HMS Vindictive

HMS Vindictive was an Arrogant class second class cruiser famous for the role she played in the attempts to block Zeebrugge and Ostend in 1918. At the start of the First World War she was the only member of the class still on active service. She was allocated to the 9th Cruiser Squadron, serving on the Finisterre station under Rear-Admiral de Robeck, leaving Plymouth to take up her new post on 4 August, with the admiral onboard.

While serving with this squadron, the Vindictive captured the Norddeutscher Lloyd ship Schlesien (7 August) and the German coaler Slawentzitz, carrying 5,000 tons of Welsh coal (8 September). She also took part in operations off the Portuguese coast, guarding against German ships equipped with radios.

In November she was given Poulson wireless gear and sent to Ascension Island. Her new duty was to act as a link in the communication chain being established to link the Admiralty with Admiral Sturdee during the hunt for Admiral von Spee’s squadron in the aftermath of the battle of Coronel.

During 1915-1916 she served with the South East coast of American Station. In February 1915 she was acting as a guardship at the Abrolhos base (replacing the battleship Canopus). On 22 February she became the flagship of Admiral Stoddart, after HMS Carnarvon ran aground on rocks near to the base, requiring extensive repairs. In the spring of 1916 the Vindictive was still on this station, with the cruiser Glasgow and the armed merchant cruisers Macedonia and Orama. During the cruise of the German raider Moewe, the Vindictive was the only cruiser still on station, with the Glasgowabsent undergoing a refit. 

During 1916 she was posted to the White Sea to support the British supply convoys to Russia. She remained there until early in 1918, to guard against a possible German threat.

Late in 1917 it had been decided to attack the German naval bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend. HMS Vindictive was chosen to act as an assault ship, attacking the German gun positions at the end of the mole. These attacks were intended to distract the German gunners, hopefully allowing the three blockships to reach their target successfully.

The Vindictive was extensively modified in preparation for the raid. She was given an 11in howitzer on the quarter-deck and two 7.5 howitzers elsewhere. Two 6in guns were retained on the upper deck. On the port side she was given three pom-poms, ten Lewis guns and four batteries each of four Stokes mortars. Two pom poms and six Lewis guns were placed in the foretop to fire over the parapet of the mole.

As her role was to carry a marine landing party onto the mole, she was equipped with a falsh flush deck, three wide ramps to allow the troops to move around the ship easily and fourteen narrow gangways for the actual attack on the mole. She was also equipped with a series of big fenders on her port side to help cushion the initial impact with the mole.

The attack on Zeebrugge was launched on 23 April 1918. The Vindictive came under heavy fire as she approached the mole. Captain H. C. Halahan, the commander of the seaman’s landing party, Lieutenant-Colonel B. H. Elliot, the commander of the Marines, and Major A. A. Cordner, his second in command, were all killed on the way in. The 7.5in howitzers and the flame throwers were destroyed, and all but two of the fourteen gangways destroyed.

It had been intended to stop the Vindictive directly in front of the German guns. Instead, she came to a halt three ships lengths away from their targets. It then proved to be unexpectedly difficult to get the ship close enough to the mole to allow the troops across, and so she had to be rammed on the starboard side by the ferryboat Daffodil. When the marines and seamen did get onto the mole, they discovered that there were German machine gun positions and barbed wire between them and the guns. They also came under fire from a German destroyer docked on the other side of the mole. The foretop guns were soon put out of action, and the superstructure of the Vindictive almost destroyed. The landing parties suffered very heavy casualties. However, they did success in distracting the Germans at a crucial moment, and two of the three blockships were able to reach their target. They were sunk in the entrance to the inner harbour, but didn’t block it. The Germans were able to dredge a new channel around the blockships, and the port was very quickly back in use.

An attack on Ostend had failed even to achieve this level of success. It was decided to launch a second attack, this time using the badly damaged Vindictive as one of two blockships. The attack was made on 10 May. Once again the Vindictive came under heavy fire. On the way in her captain, Commander Godsal, and her navigator were both killed. She then ran aground at the channel entrance, and could not be moved. She was sunk in place, blocking one third of the channel. Once again, the mission failed to prevent German submarines from using the harbour, but the two attacks did raise morale in Britain at a crucial moment in the war, coming at the same time as the battle of the Lys (9-29 April 1918).

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

19kts forced draft

Armour – deck


 - side plating for ram


 - conning tower


 - gunshields


 - engine hatch




Armaments as built

Four 6in quick firing guns
Six 4.7in quick firing guns
Eight 12pdr guns
Three 3pdr quick firing guns
Five machine guns
Three 18in torpedo tubes

Main guns after 1903-4

Ten 6in quick firing guns
Nine 12pdr guns
Three 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement



9 December 1897


4 July 1900


Captain C. R. Payne
Captain English (1916)
Captain Carpenter (1918)
Commander Godsal (1918)

Sunk as block ship

10 May 1918

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 November 2007), HMS Vindictive ,

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