12 May 1917

The Royal Navy has been planning to bomb the lock gates at Zeebrugge which are a vital link in the communications between that port and Bruges, where German U-boats and destroyers are based. The destruction of the lock gates will make the canal tidal and probably sever the link connexion to Bruges.

The Navy has calculated that direct hits from two fifteen-inch shells would destroy the lock gates, but getting close enough to achieve this will be difficult

The Knocke battery {Kaiser Wilhelm II) has a range of 20 miles so  the bombarding ships would then be firing close to their maximum range to be safe from attack. Aeroplane spotting is essential because the bursts of the shells cannot be located in any other way.

Vice-Admiral Bacon calculated that 252 rounds would be required to ensure the probability of a hit on the lock gates, and as the rate of fire for each of the three available monitors {Erebus, Terror, and Marshal Soult) was one round a minute, the bombardment would have to go on for 84 minutes.

Also required are a calm sea, weather conditions giving favourable winds to allow of the maintenance of a smokescreen to protect the bombarding ships, a tide running along the coast so that the anchored monitors could keep their broadsides to the target, and the absence of low clouds which would prevent aircraft working,

Three aborted attempts to put the plan in nmotion were thwarted by bad weather, but morning a further atttempt was made and at 0415, the monitors and their attendant ships were in position under conditions judged to be favourable.

The assault however was beset with delays. The ships arrived late a ps the Marshal Soult had to be towed. Two Sopwith Strutters from 2 Naval Squadron had been over the target since 0300 and even though the mist cleared around 0340, the first shells were not fired until 0447, wasting an hour.

45 minutes later the first aircraft turned for home as they were out of fuel. 45 corrections had been made at that point, but many of the shells failed to explode.  The relieving aircraft had engine trouble and failed to turn up. At 0600 the operation was abandoned.


Norman Von Lilienstein Tapscott

Up to the time the firing ceased enemy aircraft were inactive but after that patrols of Triplanes encountered the enemy. At 0625 4 Naval Squadron was attacked by enemy scouts who shot down one of the Strutters from 2 Naval Squadron – Flight Sub-Lieutenant Norman Von Lilienstein Tapscott and Lieutenant Gurth Alwyn Richardson in N5154 were claimed by Leutnant Theo Osterkamp, from MFJ I. The crashed near the shore and were both interned in Holland. In return 4 Naval claimed to to have downed 5 German aircraft though none were reported lost.

A later patrol by 10 Naval Squadron also claimed to have shot down a seaplane nad in return Flight Sub-Lieutenant Maurice William Wallace Eppstein in Sopwith Triplane N5456 was  shot down by Bertram Heinrich from MFJ I. He crashed into the sea and was killed.

In the end the raid was a failure. Later photographs revealed that nineteen shells had exploded within a few yards of the target, but that the gates had not suffered any damage. Although considerable damage was inflicted on buildings there was no impact on u-boat operations .

Richardson remained in the RAF after the war but was killed in the Brandon Ambush in 1920 during the Irish War of Independence.


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