Primary Documents - British Admiralty Statement on the Ostend Raid, 11 May 1918
Reproduced below is the text of the official British Admiralty report on the Royal Navy's 9 May 1918 raid upon the German-held port of Ostend, a follow-up action to the previous month's raid upon Zeebrugge and Ostend - both used as a base for submarines and light shipping.
The initial raid was originally proposed by British First Sea Lord, Sir John Jellicoe, and formulated by Dover port commander Sir Roger Keyes, after Jellicoe stated to the British cabinet his view that Britain's continuing ability to wage war depended upon blocking the exits from both ports, and thus denying German submarines convenient bases.
The main force of the attack was to be at Zeebrugge, with a smaller raid launched against Ostend. In the event the outcome of the raid upon Zeebrugge was inconclusive. The raid upon Ostend was however a clear failure, which prompted a follow-up attack on 9 May - also regarded as a failure (in spite of Allied propaganda to the contrary). Neither raids hindered German operations from at each port for more than a few days.
Click here and here to read memoirs of the Zeebrugge raid. Click here to read the British Admiralty's report into the initial raid at Zeebrugge and Ostend. Click here to read former German naval minister Alfred von Tirpitz's official report.
British Admiralty Statement on the Raid Upon Ostend, 11 May 1918
The Sirius lies in the surf some two thousand yards east of the entrance to Ostend Harbor, which she failed so gallantly to block; and when, in the early hours of yesterday morning, the Vindictive groped her way through the smoke-screen and headed for the entrance, it was as though the old fighting-ship awoke and looked on.
A coastal motor-boat had visited her and hung a flare in her slack and rusty rigging; and that eye of unsteady fire, paling in the blaze of the star-shells or reddening through the drift of the smoke, watched the whole great enterprise, from the moment when it hung in doubt to its ultimate triumphant success.
The planning and execution of that success had been entrusted by the Vice-Admiral, Sir Roger Keyes, to Commodore Hubert Lynes, C.M.G., who directed the previous attempt to block the harbour with Sirius and Brilliant.
There was no preliminary bombardment of the harbour and the batteries as before the previous attempt; that was to be the first element in the surprise.
A timetable had been laid down for every stage of the operation; and the staff work beforehand had even included precise orders for the laying of the smoke barrage, with plans calculated for every direction of wind.
The monitors, anchored in their firing-positions far to seaward, awaited their signal; the great siege batteries of the Royal Marine Artillery in Flanders - among the largest guns that have ever been placed on land-mountings - stood by likewise to neutralize the big German artillery along the coast; and the airmen who were to collaborate with an aerial bombardment of the town waited somewhere in the darkness overhead. The destroyers patrolled to seaward of the small craft.
The Vindictive, always at that solemn gait of hers, found the flagship's light-buoy and bore up for where a coastal motor-boat was waiting by a calcium flare upon the old position of the Stroom Bank buoy.
Four minutes before she arrived there, and fifteen minutes only before she was due at the harbour mouth, the signal for the guns to open was given. Two motor-boats dashed in towards the ends of the high wooden piers and torpedoed them.
There was a machine-gun on the end of the western pier, and that vanished in the roar and the leap of flame and debris which called to the guns. Over the town a flame suddenly appeared high in air, and sank slowly earthwards - the signal that the aeroplanes had seen and understood; and almost coincident with their first bombs came the first shells whooping up from the monitors at sea.
The surprise part of the attack was sprung.
The surprise, despite the Germans' watchfulness, seems to have been complete. Up till the moment when the torpedoes of the motor-boats exploded, there had not been a shot from the land - only occasional routine star-shells.
The motor-launches were doing their work magnificently. These pocket-warships, manned by officers and men of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, are specialists at smoke-production; they built to either hand of the Vindictive's course the likeness of a dense sea-mist driving landward with the wind.
The star-shells paled and were lost as they sank in it; the beams of the searchlights seemed to break off short upon its front. It blinded the observers of the great batteries when suddenly, upon the warning of the explosions, the guns roared into action.
It was then that those on the destroyers became aware that what had seemed to be merely smoke was wet and cold, that the rigging was beginning to drip, that there were no longer any stars - a sea-fog had come on.
The destroyers had to turn on their lights and use their sirens to keep in touch with each other; the air attack was suspended, and Vindictive, with some distance yet to go, found herself in gross darkness.
There were motor-boats to either side of her, escorting her to the entrance, and these were supplied with what are called Dover flares - enormous lights capable of illuminating square miles of sea at once. A pistol was fired as a signal to light these; but the fog and the smoke together were too dense for even the flares.
Vindictive then put her helm over and started to cruise to find the entrance. Twice in her wanderings she must have passed across it, and at her third turn, upon reaching the position at which she had first lost her way, there came a rift in the mist, and she saw the entrance clear, the piers to either side and the opening dead ahead.
The inevitable motor-boat dashed up, raced on into the opening under a heavy and momentarily growing fire, and planted a flare on the water between the piers. Vindictive steamed over it and on. She was in.
The guns found her at once. She was hit every few seconds after she entered, her scarred hull broken afresh in a score of places and her decks and upper works swept.
The after-control was demolished by a shell which killed all its occupants. Upper and lower bridges and chart-room were swept by bullets. The Vindictive laid her battered nose to the eastern pier and prepared to swing her 320 feet of length across the channel. She was soon lying at an angle of about forty degrees to the pier, and seemed to be hard and fast, so that it was impossible to bring her further round.
The engineer, who was the last to leave the engine-room, blew the main charges by the switch installed aft. Those on board felt the old ship shrug as the explosive tore the bottom plates and the bulkheads from her; she sank about six feet and lay upon the bottom of the channel. Her work was done.
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
Duck-Boards comprised slatted wooden planking used for flooring trenches or muddy ground.
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