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Naval Obituaries A collection of notes on those who have crossed the bar.

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Old 20-01-2010, 21:13
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Default Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

Albert McKenzie VC

and

The Raid on Zeebrugge

23rd April 1918

(St George’s Day)

This website tells the story of Able Seaman Albert Edward McKenzie of HMS Vindictive, who was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the British and Commonwealth armed forces, following the Royal Navy's famous Raid on Zeebrugge in 1918.

He was chosen by his shipmates to be awarded the VC and it was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace during the Summer of 1918.

He had almost fully recovered from his wounds when he caught 'flu in the epidemic which swept across Europe at the end of the Great War. He died at Chatham Naval Hospital in October 1918 aged nineteen.

This website is published by and is the copyright of Colin McKenzie, Albert's great-nephew. Please e-mail me with your Comments on and contributions - these are very welcome and will always be acknowledged.

------------------------------------
Colin's reply to my e-mail today requesting permission to use extracts from some or all of his website for inclusion in the Obituaries Forum of the WNSF......

hello Harry

many thanks for contacting

of course I would be delighted for you to use any parts of my web site - please feel free - I am only pleased if people read about the Raid on Zeebrugge and learn a bit more about our naval history

with my kind regards
Colin

Selected extracts from the website


-----------------------------------------------
Volunteers from the Grand Fleet

The British Grand Fleet had spent two years waiting in Scapa Flow for the German High Seas Fleet to venture out to sea again after the Battle of Jutland. Life for the sailors of the Grand Fleet had become boring and repetitive and the Navy was attracting much criticism from the British Press for sitting at anchor doing nothing, whilst the Army did all the fighting in France.

During this period sporting competitions were organised between all the ships of the Fleet. These included rowing, football and boxing. One of the sailors who showed particular skill and determination in the boxing matches was Able Seaman Albert McKenzie.

Albert McKenzie had joined the Boys Service of the Royal Navy in 1913 at the age of 15 and whilst at the training depot HMS Ganges had displayed a talent for boxing winning several medals as a junior, despite being only 5 foot 2˝ inches tall.

In April 1915 he was posted to HMS Neptune, a four year old battleship, where he joined the 758 other crew members. Neptune was part of the 4th Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet. Whilst at Scapa Flow Albert won the Fleet light-weight boxing championship and fought in the finals for the Royal Navy title.

Early in 1918 news reached Admiral David Beatty, commander of the Grand Fleet, that Admiral Keyes was planning a secret operation. Beatty offered to provide Keyes with 200 sailors and sent a signal to all ships asking for volunteers. Keyes’ requirements were for fit young sailors, preferably good sportsmen who were single with no family dependants; requirements which Albert McKenzie matched perfectly.

Lieutenant Commander Chamberlain, a young officer from the Neptune was given the task of selecting fifty men from his ship, and he immediately found a willing volunteer in Albert McKenzie, who had just been released from a seven day spell in the ship’s cells after some minor brush with navy discipline, the details of which are not recorded.

Under Lt Cmdr Chamberlain the fifty men from Neptune were to form ‘B’ Company of the storming party. No 1 section of ‘B’ Company was a four man Lewis gun team to be headed by Able Seaman Albert McKenzie.

Eventually the two hundred volunteer sailors were selected and under the command of Captain Halahan they travelled down on the train from Scotland to start their training.

Capt Halahan’s junior officers were Lieutenant Commanders Chamberlain, Harrison, Adams and Bradford. These officers and their men had willingly volunteered for what was described at the time as a ‘stunt’ - but a stunt from which they would be very lucky to return alive.

The Assault on the Mole

The storming party’s first objective was to silence the guns mounted on the end of the Mole, covering the entrance to the harbour. Having done this they were to hold their position, causing as much damage and diversion as they could, until the blockships were safely in position at the mouth of the canal.

The assault troops had expected to land on the Mole behind the trenches which the Germans had built to defend their heavy guns at the end of the Mole. But the Vindictive’s manoeuvres in trying to avoid the fierce German gun fire had sent her slightly off course and she came alongside a few hundred yards from her planned position. From this new position the British troops were faced with fighting their way back up the Mole, making a frontal attack on the German trenches which they had hoped to attack from the rear.

The raiding party soon discovered that ten of the Vindictive’s twelve specially built gang planks had been smashed by gun fire or by crashing into the side of the Mole and to add to the confusion only one officer - Lt -Cmdr Adams - was left to lead the attack.

Adams, seeing that half his men had been killed or wounded on board the Vindictive, quickly gathered together as many survivors as he could and led them across one of the two remaining gang planks.

Adams was the first man onto the Mole and his hastily assembled team included Albert McKenzie and Able Seaman Childs, the two surviving members of their Lewis gun crew. Despite having to carrying two men’s equipment - a Lewis gun plus 400 rounds of ammunition, Albert followed Adams across the gangplank and onto the Mole.

As they charged onto the Mole the only covering fire the Vindictive could provide came from a heavy machine gun mounted high up on her superstructure, since all her heavy guns were now below the top of the Mole. This machine gun was manned by Sgt Albert Finch and his position soon attracted all the German fire. Despite several direct hits on his position and being severely wounded Sgt Finch continued to man his machine gun.

Adams, with McKenzie at his side, led his party down the path which ran along the top of the parapet wall. Fifty yards past the stern of the Vindictive they came across a concrete observation post. There was an iron ladder next to this post and Adams sent some of his men down it onto the main deck of the Mole. McKenzie opened fire on German soldiers escaping from their living quarters to the safety of a destroyer moored on the far side of the Mole.

Adams then led his team, which now included Cmd Brock, further along the path and they came under heavy fire from all directions. They tried to fight their way through the German positions to reach the heavily fortified end of the Mole, but many of them were killed or wounded in the attempt.

The Imperial War Museum’s files have a description of the fighting on the Mole, said to have been contained in a letter from Albert McKenzie to one of his brothers;

‘Well we got within fifteen minutes run of the Mole when some marines got excited and fired their rifles. Up went four big star shells and they spotted us. That caused it. They hit us with the first two shells and killed seven marines. They were still hitting us when we got alongside.

There was a heavy swell on which smashed all our gangways but two, one aft and one forward. I tucked the old Lewis gun under my arm and nipped over the gangway aft. There were two of my gun’s crew killed inboard and I only had two left, with myself three.

I turned to my left and advanced about fifty yards then lay down. There was a spiral staircase which led down into the Mole and Commander Brock fired his revolver down and threw a Mills bomb. You ought to have seen them nip out and try to get across to the destroyer tied up against the Mole, but this little chicken met them half way with the box of tricks, and I ticked about a dozen off before I clicked.

My Lewis gun was shot spinning out of my hands and all I had left was the stock and pistol grip which I kindly took a bloke’s photo with it, who looked too business-like for me, with a rifle and bayonet. It half stunned him and gave me time to get my pistol out and finish him off.

Then I found a rifle and bayonet and joined up our crowd who had just come off the destroyer. All I remember was pushing kicking and kneeing every German who got in the way.

When I was finished I couldn’t climb the ladder so a mate of mine lifted me up and carried me up the ladder and then I crawled on my hands and knees inboard.’

After the initial assault Adams and his men returned back along the Mole in search of reinforcements. In the meantime on board the Vindictive Lt-Cmd Harrison had regained consciousness and despite having a broken jaw he insisted on joining his men fighting on the Mole. He met Adams on his way back and helped organise the reinforcements. Harrison, who had played Rugby for England before the War, gathered together anyone who was still standing and led a fresh assault across the main deck of the Mole.

McKenzie joined in the attack and opened fire on the German positions spraying the German positions with machine gun fire. After a short while a German round hit his Lewis gun, blowing it out of his hands. He threw the now useless gun and its remaining ammunition into the sea and took out his revolver. He shot several more German defenders before being wounded himself in the right foot and in the back.

The raiding party on the Mole had suffered heavy casualties and had been unable to achieve some of its objectives. But eventhough they had not been able to destroy the guns on the Mole, they had certainly drawn all their fire. Their attack had served its main purpose in that they had created an enormous diversion.

Whilst they attacked the German defenders on the Mole, drawing the fire of every German gun within range, the blockships had sailed into the harbour and positioned themselves across the mouth of the Bruges canal. As they were scuttled and began to sink in position, their crews were being rescued by fast boat launches.

Above the sound of the battle on the Mole, the assault troops heard an enormous explosion. The British submarine C5 had managed to manoeuvre itself under the viaduct joining the Mole to the mainland and a few minutes after her crew had escaped, she exploded destroying the viaduct and preventing the German troops on the Mole from being reinforced.

The assault team heard the Morse code ‘K’ sign sounding on the Daffodil’s siren, indicating that the block ships were in position. The signal should have been given by the Vindictive but German shell fire had destroyed much of her superstructure, including her siren and most of her funnel.

Lt-Cmd Adams ordered his surviving men back to the Vindictive, and where possible they brought the wounded back with them. Adams went back and searched the parapet for survivors, but by now the whole area was being swept by vicious machine gun fire.

Capt Carpenter on the Vindictive - waited for ten minutes after the withdrawal signal, whilst the wounded were carried back across the gang planks. Because of the swell some sailors fell into the sea between the harbour wall and the ship and were drowned. Able Seaman Childs helped the badly wounded Albert McKenzie back across the gangplank and down into the sick bay.

At last Capt Carpenter gave the order for the Vindictive to pull away from the Mole. She had been along side for just 70 minutes.

As the Vindictive moved away from the Mole she left the protection of the harbour wall and once again came under intense German shelling. The Germans continued their bombardment of the ship, even using gas shells, until she disappeared behind a smoke screen laid by fast patrol boats moving in behind her.

The awarding of medals

Admiral Keyes was sure the people of England would wish to demonstrate their gratitude to those who had taken part in such a vital attack against the hated German submarine fleet. He was keen to award as many gallantry medals as possible.

King George’s opinion of the Raid was quite clear since he had created Keyes a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on the morning of 23rd April.

Keyes knew that great bravery had been displayed during the Raid and he asked Capt Carpenter the commander of the Vindictive and the most senior officer present during the attack on the Mole, to make his recommendations as to who should be awarded the Victoria Cross. However Carpenter found it impossible to choose who should get an award since all his men had shown such courage.

Keyes was determined that several Victoria Crosses should be awarded and his solution was to invoke Clause 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant. This allows those present at an action to choose one of their number to be awarded the VC to represent them all. Clause 13 can be used only when the combined effort of the whole unit is worthy of the Cross and the Raid on Zeebrugge was a perfect example of this situation.

Following the strict social divisions of the time, the Naval and Marine officers each voted for their own candidates and the naval ratings and marines voted for their candidates from the ranks. This produced four nominees and Keyes added four more from various parts of the action together with a request for 21 DSOs , 29 DSCs, 16 medals for Conspicuous Gallantry, 143 medals for Distinguished Service and 283 names to be mentioned in despatches. He also submitted 56 names for immediate promotion for service in action. All this for an action which had last only a matter of hours.

His recommendations were put to the Admiralty but they raised a series of objections. They felt that awarding eight VC’s for one action might be seen to be lowering the standard of the award and they objected to the ballot Keyes had held, eventhough it was quite legitimate. Eventually they rejected his recommendations on the grounds that he had asked for too many awards for gallantry and that the proportion of officers to men was too high. They suggested that the that the awards be scaled back drastically.

Keyes was furious and went straight to the Admiralty to tell them to their face that he refused to accept their decision. He informed them in no uncertain terms that he would not leave the building until his recommendations recommendations had been approved in full. The Lords of the Admiralty eventually gave in and Keyes won the day by sheer force of personality. This was typical of the way he operated. Soon after this episode Keyes wrote to the Admiralty saying ;

‘Out of the many who have earned the VC, I cannot say that I would have selected these particular men, but I do not think the Admiralty will be criticised for awarding medals too liberally, since these men have been selected by the survivors of those who took part in the assault on the Mole, to represent them ... also I feel that all one’s energies should be devoted to fighting the enemy - unfortunately I waste a good deal of my time fighting with the Admiralty, who are so infernally rude, about things that really don’t matter.’

Albert McKenzie dies of his wounds

Just as the War was coming to an end, Europe experienced the worst ‘flu epidemic of modern times. Nearly 20 million people died during this pandemic, most of them following the complication of bacterial pneumonia.

Late in 1918 Albert McKenzie was still recovering from his wounds at Chatham Naval Hospital. Despite developing septic poisoning in his wounded foot his recovery was progressing well. But he was still vulnerable to infection and when he caught the ‘flu he had little resistance; he developed pneumonia and died on 3rd November - one week before the Armistice. His body was taken from Chatham back to London for burial.

After a magnificent funeral service Albert was buried in Camberwell Old Cemetery. The plot for his grave was donated by the local council ‘... in consideration of the gallant services rendered to his King and Country by Seaman McKenzie VC son of Eliza - By Resolution of Public Services Committee November 1918’.

The Right Honourable T J Macnamara MP Financial Secretary to the Admiralty and Capt Carpenter VC of the Vindictive were present at his funeral and the following message from the King and Queen was read to the mourners;

‘In the special circumstances of Able Seaman Albert Edward McKenzie’s lamentable death and the fact of his being a VC and the first London sailor to receive that most honourable reward, you are authorised to express at the public funeral at St Mark’s Camberwell the sympathy of their Majesties with the widowed mother and family. Their majesties were grieved to hear of his untimely death and to think that he had been spared so short a time to wear the proud decoration which he so nobly won.’

Capt Carpenter added his own tribute to Albert’s mother; ‘The splendid example which your boy set at Zeebrugge will be accorded a high place of honour in the naval records of the British Empire’ and Dr Macnamara’s closing words were; ‘Mrs McKenzie has lost a son but the nation has found a hero’.

A headstone was placed on his grave on 4 October 1919 unveiled by the Mayor of Southwark with the words; ‘Albert McKenzie died nobly; we perpetuate his name; God bless him!’. The headstone bears his name rank and number and the Victoria Cross emblem with the words ‘For Valour’ the only alteration or addition allowed to an official war grave head stone. His name, above the words ‘HMS Vindictive April 1918’ appears on the Memorial at the Cemetery to the fallen soldiers of Camberwell. The memorial and his grave are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


The Imperial War Museum’s records on Albert McKenzie show that ‘... he was the youngest of a large and patriotic family several of whom bore arms in the war another of them laying down his life. He was the most distinguished member of what was known in South London as the ‘St Mark’s Little Army’ being the 4286 men from the parish of St Mark’s Camberwell (the largest number from any ecclesiastical parish in London) who joined the Forces; it gained 81 War Honours and 518 members laid down their lives.

Able Seaman McKenzie’s citation reads a follows;-

The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Victoria Cross to Able Seaman Albert Edward McKenzie O.N. J 331736 (Ch) Royal Navy for most conspicuous gallantry.

This rating belonged to B Company of the seaman storming party. On the night of the operation he landed on the Mole with his machine gun in the face of great difficulties and did very good work, using his gun to the utmost advantage. He advance down the Mole with Lt Commander Harrison, who with most of his party was killed, and accounted for several of the enemy running from shelter to a destroyer alongside the Mole. This very gallant seaman was severely wounded whilst working his gun in an exposed position. Able Seaman McKenzie was selected by the seaman of the Vindictive Iris 11 and Daffodil and of the naval assaulting force to receive the Victoria Cross under rule 13 of the Royal Warrant dated 29th January 1856 (London Gazette 22 July 1918).

---------------------------------------
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Last edited by harry.gibbon : 20-01-2010 at 23:47.
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Old 20-01-2010, 21:20
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harry.gibbon harry.gibbon is offline
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Default Re: Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

With the prior approval of Colin I include the full website here, which includes details about the raid and a full list of the VC's awarded:-

http://www.mckenzie.uk.com/zeebrugge/index.htm

There is also full list of names to be found in the Zeebrugge and Ostend Raid 1918 thread.

Little h
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Old 21-01-2010, 00:07
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Default Re: Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

Thank you Harry for posting that inspiring story of a very brave young man, and all the brave men on that raid. I see that he was a good boxer, most likely light or bantam weight. I never saw size the measure of a man, always his sprit and determination. I recall a very good friend of mine about the same size as Albert, Jim had been the combined forces light weight champion in the mid fifties. He was on the RAF team with Brian London and Cowboy McCormac, I met Cowboy for a drink with Jim one night, and he told me Jim was the best on the team and could have been world class. He never carried on with boxing, he went to Canada and I went to Australia and we lost touch.

I hope you and all yours are keeping well.

Alan
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Old 21-01-2010, 00:38
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Default Re: Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

Very good posting, Harry

Keep it up

Dave
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Old 24-01-2010, 14:56
dennis a feary dennis a feary is offline
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Default Re: Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

Good Posting Harry, here is the award as given to Mackenzie, along with that of Sgt. Finch of the covering fire in VINDICTIVE ;

FINCH Norman H N/E Sergeant RMA 79D097 Vindictive
Vice Admiral Dover 23.07.18 Gazetted
Operations on Belgian Coast 23.04.18 (Zeebrugge & Ostend) VC
For most conspicuous gallantry. Sergeant Finch was second in command of the pompoms and Lewis guns in the foretop of "Vindictive" under Lt. Charles N.B. Rigby, R.M.A. At one period the "Vindictive" was being hit every few seconds, chiefly in the upper works, from which splinters caused many casualties. It was difficult to locate the guns which were doing the most damage, but Lieutenant Rigby, Sergeant Finch and the Marines in the foretop, kept up a continuous fire with pompoms and Lewis guns, changing rapidly from one target to another, and thus keeping the enemy's fire down to some considerable extent. Unfortunately two heavy shells made direct hits on the foretop, which was completely exposed to enemy concentration of fire. All in the top were killed or disabled except Sergeant Finch, who was, however, severely wounded; nevertheless he showed consumate bravery, remaining in his battered and exposed position. He once more got a Lewis gun into action, and kept up a continuous fire, harassing the enemy on the mole, until the foretop received another direct hit, the remainder of the armament being then completely put out of action. Before the top was destroyed Sergeant Finch had done invaluable work, and by his bravery undoubtedly saved many lives.

MACKENZIE Albert E ONJ.31736 Ch Able Seaman RN 79D098 Vindictive
Vice Admiral Dover 23.07.18 Gazetted
Operations on Belgian Coast 23.04.18 (Zeebrugge & Ostend) VC
For most conspicuous gallantry. This rating belonged to B Comany of seaman storming party. On the night of the operation he landed on the mole with his machine-gun in the face of great difficulties, and did very good work, using his gun to he utmost advantage. He advanced down the mole with Lieutenant -Commander Harrison, who with most of his party was killed, and accounted for several of the enemy running from a shelter to a destroyer alongside the mole. This very gallant seaman was severely wounded whilst working his gun in an exposed position.

Sadsac
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Old 24-01-2010, 18:07
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Default Re: Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

Excellent to see this Harry .... so so thoroughly deserving of his own thread, as he was of receiving the VC.

In my opion, irrespective of how the outcome is analysed - success or failure, it was an audacious and courageous operation, and a tribute to the very many brave volunteers such as the young Mckenzie. An inspiration.

Although he, is mentioneed in my contribution to the Zeebrugge thread below, he does most certainly warrant this more focussed attention.
http://www.worldnavalships.com/forum...5&postcount=20

Colin's website is tremendous and highly recommended. I am sure he and his family, quite rightly so, are immensely proud.
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Old 12-03-2011, 17:26
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Default Re: Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

Quote:
Originally Posted by dennis a feary View Post
Good Posting Harry, here is the award as given to Mackenzie, along with that of Sgt. Finch of the covering fire in VINDICTIVE ;

FINCH Norman H N/E Sergeant RMA 79D097 Vindictive
Vice Admiral Dover 23.07.18 Gazetted
Operations on Belgian Coast 23.04.18 (Zeebrugge & Ostend) VC
For most conspicuous gallantry. Sergeant Finch was second in command of the pompoms and Lewis guns in the foretop of "Vindictive" under Lt. Charles N.B. Rigby, R.M.A. At one period the "Vindictive" was being hit every few seconds, chiefly in the upper works, from which splinters caused many casualties. It was difficult to locate the guns which were doing the most damage, but Lieutenant Rigby, Sergeant Finch and the Marines in the foretop, kept up a continuous fire with pompoms and Lewis guns, changing rapidly from one target to another, and thus keeping the enemy's fire down to some considerable extent. Unfortunately two heavy shells made direct hits on the foretop, which was completely exposed to enemy concentration of fire. All in the top were killed or disabled except Sergeant Finch, who was, however, severely wounded; nevertheless he showed consumate bravery, remaining in his battered and exposed position. He once more got a Lewis gun into action, and kept up a continuous fire, harassing the enemy on the mole, until the foretop received another direct hit, the remainder of the armament being then completely put out of action. Before the top was destroyed Sergeant Finch had done invaluable work, and by his bravery undoubtedly saved many lives. Sadsac
I stumbled across this while looking for something else. It is entitled "Admiralty ballot sheet for Royal Marines", and shows the votes each marine received.

MarineVCballotsheet.jpg
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Old 25-03-2012, 09:03
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Default Re: Able Seaman Albert McKenzie VC

Pathe has a very good clip of McKenzie here:
http://www.britishpathe.com/video/re...-old-kent-road
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