Operation Frankton was a World War II British Combined Operations military commando raid on Nazi German shipping in Bordeaux harbour, France, in December, 1942, by 12 men of the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment using small two-man Cockle MK II Canoes. A fictionalised version of the story was later told in the film The Cockleshell Heroes made by Warwick Films.
The headquarters of Operation Frankton was SS Celtic, based at Portsmouth at the time. Led by Major Herbert "Blondie" Hasler, the men launched their six canoes from the British Royal Navy submarine HMS Tuna on December 7, some 10 miles (16 km) from the mouth of the Gironde Estuary, near Montalivet. One canoe was damaged while being passed out of the submarine, leaving ten men in five canoes to attempt a 70-mile (110 km) paddle up river (against the winter current) to their targets.
Of those ten, only four reached their objective. Shortly after launching, one canoe became separated from the others and capsized in the surf. The men made it ashore, but were captured by the Germans and executed (shot) in accordance with Hitler’s Commando Order of October of that year.
Two men drowned after their canoe capsized and they fell prey to the cold water and currents. Two more became separated and days later, shortly before the Bordeaux quays, hit an underwater obstruction and sank. They made their way ashore and south towards Spain and were in a civilian hospital at La Réole when they were betrayed to the Gestapo and eventually taken to Paris.
The four remaining men reached their targets after four days, lying low during daylight and paddling only by night.
Though not all limpet mines attached to targets detonated, four cargo ships were flooded and a "Sperrbrecher" (minesweeper) was damaged. The raiders then made their way over land 90 miles (145 km) northeast to Ruffec, where they stopped at the Hôtel Restaurant la Toque Blanche to contact the French Resistance and utilise the ‘pipeline’ for their escape to Gibraltar and Britain. Only Blondie Hasler and partner [[Bill Sparks]] made it; the other two were betrayed by locals and captured at Montlieu. They too ended up in Paris with the men captured at La Réole. All four are believed to have been shot by firing squad on or around March 23 1943.
Canoes and their crews were as follows:
- Catfish: Major Hasler, Marine William E. Sparks.
- Cuttlefish: Lieutenant John MacKinnon, Marine James Conway.
- Crayfish : Corporal A. F. Laver, Marine W.N. Mills.
- Cachalot: Marine Ellery, Marine Fisher.
- Coalfish: Sergeant Samuel Wallace, Marine Robert Ewart.
- Conger : Corporal George Sheard, Marine David Moffatt
- Royal Marines Operation Frankton remembered
- A re-enactment by the Royal Marines in 2007
- Documentary - The Last of "The Cockleshell Heroes"
- Images of kit used
- Description, kit images, route (in French)
- 2007 re-enactment of Operation Frankton
- Roger and Sandra Downton's tribute to the Cockleshell Heroes
- Cockle Commandos of the Royal Marines, The War Illustrated, February 1, 1946.