Battle of the North Sea: Memorials and Cemeteries
The frequent conflicts that took place in the North Sea, resulted in many losing their lives at sea. The German occupied harbour of Zeebrugge was used as the base for an impressive U-boat fleet that sank a staggering 2,554 allied ships during the war. On 23 April 1918, St. George’s Day, the Royal Navy stuck back with a raid on Zeebrugge that included 136 ships. The ensuing battle resulted in more medals for bravery than any British conflict in history. An exhibition at the Provincial Palace in Zeebrugge entitled The Battle for the North Sea goes into more detail about this battle. Here are some of the memorials to this valiant battle that you can also find along the Belgian coast.
St. George’s Day Monument, Zeebrugge
The St. George’s Day Monument is a large-scale memorial in three parts, on which a number of commemorative items are mounted. The central slab displays a high relief of the harbour channel, showing the positions of the artillery and of the various ships used to block the harbour channel. Underneath are the words, "St George for England, in commemoration of St George’s Day 23rd April. Then had every moment its deed and every deed its hero.”
Address: Zeedijk, Zeebrugge
Zeebrugge Churchyard Cemetery, Sint-Donaas Church, Zeebrugge
A British-German military cemetery, with the graves of 175 German (of whom three could not be identified) and 30 British dead (of whom 17 remained unidentified), managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. At the beginning of the First World War, there was no graveyard here. When 44 Germans were killed on 26 September 1915 in a tram accident, they were buried beside the church (now close to the church wall). During the war, the “Deutscher Ehrenfriedhof” grew steadily. In 1916, six more graves were added. On 5 June 1917, 40 more Germans, from two torpedo boats (the S15 and the S20), who had perished in a naval battle, joined them: they were buried in a mass grave. In 1917, a further 24 German and three British dead were buried here. In 1918, there were 57 more German burials and 26 British – these included seven Germans and 14 Britons (buried together), who died in the fighting on St. George’s Day (23–24 April 1918). In 1919, the grave of an unidentified British airman was added. Unusually, these German graves were not moved in 1955 to the large consolidated cemeteries, as happened elsewhere. This may have been because any such removal would have meant that only 30 British graves would have remained, severely reducing the commemorative significance of the location. In January 1957, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission took on responsibility for the cemetery’s maintenance.
Address: Sint-Donaaskerkstraat, Zeebrugge
HMS Vindictive Memorial, Ostend
Commander Alfred Edmund Godsal, of Iscoyd Park, near Whitchurch, was killed while commanding HMS Vindictive in a raid on the port of Ostend on 10 May 1918. He is buried in Oostende New Communal Cemetery. Commander Godsal had taken part in the first Ostend raid on HMS Brilliant on April 23, 1918. Aimed at sinking blockships in the port to prevent U-boats getting out, it was a failure. HMS Vindictive had taken part in a simultaneous raid at nearby Zeebrugge, and the damaged old cruiser was patched up and pressed into action a second time for a renewed raid at Ostend, this time with Commander Godsal in command. Commander Godsal was killed by a shell at the height of the battle and Lieutenant Victor Crutchley assumed command. Crutchley was later awarded a Victoria Cross medal for his bravery.
A memorial to HMS Vindictive and its crew was formed from the salvaged bow section of the ship, it has been restored and has now been moved to a new memorial site on the Oostelijke Strekdam, the newly constructed Eastern breakwater outside Ostend harbour. This location is near the place in Ostend harbour where the Vindictive was scuttled in May 1918 a few days after having taken part in the Raid on Zeebrugge.
Address: Oostelijke Strekdam, Ostend
Blankenberge Town Cemetery
Only two brothers were awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War – George and Roland Bradford of Witton Park, County Durham. They along with another brother were all killed during the war. Lieut-Commander George Nicholson Bradford is buried in Blankenberge Town Cemetery.
"For most conspicuous gallantry at Zeebrugge on the night of the 22nd-23rd April, 1918. This Officer was in command of the Naval Storming Parties embarked in '' Iris II.'' When '' Iris II '' proceeded alongside the Mole great difficulty was experienced in placing the parapet anchors owing to the motion of the ship. An attempt was made to land by the scaling ladders before the ship was secured. Lieutenant Claude E. K. Hawkings managed to get one ladder in position and actually reached the parapet, the ladder being crushed to pieces just as he stepped off it. This very gallant young officer was last seen defending himself with his revolver. He was killed on the parapet. Though securing the ship was not part of his duties, Lieutenant Commander Bradford climbed up the derrick, which carried a large parapet anchor and was rigged out over the port side; during this climb the ship was surging up and down and the derrick crashing on the Mole. Waiting his opportunity he jumped with the parapet anchor on to the Mole and placed it in position. Immediately after hooking on the parapet anchor Lieutenant Commander Bradford was riddled with bullets from machine guns and fell into the sea between the Mole and the ship. Attempts to recover his body failed. Lieutenant Commander Bradford’s action was one of absolute self-sacrifice; without a moment's hesitation he went to certain death, recognising that in such action lay the only possible chance of securing ''Iris II'' and enabling her storming parties to land."
His brother Roland won his VC at the Somme. On 10 November 1917, he was made a Brigadier-General at the age of only 25. He was and may still be the youngest man ever to have held that rank in the British Army. Less than three weeks later he was killed at Cambrai, France. James was awarded the Military Cross for his role as a bombing officer in charge of ground troops throwing bombs into enemy trenches in n March 1917. On 10 May he was wounded and died four days later at Arras.
Only Thomas survived and went on to have a full life until his death at the age of 80 in 1966. He served as a Captain with the eighth battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and was in Ypres from April 1915, where he was wounded in battle. The following January he was given the Distinguished Service Order, the highest award for an officer after the VC.
Admiral Keyes Square
Two huge concrete blocks on Admiraal Keyesplein (“Admiral Keyes Square”) are fragments of the Mole (pier) alongside which the Vindictive moored during the St. George’s Day raid on Zeebrugge. On the top, a bronze palm is mounted that the city of Bruges presented to Admiral Keyes. “The bronze floral spray now mounted on a section of the original Zeebrugge Mole was presented to Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes by the city of Bruges and returned by his son Lord Keyes of Zeebrugge and Dover who unveiled this memorial on St. George’s Day.”
Address: Admiraal Keyesplein, Zeebrugge