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The History of Caliph Vathek By William Beckford Characters: 46337

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03

Manifold as were the duties, and various as was the composition of the Dover Patrol, it was in the sealing of Zeebrugge and Ostend-among the last naval operations of the war-that its qualities of enterprise, courage, and ingenuity found their most notable expression. How the possession of these places advantaged the enemy has already been indicated in the last chapter; and their continual threat to our communications was a sufficient justification of the proposed attempt. But it was not the only one, as a brief consideration of the general position will show. Robbed of these two ports, or with their usefulness so impaired as to render them abortive, the enemy would be thrown back, from the offensive standpoint, upon his Frisian estuaries, some three hundred miles distant; while the duties of the Patrol would be so sensibly lightened as to release an appreciable number of mosquito-craft. There would in fact be fewer exits to watch; these would be more distant by many hours' steaming; and there would at once be placed at our disposal more forces with which to watch them.

On the other hand, it was an enterprise as liable to complete disaster as any that could easily have been imagined; and but little instruction and no great encouragement could be drawn from similar adventures in the past. Though scarcely comparable, perhaps, Nelson's expedition against Boulogne, while commanding in the Straits, had lamentably failed, resulting in the death of his close friend and valued subordinate, Captain Parker; while the sinking of block-ships both by Lieutenant Hobson at Santiago in the Spanish-American War, and by the Japanese at Port Arthur in their campaign against Russia, had shown how innumerable were the possible mischances that could rob such efforts of success.

Nor had our own experiences, during the war, against land-fortifications, been very satisfactory; and both Zeebrugge and Ostend, and particularly the former, were, as was well known, armed to the teeth. On the other hand, neither was a natural harbour. Each had been carved, as it were, out of the sand; and, given but a chance, nature was always ready to obliterate the channels upon which they depended. Let us consider for a moment the problem that they presented to an Admiralty desirous of sealing them.

Situated on the Belgian coast, some twelve miles apart and facing a little to the west of north, each was in reality but a sea-gate of the inland port of Bruges-the latter being the station to which the enemy destroyers and submarines were sent in parts from the German workshops; where they were assembled; and whence, by canal, they proceeded to sea by way of Zeebrugge and Ostend. Of these two exits, Zeebrugge, the northernmost, was considerably the nearer to Bruges and the more important-Zeebrugge being eight, while Ostend was eleven miles distant from their common base-and to receive an adequate impression of what was subsequently achieved there it is necessary to bear in mind its salient features.

Unlike Ostend, apart from its harbour, it possessed no civic importance, merely consisting of a few streets of houses clustering about its railway-station, locks, wharves, and store-houses, its sandy roadstead being guarded from the sea by an immensely powerful crescentic Mole. It was into this roadstead that the Bruges canal opened between heavy timbered breakwaters, having first passed through a sea-lock, some half a mile higher up. Between the two light-houses, each about twenty feet above high-water level, that stood upon the ends of these breakwaters, the canal was 200 yards wide, narrowing to a width, in the lock itself, of less than seventy feet.

Leading from the canal entrance to the tip of the Mole, on which stood a third light-house, and so out to sea, was a curved channel, about three-quarters of a mile long, kept clear by continual dredging; and this was protected both by a string of armed barges and by a system of nets on its shoreward side. It was in its great sea-wall, however, some eighty yards broad and more than a mile long, that Zeebrugge's chief strength resided; and this had been utilized, since the German occupation, to the utmost extent. Upon the seaward end of it, near the light-house, a battery of 6-inch guns had been mounted, other batteries and machine-guns being stationed at various points throughout its length. With a parapet along its outer side, some sixteen feet higher than the level of the rest of the Mole, it not only carried a railway-line but contained a seaplane shed, and shelters for stores and personnel. It was connected with the shore by a light wood and steel viaduct-a pile-work structure, allowing for the passage of the through-current necessary to prevent silting.

Emplaced upon the shore, on either side of this, were further batteries of heavy guns; while, to the north of the canal entrance, and at a point almost opposite to the tip of the Mole, was the Goeben Fort containing yet other guns covering both the Mole and the harbour. Under the lee of the parapet were dug-outs for the defenders, while, under of the lee of the Mole itself was a similar shelter for the enemy's submarines and destroyers. Nor did this exhaust the harbour's defences, since it was further protected not only by minefields but by natural shoals, always difficult to navigate, and infinitely more so in the absence of beacons.

Even to a greater extent was this last feature true of Ostend, though here the whole problem was somewhat simpler, there being no Mole, and therefore no necessity-though equally no opportunity-for a subsidiary attack. Covered, of course, from the shore by guns of all calibres-and here it should be remembered that there were 225 of these between Nieuport and the Dutch frontier-the single object in this case was to gain the entrance, before the block-ships should be discovered by the enemy, and sunk by his gunners where their presence would no do harm. Since for complete success, however, it was necessary to seal both places, and, if possible, to do so simultaneously, it will readily be seen that, in the words of Sir Eric Geddes-the successor, as First Lord of the Admiralty, to Mr. Balfour and Sir Edward Carson-it was "a particularly intricate operation which had to be worked strictly to time-table." It was also one that, for several months before, required the most arduous and secret toil.

Begun in 1917 while Sir John Jellicoe was still First Sea Lord, the plan ultimately adopted-there had been several previous ones, dropped for military reasons-was devised by Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes, then head of the Plans Division at the Admiralty. From the first it was realized of course, by all concerned that the element of surprise would be the determining factor; and it was therefore decided that the attempt to block the harbours should take place at night. It was also clear that, under modern conditions of star-shells and searchlights, an extensive use would have to be made of the recent art of throwing out smoke-screens; and fortunately, in Commander Brock, Admiral Keyes had at his disposal just the man to supply this need. A Wing-Commander in the Royal Naval Air Service, in private life Commander Brock was a partner in a well-known firm of fire-work makers; and his inventive ability had already been fruitful in more than one direction. A first-rate pilot and excellent shot, Commander Brock was a typical English sportsman; and his subsequent death during the operations, for whose success he had been so largely responsible, was a loss of the gravest description both to the navy and the empire.

The next consideration was the choosing of the block-ships, and for these the following vessels were at last selected-the Sirius and Brilliant to be sunk at Ostend, and the Thetis, Iphigenia, and Intrepid to seal the canal entrance at Zeebrugge. These were all old cruisers, and they were to be filled with cement, which when submerged would turn into concrete, fuses being so placed that they could be sunk by explosion as soon as they had reached the desired position; and it was arranged that motor-launches should accompany them in order to rescue their crews. Unfortunately Lieutenant Ivan B. Franks, who was responsible for the block-ships, was laid aside, the day before the event, by an attack of appendicitis, and, at his urgent request, his duties were undertaken by his friend, Lieutenant Billyard-Leake-a very able young officer, then barely twenty-two years of age.

So far these general arrangements were applicable to both places; but, as regarded Zeebrugge, it was decided to make a diversion in the shape of a subsidiary attack on the Mole, in which men were to be landed and to do as much damage as possible. Such an attack, it was thought, would help to draw the enemy's attention from the main effort, which was to be the sinking of the block-ships, and, apart from this, would have valuable results both material and moral. For this secondary operation, three other vessels were especially selected and fitted out-two Liverpool ferry-boats, the Iris and Daffodil, obtained by Captain Grant, not without some difficulty, owing to the natural reluctance of the Liverpool authorities and the impossibility of divulging the object for which they were wanted-and the old cruiser Vindictive. This latter vessel had been designed as a "ram" ship more than twenty years before, displacing about 5,000 tons and capable of a speed of some twenty knots. She had no armour-belt, but her bow was covered with plates two inches thick and extending fourteen feet aft, while her deck was also protected by hardened plates, covered with nickel steel, from a half to two inches thick. Originally undergunned, she had subsequently been provided with ten 6-inch guns and eight 12-pounders.

This was the vessel chosen to convey the bulk of the landing-party, and, for many weeks, under the supervision of Commander E. O. B. S. Osborne, the carpenters and engineers were hard at work upon her. An additional high deck, carrying thirteen brows or gangways, was fitted upon her port side; pom-poms and machine-guns were placed in her fighting-top; and she was provided with three howitzers and some Stokes mortars. A special flame-throwing cabin, fitted with speaking tubes, was built beside the bridge, and another on the port quarter.

It was thus to be the task of the Vindictive and her consorts to lay themselves alongside the Mole, land storming and demolition-parties, and protect these by a barrage as they advanced down the Mole; and, in order to make this attack more effective, yet a third operation was designed. This was to cut off the Mole from the mainland, thus isolating its defenders and preventing the arrival of reinforcements; and, in order to do so, it was decided to blow up the viaduct by means of an old submarine charged with high explosives. Meanwhile, the whole attempt was to be supported from out at sea by a continuous bombardment from a squadron of monitors; seaplanes and aeroplanes, weather permitting, were to render further assistance; and flotillas of destroyers were to shepherd the whole force and to hold the flanks against possible attack.

This then was the plan of campaign, one of the most daring ever conceived, and all the more so in face of the difficulty of keeping it concealed from the enemy during the long period of preparation-a difficulty enhanced in that it was not only necessary to inform each man of his particular role, but of the particular objectives of each attack and the general outline of the whole scheme. That was unavoidable since it was more than likely that, during any one of the component actions, every officer might be killed or wounded and the men themselves become responsible. Nor was it possible, even approximately, to fix a date for the enterprise, since this could only be carried out under particular conditions of wind and weather. Thus the night must be dark and the sea calm; the arrival on the other side must be at high water; and there must above all things be a following wind, since, without this, the smoke-screens would be useless. Twice, when all was ready, these conditions seemed to have come, and twice, after a start had been made, the expedition had to return; and it was not until April 22, 1918, that the final embarkation took place.

By this time Vice-Admiral Keyes had succeeded Vice-Admiral Bacon in command of the Dover Patrol; and he was therefore in personal charge of the great adventure that he had initiated and planned with such care. Every man under him was not only a volunteer fully aware of what he was about to face, but a picked man, selected and judged by as high a standard, perhaps, as the world could have provided. Flying his own flag on the destroyer Warwick, Admiral Keyes had entrusted the Vindictive to Acting Captain A. F. B. Carpenter, the Iris and the Daffodil being in the hands respectively of Commander Valentine Gibbs and Lieutenant Harold Campbell. The Marines, consisting of three companies of the Royal Marine Light Infantry and a hundred men of the Royal Marine Artillery, had been drawn from the Grand Fleet, the Chatham, Portsmouth, and Devonport Depots, and were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Bertram Elliot. The three block-ships that were to be sunk at Zeebrugge, the Thetis, Intrepid, and Iphigenia, were in charge of Commander Ralph S. Sneyd, Lieutenant Stuart Bonham-Carter, and Lieutenant E. W. Billyard-Leake; while the old submarine C3 that was to blow up the viaduct was commanded by Lieutenant R. D. Sandford. In control of the motor-launches allotted to the attack on Zeebrugge, was Admiral Keyes' flag-captain, Captain R. Collins, those at Ostend being directed by Commander Hamilton Benn, M.P.-the operations at the latter place being in charge of Commodore Hubert Lynes. Also acting in support was a large body of coastal motor-boats under Lieutenant A. E. P. Wellman, and a flotilla of destroyers under Captain Wilfred Tomkinson, the general surveying of the whole field of attack-including the fixing of targets and firing-points-being in the skilful hands of Commander H. P. Douglas and Lieutenant-Commander F. E. B. Haselfoot.

Included among the monitors were the Erebus and Terror, each mounting 15-inch guns, to operate at Zeebrugge; and the Prince Eugene, General Crauford, and Lord Clive, carrying 12-inch guns, and the Marshal Soult, carrying 15-inch guns, to assist at Ostend. To the old Vindictive Admiral Keyes had presented a horse-shoe that had been nailed for luck to her centre funnel; and, to the whole fleet, on its way across, he signalled the message, "St. George for England." Few who received that message expected to return unscathed, and in the block-ships none; but it is safe to say that, in the words of Nelson, they would not have been elsewhere that night for thousands.

Such then were the forces that, on this still dark night, safely arrived at their first rendezvous and then parted on their perilous ways, some to Zeebrugge and some to Ostend. It was at a point about fifteen miles from the Belgian coast that the two parties separated; and, since it is impossible to follow them both at once, let us confine ourselves at first to the former. Theirs was the more complicated, though, as it afterward proved, the more swiftly achieved task, the first to arrive on the scene of action, almost at the stroke of midnight, being the old cruiser Vindictive with her two stout little attendants. These, she had been towing as far as the rendezvous; but, at this point, she had cast them off, and they were now following her, under their own steam, to assist in berthing her and to land their own parties. Ahead of them the small craft had been laying their smoke-screens, the northeast wind rolling these shoreward, while already the monitors could be heard at work bombarding the coast defences with their big guns. Accustomed as he was to such visitations, this had not aroused in the enemy any particular alarm; and it was not until the Vindictive and the two ferry-boats were within 400 yards of the Mole that the off-shore wind caused the smoke-screen to lift somewhat and left them exposed to the enemy. By this time the Marines and bluejackets, ready to spring ashore, were mustered on the lower and main decks; while Colonel Elliot, Major Cordner, and Captain Chater, who were to lead the Marines, and Captain Halahan, who was in charge of the bluejackets, were waiting on the high false deck.

It was a crucial moment, for there could be no mistaking now what was the Vindictive's intention. The enemy's star-shells, soaring into the sky, broke into a baleful and crimson light; while his searchlights, that had been wavering through the darkness, instantly sprang together and fastened upon the three vessels. This, as Captain Carpenter afterward confessed, induced "an extraordinarily naked feeling," and then, from every gun that could be brought to bear, both from the Mole and the coast, there burst upon her such a fire as, given another few minutes, must inevitably have sunk her. Beneath it Colonel Elliot, Major Cordner, and Captain Halahan, all fell slain; while Captain Carpenter himself had the narrowest escape from destruction. His cap-he had left his best one at home-was two or three times over pierced by bullets, as was the case of his binoculars, slung by straps over his back; while, during the further course of the action, both his searchlight and smoke-goggles were smashed.

The surprise had so far succeeded, however, that, within less than five minutes, the Vindictive's bow was against the side of the Mole, and all but her upper works consequently protected from the severest of the enemy's fire. Safe-or comparatively so-as regarded her water-line, she was nevertheless still a point-blank target; her funnels were riddled over and over again, the one carrying the horse-shoe suffering least; the signal-room was smashed and the bridge blown to pieces, just as Commander Carpenter entered the flame-throwing cabin; and this in its turn, drawing the enemy's fire, was soon twisted and splintered in all directions. It was now raining; explosion followed explosion till the whole air quaked as if in torment; and meanwhile a new and unforeseen danger had just made itself apparent. Till the harbour was approached, the sea had been calm, but now a ground-swell was causing a "scend" against the Mole, adding tenfold not only to the difficulties of landing, but of maintaining the Vindictive at her berth. In this emergency, it was the little Daffodil that rose to and saved the situation. Her primary duty, although she carried a landing-party, had been to push the Vindictive in until the latter had been secured; but, as matters were, she had to hold her against the Mole throughout the whole hour and a quarter of her stay there. Even so, the improvised gangways that had been thrust out from the false deck were now some four feet up in the air and now crashing down from the top of the parapet; and it was across these brows, splintering under their feet, and in face of a fire that baffled description, that the Marines and bluejackets had to scramble ashore with their Lewis guns, hand-grenades, and bayonets.

Under such conditions, once a man fell, there was but little hope of his regaining his feet; and it was only a lucky chance that saved one of the officers from being thus trodden to death. This was Lieutenant H. T. C. Walker, who, with an arm blown away, had stumbled and fallen on the upper deck, the eager storming parties sweeping over him until he was happily discovered and dragged free. Let it be said at once that Lieutenant Walker bore no malice, and waved them good luck with his remaining arm. The command of the Marines had now devolved upon Major Weller; and, of the 300 or so who followed him ashore, more than half were soon to be casualties. But the landing was made good; the awkward drop from the parapet was successfully negotiated thanks to the special scaling-ladders; the barrage was put down; and they were soon at hand-to-hand grips with such of the German defenders as stayed to face them. Many of these were in the dug-outs under the parapets, but, seeing that to remain there was only to be bayoneted, they made a rush for some of their own destroyers that were hugging the lee of the Mole. But few reached these, however, thanks to the vigour of the Marines, and the fire of the machine-guns from the Vindictive's top, while one of the destroyers was damaged by hand-grenades and by shells lobbed over the Mole from the Vindictive's mortars.

Meanwhile the Vindictive was still the object of a fire that was rapidly dismantling all of her that was visible. A shell in her fighting-top killed every man at the guns there except Sergeant Finch of the Royal Marine Artillery, who was badly wounded, but who extricated himself from a pile of corpses, and worked his gun for a while single-handed. Another shell, bursting forward, put the whole of a howitzer crew out of action, and yet a third, finding the same place, destroyed the crew that followed.

Fierce as was the ordeal through which the Vindictive was passing, however, that of the Iris was even more so. Unprotected, as was her fellow the Daffodil, boring against the side of the larger Vindictive, the Iris, with her landing-party, was trying to make good her berth lower down the Mole, ahead of Captain Carpenter. Unfortunately the grapnels with which she had been provided proved to be ineffective owing to the "scend"; and, with the little boat tossing up and down, and under the fiercest fire, two of the officers, Lieutenant-Commander Bradford and Lieutenant Hawkins, climbed ashore to try and make them fast. Both were killed before they succeeded, toppling into the water between the Mole and the ship, while, a little later, a couple of shells burst aboard with disastrous results. One of these, piercing the deck, exploded among a party of Marines, waiting for the gangways to be thrust out, killing forty-nine and wounding seven; while another, wrecking the wardroom, killed four officers and twenty-six men. Her captain, Commander Gibbs, had both his legs blown away, and died in a few hours, the Iris having been forced meanwhile to change her position, and take up another astern of the Vindictive.

Before this happened, however, every man aboard her, as aboard the Vindictive, Daffodil, and upon the Mole, had been thrilled to the bone by the gigantic explosion that had blown up the viaduct lower down. With a deafening roar and a gush of flame leaping up hundreds of yards into the night, Lieutenant Sandford had told them the good tidings of his success with the old submarine. Creeping toward the viaduct, with his little crew on deck, he had made straight for an aperture between the steel-covered piles, and to the blank amazement and apparent paralysis of the Germans crowded upon the viaduct, had rammed in the submarine up to her conning-tower before lighting the fuse that was to start the explosion.

Before himself doing this, he had put off a boat, his men

needing no orders to tumble into her, followed by their commander, as soon as the fuse was fired, with the one idea of getting away as far as possible. As luck would have it, the boat's propeller fouled, and they had to rely for safety upon two oars only, pulling, as Lieutenant Sandford afterward described it, as hard as men ever pulled before. Raked by machine-gun fire and with shells plunging all round them, most of them, including Lieutenant Sandford, were wounded; but they were finally borne to safety by an attendant picket-boat under his brother Lieutenant-Commander F. Sandford.

That had taken place about fifteen minutes after the Vindictive and her consorts had reached their berths, and a few minutes before the block-ships, with Thetis leading, had rounded the light-house at the tip of the Mole. In order to assist these to find their bearings, an employee of Commander Brock, who had never before been to sea, had for some time been firing rockets from the after cabin of the Vindictive; and presently they came in sight, exposed, as the Vindictive had been, by the partial blowing-back of their smoke-screen. Steaming straight ahead for their objectives, they were therefore opposed by the intensest fire; and the spirit in which they proceeded is well illustrated by what had just taken place on board the Intrepid. It had been previously arranged that, for the final stage of their journey, the crews of the block-ships should be reduced to a minimum; but, when the moment came to disembark the extra men, those on the Intrepid, so anxious were they to remain, actually hid themselves away. Many of them did in fact succeed in remaining, and sailed with their comrades into the canal.

The first to draw the enemy's fire, the Thetis, had the misfortune, having cleared the armed barges, to foul the nests-bursting through the gate and carrying this with her, but with her propellers gathering in the meshes and rendering her helpless. Heavily shelled, she was soon in a sinking condition, and Commander Sneyd was obliged to blow her charges, but not before he had given the line, with the most deliberate coolness, to the two following block-ships-Lieutenant Littleton, in a motor-launch, then rescuing the crew.

Following the Thetis came the Intrepid, with all her guns in full action, and Lieutenant Bonham-Carter pushed her right into the canal up to a point actually behind some of the German batteries. Here he ran her nose into the western bank, ordered his crew away, and blew her up, the engineer remaining down below in order to be able to report results. These being satisfactory, and everyone having left, Lieutenant Bonham-Carter committed himself to a Carley float-a kind of lifebuoy that, on contact with the water, automatically ignited a calcium flare. Illumined by this, the Intrepid's commander found himself the target of a machine-gun on the bank, and, but for the smoke still pouring from the Intrepid, he would probably have been killed before the launch could rescue him.

Meanwhile, the Iphigenia, close behind, had been equally successful under more difficult conditions. With the Intrepid's smoke blowing back upon her, she had found it exceedingly hard to keep her course, and had rammed a dredger with a barge moored to it, pushing the latter before her when she broke free. Lieutenant Billyard-Leake, however, was able to reach his objective-the eastern bank of the canal entrance-and here he sank her in good position, with her engines still working to keep her in place. Both vessels were thus left lying well across the canal, as aeroplane photographs afterward confirmed; and thanks to the persistent courage of Lieutenant Percy Dean, the crews of both block-ships were safely removed.

With the accompanying motor-launch unhappily sunk as she was going in, Lieutenant Dean, under fire from all sides, often at a range of but a few feet, embarked in Motor-Launch 282 no less than 101 officers and men. He then started for home, but, learning that there was an officer still in the water, at once returned and rescued him, three men being shot at his side as he handled his little vessel. Making a second start, just as he cleared the canal entrance, his steering-gear broke down; and he had to manoeuvre by means of his engines, hugging the side of the Mole to keep out of range of the guns. Reaching the harbour mouth he then, by a stroke of luck, found himself alongside the destroyer Warwick, who was thus able to take on board and complete the rescue of the block-ships' crews.

It was now nearly one o'clock on the morning of the 23d; the main objects of the attack had been secured; and Captain Carpenter, watching the course of events, decided that it was time to recall his landing-parties. It had been arranged to do so with the Vindictive's syren, but this, like so much of her gear, was no longer serviceable; and it was necessary to have recourse to the Daffodil's little hooter, so feebly opposed to the roar of the guns. Throughout the whole operation, humble as her part had been, the Daffodil had been performing yeoman's service, and, but for the fine seamanship of Lieutenant Harold Campbell, and the efforts of her engine-room staff, it would have been quite impossible to re-embark the Marines and bluejackets from the Mole. In the normal way her boilers developed some 80-lbs. steam-pressure per inch; but, for the work of holding the Vindictive against the side of the Mole, it was necessary throughout to maintain double this pressure. All picked men, under Artificer-Engineer Sutton, the stokers held to their task in the ablest fashion; and, in ignorance of what was happening all about them, and to the muffled accompaniment of bursting shells, they worked themselves out, stripped to their vests and trousers, to the last point of exhaustion.

Nor did their colleagues on board the Vindictive fall in any degree short of the same high standard, as becomes clear from the account afterward given by one of her stokers, Alfred Dingle: "My pigeon," he said, "was in the boiler-room of the Vindictive, which left with the other craft at two o'clock on Tuesday afternoon. We were in charge of Chief Artificer-Engineer Campbell, who was formerly a merchant-service engineer and must have been specially selected for the job. He is a splendid fellow. At the start he told us what we were in for, and that before we had finished we should have to feed the fires like mad. 'This ship was built at Chatham twenty years ago,' he said, 'and her speed is 19 knots, but if you don't get 21 knots out of her when it is wanted, well-it's up to you to do it anyway.' We cheered, and he told us, when we got the order, to get at it for all we were worth and take no notice of anybody. We were all strong fellows, the whole thirteen of us.... The Vindictive was got to Zeebrugge; it was just before midnight when we got alongside the Mole. We had gas-masks on then, and were stoking furiously all the time, with the artificer-engineer backing us up, and joking and keeping us in the best of spirits. Nobody could have been down-hearted while he was there. There is no need to say it was awful; you know something from the accounts in the papers, although no written accounts could make you understand what it was really like.... Well, there we were, bump, bump, bump against the Mole for I don't know how long, and all the time shells shrieking and crashing, rockets going up, and a din that was too awful for words, added to which were the cries and shrieks of wounded officers and men.... Several times Captain Carpenter came below and told us how things were going on. That was splendid of him, I think. He was full of enthusiasm, and cheered us up wonderfully. He was the same with the seamen and men on deck.... I can't help admiring the Marines. They were a splendid lot of chaps, most of them seasoned men, whilst the bluejackets (who were just as good) were generally quite young men. The Marines were bursting to get at the fight and were chafing under the delay all the time.... While we were alongside I was stoking and took off my gas-mask, as it was so much in the way. It was a silly thing to do, but I couldn't get on with the work with it on. Suddenly I smelt gas. I don't know whether it came from an ordinary shell, but I knew it was not from the smoke-screen, and you ought to have seen me nip round for the helmet. I forgot where I put it for the moment, and there was I running round with my hand clapped on my mouth till I found it. In the boiler-room our exciting time was after the worst was over on shore. All of a sudden the telegraph rang down, 'Full speed ahead,' and then there was a commotion. The artificer-engineer shouted, 'Now for it; don't forget what you have to do-21 knots, if she never does it again.' In a minute or two the engines were going full pelt. Somebody came down and said we were still hitched on to the Mole, but Campbell said he didn't care if we towed the Mole back with us; nothing was going to stop him. As a matter of fact, we pulled away great chunks of the masonry with the grappling irons, and brought some of it back with us. Eventually we got clear of the Mole, and there was terrific firing up above. Mr. Campbell was urging us on all the time, and we were shoving in the coal like madmen. We were all singing. One of the chaps started with, 'I want to go home,' and this eventually developed into a verse, and I don't think we stopped singing it for three and a half hours-pretty nearly all the time we were coming back. In the other parts of the ship there wasn't much singing, for all the killed and wounded men we could get hold of had been brought on board, and were being attended to by the doctors and sick bay men. I don't know if we did the 21 knots, but we got jolly near it, and everybody worked like a Trojan, and was quite exhausted when it was all over. When we were off Dover the Engineer-Commander came down into the boiler-room and asked Artificer-Engineer Campbell, 'What have you got to say about your men?' He replied, 'I'm not going to say anything for them or anything against them, but if I was going to hell to-morrow night I would have the same men with me.'"

Not until the Mole had been cleared of every man that could possibly be removed did the Vindictive break away, turning in a half-circle and belching flames from every pore of her broken funnels. That was perhaps her worst moment, for now she was exposed to every angry and awakened battery; her lower decks were already a shambles; and many of her navigating staff were killed or helpless. But her luck held; the enemy's shells fell short; and soon she was comparatively safe in the undispersed smoke-trails, with the glorious consciousness that she had indeed earned the admiral's "Well done, Vindictive."

Six Victoria Crosses were allotted to those participating, of whom there was scarcely one that had not doubly earned the honour; and four of these were handed over to be assigned as the officers and men themselves decided. Acting Captain (soon to be confirmed as Captain) A. F. B. Carpenter, Sergeant Finch of the Vindictive's fighting-top, Captain Barnford of the Royal Marines, and Able Seaman Albert E. McKenzie were thus chosen; while Lieutenants Percy Dean and R. D. Sandford were also awarded the same honour, Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes being made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

Meanwhile at Ostend an equal gallantry had unluckily failed to succeed, two main factors, at the last moment, contributing to baffle the block-ships. The chief of these was the shifting by the enemy, three days before the attack, of the Stroom Bank Buoy-this bank being one of a series that had to be negotiated before entering the harbour; and the other being a change of wind to the south-southwest, blowing back the smoke-screens and exposing the attack. Here, owing to the confusion caused by the displaced buoy, this change of wind had far more serious results, the calcium flares that had been lit by the coastal motor-boats, behind the smoke-screens, being extinguished by the enemy's gunfire; while the Sirius, repeatedly hit, was soon in a sinking condition. Having taken a line by the Stroom Bank Buoy-now more than 2,000 yards east of its former position-both the Sirius and Brilliant went ashore, where there was no alternative but to sink them, their crews being rescued in motor-launches by Lieutenants Hoare and Bourke.

With the attack on Zeebrugge so triumphant a success, however, it was the unanimous opinion of all concerned that the failure at Ostend could not be allowed to stand; and, almost before she had been berthed beside Dover Pier, a new task was found for the Vindictive. She had done well. She had done very well. But the Dover Patrol had an exigent standard. To the thoughtful eye, what more convenient vessel for a second operation at Ostend? Nor were there any lack of volunteers, all the officers of the Sirius and Brilliant again coming forward; while Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Bury of the Vindictive, with four of the engine-room artificers, H. Cavanagh, N. Carroll, A. Thomas, and H. Harris, all pressed their claims upon Admiral Keyes, in view of their special knowledge, to remain with the vessel.

Finally it was decided that Commander Godsal, who had been in charge of the Brilliant, should, for the further attempt, command the Vindictive, a second block-ship, the Sappho, being placed in charge of Lieutenant-Commander Hardy, who had previously commanded the Sirius. As before also, Commander Hamilton Benn was given the charge of the motor-launches, Lieutenant E. C. Harrison being entrusted with the coastal motor-boats; while the whole operation, though Sir Roger Keyes was again to be present in the destroyer Warwick, was once more placed in the able hands of Commodore Hubert Lynes.

That the Germans would on this occasion be amply prepared was, of course, humanly certain; and aerial observation soon revealed that they had already taken fresh precautions. The Stroom Bank Buoy had been removed altogether, leaving no guiding marks of any sort, while the piers had been cut in various places to limit the activities of possible landing-parties. It was quite clear, therefore, that to attempt a second surprise a change of plan would be necessary; and it was decided to attack on the first suitable night without the previous lengthy bombardment. Not until the Vindictive was close to her objective were the monitors at sea to open fire, the ends of the two piers having first been torpedoed by coastal motor-boats under cover of a smoke-screen. That having been accomplished, the airmen overhead were to drop star-shells and begin releasing their bombs, while the heavy guns of the Flanders shore batteries were to open simultaneously from the land. Every possible misadventure was foreseen and provided for as well as all conceivable changes of wind; and each stage of the operation was timed with the exactitude of an express train's journey on a main line. It was well that it was so; for, as before, just at the critical moment, the conditions changed, and, for twenty minutes or more, in spite of everything, the adventure trembled on the brink of failure.

Timed to reach Ostend in the early hours, it was on the night of May 9th that the two block-ships set out, the weather then promising, as it had promised on April 22d, all that was required in the way of support. It was a moonless night with a still sea and a faint wind blowing from the right quarter, all of them conspiring to help the little craft that were already racing ahead upon their various tasks. That some enemy destroyers were out was believed to be probable; but, in the event, only one was encountered, this being driven off by Lieutenant Wellman in a little coastal motor-boat armed with a Lewis machine-gun. Unhappily, the Sappho, owing to boiler trouble, was unable to maintain her speed; and, to the bitter disappointment of all on board, was forced to come to anchor twelve miles from Ostend. For the rest, however, all went well; there were as yet no signs of enemy suspicion; and, behind their advanced columns of lazily rolling smoke, the destroyers and motor-boats were soon at work. One lay a light-buoy to guide the Vindictive; another hung a flare in the rigging of the wrecked Sirius; while a third lit a calcium flare in the rightful position of the Stroom Bank Buoy. Four minutes before the Vindictive, having picked up the life-buoy, reached this last, another couple of motor-boats-one commanded by Lieutenant Darrel Reid and the other by Lieutenant A. L. Poland-made a dash for the two pier-heads and successfully torpedoed them.

Up to this moment the enemy had been silent; but now, as from sea and land the heavy guns opened upon him, his batteries suddenly awoke and filled the air with the screaming and explosions of his shells. To these were added the peculiar dull intonations of the bombs dropped on him from above; while his searchlights hurriedly sprang to attention, and star-shell after star-shell broke into light. From the attackers' point of view nothing could have happened more fortunately; but now, by one of those sea-whims that nothing could have foretold, a sudden fog descended upon the scene and threatened to baulk the whole plan. As though they had been blinded by some perverse agent, the destroyers and motor-boats found themselves in darkness, hidden from each other, as they were hidden from the Vindictive, and with their flares and searchlights unavailing.

Striving to keep in touch by means of their syrens, they did their best to maintain their stations, but meanwhile the Vindictive, left without guides, could only grope about in search of the entrance. The feelings of Commander Godsal, with the failure of the Sirius and Brilliant still fresh in his mind, can well be imagined; and, as the minutes passed by, each with its quota of unredeemable opportunity, it may well have seemed to him that the fates had made up their minds that he was not to be the man to block Ostend.

So twenty minutes passed, and then, with a gesture as apparently whimsical as the first, the fog abruptly lifted and revealed the entrance between the two piers just in front of him. At the same moment Acting Lieutenant G. L. Cockburn, with his attendant motor-boats, darted ahead, and marked it with a flare; and the Vindictive, steaming across this, found herself safe in the desired channel. That is scarcely the right word, perhaps, for now, within less than three weeks, she had again become the target of scores of the enemy's guns. Hit every few seconds, a shell destroyed her after-control, killing Sub-Lieutenant MacLachlan and all its occupants; while every exposed position on the deck was swept, as from a hose, with machine-gun bullets.

Commander Godsal, therefore, ordered his officers into the conning-tower, leaving it himself, however, when 200 yards up the channel, to be killed by a shell just as the Vindictive was beginning to swing herself into position. It was this same shell that struck the conning-tower, stunning Lieutenant Sir John Alleyne, who was inside, Lieutenant V. A. C. Crutchley taking command of the vessel on getting no reply from his commander. Having swung her round to an angle of between thirty and forty degrees, however, it became impossible to move her further, and Lieutenant Crutchley ordered the ship to be abandoned, he himself and Lieutenant-Commander Bury then blowing the charges that were to sink her.

Meanwhile the crew, many of whom were wounded, were being disembarked into a motor-launch, most gallantly laid alongside by Lieutenant G. H. Drummond. This officer, who remained on the bridge till the last man had been taken off, had already been wounded in three places, and had lost an officer and a man of his crew. The last to leave the Vindictive was Lieutenant Crutchley after searching in every quarter with an electric torch; and, when Lieutenant Drummond, having backed his launch away, collapsed and fainted from his wounds, he took charge of the little vessel which was already seriously damaged. Crowded with wounded, and with her fore part flooded, it was only by continual baling with buckets, and by shifting as many men aft as possible, that he was able to keep her afloat, finally bringing her alongside the destroyer Warwick in a sinking condition.

An even narrower escape was that of Lieutenant Alleyne, whom we have last seen lying unconscious in the conning-tower, but who was presently found there by Petty-Officer Reed, who carried him aft under the heaviest fire. Before he could be got overboard, Lieutenant Alleyne was badly hit, and fell into the water, presumably lost. Following Lieutenant Drummond, however, Lieutenant Bourke had come into the harbour with a second motor-launch; and, when Lieutenant Drummond backed away, Lieutenant Bourke had come alongside. Finding the Vindictive empty, he too was about to back out when he heard cries from the water, and found Lieutenant Alleyne, with two other men, all of them badly wounded, clinging to an upturned skiff. Under the bitterest fire-his little motor-launch was hit in fifty-five places, and once by a 4-inch shell-Lieutenant Bourke succeeded in rescuing them and bringing his launch out into the open again, where he presently sighted one of the bombarding monitors, by whom he was at last taken in tow. For the parts which they played on this occasion, Lieutenants Crutchley, Drummond, and Bourke each received the Victoria Cross.

Such was the conclusion, just as day was breaking, of three unique operations, in that almost every branch of modern science had been laid under contribution for their carrying out. The chemist, the engineer, the pyrotechnician-each had been indispensable to the final success, and yet in no undertakings of the naval campaign had the human factor more palpably triumphed.

Drawn from the Grand Fleet, with Admiral Beatty's warm support, from the forces at Harwick and the Dover Patrol, from the three Home Depots, the Royal Marine Light Infantry, and the Royal Marine Artillery, the volunteers had also included representatives of the Australian and French navies; while the Admiralty experimental stations at Stratford and Dover had contributed eager participants. As to the material results, in the case of Zeebrugge's these alone had been well worth attaining. More than a score of torpedo-craft and a dozen submarines were at once, and for many days afterward, immobilized; while the enemy's naval activities, dependent on this port, remained seriously hampered till the end of the war. As regarded Ostend, while the material results were not very great, this was also the less important harbour, and the moral effect of the two attacks was both immediate and profound. Up to the very eve, indeed, of the great retirement, so nervous of future operations did the enemy remain, that two of his divisions were pinned to the coast in view of possible developments, while money and material were poured like water into the further strengthening of its defences.

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