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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Parish Records




War Memorials



Zeebrugge - the plan of attack

The plan of the Zeebrugge attack

From the Brine Family Post Card Collection


From The Devonian Year Book 1919:


"Among those who received the VC in connection with the attack on Zeebrugge on St. George's Day 1918, was Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford R. N., the youngest of seven sons of the late Archdeacon of Exeter, and of Mrs. Sandford who now resides in Exmouth.


Educated at Dartmouth and at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, he had only been promoted to his present rank a short time before the outbreak of war, but he had specialised in the submarine branch of the service from the first, and gallantly undertook the perilous task of blowing up the bridge connecting the mole* at Zeebrugge to the mainland. According to the official record:


"This officer was in command of submarine C3, and most skilfully placed that vessel in between the piles of the viaduct before lighting his fuse and abandoning her. He eagerly undertook this hazardous enterprise, although well aware (as were all his crew) that if the means of rescue failed and he or any of his crew were in the water at the moment of the explosion, they would be killed outright by the force of such explosion. Yet Lieutenant Sandford disdained to use the gyro steering which would have enabled him and his crew to abandon the submarine at a safe distance, and preferred to make sure, as far as was humanly possible, of the accomplishment of his duty."


After pushing the submarine under the piles of the viaduct and setting the fuse, he and his companions** found that the propeller of their launch was broken, and they had to resort to oars and to row desperately hard against the strong current to get a hundred yards away before the charge exploded. They had a wonderful escape from being killed by the falling debris.


Damage done by Submarine C3 at Zeebrugge

Damage caused to the viaduct at Zeebrugge when rammed by the submarine C3

From the Brine Family Post Card Collection


"They were ultimately rescued by a service picket boat in charge of his elder brother, Lieutenant Commander Francis H. Sandford DSO; RN, who, in describing the incident in a letter to his mother, said: "I went with my picket-boat to pick up the bits." however, although his brother was wounded in the thigh and right hand, he was able to save him and the others who were wounded and in the water. This little picket-boat covered 170 miles during the voyage to and from the Belgian coast and her gallant commander has been promoted for his services, the official report stating that "his staff work in the preparation of the demolition arrangements and fitting out of submarines was invaluable.



Since the above was written, Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford has died of typhoid fever in a Yorkshire hospital on November 11th 1918."


HMS Thetis after being scuttled at Zeebrugge

The English torpedo boat, HMS Thetis having been scuttled to block

the harbour entrance at Zeebrugge

From the Brine Family Post Card Collection


*A massive breakwater

**A crew of six men, all single and all volunteers, took part in this mission. Lieutenant Sandford was awarded the VC; Lieutenant Howell-Price received the DSO and the following four men - Petty Officer Walter Harner (coxswain), Leading Seaman William Cleave, Engine Room Artificer Allan Roseburgh and Stoker Henry Brindle - were decorated with Conspicuous Gallantry Medals (CGMs).  


The full story of the Zeebrugge raid, together with details of other Victoria Crosses awarded on this occasion, can be found at



Click here for more information about this branch of Richard Sandford's family.



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