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Dover in the First World War
The Dover Patrol
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First World War

 

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Image: Ships of the Dover Patrol in Dover Harbour.
Ships of the Dover Patrol in Dover Harbour.


In late July 1914, with war looming, twelve ‘Tribal’ class destroyers arrived at Dover to join the near obsolete destroyers already at anchor in the harbour, most of them built in the late 1800s. These destroyers formed the nucleus of the fledgling Dover Patrol, which, from its early beginnings as a modest and poorly equipped command, became one of the most important Royal Navy commands of the First World War.

The Dover Patrol assembled cruisers, monitors, destroyers, armed trawlers and drifters, paddle mine-sweepers, armed yachts, motor launches and coastal motor boats, submarines, seaplanes, aeroplanes and airships. With these resources it performed several duties simultaneously in the Southern North Sea and the Dover Straits: carrying out anti-submarine patrols; escorting merchantmen, hospital and troop ships; laying sea-mines and even constructing mine barrages; sweeping up German mines; bombarding German military positions on the Belgian coast; and sinking the ever present U-boats.

There were many heroic actions involving the men and ships of the Dover Patrol. On 24 October 1914 the destroyer ‘Falcon’ was hit by a German eight-inch shell, which killed the captain and 24 members of the 60-man crew. The ‘Falcon’ was brought back to Dover where she was repaired. Later in the war the ‘Falcon’ became the command of Lieutenant C.H. Lightoller whose previous claim to fame was as Second Officer on the ill fated ‘Titanic’.

One of the most memorable officers of the Dover Patrol was Captain E.R.G.R. Evans who always carried a penguin mascot nailed to the mast of his destroyer, a relic from his days with Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic Expedition. He was promoted to captain after his famous sea battle with German destroyers on 20 April 1917. On this occasion he was in command of the Flotilla leader ‘Broke’ and, with the destroyer ‘Swift’, intercepted and sank the German destroyers G42 and G45.

Admiral R.H. Bacon commanded the Dover Patrol until 31 December 1917, when Vice-Admiral Roger Keyes replaced him. The new commander was charged with the special duty of blockading the German held Belgian ports and the U-boats based there. This was to culminate in what was the Patrol’s ‘finest hour’, the raid on Zeebrugge and Ostend on 22/23 April 1918.

After the war a fund was set up to erect a memorial to the Dover Patrol. In July 1921 the memorial at Leatercote Point near St Margaret's Bay was unveiled. Similar memorial obelisks stand at Cap Blanc Nez on the French Coast and New York harbour.

 

Image: The Dover Patrol Memorial.
The Dover Patrol Memorial.

 

Image: The destroyers HMS Broke and HMS Swift in Dover Harbour.
The destroyers HMS Broke and HMS Swift in Dover Harbour.

Image: Motor Launches in the Camber.
Motor Launches in the Camber.


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