View Full Version : Marines re-enact Cockleshell raid

10-13-07, 07:41 AM
Marines re-enact Cockleshell raid
BBC News

Two Royal Marines are to re-enact a daring World War II raid where commandos canoed up a river to attach limpet mines to enemy ships.

Ten men took part in the "Cockleshell" raid in 1942 - but only two survived.

Their heroic exploits in five canoes on a French river led to the team being known as the Cockleshell Heroes.

Marine Lee Hanmore, of Kent, and Cpl Richard Melia, of Sussex, will recreate the daring journey 65 years on, following the same route.

Lt Col Steve Richards, who is responsible for Royal Marines recruiting, said: "This commemorative event is widely supported by the serving corps of Royal Marines."

He said the courage of the Cockleshell Heroes in 1942 "demonstrates all the commando qualities we still strive for today".

Marine Hanmore, 22, of Paddock Wood, and Cpl Melia, 24, of Malden Hall, will be using canoes made to the original design.

The 15ft craft, made from wood and canvas, have been built by four joinery apprentices from naval support company Fleet Support Limited (FSL), at Portsmouth's naval base.

Ships exploded

The canoes are being handed over to Marine Hanmore and Cpl Melia at the Royal Marines Museum in Portsmouth on Tuesday.

The raid in 1942 was launched from a British submarine off the Gironde Estuary, France, to destroy enemy shipping in the Bordeaux harbour.

For five nights the commandos paddled up the river, hiding on the banks during the day.

On 11 December, they attached limpet mines to five enemy ships, which exploded.

Four commandos survived the journey to Bordeaux, and two survived the whole mission.


Gary Treacher
10-14-07, 10:19 AM
Operation Frankton

(The 'Cockleshell Heroes' Raid)

"Of the many brave and dashing raids carried out by the men of Combined Operations Command, none was more courageous or imaginative than "Operation Frankton". An immense amount of trouble was taken over the training of the small handful of picked Royal Marines who took part under the indomitable leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Hasler. They maintained their object in spite of the frightening losses of the first night and the subsequent ever-increasing difficulties encountered. Although the force had been reduced to four men, the object was finally achieved.

The account of this operation brings out the spirit of adventure always present in peace and war among Royal Marines. It emphasises the tremendous importance of morale - pride in oneself and one's unit - and what a big part physical fitness plays in creating this morale. It also stresses the need for careful detailed planning of operations. I commend it to all as an account of a fine operation, carried out by a particularly brave party of men".

Admiral The Earl Mountbatten of Burma.


By late 1941 the constraints on mercantile movement, particularly by sea, were imposing severe hardships on both the British and the Germans. Neither country possessed sufficient natural resources to wage a war at the scale then being carried out, and both were dependent on external sources of supply. In particular the Germans needed oil, rubber and tungsten, and certain other essential metals and alloys. Vital supplies of these products from the Far East were reaching the Germans by "blockade runners" using the port of Bordeaux1,2.

Major HG "Blondie" Hasler Royal Marines was at this time serving in the Combined Operations organisation, the head of which was Lord Mountbatten. A keen sailor, with an inventive mind, he was working on methods of attacking shipping while in harbour. He developed a suitable canoe for this task, which was able to carry 2 men with 75 kg of stores, and which would fit through the fore hatch of a submarine. The organisation of some 34 men, that was set up to train with these canoes and develop the necessary techniques, was given the cover title of The Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment, and in September 1942 took on the task of attacking shipping in Bordeaux3,4. Whilst this was not the first time canoes had been used to attack German shipping, the mission had invariably been carried out in one night. This was something quite different: an attack on an enemy port, some 60 miles from the sea, with an escape route overland. Although he approved the plan, Lord Mountbatten had his doubts that any of them would return.

During the evening of 7 December 1942 the submarine HMS TUNA surfaced off the mouth of the Gironde, and launched 10 men in 5 canoes5. All was well until they reached tide races at the mouth of the river, where two canoes were lost. Canoeing by night, with the tide, and lying up by day, over several days, two pairs made it to the port (another pair's canoe was wrecked on an obstacle). One of the crews was Maj Hasler with Mne Bill Sparks, the other was Cpl Albert Laver and Mne Bill Mills. Limpet mines were placed on a number of ships, and these two crews then made their way down river, where they destroyed their canoes, and separately made their way cross country north east, through German occupied France, towards Ruffec, to make contact with the Resistance. After many hair raising incidents and much hardship, Hasler and Sparks succeeded in reaching this town, some 100 miles from where they left their canoes, and successfully linked up with the Resistance : they finally arrived home, after crossing the Pyrenees into neutral Spain, some 4 months after the raid. Laver and Mills were caught by the French police and handed over to the Germans: they were executed with 2 others, 3 months later.

The raid was successful in that 5 ships were badly damaged6: perhaps more importantly the success was a much needed tonic for the British, for whom 1942 had been a disastrous year. There was a price to pay: 10 men set off; 2 escaped successfully, 2 were drowned, and 6 were caught or betrayed, and executed by the Germans. Maj Hasler was awarded the DSO, and Mne Sparks the DSM: Cpl Laver and Mne Mills received posthumous Mentions in Dispatches.

We remember the following who died:

Marine James Conway
Marine Robert Ewart
Corporal Albert Laver
Marine Bill Mills
Lieutenant John Mackinnon
Marine David Moffatt
Corporal George Sheard
Sergeant Sam Wallace

Rob Parry
11-24-07, 03:13 PM
Bill Sparks died November 2002. A real character. His obituary from the Daily Telegraph.

Marine Bill Sparks

Last Updated: 11:43pm GMT 02/12/2002

Last surviving Cockleshell hero who paddled 85 miles into France to blow up German merchant shipping

Marine Bill Sparks, who has died aged 80, was the last of the two surviving "Cockleshell Heroes" responsible for paddling a canoe 85 miles through enemy defences to cripple German merchant ships at Bordeaux.

During the night of December 11 1942, 10 Royal Marines set out in five craft; but eight of them were shot or drowned. Sparks and Major "Blondie" Hasler found themselves pursued through France and Spain by vengeful Germans for three months before they reached safety.

When Hasler summoned his marines to the forward torpedo room of the submarine Tuna before the operation, they were told that their mission was to attack a fleet of armed German merchantmen, which was preparing to raid British shipping. An attack using kayaks, known as cockleshells, was the only alternative to bombing, which would have caused heavy civilian casualties.

Hasler's platoon spent five days in Tuna, escaping a U-boat attack en route. They reached their launch point in the Bay of Biscay, 10 miles from the river Gironde, but had to remain bottomed for 24 hours because of poor weather.

By the evening of December 7, the sea was calmer and Hasler and Sparks launched their cockleshell, Cachalot, first.

Sergeant Wallace and Marine Ewart were soon captured, interrogated and shot; Corporal Shard and Marine Moffatt were drowned. Lieutenant Mackinnon and Marine Conway went missing. Hasler and Sparks pressed on with Corporal Laver and Marine Mills. Although the Germans were now alerted, the two craft avoided sentry positions and three patrol boats in the estuary.

Sparks and Hasler were seen, but not compromised, by French civilians as they used the flood tide by night and lay in hiding by day. Sparks remembered savouring every brew of tea and the frequent use of Benzedrine tablets to stave off sleepiness: he also shared his illicit bottle of rum with Hasler.

On the third night, cold, wet and tired, the two boats lay up on the small Ile de Cazeau, which was home to a German anti-aircraft battery, but the marines' fieldcraft was so good that enemy patrols failed to detect them.

At nightfall they realised that they were sharing the island with Mackinnon and Conway, but these two found their craft damaged by a submerged hazard; they were betrayed and executed.

On the last night of their paddle, Sparks and Hasler hid in tall reeds within easy reach of Bordeaux, where they could sleep, eat and prepare within yards of the bustling harbour. As the pair proceeded to place their limpet mines on the sides of ships, they thought that they had been seen by a sentry, and were crushed between two ships moving together. They managed to escape silently on the ebb tide, and soon found Laver and Mills, who had also successfully placed their mines. When the explosions took place, four ships were severely damaged and a fifth sunk.

William Edward Sparks was born in the East End of London on September 5 1922, and left school at 14. After three years as a shoe repairer, he infuriated his father on the outbreak of war by allowing himself to be persuaded to join the Royal Marines, instead of becoming a stoker in the family tradition. Sparks first served in the battleship Renown on convoys to Malta and in the hunt for the Bismarck.

When he heard of his brother Bonny's death in the cruiser Naiad, he drowned his sorrows so well that his father had to persuade him to make tardy return from leave, when he was confined to barracks. There he read a notice calling for volunteers for hazardous service, and promptly volunteered as a way of avenging Bonny. He was delighted a few weeks later when Hasler selected him with 40 other volunteers. He responded to the informality and the hard work, as well as the pleasures of blowing things up. Hasler chose him as his crewman.

After completing their demolition the two remaining pairs of canoeists sank their boats and began a trek to Ruffec, 100 miles away. Sparks and Hasler spent the next two months in the hands of various agents, most notably Mary Lindell, a British agent who operated in the Lyon area. Great dangers were involved, though in one safe house Sparks felt more threatened by the overtures of the daughter of the family than by the Germans. Eventually he and Hasler were led over the Pyrenees to Spain; but Laver and Mills were captured and shot.

Hasler flew home, but Sparks was placed under close arrest and taken in a troopship to England, as no one remaining in Gibraltar could corroborate his story. On arrival he was placed on a train by military police, but escaped at Euston Station and went home to see his father, who had been told that he was missing in action. Two days later Sparks reported to the Admiralty where he was again threatened with arrest; but a naval intelligence officer encouraged him to slip out the back door and report to Combined Operations Headquarters, where he was greeted with astonishment.

George VI presented Sparks with the Distinguished Service Medal and Hasler with the DSO. Sparks served in Burma, Africa and Italy before becoming a bus driver in 1946.

He spent some time in Malaya during the Emergency as a police lieutenant. When the film The Cockleshell Heroes, with Anthony Newley playing him, came out in 1955, Sparks made a promotional tour in America, then became a bus inspector.

The one issue which upset Sparks was that his dead comrades were not properly honoured; and eventually, through the MP Sir Bernard Braine and The Telegraph, a fund to pay for a memorial was set up; the necessary money was gathered in a month.

Two years later Sparks's invalidity pension was cut by 1,000 a year and, despite media coverage and family disagreement, he decided that he had to auction his medals.

"I have tried not to feel bitter about this," he told The Telegraph. "But when I went to the DHSS and explained my case, I was told absolutely nothing could be done. How can I feel anything else but bitter and disappointed?"

The sale raised 31,000 at Sotheby's from an anonymous bidder. But the pain was alleviated when the new owner placed the eight medals in Sotheby's vault with instructions that Sparks was to be permitted to wear them whenever he wished.

Sparks was grateful to the French people who had helped him escape, and returned several times to Bordeaux. He met the Dubois family, who had sheltered him for some weeks, and Mary Lindell, who had survived being interned at Auschwitz; he also saw the bullet holes in the wall against which Wallace and Ewart had been shot at the Chateau Dehez.

When he was 61, Sparks re-enacted his epic journey by paddling from the mouth of the Gironde to Bordeaux to raise money for Cancer Research, with Gerry Lockyer of the Imperial War Museum as his companion.

Afterwards Sparks said that, although the trip was not so dangerous as in 1942, they had known about the tides then; this time the paddling was much harder. The escape route which he and Hasler used is now a footpath dedicated to the Cockleshell Heroes.

Sparks, who died on Saturday, is survived by three sons, one of whom became a colour sergeant in the Marines, and a daughter. After his first wife Violet died in 1982, he married again. His second wife Irene also survives him.

11-24-07, 05:52 PM
...The Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment...
Good name! :thumbup: