Royal Engineers canoe 1944


At the D Day museum at Arromanches, France there is a fine display of the artificial harbor set up to facilitate the Normandy invasion in June of 1944. Background information refered to the Royal Engineers charting the sea bed off shore to facilitate the design of the concrete components for the break water and loading docks. The military designation for the harbor was Mulberry A.

Construction started on the harbor components at Poole, England in December 1943 so the charting would have been done before or perhaps during construction

There is a drawing of a canoe carried to the coast by a midget submarine for the purpose of this sea bed survey. The canoe shown has full decks and the 2man crew is using double paddles.

Does anyone have any information or know where to find information on these canoes and the midget submarines. Likely a Royal Engineer museum whole be a source but I have not been able to find anything.

Thanks for any help.


I'm not sure if this will help, but I remember and old movie called "Cockleshell Heroes". It was based on a true story of a group of Royal Marines that used those boats in an attempt to enter Bordeaux harbor and sink German ships with limpet mines. There are extensive scenes of training in the boats and in the actual mission. The movie was made in England in 1955 so I would guess they used the actual boats.

Royal Engineer canoe 1944


Thanks for the information about the Royal Marine movie. That is a good start.
I've done a bit of checking around and found that the mini subs were known as X-Craft. The one used at Normandy was X-20. The only remaining sub is X-24 on display at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. As I remember the canoe were a collapsible wood form covered with canvas. This way they could be carried aboard a full size sub. I believe they were primarily intended for comando type use. To go back to the movies, there was "Above Us The Waves" which was based on an X-Craft attack on the battleship Tirpitz.

I have a little bit more if you haven't found it yet. The surveying was called Combined Operations Pilotage Parties, and the canoes were called Cockle Mark II, and had plywood bottoms and decks joined with rubberized canvas.
Royal Engineers canoes 1944

Thanks again Richard,

Your latest information is a great addition to my search. On the web I found a description of the boats and I think I have located the film "Cockleshell Heroes." I hope to find a first hand narrative of the actual operation.

royal engineer canoes

The R.E. canoes, if not used in the movie 'cockleshell Heroes' may very well have been used as cockleshells in WWII, then constructed in wood/canvas by 'Folbot kayaks'.
I have a 1960s w/c Folbot and the history of the company came with it.

Thompson Bros. Boat Mfg. Co. at Peshtigo, Wisconsin made canoes for the military during World War II. They made 120 specially Thompson designed canoes for the Army. They were 20 foot in length and called Hudson Bay freight canoes. The canoe could only weigh 200 pounds but had to handle 2,900 pounds of load inlcuding canoe operators. They were canvas covered. I only have an newspaper article about this from that time period. NO pictures.

Thanks Andre,

I did find the website you enclosed. It contains the most information so far. I have not been able to find a reference to Roger Gomm cited as having built replica canoes for the documentary. Was he a boat builder, BBC documentary producer or director? The BBC is a little opaque but maybe I will be able to a way to the source.

Hi Dan, thanks for the referal to this site. I will get a copy of the film. It was based on the book of the same name: "Cockleshell Heroes" by C.E. Lucas-Philips.

Sorry I missed the Fall Meet of the Northwest Chapter and your report of your last trip retracing the voyageurs route of the Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Company. Are you going to write a book when you have completed the whole route?

Regards, R.C.Cross
Glad to help.Been away from town a few days so sorry about the delay of this reply.
I too was looking forward to seeing you at the Fall meet , maybe take that wideboard for another spin,and to see what you have been up too also.
Had a good summer on the retrace trip- made near 500 miles in a w/c..Larry Bowers and I each travelled in our own canoes.Even though Im full of" "it" I do not think I have enough words for a book
I may have a looksee at that film myself