Monday, 9 June 2014

THE BLOCKADE OF OSTEND



The blockade of Ostend was a Royal Navy operation to stop German submarines and gunboats harrying British ships in the Channel.  One of those killed in the fierce fighting was Henry Martin, an experienced seaman from the parish.

(51) 1st Petty Officer 183313 Henry William MARTIN H.M.S “Marshall Soult” Royal Navy.

                                   

                                      Henry William Martin

Henry William Martin was the son of George and Frances Martin, of, 2 Havelock Place, Ash.  His father, George worked at Gardner’s Brewery in Ash. Henry was one of five children, being the second eldest with four sisters. The three younger sisters all married sailors.  All his sisters were married in Ash parish church.
Henry joined the Royal Navy at an early age, and certainly well before hostilities begun.  He was destined to be killed, in HMS Vindictive’s Ostend expedition, on 10th May 1918.
The naval operations at Ostend were aimed at blocking the harbour entrance to German torpedo boats and submarines which, lying safely in Zeebrugge and Ostend, had ever since 1914 been a constant worry to the Dover Patrol, threatening British shipping in the Straits. In December 1917 Rear Admiral Roger Keyes determined to attempt to block the harbours both at Zeebrugge and Ostend.
HMS Vindictive, an old 5,750-ton cruiser, had led the assault on the mole at Zeebrugge, at 0001 hours on St George’s Day, 23rd April, but had succeeded in only partly blocking the harbour entrance, and had returned to Dover from Zeebrugge by 0800 hours on 23rd April, badly damaged. The attack, the same night at Ostend had failed completely; largely because the Germans had  moved the Strom Bank Buoy from its accustomed position, leading both blockships, HMS Brilliant and HMS Syrius to run aground well outside the harbour mouth.
On the night of 9/10 May, a second attempt was made to block Ostend harbour, by sinking Vindictive and HMS Sappho, another old 3,600-ton cruiser, in the entrance. Just off Dunkirk, Sappho blew a manhole gasket in her boiler and had to return to Dover. Vindictive carried on, reached the harbour entrance under devastating fire, and was duly sunk, but not at the angle intended.  She was only 320 feet long, and the harbour entrance was only partially closed off.
On both nights the fighting was desperate.  Both Royal Marine Light Infantry and Royal Naval crews engaged in the action sustained heavy casualties.  In all 197 officers and men were killed, or died of their wounds, 413 were wounded and 27 were missing.  Nine Victoria Crosses were awarded.
Henry Martin was reported missing believed killed, in Vindictive’s Ostend expedition on 10th May.  It seems likely he was involved in the heroic attack by Vindictive on St George’s Day and having come safely through the first operation, he was killed 18 days later, in the second attack at the age of 40.
He was mentioned in dispatches during this action, as well as being referred to in ‘The Raid on Zebrugge’ by Philip Warner, published in 1978.
 He is buried in the Ostend New Communal Cemetery, Ostend, Belgium (plot A.15).

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