In the harbor of Ostend, a small piece of a large ship stands in remembrance of a deadly World War I raid.
In World War I, the Kaiser’s Imperial Navy used the inward port of Bruges to launch the infamous U-boat raids in the Atlantic Ocean. To reach the open seas, the vessels had to sail through Ostend or Zeebrugge, which were connected to Bruges by channels. The Royal Navy reckoned that the most effective way to deal with submarines was preventing them to reach the sea in the first place, instead of hunting them in a large ocean.
This led to a series of raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend, attempts to damage and block the ports. During the second raid on Ostend, HMS Vindictive, a veteran of the Zeebrugge raid, the Vindictive and its 55-strong crew played the lead—and indeed most dramatic—role.
Although tactically, the plan to attack Ostend was sound, the mission on May 9, 1918, didn’t quite go according to plan. Poor weather made the approach to the harbor quite difficult and the Germans didn’t exactly cooperate by removing all the navigation buoys. They even fired at the approaching enemy.
To try and block the harbor, the subject of this entry, HMS Vindictive, was sunk in the harbor entrance. The obsolete cruiser had been stripped of weapons and filled with concrete to both protect the volunteer crew and to make removing it a bit harder. Eight sailors, including the captain of Vindictive, lost their lives in the attack. A further 10 went missing. The German defense was fierce, with men coming under fire even after their escape from the cruiser.
The effect of the Ostend raid on the war was negligible, as the access through the port of Zeebrugge—unknown to the British—quickly became operational again. The action itself, however, was a pure act of bravery from a volunteering crew who deserve to be remembered at a site close to where the ship was sunk on that night in 1918.
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