Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Sandford, Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas Sandford, 1891-1918, submarine commander and VC

The plaque, at 15 Cathedral Close, reads:

LIEUTENANT RICHARD DOUGLAS SANDFORD
VC Royal Navy
Was born near here
Awarded the VC for his actions in command of HM Submarine C3 during the hazardous Zeebrugge Raid on 22nd April 1918. He skilfully placed his vessel in between the piles of the viaduct before lighting the fuse and abandoning her, aware that if they were not rescued they would all be killed by the force of the explosion.

The Blue Plaque commemorating Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford VC was unveiled by the Submariners Association on 24 September 2016 at 15 Cathedral Close, the Cathedral School, where he was born. The Dean of Exeter Cathedral had granted permission for the plaque to be placed, and civil and naval dignitaries were invited to attend the unveiling, including the Lord Lieutenant of Devon, High Sheriff of Devon, Chairman of Devon County Council, The Lord Mayor of Exeter, Sandford family members, Rear Admiral Niall Kilgour CB (President of Submariners Association), Rear Admiral Robert Tarrant (Rear Admiral Submarines) and the Chairman of the Submariners Association. The Submariners Association have been conducting a project to install plaques to all Submariner VC recipients.

Richard Douglas Sandford was born 11 May 1891, son of the Venerable Ernest Grey Sandford, Archdeacon of Exeter. He attended Clifton College before joining the Royal Navy. At 26 years old, he was a Lieutenant commanding a submarine in the Royal Navy during the First World War when he took part in the Zeebrugge Raid and won the Victoria Cross. On 23 April 1918 the Royal Navy undertook a daring operation to scuttle three obsolete cruisers at the entrance to the Bruges Canal at Zeebrugge in an effort to prevent German submarines from accessing the U-boat pens. Two old submarines filled with explosives were to be used to blow up the viaduct connecting the Mole to the shore, whilst 200 Royal Marines were to be landed in an attempt to destroy German gun positions. The bitter fighting of the Zeebrugge Raid resulted in more than 500 British casualties from the 1,700 men who took part. Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded for the action, including the one for Lieutenant Richard Sandford. The citation in the London Gazette reads:

Lieutenant Sandford commanding HM Submarine C.3, skilfully placed the vessel between the piles of the viaduct which connected the Mole with the shore, before laying his fuse and abandoning her. He disdained to use the gyro steering which would have enabled him and his crew to abandon the submarine at a safe distance, but preferred to make sure that his mission would be successful.

As he approached the Mole in his explosive-filled submarine German soldiers laughed as they thought he had accidentally run aground and began raking with small arms fire. He and his crew escaped in a skiff and rowed to the open sea still under intense fire. By coincidence, he was picked up by his brother, commanding a motor launch which had been laying a smoke screen.

Sandford died of typhoid fever at Eston Hospital, North Yorkshire 23 November 1918, just twelve days after the signing of the Armistice, and the day after his last command, HMS G11, had been wrecked on rocks off Howick, Northumberland. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

Sources

Express and Echo, 22 June 2016.
Devonian yearbook, 1919 (cited in the Devon Heritage website).
London Gazette, 23 July 1918.
Devon Heritage website.
Wikipedia website.