Following the invasion of Belgium by the German army in August 1914 and the subsequent move towards the Flanders coast, the Channel ports of Zeebrugge and Oostende fell almost undamaged in Germand hands. It was from these ports that the German Admiralty deceided to pursue the naval war against England by "klein krieg". To this end, small submarines and destroyers would be stationed in Zeebrugge and Oostende that would patrol and raid allied shipping on the Channel. Similar to the Flanders coast, these ports were heavily protected by coastal batteries, machine gun posts and trenches to prevent a British landing. The task to perform klein krieg was given in November 1914 to the Marinekoprs Flandern, commanded by admiral Ludwig von Schröder. Initially, the British ignored the flotilla's stationed at Zeebrugge and Oostende but they were forced to act in response to the growing threat of the Flanders flotilla. On 23 April 1918 (St Georges day), the Royal Navy attempted to block the port of Zeebrugge by sinking ships in the canal entrance, which would prevent German ships from leaving the port. At the sime time Oostende was also attacked by the Royal Navy. A detailed map of the Zeebrugge raid is shown below. Two of three ships that were tasked with blocking the port entrace were sunk at the narrowst part of the canal (HMS Iphigenia and HMS Intrepid) and one British submarine (C3) rammed the viaduct that connected the shore and harbor mole, thereby trapping the German units located on the mole. Subsequently, several ships (HMS Iris, HMS Daffodil and HMS Vindictive) landed marines and armed soldiers on the harbor mole to eliminate gun positions. This raid turned out to be a complete failure because the Germans swiftly cleared the canal entrance, enabling a continuation of operations from Zeebrugge within days. The British suffered nearly 600 casualties and the Germans 30.
(map obtained fromhttps://martinusevers.org/2018/04/23/britse-raid-op-zeebrugge/)
The events on 23 April 1918, are commemorated on a memorial located near the Zeebrugge port.
The left and right panels of the memorial are dedicated to the different ships involved in blocking the channel entrance or landing marines on the harbor mole.
A small German cemetery - Deutscher Ehrenfriedhof Zeebrügge Nr.184 - is located in the churchyard of Sint Donaas. Unlike other German cemeteries, this one was not removed in the 1950's with the soldiers reinterred at one of the established WW1 cemeteries in Belgium. The Zeebrugge cemetery contains the graves of 175 soldiers of which three remain unknown.
The cemetary contains one communal grave with 40 sailors of two torpedo boats that were sunk on June 5 1917 in front of the Flanders coast.
The Zeebrugge cemetery was initiated in 1915 by the Germans and also contains the graves of the German soldiers that were killed during the raid on Zeebrugge by the Royal Navy on April 23.
In contrast to other German cemeteries, the graves at the Zeebrugge cemetary contain white headstones instead of the more familiar grey crosses.
The churchyard also contains a plot with graves of British soldiers that were killed during the Zeebrugge raid.
In total, 8 victoria crosses were awarded after the Zeebrugge raid of which two posthumously.
The British plot also contains a plaque commemorating four sailors that were killed following landing at the harbor mole and who's bodies were never found.