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Episode Details

series: Greatest Raid Of World War Ii

air date: 9/27/13 12:05 AM

in December 1942, 10 young marines set off to raid the port of Bordeaux in Nazi-occupied France. Their mission - Operation Frankton - was to blow up the ships that provided essential supplies for the German war machine. To reach their target, the men used so-called 'Cockleshell' canoes, specially designed for covert infiltration into enemy harbours. They had to paddle for nights on end up 70 miles of the largest and most heavily defended estuary in Europe - Gironde. An audacious operation, they succeeded in blowing up one ship and severely damaging four others and according to Winston Churchill, shortened World War II by six months. Of the 10, six men were captured and executed by the Germans and two died of hypothermia. At the same time, a network of British trained spies were already in Bordeaux, preparing to strike the same target. Were these competing missions the result of the 'fog of war' or Whitehall rivalry? One thing is for certain, 12 young men risked their lives in an operation that should never have taken place. In this documentary, former member of the Special Boat Service turned politician Lord Ashdown uses his experience to shed light on the challenges faced by the 'Cockleshell Heroes', recreating their incredible journey up the Gironde estuary. He also looks at the how the battle inside Whitehall raged almost as hard as the war against Nazi Germany. Churchill had created a series of competing armies, harnessing the spirit of individualism and ingenuity in the fight against Hitler - an approach that also led to confusion, suspicion and distrust. Using dramatic reconstructions to recreate the daring raid, Cockleshell Heroes brings to life a mission that would come to symbolize the fighting spirit of the British, and throws new light on the institutional rivalry that would ultimately lead the country from its darkest hours to victory.

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