Action of 21 March, 1918

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A night surface action occurred near Dunkirk in the early morning hours of 21 March, 1918.


This account is based on Naval Operations, Volume V.[1]

On the night of 18-19 March, a British motor launch observed four German destroyers near a light buoy at the northern end of Zuidcoote Pass.

The next night, German torpedo boats Template:DE-A4 and Template:DE-A9 were sent out to mark a bombardment position at the northeast end of the Nieuport Bank while Template:DE-A19 and Template:DE-A7 did the same for one near the northeast end of the Smal Bank.

On the night of the 20th-21st, the Royal Navy's Commodore at Dunkirk sent Swift, Matchless, North Star and Myngs to the East Barrage Patrol in the Dover Straits while Botha and Morris stood ready in Dunkirk Roads with French destroyers Template:FR-CapitaineMehl, Template:FR-Magon and Template:FR-Bouclier, with monitor General Craufurd at a reduced state of readiness. At the same time, the monitors M.25 and Terror and French destroyer Template:FR-Oriflamme were stationed opposite beaches near la Panne where German landings were feared possible.

At 1.30am, Captain Bruton of the Terror was informed that several small vessels were loitering north of the Traepegeer No. 1 buoy. When it was confirmed that no small British vessels were to be there, it was decided to send three motor boats out to investigate. At 3.45am, before the motor boats had arrived, gunfire from the seaward side prompted Captain Rede of the flotilla leader Botha to fire star-shells to northeast and northwest in an unsuccessful effort to identify the source. When Bruton heard firing shortly thereafter, his starshell barrage directed toward the Outer Ratel Bank illuminated three to four large destroyers.

Botha and Morris (Lieutenant-Commander Percy Ralph Passawer Percival) and their French cohorts departed Dunkirk Roads immediately as Terror opened fire on her target at 3.55am. The German bombardment ceased for a time and was resumed at 4.05.

C.M.B. 20 was dispatched to Ostend to try to attack the Germans as they returned to harbour as Rede's division fired star-shells to try to find the enemy, finally succeeding at 4.35am in finding a division of five destroyers and their two torpedo boat pathfinders.

Botha was hit in her stokehold after ten minutes of firing, as the Germans appeared to abandon the slower torpedo boats. Seeing that she was losing way, Botha fired a pair of torpedoes and succeeded in ramming a lagging Template:DE-A19. Rede then attempted unsuccessfully to ram Template:DE-A7 and circled back. With an enemy smoke screen and a damaged electrical circuit to Botha's fighting lights complicating matters, Captain de Parseval of the Template:FR-CaptaineMehl fired a torpedo at the onrushing destroyer, hitting her in the after boiler room.

Botha was brought to a stop as the French destroyers sank A 7 with gunfire. Morris towed Botha to home as the French destroyers screened them astern.

Lieutenant Willett in C.M.B. 20 actually managed the considerable feat of finding and attacking the five enemy destroyers just after 5.00am, firing his torpedo from just 600 yards and scoring what appeared to be a hit on the fourth destroyer. He laid on a thick smokescreen and steered through an angry blaze of return gunfire before returning safely to port. Willett was awarded the D.S.C. for his accomplishment.

See Also


  1. Naval Operations. Vol. V. pp. 224-227.