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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars


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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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on 21 March 2017
Another good War book - see elsewhere on my Profile page for The Cruel Victory & Game of Spies by same author. It's difficult to decide which you like best but you learn something from all of them - I think Game of Spies my favourite! Very good writer - wonderful style.
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on 20 June 2017
Very well written & a great read which included many details that I did not know. Recommended
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on 4 February 2013
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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on 5 February 2014
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. And of course the threats didn’t end with the canoeing mission. They had to get all the way to Spain, living on a shoe string, with the firing squads hunting them down. It’s not altogether surprising that only 2 of the team finally got through to safety.

It was good to read about the post war follow up trips to France to thank all those involved. Some of the resistance fighters and their families paid the ultimate price for providing food and accommodation to the team. We must carve their names with pride.
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on 14 December 2012
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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on 3 November 2012
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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on 1 December 2013
I originally chose this because Blondie Hasler was my Grandad's CO prior to Operation Frankton and I wanted to find out more about the man who my Grandad spoke so highly of.
Both the book and subject matter are incredible. I had read a fair amount prior to this book, but not in this amount of detail. The raid is all the more awe inspiring in the reading and the author is to be commended for conveying the magnitude of the odds facing Hasler and his men. A very highly recommended read.
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on 24 August 2013
The original book was published in the 1950's. Since then certain secret and classified documents have been down graded and are now in the public domain due to the 50yr ruling. As a result this book fills in lots of gaps and gives additional information not previously known. It is well written and ideal for those who have read the original book by Lucas Philips or who have an interest in this remarkable raid by the original SBS Operators.
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on 1 January 2013
An engrossing tome!
Paddy Ashdown has clearly done his homework.
Loads of interesting facts & views on what was going on in, "higher places" during WW2 including recently released official stuff.
It could easily have been dry or Gung Ho but I reckon Paddy Ashdown has probably done the subject (and participants) justice.
Well worth reading as an adventure or historical experience.
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