A group of ex-servicemen are set to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Frankton, a daring World War II mission, by retracing the kayaking route of ten Royal Marines to raise money for three Armed Forces charities.

Their expedition, supported by funding from BAE Systems, will see them kayak 80 miles across France, before completing a 100-mile hike.

Operation Frankton saw 10 men, known as the Cockleshell Heroes, take part in an extraordinary commando raid using kayaks to plant mines and attack enemy ships in German-occupied France in December 1942. They managed to damage six vessels in the port of Bordeaux, leading to wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill claiming their mission shortened the war by six months.

Only two men returned from the heroic operation but the legacy they created was enduring, as it’s widely recognised this operation resulted in the formation of the Special Boat Service (SBS) branch of the Royal Navy.

The team retracing the Cockleshell Heroes’ mission have named themselves ‘Cockleshell 22’, raising funds for three charities that each support the Armed Forces; Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion, and RMA – The Royal Marines Charity. The largest sponsor, BAE Systems has also provided £5,000 of funding to the team. BAE Systems employees were alongside Cockleshell team in the water to support their mission departure today, in the very latest in military small boats, the StormBlade® 850.

Steve Martindale, Cockleshell 22 team member and former Royal Marines Commando said: “This mission will test us in every way, but hopefully it’s a fitting tribute to what that incredible team of 10 men did for our country 80 years ago. Their efforts created what we know as the SBS today, so we want to mark the anniversary by raising whatever funds we can for the three brilliant charities that do such amazing work for the Armed Forces community. 

“I can’t believe that what started out as a bit of a crazy idea between mates is now happening. We cannot thank BAE Systems enough for their support; without them we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

The Cockleshell 22 team will use collapsible kayaks, similar to the originals used back in 1942, and will paddle overnight through France for five nights as the Cockleshell Heroes would have done before them. They will then follow a 100-mile extraction route from Blaye to Ruffec on foot over six days, attending commemorations in Bordeaux in between.

Scott Jamieson, Managing Director, Maritime Services, BAE Systems said: “For decades, we have proudly supported the Royal Navy and its fleet from Portsmouth, including as suppliers of their small boats. It’s only fitting that we should support the Cockleshell 22 team as they commemorate the heroic acts of those who have served and protected our nation before us.”