Sparks in Palestine, 1944, posing in a disused aircraft. Quentin Rees / Amberley Publishing /

By Liana Jacob

RETRO photographs have been unveiled exposing the rough journey of the British Cockleshell Heroes during the WW2 raid ‘Operation Frankton’ for its 75th anniversary.

The commando raid took place during the Second World War in Bordeaux, France, between December 7 to December 12, 1942, and the conflict was between the UK and Germany. The war was won by the British.

The 12 members of the British Royal Marines travelled in six canoes, paddling by night through the Gironde estuary to Bordeaux.

Front cover. Quentin Rees / Amberley Publishing /

The vintage black and white pictures show a canoe being tested by two marines, while another shows the last snapshot that was taken before the Frankton raid on September 10, 1942.

Other photos show Corporal Bill Sparks casually sticking his head out of a disused aircraft in Palestine, 1944, and the other image shows the results of the Frankton raid to a ship.

Cockleshell Heroes is a book written by historian author, Quentin Rees, containing pictures illustrating their journey. The book was published by Amberley Publishing.

RM Division Platoon Weapons Course 25 May – 27 June 1942. End of row, second and third from back Messrs Pritchard-Gordon and MacKinnon. Quentin Rees / Amberley Publishing /

“The complete story surrounding Operation Frankton is a very human one. For decades, it has remained untold, hidden from three generations – until now,” Quentin said.

“This work will unveil the true story, including the careful reporting of people’s lives and their deaths. If a reliable narrative is required, this account should be trusted rather than any that has previously been offered.

“Simply put, it is as accurate in its research, evidencing and reporting as it can be at this distance. This most exciting story of the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ will remain one of the ties that forever bind two close neighbours.”

Canoe testing showing adjacent Boom in background. Quentin Rees / Amberley Publishing /

Herbert Hasler was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Marines that led the British in Operation Frankton. He was an influencer for many of the concepts which resulted in the post-war formation of the Special Boat Service, the Royal Navy special forces.

He was only 28 years old when he planned and led Operation Frankton, when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

On December 10, the Germans declared that a sabotage squad had been caught on December 8 near the Gironde. In January 1943, 10 men on the raid were posted as missing, until two of them were found.

Hasler and Sparks stand solemnly during the 1983 Poole unveiling. Quentin Rees / Amberley Publishing /

It was later discovered that five ships had been destroyed in Bordeaux by mysterious explosions, then in 2010, new research proved that a sixth ship had been more extensively damaged than the other ships.

A £80,000 memorial was resurrected in honour of the Cockleshell Heroes and three French individuals on March 31, 2011.

“All the Royal Marines had spent eight days in cramped and unfavourable conditions they were unused to. The event these men had volunteered for was a small-scale amphibious raid into the heart of occupied France,” Quentin said.

HMS White Bear June 1946, as a survey vessel. McCutcheon Collection / Amberley Publishing /

“It was very likely that anyone who went on this raid would not return. The men who were chosen were not informed of their mission until they were ensconced in the submarine.

“There was to be rendezvous or extraction; they were to fend for themselves. Once their mission was completed, they were to make their way on foot towards a specific village some 100 miles inland in order to try and make contact with a Resistance network.”

Cockleshell Heroes was published by Amberley Publishing on October 17, 2013, and is available here: