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The St. George’s Day Raid on Zeebrugge - An H.M.S. Vindictive Pom-Pom Shell, 1918
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The St. George’s Day Raid on Zeebrugge - An H.M.S. Vindictive Pom-Pom Shell, 1918

Measurements: Length: 22.5cm (9in)

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A 1915 QF 1.5-pdr Mark I pom-pom shell, inscribed on the case ‘A Relic / of / H.M.S. Vindictive / Zeebrugge / 24 April / 1918’. The present shell is a deactivated piece of the belt fed ammunition carried on the Zeebrugge Raid of April 1918 in the assault ship H.M.S. Vindictive for use in the specially adapted fore-top where Lieutenant Charles Rigby won the Victoria Cross.

The Arrogant-class cruiser H.M.S. Vindictive was launched in 1897 and saw war service on the south east coast of America in 1916 and in the White Sea during 1916-17. She was fitted out as an assault ship in early 1918 for the St. George’s Day Zeebrugge raid which aimed to neutralize the Belgian port then in use as a German U-boat and light shipping base by the sinking of concrete filled blockships. Vindictive’s role was to make a diversionary attack against the Mole enclosing the harbour by landing a force of sailors and marines to silence German guns. Meanwhile two ancient submarines were to be exploded under the landward causeway to the Mole to prevent it being reinforced.

In preparation for the raid most of Vindictive’s heavy guns were removed and replaced with howitzers, flame-throwers and mortars for close quarter action. The fore-top was mounted with two pom-pom guns and six Lewis guns manned by the Royal Marines. However a change of wind on the night made a planned smoke screen ineffective, and Vindictive came under heavy fire and was forced to put men ashore in the wrong place. Two heavy shells made direct hits on the fore-top, killing Rigby and killing or disabling all but Sergeant Finch, who, though severely wounded, continued firing until the top was wrecked by another heavy shell. Finch received the Victoria Cross. One of the two Vindictive pom-pom guns is preserved in the Imperial war Museum, London.

Vindictive took heavy damage while alongside but came away successfully and was herself sunk as a blockship less than a month later in a similar raid on Ostend.  Allied propaganda claimed the rather inconclusive raid as a key British victory, its significance bolstered in the public mind by the awarding of eight Victoria Crosses. Of the 1700 men involved in the operation, however, 300 were wounded while more than 200 were killed.
 

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