The Cockleshell Heroes

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.

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

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.


Newly promoted Major Stringer of the Royal Marines devises 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.

However, he clashes with his veteran second-in-command, cynical, by-the-book Captain Hugh Thompson. 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 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.

Ruddock, 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.

The raid is launched soon afterwards by submarine in HMS Tuna under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Dick Raikes. 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.

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


  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
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