Personal info

  • Name: Arthur Leyland HARRISON
  • D.O.B: 3rd February, 1886
  • D.O.A: 23rd April, 1918
  • D.O.D: 23rd April, 1918
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Lieutenant Commander, HMS Vindictive, Royal Navy

The Zeebrugge Raid, Belgium 22-23 April 1918

22-23 April 1918

More details about:
The First World War 1918 

On the night of 22/23 April 1918 a small carefully prepared British naval force comprising 4th Battalion, Royal Marines and 250 bluejackets attacked Zeebrugge and Ostend on the Belgian coast. Its purpose was to block the channels which led to the German naval base at Bruges, the home of more than thirty destroyers and torpedo boats and about thirty U-boats. The raid was led by HMS Vindictive under Commander A F B Carpenter, accompanied by two ex-Mersey ferry-boats, Iris II and Daffodil, carrying more troops. They were to attack the German batteries on the one and a half mile-long Mole, which protected the canal exit at Zeebrugge. While the Vindictive was still a few hundred yards off the Mole, she was sighted by the Germans and came under heavy fire, which killed the commanders of both the naval assault force and the Marines. The Marines in its fighting top, under Lieutenant Rigby, opened answering fire on the Germans, but all of them were soon killed or disabled except Sergeant N A Finch, the second-in-command, who remounted a Lewis gun and began firing again. As Vindictive approached her destination, 100 yards away Iris II also reached the Mole. Because of the heavy swell both ships had difficulty securing a mooring. On Iris II, Lieutenant Commander G N Bradford climbed a derrick which was projecting over the Mole and, clutching an anchor, leapt on to the Mole, only to be killed by German machine-gun fire. No-one else from Iris II was able to make a landing. She was subsequently hit by two German shells and it was assumed that she had been sunk whereas in fact she managed to reach Dover that afternoon. Meanwhile, on the Vindictive, Carpenter’s seamanship and calmness had allowed the landing of its troops to proceed. Under the cover given by Sergeant Finch’s Lewis gun, Lieutenant Commander A L Harrison led A and B Companies towards the seaward batteries, despite his jaw having just been broken by a shell fragment. He was killed almost at once and every man with him was either killed or wounded. It was during this part of the assault that Able Seaman A E McKenzie, firing a Lewis gun, distinguished himself by his gallantry. Soon afterwards, Captain E Bamford, commander of B Company, led an assault on another German battery. As part of the operation the British succeeded in destroying a section of the Mole near the shore consisting of a 300 yard steel viaduct, which allowed the tide to scour the harbour. Its demolition prevented the Germans bringing up reinforcements during the attack and also cut the railway along the mole, diminishing its value to the enemy as a defensive feature. Two old submarines, C1 and C3, manned by volunteer crews of two officers and four men, had been packed with explosives and towed across the North Sea. The hawser of C1 broke before the action began but Lieutenant R D Sandford succeeded in ramming C3 under the viaduct and setting the fuses. The engine on their escape vessel refused to start and C3’s crew were forced to paddle, though some, including Sandford, were wounded by German fire. They were rescued by a picket boat, commanded by Sandford’s elder brother, Lieutenant Francis Sandford, and taken out to HMS Phoebe. Sandford’s second-in-command, Lieutenant John Howell-Price, was awarded the DSO, and Petty Officer Coxswain Walter Harner, Leading Seaman William Cleave, Engine-Room Artificer Allan Roseburgh and Stoker Henry Bindall were all awarded the CGM. The various attacks on the Mole were, however, largely diversionary in purpose. The chief object of the raid was to block the entrance to the canal itself. There were three blockships, the light cruisers HMS Thetis, HMS Intrepid and HMS Iphigenia. Thetis became entangled in the German defence nets and ran aground short of the canal mouth, but both Intrepid and Iphigenia were successfully scuttled. Their crews of more than 100 officers and men were taken off by Motor Launch No 282, commanded by Lieutenant P T Dean RNVR. Although his steering gear failed, Dean was able to manoeuvre using his engines, even going back to rescue an officer in the water. Though ML 282 was hit many times, Dean succeeded in transferring the men to HMS Warwick. The Zeebrugge Raid was daring in conception, and conspicuous for the gallantry of its execution. It did not, however, achieve its principal purpose. By early May U-boats were able to work their way around the blockships and once again reach the North Sea. At the same time an attempt had been made to block the canal exit at Ostend but this failed and a second raid against Ostend was mounted on 9/10 May.

Citation

 For most conspicuous gallantry at Zeebrugge on the night of the 22nd-23rd April, 1918. This officer was in immediate command of the Naval Storming Parties embarked in “Vindictive.” Immediately before coming alongside the Mole Lieut.-Commander Harrison was struck on the head by a fragment of a shell which broke his jaw and knocked him senseless. Recovering consciousness he proceeded on to the Mole and took over command of his party, who were attacking the seaward end of the Mole. The silencing of the guns on the Mole head was of the first importance, and though in a position fully exposed to the enemy’s machine-gun fire, Lieut.-Commander Harrison gathered his men together and led them to the attack. He was killed at the head of his men, all of whom were either killed or wounded. Lieut.-Commander Harrison, though already severely wounded and undoubtedly in great pain, displayed indomitable resolution and courage of the highest order in pressing his attack, knowing as he did that any delay in silencing the guns might jeopardise the main object of the expedition, i.e., the blocking of the Zeebrugge-Bruges Canal. 

Sixth Supplement to The London Gazette of 14 March 1919. 17 March 1919, Numb. 31236, pp. 3590-91

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