Published By Ben Hillidge
Ostend and Zeebruge Raids 23 April & 10 May 1918
Ostend. HM Coastal Motor Boat 25. 10 May 1918.
Ostend and Zeebrugge in Belgium were both occupied by the Germans. They were important strategic harbours giving access to the North Sea and close to the British supply lines crossing the Channel. The ports were used as submarine bases and were access points to a canal and waterway system connecting to Bruges and onward into Germany. It was for these reason that the British used the more southerly ports of Boulogne, Dieppe and Le Havre as their main routes rather than the nearer ports of Calais and Dunkirk. In April 1918 Zeebrugge was attacked and the harbour walls destroyed and, with less success, also Ostend. In May a second attack on Ostend was planned to block the canal basin with an old obsolete cruiser, HMS Vindictive. The operation went ahead over the night of 9-10 May. John Owen was serving as a Deck Hand on Motor Launch (ML) 25(4).
Motor Launches were small fast motor boats designed to harass coastal shipping and were the fore runner of the WW2 Motor Torpedo/Air Sea Rescue launches. They could be armed with torpedoes, depth charges or used as mine layers. They also had machine gun mountings. The crew complement was about 4 or 5. For the Ostend operation all the crew had volunteered for dangerous work. It was their task to lay down smoke screens and follow HMS Vindictive into the harbour and then take off her crew when they she had been scuttled in the harbour channel.
Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned. Because of navigational errors, poor visibility as well as heavy enemy fire Vindictive went off course and ran aground in the wrong place. The Vindictive’s commander was also killed at a critical time so that orders and instructions never got through. Nevertheless the commander of ML 25, Lieutenant Drummond, came in to rescue the crew. He was forced to go to the landward side where they were exposed to heavy enemy fire. John Thomas was killed by a shell burst as they approached the Vindictive. Also killed was the first officer, Lieutenant Gordon Ross (CWGC), whilst the Coxswain and Lieutenant Drumond were wounded. They managed to take off about 40 men and then slowly and overladen, holed and taking in water, were able to make their way out of the harbour to be picked up by a destroyer escort, HMS Warwick – ML 25 was then scuttled. Shortly afterwards Warwick hit a mine and had to be towed back to Dover. Lieutenant Drummond was awarded a VC and other remembers were mentioned in despatches.
Also on the Ostend raid was another Oswestrian – Stoker PO John Lewis, RN, elder son of Mr Robert Lewis 85 York Street, he was seriously wounded in both legs and the left arm but survived the war.
Internet search for Ostend and Zeebrugge raids will find much information about the raids – HERE and HERE and films that deal more with the raids on Zeebrugge on U Tube ‘Hearts of Oak‘ Disaster at Zeebrugge the Story of HMS Vindictive at Ostend all combine official film and reconstructions to tell the story – including footage of Coastal Motor Boats
GOOGLE MAPS Ostend Harbour, Belgium.
References and Sources B&O All Years. Sea War. Ostend. HM Coastal Motor Boat 25. 10 May 1918.
Ostend and Zeebrugge, April 23: May 10, 1918. Roger Keyes. 1919 page 81ff