Robert L. Drake.

The Boy Allies with the Victorious Fleets The Fall of the German Navy online

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Submarines C-3 and C-1, commanded by Lieutenants Richard Sanford and
Aubrey Newbold, respectively, attended by picket boat under Lieutenant
Commander Francis H. Sanford.

Besides these, a flotilla of twenty-four motor launches and eight coastal
motorboats were told off for rescue work and to make smoke screens or lay
smoke floats, and nine more coastal motorboats to attack the Mole and
enemy vessels inside it.

At 11.40 p.m. on April 22, 1918, the coastal motorboats detailed to lay
the first smoke screen ran in to very close range and proceeded to lay
smoke floats and by other methods make the necessary "fog." These craft
immediately were under fire, and only their small size and great speed
saved them from destruction.

At this moment the Blankenberghe light buoy was abeam of the Vindictive
and the enemy had presumably seen or heard the approaching forces. Star
shells lighted the heavens. But still no enemy patrol craft were sighted.
At this time the wind had been from the northeast, and therefore favorable
to the success of the smoke screens. It now died away and began to blow
from a southerly direction.

Many of the smoke floats laid just off the Mole extension were sunk by the
fire of the enemy, which now began to grow in volume. This, in conjunction
with the wind, lessened the effectiveness of the smoke screen.

At 11.56 the Vindictive, the Brigadier close behind, having just passed
through a smoke screen, sighted the Mole in the semi-darkness about three
hundred yards off on the port bow. Speed was increased to full and the
course of both vessels altered so that, allowing for cross tide, the
Vindictive would make good a closing course of forty-five degrees to the
Mole. The Vindictive purposely withheld her fire to avoid being
discovered, but almost at the moment of her emerging from the smoke the
enemy opened fire.

So promptly, under the orders of the commander, was this replied to by the
port 6-inch battery, the upper deck pompoms and the gun in the foretop
that the firing on both sides appeared to be almost simultaneous.

The Brigadier, under Jack's command, opened fire at almost the same
moment. Heavy shells flew screaming into the enemy lines. German
projectiles began to kick up the water close to the Vindictive and the
Brigadier. But in the first few volleys, none of the enemy shells found
their marks. Jack was conning the ship from the port forward, the
flame-thrower hut. Frank, with directions as to handling of the ship
should Jack be disabled, was in the conning tower, from which the
Brigadier was being steered.

At one minute after midnight on April 23, the program time for attack
being midnight, the Vindictive was put alongside the Mole and the
starboard anchor was let go.

At this time the noise of cannonading was terrific. During the previous
few minutes, the ship had been hit by a large number of shells, which had
resulted in heavy casualties.

As there was some doubt as to the starboard anchor having gone clear, the
port anchor was dropped close to the foot of the Mole and the cable
bowsed-to, with less than a shackle out. A three-knot tide was running
past the Mole, and the scene alongside, created by the slight swell,
caused the ship to roll. There was an interval of three or four minutes
before the Brigadier or the Gloucester could arrive and commence to push
the Vindictive bodily alongside.

During the interval the Vindictive could not be got close enough for the
special Mole anchors to hook and it was a very trying period. Many of the
brows had been broken by shell fire and the heavy roll had broken the
foremost Mole anchor as it was being placed. The two foremost brows,
however, reached the wall and enabled storming parties, led by
Lieutenant-Commander Bryan F. Adams, to land and run out alongside them,
closely followed by the Royal marines.

It was at this juncture that a slight change was made in the original
program. It developed, as the first storming party moved out, that
Commander Adams' men were not in sufficient strength for the work ahead.
Captain Carpenter of the Vindictive called for support from the Brigadier.
Jack acted promptly.

"Lieutenant Chadwick!" he called.

Frank stepped forward and saluted.

"You will take one hundred men and join the storming party," said Jack.

At this moment the Brigadier was rubbing close to the Vindictive. This was
fortunate at the moment, for there was then no other means by which a
party from the Brigadier could reach the Mole.

Hurriedly Frank gathered the men, and then leaped from his own vessel to
the deck of the Vindictive. A moment later they joined Commander Adams and
his party.

Owing to the rolling of the ship, a most disconcerting motion was
imparted to the brows, the outer ends of which were "sawing" considerably
on the Mole parapet. Officers and men were equipped with Lewis guns,
bombs, ammunition, etc., and were under heavy machine-gun fire at close
range; add to this a drop of thirty feet between the ship and the Mole,
and some idea of the conditions which had to be faced may be realized.

Yet the storming of the Mole was carried out without the slightest delay
and without any apparent consideration of self preservation. Some of the
first men on the Mole dropped in their tracks under the German fire, but
the others pushed on, with the object of hauling one of the large Mole
anchors across the parapet.

The Brigadier arrived alongside the Mole three minutes after Frank and his
men had leaped to the deck of the other ship, followed by the little Iris.
Both suffered less in their approach, the Vindictive occupying all the
enemy's attention. The Gloucester also came up now to push the Vindictive
bodily on to the Mole to enable her to be secured, after doing which the
Gloucester landed her parties over that ship. Her men disembarked from her
bows on to the Vindictive, as it was found essential to continue to push
the Vindictive on to the Mole throughout the entire action.

This duty was magnificently carried out. Without the assistance of the
Gloucester very few of the storming parties from the Vindictive could
have landed, or could have re-embarked.

The landing from the Iris was made under even more trying circumstances.
She rolled heavily in the sea, which rendered the use of the scaling
ladders very difficult. But at this time, according to calculations,
enough men had been landed to complete the work.

The fighting on the Mole became hand-to-hand.




CHAPTER IX

THE BATTLE CONTINUES


A shell suddenly exploded among the Vindictive's foremost 7.5-inch
howitzer's marine crew. Many were killed or wounded. A naval crew from a
6-inch gun took their places and were almost annihilated.

At this time the Vindictive was being hit every few seconds, chiefly in
the upper works, from which the splinters caused many casualties. It was
difficult for the British to locate the guns which were doing the most
damage, but Jack, from the Brigadier, with men posted in the fortop of the
vessel, kept up a continuous fire with pompoms and Lewis machine-guns,
changing rapidly from one target to another in an attempt to destroy the
guns that were raking the Vindictive fore and aft.

Two heavy shells struck the foretop of the Brigadier almost
simultaneously. Half a dozen men were killed. A score of others were
wounded.

To return for a moment to Frank and his men.

The attack on the Mole had been designed to be carried out by a storming
force to prepare the way for, and afterward to cover and protect, the
operations of a second force, which was to carry out the actual work of
destruction. The storming force, which had embarked in the Vindictive, was
now reinforced by a hundred British tars from the Brigadier, headed by
Frank, and additional sailors from the Iris and Gloucester.

For the first time it was now ascertained that the Vindictive, in
anchoring off the Mole, had over-run her station and was berthed some four
hundred yards farther to the westward than had been intended.

It had been realized beforehand that the Vindictive might not exactly
reach the exact position mapped out, but the fact that the landing was
carried out in an unexpected place, combined with the heavy losses already
sustained by the vessel, seriously disorganized the attacking force. The
intention had been to land the storming parties right on top of the 4
1-inch guns in position on the seaward end of the Mole, the silencing of
which was of the first importance, as they menaced the approach of the
block ships.

The leading block ship had been timed to pass the lighthouse twenty-five
minutes after the Vindictive came alongside. This period of time proved
insufficient to organize and carry through an attack against the enemy on
the seaward end of the Mole, the enemy, it developed, being able to bring
heavy machine-gun fire to bear on the attacking forces. As a result the
block ships, when they approached, came under an unexpected fire from the
light guns on the Mole extension, though the 4.1-inch batteries on the
Mole had remained silent.

Commander Adams, followed by Frank and his men, were the first to land. At
that moment no enemy was seen on the Mole. They found themselves on a
pathway on the Mole parapet about eight feet wide, with a wall four feet
high on the seaward side, and an iron railing on the Mole side. From this
pathway, there was a drop of fifteen feet on the Mole proper.

Followed by his men and Frank and the latter's command, Commander Adams
went alongside the parapet to the left, where he found a lookout station
or control, with a range finder behind and above it.

"Blow it up!" he shouted to Frank, who was close to him at that moment.

Frank gave a command to one of his men. A moment later there was an
explosion and the station disappeared as though by magic.

Near the lookout station aft iron ladder led down to the Mole and three of
Frank's men descended it. Frank went with them. Below they encountered
half a dozen of the enemy.

It was no time to hesitate and Frank knew it.

"Bombs, men," he said simply.

Three hands drew back, then were brought forward. Three hand grenades
dropped among the foes. There were three short blasts, and when the smoke
cleared away, there were no Germans to be seen at that point. Then Frank
and his men rejoined the others.

The situation now was that Commander Adams, Frank, their few men and a few
Lewis guns, were beyond the lookout station protected from machine-gun
fire from the direction of the Mole head, but exposed to fire from their
own destroyers, alongside the Mole.

Commander Adams called Frank to him.

"We're in a ticklish position here, lieutenant," he said. "We're in danger
of being shot down by our own guns. At the same time, if we move from
behind this station, we are not in sufficient strength to drive the enemy
away."

"Why not risk our own, fire, sir," said Frank, "and ask for
reinforcements."

"That's a request that will have to be made in person," said Commander
Adams, "and it will be rather risky."

"I'll be glad to try it sir," said Frank.

Commander Adams shrugged.

"It'd about as broad as it is long," he said. "If you're shot on the way I
guess it will be no worse than dying here. Go ahead, if you wish."

Now to gain the needed reinforcements, Frank knew that it would be
necessary to return to the side of the Vindictive. To reach that vessel it
would be necessary to pass through places exposed to enemy machine-gun
fire. However, at the moment, the German guns covering those particular
spots were silent, so Frank decided to take the risk.

He set out at a run. At first his appearance was apparently unnoticed, but
soon a rain of bullets poured after him. Two or three times the lad threw
himself to the ground just in time. He was on his feet again a moment
later, however, and at last reached his destination safely.

As the lad reached the side of the Vindictive he saw a second storming
party coming over the side, equipped with Lewis machine-guns and rifles
and hand bombs. Frank approached the commander of the party,
Lieutenant-Commander Hastings, and outlined the plight of those he had
left behind.

"Come with us," said Commander Hastings, "we'll soon clear those fellows
out back there."

Machine-guns were wheeled into position and the British raked the German
line wherever heads appeared. In this method they relieved the
hard-pressed party under Commander Adams.

The first objective of the storming party ashore was a fortified zone
situated about a hundred and fifty yards from the seaward end of the Mole
proper. Its capture was of the first importance, as an enemy holding it
could bring a heavy fire to bear on the parties still to land from the
Vindictive.

Commander Adams ordered an advance.

Frank was placed in command of the left wing of the little army, Commander
Hastings of the right wing. Commander Adams led the center himself. The
British spread out.

"Charge!" cried Commander Adams.

"Charge!" repeated Frank and Commander Hastings a moment later.

The British seamen went forward on the double, bayonets fixed.

From out of their fortified positions the Germans sprang forth to meet
them, machine-guns from behind covering their advance. At the same moment
Frank ordered his own machine-guns wheeled into position, and swept the
advancing enemy with a hail of bullets.

But neither side paid much attention to this rain of lead, and directly
the fighting became too close for either side to utilize its machine-guns.
Steel clashed on steel. Revolvers in the hands of the officers cracked.
Men fell to the right and to the left.

For a moment it appeared that the attacking force must be hurled back by
the very weight of the numbers against them. But they rallied after one
brief moment in which it seemed that they must yield, and hurled
themselves forward again. This time there was no stopping them.

Directly the thin German line wavered. Then it broke, and the enemy dashed
for the protection of their fortified position at top speed. But the
British sailors kept close on their heels, and they reached the coveted
spot at almost the same time. There the fighting was resumed, but after a
short resistance the enemy again retreated, leaving the position in the
hands of the British.

Immediately Commander Adams ordered the machine-guns which had been
abandoned by the foe in his flight turned on them and the Germans were
mowed down in great numbers.

Having gained his objective, Commander Adams ordered his men to proceed
down the Mole and hold a position there so as to cover the operations of
the party of destruction, which was now hard at work. To expel these
British, German troops were now advancing from the landward end of the
Mole.

The destruction of the viaduct by the submarine C-3 had been designed to
aid the efforts of the landing party by preventing reinforcements reaching
the Mole from the shore. Owing to the Vindictive coming alongside to
landward of this zone, Commander Adams' men were now faced with a double
duty of preventing an enemy attack from the shore and of themselves
attacking a second fortified zone ahead of them. The casualties already
sustained were so great that the Iris could not remain alongside the
Vindictive to land her company of Royal Marines. This left insufficient
men in the early stages of the landing to carry out both operations.

The situation was a difficult one, for to attack the fortified zone first
might enable the enemy to advance up the Mole and seize positions abreast
of the Vindictive, with the most serious consequences to the whole landing
force, whereas, by not attacking the fortified positions, the guns at the
Mole head could not be prevented from firing at the block ships.

Therefore, Commander Adams instructed Frank to secure the landward side,
at the same time instructing Commander Hastings to attack the fortified
zone. Commander Adams knew that he was taking a long chance by thus
dividing his forces, but in no other manner, it seemed to him, could the
success of the expedition be assured.

Frank led his men forward promptly. Apparently the Germans had not
realized the full strength of the British attack on the Mole, for no
effort had been made to get reinforcements to the men there from shore.
Consequently, Frank's work was not so hard as that set for Commander
Hastings.

The few Germans who were guarding the landward side of the Mole fired one
volley at Frank's party, then turned and took to their heels.

"By George! Pretty soft!" said Frank.

He led his men to the positions recently vacated by the enemy, and then
sat down to await further instructions from Commander Adams.

Commander Hastings, on the other hand, had hard work in taking the
fortified positions from the foe. Nevertheless he succeeded, due to the
heroic efforts of his men. Commander Adams surveyed the field carefully.

"Well," he told himself, "I guess we've done the best we can. We'll stick
here till we get the signal to withdraw."




CHAPTER X

THE RAID SUCCESSFUL


The platoon which was commanded by Commander Adams was officially
designated as No. 1; that commanded by Frank as No. 2 and that commanded
by Commander Hastings as No. 3.

Units were now landing rapidly and No. 7 platoon succeeded in placing
heavy scaling ladders in positions, and then formed up to support Nos. 9
and 10 platoons. Numbers 11 and 12 platoons were dispatched along the
parapet, and reached the lookout station, where they were checked.
Commander Adams and his men, who had again united with the parties
commanded by Frank and Commander Hastings, were some forty to fifty yards
ahead of them, and both parties could make no headway along the exposed
parapet. Meanwhile No. 5 platoon, which had been recalled from its
advanced position, with Nos. 7 and 8 platoons were forming up on the Mole
for an assault on the fortified zone and the 4.1-inch battery at the Mole
head. This attack was launched, but before it could be developed the
general recall was sounded.

There was a cheer from the men. They knew by the sounding of the recall at
this moment meant that the expedition had been a success. Otherwise the
fighting on the Mole would have continued.

The units fell back in good order, taking their wounded with them. The
passing of the men from the Mole on to the parapet by means of the scaling
ladders was rendered hazardous by the enemy opening fire at that portion
of the Mole. Several ladders were destroyed.

The men were sent across in small batches from the comparative shelter
afforded by long distance fire from the battleships. Such rushes were made
as far as possible in the intervals between the bursts of German fire.

The landing parties re-embarked in the manner which they had left their
ships - climbing to the deck of the Vindictive and then proceeding to their
deck of the Vindictive and then proceeding to their various ships by small
boats.

This undertaking was hazardous, too, for enemy shells were falling all
about. Nevertheless, the most of the men reached their ship in safety, and
from the flagship came the signal to retreat.

Upon returning to the Brigadier, Frank surveyed his own men. There had
been few casualties among them. Less than a dozen men had been killed and
left behind. Of wounded Frank counted fifteen. Immediately he ascended to
the bridge to report to Jack.

Jack greeted his chum with a smile. Although the Brigadier had been in the
midst of the battle, and many German shells had found their marks aboard
her, Jack was as cool and unruffled as before the battle started.

"What luck, Frank?" he asked.

"Good," Frank replied. "We held the Mole until ordered back. And you?"

"The best of luck. I've stuck tight to the Vindictive through the heat of
the battle, and I believe our guns have done some damage."

"And the block ships?" asked Frank.

"They have been sunk at the mouths of both harbors, I am informed. The
raid has been a complete success."

At that moment came the recall signal from the flagship.

"See," said Jack, "there's proof of it. If we had not been successful, the
recall would not have been sounded yet. There is still plenty of time if
we needed it, and our damage has not been great enough to leave the job
unfinished."

Jack was right. The harbors of Ostend and Zeebrugge had been effectually
sealed. No longer would enemy U-Boats make nightly raids into the North
Sea, only to scurry back to their bases when it grew light. As a submarine
base, Zeebrugge was extinct. So, for that matter, was Ostend.

That the success of the British expedition had been a severe blow to the
Germans goes without saying. No other single feat since the beginning of
the war had done so much to dishearten them; and there is little doubt
that the sealing of their submarine bases did much toward hastening the
end of the war.

British losses in the raid had been severe. The Vindictive, which had led
the attack, had literally been shot to pieces and it was a miracle how she
remained afloat. The Brigadier, also, had suffered severely, but her
condition was not so bad that a few months in drydock would not be
sufficient to make her whole again.

A dozen or more of the little motorboats and coastal patrol vessels had
been sunk, and the loss of life had been heavy. Several others of the
destroyers had been badly damaged, but there was not one of the larger
vessels sunk or crippled so badly that she could not return to her home
port.

It still lacked an hour of daylight when the allied fleet drew off, its
work accomplished; and behind in the ports now sealed, the anger of the
Germans flared forth anew.

The damaged British ships were immediately put into drydock in British
ports, and Jack and Frank at once returned to Dover to report to Lord
Hastings. The latter greeted the lads with outstretched hands.

"It was a gallant exploit," he exclaimed, "and I am sure both you boys had
important roles to play."

"I guess we did, sir," Frank admitted. "At the same time, I'm glad to be
safely back here again."

"I suppose, sir," said Jack, "now that the enemy submarines caught outside
are without bases, there is little fear of their attempting the
trans-Atlantic trip?"

"On the contrary," said Lord Hastings, "they are more likely than ever to
do so."

"But they must have a base, sir," protested Frank.

"Not necessarily," smiled Lord Hastings.

"Then how will they replenish their supplies of food and fuel?"

"Well," said Lord Hastings, "if they can snare a victim every three or
four days it should be enough. From a merchant ship they can get all the
food and fuel they need before sinking her."

"That's so, by George!" Frank exclaimed.

"It stands to reason," said Lord Hastings, "that those submarines which
were not bottled up in the harbors have been warned not to return. Now,
it wouldn't surprise me a bit if they headed directly for America."

Jack grew thoughtful.

"It's too bad," he said at last, "that the Brigadier was so crippled that
we cannot resume our interrupted voyage."

Lord Hastings smiled.

"I understand she is in pretty bad shape," he said. "So you don't think
you can go now, eh?"

"I'm afraid not, sir. A fellow can't cross the ocean except in a ship."

"True enough. But why are you in Dover now?"

"Why, sir?" Jack exclaimed. "Because we were instructed to report to you."

"Exactly," said Lord Hastings; "and in your pocket, I presume, you have
the same packet of papers the admiralty wishes turned over to Secretary
Daniels of the American navy department?"

Jack clapped a hand to his coat pocket.

"By George! I had forgotten all about them," he said.

"So I imagined. But it is my guess that the navy department still wishes
those papers delivered."

"You're right, sir. Here, I'll turn them over to you, sir."

Lord Hastings waved the packet away.

"Keep them," he said quietly.

"But - " Jack began.

"Great Scott," Frank put in at this juncture, "you must be getting denser
every day, Jack."

Jack wheeled on his chum.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Why, can't you see that you are still expected to deliver the papers?"

Jack sank suddenly into a chair.

"Now why didn't I think of that?" he muttered.

"And I suppose, sir," said Frank to Lord Hastings, "that another ship is
to be put at Jack's disposal?"

Lord Hastings nodded.

"Exactly," he replied.

Jack was on his feet again immediately.

"What ship, sir?" he asked eagerly.

"The Essex, a sister ship of the Brigadier."

"By George! That's fine, isn't it?" exclaimed Jack.


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Online LibraryRobert L. DrakeThe Boy Allies with the Victorious Fleets The Fall of the German Navy → online text (page 4 of 12)