Operation Frankton: Difference between revisions

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Line 6: Line 6:
 
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 and shot in accordance with [[Hitler]]’s [[Commando Order]] of October of that year.
 
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 and shot in accordance with [[Hitler]]’s [[Commando Order]] of October of that year.
   
Two men drownedin the water searching for penii in their canoe capsized and they fell prey to the cold 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]].
+
Two men drownedin the water searching in their canoe capsized and they fell prey to the cold 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 by night. The achievement of the remaining four men in surviving a 70 mile paddle at night and subject to strong tidal currents and cold should not be underestimated.
 
The four remaining men reached their targets after four days, lying low during daylight and paddling by night. The achievement of the remaining four men in surviving a 70 mile paddle at night and subject to strong tidal currents and cold should not be underestimated.

Revision as of 13:49, 14 February 2008

Operation Frankton was a World War II British Combined Operations raid on shipping in Bordeaux harbour, France, in December, 1942, by 12 men of the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment using two-man Cockle MK II Canoes. A fictionalised version of the story was later told in the film The Cockleshell Heroes.

Mission

Led by Major Herbert "Blondie" Hasler, the men launched their six canoes from the British submarine HMS Tuna on 7 December, some 10 miles 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 paddle up river 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 and shot in accordance with Hitler’s Commando Order of October of that year.

Two men drownedin the water searching in their canoe capsized and they fell prey to the cold 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 by night. The achievement of the remaining four men in surviving a 70 mile paddle at night and subject to strong tidal currents and cold should not be underestimated.

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 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 on or around 23 March 1943.

Men

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

Trivia

See also

Cockleshell Cadets 2007 Commemorative Journey

Account of the RMVCC Portsmouth Commemorative Journey Ray Cooper C/Sgt RMVCC.

The big day had arrived, everyone fell in at 1600 hrs, the CO inspected the cadets and gave them a pep talk followed by the Navy Chaplin blessing the crews, holy water was sprinkled on the boats which gradually mixed with the rain that was steadily falling, rain that had robbed us of the presence of the BBC camera crew who had been re-routed to cover some flooding in the north of their area, journalistic priorities. Farewells over we left for our embarkation port, Dover.

We arrived at the port with the intention of fueling the two minibuses only to find that the nearest Shell service station was at least 20 miles out of town, and guess what, our fuel card was a Shell only.

The ferry trip was calm and quick, our thanks to “Sea France” who gave us a special rate for our buses, trailers and personnel. We disembarked at Calais and with no delay we headed for Royan and the Gironde River. The four drivers changed over at regular intervals as we drove through the night, nothing was more welcome than the sun rising in the east, (OK I know, where else would it rise). Coffee breaks and pit-stops were kept to a minimum as we needed to be at our destination for mid-afternoon. Weekend traffic and the odd detour care of Paul’s “Tom-tom” did nothing to delay us and we squeaked into Royan on time. Our first appointment was with the memorial at St-Georges de-Didonne, one of the many to our 1942 predecessors, and our first view of the Gironde, and what a view that was, the general feeling of those who had not seen it before was “Now that’s what you call a river”. We laid a wreath, gave a few minutes of quiet thought, and maybe a request to those heroes that had gone before for their help and guidance in what lay ahead.

Our next leg was to take us by ferry across the mouth of the estuary, the only draw back was that the queue was close to a mile long and wound through the streets of the town, well that’s one way of seeing the sights. Once on the ferry it was a thirty minute ride to Pointe de Grave where we were met by our French contact Francois Boisnier and some of the nicest most hospitable people I have met, amongst them was Erick Poineau who worked for the Gironde buoy and Harbour Masters office and his boss Alain Brocard. But by far the most important and endearing person Madam Baudra the mayor of the district, I was honored to meet her on my recce so hugs were acceptable. In 1942 she met and advised Blondie Hasler as to where to hide, and if that was not enough, ignoring the risks to herself and her family, returned with food later in the day. We were given a party and some wonderful speeches were made, everyone in my team were presented with a bottle of the local wine with a special label on it honouring the Cockleshell Heroes and telling the original story which then went on to tell of our own mission. We finally turned in making use of the “hospitality building” made available to us by our new French friends.

Sunday morning was an early start, the weather was on our side, guided by Erick we arrived at the slipway at La Verdon, boats and kit were unloaded and the inflatable safetyboat was assembled, photos taken and we launched into the marina, a short prayer followed by a moment of reflection and with a “Let’s go to Bordeaux” our paddle began. The course took us under the pier where Lt. Mackinnon and Marine Conway lost contact with the others. On down the west bank of the river, close enough to be out of the main channel but far enough out that paddle splashes could not be heard from the bank, melodramatic no, just as it was in 1942 right in their footsteps, I wanted to give the cadets the feel for what it must have been like. Our land fall was to be Pointe Aux Oiseaux, the place where the fishermen and our 19 year old “mayor to be” met Blondie’s team. Our aim was to camp as close as possible to the same spot as was used in 1942. Travelling by direct reckoning we came ashore on a small beach just as the tide was turning, to be late would have meant paddling against a fierce out flowing tide which the Gironde is famous amongst sailors for, paddling at 4 knots against a 7 knot tide meant we would have been going backwards. Once ashore and kayaks beached safely it was time to check equipment, relax and eat. Tents were erected and finally of to bed with the weather starting to freshen and a hint of rain, all promised by our forecast update.

Monday, wet, wild and definitely not a day to take to the water, our tents threatened to reach Bordeaux before us, the wind whipped up the wet sand covering everything, I made the decision that we load up and return by road to Pointe de Grave and gain assistance from our new friend Erick and his boss, we needed to regroup and clean our kit. The safetyboat was taken back to La Verdon by water crewed by some gutsy RMVCC instructors, how well I’d picked my team. On arrival back we were met with the same willingness to help and their confirmation that the right decision had been made, (these guys know their river). They insisted on us spending another night in the accommodation, god bless them. The evening gave us time to visit the memorial plaques in the area close to where Sergeant Wallace and Marine Ewart came ashore and were captured by the Germans.

Tuesday saw us back at Pointe Aux Oiseaux, the surf was intimidating to say the least but without a second thought my crews launched braving the waves which crashed not just over the kayaks but over the occupants as well. Once clear of the shore the sea-state eased to a rolling swell. We paddled about 14 miles to a small inlet which took us into the sloping stone walled harbour of St. Christoly-Medoc, here we rested and ate prior to crossing the Gironde to the east bank. Back on the water paddling out of the inlet nothing gave us warning of what was to come. Once again using dead reckoning we headed out into the channel using the number 38 channel marker buoy as our kicking-of point. The sea-state was starting to get interesting to say the least; by midpoint we were running a four foot plus swell. Going from being on top of a wave and being able to see everything, to the bottom of the trough with the wave crest four foot above you and with about six inches of freeboard it can be quite an adrenalin rush, but with the spirit, guts and determination expected of fully fledged marines my cadets with heads down pulled for the distant shore setting a searing pace. After what seemed like forever the shapes on the shore started to resemble trees and the shore drew close, on beaching Jules (my British Canoe Union adviser) and I went ashore to recce the land, we quickly realized we had reached pretty well the same spot as Blondie, placing us just north of Portes Des Callonge. Back to the water it was decided to use the small fishing port as our layup point for the night. Oh! By the way did I mention that the crossing was close to 6 miles? The words “Proud of” and “my cadets” come to mind.

Wednesday the weather was totally different from the previous day, sea-state was mirror calm and the sun was shining. (Something I learned about the Gironde was how quick the conditions could change and how much respect you must pay it).By mid-morning the tide allowed us to continue our journey south, we picked our way between islands stopping for our break on Desert Island one of the places used by Blondie. On we paddled until a short distance ahead of us the Lamarque to Blaye ferry crossed from west to east. Jules and I knew that we needed to be the other side of the crossing before it returned, so once again heads down and go for it, a hard paddle for about two miles, our point of aim was the north tip of the Ile Cazeau, this island was used by Blondie for a layup on the southerly tip. As we approached where the river forked around the island we became aware of an underlying current in strength and ferocity we had as yet not met, we were going for the west passage but the current was set on taking us to the east, we won. Exhausted, the crews thought a short easy paddle down the length of the island and the day was over, how wrong could they be, we had to be at the layup point before the know slackening tide turned and the island was seven miles in length. It became a mental as well as physical fight, a little like a march over Dartmoor as any marine will remember, where each skyline when reached gave way to yet another, each curve rounded was met by another but finally the end was reached and another day’s paddle came to an end.

Thursday we awoke with an excitement in the air, today we would enter Bordeaux. Just before noon we once again took to the water following the west bank, we were overtaken and passed by a large freighter on it’s way to unload at the same dock that Cpl. Laver and Marine Mills attacked the shipping, how ironic. We pushed on until around a bend we viewed the amazing Pont d’Aquitaine bridge, our gateway to Bordeaux. As we allowed ourselves to drift under it we knew we had done what I had set out to do, not four days before but a year before when a dream became an idea, an idea became a plan and a plan became reality. On into Bordeaux, reaching the waterfront at last, the very location of Hasler's and Spark's attack. We tied up and went up onto the quay to pay our respects at yet another memorial laid by this amazing French race to marines from another country. Back to our kayaks and paddle the short distance back to await the high tide which would allow us to enter the basins where once inside we were able to visit and enter the once German submarine pens, now empty but still showing their once presence in the form of notices written in German. We came ashore met by members of the French navy and the deputy major of the town of Blanquefort Jacques Padie, yet another amazing Frenchman, nothing was to much trouble, we loaded the kayaks and were taken to a sports park in Blanquefort where we had been given permission to make camp with full use of the showers and toilets. Here we were given refreshments and I was presented with a bottle of the local wine, (each area is so proud of its own wines). A meal followed by an instructor’s “O group” to discuss the next days details, and then to bed.

Friday was to be a day no one will ever forget, Blanquefort is the location of Chateau Magnol used in 1942 by the German Navy High Command and shared by the Italian Navy (there is still a reinforced concrete building which housed their two man chariot submarines). In the grounds is a bunker where on an outside wall is a plaque and still the bullet scars where Sgt. Wallace and Marine Ewart were executed. Dressed in full ceremonial blues the cadets and instructors formed up, the three instructors who had served in the Royal Marines as commandoes dressed in DPM combats in respect to the originals who would have been dressed in combats of the day laid a wreath, the cadet bugler played “The Last Post” followed by “Reveille” a minutes silence was observed. I took this opportunity to present a Frankton Medal to each of the crews, this was the most fitting place for them to receive this accolade. In talking to my fellow marines there on the day we all spoke of a strange, eerie almost warm feeling, maybe that family we talk of in the Corps goes back further than we really imagine. Taking in to consideration the conditions these cadets had lived in for the past few days on the river, their turn-out would have been hard to fault by any RSM on any parade ground, this was their salute to those brave marines of 1942. If Blondie and his men were watching I am sure there was not a dry eye in their group. After dismissing the parade we returned to the camp area where we changed and ate. A trip to the quay again to enable the support team (without who we could not have managed) to see the memorial. Then on to the “Centre Jean Moulin Resistance Museum” where a replica of a “Cockleshell” is exhibited and the story of the Frankton Raid is told. Sightseeing around Bordeaux was followed by an invitation from our mayor host Jacques Padie to dinner in his local brassiere, again such generosity. The perfect end to an amazing day.

Saturday was to be another marathon journey, we left Bordeaux with the knowledge that relationships between us and the French people we had met would go on, and a part of us all would always remain with them. Blondie and Sparks had on completing their mission walked to the town of Ruffec where in a bar “La Torque Blanche” they met the Resistance and started their epic walk out of France over the Pyrenees and home. I knew that this had to be the place to end our expedition, so with this in mind I had made reservations for us all for lunch in the same room those intrepid heroes had sat. It was a meal I was proud to share with what I selfishly call “my boys”. The drive back to Calais was about as enjoyable as the drive down but we all finally arrived back in Portsmouth with stories to tell.

I have talked with some of the parents who individually have said what a difference the experience had made to their sons, to sum it up in one mother’s words, “On the Friday I said goodbye to my boy, I welcomed back a young man”. It says it all.

Thank you to all who made it possible, those who helped finance it, whether small or large every little helped. To Prijon for making a great kayak that was so safe and stable when we really needed it, to Bramber Trailers for their generosity and promise of future help in upgrading our kayak trailer to carry our safetyboat as well, you are truly amazing. To Dave Evans at Memory-Map for aiding in our navigation. To all the other sponsors who gave items of equipment we could not have done without, to those who helped along the way, to the parents of my boys who without their confidence and trust this exped would have been a no go. Finally to my fellow instructors, guys what an awesome team you made!!!! Thanks for your help, dedication and mostly your belief in me and what I said I would do when I needed it most. Thank you all for giving me the chance to do this, believe me when I say it was truly the biggest and best experience of my lifetime. God bless you all. Ray Now on to the next project!!!

External links