The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: The blockships

The five blockship used during the Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids on 23rd April 1918 were all drawn from the Apollo-class of 2nd class Protected Cruisers. There were twenty-one ships in the class plus eight of the slightly modified Astrea-class, and they were built between 1889 and 1892.

Their characteristics when built were:

  • Displacement: 3,600 tons
  • Dimensions:
    • Length: 314′ (96m)
    • Beam: 43′ 6″ (13.26m)
    • Draught: 17′ 6″ (5.33m)
  • Speed: 19.75 knots
  • Complement: 273 to 300 officers and men
  • Armament: 2 × 6-inch (152mm) QF Guns; 6 × 4.7-inch (120mm) QF Guns; 8 × 6-pounder QF Guns; 2 or 4 × 14-inch (360mm) Torpedo Tubes

By the time that HMS Dreadnought was launched, the protected cruisers were already becoming obsolete, and seven of the class (HMS Andromache, HMS Apollo, HMS Intrepid, HMS Iphigenia, HMS Latona, HMS Naiad, and HMS Thetis) were converted into minelayers in 1907.

Six of the class were converted into blockships for the Zeebrugge and Ostend raids. These were:

  • HMS Intrepid: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Iphigenia: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Thetis: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Brilliant: Expended at Ostend (1st raid)
  • HMS Sirius: Expended at Ostend (1st raid)
  • HMS Sappho: Intended to be used at Ostend (2nd raid), but broke down on the way and not used

HMS Intrepid

HMS Iphigenia

HMS Thetis

HMS Brilliant

HMS Sirius

HMS Sappho

To prepare them for their use as blockships, the vessels were stripped of most of their armament and many compartments were filled with concrete. The extent of the damage inflicted on the blockships during the raids can be gauged by the following photograph:

American Civil War ironclads in action

As part of the work I am doing on my latest book (GRIDDED NAVAL WARGAMES), I have been fighting an action between my newly-built American Civil War ironclads. the action took pace on the little-know Missenhitti River …

… and resulted in a close-fought, close-range action where neither side escaped undamaged.

I now need to stage a battle between some Pre-dreadnought-era warships. With luck I should manage to do that withing the next week or so.

The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: The Mersey ferries

Early in the planning of the operation, it was recognised that there was a need for ships to carry part of the Royal Navy and Royal Marine assault force. Various vessels were looked at, but the criteria of a shallow draught combined with a large passenger-carrying capacity soon showed that a ferry or ferries would be the best type to meet these requirements.

Of the Mersey ferries that were available, the Iris and the Daffodil (later the Royal iris and the Royal Daffodil) were selected. They had been built in 1906, and were twin-screw vessels powered by reciprocating engines that gave them a top speed of 12 knots. They were equipped with flying bridges that were fitted with docking cabs to with port and starboard, and they were steered from the bridge.



Once taken into naval service they were modified so that they could each carry up to 1,500 military personnel. The modifications included:

  • The removal of all furniture;
  • The fitting of armour plate to vulnerable areas of the vessel;
  • Being painted grey.

HMS Iris

HMS Daffodil

During the raid on Zeebrugge, the Daffodil helped to keep HMS Vindictive alongside the mole by pushing the cruiser with her bows. This also enable the Royal Marines she was carrying to cross over to the Vindictive so that they could land. The Iris attempted to land its contingent of Royal Marines directly onto the mole just ahead of the Vindictive. This proved to be very difficult, and eventually she was ordered to withdraw. At this point she was hit by two large shells, which destroyed one of the docking cabs and part of the bridge.

After the raid the two ships were returned to their owners, and 17th May, 1918, they sailed back into the Mersey, where they were rapturously received by large crowds of local people.

After the war had ended, both vessels were given permission by King George V to add the prefix ‘Royal’ to their names. The Royal Iris became a river cruise boat on the Mersey in 1923, and in 1931 she was sold to Cork Harbour Commissioners, who renamed her Blarney in 1937. She served her new owners well and was not withdrawn from service until 1961. In 1932 the Royal Daffodil also became a Mersey-based river cruise boat, but when she was sold to the New Medway Steam Packet Company in 1934, she moved south to the River Medway. Her service there lasted until 1938, when she was sold and broken up.

Nugget 308 … and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

I will be collecting the latest edition of THE NUGGET (N308) from the printer this morning, and I will be post it out to members of Wargame Developments as soon as I can.

I have already uploaded the PDF version of THE NUGGET to the Wargame Developments website so that it can be read online or downloaded and printed.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the eighth and penultimate issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2017-2018 subscription year, and that members who have not already re-subscribed can do so by visiting the relevant page on the Wargame Developments website.

VERY IMPORTANT: I will be including a letter entitled WARGAME DEVELOPMENTS, GENERAL DATA PROTECTION REGULATION (GDPR) AND YOU with THE NUGGET. I will also be sending a copy to members who only receive the PDF version of the magazine. A copy of the letter can also be downloaded from the Wargame Developments website here.

The letter spells out Wargame Developments‘s policy regarding the data we hold about members, how it is protected, and what usage is made of that data. The new regulations require us to do this and to ask for specific permission to hold and use member’s data in accordance with that policy. As I understand it, we cannot accept a tacit form of permission (i.e. you joined, therefore you have tacitly agreed to us holding data about you) but must have explicit permission to hold the data and to use it to contact individual members. This means that if members do not give that permission, we cannot contact them individually after 25th May 2018 … and that includes sending out copies of THE NUGGET by post.

If members wish to send their permission, please could they do so by post to the address that will be at the bottom of the letter or by email. A simple statement to the effect that they give permission for Wargame Developments to contact them by post and email should suffice until next year’s renewal forms are sent out. These will include a specific section where members can select the data they wish Wargame Developments to hold, and a space for a signature.

The City and The City

Last night I finished watching the BBC adaptation of China Miéville’s novel THE CITY AND THE CITY on BBC iPlayer and must admit that it left me feeling that I wanted to know more about the twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. As to the story being a police procedural set in a semi-fantasy setting … well I felt that it worked, but it did take a bit of mental effort to follow everything that was happening. (I happen to like dystopian stories, and this certainly fits into that genre.)

The concept of the populations of the twin cities not being able to ‘see’ each other did seem odd at first, but when I began to think about it, I realised that human beings can do that all the time. For example, in many totalitarian states the population seems to be able to ‘not see’ things that might be dangerous for them to ‘see’, and how many times have we each ‘not seen’ something that was unpleasant or difficult even though it might be blindingly obvious. One only has to consider some of the recent child protection cases that have taken place in the UK to realise that this can happen on a wide scale if the environment is conducive to ‘not seeing’ something that is inconvenient to acknowledge as existing.

The choice of the names of the twin cities (and the mythical third city) is interesting. As soon as I realised that the twin of Besźel was called Ul Qoma (pronounced Ulcoma), I was struck by the similarity to the word Glaucoma, which is a group of eye diseases that can result in damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision … the later being something that the populations of both cities seem to collectively suffer from.

The name Besźel put me in mind of the word bezel, which besides being a grove that holds a jewel in place also refers to the facets on a gem and the frame of a TV, computer, or smartphone screen. In the latter case it ‘contains’ whatever we can see … which is yet another oblique reference to restricted vision.

The mythical third city is called Orciny, and as soon as I realised how it was spelt, I saw the obvious reference to the word ‘orc’. Thanks to the work of J R R Tolkien, I doubt if there are many people who don’t have an idea what they are … hideous humanoid creatures that are part of a fantasy race. Orcs are often portrayed as being underground-living (in THE CITY AND THE CITY to ways into Orciny seem to be through underground passages or tunnels), aggressive, cunning, and capable of working metals. The latter is interesting as part of the story’s plot revolves around the discovery of unique metal objects fashioned from a previously unknown alloy.

This was not any easy TV series to watch, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. I understand that there might be a follow-up series based around the same characters and the setting, but as the author has not written any further novels as yet that are set in the twin cities, I suspect that this will not come to pass.

It is interesting to note that most of the location filming was done in Liverpool and Manchester. In the series Besźel is depicted as a run-down and dirty place, redolent of Communist-era Eastern Europe and with out-dated technology (the cars all looked like old Russian Ladas), whereas Ul Qoma is far more modern and clean-looking, with up-to-date technology, an almost universal smoking ban, and armed police and soldiers on every street corner.

Two different views of dystopia, both of which worked in their own contexts and in the context of the story.

The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: HMS Vindictive

HMS Vindictive was one of four Arrogant-class Protected Cruisers that were built between 1895 and 1900. The other ships in the class were HMS Arrogant, HMS Furious, and HMS Gladiator.

The Arrogant-class protected Cruisers as built.

By the outbreak of the First World War, the design of the Arrogant-class Protected Cruisers was obsolete, and only HMS Vindictive took an active part in the conflict. HMS Gladiator had sunk in 1908 as a result of a collision with the merchant ship SS Saint Paul, whilst HMS Arrogant had become a Submarine Depot Ship in 1911 and HMS Furious had been paid off and hulked in 1912. (She was renamed HMS Forte in 1915 to release the name for the new Light Battlecruiser that was being built.)

The ship’s characteristics were:

  • Displacement: 5,750 tons
  • Dimensions:
    • Length: 342′ (104.2m)
    • Beam: 57′ 6″ (17.5m)
    • Draught: 20′ (6.1m)
  • Propulsion: 2 x vertical triple-expansion steam engines (10,000shp) using steam generated by 18 Belleville water-tube boilers, driving 2 propellers
  • Speed: 19 knots
  • Complement: 480
  • Armament:
    • When built: 4 × 6-inch (152 mm) QF Guns; 6 × 4.7-inch (120 mm) QF guns; 8 × 12-pounder (3-inch/76mm) QF Guns; 3 × 3-pounder (47mm) QF Guns; 5 x Machine Guns; 3 submerged 18-inch (450mm) Torpedo Tubes
    • By 1914: 10 × 6-inch (152 mm) QF Guns; 8 × 12-pounder (3-inch/76mm) QF Guns; 3 × 3-pounder (47mm) QF Guns; 5 x Machine Guns; 3 submerged 18-inch (450mm) Torpedo Tubes
    • At the time of the Zeebrugge Raid: 1 x 11-inch (280mm) Howitzer; 2 x 7.5-inch (190mm) Howitzers; 2 x 6-inch (152 mm) QF Guns; 16 x 3-inch (76mm) Stokes Mortars; 5 x Pompom Guns; 16 x Lewis Machine Guns; Flamethrowers
  • Armour:
    • Deck: 1.5-inch to 3-inch (38mm to 76mm)
    • Conning tower: 9-inch (229mm)

One of the 7.5-inch Howitzers and several of the 3-inch Stokes Mortars fitted to HMS Vindictive.

HMS Vindictive on her return from Zeebrugge.

The damage done to HMS Vindictive during the raid can be clearly seen in this photograph. The large box-shaped structure to the right of the bridge in this photograph housed one of the large flamethrowers.

After her heroic service during the Zeebrugge Raid, the very badly damaged HMS Vindictive was expended as a blockship during the second raid on Ostend.

Nugget 308

The editor of THE NUGGET sent the latest issue to me over the weekend, and I hope to take it to the printer later today. With luck it should be ready for me to collect by the end of the week so that I can post it out over the forthcoming weekend.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the eighth and penultimate issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2017-2018 subscription year, and that members who have not already re-subscribed can do so by visiting the relevant page on the Wargame Developments website.