On Sunday 23rd April (St. George’s Day), Dover Army Cadets paraded in Dover, Biggin Street and at the War Memorial to honour one of the most daring amphibious raids of the First World War which took place just after midnight on 23rd April 1918 to stop German U-boats from attacking British ships.A total of 76 British ships carrying 1700 Royal Navy sailors and Deal-based Royal Marines, assembled at Dover.
Led by HMS Vindictive, they braved mine-strewn waters to arrive at Zeebrugge Harbour where Wing Commander Frank Brock (of the well-known fireworks family) had devised a smoke screen to allow the men to scuttle empty ships across the ship-canal entrance in order to block enemy submarines from entering the sea. Brock was later killed during the raid. Tragically, the favourable wind suddenly changed which dissipated the smoke and the operation was observed by the enemy. HMS Vindictive and other British ships were fired upon by enemy shore batteries.
The men heroically managed to block the canal entrance against all odds but within days, the Germans were able to clear and dredge a channel for their submarines to leave during high tide.Britain lost 356 men in the Zeebrugge Raid, and in addition, 227 were wounded. Imagine the scene when the ships disembarked at Dover. Eight Victoria Crosses (VCs) were awarded for the raid, and a further three VCs awarded for a later raid at Ostend.
There is a Zeebrugge Memorial with multiple gravestones in St. James’ Cemetery, Dover.The Zeebrugge Bell on Dover Town Hall was presented to the town of Dover by the King of Belgium to acknowledge the role that Dover played and a memorial to the brave men lost but never forgotten.The bell will be rung again this St. George’s Day as part of the commemoration.