- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Jan 1919, p. 20-49
- Carpenter, Captain A.F.E., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- A very detailed description of the fight at Zeebrugge, with the speaker commanding the H.M.S. Vindictive. The first part of the address show what the objective was, and why. The second part addresses the difficulties encountered. Maps and a slide presentation accompany the address, a great many of them aerial photographs. A suggested moral to the story: that this operation showed the result of good co-operation and confidence between officers and men. Officers and men in peace time: an analogy with employers and employees.
- Date of Original
- 15 Jan 1919
- Language of Item
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- Full Text
- THE FIGHT AT ZEEBRUGGE.
AN ADDRESS BY CAPTAIN A. F. E. CARPENTER,
V.C., H.M.S. VINDICTIVE,.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
January 15, 1919.
CAPT. CARPENTER was received with loud applause and said:
I am going to try and give you the story of what occurred at Zeebrugge, to the best of my ability. I am going to divide the lecture into two parts. In the first part I will endeavor to show you what our object was, and why; and secondly, the difficulties that we were up against.
When you have got a thorough idea of that, we shall have a short interval so that I can collect the remains of my voice--my name not being Caruso, (Laughter.) and then we will go on to part two; then I will endeavor to show you what we did, and the result. (Applause.)
Now, to illustrate this lecture I have some sixty slides and they are rather a mixed lot; some of them are only snap-shots; a great many of them are aerial photographs taken by our aeroplanes, some just before we went over, some just afterwards, and in a way I think they explain the story very well. We had no cinema men-lives could not be spared. (Laughter.) I always think with sympathy for the cinema men, because they follow me about.
(Laughter.) These slides are not very artistic; the one on the screen now (a blank surface) is what they call the Davy's Locker slides-you cannot see it, nor could I.
Captain Carpenter was connected with the Dover Patrol throughout the War. He was the Commander of the Vindictive in the wonderful raid on Zeebrugge which had for its purpose the blocking of the canal to Bruges. Because of the success of the Zeebrugge action, one of the most spectacular and daring episodes in the history of the British Navy, Captain Carpenter emerges from the War as one of its outstanding heroes, that is the German fleet going back to Kiel. (Laughter and applause.)
This (a map) shows the land that was guarded the other day by England. Here is Dover. This is the southeast coast of England-Dover, where most of the ships came from; and here is Zeebrugge. Now, on this coast of Flanders there are no natural harbors; every harbor is artificial; they have been cut out of the shore by dredging, and the sand on this coast is continually on the move. As the tide goes one way, the sand goes with it; as the tide comes back, the sand moves back. The consequence is that all the shoals on the coast are continually moving, and it was only by continual surveying in peace times that we were able to navigate that coast in safety. During the war that coast has been in the hands of the Germans, and it was not possible for our craft to come inhere and survey; therefore we had to take a very big navigation risk in moving about these waters; because we could not tell where the enemies were.
Beyond the harbors here (see Plate 1) was the main harbor that formed the bases for the Germans; it was made by dredging nine miles inland. That was the base for the mosquito craft, submarines and torpedo boats. That was their dock where they got all their fuel and repairs, because when they stayed at Zeebrugge they were generally dredging. Zeebrugge and Ostend were the two exits to the sea from Bruges, dredging being kept up by them for the canal. There is Bruges; here is the canal running out to Zeebrugge, and another canal running westward toward Ostend, and if we were to block the canal we had to block it at Zeebrugge and Ostend.
But this presented a very serious problem to us as to how we were going to do it. We used to try-and cut them off when they came out; We used to try and hit their submarines when they came out, not always with success, and we tried every means we could to prevent their craft from doing any harm; but the loss of life was tremendous, and we came to the conclusion that there was only one way to do it, and that was to block them in so that they could not get out-and that is what we did. (Applause.)
On the particular night on which this operation came off, we tried to block both Zeebrugge and Ostend simultaneously. The Ostend operation actually failed owing to the weather turning against us very badly. It turned against us at Zeebrugge, but at Ostend it turned against us so much sooner that our craft could not find the entrance, and our operation failed in spite of the fact that it was very skillfully carried out by ship and men. We got the place partially blocked, but, as it turned out, it did not very much matter, because the Germans could not pass many ships through this tortuous, narrow, shallow channel to Ostend. So this was the main place, Zeebrugge, and this was the place we blocked.
This is the plan, (see Plates 1 and 2) a portion of the chart showing the entrance to the canal. Between that curved pier, which I call the left-hand curved pier, and the right-hand curved pier, lay the entrance the harbor and the way to get into the canal. We had, o come down between those piers, down this channel, through the creek, to get up to Bruges. This is the actual coast line at Zeebrugge, and flanking the whole thing was this now famous Zeebrugge Mole which starts at the shoal there and ends up at the lighthouse. Any ship that would get into the canal had to come from the north through a dredged channel (from the end of the Mole to the entrance to the canal) and down through there. This entrance (between the piers at the entrance to the canal) is exceedingly narrow. Some people think it exceeds 400 yards from one side to the other. A ship must have a wide channel. This channel is narrow because you have got a great accumulation of sand on both sides between the piers right here, and at low tide the sand actually dries out right to the edge of that curved line (see Plate 2), so there is only water bctween where my pointer is and that point-only water there at all. It is just wet at this other point. You might say here there is one inch of water, and there five feet; in the middle there is twenty feet; then there is five feet, then one foot, then one inch, and then nothing. So it is only in the very centre of that channel that a ship can pass through.
This shows the left-hand pier and the right-hand pier and the channel; and this shows the sand actually dry. This photograph was taken at very low water; the actual navigable channel about here is very restricted, and very, very narrow.
This is a German dredge at work, and probably a few hours before this photograph was taken, she had dredged out that base which you see here; a few hours afterwards there was probably just as much sand as there was before. It is only by continually dredging out here that you can keep the channel open.
This is a view taken at high tide, and shows the aspect when you are standing down on the shore of the canal looking out to sea. There is the right-hand pier, and there is the left-hand pier, and the mole in the distance ending up at the lighthouse. You see it is all wet from there to there. But though it is wet it does not mean that a ship can pass through; she can only pass through at the very centre. That has a very important bearing on this story.
The Mole plays a rather important part in this story; so I am going to describe it somewhat in detail. (See Plate 3 made from a drawing.) The first portion of the Mole, the nearest bit, which we were looking at in the last photograph, is this solid portion, coming out from the land. This of course is from an aerial photograph. This next portion is built up on piles like an ordinary pier; and then, finally, you see the broad part of the Mole, which I will show you in detail in a moment. Across this portion which connects the shore with the broad part of the Mole, runs a railway, and that railway afforded the Germans the quickest possible means of getting reinforcements on to the Mole in large numbers, if they were required; whereas, on the contrary, if we wished to prevent the Germans from getting on to the Mole in quick time, our best way to do it was to remove that railway. That is what we did. (Applause.)
This shows the Mole again, in another shape. Here is the railway running down along the sloping ditch and then going across this tall portion along to the broad part of the Mole.
This is a portion of the broad part of the Mole. It is one of the most colossal constructions of the kind in the world. There is certainly nothing in America to match it. It is a very wonderful bit of construction. The broad part of the Mole is eighty-one yards wide, and it is one and a quarter miles long.
On the outer side of it, which shows rather whiter than the rest, there is a high wall standing right up above the Mole itself. The top of this wall is actually twenty feet above the floor level of the Mole, and twenty-nine feet above the highest level that the sea ever reaches at the outside, that is, at high tide.
This wall was built there so as to prevent heavy seas from washing over the Mole and washing everything off it. It was built there just for shelter purposes. This wall plays a rather important part in the story. It was never intended that any ship should go alongside that wall; there is nothing there for any ship to secure to. The outside of the Mole is more or less round; inside here there are hoisting cranes and billets to secure to. This side is only nine feet out of water; this is the only proper side to go along--so we went on the other side. (Applause.)
That is a German destroyer alongside the Mole. This photograph was taken a few days before we went there. When we actually went there, as a matter of fact, there was a German destroyer lying in that very position. It was one of the favorite places for them to lie in. (Laughter.) The Vindictive happened to be very close to her; so of course we saw her. (Laughter.)
There is another German destroyer there. This was a German submarine shelter, a sort of concrete roof. The submarines used to lie underneath to prevent us from bombarding them from our aircraft.
This shows the Mole in a section. (See Plate 4.) Here is the highest tide, and twenty-nine feet above that is the top of the wall. Anyone wishing to get through there has to get up that twenty-nine-foot wall and drop four feet on to the top of the parapet, get over a little handrail on the inside, and then drop sixteen feet on to the Mole. That is the way from this side-and that is -what we did. (Applause.)
Here (see Plate 3) is this high wall going all the way along; the broad part of the Mole first, and then the Mole narrows out for 360 yards into a narrow bit which is hardly more, you might say, than a prolongation of this wall-just a continuation of that wall we have been talking about-a little bit broader, and that is all, and it ends at the lighthouse here; you can see the shape of the lighthouse.
In the extension of the Mole-what we call a lighthouse extension-there were seven guns, and these guns could fire in any direction. They could fire either out to sea or down this way towards the harbor-any way desired. And on the end of the broad part of the Mole they had three heavy guns-very nasty guns. Those guns were really the stumbling block of this operation. At the edge of the Mole, along this wall I told you about, they also had searchlights and guns, and on the inner side was a barge with some guns on it, and all surrounded with barbed wire, which you can actually see in the photographs. We used to photograph this place every few days, to make sure they had not put in anything fresh. There was a long line of barges placed there, moored in such a way as to form a sort of boom, to prevent small craft from coming into the harbor at night; and they had torpedo boat destroyers alongside.
Then, in this portion there was a succession of buoys, actually seven of them. The faint line showing in between these lines is the line of entanglements, nets, etc., placed there in such a way that, if any ship attempted to cross over that portion of the water, she would get nets entangled round her screws, her engines would come to a standstill, and she would be disabled. Any ship wishing to get into the canal had to come round the lighthouse there and pass between that barge and the northern end of those nets; in other words, down that line, approximately there, right within point blank range of those three heavy guns.
Now we wanted to get a number of the ships into this ideal position to block the canal entrance, but those very heavy guns made it actually impossible. A ship cannot pass at point blank range of heavy guns. In thirty seconds she would disappear. For that reason, and for that reason alone, the Vindictive went to storm the Mole and capture those very heavy guns before the block ships arrived. (Loud applause.) Some people think we went there to make another tradition for the British Navy or for advertising-a stunt; that horrible word stunt. It was not. We went there for a definite purpose, and that was, to knock out their guns-and that is what we did. (Applause.)
Now, all this inside part of the Mole was untenable for that purpose. They have got barbed wire here you can see it in the photograph. They had trenches, they had guns in odd positions here, and guns along the top of that wall at intervals. The actual garrison, according to the information we got, was a thousand men. They were taking no chances. Once, there was a man called Achilles who decided upon taking the chance; he covered himself all over with armour but forgot his heel, and he got beaten. (Laughter.) The Germans forgot one thingthey forgot that a ship might go along the outside of that Mole-and that is what we did, (Applause.) and that is where we had them.
I want to describe to you for a moment what the duel between us away out here on the face of the Mole and this battery of seven guns seemed like. A ship steaming one thousand yards off is now-a-days at point blank range. I tell you that in our gunnery practice we used to fire shots at a target less in size than the lit-up part of this screen; and at a thousand yards we used to fire twelve rounds in one minute and get twelve hits. (Applause.) Well, if you can hit a thing of that small size twelve times in one minute with one gun, how easy it is to hit a ship one hundred and twenty yards long. Imagine a ship like the Vindictive, 120 yards long, steaming within point blank range of this battery. She is firing at the battery. All she sees of each gun is just a muzzle of the gun seen over the top of the wall. What is her chance of hitting that gun? Why, it is absolutely nix. (Laughter.) If she hit one of those guns, it would be by a fluke. But what about that gun? That gun is firing at a sheer point blank range, at a ship 120 yards long; she can't miss the ship except by a fluke. (Laughter.) Those guns can't miss a ship except by a fluke, and the ship can't hit them except by a fluke. (Laughter.) Is that fair? That would be the state in a duel between a ship passing this battery, and those seven guns-and that is what we did. (Applause.)
Now, in addition to those guns in the battery on the Mole, we had also the obstacle of the guns on the coast. The Germans had the whole coast well fortified. I don't suppose in the history of war there has been a short coast so well fortified. They had on that stretch of coast 235 guns, and out of those 235 coast-defence guns 136 of them were heavy guns, that is guns of over six-inch calibre. Those guns used to worry our ships out here, at a range of 42,000 yards, which is 23 miles. In the early days we used to bombard these shores at 10,000 yards, and then they got guns that bombarded us at 15,000 yards. Then we got guns that would bombard at 20,000 yards, and finally, just before we got to Zeebrugge, we bombarded them at 48,000 yards. (Applause.) That is rather over twenty-seven miles.
I may tell you these guns made it absolutely impossible for any ship to wander off here during daylight. What about night? Perhaps she would be safe wandering off here at night as regards the guns themselves, but what happens when she gets in close? When she gets partly in, off goes a star-shell that lights up the whole place, and they blow her out of the water in a moment. How' we were to get by in the face of those guns was a serious question.
But there were other things to consider in addition to those guns. Out here, for sixteen miles they had all the waters very heavily mined. They had mine fields all over the place here. Of course they had channels through them, and some people imagined we knew those channels and would go through them. It is absolutely ridiculous to make such a suggestion, because no naval force is able to depend on any information it gets with regard to positions of enemy channels. It may be false and may prove most dangerous. We might start down on our trip and find out we were going over mines half the way. But there is an alternative, and that is to come in with your own mine sweepers and sweep your own channel, which is a very slow process; and the enemy would see you doing it, and that gives the whole thing away. Or, you chance it-and we chanced it. (Applause.)
But that was not all. They had their patrol craft out here continually, and especially at night, and those patrol craft used to go out through their own safe channels and patrol about outside. We were always trying to cut those fellows off. We had some rare tustles once or twice, and of course they always ran away immediately; immediately they saw us coming they ran, all of them-they always will. (Applause.)
These patrol craft, that is destroyers and trawlers and motor boats and torpedo boats, and so on, used to be out here. We always had a patrol out there too, whose chief purpose in life was to cut off their patrol; and our patrol was out there day and night in every weather, and their submarines used to come out and sink our fellows. Another thing we had to consider was their aircraft, which used to run from Zeebrugge, the most important aeroplane station in Flanders. They used to come out there and wander about, looking for any expedition coming across. If they saw us coming, all they had to do was to warn the defences that we were coming, and put down a few parcels of mines in the places where otherwise we might get through, and the whole thing would be a fiasco--not a failure, but a fiasco. So I think you will agree that to conduct any operation on the enemy's coast under conditions in modern warfare is by no means an easy task.
I may tell you that the task was looked upon as impossible. It was looked upon as ridiculous and fantastic to attempt to do any such thing, until we decided that we might be able to do it under cover of smoke. The use of smoke had been tremendously developed during this war, and we thought if we got very suitable conditions, with a light wind blowing towards the shore, we would be able to make our artificial fog out here and the fog would move slowly in front of us, and we would come in behind it and try events out. It looks awfully simple, but as a matter of fact it is not so simple; for your fog thus hiding you from the enemy is hiding the places you want to go to. Besides you have to have a certain period when the fog has gone inland and while you are looking for your places, you are exposed to the fire of their batteries. So that the use of smoke is not going to save you altogether from the shore batteries; it merely allows you to get fairly close before they see you. It was on that use of smoke that this operation was based. It was by means of smoke that we decided to do it, and by no other. I would not under any condition whatever declare my intention of attempting this thing without the smoke, and that means without the wind blowing toward the shore.
These are two of the German guns on the coast; they were on about every hundred yards along the coast. These photographs were taken immediately after we got the coast back.
There is the Vindictive before she was fitted out. She is a very old ship, about twenty years old, and she has done good work in her time. During this war she was employed up in the White Sea, among the ice, and had really done quite good work, and she was just about finished. We looked upon her as virtually dead when she was chosen for this operation. A very handy ship she was-very quick to turn, quick to stop and start. You couldn't have got a more ideal ship probably anywhere. This is before she fitted out. Two masts.
This is after she was fitted out-half a mast, you see. We cut the mast off there and we had this sort of sighting top built on the mast, and in that top we had guns. Now, I told you that the outer wall of the Mole was twenty-nine feet above the water; so any guns in this ship less than twenty-nine feet above the water could not fire on to the Mole when you went alongside. That is the reason. why we had guns placed up there, about fifty feet above the water, and they played a very important part in the story, as we shall learn presently.
These black things sticking up here are not funnels but gangways. We had a number of gangways built at that sort of angle, sticking out over the side of the ship, the idea being that when we got alongside the wall we could lower the gangways on to the wall and the men could run up them and get on the top of the wall, drop four feet on to the parapet, climb up over the hand rails, drop ten feet on to the Mole itself, and then start to business. (Applause.)
We had one or two other contrivances on board, like flame-throwers. We had one there and one here. The Germans seemed to be very fond of flame-throwers and we thought we would let them know what they were like. They invented them.
Here we have the Iris and Daffodil, the other two ships that helped us. They were two Liverpool ferry boats which used to run across the river Mersey to take passengers over, about ten-minute trips, and then tie up on the other side and wait till passengers came aboard. That is what they were intended for, but that night they steamed over 180 miles. (Applause.) The reason why we had these craft was this-we did not put all our eggs in one basket. The chances of the Vindictive being mined long before she got to the Mole were very great; the chances of her being sunk were also very great; so we decided we would take these two; they would follow behind, and, if the Vindictive was sunk close in, they would go on with the work of storming the Mole, and in any event they would lend their assistance.
We had three block ships and the Vindictive, the Iris and the Daffodil. The number of ships engaged in the operation was 156-specially detailed for this operation. The majority of those, I suppose, were motor launches and motor boats. The motor launches were chiefly for making smoke. The motor boats were for other things. We had made a great many destroyers, and those destroyers had to guard us against any attack in the sea and support our motor boats in case of their being a fight inside. This is a destroyer. This is rather an interesting photograph, as a matter of fact. That is a photograph of a destroyer which has just put a depth charge on a submarine, and that is the oil on the surface. (Applause.) That is one of the photographs that is going to the Naval Photograph Exhibition, colored, which is to come around this continent. I understand they are coming up to Canada very shortly.
Here are two motor launches. They are very small craft. One hardly sees a shell hitting one of those craft; they are very light and small, and very swift in their work. Whenever we had an operation of this kind, there was always a chance that we would have a few light craft running off and about the enemy's coast, and we had always to face the chances that the enemy might have a sudden rush of courage, (Laughter.) and might send their heavy ships to put our ships off their coast--there was always a chance that they might. Whenever anything like that was going on, our grand fleet was waiting. We had tried in every way we could to get those fellows out; month after month we came out there continually to cut those fellows off in case they might have a sudden rush of courage to the head. (Laughter.) It came at last, and a pretty tremendous venture it was. People often ask me what I think of the German fleet, and I always say the same thing; I always say they never had any traditions, and now they have got one less. (Laughter.)
Thatshows one of the battleships, and a destroyer in the middle.
Here is a photograph showing the destroyers making a smoke screen, but in the smoke you cannot see the destroyer. There are four there. One is coming straight towards you, and this fellow here is belching smoke.
What did our success depend on? Did it depend on the material, or the work in directing the plan, or the weather, or the guns, or the parapets, or smoke? No, it depended on the men. (Applause.) There is one of them in this room here with me now. (Loud applause.) Those men were fine fellows, the finest men I have ever known in my life. I don't know very much, I have not been in action very much, but I do know from what other fellows have told me that there are thousands more mesa like these. (Applause.) When I speak about my men, please don't imagine that I believe they are the salt of the earth and that there are no others like them. We had rare trouble about those men: the trouble was how to get the right men to volunteer. To get volunteers, as a general rule, you have to tell them what you want them to do, and ask them if they will volunteer for it. Now, We could not do that, because we had to keep this thing absolutely secret. If the secret of this thing had leaked out, it would have been an absolute fiasco. What we did was, we chose a certain number of reliable men from each ship, a certain number of officers from each squadron, put them through intensive training, and then, when we got them ready, we put them out from the crowd where they could hold no communication with anybody whatever. Then we told them the secret. Soon as we told them what we were going to do, we gave them the option to go. I said to my men: "If any man on board here now, knowing what he is in for, wishes to withdraw, all he has got to do is to give his name in and go; he will not be asked for any reason why he wants to go, and he will not be allowed to give any reason why he wants to go; give his name in and go." Not a single man went. (Loud applause.)
Here are two more. (Laughter.) Those men had to wear gas masks, and they had to carry many curious implements of warfare, and they had to learn new tricks, all sorts of extraordinary things. They used to come charging around the corner with fixed bayonets, and once they nearly frightened me out of my life. What with their ugly faces and their weapons, they were a positive danger. They were keen, and we worked them up and gingered them up until those men would have gone through hell itself. They were just as keen as mustard. I used to take my men into my confidence every moment, tell them what the latest weather report was, what the chances were of going, and give them every single item of information about the thing. We had no secrets of any kind whatever from our men; we told them every single item they wished to know and needed to know; and it was very well that we did, because so many officers were killed that the men had to depend on themselves. (Applause.)
This photograph shows the Vindictive actually starting on this trip. It was just a little photograph after she got steam up and was starting to cross. We made three attempts at this operation. On the 12th of September we got within three miles of Zeebrugge. The wind had been blowing towards the shore and favoring the use of smoke, and then it veered and began to blow straight off the shore, and to go without the smoke would have been like sending the men to certain slaughter. Vice Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, the night of the operation had to decide what he would do. We had got all those ships out, at tremendous trouble, all that distance. It seemed to be only a stone's throw to Zeebrugge, and the wind had gone wrong. Everything else was favorable, and as the aircraft, to divert the attention of the Germans, were going to do an aerial attack at the same time as our attack, they started across and could not be recalled. They did the whole aerial attack on that night as if the whole operation had come off, and we learned that their attack was most tremendous, as the men came down 4,000 feet and bombarded the Mole, and the battery work was perfectly splendid. However, we had to turn back, and when we turned around, we had a large number of ship there, and they had a little bit of what you might call melee.
Ships turning around in the middle of the night, at half past one in the morning, are apt to run into one another, and one small motor boat got run into and got a nasty hole in the bow, and one man went forward and sat in the hole to keep the boat afloat. When the men started the boat up and speed was getting up, the bow of the motor boat came out of the water-instead of going along the level they go along at an angle, and the bows are actually out of the water. When they got up to twenty-seven knots the bows came out of the water, the hole was then out of the water, so the man removed himself (Laughter.) and took up a more comfortable position elsewhere, (Laughter.) and the motor boat went on its way. The Captain of that boat was not very certain of his position, so he decided to stick by the Vindictive, but he had got up to a speed of twenty-seven knots and we were only going ten, so he steamed round and round the Vindictive the whole of that night.
On the way across we had to tow small craft. It was absolutely necessary that everybody should arrive fresh for the operation of Zeebrugge. The small craft carried very few people, and if these were to keep watch on the way across they would not be at their best on arrival, so we towed all the small craft over. This is one of the supplementaries being towed. It looks like an aeroplane, but it is not; it is a submarine. This is the conning tower; the remainder is more or less under water. They put spars right across the conning tower, and two small rowing motor dinghies are slung underneath.
I have not mentioned anything about submarines, but what we intended to use them for was to remove that railway which ran from the shore out to the Mole. The idea was that they would be full of explosives. They were to steal under the viaduct of that railway, secure up underneath, light their time fuse, the submarine itself being full of light material; then the men were to get into their little motor skiff and run away. Meantime the submarine would make its way ahead and remove the viaduct of the railway. I will tell you what happened later.
Now I must tell you about the second attempt we made. We went about thirty-eight miles, and the small craft could not face the heavy sea. So it was necessary for us to turn back. You can imagine the feelings of the officers and men. We had been waiting, training here, waiting for a long time for this operation; we were very anxious to put it across; we, were very anxious that the Germans should not know bout it. Every day that it was put off gave the greater chance of it leaking out, because the different steamers were passed at sea, and that waiting between times was a very anxious period. The spirit of the men was very fine, (Laughter) and took up a more comfortable position elsewhere, (Laughter.) and the motor boat went on its way. The Captain of that boat was not very certain of his position, so he decided to stick by the Vindictive, but he had got up to a speed of twenty-seven knots and we were only going ten, so he steamed round and round the Vindictive the whole of that night.
On the way across we had to tow small craft. It was absolutely necessary that everybody should arrive fresh for the operation of Zeebrugge. The small craft carried very few people, and if these were to keep watch on the way across they would not be at their best on arrival, so we towed all the small craft over. This is one of the supplementaries, being towed. It looks like an aeroplane but it is not; it is a submarine. This is the conning tower; the remainder is more or less under water. They put spars right across the conning tower, and two small rowing motor dinghies are slung underneath.
I have not mentioned anything about submarines, but what we intended to use them for was to remove that railway which ran from the shore out to the Mole. The idea was that they would be full of explosives. They were to steal under the viaduct of that railway, secure up underneath, light their time fuse, the submarine itself being full of light material; then the men were to get into their little motor skiff and run away. Meantime the submarine would make its way ahead and remove the viaduct of the railway. I will tell you what happened later.
Now I must tell you about the second attempt we made. We went about thirty-eight miles, and the small craft could not face the heavy sea. So it was necessary for us to turn back. You can imagine the feelings of the officers and men. We had been waiting, training here, waiting for a long time for this operation; we were very anxious to put it across; we, were very anxious that the Germans should not know bout it. Every day that it was put off gave the greater chance of it leaking out, because the different steamers were passed at sea, and that waiting between times was a very anxious period. The spirit of the men was very fine.
But at last we had our third chance. They say three is lucky, and by jove it was lucky that night. We were to meet at the point marked "G." (See Plate 1. )
The block ships and the Vindictive came from up here somewhere in the North Sea, and most of the small craft came from Dover, and we all met there (indicating) about five o'clock one evening. We went across this line. Some came direct up this way, and others came from Dunkirk and went up here, and they went up there to a position from which they were going to bombard. The idea was that we were going to give the Germans as much to think about on that night as we possibly could. We had started doing it about a month beforehand. We started educating them up to this operation. We would make aerial attacks, and when they got used to them, we would give them a long range bombardment; and when they got used to that, we would give them both at once; and when they got used to both at once, we would give them both at once and perhaps something else; and then we would give them only an aerial attack; and so on the idea being that when it came to the night of the operation they would think, "it is the same old aerial attack" or "it is the same old bombardment" and they would not think anything else was going to occur. It worked very well. (Applause.)
When we came down from the north, as we had to do, things went fairly right until we got about sixteen miles out. At that position (indicating) we were going to stop and get out all the surplus of the block ship crews, the idea being that the block ships should go in only with the minimum number of men, which we considered should be fifty-three per ship. Each ship actually carried eighty-seven, the other thirty-four being required to do all the work on the way across, so that every man of the fifty-three should be fresh for the hectic part of the show, when we got there. In one of the ships these thirty-four men mutinied. The captain, who was a very tactful young officer, had them up and told them of the arrangement, and there was grave insubordination. But, though he admired their spirit, all he could do was to allow six of them to stay as an extra gun's crew, and the thirty-four men together drew lots to see which of them should form part of that six. The remaining twenty-eight would have to go back. When we got out to within five miles of the Mole, we all stopped to take the twenty-eight men off this ship and thirty-four off each of the other two. What actually occurred in the first case was that the small craft which came alongside had broken down, with the result that none of the men were taken off and the ship went in with the whole eighty-seven of her crew; and incidentally we got the whole eighty-seven back. (Applause.) In the case of the other two there was no mutiny, and the small craft came alongside to take them off, but, as you would naturally expect, not a single one of the men could be found. (Laughter.) The whole eighty-seven went in, and we got the whole lot back.
Now it came on to rain very hard soon after that, and the air craft could not come out; so that the whole of our aircraft attack failed. It was a most unfortunate thing because we were depending a lot on them. We had been using them as a part in the education of the Germans beforehand. But the aircraft could not appear; it was quite impossible for them to face the rain, although they did their very best. Very fine work they had done on the two previous attempts; every day, in fact, before and every day since-very fine.
The next thing was that, as a result of the rain there was a lot of mist, and the ships, when they came to make the range for the bombardment with the heavy guns, could not find the buoy, which marked the range, and they did not start the affair until twenty minutes late. The next thing was that the Vindictive herself was to conduct the Iris and the Daffodil to make sure that they arrived (Laughter.) and the idea was to show them all the way across, and then how to do their job, but before we got through we found they were left behind. The fourth thing that happened was the direction of the wind. Twenty minutes before we got to the Mole the wind suddenly died down and then blew straight off shore. This fourth thing that we had considered as necessary to make the operation possible, namely, the wind playing towards the shore, had failed us. There was the alternative; we might have divided up and gone home again. It would have been a very difficult thing to do because we were very close; and if the order had been given I do not think the men would have obeyed. The other thing was to go on and attempt what we always considered impossible and we did it. (Applause.)
Now, this operation was based on timing. We had all these larger craft, and we could not make signals every few minutes to the various people and tell them what to do. We laid down their orders and instructions as to what they were to do, and as far as possible they were instructions that gave them the idea of the sort of thing they were to do. Then we gave them the time by the clock at which they were to fix the doing or otherwise of the tasks, and from then on they were thrown on their own initiative and they were looked to to see that nothing went wrong. It was the very fact that we made these orders so elastic, and that we depended so much on the initiative, more than people usually do, that made this thing a success. (Applause.)
The Vindictive was due at the Mole at midnight. The actual length of the trip is 105 miles, and the time we arrived there was registered in the engine room where they kept the time of the movement of the engines and we arrived at one minute past twelve. (Applause.) Now I say we were due there at midnight. The block ships were due here, the far end of the Mole, at twenty minutes past twelve, and we had to get alongside, get the men out, fight our way out, knock those three big guns out before twenty minutes past twelve. Now, the Vindictive came down from the north, and the first thing that we saw-the smoke, mind you, had got in towards the shore and was driving back with the change of wind-the first thing we saw when we came out of the smoke was this battery of seven guns at the end of the Mole. That was 300 yards ahead. We went full speed ahead with full engines, went on to do this in the face actually of great chances, and got alongside, and in passing this battery we passed this first gun here about three hundred yards off, and we passed this last gun here about fifty yards off. Now I told you beforehand that a duel between a ship and that battery of guns was unequal, unfair, even at point blank range, which I judge was a thousand yards. Imagine what it was like at a radius of three hundred yards and fifty yards. Now, I do not know, but I believe myself today that we were so very near to them that that fact saved us, because though they hit us a tremendous number of times as we ran past the battery, they never hit us anywhere that mattered very much; whereas if we had been a little farther off the chances are that their firing would have been more deliberate and more careful and they would have fired at the water line, and the ship would have sunk immediately. As it was, they merely fired on the same level as the gun, with the result that the damage done to the ship was not material, but the damage they did to my personnel was a very serious matter. The officers themselves would not stay down below, as I told them to do, but preferred to stay up where the gangway ran up over the ship's side so as to be ready to lead the men over the gangway when the signal was given, (Applause.) with the result that as the steamer passed the battery these officers standing up on that deck got the full blast of the powder and four of the storming party were killed and another very severely wounded before we got alongside. We got alongside here, and the Daffodil, in accordance with her orders, came down from the north; she cut off the corner; she had been left behind and came in and started pushing us right alongside the wall at right angles to us. The idea was that she was to push us alongside, and make certain that our grappling irons and gangways would reach the Mole. We had these big claw grappling irons, and they did their job well and kept the ship close alongside. There was one thing upset all our calculations; there was a very heavy sea alongside-a thing we had never expected-and the result was that the ship was rolling a great deal and those grappling irons were all smashed up. We had then nothing to grapple with and reluctantly I had to give orders to the Daffodil to keep on pushing, and she kept us there through the whole hour and ten minutes that we were there. The little Iris went along the Mole, about a hundred yards ahead of us, and tried to get her men on to the Mole, but owing to the heavy sea, and having a much smaller craft than we, they could not make secure to the Mole. They tried to get the grappling irons over the top, and one man held an ordinary lever up and another tried to fix the grappling iron. He was on top of the wall, and he fell into the sea between the Mole and the ship. A boat's officer went for him, but they were both lost. The Iris then came alongside of us, the idea being to send her crew out over the Vindictive and on to the Mole. The Captain of that ship was one Ballantyne Cullis, whom I have known since he was a small boy, and 'he was one of the finest sailors in every respect that I have known. He only thought of one thing, and that was to bring us alongside that Mole; there was not another thought in his mind. (Applause.) Well, he was alongside my ship here, and a heavy shell came in and knocked out fifty-eight men of the sixtyseven who were down below for orders. Another shell took off both Ballantyne Cullis' legs, and each time reports came in he went on asking the same question about how things were going until he died. (Applause.)
The actual position of the Vindictive was here (see Plate 3) and as usual there was a German destroyer there. Now, that German destroyer was only the breadth of the Mole away from us, and the consequence was we hit her; we hit her very often and we sunk her. (Applause.)
Now, this picture (see Plate 4) is done from a war painting which is in my possession. It was done by an artist who asked me if I would accept it, and if anything was wrong would I put it right. I sent it back actually five times and told him what the mistakes were. I attached photograph and sketches and a lot of written stuff and the result is absolutely correct in every detail.
There is a ship along the Mole. Now, during the run past, our gangways--we had fourteen of them--were sticking through the side, and this will give you some idea of how we were hit. They left us with four, and two of those were so severely damaged they could not reach the Mole; we had to get them in and repair them and get them out again eventually and to offer the remainder to the men storming the Mole. Gangways came down on the Mole like that, and the men went through on them. (Applause.)
All this part of the ship, the funnels and the fighting top and so on, were showing over the Mole, and mostly those things suffered tremendous hits. Here you see where they had been hitting us every second, and the shots were coming in every direction. The Germans were finding shots coming, and did not know where they came from.
Now this picture is very inaccurate, because it shows all the gangways-I took this out of one of the illustrated papers; but the idea of the gangways and men going up is very good. The first men to go out were the seamen; the seamen led the storming of the Mole, (Applause.) and in addition to all their other accoutrements they carried these ladders, and when they got over the parapet they used these to get down the other side of the wall, so that those who were following could get down on to the floor of the Mole quickly. As the men were shouldering the ladders below, we went to the side of the Mole and then we put the gangways up and they ran up the gangways, and the way they did so was perfectly magnificent. There is a story I sometimes tell of how I saw the ladder down there and the men of one division at the top, and one man in passing said "That is Mr. so and so"--naming an officer-"he has just had his left arm shot off": and the moment this youngster heard it he put his right hand up and waived it to me and said "Best of luck, sir, best of luck." (Applause.) That was the sort of spirit there was right through this thing. The men were perfectly splendid and the officers were splendid. The men had absolute confidence in their officers, and the officers had absolute confidence in their men. They were perfectly splendid. (Applause.) But if I started to tell you little personal stories of that kind, I should be going all afternoon, and we must get on to other things.
All this was carried out under an extremely heavy fire, both machine gun and shell, and the way those men got down those ladders carrying all their accoutrements with their backs to the enemy, and not knowing what was waiting for them at the bottom, was very fine. You can imagine going down a sixteen foot ladder and not knowing what is waiting for you at the bottom. The getting down is one thing, the getting up was another. I will refer to that in a moment. After those men were down on the Mole they had to make their way along the Mole past this parapet where the machine guns were; they had to double on their tracks in one or two places, but they. got to this point where the guns were, and we had one of those guns knocked out at eighteen minutes past twelve. (Loud applause.) Now, when it came to the time for those men on the Mole to come back, they had a signal from the ship to come back finally, and they had to get up those ladders again. Now, there were 400 men on that Mole. Out of this 400 a certain number were killed, and a very fair percentage of them were disabled, so far disabled that they could not get up the sixteen foot ladder; but although so many of those men were killed or disabled, yet their bodies or the men themselves got back on board because they were carried up those ladders by their friends. (Applause.) Now, anything finer than carrying the men up ladders like that under heavy shell fire and machine gun fire I think is difficult to imagine, and if those men, every one of them, did not deserve the Victoria Cross, I don't know who did. (Applause.) But you cannot give every man the Victoria Cross, so what they did was this. As regards the marines, they called them all in and they were to vote, every marine of the vindictive, Iris and Daffodil, as to which one should have the Victoria Cross, and the man they voted for was' not one of the men who got down on the Mole, but a man up there in the fighting top belonging to a regiment of the Royal Artillery. And I may tell you what he did. In that fighting top were eight men around the guns, and they caused tremendous damage on the Mole. They struck the destroyer on the side; they set the sheds afire; they struck those heavy guns from behind; they did a great deal of execution. Acting with the crews, they put down barrages along the Mole so that our men could advance, and so on. The Germans soon discovered what was causing the trouble, and they concentrated their fire on the offending chaps. They hit them with a lot of small stuff, and with heavy things, and they killed every man in the top but one man. That one man was severely wounded. He got out, went around and examined the one remaining gun, found it was in good order and went on with the fight until a further shell went up and knocked him out. (Loud applause.) I am glad to say he was not killed. He got the Victoria Cross and he is alive.
I got one or two photographs to show the damage to the Vindictive. This is one of the funnels. It looks like a lot of holes joined together by bits of iron. (Laughter.) Now, you know a bullet coming along may go through you and hurt you, but when a shell comes along and cuts away a big chunk of iron like this, and that big chunk of iron comes along with great velocity and hits a man, it will cut him clean in half. That is the danger we suffered; we had these chunks coming down and flying all over the ship.
Here is another bit. This is the mast here, and this is the underside of the fighting top: that is the bridge, chart house, and so on. The quartermaster was nearly cut in half by a heavy shell. All this portion of the ship was very nearly smashed up, and a heavy shell got into the chart house. Nearly everybody on this deck was killed; very few men could manage to get back. I had some very unpleasant experiences here. I do not want to go into them in detail, because the details are rather gruesome and nasty as a rule, but there is nothing nasty in this one. The quartermaster and my first lieutenant were standing there talking to me; we were discussing whether it was possible for another man to get back, when a heavy shell came and burst alongside of us, and we were all hit. Mine was nothing; I just got a little one in the shoulder.
My lieutenant was shot through two legs, and he continued to stand up and carry on his duty for the next four hours. (Applause.) The result of the hit was that he was lame for six months. The quartermaster was injured in the arm, and I, as I have stated. So I had to do some amateur steering myself. I had been cursing the men on the way over in regard to steering, and when I went back myself, it was a damn sight worse. (Laughter and applause.)
There is another of the funnels. That was struck on the side away from the Mole, and those holes are made by something that went clear. through everything.
That is a photograph of the gangway. These photographs were taken about nine hours after we left Zeebrugge Mole.
That is the fighting top, showing over the bridge, sitting up near the bows of the ship. You know the bows of the ship are the sharp ends. (Laughter.)
There is a gun. The gun crew consists of ten men. It was a howitzer, and we were going to launch a shell over the wall into the shed. The guns' crew was there, thinking they could not be hit, but a shell came in and killed the whole ten. They got another crew, and a shell came through and killed seven men out of ten. We told off a third gun crew, and they examined that gun and found it was knocked out; it was useless, and they went about their jobs.
This but here was the one we had the big flamethrower in. It was just like sheets of iron put together to prevent any back fire. We tried a rifle bullet on this thing before we started, and the rifle bullet went clean through it, but it made a very good place for conning the ship from, because it was right up near the ship's side, and when you are taking a ship alongside the wall it is the very best place, and we had this right on our ship's side, because you can see the whole length of your ship, and you can see whether you are going to get the path or not. I had a little shelter made up there, and I stood up and looked through there. It was only five feet above the wall, and a very good position, so that I could recognize the wall, and know where on the Mole I was. I had one officer there with me, and the place was full of sparks, and that is all I can tell you. What made the sparks I don't know. Neither of us was hit,' but we were both hit on our clothes and knocked about considerably. My best relic, as a matter of fact, is my cap, but I do not like to boast too much about these things, because every slacker that has been out at the front has the same thing. He has tunics with holes in them, and boots with holes in them. My men counted the holes in that place and found two hundred of them. Of course, I was only in that place part of my time.
Now five minutes after we got alongside, a submarine arrived "according to plan" as the Germans say, and ran into the viaduct here, got in underneath the viaduct though they were rather heavily fired on at one time. The Germans came running from the shore along the top of the viaduct here and started firing at a range of fifteen feet. Having secured the submarine underneath, our men lighted the time fuse and then got out into a little motor skiff and started off the engine, and the first thing they discovered was that the propeller had come off. There was a heavy tide running in this direction, and they had only a couple of paddles, but they got out the paddles and started away under a terrific fire in this direction. When they had gone about three hundred yards, off went the explosion; the submarine went up, the viaduct went up, the railway went up, and the Germans on the railway went up. (Applause.)
The submarine's crew of three officers and three men went into what, I personally consider, was absolutely certain death. They could not imagine for one instant that any of them could ever get back: It was purely a miracle we got the whole of them back, the three officers and the three men. Three of them were very severely wounded. The captain of the submarine himself was very dangerously wounded, but he recovered and they gave him the Victoria Cross. I am very sorry to say I have just had information that he has died of typhoid. Oh, a terrible thing.
Here is a photograph of the break in the viaduct of 105 feet. That damage to the railway was a very serious thing to them, not only on the night of the operation, but it prevented reinforcements from coming to them all the rest of the time, because they could not get any heavy stores after that to the Mole--ammunition and aeroplanes and that sort of thing-unless they did it by boat, which was very inconvenient. That is where the submarine stopped up the railway. So much for the Vindictive, Iris and Daffodil.
Now, the block ships arrived here just on time, twenty minutes past twelve. The first one-the Thetis-got entangled with these nets, and it was fired at by these guns. She got down here, she struggled out, and all the engines came to a standstill; and then they had a hurried consultation as to what to do. They were being very heavily fired at by the batteries here, and here, and here, (on the shore) those batteries of 12-inch and 11-inch guns. It was those same guns that bombarded the Mole here as soon as they found out where we were-regardless of whether they killed their own people or smashed up their own Mole or not.
Having got the engines started again they got her off the mud and worked her down as far as they could, and then sank her. (See Plate 3.) These three block ships were fitted with bombs inside, with mines, and all we had to do was to press a button and the mines would go off and the bottom of the ship would leave its supports. We had good success blocking, as we could operate the mines and the bottoms of the ships fell out very quickly. The commander of the ship pressed the button, the bottom of the ship fell out, and she sank, and she is still there. - He had aimed at getting in here but if he had aimed at getting his ship outside he could hardly have got a better position. * That ship caused them endless trouble; I will go further and say this, that that ship is in such a bad position-or good, if you like to put it that way-in the way of blocking that channel, that I don't believe that anybody-British, Belgians, Germans or anybody else will ever remove that ship. I may be wrong, but I don't believe that ship will ever be moved. The only way I can see to get rid of her is to dig her right in-suck all the sand underneath her and bury her about thirty or forty feet.
After the ship had sunk and the bridge and upper deck were under water, the commander did not think even then that his work had ended, and so he settled down to make signals to the other two blockships following in, down this way, and inform them where the entrance to the canal was. There was very fine co-operation between that ship and the others. Remember, this was all in the middle of the night-an awful job to find the place you are trying to block the ship in the face of tremendous fire. These fellows reported afterwards that those signals from the ship were of the very greatest assistance, and they came down this way. The Intrepid got down there and tried to turn around as far as she could, but she wouldn't turn any more, so the captain pressed the button, the ship sank and she is still there. (Applause.) The third one, the Iphegenia saw the gap, and she was headed the same way. Directly she was ashore there he twisted the ship around until he was sure that his stern-that is, the blunt end-was on the sand. (Laughter.) When he was absolutely certain that he was ashore at both ends, he pressed the button, the mines went off, the bottom went out, the ship sank, and she is still there. (Applause.)
Now, those two ships blocked that channel absolutely for five months. (Applause.) I explained, at great length at the beginning, how very very narrow the actual channel is owing to that sand. It is very narrow indeed. Because it is wet on one side or the other, that does not mean that a ship can get across; what it means is that a boy could sail his toy boat there. But those two ships absolutely stopped that channel. What the Germans did was to concentrate dredging between those ships' sterns and this shore to cut a channel through so as to get their ships out.
Here is one of the aerial photographs showing the position blocked by the ships. There is the Mole; here is the Thetis; here is the Iphegenia, and there is the Intrepid. Here is another one. That photograph was taken at about half tide and you see the sand is wet.
There is a German photograph showing the position of the block ships. This photograph was taken by a German air man, properly fixed up, and we managed to get hold of it-we generally managed to get what we wanted out of the Germans. This one, again, is taken at high tide; you notice there is no sand here. The dredge is actually working between the Thetis and the sand. There is the Thetis herself, as she is in fact, except that she has now the white ensign flying. (Applause.)
There is the end of the Mole. There is the lighthouse. These are the buoys. Here is another German air photograph showing the Iphegenia and Intrepid. If you can imagine the German photographer standing there, he would get a line in the background. If they drew a line across, like that, between the two ships, that line would be approximately across the channel.
This photograph was taken to prove to the Germans that the channel was not blocked; so the photographer standing at the Iphegenia, held his camera straight inland so that the Intrepid stood in the foreground, the line in the background. They then cut this so as to make a sea horizon. Then they put the air craft in, and against the line they wrote a few words to the effect that the channel was not blocked. Are they not wonderful liars? (Laughter.) The joke of it is I have got a copy of this original photograph, which is now shown on the screen, and I have also got a copy of what you might call the fake or propaganda photograph of the same thing, with that end cut out, their aerial fleet in, and so on.
This is another German photograph we got off a man in the trenches. There is the left-hand pier of the entrance. Here is the stern of the Intrepid. That is a block ship, that one farthest in. There is the stern and the funnels of the Iphegenia and the pier. Do you see the sand that drifted right out into the channel? On those high-water photographs this flow of water around on the top of this sand makes it look wet, and it is wet, but the real depth is one inch. This sand is absolutely dry to the stern of the Intrepid and no craft could pass through here. You see that dredge away off here, and another there, so as to get that channel open, and after four months' work they did it. One of the reasons they took four months was this, that during the whole time they were working at those ships trying to dredge these channels, we were dropping bombs on them from air craft; and from the 23rd of April, the day this operation took place St. George's Day-until the day we got into Zeebrugge finally, the average bombing was four tons per day. (Applause.)
Now, those ships were fitted in such a way that they could not be removed. They could not be lifted, because they had no bottoms-these had been blown out. They could not be cut away, for every ship had been fitted in such a way that it could not be cut up. What we did I am not going to tell you, but the consequence was that we were quite convinced that those three ships could not be moved; it was absolutely impossible to move them. We are now trying to do it. (Laughter.)
That is the Vindictive after she got back to Dover. (Applause.) Directly we got away from the wall, we did not deceive ourselves over the fact that every gun in the place would concentrate on us and hit us. They did their very best. We put up a smoke screen to hide us, arid I suppose we were very successful, because we got back. We had a heavy shell fall inside, and it killed a lot of men. We had another one in there. I think they were 11-inch shells. This is a closer view of the same thing-the wreckage of the kingway.
There is an interesting point in connection with this photograph. While we were on the Mole the Germans were shelling it with heavy guns, and a heavy shell hit outside the wall and knocked it away, and a large chunk fell on the ship, and stayed there through the entire trip back, and we found it there in the morning. The main portion of that piece was taken to the Imperial War Museum, London, as a memento of this operation, after we had taken a few souvenirs.
Here are four of my crew. (Applause.) Here is the Red Cross train. (Applause.) Here are some of my officers. (Applause.) It was the spirit of these men that enabled us to get through. (Applause.)
Now, if there is a moral to this story, and I am sure there must be, it would be a rather good thing to try to seek it out. I would suggest to you this: the success of this operation showed the result of good co-operation and confidence between officers and men. (Applause.) This confidence between officers and men is the one thing, and one alone, which can make any operation in war a success. If an officer struts about and refuses to talk to his men or refuses to take them into confidence in any way, and considers them lower than himself, he will never get the work out of them. (Applause.) If an officer takes the men into his confidence, and especially in an affair like this, he gets good results. And the same with the men; if the men hold themselves aloof and do not approach the officer when he is ready to talk to them on a subject, it will knock them out. That is the spirit which is necessary right through the army, and it has got to be exactly the same right through the Empire. (Applause.)
How about peace time? Is there any analogy between officers and men in peace? Yes-employers and employees. If the employers don't take the men into their confidence and treat them as human beings and make them have confidence in their employers, there is going to be no co-operation with the employees. (Applause.) If employees hold their employers aloof and will not communicate with them, the same thing will happen. The thing we have to remember is this: these men showed a fine spirit, so did all the men in the army and navy; and we have to see that every civilian has that same spirit which runs right through the British Army and Navy. The only thing we have to see is that employers and employees do their very best to work together for the good of the whole community. (Loud applause.)