Zeebrugge 1918 Raid
With the 'Iris' and the 'Daffodil'
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Zeebrugge 1918; in 1906, two new ferryboats came into service on the River Mersey, the 'Iris' and the 'Daffodil'. They were twin-screw steamers capable of handling 1,735 passengers each.
They were built on the Tyne by Robert Stevenson & Company and were towed to the Mersey to have their engines fitted.
Each had three separate saloons on deck, both of them were 159 feet in length, the 'Iris' was 491 Tons and the 'Daffodil' was 482 Tons. 12 years later, on St. Georges Day 1918, the two ferryboats sailed with glory into the annals of British Naval History.
During the 1914-18 War, Roger Keyes, a brilliant naval strategist devised a plan to close the canals at Zeebrugge and Ostend to the German submarines that were based there, but it was considered too dangerous an operation.
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Starve Britain into submission
Early in 1918, the devastating submarine attacks on merchant ships threatened to starve Britain into submission. With the enormous loss of lives on the western-Front; the threat of starvation could severely damage the morale of the British Public.
Roger Keyes was given the opportunity to put his plan into action.
Before the war the Belgians built a harbour wall forty feet high, which was eighty feet wide and stretched for a mile and a half out to sea. It was one of the first German targets, they captured it in the early days of the war and built massive defences on top.
They built a large submarine base, cutting three hundred miles off the travelling distance of its ocean going submarines.
'Iris' and the 'Daffodil'
The plan was to sail three obsolete cruisers, the Thetis, Intrepid, and Iphigenia, filled with concrete and block the ports entrances. To prevent the German reinforcements reaching their troops on the Mole during the attack, the viaduct which connected the mole to the mainland was to be destroyed. An old submarine filled with explosives was to be sailed under the viaduct to blown it up.
The crews from the cruisers and the submarine were to be picked up by fast boast; they would take them to the destroyers waiting in the harbour.
The two ferryboats 'Iris' and 'Daffodil' were to be towed by H.M.S. Vindictive. All three vessels would carry the landing party made up from Royal Marines Light Infantry, Royal Marines Artillery and the Royal Naval Division.
Commander Brock RNAS (of Brocks Fireworks) had perfected a smoke screen that would protect the 76 ships taking part in the raid.
The 23rd, St Georges Day
On the afternoon of 22nd April 1918, 76 vessels and over 1,700 volunteers left the Swin, south of Clacton. In the early hours of the 23rd, St Georges Day, in a battle order of three lines led by H.M.S. Vindictive towing the 'Iris' and the 'Daffodil' they set sail.
When they neared the Belgian coast, a fleet of fast boats began to lay their effective smoke screen. When they were within striking distance, disaster struck; the wind blew the smoke away from the attackers, exposing them.
Star shells lit up the whole area giving the shore batteries a clear view; the Germans opened up with everything. Their targets were easy prey inside the harbour; the German ships moored along side the wall also opened up. One of the concrete laden cruisers received a direct hit and was sunk before she reached her appointed place to be scuttled.
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Fast boats sped around picking up
All the Vindictive's guns were put out of action by the hammering she received. The 'Iris' and the 'Daffodil' had to be severed and had to make way under their own steam, both the ferryboats were battered and shell pocked. All three boats completed their tasks of landing their troops on the mole.
The submarine had found its way to its place under the viaduct. An almighty explosion tore the viaduct in two thus preventing the Germans from reinforcing their isolated troops, who were engaged in fighting the landing parties.
The fast boats sped around picking up crews who were in dangerous waters and under fire from the shore based machine gunners and the guns of the ships. The landing parties came under a ferocious attack, suffering many casualties.
Nine Victoria Crosses and another
The raid failed in its objective, there were many casualties. With
nine Victoria Crosses and another two-hundred medals for bravery, the raid can claim to be a partial success.
The two ferryboats were repaired and returned to their peaceful
occupation of crossing the River Mersey. King George V in a
proclamation commanded that these ferryboats were to be given the
honour of being awarded the pre-fix of 'Royal'. They were hence-forth and forever more be known as the 'Royal Iris' and the 'Royal Daffodil' to link their names forever more with her gallant passengers of the raid the Royal Marines.
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