The Cockleshell Heroes

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The Cockleshell Heroes
The Cockleshell Heroes.jpg
US cinema poster
Directed by José Ferrer
Produced byPhil C. Samuel, Cubby Broccoli
Screenplay by Bryan Forbes
Richard Maibaum
Based onCockleshell Heroes
1951 Readers Digest story
by George Kent
Starring José Ferrer
Trevor Howard, Christopher Lee
Music by John Addison
Cinematography John Wilcox
Edited by Alan Osbiston
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • 16 November 1955 (1955-11-16)(UK)
Running time
97 minutes [1]
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Cockleshell Heroes is a 1955 British Technicolor war film with Trevor Howard, Anthony Newley, Christopher Lee, David Lodge and José Ferrer, who also directed. [2] Set during the Second World War, it is a fictionalised account of Operation Frankton, the December 1942 raid on German cargo shipping by British Royal Marines, when Special Boat Service commandos infiltrated Bordeaux Harbour using folding kayaks.

Technicolor color motion picture process

Technicolor is a series of color motion picture processes, the first version dating to 1916, and followed by improved versions over several decades.

War film Film genre depicting wars

War film is a film genre concerned with warfare, typically about naval, air, or land battles, with combat scenes central to the drama. It has been strongly associated with the 20th century. The fateful nature of battle scenes means that war films often end with them. Themes explored include combat, survival and escape, camaraderie between soldiers, sacrifice, the futility and inhumanity of battle, the effects of war on society, and the moral and human issues raised by war. War films are often categorized by their milieu, such as the Korean War; the most popular subject is the Second World War. The stories told may be fiction, historical drama, or biographical. Critics have noted similarities between the Western and the war film.

Trevor Howard English film, stage and television actor

Trevor Wallace Howard-Smith, known as Trevor Howard, was an English actor. After varied stage work, he achieved star status with his role in the film Brief Encounter (1945), followed by The Third Man (1949). This led to many popular appearances on film and TV.


It was the first Warwick Film to be filmed in CinemaScope. Producer Cubby Broccoli would go on to produce films about another famous commander of the Royal Navy in the James Bond franchise. It was one of the top British box office hits of 1956.

CinemaScope is an anamorphic lens series used, from 1953 to 1967, and less often later, for shooting widescreen movies that, crucially, could be screened in theatres using existing equipment, albeit with a lens adapter. Its creation in 1953 by Spyros P. Skouras, the president of 20th Century Fox, marked the beginning of the modern anamorphic format in both principal photography and movie projection.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

<i>James Bond</i> Media franchise about a British spy

The James Bond series focuses on a fictional British Secret Service agent created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short-story collections. Since Fleming's death in 1964, eight other authors have written authorised Bond novels or novelizations: Kingsley Amis, Christopher Wood, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz. The latest novel is Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz, published in May 2018. Additionally Charlie Higson wrote a series on a young James Bond, and Kate Westbrook wrote three novels based on the diaries of a recurring series character, Moneypenny.


Original cockleshell canoe Cockshellboat.jpg
Original cockleshell canoe

Ferrer plays newly promoted Major Stringer of the Royal Marines, who comes up with a novel idea for a raid. By using collapsible canoes, he believes it is possible for commandos to reach an enemy-held harbour undetected and blow up ships with limpet mines. He is given command of a small group of volunteers.

Major (Maj) is a military rank which is used by both the British Army and Royal Marines. The rank is superior to captain, and subordinate to lieutenant colonel. The insignia for a major is a crown. The equivalent rank in the Royal Navy is lieutenant commander, and squadron leader in the Royal Air Force.

Royal Marines Marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom

The Corps of Royal Marines (RM) is the amphibious light infantry and also one of the five fighting arms of the Royal Navy. The marines can trace their origins back to the formation of the English Army's "Duke of York and Albany's maritime regiment of Foot" at the grounds of the Honourable Artillery Company on 28 October 1664.

A folding kayak is a direct descendant of the original Inuit kayak made of animal skins stretched over frames made from wood and bones. A modern folder has a collapsible frame made of some combination of wood, aluminium and plastic, and a skin made of a tough fabric with a waterproof coating. Many have integral air chambers inside the hull, making them virtually unsinkable.

However, he clashes with his veteran second-in-command, cynical, by-the-book Captain Hugh Thompson (Trevor Howard). The two officers represent the clash of cultures in the Royal Marines in the Second World War and postwar. Stringer is the enthusiastic promoter of commando operations requiring daring and initiative, but has no experience leading men or operations. Thompson represents the old guard of traditional ship's detachments. Sergeant Craig (Victor Maddern) trains the men following Stringer's directions, but Thompson strongly disapproves of his commander's lax methods. When a test mission ends disastrously, Stringer admits his mistake and turns to Thompson, who soon whips the marines into shape.

Captain (Capt) is a junior officer rank of the British Army and Royal Marines and in both services it ranks above lieutenant and below major with a NATO ranking code of OF-2. The rank is equivalent to a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and to a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. The rank of captain in the Royal Navy is considerably more senior and the two ranks should not be confused.

Sergeant Military rank

Sergeant is a rank in many uniformed organizations, principally military and policing forces. The alternate spelling, "serjeant", is used in The Rifles and other units that draw their heritage from the British Light Infantry. Its origin is the Latin "serviens", "one who serves", through the French term "sergent".

Victor Maddern English actor

Victor Jack Maddern was an English actor, described by The Telegraph as having "one of the most distinctive and eloquent faces in post-war British cinema."

Ruddock (David Lodge), one of the men, goes AWOL due to marital problems. Thompson gets to Ruddock's wife first and finds her with her civilian lover, but leaves when they both insult him. He goes to the local pub for a drink and finds the missing Marine. Thompson gives Ruddock enough time to beat up his wife's paramour, then drives him back to camp.

David Lodge (actor) British actor

David William Frederick Lodge was an English character actor.

The raid is launched soon afterwards by submarine in HMS Tuna under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Dick Raikes (Christopher Lee). The commandos are inserted into sea close to the mouth of the Gironde river in their collapsible klepper canoes as Raikes resubmerges and HMS Tuna disappears. As the swimmer canoeists arrive off the Gironde estuary a depth charge attack by a passing German patrol boat knocks out Ruddock's partner. Thompson, who was not supposed to go on the raid, volunteers to take his place. The raiders then disembark and begin their attack. Following hard routine they now face seventy miles of arduous paddling upriver in their Cockle Mk II canoes. After moving by night and hiding by day, only four crews reach the target, where they plant limpet mines on a number of German cargo ships. All this during harsh December weather.

HMS <i>Tuna</i> (N94) submarine

HMS Tuna (N94) was a T-class submarine of the Royal Navy. She was laid down by Scotts, Greenock and launched on 10 May 1940. She was equipped with German-built engines and spent her career in World War II in western European waters, in the North Sea and off the west coast of France, and most famously taking part in Operation Frankton. The raid on Bordeaux harbour was later immortalised in the classic 1955 film The Cockleshell Heroes starring Trevor Howard. Tuna also took part in many war patrols and her crew received service medals for the boat's destruction of several U-boats.

Dick Raikes British naval officer

Lieutenant Commander Richard Prendergast Raikes was an officer in the Royal Navy notable for being the commanding officer of the submarine HMS Tuna that launched the canoes during Operation Frankton in 1942. His part in the operation was portrayed in the 1955 war film The Cockleshell Heroes where he was played by Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee British actor and singer

Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee was an English actor, singer and author. With a career spanning nearly 70 years, Lee was well known for portraying villains and became best known for his role as Count Dracula in a sequence of Hammer Horror films, a typecasting he always lamented. His other film roles include Francisco Scaramanga in the James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (2001–2003) and the Hobbit film trilogy (2012–2014).

The raid is successful, but only Stringer and Clarke manage to escape. Four (including Thompson and Ruddock) are captured while the other four are killed on the way to the docks. When Thompson and the other prisoners refuse to divulge what their mission was, they are shot by firing squad, but not before hearing the mines explode. [3]

Main cast

Production notes


In 1953 it was reported that Australian author Hugh Hastings was working on a script called "Cockleshell Heroes" for star Gregory Peck and director Lewis Milestone. [4] The script was based on a Reader's Digest account of the mission by George Kent. [5] [6]

It was the fourth film from Warwick Films, a new production company based in Britain run by American producers Albert Broccoli, producer of many James Bond films, and Irving Allen. Warwick's first film had been The Red Beret , based on a real-life British commando raid in the Second World War, featuring an American star in the lead role. It was very popular; The Cockleshell Heroes followed the same formula.

It was the first independent film shot in Britain to use CinemaScope. (Warwick had secured the use of the process for Cockleshell and A Prize of Arms .) [7]


Alan Ladd had appeared in Warwick's first three films, and was discussed as a star. So too was Richard Widmark [8] who ended up making A Prize of Gold for the company instead. When the British Admiralty were approached to co-operate they requested that Spencer Tracy play the lead. [9]

Eventually José Ferrer was signed to star with Terence Young to direct. Young arrived in Hollywood in October 1954 to discuss the film with Ferrer. [10] At the time Ferrer was considered a film star having featured in Moulin Rouge. By January 1955 it was announced he would direct as well. [11]

José Ferrer had Bryan Forbes's script rewritten by Richard Maibaum, [12] but Irving Allen decided Maibaum's script didn't have enough comedy, so he had Forbes rewrite Maibaum's revision and direct some sequences without telling Ferrer. When Ferrer found out, he left the film. [13]

The then-famous British singer, Yana (Pamela Guard), is shown in a cameo role as a sweetly-singing blonde Wren (Women's Royal Naval Service member) in a pub scene, shortly before a brawl erupts. [14]


Filming started in March 1955. [15]

Filming was done in Portugal and several Royal Marine establishments, with the Commandant-General Royal Marines training the actors for drill and canoe handling. The training camp scenes in the film were shot at Eastney Barracks in Southsea, Hampshire, now the home of the Royal Marines Museum. Many of the barrack buildings seen in the film still exist including the military buildings further up the beach where the scene to dispose of the live explosive devise before its fuse time expired was filmed. The Royal Navy ships, HMS Flint Castle and HMS Leeds Castle, were used to portray a German anti-submarine vessel dropping depth charges. Studio scenes were shot at Shepperton. [16] The limpet mine scenes were filmed in the King George V Docks in North Woolwich and many of the other scenes were filmed on the adjacent bomb sites and at derelict houses in the area. Lieutenant Colonel Herbert "Blondie" Hasler, RM, the leader of the real-life raid, was seconded to Warwick Films as technical advisor. [17] Ex-Corporal Bill Sparks, the other survivor of the raid, was also an advisor.

The film briefly uses several railway locations including the level crossing (Military Road) adjacent to Fort Brockhurst railway station on the (by then 'goods only') Gosport branch in Hampshire; the station buildings and former platforms survive today as a private residence. As he cycles south, José Ferrer has to wait for a passing northbound train (a van hauled by T9 class locomotive 30729) so he takes the opportunity to abandon his bicycle in favour of a ride in the rear of a fish lorry. Later Ferrer steals the fish lorry only to abandon it at Shepperton Station (Surrey) in order to catch a just-departing Up train allegedly to Portsmouth, steam train noises being provided on this otherwise electric branch.

In another sequence David Lodge ducks out of sight into a brick bus shelter alongside the North Woolwich Branch. This was possibly at the footbridge opposite Fernhill Street on Albert Road, west of North Woolwich station. David Lodge is also filmed running over the road bridge adjacent to Chertsey railway station where a Southern electric train can be seen drawing into the Up platform.

The film location where Marine Cooney leaps off a road bridge into a coal wagon (within a Southampton-bound goods train hauled by an S15 class locomotive) is Chertsey Road, Addlestone with Egham Hill and Chertsey in the background as well as Addlestone Cemetery beyond the two fields to the left of the railway line. Now numbered the A318, Chertsey Road and this location is almost unrecognisable following road realignments for the building of the A317 St Peter's Way along with subsequent property developments.

Trevor Howard and David Lodge nearly drowned while filming a sequence in a canoe when the canoe overturned. [18]

During production the film was sometimes known as Survivors Two. [19]

During filming, the two survivors of the mission told the producers they had no idea what the cargo was in the ships that were destroyed. After the film was completed, Broccoli claimed that the Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Mountbatten told him the contents of the cargo were radar equipment bound for Japan. Broccoli thought this made the story more interesting and had additional sequences shot to be added to the release print. [20] This cost an extra $5,600. [21] The music of John Addison kept the viewer a pace with the mood and suspence of the film


It was one of the ten most popular films at the British box office in 1956. [22]

Based on a real-life operation Frankton, the film was quickly followed by the publication of Brigadier C. E. Lucas Phillips book of the same name. Commanding officer Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler had connections with both the film and the book. He hated the title of both and walked away from his role as technical adviser for the former to try and set the matter right in the latter. [23] [24]

See also

Related Research Articles

Operation Frankton was a commando raid on shipping in the Nazi German occupied French port of Bordeaux in southwest France during the Second World War. The raid was carried out by a small unit of Royal Marines known as the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment (RMBPD), part of Combined Operations inserted by HMS Tuna (N94) captained by Lieutenant-Commander Dick Raikes who, earlier, had been awarded the DSO for operations while in command of the submarine HMS Seawolf. (The RMBPD would later form the Special Boat Service).

William Edward "Bill" Sparks DSM was a British Royal Marine Commando in World War II. He was the last survivor of the "Cockleshell Heroes" of Operation Frankton in 1942; a team of commandos who paddled 85 miles from the Bay of Biscay up the Gironde estuary to Bordeaux in German occupied France, to plant limpet mines on merchant ships supplying the Nazi war machine.

Combined Operations Headquarters department of the British War Office set up during World War II

Combined Operations Headquarters was a department of the British War Office set up during Second World War to harass the Germans on the European continent by means of raids carried out by use of combined naval and army forces.

Richard Maibaum was an American film producer, playwright and screenwriter in the United States best known for his screenplay adaptations of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.

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42 Commando is a subordinate unit within the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade, the principal Commando formation, under the Operational Command of Fleet Commander.

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Cockle may refer to:

The history of the Royal Marines began on 28 October 1664 with the formation of the Duke of York and Albany's Maritime Regiment of Foot soon becoming known as the Admiral's Regiment. During the War of the Spanish Succession the most historic achievement of the Marines was the capture of the mole during the assault on Gibraltar in 1704. On 5 April 1755, His Majesty's Marine Forces, fifty Companies in three Divisions, headquartered at Portsmouth, Chatham and Plymouth, were formed by Order of Council under Admiralty control.

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Admiral Sir Robert Henry Taunton Raikes KCB CVO DSO was a Royal Navy officer who went on to be Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic Station.


  1. BBFC Database: The Cockleshell Heroes - inspected 11/11/1955 Linked 2014-06-07
  2. "The Cockleshell Heroes (1955) - José Ferrer - Cast and Crew - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  3. "Cockleshell Heroes". The Australian Women's Weekly . National Library of Australia. 11 July 1956. p. 47. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  4. "Sydney's Talking About—". The Sydney Morning Herald . National Library of Australia. 13 August 1953. p. 5 Section: Women's Section. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  5. "MOVIE NOTES". Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder . NSW: National Library of Australia. 2 April 1954. p. 3. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  6. Busy Champions Will Do Concertized Revue; Joan Taylor Borrowed|author=Scheuer, Philip K|work=Los Angeles Times|date=12 June 1953|page=B7}}
  7. A. H. WEILER. (13 December 1953). "BY WAY OF REPORT: Independent Group to Make CinemaScope Pictures in England -- Other Matters". New York Times. p. X9.
  8. "Stars Invade U.K." The Newcastle Sun . NSW: National Library of Australia. 20 May 1954. p. 22. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  9. Hopper, Hedda (6 September 1954). "Alan Ladd Asked to Star in Robber Movie". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. b12.
  10. THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. (5 October 1954). "FERRER IS SOUGHT FOR A WAR MOVIE: Wanted for Starring Role in 'Cockleshell Heroes,' to Be Filmed in England". New York Times. p. 23.
  11. THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. (7 January 1955). "FILM PACT SIGNED BY JOSHUA LOGAN: He Will Make His Debut as Screen Director in 'Picnic' Adaptation for Columbia". New York Times. p. 16.
  12. Forbes, Bryan (1974). Notes for a Life. Collins. p. 249.
  13. Harper, Sue; Vincent Porter (2003). British Cinema of the 1950s: the Decline of Deference. Oxford University Press. p. 129.
  14. Limited, Telegraph Group (1 January 1998). The Daily Telegraph Third Book of Obituaries: Entertainers. Pan. ISBN   9780330367752.
  15. THOMAS M PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. (15 February 1955). "THE LITTLE HUT' PLANNED AS FILM: F. Hugh Herbert and Mark Robson Form Partnership to Do Play by Roussin". New York Times. p. 32.
  16. "These Are the Facts", Kinematograph Weekly, 31 May 1956 p 14
  17. Mackenzie, S.P. (2001). British War Films. Continuum International Publishing. p. 144.
  18. "It was not an act". The Argus . Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 3 May 1955. p. 6. Retrieved 19 April 2014.
  19. A. H. WEILER (3 July 1955). "NOTED ON THE LOCAL MOVIE SCENE: Ferrer Acquires Pair Of Stories -- Other Film Matters". New York Times. p. X5.
  20. "NEW SHOTS FOR FILM OF MARINES: On Duke's Information". The Manchester Guardian. Manchester (UK). 21 November 1955. p. 2.
  21. "Movie Scene Reshot After Duke's Critique". The Washington Post and Times Herald. 22 November 1955. p. 28.
  22. "BRITISH. FILMS MADE MOST MONEY: BOX-OFFICE SURVEY". The Manchester Guardian. Manchester (UK). 28 December 1956. p. 3.
  23. One Foreword for CHFWitness by Matthew Little, former RMM Archivist and librarian
  24. The Cockleshell Heroes on IMDb