- Loxton, Bruce, Commodore, RAN Rtd
- Ship histories and stories, History - WW1, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1998 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The attempt to block Ostend was not successful due to navigational difficulties. It had always been expected that the tidal stream of uncertain strength that ran cross the line of approach to Ostend would pose a problem. The point of departure for the run-in was a buoy especially laid 16 miles from the port. An accurate landfall depended on the sighting of a German navigational buoy close to the entrance. To insure against the possibility of that buoy being out of position it had been fixed by an airborne photograph taken the previous day and its revised position passed to BRILLIANT by radio. Unfortunately, after it had been photographed, the Germans moved it a mile to the eastward.
Crutchley, who was navigating BRILLIANT, could not at first find the inshore buoy and, because visibility was seriously reduced by smoke, no other navigational marks could be seen. Forced to rely on his dead reckoning position he had just made his turn for the harbour mouth when he fortunately saw the buoy and accordingly adjusted his course to head for the reassessed position of the still unseen harbour entrance. Suddenly breakers were seen ahead and, although an attempt was made to reverse course, it was too late and the ship grounded.
SIRIUS had been keeping very close to BRILLIANT because of the visibility and had been badly damaged by gunfire to the extent that she was in fact sinking. She could not avoid BRILLIANT when the latter suddenly altered course with the result that she hit her on her port quarter. Both ships were unable to extricate themselves and were blown up where they lay about a mile to the east of the harbour entrance and within easy range of a number of German batteries. In spite of this the crews of both ships all miraculously survived.
Most of BRILLIANT’s people were taken off by ML.276 after four visits alongside under very heavy fire. A further 16 abandoned ship in a whaler and were later picked up by ML283 which had already evacuated most of SIRIUS’s personnel. A number were however unaccounted for and, despite a visit alongside by CMB 10, could not be found. They had in fact got away in a whaler and were half way back to Dover when the light cruiser ATTENTIVE picked them up.
For his conduct in BRILLIANT Crutchley was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross and his Captain, Godsal, a Distinguished Service Order.
It was decided to make another attempt to block Ostend using VINDICTIVE manned by BRILLIANT’s officers and with men from the Dover Patrol. The old cruiser, stripped of her armament and loaded with cement to the maximum draught that would permit entry into Ostend, was ready the day following her return to harbour from. Zeebrugge. The weather conditions were unsuitable however, so the operation was postponed until the next period of suitable tide and moon conditions which began on May 9th. This gave time to prepare a second block ship for the operation; the cruiser SAPPHO a sister ship of BRILLIANT, manned by the officers from SIRIUS and a ships company provided by the Chatham Naval Barracks.
The weather being suitable, the ships were sailed on the afternoon of May 9th via Dunkirk where surplus personnel were landed. Soon after leaving Dunkirk SAPPHO suffered a boiler defect which reduced her speed to 6 knots and which forced her out of the operation. VINDICTIVE carried on alone.
At the same time that the buoy marking the beginning of the channel into Ostend was found and course set for the entrance, the port was subjected to an intense naval, heavy artillery and aerial bombardment and the ends of the wooden piers forming the entrance were torpedoed by Coastal Motor Boats to destroy the defence positions situated upon them. Almost simultaneously VINDICTIVE ran into a thick bank of sea fog. At the time Crutchley felt that it would spoil everything but later regarded it as a blessing for it intensified the smog concealing the ship from the Germans. Visibility was no more than 300 yards.
Two minutes before they were due to pass the entrance they could see the houses ashore but could still not make out the entrance. They had not yet been seen, though the Germans were putting up an intense barrage which included shrapnel but this did them no harm. It had been intended that the entrance would be illuminated by millions of candle power flares (developed for use in the Dover Barrage) to assist VINDICTIVE in finding the entrance but these were ineffective in the smog. She therefore had to grope for the entrance in circumstances which probably would have defeated any other ship of similar size but Godsal made very good use of her extraordinary manoeuvrability.