compass
needle is necessarily very weak in a conning tower of such small
dimensions.  The ship had received so many hard knocks that the
magnetism on board was pretty certain to have undergone considerable
change.  Thus, whereas this particular compass was somewhat
independable before, it was now exceedingly unreliable.

In spite of the many hundreds of times that I must previously have
instructed young officers that no iron should be placed within five
feet of the compass, I have {240} my first lieutenant to thank for
pointing out that the presence of so many steel helmets in the conning
tower was inadvisable.

_Daffodil_ was ordered to tow _Vindictive's_ bow away from the wall.
Lieutenant Campbell obeyed at once; our anchor cable was slipped
overboard.  Directly after the strain came on the _Daffodil's_ hawser
the latter broke, but it had served its purpose.  "Full speed ahead"
was ordered and the ship moved forward almost immediately.  This was at
1.11 A.M.

A large steel boom--the original mainmast of the ship--had been rigged
over the port side of the quarter-deck, jutting out rather further than
the port propeller with the object of saving the latter from hitting
the wall.  When _Vindictive's_ helm was put over to port, her stern
swung towards the Mole, but the boom saved the situation as a result of
a heavy blow against the wall.

As soon as _Vindictive_ had moved a few feet the gangways slipped off
the wall and fell overboard with a resounding crash.  For a few moments
the wreckage fouled and stopped the port propeller, but quickly cleared
again without having done any serious damage.

[Sidenote: The German's Last Straw]

It is not difficult to gauge the feelings of the enemy when they first
noticed the ship moving off.  We had taken them more or less by
surprise on arrival and had managed to storm the Mole in spite of every
effort to prevent us.  The enemy could not have been over-pleased about
that.  The ship had been able to remain at the Mole for one hour and
ten minutes without sustaining any vital damage.  That fact was not
calculated to engender a pleasant frame of mind {241} amongst the
enemy.  But _they knew_ exactly where we were.  _They knew_ we should
endeavour to leave sooner or later; _they knew_ that any attempt to do
so would inevitably expose the vitals of the ship to their batteries at
point-blank range; _they thought they knew_ that our fate was sealed
immediately we were clear of the wall; there could be no surprise about
leaving.  But all such matters had been carefully thought out
beforehand.  _Vindictive_, _Iris_, and _Daffodil_ each carried several
sets of artificial smoke apparatus for use on retirement.  Immediately
we started to go ahead orders were given for the smoke to be turned on.
In less than a minute all previous fog records were beaten beyond
comparison.  Thus in place of a victim the enemy found a fog.

We steamed away to the northwestward at utmost speed.  The flames were
pouring through the holes in the funnels; the ship had the appearance
of being heavily on fire.  The wind being now offshore brought the fog
along with us; fortunately for the navigation we had a clear lookout
ahead.  The enemy cannot have seen much more than the vivid glare of
our funnel flames illuminating the upper part of the fog.  From all
accounts their batteries were far from idle.  As the ship sped seaward
we had the sensation of the ship jumping at irregular but frequent
intervals.  This may have been due to the concussion of heavy shell
striking the water near the ship.  Whether any shell hit us or not
during the retirement is unlikely to be known.  One could hardly see
one's own feet.  The ship had already been hit so often that any
further damage of the same description would hardly have been noticed.
Suffice it to say that no vital damage to the hull was received.


After steaming for twenty minutes the first lieutenant reported a light
off the starboard bow.  It was the Blankenberghe buoy, which we had
passed during the approach.  We altered course to pass close to the
buoy and then for our line of retirement.

[Sidenote: Homeward Bound]

Presently the dark form of a vessel was sighted ahead.  Our guns' crews
were ready for any emergency, but the vessel proved to be H.M.S.
_Moorsom_, one of the patrolling destroyers.  All the bridge signalling
lamps had been destroyed.  With an ordinary pocket torch we flashed a
signal requesting _Moorsom_ to lead us as our compass was hopeless.

On the way across to Zeebrugge my anxiety with regard to accuracy of
compass course had led me to criticise the steering of one of the
quartermasters.  Now, on the return voyage, I had become quartermaster,
in the absence of Petty Officer Youlton, and am afraid the steering was
execrable.  That fact was officially recorded by the Commanding Officer
of _Moorsom_ who, knowing nothing about our amateur steersmanship,
reported, "... _Vindictive_ appeared ... steering a very erratic
course!"  Fortunately the services of another petty officer, as
steersman, were obtained later on.

Lieutenant-Commander Rosoman combined the duties of lookout and
navigator; his advice was most helpful.  A visit from the stretcher
parties relieved the congestion in the conning tower.  Another
memorable incident was the arrival of the Paymaster with a jug full of
a certain stimulating beverage which put new life into us; I shall
_not_ complete the testimonial.

Several signals were interchanged with _Moorsom_ on the subject of
shoals; it was a great relief when {243} we eventually located a buoy
marking a danger spot.

_Vindictive_ was steaming nearly seventeen knots until daylight--a
great achievement on the part of Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Bury and
his department.

Soon after daylight a destroyer was observed to be racing up from
astern at high speed.  She quickly ranged up alongside and proved to be
H.M.S. _Warwick_.  The first signal from her, "Well done,
_Vindictive_," cheered us up immensely, not because of its actual
import, but because it looked very much as if the Vice-Admiral were
alive.  To make sure we enquired if that surmise was correct and,
greatly to our relief, received a reply in the affirmative.

H.M.S. _Warwick_ had continued throughout the operation to patrol in a
central position, namely, near the Mole lighthouse.  She had come under
a heavy fire and altogether experienced a couple of hectic hours.  Soon
after one o'clock she had moved towards _Vindictive_ and suddenly came
upon the latter leaving the Mole.  _Vindictive's_ smoke screen made it
impossible to keep touch, so the Vice-Admiral decided to search for
_Iris_ and _Daffodil_ in case they should require assistance.  Shortly
after this M.L. 282 was met and transferred her blockship survivors to
_Warwick_, who was also informed that _Iris_ and _Daffodil_ had left
the Mole.  _Warwick_ then escorted some motor launches out of the
danger zone, and, after rallying several other craft at a prearranged
rendezvous, she steered for Dover and overtook _Vindictive_ as
mentioned above.

Admiral Keyes ordered _Moorsom_ to lead _Vindictive_ to Dover, to which
place _Warwick_ proceeded at {244} high speed to land her wounded and
to arrange for the arrival of the casualties from the remaining vessels.

The weather being misty, we did not sight Dover until within a mile or
so.  Our reception was wonderful, the result of the operation being
already known at Dover.  I think everybody cheered himself hoarse that
morning.  Presently we were ordered to proceed alongside the railway
jetty.  Within me there was some feeling of satisfaction at having
berthed the ship at Zeebrugge, a place which I had never seen, in face
of certain difficulties additional to the tide.  Any feeling of pride,
however, was quickly dispelled when, in accordance with the routine of
the port, on my ship being ordered to proceed alongside Dover jetty in
broad daylight, with no opposition from the enemy, and with every
convenience in the way of hawsers and bollards, _a pilot was sent on
board to handle her_!

On arrival alongside the wounded were disembarked into a Red Cross
train, which immediately took them off to hospital.  Those who had laid
down their lives were then carried ashore; this, indeed, was a sad
parting.  Finally we moved out to a buoy to make room for other vessels.

[Sidenote: A Souvenir from the Mole]

After our arrival at Dover it was discovered that a large block of
concrete was jambed between a fender and a ledge on the port side of
the ship.  Apparently a German shell fired from one of the heavy land
batteries had struck the upper part of the outer wall and had torn away
this block, which fell into the position mentioned.  This concrete
block, weighing nearly half a ton, was hoisted on board.  A few pieces
were taken as souvenirs.  The main portion was {245} presented to the
Imperial War Museum and formed rather a unique piece of evidence, not
only of the fact that _Vindictive_ lay alongside the Mole, but of the
exact position at which the Mole was stormed.  The illustration facing
page 74 shows the damaged portion of the wall from which this block of
concrete was torn.

piece of the Mole was found resting on the ledge shown at the bottom
right-hand corner of the photograph]

_Daffodil_ was exceedingly fortunate in having escaped serious damage.
Her hull had been exposed to the fire of the German batteries
throughout the whole hour and the odd minutes during which she had been
keeping _Vindictive_ alongside the Mole.  On the retirement signal
being made everything was prepared for towing the bows of _Vindictive_
away from the wall.  Immediately the order was received, Lieutenant
Campbell turned his ship and commenced to tow.  The hawser had parted
almost at once, but that was of no consequence.  _Daffodil_ then
steamed away to the northward under cover of her own artificial smoke
and eventually spoke H.M.S. _Trident_.  The latter took her in tow and
brought her safely to Dover, which was reached at 1 P.M.  The
enthusiastic reception commenced all over again.  It must be realised
that the fate of each vessel was unknown to the majority of the
remainder until some hours after the completion of the operation.

It has already been described how _Iris_, after leaving _Vindictive_
and suffering severe damage from hostile gun-fire, had been
smoke-screened by a motor boat and had disappeared from view.  This
smoke screen, augmented by further smoke from their own apparatus,
undoubtedly saved _Iris_ from destruction.  Under the directions of
Lieutenant Oscar Henderson, R.N., who had assumed command after his
captain {246} had been mortally wounded, _Iris_ steamed away to seaward
and eventually proceeded to Dover under her own steam, whilst being
escorted by other vessels met with in the small hours.  She arrived at
Dover at 2.45 P.M. and, once more, everybody cheered himself hoarse.

At intervals throughout the forenoon and afternoon of the 23d the
several vessels and craft arrived at Dover.  We then had the
opportunity of piecing together the information obtained from each unit
and were thus able to gauge the probable results attained.

The air force had been requested to obtain new photographs of Zeebrugge
as early as practicable, but the sky was so clouded over that no
absolutely indisputable evidence was obtained until 2 P.M., when a
photograph was taken through a chink in the clouds.  This photograph
showed the positions of the inner blockships and the break in the
railway viaduct.  The operation had been an unqualified success.

[Sidenote: The Operation at Ostende]

The operation at Ostende had unfortunately failed.  The difficulties of
navigation had been accentuated by the change of wind which brought the
artificial fog back to seaward.  The consequent obscuration of the
harbour entrance made it necessary to place some dependence on a buoy
which had, unknown to us and by the merest coincidence, just been moved
a mile or so to the eastward by the enemy.  In spite of the most
gallant attempt by Commander A. E. Godsal in H.M.S. _Brilliant_ and
Lieutenant-Commander H. N. M. Hardy in H.M.S. _Sirius_, ably assisted
as they were by their officers and men and by a large number of other
craft, the blocking attempt had not achieved success.  The Vice-Admiral
decided, therefore, to {247} make another attempt at the earliest
possible moment.  _Vindictive_, being the only suitable vessel
available, was immediately prepared for this further service.  Owing to
a continuation of impossible weather conditions the operation could not
be carried out until May 10th; thus it is clear that if our expedition
had not started on their journey on April 22d the operation at
Zeebrugge could not have taken place during the allotted period.

Just one other reference to the further use of _Vindictive_ cannot be
omitted.  Immediately on their return, after the failure to block
Ostende, both officers who have been mentioned above as commanding the
blockships at that place, begged to be given ships for a further
attempt.  They had failed through no fault of their own and had gone
through some terrible experiences.  Nothing could curb their ardour,
and I believe they gave the Vice-Admiral no peace until he consented to
give them another chance.  Poor Godsal.  Nothing could have been finer
than his handling of the old _Vindictive_ on the night of May 9th-10th,
but he was killed at the very moment when complete success seemed to be
assured; Ostende was partially blocked.

It was with considerable feelings of regret that, on April 25th, we
made way in _Vindictive_ for the new crew destined to take her to
Ostende.  It was a sad farewell.

The behaviour of the wounded had been splendid; their cheerfulness was
unbounded.  One poor fellow who had suffered severe internal injuries
as well as the loss of both legs was asked if he was sorry that he went
over to Zeebrugge.  He replied, "No, sir, {248} because I got on the
Mole."  That was all that mattered to him.  There was practically no
chance of saving his life, but "he had got on the Mole."

The spirit of all the men in _Vindictive_ was fine.  Nevertheless, I do
not deceive myself into imagining that these men were exceptional.
They only represented one small contingent of many which fought at
Zeebrugge and Ostende on St. George's Day; the combined crews of all
the vessels in the operation only represented a trifling percentage of
our total naval personnel; the behaviour of my men was merely typical
of all those others.

Those of our survivors who had not been sent to hospital with wounds
proceeded on a few days' leave before rejoining their depots or their
ships in the Grand Fleet.  What a piratical appearance the crew
presented on their departure!  Many of them had lost all their clothes,
except those in which they stood during the action.  Those others whose
clothes had survived the fight were not much better off.  The souvenir
hunters had raided my ship, had "picked up" some of the men's
belongings, and had even been inconsiderate enough to break into my
cabin and make a complete clearance of the officers' handbags placed
there for safety.


One last story of a personal nature.  On receipt of the news at Dover a
young officer, in his desire to do me a kindness, decided to wire the
good news to my wife.  He forgot that she would know nothing of the
enterprise or even of its preparation, and he worded the telegram:
"Operation successful.  Husband quite all right."  The recipient's
feelings may be easily imagined; she guessed it was appendicitis!




The results of the operations on the night of April 22-23, 1918, were
undoubtedly important.  They can be classified under the two headings
of "material" and "moral."

The degree of moral effect cannot usually be assessed until long after
an operation has been completed.  Recognisable evidence comes to hand
very gradually.  The actual results of moral effect may be early
experienced without being recognised, especially in the case of effect
on the enemy's morale.

Material results are more easily gauged.  In this particular case
photographic evidence was soon obtainable.

I must recall to the reader's mind the description of the entrance
channel of the canal.  It was shown in Part I, Chapter II, how very
narrow the navigable channel had become owing to the silting of the
sand, and how rapidly the latter process would accentuate the
obstructive quality of a sunken vessel.  It was also shown why the
channel at the shore end of the two curved piers was the ideal position
at which to place the blockships.  _Intrepid_ and _Iphigenia_ had been
sunk by us exactly at their selected positions.  Each vessel spanned
right across the dredged channel, and therefore blocked it effectually.
For the first time in naval history a blocking operation had been
carried out successfully in the face of up-to-date defence measures.


Some of the photographs, taken at high tide, appear to show sufficient
space through which vessels could pass on either side of the
blockships.  But the presence of water does not signify the presence of
sufficient water to float such craft as submarines and destroyers even
at high tide.  Two other photographs show clearly that the ends of the
vessels were practically on the edges of the sandbanks.

[Sidenote: The Work of Salvage]

The Germans, as prompt in propaganda as they were unenterprising in
sea-fighting, at once published a communiqué to the effect that the
operation had utterly failed, adding that the blockships had been sunk
by the German batteries before reaching their goal.  Curiously enough,
their official statements were strangely silent on the subject of
prisoners.  They also averred that the attack on the Mole had been
driven back.  Not content with these "terminological inexactitudes,"
they went so far as to take a photograph to prove their contention.
The photograph was taken with the camera pointed inland.  The land was
eliminated from the background in the original so as to give the
impression that the camera was pointing out to sea.  A line was drawn
between, and parallel to, the blockships and marked "The line of the
channel," whereas it was a line nearly at right angles to the channel.
Words were added to the effect that the photograph proved clearly that
the channel was not blocked, and copies of the photograph were
circulated all over Germany and neutral countries.  What wonderful
liars!--but clumsy!  The amusing part of it was that we knew the German
naval authorities reported "Zeebrugge is blocked" to their craft
stationed elsewhere, and, further, our airmen {251} obtained
photographs day after day showing some twenty-three torpedo craft and
twelve submarines bottled up at Bruges.

From the morning after the operation until the Germans finally
evacuated Zeebrugge, our aerial bombers dropped, on the average, four
tons of bombs daily on that place.  Our special measures with regard to
constructive work in each blockship, designed to hamper the work of
salvage, must have presented the enemy with a formidable problem.  The
work of clearing the channel was certainly not assisted by the dropping
of bombs upon the salvors.  To what extent the Germans attempted to
remove the vessels is unknown to me, but we do know well enough that
none of the three was moved a foot nor were they cut away to allow
vessels to pass over them.  Thanks to our airmen, we knew, almost from
hour to hour, what measures were being taken to dredge a new channel.
I believe that no torpedo craft or submarines could use the exit for a
considerable time, and that about five months elapsed before they could
enter or leave the canal at any other period than the top of high tide.

Having contrived that each blockship should embody all the main
obstacles to salvage work, we were more or less confident that, if once
placed in position, these ships could not be easily removed.
Subsequently, at the earliest opportunity, our own salvage service
commenced their endeavours to clear the canal.  In January, 1921, _two
years and three months_ after Zeebrugge was again in the hands of the
Allies, the last of the three blockships was moved sufficiently to
enable the channel to be used with freedom.  A {252} great amount of
labour and money had already been expended, but still further efforts
were required before the canal could be altogether freed from
obstructions.  One may certainly remark that the canal was "well and
truly blocked."

Information reached us afterwards that the Kaiser personally visited
Zeebrugge shortly after the operation so that he could discover the
actual truth for himself.  What his remarks were on arrival is not
known to me, but a photograph in my possession, taken on that occasion,
certainly does not give him an air of affability.

[Sidenote: The Reckoning]

The main material result, then, was that the canal was blocked and that
the services of twelve submarines and twenty-three torpedo craft were
unavailable for a considerable period.  As long as the canal remained
blocked, German submarines detailed for operating against Allied
commerce in the English Channel and other waters outside the North Sea
were, for the most part, compelled to do so from the Heligoland Bight.
This increased the length of voyage to and from their areas of
operation and consequently reduced the duration of their stay in such

But there were other material results.  Firstly, the German High
Command considered it necessary to send reënforcements to Ostende in
the shape of modern destroyers.  Now vessels, like individuals, cannot
be in two places at once.  Those sent to Ostende had to be drawn away
from the Heligoland Bight, consequently the forces in the latter area
were weakened in strength _pro rata_.

The loss of German lives and vessels and the {253} damage sustained
during the action were by no means negligible.

Then again the efficiency of Bruges as a naval base was greatly
lessened because the canal exit to Ostende proved to be too shallow for
the larger craft.  The fuel, dockyard, and stores at Bruges were also
rendered comparatively useless as means of support for sea-going

The Mole, as a seaplane base, must have lost much of its value owing to
the severance of the railway communication, heavy stores having to be
transported to the Mole by sea-carriers.  Finally, the work of "locking
the stable door after the horse had been stolen," as practised by the
enemy on this occasion, entailed extra mining at sea, mounting
additional guns on the outer wall, and covering the floor of the Mole
with such an abundance of barbed wire as to make the place exceedingly
uncomfortable for themselves.

Our own losses consisted of one destroyer and two motor launches; no
other vessel was rendered unfit for further services.  Our casualties
at Zeebrugge amounted to approximately one hundred and seventy killed,
four hundred wounded, and forty-five missing; the majority of the
latter were believed to have been killed.  The casualties in
_Vindictive_, including her storming parties, were sixty killed and one
hundred and seventy-one wounded.

With regard to the loss of material we had not paid a high price
considering the results achieved.  The loss of personnel was small in
comparison with losses sustained in military fighting, but was none the
less keenly felt by those of us who had been in personal {254} touch
with these splendid fellows.  They had all realised the danger and had
been perfectly willing to lay down their lives in the attainment of the
desired end.  They did not die in vain.




The moral effect on the enemy was shown, to a certain degree, almost at
once.  The fact that they thought it necessary to indulge in falsehood
to appease their own countrymen, although they must have realised that
the truth would inevitably become known, was clear enough proof that
their morale was badly shaken.

Their earliest report stated that the attack had failed and that three
British cruisers had been sunk at Zeebrugge.  The latter portion of the
statement was correct.  The ships had, indeed, been sunk--by ourselves.
All reference to the destruction of the viaduct was withheld until
later.  The fact of no prisoners being captured from any of the three
British cruisers was never mentioned.  As soon as our own reports had
been circulated, the German authorities apparently considered it
necessary to account for our success by stating that some Belgian
fishermen had been arrested for piloting our vessels into position!
Imagine, for a moment, the effect on our own public if they heard that
the enemy had attacked Dover, stormed the breakwater and remained in
possession of it for over an hour, destroyed the railway jetty, and
blocked the entrance.  Even such a case as that would not be wholly
analogous, for the blockships at Zeebrugge had sunk themselves nearly a
mile _inside_ the outer entrance.  Imagine the outcry and the {256}
question, "What is the Navy doing?"  It is not difficult to conceive
the downfall of highly placed personages and the feeling of insecurity
that would pervade the atmosphere in our own country.  Not only would
the public be shaken by such news, but the loss of morale would be felt
in the fighting services, firstly as a result of their own ineptitude,
and secondly because of the visions of further enemy operations which
would be conjured up.

Some such effect as described above was inevitable amongst both the
German civilian element and their fighting services.  We know that the
operation caused a great scare at Bruges.  Many of the German officials
there hurriedly collected their effects ready for evacuating the city;
it had been reported that the allies were landing an immense force on
the coast of Flanders.

It is not generally known that friendship between the German Navy and
Army was conspicuous by its absence.  They had been at daggers drawn
for some years; the Crown Prince himself was in the habit of being
openly rude to naval officers of high rank.  This antagonism was
evidenced recently in a letter written by a certain German general to
his brother-in-law, a young officer in our Navy.  Apparently the
general hated the German Navy to such an extent that his letter
remarked that there were two British officers with whom he particularly
desired to shake hands--one was the officer in charge of our siege guns
on the Flanders coast and the other was the officer commanding the
attack on Zeebrugge; his friendly feelings arose from the fact that
these two officers had "put it across" that section {257} of the German
Navy which had charge of the Flanders coast defences.

The German Information Bureau had never ceased to sing the praises of
their Navy; that fact was conducive to increasing the shock received by
the enemy when they learned the truth.  Many excuses have been invented
in Germany to account for the fact that the final breakdown of morale
which immediately preceded the ignominious flight of their War Lord
emanated from the so-called High Seas Fleet, and that this breakdown
coincided with the receipt of orders to try conclusions with our fleet.
It can hardly be styled far-fetched if one suggests that the loss of
morale was intimately connected with the situation at sea.  It is also
not outside the bounds of possibility that, in some measure, the events
of St. George's Day, 1918, assisted towards the _débâcle_.  A certain
highly placed German official at Bruges certainly exaggerated when he
averred that "the hopes of the Fatherland were buried at Zeebrugge,"
but such a statement as that clearly indicates the weakening of

The other aspect of the effect on morale may be worthy of mention.  I
refer to the effect on our own public, on our fighting services, and on
neutral and Allied countries.

The great German military offensive, which everybody realised indicated
the supreme effort on the part of the enemy, was in full swing in the
month of April.  The Allied troops were stubbornly contesting every
inch of ground, but were being steadily pushed back on important
sections of the main battle front.  The British Fifth Army had suffered
appalling losses.  {258} The Allies had their backs to the wall.  The
tension at home was apparent in all walks of life, and the extremely
anxious days of 1914 were being repeated.  Future generations will
never be able to realise the depression and anxiety which pervaded the
public mind.  Everybody was wondering what the outcome would be, and
there were days when one hardly dared to scan the morning paper.  That
very fact had provided us with an additional reason for wishing to
register a success.

There is very little doubt that the success attained had a marked
effect on the public; the latter fairly jumped at the opportunity to
show enthusiasm.  In addition to that, the public palate was tickled by
the unusual and apparently spectacular nature of the attack.

This sudden rise of the "moralometer" served a good purpose.  The
pessimist changed his tune, the optimist earned the qualification
"cheery."  To those ignorant of naval matters the operation seemed to
have bordered on the accomplishment of the impossible.  "We always
knew," they declared, "that our fighting men were invincible."  Their
old certainty of ultimate victory was re-born.  That was all to the
good.  Modern war is national war.  War is not merely a struggle
between fighting forces, but between the opposing "crowds."  The
destruction of an enemy's Army or Navy is of primary importance as a
means to an end, but the ultimate end and aim of each belligerent is to
exert influence on the "crowd," to nourish the will to win amongst
their own public and to bring about a feeling of hopeless despair, a
complete loss of morale, throughout the enemy's country.  {259} It is
for that important reason that the sentiments of one's own public must
ever be borne in mind by the Higher Command.

The receipt of the news on the western front is reported to have been
beneficial.  Every fighting force must occasionally have its dark days;
they are never so dark that news of success on another front will fail
to bring a ray of light.  Those of us in the fleet itself had often
experienced such feelings of elation when our military brothers had
brought off a "coup."  The Navy and Army, and the Air Force with them,
are one at heart.  The fighting services are interdependent.  Our Navy
cannot win a war unaided any more than our Army can prevent Great
Britain from being defeated by starvation.  The waging of war, in the
case of a maritime country which is unselfsupporting, cannot rightly be
divided into naval warfare, military warfare, and combined naval and
military operations, though the three types are commonly referred to
and in that order.  All war in which the British Empire is involved is
in the nature of combined naval and military warfare.  The actions of
one arm are inevitably reflected in the other.

The Grand Fleet, from which so many of our officers and men were drawn
for the operation on St. George's Day, was naturally elated at the
result.  Certainly the morale in the fleet had always been of a high
order, but an extra touch of enthusiasm was not without value.

Of the effect in neutral countries I am not competent to speak, but I
have some personal knowledge of the manner in which the news was
received in the United States.  The enthusiasm in that part of the
{260} world was genuine enough and undoubtedly assisted to cement the
friendship between that country and our own Empire, a friendship which
has a firm foundation even if the latter be occasionally hidden beneath
a political superstructure which we are apt to mistake for the
foundation itself.




This book would be incomplete if I omitted to append some general
remarks on the operation and on the factors which led to success.

First and foremost, it is necessary to indulge in comparisons.  The
enterprise described in this book attracted attention owing to its
somewhat unusual type as far as the Navy was concerned.  Nevertheless,
there are many points of similarity between the attack on Zeebrugge and
the military trench raids which took place night after night on the
Allied fronts.  The preliminary bombardment, the advance under cover of
darkness and smoke, the wild firing of star shell, the rush across No
Man's Land, the encounter with barbed wire and other defence material,
the leap down into the enemy's trench, the hand-to-hand fighting, the
holding of the position whilst demolition work was in progress, and the
final withdrawal when the object had been attained; such was a trench
raid as carried out again and again by our brothers in the Army.  In
their case the following day brought a two-line communiqué, e.g., "Last
night in the Ypres salient our troops carried out a trench raid; they
captured seven prisoners."  In our case the communiqué and unofficial
reports filled many pages.  I would warn the reader not to be misled
into thinking that the military raids were any less hazardous than our


The story provides just one more illustration of the fact that, however
large may loom the difficulties with which one is confronted, the means
to overcome them can usually be found if one possesses the "will to win

The fundamental principles of war demand the Offensive and
Concentration.  The all-important element of strategy to be utilised
against a strongly entrenched enemy is that of Surprise.  From the
latter spring Diversion and Mystification.

An attempt has been made to describe the manner in which the seemingly
impossible was accomplished without very great difficulty.

The plan was built up on the foundation of surprise--not surprise in
the sense that something would suddenly occur where all had been quiet
up to that moment, but surprise in that the real object of the
enterprise would be concealed up to the latest possible moment, the
concealment to be brought about by mystifying the enemy and diverting
his attention.

Whilst concentrating all available powers of offence against the enemy,
and allowing nothing to divert us from our main object, we took every
step to bewilder the defence and to shift the weight of the
difficulties upon the shoulders of our opponents.  But that was only
the foundation.  The material brought into use was the best available
at the moment; it is not suggested that, given further time, it would
have been incapable of improvement.

Earlier in this book a few remarks were offered on the importance of
the personnel.  Many further remarks could now be added after the story
has been told.  I only propose, however, to deal with certain {263}
aspects which, by their nature, are less likely to be realised by the

It has already been mentioned that a considerable percentage of the
vessels and craft engaged in the attack were commanded and manned by
officers and men of the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer
Reserve.  The majority of the smoke-screening craft and rescue craft
came under that heading.  Without the smoke the operation must have
failed.  Without the rescue work the price paid for success would have
been excessive.  These representatives of the auxiliary naval services
earned a full measure of admiration.  Their daring in the face of
danger, their coolness in situations which lacked nothing in
excitement, their initiative when confronted with the unexpected, and
their perfect co-operation with the remaining forces engaged in the
enterprise, were worthy of the best traditions of the Navy.  The more
that one considers the dependence upon seamanship, the practical use of
technical knowledge, the mental and physical strain, the value of
perfect discipline, and the initiative called for on such an occasion,
the greater is one's admiration for these fine fellows of whom the
majority had seen comparatively little of sea life and had lacked that
severity of training which is inseparable from the naval profession.

The reports of all Commanding Officers contained one particular
similarity--I refer to the behaviour of the men.  The cynic who might
be inclined to discount such unqualified praise, on the plea that the
men were specially chosen, could easily be silenced.  The specially
selected personnel were certainly picked {264} with difficulty, not
because the desired qualities were rare, but for exactly the opposite
reason.  The Grand Fleet and naval bases contained many thousands of
such men; the embarrassment lay in deciding who of these thousands
should be taken to make up the seventeen hundred and eighty personnel
required.  But the latter were only required for some ten vessels out
of one hundred and sixty-two; required because those ten vessels were
out of commission and therefore had no crews.  The remaining one
hundred and fifty-two vessels and craft took part in the operation with
their ordinary crews, and I repeat that the behaviour of the crews of
_all_ units was exemplary.

But co-operation between units, and efficiency of individuals, are not
alone sufficient to ensure success.  Absolute confidence and perfect
co-operation between officers and men, founded on true discipline, is
of vital importance.  Without these, little or nothing can be achieved
in war.  The seeds of these vital requirements were sown by our
forefathers.  Those of our predecessors who, although too old to serve
in the Great War, were still in the land of the living had reason to
feel proud at the success attained by their pupils.

There is one other human aspect which cannot be omitted without leaving
a serious blank in these pages.  That aspect is the one of Leadership.

Leadership has been defined as that power in a man which causes others
to follow him irrespective of the direction in which he leads.

It would be a presumption, almost amounting to an impertinence, for me
to endeavour to measure out the praise which is due to the Vice-Admiral
in command of the enterprise, now Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes.  {265}
The reader will understand my difficulty.  In past history, again and
again, it was manifest that some of the outstanding factors which led
to success were the personality of the leader, the supreme confidence
in him held by all ranks, his realisation of the powers and limits of
his subordinates, his personal courage, and his intensity of purpose.
The outstanding factors which brought success on the particular
occasion described in this book have served to repeat and illustrate
these old historical lessons.

A few more words and I shall have finished.

I venture to suggest that this particular exploit provides just one
more example, such as are recorded again and again in the histories of
most civilised countries, of what can be accomplished in the face of
difficulty.  Unfortunately, when hostilities cease, we are prone to
forget, not only the sacrifices by which successes were achieved, but
also the principles which guided us in the achievement.  We are all
ready enough to admit that confidence and co-operation are of prime
necessity for the preservation of our lives and our interests when
danger threatens us in war, but, somehow, when the welfare of
communities is threatened in days of so-called peace, by international
suspicions, by revolutionary doctrines, by economic difficulties, by
unemployment, and by political schisms, we weaken ourselves as a result
of deconcentrating into numberless camps, one against the other, in
direct opposition to those fundamental principles which are the root
cause of our existence.

It is all very strange, and, I suppose, very human, for nothing is
stranger than humanity.  How many of us realise that our superiority
over the rest of the {266} animal world is directly attributable to the
fact that human beings, alone, have sufficient understanding to combine
when danger threatens?  Having successfully combined for the greatest
of all causes, are we now to revert to the instincts of the inferior
animals?  Are we to persuade ourselves that co-operation merely results
from paper treaties rather than from a common spirit, forgetting that
officers and men, armies and navies, needed no signed agreements
between them for the overthrow of the greatest menace to civilisation
that the world has ever seen?

The Great War is over; is a Great Peace to follow?

What is our object?  Surely it is the welfare of civilised communities
and the progress of those who are less enlightened.

There will always be secondary objects calculated to divert us from our
purpose.  There will always be individuals who, for their own ends,
will endeavour to sow discord and confuse the issue.  It is of
paramount importance that we keep our object in view, and that we
cultivate intensity of purpose and wholeheartedness, without which our
object is unattainable.

We know that the right spirit exists, but it is of little value if we
keep it locked away within us until disaster is imminent; the mere fact
of its existence cannot keep us free from danger any more than the
existence of medicine stored at the apothecary's can protect us from
infection and illness.

Let each one of us, each class, each sect, each nation, each group of
nations, do all that is humanly possible to foster that spirit, to
further mutual {267} understanding, to breed confidence in one another,
and to co-operate for the weal of all.

Without such confidence and co-operation success is impossible; with
them, our well-being is assured.




The following vessels and craft took part in the simultaneous blocking
operations at Zeebrugge and Ostende.


(_a_) _Special services during the oversea voyage_

Aerial Escort--
  61st Wing of Royal Air Force.
Other services--
  Special service vessel Lingfield.  Motor Launches Nos. 555, 557.

(_b_) _Off shore forces_

Outer Patrol--
  Destroyers--_Scott, Ulleswater, Teazer, Stork_.
Long-range Bombardment--
  Monitors--_Erebus, Terror_.
  Destroyers--_Termagant, Truculent, Manly_.

(_c_) _Inshore forces_

  Destroyer--_Warwick_ (Flag of Vice-Admiral R. J. B. Keyes).
  Light Cruisers--_Thetis, Intrepid, Iphigenia_.
Storming Vessels--
  Light Cruiser--_Vindictive_.
  Special vessels--_Iris, Daffodil_.
Attack on Viaduct--
  Submarines--C1, C3, and one picket boat.
Aerial Attack--
  Aircraft--65th Wing, Royal Air Force.
Other Operations--
  Destroyers--_Phoebe, North Star, Trident, Mansfield,
    Whirlwind, Myngs, Felox, Morris, Moorsom, Melpomene_.


  Motor Launches--Nos. 79, 110, 121, 128, 223, 239,
    241, 252, 258, 262, 272, 280, 282, 308, 314, 345, 397,
    416, 420, 422, 424, 513, 525, 526, 533, 549, 552, 558,
    560, 561, 562.
  Coastal Motor Boats--Nos. 5, 7, 15, 16A, 17A, 21B,
    226, 236, 24A, 25BD, 266, 27A, 28A, 306, 32A, 35A.


(_a_) _Bombarding forces_

  _Marshall Soult, Lord Clive, Prince Eugene, General Craufurd,
    M. 24, M. 26, M. 21_.
  _Mentor, Lightfoot, Zubian_.
Motor Launches--
  Nos. 249, 448, 538, and three others.
French Destroyers and Torpedo Boats--
  _Lestin, Roux, Bouclier_, and Torpedo Boats Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 34.
French Motor Launches--Nos. 1, 2, 33, 34.  British Siege Guns in

(_b_) _Inshore forces_

  Light Cruisers--_Sirius, Brilliant_.
  _Swift, Faulknor, Matchless, Mastiff, Afridi, Tempest, Tetrarch_.
Motor Launches--
  Nos. 11, 16, 17, 22, 23, 30, 60, 105, 254, 274, 276, 279,
    283, 429, 512, 532, 551, 556.
Coastal Motor Boats--
  Nos. 2, 4, 10, 12, 19, 20, 20A, 34A.


Forces from Harwich--
  Light Cruisers, seven.
  Leaders, two.
  Destroyers, fourteen.



Acetylene gas, use of, for salvage, 47, 52

Adams, Lieut.-Comdr. B. F., R.N., 187, 188, 200, 201

Admiralty, Board of, responsibility of, 69

Aerial attack--
  at first attempt, 146, 147
  at final attempt, 171

_Afridi_, H.M.S., App.

  German in Flanders, 6, 41
  utility in defence, 40, 41

Allied lines of communication, 3, 12, 13

Anchoring of _Vindictive_, 184

Approach, the story of the, 173 _ff._

Astronomical conditions, 134

Attack, expected duration of, 132, 134

  the first, 141 _ff._, 155
  the second, 153, 154
  the final start, 165

_Attentive_, H.M.S., App.

Babb, Sub-Lieut, R.N., 230

Bamford, Captain E., R.M.L.I., 203

Barrage firing from coast batteries, 37

Bases, use of advanced, 19

Beatty, Admiral Sir David, 63, 104, 105, 107, 108

Billyard-Leake, Lieut. Edward W., R.N., 226, 231, 234, 235

Blake, Able-Seaman F. E., R.N., 209

Blake, Sub-Lieut. L. R., R.N.R., 218

  buoy, 174, 175, 242
  description, 8, 9
  German craft at, 11, 12, 190

  alternative methods of, 17, 42, 43
  favourable position for, 44
  influence of current, 57
  previous attempts elsewhere, 54-56, 58
  summary of difficulties, 41, 56

  capabilities of, 49, 52, 69, 70
  credit due to, 73, 234, 235
  difficulty of sinking, 56, 57, 58
  preparatory work in, 52, 100
  types of, 45-47, 69, 70
  See _Thetis, Intrepid, Iphigenia_

Blockship's crews, disembarkation of surplus, 124, 125, 170, 171

Boddie, Engineer Lieut.-Comdr., R.N., 228

  by our monitors, 16, 84, 174, 175
  previous attempts at, 35, 43, 44

Bonham-Carter, Lieut. Stuart S., R.N., 226, 228, 230, 234, 235

_Botha_, H.M.S., 91; App.

_Bouclier_, French destroyer, App.

Bowen, Lieut. G., 225

Bradford, Lieut. George N., R.N., 206, 207

_Brilliant_, H.M.S., 70, 143, 246; App.

British morale, effect on, 258, 259

Brock, Wing-Commander Frank, R.N.A.S., 98, 115, 116, 153, 187, 200

Bruges, 9, 10, 11, 270

_Brussels_, merchant steamer, 29

Buckley, Yeoman of Signals John, R.N., 189, 190

Buoys, lack of dependence on, 8, 91, 92

Bury, Engineer Lieut.-Comdr. W. A., R.N., 184, 243

Calais, 13

Cameroon River, German attempt to block, 58

Campbell, Lieut. H. G., R.N., 185, 188, 189, 240, 245

Campbell, Commander V. L. A., R.N., 220

Canal system in Flanders, 9-11

Casualties, British, 253, 254

Cement, use of, in blockships, 52

Chappell, Lieut.-Comdr., R.N.V.R., 224

Chevallier, Sub-Lieut. F. E., R.N., 205

Clerical work, 140

Coast defences, German, 35-38

Coastal Motor Boats, 144, 145, 149-151
  No. 5, 219; App.
  No. 7, 218, 233; App.
  No. 16, 217; App.
  Nos. 21, 25, 26, 219; App.
  No. 22B, 217; App.
  No. 23B, 217, 232; App.
  No. 32, 219, 220; App.
  Nos. 2, 4, 10, 12, 15, 17A, 19, 20, 24A,
    27A, 28A, 29A, 30B, 34A, 35A; App.

Collins, Captain Ralph, R.N., 224

Command of the sea, 3, 4

Compasses, damage to--in _Vindictive_, 239, 240

Concentration, 144, 145, 262

Cooke, Lieut. F. T. V., R.M.L.I., 203

Co-operation, value of, 264

Cordner, Major, R.M.L.I., 182

Cory-Wright, Lieut., R.N., 230

Crews, size of, in blockships, 86, 124.

_Daffodil_, H.M.S.--
  choice of, 79, 80
  duties of, 81, 86, 176
  fitting out of, 100, 108, 109, 118, 119
  previous history, 80
  proceedings of, 168, 173, 185, 188, 189, 199, 205, 237, 240
  retirement of, 245

Dallas-Brooks, Captain Reginald, R.M.A., 192, 193, 194

Darkness, use of, 37, 38, 132

Davidson, Captain A. P., R.N., 111

Deane, Lieut. Percy T., R.N.V.R., 232, 233

Defence measures, 61, 62

Defences, summary of German, 41

  object of, 76, 77, 195, 196
  training for, 111, 112
  the work of, 189, 205

  at Blankenberghe, 9
  in entrance channel at Zeebrugge, 48, 49, 131

Destroyers, 84, 220, 221

D'Eyncourt, Sir Tennyson, 100

Dickinson, Lieut.-Comdr. C. C., R.N., 111, 205

Diversions, 59, 60, 61, 196, 208, 279
  practibility of using, 61

Douglas, Captain H. P., R.N., 90 _n._

  the return to, 243, 244
  the reception at, 244

Dover Patrol--
  memorials, 15
  morale, 96, 97
  work of, 13, 14, 15, 97, 98

Dover Straits, difficulty of closing, 13, 14

Dunkerque, 13

Eagles, Major C. E. E., R.M.L.I., 208

Eastlake, Lieut. A. L., attached R.E., 186, 187

Edwards, Commander, R.N.V.R., 182

Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Bertram N., R.M.L.I., 111, 112, 128, 182

Endurance of German submarines, 4, 5

_Erebus_, H.M.S., 174; App.

_Faulknor_, H.M.S.; App.

Finch, Sergeant, R.M.L.I., 192

Flame-throwers in _Vindictive_, 115, 186, 187

Flanders Coast--
  description of, 6, 7, 8, 22, 24, 25
  value to Germany, 5-7, 10-12

Fog, effect on attackers, 60, 175
  effect on defence, 59, 175

Fogs, artificial, 59, 60

Franks, Lieut. Ivor B., R.N., 110

French motor launches Nos. 1, 2, 33, 34;  App.

French Torpedo Boats Nos. 1, 2, 3, 34; App.

Fuel, 4

Function of the Navy, 3

Gas, poison, 60

Geddes, Sir Eric, 157

_General Craufurd_, H.M.S.; App.

Geographical situation, 6, 7

German bases in Flanders, 6, 10, 29

German craft based on Flanders, 6

German High Seas Fleet, 3, 4, 19, 21, 94, 95

German morale before the attack, 96, 97, 104

German morale after the attack, 255-257

German reports of the attack, 250, 251

German submarines, 4, 5, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16

Gibbs, Commander Valentine F., R.N., 185, 207, 208

Godsal, Commander A. E., R.N., 42, 246, 247

Goeben battery, 204

Gore-Langton, Lieut-Commander Hubert E., R.N., 220, 223

Grand Fleet--
  duties of, 94, 95
  work of, 102, 103

Groynes, 7, 24, 25

Guerre de Course tactics, 5

Halahan, Captain H. C., R.N., 111, 114, 116, 128, 182, 201

Hardy, Lieut.-Comdr. H. N. M., R.N., 246

Harrison, Lieut.-Comdr. A. L., R.N., 200, 201, 202

Harwich, forces from; App.

Haselfoot, Lieut.-Comdr. F. E. B., R.N., 90 _n._

Hawkings, Lieut. Claude E. K., R.N., 206

Heligoland, 19

Helyar, Lieut.-Comdr. Kenneth C., R.N., 220, 222, 223

Henderson, Lieut. Oscar, R.N., 209, 245

_Hermione_, cutting out of--in 1799, 54, 55

Hewett, Lieutenant Graham S., R.N.V.R., 194

Hilton-Young, Lieut. E., R.N.V.R., 196

_Hindustan_, H.M.S., 111, 118, 119, 120, 125, 127; App.

  lack of encouragement from, 58
  object of studying, 54

Historical analogies, 54-56, 58

Howitzers in _Vindictive_, 79, 98, 193, 194

Hydrographic Department, 91

Initiative, 89, 149, 150

Instructions, the art of writing, 66,67

_Intrepid_, H.M.S., 70, 143, 170, 228, 229-231, 232, 234; App.

_Iphigenia_, H.M.S., 70, 143, 171, 228,
  229, 231, 232, 234, 241, 243-251; App.

_Iris_, H.M.S.--
  choice of, 79, 80
  duties of, 81, 86
  fitting out of, 100, 108, 109, 118, 119
  proceedings of, 168, 173, 185, 205-209
  retirement of, 245, 246

Jakobynessen battery, 37

Jellicoe, Admiral Sir John, R.N., 17, 157

Kaiser's visit to Zeebrugge, 252

Kaiser Wilhelm battery, 204

Keyes, Vice-Admiral Roger J. B., R.N., 14, 63, 109, 113, 114, 167,
    168, 220, 243, 246, 263, 264, 265, 282
  appreciation of, 63, 68, 69
  connection with planning, 67, 68, 82
  postponement decision, 147, 148

Lamplough, Lieut. C. R. W., R.M.L.I., 203

Leadership, 264, 265

_Lestin_, French destroyer; App.

_Lightfoot_, H.M.S.; App.

Lines of communication, 3, 12, 13, 96

_Lingfield_, H.M.S.; App.

Littleton, Lieut. H. A., R.N.V.R., 232, 233

_Lord Clive_, H.M.S.; App.

Lock gate, 10, 22, 28, 43, 44, 49

Losses, British material, 253, 254

MacVean, Lieut. D. E. J., R.N.V.R., 217

Mails, precautions, 120

_Manly_, H.M.S.; App.

_Mansfield_, H.M.S., 224; App.

Marine Artillery, 104, 112, 113, 126, 192-194
  Infantry, 104, 111, 112, 126

Marines, embarkation of, 118, 119

_Marshal Soult_, H.M.S.; App.

Martinique, attack on--in 1794, 54, 55

_Mastiff_, H.M.S.; App.

_Matchless_, H.M.S.; App.

Material results obtained, 249-253.

Matériel, relation to personnel, 181

McCutcheon, Staff Surgeon, R.N., 197, 198

McKenzie, Able Seaman, 202

Medical, 197, 198

Meikle, Engineer Sub-Lieut., R.N., 230

_Melpomene_, H.M.S., 224; App.

_Mentor_, H.M.S.; App.

Mercantile Marine, appreciation, 143, 144

_Merrimac_, U.S. steamer, 54, 58, 88

Meteorological conditions, 131

Military training, 112, 113

Minefields, German, 38, 39

  effect of, 93, 94, 173
  precautions against, 94

Mine-sweepers, 6, 39, 94

Monitors, 36, 146, 174

Monitors: M. 21, M. 24, M. 26; App.

Moon, state of, 134

_Moorsom_, H.M.S., 224, 242, 243; App.

Moral results obtained, 255-260

Morale, 96, 97

_Morris_, H.M.S., 224; App.

Motor launches, 144, 225, 240

Motor launches:--
  No. 110, 225; App.
  No. 128, 224; App.
  No. 282, 230, 231, 232, 233, 234; App.
  No. 308, 225; App.
  No. 424, 224; App.
  No. 526, 229, 232, 233; App.
  No. 558, 224, 226; App.
  Nos. 11, 16, 17, 22, 23, 30, 60, 79,
    105, 121, 223, 239, 241, 249, 252,
    254, 258, 262, 272, 274, 276, 279,
    280, 283, 314, 345, 397, 416, 420,
    422, 429, 448, 512, 513, 525, 532,
    533, 538, 549, 551, 552, 555, 556,
    557, 560, 561, 562; App.

_Myngs_, H.M.S., 224; App.

Napoleon's maxim, 95

Navigation, coastal, 56, 57
  difficulties and dangers, 7, 8, 40, 41
  importance of accuracy, 90 _ff._, 178
  open sea, 56

Nelson, Lord, 55, 147, 148

Newbold, Lieut. Aubrey C., R.N., 210, 214

Nieuport, 6, 7, 8

_North Star_, H.M.S., 220, 221, 222, 223; App.

Objectives, difficulty of locating, 42, 56, 71

Objects, secondary, 77

Offensive measures, 16, 17, 43, 262

Officers, choice of, 106, 107

  art of writing, 66, 67
  the drafting of the, 66, 67, 140, 156, 166

Osborne, Commander E. O. B. S., R.N., 178

  attack on, in 1798, 54, 55, 56
  description of, 9, 10, 11, 12
  difficulty of locating entrance, 42, 71
  reason for blocking, 42
  reason for omitting story, 41, 42

Outhwaite, Sub-Lieut. C., R.N.V.R.,  219

Patrol craft, German, 40, 96

Peace, 266

Period available for attack, 134 Personnel, remarks on behaviour, 263,
  selection of, 102 ff.
  training of, 112, 125, 126

_Phoebe_, H.M.S., 220-224; App.

Photography, 129, 130, 246

  credit for, 17, 18, 19
  how built up, 262
  inception, 17, 18, 67
  history of, 17, 18, 67, 68
  modifications of, 65
  previous suggestions, 17, 70
  various stages of, 64 _ff._, 72, 76

Plans department, 17, 67

Poison gas, 60

Port Arthur, attempts to block, 54, 56, 58

Postponement, first, 148
  second, 154

Power, Rear Admiral L. E., R.N., 100

  preliminary, 125 _ff._
  final, 145, 167, 168

Preservation of life, 87

_Prince Eugene_, H.M.S.; App.

Printing the orders, 140

Puerto Cabello, attack on, in 1799, 54

Pyrotechnic Brigade, 194

Rain, effect of, 171, 172, 173

Rescue of men from Mole, 218

Rescue work, 87, 88, 89, 132, 229 _ff._, 244-249
  vessels, 84

  material, 249-253
  moral, 255-260

Retirement, 132, 252-260

Rigby, Lieut. Charles N. B., R.M.A., 191, 192

Robinson, Lieut. J. W., R.N.V.R., 224

Robinson, Lieut. O., R.N.V.R., 224

Rocket apparatus, 194

Rodman, Rear Admiral Hugh, U.S.N., 107, 108

Rosoman, Lieut.-Comdr. R. R., R.N., 176, 184, 188, 238, 239, 242, 259

_Roux_, French destroyer; App.

Royal Air Force--
  61st Wing, 85, 130
  65th Wing, 85, 146

Royal Naval Reserve, 130, 263

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, 130, 263

Rufigi River, attempt to block, 54

St. George for England, 169

  effect of silt on, 23, 24, 25, 28, 51
  German attempts, 251
  importance of, 44, 45
  previous experience, 25
  remarks on, 25, 26, 44 _ff._, 251, 252

Sandford, Lieut-Comdr. F. H., R.N., 213, 214

Sandford, Lieut. R. D., R.N., 210, 211, 213

Santiago, attempt to block in 1898, 54, 56, 58

_Scott_, H.M.S.; App.

Seamanship, importance of, 41, 57, 58

Seaplane base, German, 12

Secrecy, 100, 111, 120, 121, 155

Secret, divulging the, 108, 119, 120

Shoals, 7, 41

Siege guns, 84

Signalling difficulties, 137, 138

Silt, description, 23, 24
  effect of, 24, 28, 51

_Sirius_, H.M.S., 70, 143, 246; App.

Smith, Petty Officer, R.N., 209

Smoke, artificial--
  limitations of, 59, 60, 99
  use of, 59, 60, 83, 99, 100, 175, 176, 208, 216, 217, 218, 246

Smoke-screen vessels, 83, 175

Sneyd, Commander R. S., R.N., 226, 228, 229, 235

Souvenir hunters, 248

Staff, operational duties, 66, 67, 139

Star shell, 38, 175

Stonewall Jackson's maxim, 60, 61

_Stork_, H.M.S.; App.

Storming the Mole, 186, 187, 188, 200-204, 213

  attack on viaduct, 82, 100
  defensive use, 40
  German, 4, 40
  shelters, 10, 11

  C1, 210, 211, 214; App.
  C3, 210-211, 213, 215, 224; App.

Success, chances of, 54, 62

Supporting squadrons, 146

Surprise, 59, 60, 61, 262

Surveys, 7, 91

_Swift_, H.M.S.; App.

Swin Deep, 118, 153

Synchronisation of events, 137, 138, 170

_Teazer_, H.M.S.; App.

_Tempest_, H.M.S.; App.

Teneriffe, Nelson's attack on--in 1797, 54, 55

_Termagant_, H.M.S.; App.

_Terror_, H.M.S., 174; App.

_Tetrarch_, H.M.S.; App.

_Thetis_, H.M.S., 70, 143, 171, 226 _ff._, 233; App.

Tidal stream--
  description, 7, 24, 30, 74
  effect, 24, 92, 174, 183

Tide, rise and fall, 8, 48, 49

Tigris River, blocking of, 58

Time factor, 137-139

Time table, 138, 156

Tomkinson, Captain Wilfred, R.N., 220

  necessity for, 142
  of _Iris_ and _Daffodil_, 142, 143, 173

Trench raid, analogy, 112, 113, 265

_Trident_, H.M.S., 224, 245; App.

_Truculent_, H.M.S.; App.

_Ulleswater_, H.M.S.; App.

United States--
  battle squadron, 107
  personnel, 107, 108

_Velox_, H.M.S., 224; App.

  attack on, 194, 195, 210-215
  description, 23, 25, 82, 83

_Vindictive_, H.M.S.--
  anchoring, 184
  attack on Ostende, 247
  choice of, 76, 126
  command of, 114
  damage, 181, 182, 198, 238, 239, 241, 255, 256
  fitting out of, 77-79, 100, 110
  position at Mole, 128, 129, 202, 203
  proceedings of, 143, 148, 150, 170, 173, 176, 179 _ff._, 200 _ff._
  retirement of, 230 ff.

Visibility, 136, 165

  for danger, 89, 122-125, 189, 202
  how arranged, 104, 105, 122, 123

Von Capelle, Admiral, 158

Walcheren expedition, 156

Walker, Lieut. H. T. C., R.N., 190

_Warwick_, H.M.S., 144, 168, 173, 220, 221, 222, 233, 243; App.

Weather, vagaries of, 41, 93, 246

Weller, Major B. G., R.M.L.I., 202

Welman, Lieut. A. P., R.N., 217

Wemyss, Admiral Sir Rosslyn, R.N., 157

_Whirlwind_, H.M.S., 224, 230; App.

Wind, importance of direction, 60, 131, 176

Wounded, behaviour of, 196, 197

Youlton, Petty Officer, E. G., R.N., 238, 242

Young, Lieut.-Comdr., R.N.V.R., 225

Yser Canal, 7

Zeebrugge, 7, 8, 9, 11
  batteries, 28, 29, 31, 33
  craft based at, 11, 32
  German belief in security at, 33, 34
  German constructions at, 26, 28, 29
  canal, 10, 22
  canal lock, 22, 29, 43, 44, 49
  navigable channel, 28, 49
  obstruction and boom, 32, 33, 41, 227
  tidal harbour, 22
  village, 22

Zeebrugge Mole, description, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27
  approach to, 27-30
  attack on: _see_ Storming the Mole
  buildings on, 26, 28, 29, 32, 183
  currents alongside, 30
  garrison, 32, 81, 82
  lighthouse extension, 27
  outer wall, 26-28, 73, 74, 76
  peace use, 22
  seaplane base, 29, 32
  souvenir, 244, 245
  viaduct, 23, 25
  _Vindictive's_ position, 128, 129, 202, 203
  war use, 29, 30

Zero time, meaning and object, 170, 173

Zone of fire, German batteries, 30

_Zubian_, H.M.S.; App.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Blocking of Zeebrugge" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.