Eight months before the attack on the French port of Bordeaux by the men later immortalised as the Cockleshell Heroes, a less well known, equally daring, and arguably more successful raid was carried out by two canoeists from No. 6 Commando.
Captain Gerald Montanaro of the Royal Engineers and Trooper Fred Preece of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry were members of a specialist Folboat troop called 101 Troop of No. 6 Commando.
Initially tasked with beach reconnaissance missions, the canoeists got the opportunity they were looking for on a moonlit night in April 1942. The plan, known as Operation JV, was for Montanaro and Preece to paddle into Boulogne harbour on the French coast, where they would attach limpet mines on a German tanker carrying about 4000 tons of copper ore, before making their escape.
Transported by motor launch ML 102 on 11 April 1942, they were lowered into the water a few miles from Boulogne. Under the cover of darkness they paddled into the heavily defended harbour and searched for their target. Despite E-Boats patrolling the waters they soon identified the tanker silhouette by the moonlight.
In the shadows they armed their eight limpet mines- set on four-hour fuses, but as they approached the target they encountered their first problem. The canvas boat had snagged on a submerged object and punctured the hull. Taking on water they now had a race on their hands, and with no alternative but to crack on, they made their attack.
Lining up on the tankers stern, Montanaro placed the limpets with some difficulty on its barnacle covered hull. With time running out they knew they had to make their escape or risk missing the rendezvous with the motor launch. Cold and wet they paddled quietly into the shadows and headed for the Channel. But by now they were taking in water at such a rate that only one man could paddle while the other bailed out.
Nearly ninety minutes after placing the limpets – exhausted and frozen to the bone – they made the rendezvous with ML 102.
Safely aboard they returned to Dover as Boulogne harbour was rocked by the exploding charges.
Aerial reconnaissance photographs taken the next day showed the tanker had been wrecked.
For their part in one of the Second Wold War’s most daring raids, Captain Montanaro was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Trooper Preece the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). A month after the raid, 101 Troop were merged with No.2 Special Boat Section (SBS).