Warship Wednesday, April 25, 2018: Big Vincent and the seagoing pyro party

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 25, 2018: Big Vincent and the seagoing pyro party

Watercolor by William Lionel Wylie in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/125909.html#1DAcRThKsDhESim6.99 (PAF1774)

Here we see the last of the Royal Navy’s Arrogant-class cruisers, HMS Vindictive (P.4C), going through just over an hour’s time at the center of hell along the Mole in the German-occupied Belgian port city of Zeebrugge on St. George’s Day, 100 years ago this week.

The four-pack of Arrogant-class 2nd class protected cruisers were approved under the 1895/96 Programme and designed for fleet use rather than in protecting trade from enemy auxiliary cruisers in wartime (at the time thought most likely to be Russian) and policing colonies. As such, they were a bit beamier than the nine preceding Eclipse-class cruisers (5,700 tons, 350x53ft, 18.5kts, 5x QF 6″ guns) while being faster. The subsequent Arrogants went 5,840-tons with a 320-foot overall length while having a 57-foot beam and a ram bow.

A group of 18 Belleville water-tube boilers (the first installed on a British cruiser of the size) and pair of 3-cyl VTE engines on twin screws enabled these ships to be considered “20-knot” ships (on forced draught) while a battery of four 6″/40cal QF Mk II singles and six 4.7-inch guns gave them the comparable muscle to the Eclipses. The first two vessels of the class, Arrogant and Furious, were built at Devonport, while the third, Gladiator, was laid down at Portsmouth.

Our hero, the fourth and last of the family, Vindictive, was laid down at Chatham Dock Yard in Kent on 27 Jan. 1896, carrying the name of a hard-luck Napoleonic War-era 74-gun third-rate ship of the line that was only broken up two decades before.

HMS Vindictive, from Navy and Army Illustrated, 1900, via Wiki

Commissioned on the 4th of July in 1900, she was a happy peacetime ship that served in the British Mediterranean Squadron for a decade before she was considered obsolete in the rapidly advancing days of post-Dreadnought naval technology.

In ordinary for two years from 1909-10, her armament was revamped, and she was modernized. Gone were the old MkII guns and 4.7s, replaced by a homogenous group of 10 new MkVII 6″/45cal breechloaders, among the snazziest British guns of the era.

Here is her diagram from the 1914 Janes.

In the above, note that she is the only one of her class left listed in the naval almanac. This is because Gladiator sank after a collision with the American liner (and Warship Wednesday alumni) SS Saint Paul in a heavy snowstorm off the Isle of Wight in 1908, Arrogant had become a depot ship in 1911 and Furious had likewise been hulked, leaving Vindictive as the sole member of the group still with the fleet by the time the Great War began– and even that was as a tender to the Home Squadrons.

When the Kaiser marched into Belgium in August 1914,  she was at sea off Plymouth but soon started searching the waters for enemy vessels, capturing four of them inside of a month.

On August 6:
0630: N.D.L. (Norddeutscher Lloyd) S.S. Schlesien boarded by Lieutenant Sayle R.N.R. and Fleet Paymaster G.A. Miller. Lat 46 02 N, Long 7 37 W. Reported carrying general cargo to Antwerp. Lieutenant Sayle and an armed guard of 13 men proceeded in the ship to Plymouth by order of Rear Admiral.
3.20 pm: Fired shot ahead of Austrian S.S. Alfa; Austrian steamer S.S. Alfa boarded by Lieutenant Pope R.N.R. and Fleet Paymaster Miller in Lat 45 24 N, Long 7 56 W. Reported carrying a cargo of grain. Ship ordered to report herself at Falmouth. Boarding Party returned.
8.30 pm: Atlantea S.N. Co. S.S. Polnay under Austrian Flag boarded by Lieutenant Pope and Fleet Paymaster G.A. Miller in Lat 44 57 W, Long 8 05 W. Reported carrying grain consigned to order at Rotterdam. Ship ordered to report herself at Falmouth. Boarding party returned.

Sept 8:
German collier Slawentzitz boarded by Commander Grayson, Lieutenant Sayle R.N.R. and Fleet Paymaster Miller. 5044 tons of coal consigned to Haiffa Syria. Lieutenant Sayle and prize crew of 13 men placed on board and ship sent to Gibraltar.

Following this, Vindictive was sent to warm Equatorial waters along the Abrolhos Rocks off Brazil and spent the next 18 months on the lookout for German surface raiders and submarines, boarding passing ships but largely having no reportable results.

Then, in June 1916, she was recalled to Britain for a change of pace that saw her deploy in October to Romanov (Murmansk) in the frozen wastes of the White Sea to protect the growing stockpile of Allied war material in that isolated Arctic backwater. She shuttled from there to Arkhangelsk and conducted drills with the locals and other visiting Allied ships until she was recalled to Plymouth once more in October 1917– just before Russia really went to crap in the Revolution.

Chilling back in England with the war at its fiercest, the old cruiser without a mission was to pull one heck of a job.

It was decided that she would be part of the big push to block the Belgian port at Zeebrugge, home to flotillas of German patrol boats and squadrons of U-boats. The task was three-fold, with (1) Vindictive and two converted Mersey ferries– Iris and Daffodil— coming alongside the mile-long Mole so they could discharge a battalion of sailors and Marines to go ashore and jack up the port while (2) a group of old cruisers–HMS Thetis, HMS Intrepid, and HMS Iphigenia— sank themselves as blockships in the Bruges Canal and (3) an old submarine blew the Mole itself.

Vindictive would be commanded during the raid by Capt. Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter, an RN veteran with service that dated back to the Boxer Rebellion.

The raid in a 2-minute nutshell:

To carry out her job as a landing ship (held to the Mole by a ship pushing bow on her starboard), the portside of Vindictive was fitted with a fly deck with 18 gangways handled by derricks, to allow rapid disembarkation of the landing force, made up of most of the 4th RMLI battalion and two companies of armed Jacks.

To provide more protection than her thin Harvey armor could on her exposed topside, splinter mats were installed liberally. Besides the mats, two Mk I 7.5-inch howitzers were mounted to go along with her four remaining 6-inch BL guns and as many Vickers Maxim guns as could be found. The Marine Storming Party, as it was termed, was equipped with 16 81mm Stokes trench mortars, one 11-inch howitzer (mounted aft), five 1-pounder (37mm) quick-firing Vickers Mark 1 pom-pom guns, and 16 Lewis guns which both added to Vindictive‘s armament and provided some mobile artillery to be taken ashore during the raid.

Photograph (Q 46476) Model of HMS Vindictive with extra armament, landing planks, and mats installed for Zeebrugge. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205260387

The foretop of HMS VINDICTIVE is armed with two pom-pom guns and six Lewis guns. Note the use of splinter mats. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026711

THE ZEEBRUGGE RAID, 23-24 APRIL 1918 (Q 55568) HMS VINDICTIVE after returning to Dover following the Zeebrugge Raid, showing one of the two 7.5-inch howitzers and a brace of four Stokes mortars specially fitted out for the raid to provide fire support for the landing parties in the planned assault on the German gun battery at the seaward end of the Mole at Zeebrugge. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026712

Going along with the Marines were 34 engineers, all volunteers of the Royal Naval Air Service Experimental Party, or Pyrotechnic Party, led by Lt. Graham S. Hewett, R.N.V.R., with Lt. A. L. Eastlake, R.E., second-in-command, armed with a variety of demolition charges, “fixed and portable flame-throwers, phosphorus grenades, etc.” Among these were a “telescopic” fixed flamethrower capable of sending a jet 90m– made by the J Morriss & Sons Ltd, an engineering company from Manchester that normally made fire hoses– as well as two very large five-man weapons fixed to a steel A-frame, these latter guns were called “Vincents” after Vindictive.

Demonstration of large crew-served Vincent flamethrower that was used by HMS Vindictive during the Zeebrugge raid. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205311716

The group’s portable flame weapons consisted of the scuba-tank like Hay Flame Gun, created by Captain P. S. Hay of the Ministry of Munitions in December of 1917. It was the only portable British-made flamethrower used in WWI.

As described in The Flamethrower by Chris McNab, via The Great War website:

The operator slung the Hay Flame Gun from a shoulder strap so that it hung in front of his chest. He pressed a button on a dry-cell battery mounted on the lance, which ignited a pilot light under the nozzle. He then squeezed the oil-release valve at the base of the lance, which was identical to the brake handle on automobiles of the era.

The oil was pressurized with deoxygenated air pumped directly into the tank. When the operator ran or jumped, the propellant gas mixed with the oil and produced a foam, which greatly limited the range. For this reason, other flamethrowers had either separate internal propellant chambers or bottles attached externally to the oil tank.

The Hay Flame Gun was 35 inches tall by 5.5 inches in diameter. It carried 2.6 gallons of oil, which gave it a laden weight of 66 lbs. It had a range of about 66 feet and a duration of 15 seconds. A total of 36 where ordered by the Admiralty for use at Zeebrugge of which about 15 Hay Flame Guns were used in the raid in the raid In April 1918. The Flamethrowers were used to engulf the Mole parapet with liquid fire to clear any opposition before the storming parties went ashore.

Members of the crew of HMS PRINCE EUGENE cleaning the upper deck of HMS VINDICTIVE after her return to Dover following the Zeebrugge Raid. One sailor holds a Hay Flame Gun-type flamethrower of the type used on the mole by members of the Royal Naval Air Service Experimental Party in support of the Royal Marine and naval landing parties. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026713


Flamethrowers and Stores mortars used by a landing party on the Mole at Zeebrugge. Also shown in the photograph; a piece of the Mole brought back by HMS Vindictive after an attack on 23rd April 1918, a rum measure, and an alarm gong from the Jetty. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205191578

HMS Vindictive steaming toward Zeebrugge, April 22, 1918. This image shows the full extent of the modifications for storming the mole, including the multiple brows and ramps, the splinter mat-armored foretop, the highest point of the ship (with machine guns and quick-firing cannons). Forward of that is the conning tower and forward of that was a mount for a large flamethrower (another is aft). These were put out of action by German shellfire before they could be used. Smoke from only the after stack shows that the forward boilers have been secured

Vindictive hit the Mole on schedule and was the center of the German fury during the raid. It was her illumination rockets that the Marines and sailors fought by, her smoke screen, flame and fire they were covered by, and her collision sirens that they retired to at the end of the operation.

As noted in the after-action report on the raid by Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, everything involving Vindictive came off as planned:

According to the time-table, the hour at which the “Vindictive” (Captain Alfred F. B. Carpenter) should have been laid alongside the Zeebrugge Mole was midnight. She reached her station one minute after midnight, closely followed by the “Daffodil” (Lieutenant Harold Campbell) and “Iris II” (Commander Valentine Gibbs). A few minutes later the landing of the storming and demolition parties began. By 1.10 a.m. the “Vindictive” had taken off the survivors, who had meanwhile done their work upon the Mole, and by 1.15 a.m. she and her consorts were clear of the Mole.

In the 75 minutes she spent on the Mole, Vindictive took a terrible beating, but she made it back to Dover under her own steam.

THE ZEEBRUGGE RAID, 22-23 APRIL 1918 (Q 55566) HMS VINDICTIVE at Dover following the Zeebrugge Raid showing the damage done by German gunfire to the ship’s bridge, foretop, and forward armored flamethrower hut. Note the mattresses used to protect exposed parts of the ship’s superstructure from bullets and shell splinters. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026710

HMS Vindictive damaged via Underwood & Underwood – Popular Science Magazine July 1918

PW1862: ‘HMS ‘Vindictive’ returning from the Zeebrugge Raid, 24 April 1918′ by William Lionel Willie circa 1918. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/125997.html

“Vindictive after Zeebrugge” 1918 May 23, Bain News Service print via LOC

German propaganda photo of the above

Besides Carpenter, who received the VC from the King as well as the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor from France, several officers received lesser awards while 18 of Vindictive‘s crew picked up Distinguished Service Medals:

Ch. Air Mech. Clifford Armitage, R.N.A.S., O.N. F6981.
E.R.A., 4th Cl., Norman Carroll, O.N. M17679 (Ch.).
E.R.A., 3rd Cl., Herbert Cavanagh, O.N. M1111 (Po.).
Sto., 1st Cl., William Crawford, O.N. K34438 (Ch.).
M.A.A. Charles George Dunkason, O.N. 191301 (Po.).
Arm. Arthur William Evans, O.N. M7148 (Ch.).
Ldg. Sig. Albert James Gamby, O.N. J11326 (Ch.).
A.B. Arthur Geddes, O.N. J30822 (Ch.).
E.R.A., 5th Cl., Herbert Alfred Harris, O.N. M6218 (Po.).
Sto. P.O. Thomas Haw, O.N. 306429 (Po.).
Sto., 1st Cl., James Lewis Hayman, O.N. K35627 (Dev.).
P.O. Herbert Jackson, O.N. 213767 (Ch.).
A.B. Richard Ellis Makey, O.N. 219228 (Po.).
S.B.S. Arthur Ernest Page, O.N. M960 (Ch.).
Ch. Sto. Alfred Edward Sage, O.N. 281683 (Ch.).
Sto., 1st Cl., Joseph Smith, O.N. K24538 (Dev.).
E.R.A., 4th Cl., Alan Thomas, O.N. M16493 (Dev.).
P.O. Thomas Wood, O.N. 171903 (Ch.)

The next month, the battered and beaten but still afloat Vindictive had one more mission. Two hundred tons of cement was put into her after magazines and upper bunkers on both sides– which was all her draught would permit her to carry– and she was sunk as a blockship in the approaches to Ostend Harbor on 10 May 1918.

THE SECOND OSTEND RAID, MAY 1918 (Q 24025) Wrecked deck of HMS Vindictive in the Ostend Harbour, May 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205264342

THE SECOND OSTEND RAID, MAY 1918 (Q 24031) Wrecked HMS Vindictive in the Ostend Harbour, May 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205264348

After the war, she was raised and broken up in 1920, with her bow saved and put on public display at Ostend, where it remains today.

Two of her sisters, Furious and Arrogant, was broken up just after her– though they had seen no action during the war. As for Vindictive‘s skipper, Carpenter, he went on to command a series of capital ships before moving to the retired list as a Rear Admiral in 1929, though he did return to service in WWII to command a Home Guard district. All good men must do their part, you know. His VC is in the IWM.

Several relics from Vindictive, to include her shot-up binnacle, a rum draw with a shrapnel wound, her J Morriss & Sons Ltd telescopic flamethrower, one of her 7.5cm howitzers, her voice tube, a piece of concrete from the Mole found on her deck after she returned to Dover and portions of her splinter mattresses are all in the collections of the IWM.

Lewis machine gun used by RM Sgt Norman Augustus Finch, VC, MSM during the Raid on Zeebrugge, 1918 from the foretop of HMS Vindictive

The same gun is now in the Royal Marines Museum’s collection

She is, of course, also remembered in maritime art such as the piece at the beginning of the post and this one on display at the Britannia Royal Naval College by Charles De Lacey, showing HMS ‘Vindictive’ at Zeebrugge, 23 April 1918, on loan from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

This week, the RN and RMs celebrated the 100th anniversary of the great raid. On Saturday, Belgium held a special service attended by the Royal Navy and Royal Marines with HRH The Princess Royal representing Her Majesty the Queen. A similar event was held in Dover on Monday with dignitaries from Belgium and Germany as well as the Senior Service.


HMS Order No 77 – HMS Vindictive [Port] (Art. IWM DAZ 0056 2) whole: a schematic drawing for Dazzle camouflage, featuring a hand-drawn and hand-painted port view of a warship. Three superstructure details are placed to the left of the main design. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/27270

Displacement: 5,750 long tons (5,840 t)
Length: 320 ft (97.5 m) (p/p), 342 ft (104.2 m) (o/a)
Beam: 57 ft 6 in (17.5 m)
Draught: 20 ft (6.1 m)
Installed power: 10,000 shp (7,460 kW)
Propulsion: 2 shafts
2 vertical triple-expansion steam engines
18 Belleville water-tube boilers
Speed: 19 knots (35.2 km/h; 21.9 mph)
Complement: 331 as designed:
Officers, 17
Seamen, 114
Marines, 25
Engine-room establishment, 128
Other non-executive ratings, 35
(1914) 480 assorted
4 × QF 6-inch (152 mm) guns
6 × 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns
8 × 12-pounder (3-inch, 76 mm) guns
3 × 3-pounder (47 mm) guns
2 submerged 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes, one deck
10 × QF 6-inch MkVII
8 × 12-pounder (3-inch, 76 mm) guns
3 × 3-pounder (47 mm) guns
2x Vickers .303 machine guns
2 submerged 18-inch (450 mm) torpedo tubes, 1 deck
4x QF 6-inch MkVII
5x Vickers .303 machine guns
1x 11-inch howitzer
4x QF 6-inch MkVII
2x Mk I 7.5-inch howitzers
16 81mm Stokes trench mortars,
5×1-pounder (37mm) quick-firing Vickers Mark 1 pom-pom guns
16 Lewis guns
5 (+) Vickers .303 machine guns
Deck: 1.5–3 in (38–76 mm)
Conning tower: 9 in (229 mm)

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