Zeebrugge raid centenary to be remembered on both sides of Channel

Ten days of events next month will celebrate the centenary of the ‘first commando raid’: the attack on Zeebrugge.

Commemorations will take place on both sides of the Channel to honour the British and Commonwealth sailors and marines who sought to bottle up enemy submarines in their Belgian base – and the German troops who fought bitterly to try to stop them.

The daring raid on St George’s Day in 1918 was staged when Allied fortunes were at their lowest ebb as the German Army drove the British and French Armies to the edge of breaking point.

Flanders-based U-boats proved a major thorn in the side of the Royal Navy and maritime traffic in the North Sea and Channel.

Led by the energetic commander of the Dover Patrol, Roger Keyes, a specialist force of blockships, gunboats, submarines and assault parties attempted to ‘cork the bottle’ by wrecking the mole at Zeebrugge harbour and scuttling the blockships in the narrow main channel.

Centenary events begin with two of those Victoria Cross winners being honoured in their home towns: Capt Alfred Carpenter in Richmond, Royal Marine Capt Edward Bamford in Haringey on April 16 and 17.

Although the raid failed – the blockships did not stop U-boat traffic – and cost the attackers heavily (of the 1,700 sailors and Royal Marines taking part, more than 580 were casualties, 227 of them killed for just 24 German casualties), it was hailed as a success thanks to a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign by the Admiralty and the award of eight VCs to participants.

Centenary events begin with two of those Victoria Cross winners being honoured in their home towns: Capt Alfred Carpenter in Richmond, Royal Marine Capt Edward Bamford in Haringey on April 16 and 17.

All eight medals, plus three awarded following the subsequent, more successful raid on Ostend, have been collected for an exhibition at Bruges’ historic Provincial Hall which begins on April 20.

On Saturday April 21, senior VIPs, ships and military personnel from Britain, Germany and Belgium will attend the formal commemoration in Zeebrugge, concluding with the dedication of a memorial to Lt Cdr George Bradford VC, killed leading a storming party on the mole. The day closes with a concert by a combined British-German-Belgian military band.

Across the Channel on the anniversary day itself, there will be acts of remembrance at the Zeebrugge Monument in Dover’s St James’ Cemetery followed by a parade through the town.

And just along the coast in Deal, an exhibition on the history of the RM in the town will be opened in the civic museum followed by a parade by 42 Commando… exercising the Freedom of Deal awarded by civic leaders several years ago.

And finally… rugby players will remember Lt Cdr Arthur Harrison at a dinner in HMS Nelson, Portsmouth, on April 27.

Harrison lead the assault teams aboard HMS Vindictive and died in the assault. He’s the only England rugby player to have been awarded Britain’s highest military decoration.