A BRILLIANT LITTLE OPERATION: THE COCKLESHELL HEROES AND THE MOST COURAGEOUS RAID OF WW2 – Buy it here
The complete story of the remarkable canoe raid on German ships in Bordeaux Harbour – by the man who himself served in the Special Boat Squadron. In 1942, before El Alamein turned the tide of war, the German merchant fleet was re-supplying its war machine with impunity. So Operation Frankton, a daring and secret raid, was launched by Mountbatten’s Combined Operations and led by the enigmatic ‘Blondie’ Hasler – to paddle ‘Cockleshell’ canoes right into Bordeaux harbour and sink the ships at anchor. It was a desperately hazardous mission from the start – dropped by submarine to canoe some hundred miles up the Gironde into the heart of Vichy France, surviving terrifying tidal races, only to face the biggest challenge of all: escaping across the Pyrenees. Fewer than half the men made it to Bordeaux; only four laid their mines; just two got back alive. But the most damage was done to the Germans’ sense of impregnability. Paddy Ashdown, himself a member of the Royal Marines’ elite Special Boat Squadron formed as a consequence of Frankton, has always been fascinated by this classic story of bravery and ingenuity – as a young man even meeting his hero Hasler once. Now, after researching previously unseen archives and tracing surviving witnesses, he has written the definitive account of the raid. The real truth, he discovers – a deplorable tale of Whitehall rivalry and breakdowns in communication – serves only to make the achievements of the ‘Cockleshell’ heroes all the more heroic.
“A meticulously researched and truly shocking account of an operation that should never have been authorised. In his account of this hair-raising, if not hare-brained enterprise, Ashdown sustains an incisive narrative of great suspense, laced with a moral outrage that is all the more powerful for being both understated and underpinned by telling detail.” Jonathan Dimbleby, Mail on Sunday
“The story of Operation Frankton is an extreme example of a plan brilliantly conceived and badly botched. The ten commandos who made a secret canoe raid in 1942 on German merchant ships have become icons of British wartime derring-do.” The Times
“No doubt many more books will be written about the war, but I hope this becomes a model for them since, though the heroism of our boys is stirring stuff, history only makes real sense if you can see it from all sides.” Daily Telegraph
“Paddy Ashdown has sifted the facts from the myths to write a fascinating and very personal account.” Independent
“It moves at the pace of a thriller and it’s real” Nick Ferrari, Sunday Express
“Ashdown’s insights and his extensive research in an impressive range of archives will ensure that yet another work on the subject will not be required in the foreseeable future.” Times Literary Supplement
Winner of the Royal Marines Historical Society Literary Award for 2013.
PUBLICATION DATE: 17th September 2012