Australians at Zeebrugge
- December 1975
- Burness, Peter
- History - WW1
- HMAS Australia (I)
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
On the mole things had been going badly. It was found impossible to destroy the molehead guns although the attack as a distraction had at least been successful. The five Australian seamen had all got ashore and managed to avoid injury. Meanwhile, it was decided to try to manoeuvre Iris so that her raiding parties could go ashore across the Vindictive. No sooner had the ferry got into position than it was decided to recall all the landing parties. Vindictive’s siren had been shot away and the little Daffodil had to signal the withdrawal.
Like the landing, the withdrawal was difficult and dangerous. Many acts of bravery were witnessed as men tried to assist their wounded, and sometimes dead, comrades into the comparative safety of the ship. Some men returned several times onto the mole to recover their less fortunate comrades.
It was during the withdrawal of the three vessels from the mole that Lieutenant- Commander Edgar, RAN, distinguished himself. Moving under cover of heavy smoke, Iris received a direct hit on the bridge from a heavy German shell. She swung off course directly into the sights of enemy shore batteries. A number of hits were registered in quick succession, causing nearly one hundred and fifty casualties amongst passengers and crew.
Lieutenant-Commander Edgar ‘. . .came on deck when the ship was under heavy fire, and, with an engine-room artificer, turned on the smoke apparatus.‘ Braving the storm of enemy fire ML558 steamed between Iris and the mole to also lay a cover of smoke. Just as it appeared that her ordeal was over, three more heavy shells crashed with devastating effect through Iris’s decks. Although badly hit she did not sink and limped home to Dover burning fiercely, with her captain amongst the mortally wounded. All the volunteers from HMAS Australia returned safely to Dover – she was the only ship which posted no casualty list.
The achievements of the raid on Zeebrugge were small, the objective not being fully achieved. However, the raid has entered history as one of the boldest undertaken by the British Navy. Never before, nor since, have so many decorations for valour in action been awarded to British fighting men engaged in a single operation. Lieutenant-Commander Edgar was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, three Australian seamen on Vindictive received the Distinguished Service Medal, and one of the stokers on the blockship Thetis received the Belgium Croix de Guerre.
Nominal Roll – HMAS Australia Detachment at Zeebrugge:
Engineer Lieutenant-Commander W.H.V. Edgar, DSC – Iris
Leading Seaman C’.J. Bush, DSM – Vindictive
Leading Seaman D.J.O. Rudd, DSM – Vindictive
Able Seaman H.J. Cillard – Vindictive
Able Seaman L.T. Newland – Vindictive
Leading Seaman G.E. Staples, DSM – Vindictive
Leading Stoker W.J. Bourke – Thetis
Leading Stoker R. Hopkins – Thetis
Leading Stoker C.J. Lockard – Thetis
Leading Stoker N.J. McCrory, C-de-G – Thetis
Leading Stoker J. Strong – Thetis
Society member Commodore M V. Knight, OBE, DSC, RD, US Legion of Merit, RANR won the Distinguished Service Cross while serving as a Sub Lieutenant in HMS Sirius in this operation.
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