Nine Injured Servicemen to Retrace WW2 ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ Canoe-Raid on German Occupied Bordeaux

Charity to retrace the canoe-strike that Sir Winston Churchill believed ‘shortened the War by six months.’

Amputee servicemen and veterans brought together by the Pilgrim Bandits Charity, New Milton, Hants are to retrace a daring WW2 commando raid – Operation Frankton. I

The History

Immortalised in the film The Cockleshell Heroes, Operation Frankton was a strategic attack on German shipping in the French port of Bordeaux between 7th and 12th December 1942, carried out by a small unit of canoe-sculling Royal Marines as part of Combined Operations.

On the 30th November 1942 the Royal Naval Submarine HMS Tuna sailed from Holy Loch in Scotland with six clippers (canoes) and 34 commandos on board.  In horrendous weather and, despite a previously undetected minefield, HMS Tuna surfaced ten miles from the mouth of the Gironde estuary in the Bay of Biscay. Whilst unloading one clipper was wrecked so only five set out.

Fighting against strong winds and tides, which resulted in the loss of another canoe, the remaining four crew’s paddled non-stop, resting five minutes in every hour, for five nights (sleeping during the day) to cover the 60 miles upstream to Bordeaux.  With the arsenal of limpet mines they had carried, the commandos successfully destroyed 2 German naval trawlers, 12 E boats, 12 Patrol boats and 6 M-Class mine sweepers.  Sadly just two men survived the mission.  Eight were executed by the Germans and two more died of hypothermia.

The Reasons behind the Trip

The Pilgrim Bandits expedition is designed to honour all the fallen of WW2 and commemorate the huge achievement and the war-winning contribution made by all those that took part in Operation Frankton.  At the same time the adventure is designed to provide a demanding, confidence-building excursion for severely injured serving soldiers, veterans and a small number of fee-paying members of the public who are contributing to the £35k cost of the expedition.   Mike COO of Pilgrim Bandits explains “Admiral Louis Mountbatten was Chief of Combined Operations at the time.  He increased the number of Mark II canoes (aka Cockles) from the original three to six – it was thanks to his foresight that the mission was such a success.  Whilst we can in no way rein act Operation Frankton we can retrace the miles of slog and pay homage to those 34 brave men that made up the detachment.  Our lads will receive no special treatment – it’s a hard core, gruelling trip designed to commemorate and highlight the sacrifice of so many.  If all goes according to plan we will arrive in Blaye where the original members ditched their clippers for the escape route on D-Day.”

Timings and who is Taking Part

May 30st – June 8th 2014. Nine injured soldiers, including Ben Parkinson MBE, who suffered appalling wounds including the loss of both legs above the knee and a severe brain injury, whilst on patrol in Helmand Province in Afghanistan 2006 will make up the team along with Ex- Cpl Andy Reid, now a motivational speaker and best-selling author, who lost both legs along with his right arm  in Afghanistan in 2009, Cpl Ricky Furgusson MC double amputee, Sapper Jimmy Wilson a double amputee from Lymington in Hants, RM Vinney Manley double amputee from Plymouth, Sgt Colin Hamilton a single leg amputee from 3 Scots in Inverness, RM Jay Hare also a single leg amputee from Scotland.

Celebrity Endorsement and General Information

The entire Pilgrim Bandits’ detachment (28 people in total) will be training for a week from Sunday 20th October 2013 at Rockley Park, Poole, courtesy of the Haven Group who have assisted with the training and accommodation for the team.   The date coincides with the dates of the original training mission in Portsmouth.

The 10 kayaks the team will be using for the expedition have been donated to the expedition by one of the charity’s patrons Duncan Bannatyne (Dragon’s Den) through his charitable trust.  Kayaking Kit near Fordingbridge has supplied the boats and much of the equipment as well as providing expert advice.     It is hoped Lord Paddy Ashdown , who has written a book about Operation Frankton will launch the expedition in December at The House of Lords along with RH Caroline Flint MP (Doncaster).

Captions:  Original mission shot from web.  Jimmy Sapper, Ben Parkinson, Jake Bartlett, Ricky Fergusson and Colin Hamilton – all injured servicemen supported by Pilgrim Bandits.

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16th October 2013