British Naval Raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend, 1918

Zeebrugge Raid 1918


Blocking Raid on Zeebrugge Port

On St. George's Day 23 April 1918 British naval forces carried out a blocking raid on Zeebrugge. The aim was:

  1. to block the Bruges ship-canal at its entrance into the harbour at Zeebrugge;
  2. to block the entrance to Ostend harbour from the sea; and
  3. to inflict as much damage as possible upon the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend.

The operation was intended to block the access of German shipping and submarines in and out of both ports. German submarines, torpedo boats and ships were based at the inland docks in Bruges and were using the Bruges shipping canal to access the English Channel via the two sea entrances at Zeebrugge and Ostend. Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, commander of the Dover Patrol, devised a plan to block the ports. The operation would take place with about 75 ships and over 1,700 men in a night-time operation. The state of the tide, calm weather, favourable wind for the smoke screen and an absence of fog were crucial to the plan and its timing.

Diversionary Operation on Zeebrugge Mole

The raid on Zeebrugge harbour began at one minute after midnight on 23 April with the diversionary operation to land a force of Royal Marines at the mile-long Zeebrugge Mole. The men landing on the Mole formed a storming force and a demolition force to destroy the German gun batteries, seaplane station and defences on it. They were carried to the Mole by the old cruiser “Vindictive” and two Mersey River passenger ferries, the “Daffodil” and “Iris II”. The primary duty of the “Daffodil” was to push “Vindictive” up against the Mole, then pull alongside the Mole herself and her Marine force would disembark onto the Mole. The Acting Captain of the “Vindictive” was Commander Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter, RN.

As events unfolded the “Vindictive” was already under fire as she arrived and there were casualties to many of the leading Marines and commanders of this storming operation. The smoke screen was less effective than planned because the wind changed direction half an hour before the arrival of “Vindictive” at the Mole. “Daffodil” had to continue pushing “Vindictive” against the Mole and her Marines had to disembark via the bow onto “Vindictive” and then onto the Mole. “Iris II” could not land her Marines directly onto the Mole either, and great bravery and casualties were suffered by the men trying to secure her to the Mole. She attempted to go alongside “Vindictive” instead but only a few men managed to get onto “Vindictive” before she was withdrawn. Many casualties were suffered by the crews manning the guns on “Vindictive”.

Demolition of the Viaduct Bridge by Submarine C3

At 12.15 hrs the viaduct bridge connecting the Mole to the shore had been blown up by a daring submarine operation. HMS C3, commanded by Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford, RN, wedged itself between the iron pillars of the bridge, fuses were set, the crew were taken on board a launch and the submarine, packed with explosives, blew up taking most of the bridge with it. This was done to prevent German reinforcements coming onto the Mole to put a stop to the British Marines carrying out the damage on the Mole.

The storming force and demolition force were on the Mole for about an hour, where casualties were suffered. By 01.15 hrs “Vindictive”, “Daffodil” and “Iris II” had collected the survivors and were clear of the Mole on their way back to Dover.

Sinking of Three Cruisers Filled with Concrete

The diversionary attack on the Mole was to distract the Germans' attention away from the main objective of the raid, this being to sink three old British ships filled with concrete to block the access to the ship-canal. These three ships were “Thetis”, “Intrepid” and “Iphigenia”. Between 12.15 and 12.45 hrs all three blocking ships were sunk. The “Intrepid” was sunk in the most successful place of the three in the ship-canal. The crews of the blocking ships and submarine C3 were rescued by motor launches.

The British deemed the operation a success, although the sunken ships did not create a 100% block on the German access to the submarine pens.

British Casualties

The casualties to officers and men were 176 killed, 412 wounded, 49 missing.

Gallantry Awards

The following officers and men were awarded the Victoria Cross:

A large number of gallantry awards were made following the raid. A full list is provided by the excellent website at


Ostend Raid 23 April 1918

23 Apr 1918

Blocking Raid on Ostend Harbour

A simultaneous raid at Ostend at midnight on 22/23 April 1918 had not gone to plan. The two blocking ships “Brilliant” and “Sirius” did not find their objective, ran ashore and had to be sunk there. This was due to a change in the wind affecting the smoke screen plus the unknown recent movement of the Stroom Bank Buoy marking the channel into Ostend harbour. The two blocking ships were unknowingly 2,200m (2,400 yards) too far to the east when they turned to make for the harbour and consequently ran aground on the shore.

Ostend Raid 10 May 1918

09-May-1918 — 10-May-1918

A Second Attempt

It was agreed that Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes could set up a repeated attempt to block Ostend harbour. The second raid on Ostend would need to be carried out within four days of the 23 April operation before the suitable tide and hours of darkness remained similar to the plans of 22/23 April. Repairs and refitting were carried out on “Vindictive” at Dover and she was filled with 200 tons of concrete. The commanders and men from the “Brilliant” and “Sirius”“ volunteered to crew the “Vindictive”, together with some of the “Vindictive” crew who had been in the 23 April raid on Zeebrugge and other volunteers, on her second, and final, run to the Belgian coast.

Due to unfavourable weather on 27/28 April the raid was postponed. A second old cruiser “Sappho” was brought into the operation and filled with cement.

Operation Goes into Action on 9 May

On the evening of 9 May the “Vindictive” and “Sappho” sailed to Dunkirk from where Commodore Lynes would command the operation on Ostend. Unfortunately the “Sappho” had an accident in the boiler room and she broke down on leaving her anchorage at Dunkirk. Unable to keep up with “Vindictive” she was taken out of the operation.

At 01.43 hrs the British naval force and Royal Air Force squadrons opened fire and dropped bombs on the Ostend shore defences. A thick sea fog suddenly descended on the area, creating problems for the ships to maintain visible contact with one another.

HMS “Vindictive” Arrives in Ostend Harbour

This time the British had put their own calcic-phosphide lit buoy to guide “Vindictive” to make the correct turn into the harbour. At 02.00 hrs “Vindictive” successfully found the entrance to the harbour, helped at the third attempt to see it by a million candle-power flare lit in the fog by one of the inshore boats in the flotilla. However, she now came under enemy fire. The Germans could not see exactly what they were firing at due to the fog and smoke, so they fired a barrage of machine gun fire from the pier heads across the entrance to the harbour. Artillery joined in from gun batteries in the coastal defences. The British destroyers in the force further out to sea fired star shells to light up the pier-heads for “Vindictive” to see to steer between as she continued on the last few minutes of her journey. The British destroyers' guns also fired on the German gun batteries. “Vindictive” was now illuminated for the German gun batteries and machine gunners and they concentrated their fire onto her.

“Vindictive” Abandoned and Sunk

Communication between the conning tower and the after control was down. The ship's captain Commander Godsal (formerly commanding the blocking ship HMS “Brilliant”) went outside the conning tower to give orders for the blocking position. He was killed when a shell exploded close to the conning tower. (His body was never found.) Lt Crutchley took command of the situation. The ship grounded at the eastern pier at a 25 degree angle. The order was given to abandon ship and blow it up there. Naval motor launches ML254 and ML276 ran into the harbour through enemy fire to pick up the surviving crew including several badly wounded.

Crew & Wounded Rescued

As HMS “Warwick” and her consorts began to withdraw to the west along the coast motor launch ML254 was taking on water. They signalled an SOS out to sea in the hope of being rescued as they had badly wounded men in the boat. Their call for help was seen, the British ships turned back and they were picked up.

By the time this rescue was completed the the tide had dropped lower and the British ships had to leave the area by a route further into the Channel that was mined by the Germans. At 04.00 hrs the “Warwick” hit a mine destroying the aft part of the ship. The wounded were taken off by HMS “Velux” and HMS “Whirlwind” towed “Warwick” back to Dover.

British Casualties

The British casualties were: 2 officers and 6 men killed; 5 officers and 25 men wounded; 2 officers and 9 men missing.

Gallantry Awards

The following officers were awarded the Victoria Cross:

A number of gallantry awards were made following the raid. A full list is provided by the excellent website at


Useful Links

Naval Operation at Zeebrugge and Ostend

Read the account of the raids in the London Gazette, where the planning, training and operation is described in detail.

The London Gazette, Despatches from the Vice-Admiral, Dover Patrol, on Zeebrugge and Ostend Operations, 22nd-23rd April, 1918, and Ostend Operations, 10th May, 1918. Second Supplement dated Wednesday 19 February 1919, pp 2519-2542:


An excellent website with lots of information including transcribed operation orders, reports, photographs, listings of casualties and commendations:


Related Topics

HMS Vindictive Memorial, Ostend

HMS Vindictive Memorial, Ostend

The bow of HMS Vindictive is preserved at Ostend in memory of the men who took part in the raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend in 1918.

Monuments & Memorials on the Yser/IJzer Battlefields & Belgian Coast

Photograph of HMS Vindictive by Marc Ryckaert and licensed under Creative Commons. (1)

The Victoria Cross

Read about the origins of this medal, the highest British award for gallantry when on Active Service.

Guide to British Awards for Gallantry or Meritorious Service in WW1

Acknowledgements & Sources

The London Gazette, Despatches from the Vice-Admiral, Dover Patrol, on Zeebrugge and Ostend Operations, 22nd-23rd April, 1918, and Ostend Operations, 10th May, 1918. Second Supplement dated Wednesday 19 February 1919, page 2519.

With grateful thanks to the resources made available by

Website: Zeebrugge & Ostend Raids 1918

(1) Photo of HMS Vindictive by Marc Ryckaert. Used under license of Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported