The St George’s Day Zeebrugge Raid, 23 April 1918
On the 6th February 1918 orders were issued for the formation of a Battalion to be raised in Deal in total secrecy for one specific operation, the 1918 St George’s Day Zeebrugge Raid. This became one of the Royal Marines’ most significant engagements of the First World War.
The Belgian port of Zeebrugge was used by the Imperial German Navy to support German U-Boats and small warships. These posed a serious threat to allied merchant and naval vessels, especially in the English Channel. Several attempts to close the ports of Flanders by bombardment had failed. As shipping losses to U-boats increased, finding a way to close the ports became urgent and the plans for the Zeebrugge raid were conceived.
Above: Crew of HMS Vindictive after the raid.
6 February 1918 orders were issued to form a Deal Battalion in secret.
Watch the Royal Navy's 100th anniversary production, set to a Bugle March entitled 'Zeebrugge', written by Captain Peter Sumner for the 50th anniversary of the Zeebrugge Raid.
This Royal Navy led operation was launched to deny access to the port by sinking obsolete block ships in the harbour entrance to prevent shipping from leaving port.
The Royal Marines storming parties for the attack on the mole at Zeebrugge were embarked on board HMS Vindictive and two adapted Mersey ferry boats – designated HMS Iris and Daffodil – at 13.30 hours on 22nd April 1918. Their task was to destroy the batteries of guns at the seaward end of the Mole in order to prevent the guns firing at the block ships that were to be sunk across the port entrance. By 12.05am on 23rd April 1918, St George’s Day, the port was successfully blocked.
Image: Zeebrugge Mole
In consequence of this action, the King conferred upon the 4th Battalion Royal Marines the signal honour of the award of two Victoria Crosses, the recipients to be selected by the ballot procedure promulgated in the Victoria Cross Royal Warrant.
It was on the Drill Field that two members of the Battalion were selected ‘by ballot of all ranks of the Battalion’ to receive these Victoria Crosses – Captain Edward Bamford DSO, RMLI and Sergeant Norman Augustus Finch.
Many of those who were killed at Zeebrugge (or who died of wounds shortly afterwards) were buried in St James Cemetery in Dover but the graves of two such men – Lieutenant William Sillitoe and Private John Bostock – will be found in Deal’s Hamilton Road Cemetery.
Zeebrugge bell presented by King Leopold of the Belgians