In the steps of the « Cockleshell Heroes »
It was 80 years ago that Operation Frankton took place in the Médoc. In memory of that operation, 10 kayakists from the Sport Athlétique Merignacais association departed with their canoes from Montalivet. Their aim was to retrace the route of Operation Frankton. At the invitation of the mayor of Montalivet, the athletes first warmed themselves with a breakfast at The Cube. After a few words of encouragement, replies to questions about their equipment, preparation and training, and an exchange of information on the history of the action, the moment of departure from Montalivet beach finally arrived. The 5 kayaks were already waiting: in a biting cold the athletes made their last checks on their equipment, then carried their boats to the sea.,accompanied by the applause of the public. After some last group photos, they climbed into their boats and left, paddling north, and filmed by the cameramen of France 3.
If you have no precise knowledge of the historic event, which took place on 8th December 1942, we here offer you a quick résumé, thanks to Wikipedia and documents from the BBC.
At the start of the war - and it was the same in WWI - Great Britain had set up a blockade of commerce, which was then replicated by Germany. The port of Bordeaux was then important for the transfer of war materials from East Asia. The sole effective action seemed to be a direct attack against the boats anchored at Bordeaux. As the whole of the Bordeaux region was under heavy control, a commando-type operation was decided on: a group of marine canoeists would be taken at night by submarine and deposited in the Atlantic off the coast near Montalivet. They would then have to try and make their way down the Gironde to the port of Bordeaux, ending their mission by destroying the cargo ships with the ammunition they had brought. The operation certainly succeeded but at enormous cost. Of the 12 marines who set off, 4 arrived in their canoes at their goal: the rest overturned or were captured and shot. And of the 4 canoeists who succeeded in their task at Bordeaux, only 2 were able to reach England, via Spain and Gibraltar. The 2 others were also captured while escaping, and shot.
The operation, famous in England under the name of « Cockleshell Heroes », obviously holds an important place in the story of the Médoc. The canoeists were, for example, looked after by the inhabitants of Saint-Vivien at the time, and later helped in their escape by members of the Resistance. Reason enough for the kayak section of the Stade Athlétique Merignacais to honour these heros 80 years later by repeating their exploit. The Cube at Montalivet served as their base this time. A commemorative stone now adorns the entrance to the beach at Montalivet. We were able to follow the course of their exploit from the beaches at Vensac and Euronat. And on the evening of their arrival at Saint-Vivien, today’s inhabitants offered them a little buffet and warm drinks.
2022 Christian Büttner/Elke Schwichtenberg (Grayan), translation: Richard Beasley