Monday 30 April 2018

The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: The blockships

The five blockship used during the Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids on 23rd April 1918 were all drawn from the Apollo-class of 2nd class Protected Cruisers. There were twenty-one ships in the class plus eight of the slightly modified Astrea-class, and they were built between 1889 and 1892.

Their characteristics when built were:
  • Displacement: 3,600 tons
  • Dimensions:
    • Length: 314' (96m)
    • Beam: 43' 6" (13.26m)
    • Draught: 17' 6" (5.33m)
  • Speed: 19.75 knots
  • Complement: 273 to 300 officers and men
  • Armament: 2 × 6-inch (152mm) QF Guns; 6 × 4.7-inch (120mm) QF Guns; 8 × 6-pounder QF Guns; 2 or 4 × 14-inch (360mm) Torpedo Tubes
By the time that HMS Dreadnought was launched, the protected cruisers were already becoming obsolete, and seven of the class (HMS Andromache, HMS Apollo, HMS Intrepid, HMS Iphigenia, HMS Latona, HMS Naiad, and HMS Thetis) were converted into minelayers in 1907.

Six of the class were converted into blockships for the Zeebrugge and Ostend raids. These were:
  • HMS Intrepid: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Iphigenia: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Thetis: Expended at Zeebrugge
  • HMS Brilliant: Expended at Ostend (1st raid)
  • HMS Sirius: Expended at Ostend (1st raid)
  • HMS Sappho: Intended to be used at Ostend (2nd raid), but broke down on the way and not used
HMS Intrepid

HMS Iphigenia

HMS Thetis

HMS Brilliant

HMS Sirius

HMS Sappho

To prepare them for their use as blockships, the vessels were stripped of most of their armament and many compartments were filled with concrete. The extent of the damage inflicted on the blockships during the raids can be gauged by the following photograph:

Sunday 29 April 2018

American Civil War ironclads in action

As part of the work I am doing on my latest book (GRIDDED NAVAL WARGAMES), I have been fighting an action between my newly-built American Civil War ironclads. the action took pace on the little-know Missenhitti River ...

... and resulted in a close-fought, close-range action where neither side escaped undamaged.

I now need to stage a battle between some Pre-dreadnought-era warships. With luck I should manage to do that withing the next week or so.

Saturday 28 April 2018

The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: The Mersey ferries

Early in the planning of the operation, it was recognised that there was a need for ships to carry part of the Royal Navy and Royal Marine assault force. Various vessels were looked at, but the criteria of a shallow draught combined with a large passenger-carrying capacity soon showed that a ferry or ferries would be the best type to meet these requirements.

Of the Mersey ferries that were available, the Iris and the Daffodil (later the Royal iris and the Royal Daffodil) were selected. They had been built in 1906, and were twin-screw vessels powered by reciprocating engines that gave them a top speed of 12 knots. They were equipped with flying bridges that were fitted with docking cabs to with port and starboard, and they were steered from the bridge.



Once taken into naval service they were modified so that they could each carry up to 1,500 military personnel. The modifications included:
  • The removal of all furniture;
  • The fitting of armour plate to vulnerable areas of the vessel;
  • Being painted grey.

HMS Iris

HMS Daffodil

During the raid on Zeebrugge, the Daffodil helped to keep HMS Vindictive alongside the mole by pushing the cruiser with her bows. This also enable the Royal Marines she was carrying to cross over to the Vindictive so that they could land. The Iris attempted to land its contingent of Royal Marines directly onto the mole just ahead of the Vindictive. This proved to be very difficult, and eventually she was ordered to withdraw. At this point she was hit by two large shells, which destroyed one of the docking cabs and part of the bridge.

After the raid the two ships were returned to their owners, and 17th May, 1918, they sailed back into the Mersey, where they were rapturously received by large crowds of local people.

After the war had ended, both vessels were given permission by King George V to add the prefix 'Royal' to their names. The Royal Iris became a river cruise boat on the Mersey in 1923, and in 1931 she was sold to Cork Harbour Commissioners, who renamed her Blarney in 1937. She served her new owners well and was not withdrawn from service until 1961. In 1932 the Royal Daffodil also became a Mersey-based river cruise boat, but when she was sold to the New Medway Steam Packet Company in 1934, she moved south to the River Medway. Her service there lasted until 1938, when she was sold and broken up.

Friday 27 April 2018

Nugget 308 ... and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

I will be collecting the latest edition of THE NUGGET (N308) from the printer this morning, and I will be post it out to members of Wargame Developments as soon as I can.

I have already uploaded the PDF version of THE NUGGET to the Wargame Developments website so that it can be read online or downloaded and printed.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the eighth and penultimate issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2017-2018 subscription year, and that members who have not already re-subscribed can do so by visiting the relevant page on the Wargame Developments website.

VERY IMPORTANT: I will be including a letter entitled WARGAME DEVELOPMENTS, GENERAL DATA PROTECTION REGULATION (GDPR) AND YOU with THE NUGGET. I will also be sending a copy to members who only receive the PDF version of the magazine. A copy of the letter can also be downloaded from the Wargame Developments website here.

The letter spells out Wargame Developments's policy regarding the data we hold about members, how it is protected, and what usage is made of that data. The new regulations require us to do this and to ask for specific permission to hold and use member's data in accordance with that policy. As I understand it, we cannot accept a tacit form of permission (i.e. you joined, therefore you have tacitly agreed to us holding data about you) but must have explicit permission to hold the data and to use it to contact individual members. This means that if members do not give that permission, we cannot contact them individually after 25th May 2018 ... and that includes sending out copies of THE NUGGET by post.

If members wish to send their permission, please could they do so by post to the address that will be at the bottom of the letter or by email. A simple statement to the effect that they give permission for Wargame Developments to contact them by post and email should suffice until next year's renewal forms are sent out. These will include a specific section where members can select the data they wish Wargame Developments to hold, and a space for a signature.

Thursday 26 April 2018

The City and The City

Last night I finished watching the BBC adaptation of China Miéville's novel THE CITY AND THE CITY on BBC iPlayer and must admit that it left me feeling that I wanted to know more about the twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma. As to the story being a police procedural set in a semi-fantasy setting ... well I felt that it worked, but it did take a bit of mental effort to follow everything that was happening. (I happen to like dystopian stories, and this certainly fits into that genre.)

The concept of the populations of the twin cities not being able to 'see' each other did seem odd at first, but when I began to think about it, I realised that human beings can do that all the time. For example, in many totalitarian states the population seems to be able to 'not see' things that might be dangerous for them to 'see', and how many times have we each 'not seen' something that was unpleasant or difficult even though it might be blindingly obvious. One only has to consider some of the recent child protection cases that have taken place in the UK to realise that this can happen on a wide scale if the environment is conducive to 'not seeing' something that is inconvenient to acknowledge as existing.

The choice of the names of the twin cities (and the mythical third city) is interesting. As soon as I realised that the twin of Besźel was called Ul Qoma (pronounced Ulcoma), I was struck by the similarity to the word Glaucoma, which is a group of eye diseases that can result in damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision ... the later being something that the populations of both cities seem to collectively suffer from.

The name Besźel put me in mind of the word bezel, which besides being a grove that holds a jewel in place also refers to the facets on a gem and the frame of a TV, computer, or smartphone screen. In the latter case it 'contains' whatever we can see ... which is yet another oblique reference to restricted vision.

The mythical third city is called Orciny, and as soon as I realised how it was spelt, I saw the obvious reference to the word 'orc'. Thanks to the work of J R R Tolkien, I doubt if there are many people who don't have an idea what they are ... hideous humanoid creatures that are part of a fantasy race. Orcs are often portrayed as being underground-living (in THE CITY AND THE CITY to ways into Orciny seem to be through underground passages or tunnels), aggressive, cunning, and capable of working metals. The latter is interesting as part of the story's plot revolves around the discovery of unique metal objects fashioned from a previously unknown alloy.

This was not any easy TV series to watch, but I thoroughly enjoyed doing so. I understand that there might be a follow-up series based around the same characters and the setting, but as the author has not written any further novels as yet that are set in the twin cities, I suspect that this will not come to pass.

It is interesting to note that most of the location filming was done in Liverpool and Manchester. In the series Besźel is depicted as a run-down and dirty place, redolent of Communist-era Eastern Europe and with out-dated technology (the cars all looked like old Russian Ladas), whereas Ul Qoma is far more modern and clean-looking, with up-to-date technology, an almost universal smoking ban, and armed police and soldiers on every street corner.

Two different views of dystopia, both of which worked in their own contexts and in the context of the story.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

The Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: HMS Vindictive

HMS Vindictive was one of four Arrogant-class Protected Cruisers that were built between 1895 and 1900. The other ships in the class were HMS Arrogant, HMS Furious, and HMS Gladiator.

The Arrogant-class protected Cruisers as built.
By the outbreak of the First World War, the design of the Arrogant-class Protected Cruisers was obsolete, and only HMS Vindictive took an active part in the conflict. HMS Gladiator had sunk in 1908 as a result of a collision with the merchant ship SS Saint Paul, whilst HMS Arrogant had become a Submarine Depot Ship in 1911 and HMS Furious had been paid off and hulked in 1912. (She was renamed HMS Forte in 1915 to release the name for the new Light Battlecruiser that was being built.)

The ship's characteristics were:
  • Displacement: 5,750 tons
  • Dimensions:
    • Length: 342' (104.2m)
    • Beam: 57' 6" (17.5m)
    • Draught: 20' (6.1m)
  • Propulsion: 2 x vertical triple-expansion steam engines (10,000shp) using steam generated by 18 Belleville water-tube boilers, driving 2 propellers
  • Speed: 19 knots
  • Complement: 480
  • Armament:
    • When built: 4 × 6-inch (152 mm) QF Guns; 6 × 4.7-inch (120 mm) QF guns; 8 × 12-pounder (3-inch/76mm) QF Guns; 3 × 3-pounder (47mm) QF Guns; 5 x Machine Guns; 3 submerged 18-inch (450mm) Torpedo Tubes
    • By 1914: 10 × 6-inch (152 mm) QF Guns; 8 × 12-pounder (3-inch/76mm) QF Guns; 3 × 3-pounder (47mm) QF Guns; 5 x Machine Guns; 3 submerged 18-inch (450mm) Torpedo Tubes
    • At the time of the Zeebrugge Raid: 1 x 11-inch (280mm) Howitzer; 2 x 7.5-inch (190mm) Howitzers; 2 x 6-inch (152 mm) QF Guns; 16 x 3-inch (76mm) Stokes Mortars; 5 x Pompom Guns; 16 x Lewis Machine Guns; Flamethrowers
  • Armour:
    • Deck: 1.5-inch to 3-inch (38mm to 76mm)
    • Conning tower: 9-inch (229mm)
One of the 7.5-inch Howitzers and several of the 3-inch Stokes Mortars fitted to HMS Vindictive.
HMS Vindictive on her return from Zeebrugge.
The damage done to HMS Vindictive during the raid can be clearly seen in this photograph. The large box-shaped structure to the right of the bridge in this photograph housed one of the large flamethrowers.
After her heroic service during the Zeebrugge Raid, the very badly damaged HMS Vindictive was expended as a blockship during the second raid on Ostend.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Nugget 308

The editor of THE NUGGET sent the latest issue to me over the weekend, and I hope to take it to the printer later today. With luck it should be ready for me to collect by the end of the week so that I can post it out over the forthcoming weekend.

IMPORTANT: Please note that this is the eighth and penultimate issue of THE NUGGET to be published for the 2017-2018 subscription year, and that members who have not already re-subscribed can do so by visiting the relevant page on the Wargame Developments website.

Monday 23 April 2018

Zeebrugge and Ostend Raids: One hundredth anniversary

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend. The main purpose of the raids was to block the seaward exits of the canals that linked Bruges to the sea, and to prevent the German submarines and destroyers that were based there from gaining access to the English Channel.

I first became aware of the raid when – as a young child – I saw the model of HMS Vindictive in the Imperial War Museum as she was at the time of the raid. As I grew older I read more and more about the events of 23rd April 1918, and it has become a scenario that I have always wanted to recreate on the tabletop but never quite got around to. More recently my wife discovered that one of her relatives – Able Seaman Sydney G Digby (J36259) – was one of the Royal Navy volunteers who took part in the raid, and who was killed very early on in the action.

The Zeebrugge Raid

The raid on Zeebrugge began with an assault on the mile-long mole. This was intended to disrupt the German defences – particularly the gun batteries on the mole – and was undertaken by a mixed force of Royal Navy personnel and Royal Marines.

The main assault force was carried aboard the heavily modified Arrogant-class cruiser HMS Vindictive. Additional troops were carried aboard the requisitioned Mersey ferries Daffodil and Iris. Two obsolete C-class submarines (C1 and C3) that had been turned into floating bombs by the addition of five tons of explosives in their bows, were tasked with crashing into the viaduct that connected the shore to the mole. Once in place, the explosives were to be detonated after the crews had been evacuated by motor boats.

To help to obscure events from the shoreside defenders and coastal defence batteries, motor launches and coastal torpedo boats were fitted with smokescreen equipment developed by Wing Commander Brock (of the famous family of firework manufacturers) and were supposed to lay a dense smokescreen offshore.

Whilst this diversionary attack was taking place, three old cruisers that had been converted in blockships – HMS Thetis, HMS Intrepid, and HMS Iphigenia – were supposed to sail into the mouth of the Bruges-Zeebrugge canal and then be scuttled so that they blocked it.

Things began to go wrong as soon as the operation began. The wind blew the smokescreen out to sea rather than inland, and the Vindictive came alongside the mole in the wrong place. Many of the assault force were killed before they even made it ashore, and those that did had a very hard fight in their hands trying to beat off the German defenders and to reach and neutralise the mole gun batteries before the blockships arrived.

The three blockships did manage to reach the outer entrance to the canal but sank before they had blocked it completely. One of the submarines – the C3 – did manage to reach the viaduct (the other had not managed to reach Zeebrugge in time due to a broken tow rope) and when its explosive charge went off, it not only destroyed the viaduct but also killed a number of German bicycle troops that were crossing it at the time.

The raid was not a 100% success – the Bruges-based submarines and destroyers were soon able to use the canal again after some dredging work had taken place and the canal entrance had been widened – but it took place at a time when even a reasonably successful aggressive action was welcomed by the British government.

Of the 1,700 men involved in the operation, 227 were killed and 33 wounded. Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded, and the recipients were:
  • Major Edward Bamford DSO (Royal Marine Light Infantry)
  • Lieutenant Commander George Nicholson Bradford (Royal Navy)
  • Commander Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter (Royal Navy)
  • Lieutenant Percy Thompson Dean (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve)
  • Sergeant Norman Augustus Finch (Royal Marine Artillery)
  • Lieutenant Commander Arthur Leyland Harrison (Royal Navy)
  • Ordinary Seaman Albert Edward McKenzie (Royal Navy)
  • Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford (Royal Navy)

The Ostend Raids

The attack on Ostend was an altogether smaller affair and involved a much smaller force. Only two blockships were involved – HMS Sirius and HMS Brilliant – and there was no assault by Royal Navy personnel or Royal Marines. There was considerable fire support from four Lord Clive-class and three M15-class monitors and they engaged the German coastal defences.

Just as at Zeebrugge, the smokescreen was blown away from the land by the prevailing wind, and meant that the blockships could not see their target. They tried to navigate by dead reckoning and using a navigation buoy that marked the channel towards the canal. Unfortunately, the buoy had been moved by the local German commander and both ships ended up sinking in the wrong place.

This raid was a total failure, and a second raid was mounted on 10th May in which HMS Vindictive was used as the blockship.

A further three Victoria Crosses were awarded for the second raid. The recipients were:
  • Lieutenant Commander Roland Bourke DSO (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve)
  • Lieutenant Victor Alexander Charles Crutchley, DSC (Royal Navy)
  • Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Heneage Drummond (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve)
This was second raid slightly more successful, but it proved impossible to block the seaward exits of the Bruges-Zeebrugge and Bruges-Ostend canals.

Sunday 22 April 2018

My American Civil War ironclads are finished

I finished painting my two new model American Civil War ironclads yesterday ... and this is what they look like:

With luck I should be able to see how well they perform in action later this week. I will not be writing a detailed blog entry about any battle I fight as I intend to include it in my forthcoming book about gridded naval wargames, but I will share any interesting photographs that I take.

Saturday 21 April 2018

Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall VC

Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on 21st July, 1890. He was educated at Bedford School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he got a double first in Classics as well as rowing for his college and being a member of the University OTC (Officer Training Corps).

He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an Able Seaman when the First World War broke out, but soon afterwards he was commissioned and became a Sub-Lieutenant. He commanded 13 Platoon, D Company, Anson Battalion, Royal Naval Division during the landings at V Beach, Gallipoli, on 25th April, 1915, and it was during the landings that he rescued numerous wounded men whilst under heavy Turkish machine gun fire. His bravery was noted by many people at the time, but he was killed by a Turkish sniper on 6th May before it was officially recognised.

It was not until Major General Paris (the general commanding the Royal Naval Division) was made aware of Tisdall's actions on 25th April that an investigation was made, as a result of which a recommendation was made that he be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. The official citation reads as follows:
'During the landing from the S.S. "River Clyde" at V Beach in the Gallipoli Peninsula on the 25th April 1915, Sub-Lieutenant Tisdall, hearing wounded men on the beach calling for assistance, jumped into the water and pushing a boat in front of him, went to their rescue. He was, however, obliged to obtain help and took with him on two trips Leading Seaman Malia and on other trips Chief Petty Officer Perring and Leading Seaman Curtiss and Parkinson. In all Sub-Lieutenant Tisdall made four or five trips between the ship and the shore, and was thus responsible for rescuing several wounded men under heavy and accurate fire.

Owing to the fact that Sub-Lieutenant Tisdall and the platoon under his orders were on detached service at the time, and that this Officer was killed in action on the 6th May, it has only now been possible to obtain complete information as to the individuals who took part in this gallant act. Of these, Leading Seaman Fred Curtiss has been missing since the 4th June 1915
London Gazette, 31st March 1916

Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall VC has no known grave, and his name is on the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli (Panel 8-15) as well as on the memorial in the churchyard of St George's Church, Deal.

After his death The Naval and Military Press published a book of verses, letter, and remembrances about him.

It is worth noting that two of the men who helped Tisdall on 25th April (Chief Petty Officer (later Sub-Lieutenant) William Perring and Leading Seaman James Parkinson) were awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) for their actions on the day.

Friday 20 April 2018

I have been to ... Deal, Kent

When Sue and I realised that yesterday was going to be the hottest since last August, we decided to go to the seaside. (The temperature reached 27°C and turned out to be the warmest April day since 1949!) We chose to go to Deal on the Channel coast of Kent, a place where bat we last visited in 2015.

The journey took just over ninety minutes, and we were able to find a place in the main car park in the centre of the town. From there we walked towards the northern end of the High Street.

On our way back along the High Street we stopped off at St George's Church.

Just inside the gates into the churchyard was a memorial ...

... to Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Walderne St Clair Tisdall VC, ...

... his brother, Lieutenant John Theodore St Clair Tisdall, ...

... and the men of Deal who died during the First World War.

We continued our walk along the High Street, visiting a number of shops along the way.

We then turned towards the seafront ...

... and walked northwards past the pier.

By the time we reached the Royal Hotel – a hotel and restaurant that dominates the seafront and which was frequented by Admiral Nelson and Emma Hamilton – we were both feeling thirsty and hungry.

We decided to eat in the restaurant facing the sea, ...

...and whilst Sue ate fish and chips, I chose locally-sourced ham, eggs, and chips.

After eating lunch, Sue and I had a short walk along the seafront ...

... before we returned to the High Street to buy some jewellery we had looked at earlier. We then made our way back to the car park, and drove home, having had a very enjoyable day out.

Whilst we were in Deal, Sue and I discovered that in 2014 the DAILY TELEGRAPH had named Deal's High Street to be the best in England.