- from the British newsmagazine The War Illustrated, 25th May, 1918
- 'Well Done, Vindictive!'
- by Edward Wright
The New Spirit in the British Navy and Its Significance
Let us praise our fighting men. They have had more than enough advice and exhortation. For our own sake, let us praise them. Midway they stand in their terrible career, with their work only half done and their enemy towering victoriously in the cast and occupying the lines of a hard-hit British army in the west. We all feel that the spirit of our race is higher than ever it was, yet for years the struggle has afforded us no clear measure of comparison between the unfinished efforts of our own generation and the complete achievements of our forefathers. Long and anxiously have our seamen and soldiers struggled with difficult new problems in warfare, allowing no comparison with the problems that Nelson and Wellington overcame.
"The Nelson Touch"
At last, however, our seamen have found for themselves a task strikingly like the hardest work ever set Nelson. In i8oi the great admiral, fresh from his victory at Copenhagen, came to Dover to prevent Napoleon invading England. Stubbornly and skilfully he attacked the French flotilla in Boulogne Harbour, but his losses from the fire of French land batteries compelled him to give over the attempt, and his failure plunged the country into a condition of intense anxiety that led to the false Peace of Amiens. Four years then passed before the victory of Trafalgar partly repaired all the consequences of the check at Boulogne.
The rule that ships could not fight against fortified places was born of the only severe reverse that Nelson suffered. Yet in circumstances in which even the Nelson touch could not prevail, the Vindictive spirit has triumphed, and to Admiral Keyes and his men it has been given to open a new era in naval operations, as well as to illustrate in an inspiring manner the general virtue of the new generation of the island race.
The end of the struggle may be near or still distant, but the feeling with which the country intends to endure to the end has changed. On land, on sea and in air, in field, factory, and farm the fate that has befallen an old, broken, and apparently useless cruiser, manned by a few mechanics and stokers, has told finely upon the spirit of the nation.
after the raid - the condition of the HMS Vindictive
A Last Glorious Voyage
It was the last episode in the career of the Vindictive that made her as famous as Nelson's Victory. Had she been towed to London as a show ship, after her first great adventure by the Zeebrugge Mole on April 23rd, she would have been merely a picturesque, romantic spectacle. But, by chance or subtle design, the suggestion that she should become a money-collecting ruin, like Egbert and other rusty Tanks, only added a note, of rich humour to the story of her achievements.
She first outfought the enemy on the Flemish coast, and helped to close his principal Channel port; then, when she was apparently reduced to a wrecked hulk, she deceived him, and by one of the most glorious examples of the art of counter- espionage and camouflage, pretended to be dressing herself up for a London show, at a time when she was waiting for a wind north by west, a calm sea, and a tide to make another surprise attack upon the deluded enemy.
The weather that she wanted arrived on Thursday- evening, May 9th, 1918. When darkness fell the Vindictive set out on her last voyage, after a struggle between her engineers, stokers, and ship's company generally and other officers and men of the Dover Patrol. Vindictive's men were implored not to be greedy, and asked to let others have a chance. They replied that the last thing in the world they liked was facing perils, and admitted that they had had their full share at Zeebrugge. But there was the ship to consider. Had Admiral Keyes really thought of that? How could a new crew get everything possible out of the old engines? This last stroke told, and with some fresh volunteers from the Dover Patrol and a new commander, the engineer- lieutenant and some of his men made a second trip to Flanders.
They could not, however, get the old boat along properly under her own steam. She was changed since the night she had towed the Iris and Daffodil, looking like an imitation battle-cruiser. She now resembled a derelict, and, being heavily laden with concrete, she need the help of tugs to keep up with the monitors, destroyers, motor- launches, and midget craft that formed her strange funeral procession at which the German admiral of the Flemish coast was to be chief mourner. Commodore Hubert Lynes, who had been balked in his last trip to Ostend Pier by change of wind and removal of a buoy, was the undertaker, while Admiral Keyes, in the destroyer Warwick, was master of the ceremonies.
Again the enemy was completely surprised. He had no craft on look-out duties when the British force divided, one squadron approaching Zeebrugge to distract the Germans there, while the Vindictive was being piloted between the sandbanks fronting Ostend. The Brock artificial fog was once more loosened, amid a rain of sighting star-shells and a tempest of projectiles from monitors, destroyers, and motor-launches. The aroused but blinded German batteries answered, but just as everything was going well from the attackers' point of view the weather changed.
A real fog rolled in from the sea, and interfered with the barrage-like movement of the Brock mist. Had the weather held clear, the commander of the new block-ship would have seen the -signs of the opening, through the Stroombank and outlying shallows, leading to Ostend Harbour entrance. He would have had a well-managed fog barrage ahead of him, but clear views on either side, with visible guiding boats sending him directions. He was close to the entrance when the sea mist came on, but he spent a very anxious half hour conning the ship past the banks on which the Brilliant and Sirius were grounded.
The Deed Accomplished
The German gunners worked well on their improved plan of defence. They maintained, with their heaviest guns, an exact, incessant curtain fire over the channel to the harbour. In spite of all their searchlights and star-shells, they could not see their moving target, but they repeatedly hit it, and forced Vindictive's officers from the steering position into the conning-tower. But the skill and foresight behind the British vessel defeated all the enemy's arrangements. The old cruiser was not to be stopped. She was no longer a ship, but a heavily-floating lump of steel-shod concrete, thicker than any fortress wall ever made.
She steamed between the Ostend piers, rammed the eastern side at a distance of some six hundred feet inside the entrance, swung round to an angle of forty degrees, and sank by the act of her. commander. The speed and gallantry by which the small crew were rescued by motor-launches, enabling the operation to be carried out with extraordinarily slight loss of life, formed a happy close to an achievement of glorious scope.
Fine Flower of Courage
Even genius, however, cannot always attain great results at small cost, and neither in the fortunately light casualty lists, nor in the actual feat of blocking the Ostend fairway to all but small craft, was the supreme quality of the new British offensive spirit displayed. What especially marked Sir Roger Keyes and the men of his school were their scientific daring and their inventive persistency. Nelson was the contemporary of James Watt, Priestley, Cavendish, and Fulton, but his genius was based entirely upon experience and seamanship. Admiral Cochrane afterwards combined science and seamanship, but he did not found a tradition.
Only during the present war has there gradually risen to high command a young generation of British naval leaders, who unite fine powers of technical invention and organisation with all the old fighting qualities of their race. They incarnate the Vindictive spirit, which is a flower of mind blossoming on the root of courage.
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