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Covering the villages of Wilsden and Harecroft
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23rd April – On St George’s day, three obsolete British Navy cruisers, with a large naval force in support, were sent across the North Sea to the German-held Belgian port of Zeebrugge, where the cruisers were to be sunk, blocking the entrance to the submarine base there. The mission was extremely risky and daring – during the raid eight Victoria Crosses were awarded. The heavily defended fortifications around Zeebrugge were stormed by British landing parties, destroying many of the defensive works there; despite the fact that the attacking soldiers and ships were exposed to heavy German machine-gun and artillery fire, and the British landing gangways and scaling ladders were not long enough to reach the top of the harbour walls. On the far side of the harbour, an outdated British submarine, packed full of explosives, was sailed into the supports of a railway viaduct and detonated, demolishing a section of the viaduct as the five-man British crew narrowly escaped in a rowing boat. In the chaos and confusion, a German cyclist corps, hurriedly sent as reinforcements and unaware of what had happened, cycled straight over the edge of the destroyed section. The blockships were successfully put into place, but within three weeks the Germans had dredged a channel around them, and submarines were once again able to raid into the North Sea and beyond. The British had suffered two-hundred killed and four-hundred wounded. The British public responded enthusiastically to the story of the Zeebrugge raid – the simultaneous, but unsuccessful, raid on the canal entrance at Ostend was barely reported on, and no medals were awarded for that action.

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A German aerial photograph of the blocked harbour at Zeebrugge, taken the day after the raid – the scuttled British ships Intrepid and Iphigenia are blocking the main channel, with Thetis further behind them.

Sources

Gilbert, M First World War

Keighley News Archive (accessed via Bradford Libraries website)

Warfare Magazine Online http://www.warfaremagazine.co.uk/articles/The-Zeebrugge-Raid/105