The folbot was a two man canoe that became widely used by all services throughout the war. Arguably it owed its success to the inspiration of two men, Capt. Roger Courtney and Major T Wilson. In the autumn of 1940, Courtney challenged senior Naval and staff Officers to detect an covert attack he would make by canoe on the Assualt ship Glengyle. The two Army Commandos duly carried out a covert, nightime "raid" on Glengyle, moored in Loch Fyne. Silently in the dark they paddled their Folbot alongside the huge ship. They drew chalk marks on the hull to represent limpet mines. Courtney then climbed up the anchor cable to the fore deck of the ship. Once there he evaded the duty guards and "liberated" the covers and breech blocks from two Oerlikon guns, as trophy of the exploit. They raiders escaped unchallenged. Much embarrassment within the Naval hierachy resulted from their actions. Sir Roger Keyes the first Chief of Combined Operations, who was on inspection duty in the region at the time, was impressed. He then challenged Courtney to attempt a further attack on a Submarine Depot ship.
On this occasion although chalk marks were drawn, successfully, on the hull of the ship the attempt to board the ship was detected. The pair of Canoeists were captured. However the two mock attacks had so clearly demonstrated that canoes were an effective means of attack, that Sir Roger Keyes authorised Courtney to form a Folbot section to develop tactics for the use of canoeists.
Constructed of proofed canvas over a light wooden frame, the first Folbots could be broken down into pieces, for easy transportation. This made them ideally suited for deployment from submarines, flying boats and raiding craft. Folbots were gradually improved and strengthened. The Mk 1** type was used in all theatres of WW 2, by raiding forces, reconnaissance teams, COPP teams, and Intelligence groups employed in the covert insertion of agents etc. ( also known as Cockle Mk I** ). Collapsible fabric canoes are still in use by Special forces to this day.
In December 1942 determined men from the Royal Marines, led by Major "Blondie" Hasler, proved the effectiveness of the Folbot. Their raid on Bordeaux - Operation Frankton - (The Cockleshell Heroes), is a wartime legend. In the operation 6 specially strengthened folbots(Cockle Mk II) were deployed to attack the German held port of Bordeaux 70 miles up the Gironde river. Limpet explosive charges were carried to disable shipping in the docks. The mission was a costly success : only four of the party of 12 men managed to penetrate the dock area to place their charges. Just two of the Marines succeeded in evading capture. They escaped overland through Spain and eventually returned to the UK. 5 ships in the port of Bordeaux were sunk ( One canoe was holed when being launched from HMS Tuna, the delivery submarine. 2 Marines drowned after their Folbot capsised. All 6 team members who were captured were subsequently shot, under Hitler's infamous "Commando order".) The Royal Marines did prove that canoes carrying limpet charges could penetrate far into enemy territory and succeed in a clandestine raid. However there was clearly a physical limit to the size of the explosive charges that could be delivered in that manner. The delivery of these Royal Marine raiders off the enemy coastline, 5 miles off the mouth of the estuary, had also presented unacceptable risk to the delivery vessel and its crew
in this case HMS Tuna, a Royal Navy submarine. For the German High Command the raid did prove something else. Nowhere was completely safe. The raid demonstrated the need for the German army to employ yet more troops in defence duties. This was in itself a 'victory" for the Allies. Churchill claimed this raid alone led to so many German troops becoming tied up in defence duties that the war was shortened by several months.
The staff evaluation of " Operation Frankton " confirmed the conclusion that small - electric powered - submersible craft would be more suitable for missions of the Frankton type. One major consequence of the operation was the increased concentration, both by the Royal Navy and by SOE, on the development of suitable small craft for use in sub - marine warfare.
Late in the war the most sturdy version of the Folbot canoe was developed incorporating plywood panels in the structure. No longer a true folding boat, this type (Cockle Mk VI) was widely used by raiding forces in the jungle war in Burma. The more rigid structure increased carrying capacity. Small electric motors were also developed to assist propulsion.