Commander Evans and the Battle of Dover Strait
Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, Ships, World War 1 on Monday, 22 August 2011
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This edited article about World War 1 originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 1034 published on 2 January 1982.
The night of 20th April 1917, was dark and menacing, the sea in the Straits of Dover calm under a cloudy sky.
As the darkness thickened, and heavy clouds obscured the moon, two British destroyers, the Broke and the Swift, began their dangerous night patrol. Their job was a vital one, that of keeping the English Channel safe for allied shipping, and they were both equipped with powerful guns and torpedo tubes.
The first indication that six German destroyers were near came when a series of vivid gun-flashes lit up the sombre night sky. The two British destroyers immediately changed course towards the attackers.
Swift attacked the enemy raiders, her guns blazing and torpedoes striking home. The German destroyers were so concerned with trying to escape from the Swift, that they did not notice the slower Broke steaming into their midst.
With her first torpedo, Broke sank one of the enemy. And then Commander Edward Evans gave the order which was to win him a permanent place in history. He decided not to open fire with his guns, nor to use any more torpedos. He would simply ram the nearest destroyer, the G.42.
Increasing speed to 27 knots, the Broke cleaved into the port side of the enemy ship. With a terrible crunch of steel, the German vessel snapped nearly in two. There was no time for her crew to train their guns. The only way they could retaliate was by boarding the Broke.
The Broke’s crew grabbed bayonets, rifles, revolvers, and cutlasses. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting was waged on the Broke’s forecastle, until the Germans were either forced into the sea or taken prisoner.
Despite the wreckage of the German ship which lay over the bows, Evans was determined to keep on attacking the rest of the enemy flotilla. Two more destroyers crossed in front of the Broke, and the second of these was instantly sunk by a torpedo.
Then the stricken G.42 began to slide from the Broke’s bow, where it had been carried like a hooked fish, and sank down into the Channel. Only minutes earlier, the German ships had been bombarding Dover. Now the survivors scurried off into the darkness. The Broke, too, had been severely damaged, and two tugs were sent to tow her back to port.
Her commander, Edward Radcliffe Garth Russell Evans, “Evans of the Broke”, was born in 1881, the son of a London barrister. He and his elder brother were sent to Merchant Taylors’ School.
It was when he joined the Mercantile Marine training ship Worcester, moored at Greenhithe, that Teddy Evans first formed his love of the sea.
His career as a “snotty”, or midshipman, flourished. After serving on the Morning, the relief ship that went in search of Captain Scott’s ship the Discovery (1902-4), he was asked by the great explorer to be his second-in-command on the expedition to the South Pole in the winter of 1911 in which Scott and three companions died.
Evans came out of this alive only because he was one of the party of men sent back to base by Scott before the last dash to the Pole. In 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, Evans was promoted to Commander.
His last active mission came in 1940. He was sent to make contact with King Haakon of Norway, after that country had been invaded by Germany. Despite being attacked in his car by German planes, he carried out his mission.
When he died in 1957, Evans of the Broke was known as Baron Mountevans of Chelsea – a title accorded for his wartime Civil Defence work.