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A Brilliant Little Operation [Kindle Edition]

Paddy Ashdown
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In 1942, before El Alamein turned the tide of war, the German merchant fleet was re-supplying its war machine with impunity. So Operation Frankton, a daring and secret raid, was launched by Mountbatten’s Combined Operations and led by the enigmatic ‘Blondie’ Hasler – to paddle ‘Cockleshell’ canoes right into Bordeaux harbour and sink the ships at anchor. It was a desperately hazardous mission from the start – dropped by submarine to canoe some hundred miles up the Gironde into the heart of Vichy France, surviving terrifying tidal races, only to face the biggest challenge of all: escaping across the Pyrenees. Fewer than half the men made it to Bordeaux; only four laid their mines; just two got back alive. But the most damage was done to the Germans’ sense of impregnability. Paddy Ashdown, himself a member of the Royal Marines’ elite Special Boat Squadron formed as a consequence of Frankton, has always been fascinated by this classic story of bravery and ingenuity - as a young man even meeting his hero Hasler once. Now, after researching previously unseen archives and tracing surviving witnesses, he has written the definitive account of the raid. The real truth, he discovers – a deplorable tale of Whitehall rivalry and breakdowns in communication – serves only to make the achievements of the ‘Cockleshell’ heroes all the more heroic.

Product Description


‘A meticulously researched and truly shocking account of an operation that should never have been authorised. In his account of this hair-raising, if not hare-brained enterprise, Ashdown sustains an incisive narrative of great suspense, laced with a moral outrage that is all the more powerful for being both understated and underpinned by telling detail.'

(Jonathan Dimbleby Mail on Sunday)

‘Lord Ashdown gives an extensive and definitive account of the mission’

(Saga Magazine)

'The story of Operation Frankton is an extreme example of a plan brilliantly conceived and badly botched. The ten commandos who made a secret canoe raid in 1942 on German merchant ships have become icons of British wartime derring-do.'

(The Times)

'Lord Ashdown truly makes history live, with meticulous research presented in a very readable way. For a new view on history, or just for an exciting adventure story, A Brilliant Little Operation is well worth reading.'

(We Love This Book)

'Ashdown’s narrative style is quite superb – particularly on the raid itself, and albeit not always documented, he builds what seems to be a most accurate picture of what that canoe trip must have been like.  I think Ashdown’s work is simply brilliant!'

(The Book Dad)

'No doubt many more books will be written about the war, but I hope this becomes a model for them since, though the heroism of our boys is stirring stuff, history only makes real sense if you can see it from all sides.'

(Daily Telegraph)

‘Paddy Ashdown has sifted the facts from the myths to write a fascinating and very personal account.’


'It moves at the pace of a thriller and it's real'

(Nick Ferrari Sunday Express)

‘Ashdown’s insights and his extensive research in an impressive range of archives will ensure that yet another work on the subject will not be required in the foreseeable future.’

(Times Literary Supplement)

‘Told from French, German and British perspectives, this is a well-balanced and gripping read.’

(Good Book Guide)

Winner of the Royal Marines Historical Society Literary Award for 2013.

About the Author

PADDY ASHDOWN spent the first seventeen years of his adult life serving his country as an officer in the Royal Marine Commandos, a member of the Special Boat Service and as an employee of the ‘shadowy side’ of the Foreign Office. He then went on to become Liberal Democrat MP for Yeovil and leader of his party, and the international community’s High Representative in war-torn Bosnia. He currently sits in the House of Lords. His other title for Aurum is his autobiography, A Fortunate Life.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2187 KB
  • Print Length: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press (17 Sept. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781310831
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781310830
  • ASIN: B009AW0BL2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #92,834 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

After service as a Royal Marine and as an intelligence officer for the UK security services, Paddy Ashdown was a Member of Parliament for Yeovil from 1983 to 2001, and leader of the Liberal Democrats from 1988 until 1999. Later he was the international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006.

He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George in 2006.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book as I'd seen the film about the Cockleshell Heroes which really inspired me. This book is an amazingly detailed in-depth account with almost everything verified. It starts off rather slowly and you have to get through a lot of background Ministry information and quite a lot of Forces jargon, and I initially thought that the amount of detailed & cross-referenced verification was spoiling what is a great true story. Don't be put off by this as it really does set the scene. You soon understand why it took Paddy Ashdown 2 years to write this book as the subject is very close to his heart because of his own involvement in the Special Forces. He is clearly determined to write the definitive record which will stand the test of time, with the most careful & accurate research, including the Marine Museum's records, German & French records & interviews with as many people who were involved as was possible. The tension builds slowly as you read the book with details of all the training etc & the description of the tensions involved in the actual raid & the subsequent escape stories make the book a great read. The definitive book on this daring raid and highly recommended!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paddy Takes Us Back 10 April 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Picked this book up after going to a talk given by the former Liberal Democrat Leader where his passion for the Brilliant Little Operation (Operation Frankton) came out.

Ashdown looks upon himself now as primarily a writer and that's certainly a good thing because he manages to simplify a complex area of British military history with the story of the men who became known as the Cockleshell Heroes. Ashdown hammers through the story in a Boys Own style that never diminished the gravity of the subject. A big supporter of the operation which saw a dozen men paddle canoes 70 miles up the Gironde to blow up a German merchant fleet anchored in Bordeaux Harbour. The fact that they weren't entirely successful (only two made it back to England) and the fact they caused minimal damage to most of the vessels doesn't detract from the story.

Ashdown is firmly behind the raid but his prose does allow you to make your own judgement of whether this was a well planned, well drilled and successful operation or pretty much a pointless disaster. Above all the author strips away modern day views to take the reader back 70 years when "times were very different." This is where the real power of a very well written book comes over. A good start to 2013 for my reading.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Brilliant Little Book" 3 Nov. 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Lord Ashdown has produced the most readable, well-researched and objective account of Operation Frankton. This is the definitive reconstruction of events, based on first-hand research. In "Cockleshell Heroes - The Final Witness", Quentin Rees provided much new information, but he wrote in a less accessible style (his book is, nevertheless, certainly worth reading). This is likely to be the "closing chapter" on an incredibly brave attempt by a small group of Royal Marines to influence the course of the war.

Paddy Ashdown's background as a Royal Marines officer and service in the SBS adds credibility to his analysis of the tactics and short-comings of the operation. In 2010, having kayaked the Frankton route, I met Lord Ashdown briefly outside the hotel in Ruffec where, in December 1942, Hasler and Sparks sought to contact the French Resistance. He mentioned that he was undertaking research for a book. It has been well worth the wait.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is much better than I thought it would be. It is very well written, thoroughly researched, and it reads like a thriller. Moreover, the elements of the story have been skilfully assembled.

The account is a mix of rigourous training, an operation that was relentlessly hazardous, an appalling lack of coordination between Combined Operations and SOE, raw courage, and an escape-and-evasion exercise that must have been particularly harrowing. The passages dealing with the teams' insertion by submarine, the terrifying conditions the canoeists had to endure, setting the mines, and how the fugitives moved through occupied territory are gripping. The final chapters are deeply poignant.

Let us salute Blondie Hasler and his men. And congratulate Paddy Ashdown, a former SBS officer.

As an aside, I have a very small personal interest; my father was in the (Army) Commandos (No 12/France and Norway, and No 5/Far East and Burma). His fighting-knife (these were made by Wilkinson Sword and designed by two Hong-Kong and Shanghai policemen called Fairburn and Sykes) lies just in front of me. He didn't know Blondie Hasler but certainly knew of him.

Given the context of the times and the circumstances, Frankton arguably remains the most impressive special forces operation of all-time.

A very good, and authoritative, book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book, well researched and hard to put down 5 Feb. 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A very brave team from ‘Britain’s finest’ that truly deserves a place in British military history.
When I read the objective of the mission and the conditions under which they were to operate, I couldn’t help thinking that the odds of success were minimal and this was another ‘Bridge too far’ type of operation.

To be launched from a submarine, off a heavily guarded coast in freezing weather, with the most basic of survival equipment, was really pushing their luck. They had to penetrate deep into enemy territory with their overloaded flimsy canoes in the middle of winter. Furthermore they had to sleep eat and live in their canoes whilst remaining soaking wet throughout the mission. Back up or support was out of the question.

The success of the mission can be largely attributed to the leadership skills of Hasler combined with the courage, stamina and discipline of his men. Hasler had the unique advantage of small boat experience and sleeping under the stars from an early age. I almost believe he relished the opportunity to conduct this type of mission.

Having kayaked thousands of miles myself through some of the remotest places on earth I would not change places with these guys. Most of my kayaking has been is tropical areas where being wet and sleeping on river banks is more tolerable. With an abundance of sunshine, drying clothes was seldom a problem. I’ve slept in swamps and very uncomfortable places but this in no way compares with what Hasler’s team had to put up with. The occasional death threats to me were usually in the form of wild animals or violent river conditions. However, apart from the harsh living conditions Hasler’s team lived under, the constant threat of a bullet in the back of the neck must have been there.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Too much detail
Published 18 days ago by Cruddles
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read
Avery well written account by ex marine Ashdown his knowledge as ex sbs operator was put to good use here plenty of information too I also understood the difficulties the men... Read more
Published 28 days ago by terryrat
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent no nonsense
Excellent no nonsense, no frills but sympathetic portrayal of an astonishing WW2 operation. It left me in awe of the bravery of the men who undertook what was obviously a... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Everyman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by Sheila J Nichols
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome inspiring read of in depth accounts of a great tail of...
Most enjoyable read which should be read by all; truly inspiring story with great accounts and depth of research. this story is a must read for all.
Published 3 months ago by Doug doug
4.0 out of 5 stars he enjoyed
Bought for my husband, he enjoyed it
Published 4 months ago by Joan
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
Good read but appendix far too long.
Published 4 months ago by joseph higney
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Slow but interesting!
Published 4 months ago by Neillthepolarbear
3.0 out of 5 stars Great story, pity about the notes.
Good book, but Paddy Ashdown's habit of putting all his notes at the end of the book is an inconsiderate idea for the reader. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Mr. C. S. Buckman
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Legendary story beautifully told by an ex Royal Marine.
Published 6 months ago by Jon Prewett
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