Sunday, January 29, 2012

The War Canoes of World War II - Cockleshell Heroes

The concept of using variants of peacetime sporting kayaks in military raiding missions by British Special Forces during World War II was conceived of by several individuals. at about the same time, and each evolved into parallel units. One of the earlier unit was the Army Commando Special Boat Sections, which evolved into the Special Boat Squadron. Its founder was Major Roger (‘Jumbo’) Courtney, MC. Also developed within the Army Commando was 101 Troop. Within the Royal Navy an organization called the Combined Operations (Assault) Piloting Parties (COPP’s) were Captain Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott, DSO, DSC, RN. Finally the Royal Marines, lead by Lieut-Colonel H.G. (‘Blondie’) Hasler, DSO, OBE, RM, developed the Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachments (RMBPD) and there was a separate unit designated Detachment ‘385’. These latter two units were the forerunners of today’s Royal Marine Special Boat Service (SBS). In addition there was the Small Scale Raiding Force (SSRF) and the Sea Reconnaissance Unit (SRU) founded by Lieut-Commander Bruce Wright, RCNVR, who was an Olympic grade swimmer. There were a few other units raised, but these were the main ones.

The 'tombstone' formation badge of WWII
British Combined Operations, worn by the
swimmer-canoeists, and still worn by their
 special forces today, including the elite
Special Boat Service

The ‘Folbot', a sports kayak, manufactured by the Folbot Company, and the Goatley Boat were the principal common origin of craft employed by all these organizations.  Needless to say the Folbot had to undergo significant and continuous modification and refinement in order to meet the rigorous requirements of sustained oceangoing combat operations. First and foremost the craft were renamed and officially designated 'Cockles'. The Goatley Assault Boat was originally designed and built by Fred Goatley for combat operations, but was based on his previous peacetime designs. The single best reference I have found on the development and operations of all these boats is, The COCKLESHELL CANOES BRITISH MILITARY CANOES OF WORLD WAR TWO, Q. Rees, Amberley Publishing, Chalford, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84868-065-4 (See video of BBC interview below). The detailed technical information and copies of original drawings and photographs contained in this book are exceptional.

I am personally indebted and most appreciative of Quentin Rees' direct contributions to this blog, insuring the accuracy of the contents.

There are very few surviving specimens of any of these vessels (6 known), the majority of which reside in military museums. On extremely rare occasion a privately owned example will come up for sale or auction.

The following set of drawings shows a representative grouping of some of the designs employed by British Special Forces during World War II.
1.     Cockle Mark 1, (sports kayak procured by Admiralty) circa 1939-1940
2.    Cockle Mark 1**, (purpose built primary craft of COPP's) circa 1942 
3.     Cockle Mark 2**, (purpose built) circa 1943  
4.     Cockle Mark 6 (Powered)
5.      Motor Submersible Canoe (MSC ‘Sleeping Beauty’)
6.     Klepper Canoe (RM SBS, derivative used in Falklands 1982) circa 1958 – Present
7.     18’ Dory, circa 1941
8.     20’ Surf Boat, circa 1942
9.     Y-Type Inflatable Raft, circa 1943

Drawings of representative Cockles and other craft
employed by British Special Forces in World War II

Just in order to provide some continuity into one of the main themes of this blog page, the following two images are sets of two different 1:30 scale models of the Cockleshell Mk 2, manned by two crews of British Commandos, circa 1943. These "toy soldiers" (military miniatures) are newly manufactured by King & Country in a series of sets of the Commandos.

A Cockleshell Mk 2 beached; Compare details
closely with an exhibit of the real thing shown below

A Cockleshell Mk 2 still at sea

The following photograph was taken at an exhibit at the Combined Military Services Museum, Chelmsford, Essex. The craft is one of the six actual canoes used in Operation Frankton, the Royal Marine Commando attack on German shipping in the French port of Bordeaux in 1942. It is the restored Cockle Mark 2 named 'Cachalot', which was damaged onboard the submarine HMS Tuna during the initiation of the raid, and forced to abort the mission. The 1955 movie 'Cockleshell Heroes' was based on this raid. Lieutenant Colonel Herbert "Blondie" Hasler, DSO, OBE, the leader of the real-life raid, was seconded to Warwick Films as technical advisor. Ex-Corporal William Sparks, DSM, the other survivor of the raid, was also an advisor.

The exhibit at the Combined Military Services Museum,
 Chelmsford, Essex of  a restored Cockle Mark 2 

The following series of photographs are of a Cockle Mark 2**, showing details of its construction. This Cockle also currently resides in the Combined Military Services Museum, Chelmsford.

Engineering drawing detailing the retractable
two-stroke gasoline engine installed in the
Canoe MK VI and Canoe MK VIII

An interview with Quentin Rees, author of 'Cockleshell Canoes', conducted by the BBC on the 65th anniversary of the successful attack by Royal Marine Commandos on German shipping in Bordeaux Harbor during World War II. This is followed by a documentary series of this raid in 1942, as well as another highly successful attack against Japanese shipping in Singapore Harbor in 1943.


Following the end of World War II the majority of these units were disbanded or down sized.  However the Royal Marine Commandos maintained a small craft capability for the missions of coastal/beach reconnaissance and raiding. Missions of this nature continue to be executed to this day by the Special Boat Service. The next photograph is shown with thanks and full acknowledgement to the Elite UK Forces web page.

  "Special Boat Section (SBS) commandos paddle a 2-man canoe during training for a raid on the Northeastern coast of Korea, 12 December 1951. During the Korean conflict, the SBS carried out a number of reconnaissance and sabotage operations along the enemy's coastline coast and further inland. The 2-man canoe is a stealthy method of infiltration/exfiltration that is still believed to be in use in the modern-day SBS.

Between 1940 and 1977, ' SBS' stood for Special Boat Section. From 1977-1987 the SBS became the Special Boat Squadron,. In 1987 the unit became part of the United Kingdom Special Forces group (UKSF) and changed its name to the Special Boat Service."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Famous War Horses in History and Who rode Them

This is a field in which I have absolutely no background, and extremely limited knowledge. However with current popularity of both the musical and movie, “War Horse”, thought it would be interesting to search for man’s ‘other’ best friend, particularly in time of war. From what I have been able to learn to date, it appears that the horses of Generals and ranking officers of both the Union and Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War seem to be the most well documented. This initial list will hopefully be in rough chronological order, and without a great deal of detailed background, as I’m on a fairly steep learning curve. Where known it may be a favorite/principal horse, or in some cases multiple horses. There is redundancy between the names in the first general  list, and the second list which is limited to the American Civil War. Readers will not be surprised at the first named due to the principal subject matter of the blog. Readers who may have additional knowledge are encouraged to add to this database with information submitted in the Comments Section below.

Pegasus – Bellerephon
Incitatus – Emperor Caligula of Rome
Bucephala (Bucepphalus) – Alexander
Llamrei, Hengroen – King Arthur
Shadowless – Chancellor Cao Cao, Han Dynasty
Gazala – Baldwin I of Jerusalem
Babieca – El Cid
Matsukaze – Maeda Keji, Samurai, 1543 - 1612
Steiff- Gustavus Adolphus, Battle of Lutzen 1632
Blueskin, Magnolia, (Old) Nelson, Roger Leo, Ellen Edenerg – General George Washington
Bijou – Count Johan Augustus Sandels, Swedish Field Marshal, Finnish War 1808-1809
Copenhagen – Duke of Wellington
Marengo, Ali(Aly), Bijou – Napoleon Bonaparte
Palomo – Simon Bolivar
Black Prince - Major Mathews, Royal Gloucestershire Hussars 1843-1927
Ronald - Lieut-Colonel (later Lieut-General) James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, Charge of the Light Brigade, 1854
Sir Briggs - Captain Godfrey Morgan, 17th Lancers, Balaclava 1854
Old Whitey - General (later President) Zachary Taylor
Saracen - Sam Houston
Traveller – General Robert E. Lee
Little Sorrel – General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson
Rienzi(renamed Winchester) – General Phillip H. Sheridan
Methuselah, Cincinnati – General Ulysees S. Grant
Comanche – Sole survivor of the Battle of the Little Big Horn
Blackie – Chief Sitting Bull
Vonolel - Field Marshal Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts, Bt, VC, KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, KStJ, PC
Jimson the mule - 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment), India and the Boer War.
Simpson's Donkey -  Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick, ANZAC Corps, Gallipoli, WWI 1914
Kidron – General John J. (“Black Jack”) Pershing
Aristocrat – Lieut General Sir Harry E. Chauvel, O.C Desert Mounted Corps
George Lambert - A favourite charger of the ANZAC Mounted Division, 1919
Warrior(‘Old Warrior’) – General Jack Seely, WWI
Songster – Leicestershire Yeomanry, WWI, 1914
Orleans - Captain Whitworth, MC, Epehy, 1917 
Kitty – Marshal of Finland Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim
Kasztanka – Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, Poland
Ogeltez – Hero of the Soviet Union, Stalingrad, August 1942
Sgt. Reckless – U.S. Ist Marine Division, Korea, March 1953, died in 1968; in 2016 posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal, considered to be the animal equivalent of  the Victoria Cross.
Black Jack – the last Quartermaster issued  U.S. Army horse, died 6 February 1976
Sefton - Blues and Royals, survivor of IRA bomb attack in 1982
Burmese - Queen Elizabeth II, gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1969 (Honorary War Horse)

The next videos are of the charge of the then Royal North British Dragoons, later The 2nd Dragoons Royal Scots Greys, from the 1970 movie 'Waterloo' and the 1936 movie 'Charge of the Light Brigade' starring Earl Flynn.

The following video is of a more recent version (1968) of the 'Charge of the Light Brigade', showing both the 11th Prince Albert's Own Hussars and the 17th Duke of Cambridge's Own Lancers at Balaclava in the Crimean War 1854.

The next video is from the movie, 'The Light Horsemen', and depicts the charge of the 4th (Victoria) and 12th (New South Wales) Australian Light Horse at Beersheba, Palestine, 1917.

The following is a list of horses of the American Civil War and the senior Union and Confederate officers who rode them (With full acknowledgement to Wikipedia).
first horse
Almond Eye
Baldy (also Old Baldy)
favorite horse, wounded at First Bull Run and Antietam
secondary; Kearny was killed at Chantilly while riding this horse
Black Bess
Brown Roan
Burns (AKA Black Burns)
favorite horse, acquired in 1864
Daniel Webster
secondary; horse shot through the neck at Fair Oaks
horse killed at Battle of Perryville
Don Juan
Grand Old Canister
Grey Eagle
Handsome Joe
Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis
King Philip
Little Sorrel (also Old Sorrel)
Jackson was riding Little Sorrel when fatally wounded at Chancellorsville. Little Sorrel is buried on the VMI parade deck mere feet from Jackson's famous statue.
Lucy Long
given to Lee by J.E.B. Stuart
first horse on re-entering the Army in 1861
horse captured from General Robert H. Milroy at Second Winchester
favorite, but avoided riding due to his conspicuous white color
My Maryland
Nellie Gray
horse killed at Battle of Opequon
Old Bill
Old Bob
Old Jim
Old Spot
Plug Ugly
Red Eye
Red Pepper

The following two videos are representative of the use of cavalry in some of its last full actions at the Battle of Omdurman and the very early stages of World War I;

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Reincarnation of the Calcutta Light Horse, A.F.(I.)

Having retired after the nominal twenty years plus in the U.S. Naval Reserve, a group of us who had become close friends over the years, decided to have small reunions on a fairly regular basis. In order to provide some identity to the group, and after a reasonable amount of research, we decided to commemorate and reincarnate in obviously smaller numbers, the Calcutta Light Horse, an Auxiliary Force (India) regiment of the British Indian Army.

Several of us remembered having seen a 1980 movie, ‘Sea Wolves (the Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse)’ starring Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore, with Trevor Howard and Patrick MacNee. Since last having members serve in the Boer War and World War I, the regiment had been more analogous to a British gentlemen’s private club than an active military unit. As an adjunct for movie buffs the following is a correlation of the actual personnel from the regiment participating in the action, and the cast of the movie.

Although there were weekly meetings and annual exercises, it wasn’t until well after the start of World War II that this group of middle-aged jute merchants, accountants, solicitors, engineers and stock brokers were able to prove their mettle, and uphold the finest traditions of the regiment in a highly classified combat engagement. Their clandestine action occurred under the command and planning of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

In the original regimental history, ‘CALCUTTA LIGHT HORSE A.F.(I.) 1759 –1881 – 1947, published in 1957 by a committee of the Regiment, there appears‘The Unwritten Chapter’. As part of my personal research the following is an addendum to that chapter:

The field service solar topee of the Calcutta Light Horse
between a South African Forces solar topee and a replica
of the full dress turban of the 2nd Punjab Regiment 

Those with the knowledge and sharp eye of a regimental sergeant-major will pick-up on a detail, which until very recently I was not aware of. The regimental pagri badge should be on the other side of the topee, and have the red stripe forward. Needless to say it has already been corrected. Am extremely envious of the purchaser of the following regimental pith helmet, that was recently for sale for a very short time on a militaria site on the Internet.

The ships involved in the action by Creek Force are shown in the following contemporary photographs.

With the partition of India in 1947 the disbandment of the entire Auxiliary Force, including the regiment, took place. Here is one of the last known photographs of the Officers of the Regiment and of Colonel W. H. Grice, ADC, ED., the last Commanding Officer.

The Officers of the Regiment approximately a year after the
highly successful clandestine attack on German ships in
Marmagoa, Goa harbor in March 1943

Colonel William H. Grice, ADC, ED, Commanding Officer,
Calcutta Light Horse, who directly participated in the attack
Following is a recently published photograph of a contingent of the Calcutta Light Horse on training exercise in Belgaum in 1940, with acknowledgement and gratitude to FIBIS (Families in British India Society). By sheer "coincidence", perhaps? Belgaum is near the west coast of India, strategically located near then Portuguese Goa, and was a major British Army Training Center and cantonment. It continues in use today by the Indian Armed Forces.

Our ranks were very similar in civilian professions to that of the ranks of the Calcutta Light Horse, with the exception of not having any jute merchants. In addition we had a few classified missions to our credit, albeit non-combat in nature. Suffices to say that even our correct regimental ties and blue blazers with regimental crest, were still no match to the colonel’s resplendent full dress uniform. Unfortunately, like our hair, the ranks are thinning, since the following photograph was taken we have lost three members and a fourth is in hospice.

Current members of the Calcutta Light Horse in regimental
mufti with faces obscured SAS fashion for "security reasons"

Officer's Cap Badge of the Calcutta Light Horse as can be
seen on Col. Grice's full dress solar helmet above

Reverse of same cap badge

Calcutta Light Horse regimental blazer badge

Regimental tie of the Calcutta Light Horse A.F.(I.)

In order to provide some semblance of legitimacy to our organization, all members were presented with an honorary commission. Intentionally undersized, when compared with the genuine article, but in all other aspects it was an authentic facsimile, including the signature of the King (Edward VIII), and countersigned for the Imperial General Staff by then Colonel (Later Field Marshal) William J. Slim.

Intentionally undersized facsimile honorary commission
as a Colonel in the Calcutta Light Horse

The following photograph is of The “Hollywood” Light Horse. Male members of the cast of “Sea Wolves” (The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse) on location in either Goa or India. In the front row (third in from left) Trevor Howard, then starting (fifth in from left), David Niven, Roger Moore and Gregory Peck. In the second row (second in from left) Patrick MacNee.

The following are a few excerpts from the movie, The Sea Wolves (The Last Charge of the Calcutta Light Horse), released in 1980, two years after their WWII mission had been declassified in 1978 under the provisions of the British Official Secrets Act.


There is a very interesting coincidence (limited research indicates only that) which has recently come to this author's attention regarding the Calcutta Light Horse. One of the commanding officers of the regiment was LCol Archie Pugh CBE (1871 - 1923) during the period from 1912 -1923. As the reader may recall it was LCol Lewis Pugh (later MGen Lewis H. O. Pugh CB, CBE, DSO(w 2 bars) 1907-1981) who conceived of the operation, and was present in its execution.

LCol Archie Pugh CBE, OC,
Calcutta Light Horse, 1912 -1923

MGen Lewis H.O. Pugh CB, CBE, DSO
w/2 bars