Late recruits to the most daring naval operation of the First World War, two civilian passenger ferries survived triumph and tragedy to be fêted for their valiant service. A century on, Steve Snelling salutes Merseyside’s improbable heroes of the raid on Zeebrugge.
The night was overcast with a mistle of rain resembling a Scotch mist. From behind a low ceiling of clouds the moon cast a faint glimmer of light to reveal, dim in the darkness, the shadowy shapes that made up the strangest of all naval armadas. Viewed from the cramped decks of the venerable cruiser Vindictive, they reminded Lieutenant Commander Robert Rosoman of “a bobbery pack”; a weird, almost “comical” collection of ships ranging from sleek modern destroyers to slowmoving blockships and waspish motor launches to obsolete submarines. Most incredible and incongruous of them all were a pair of bulbous, stub-nosed river ferries that were his immediate responsibility.