Wargaming: Commandos, Kayaks & Cockleshell Heroes – a Scenario

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01 January 2022
When the Boat Comes In

Words, models & photographs by Allan Tidmarsh


One of my many favourite second world war films is Cockleshell Heroes which depicts Operation Frankton in 1942 when commandos in kayaks mined ships in Bordeaux harbour. I’d always been fascinated by the possibilities of gaming a similar scenario in some way. I have accumulated over the last two years or so sufficient suitable model ships (mostly scratch-built); in addition I already had some basic configurable harbourside wharfs and buildings so I decided to setup a game.

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Initial ideas for the game were possibly to use the Warlord Games 28mm commando canoes and crew. However I would be stuck for scenics as most of the items (buildings, vehicles and so on) that I had were suitable for 1/72 (20mm) figures; so I decided to run the game using 1/72 figures. A search through my spares and a donation from a friend yielded some Airfix commandos and canoes, so they would be put to use for the game and get a chance to show their mettle.

Each ship needed a watchman, for these I used some figures from the Revell German Navy crew set. For the harbourside sentries and the patrol boat crews I used some Elhiem miniatures 20mm Royal Navy boarding party figures.


I thought I’d give a summary of the scenic items employed:

  • The oil terminal jetty and storage tanks were scratch built out of suitable items.
  • Harbour wharfs were scratch built out of cardboard and stone effect printed paper.
  • The harbour side surface used cobbled effect sheets (Metcalfe OO/HO M0051)
  • Ships are mostly scratch built using cardboard, water-lined plastic kit hulls and model ship parts; one of them is a modified styrene kit from Sarik Hobbies.
  • Buildings are a selection of second-hand ones bought at local Toy and Train fairs; plus some scratch built ones made using cardboard and brick or stone effect paper sheets.
  • Vehicles are mostly from the Lledo and Oxford die cast ranges.


I did not have any suitable rules for the game so I decided to write my own. The ethos for the rules was for them to be quick play and for them to fit on a single page. The mechanisms would focus on the mining of target ships by the commandos and the detection of kayaks by harbourside sentries, ship watchmen and harbour patrol boats. Below are the game rules and following that the fictitious game scenario set somewhere in France. Get paddling!



All dice are D6 and measurements are in inches:



Throw 1D6 per side, highest score has initiative.



Commando Kayak

  • 4 inches full crew, 2 inches 1 remaining crew member (other has been hit).
  • On land: 6 inches for men on foot (watchmen and sentries), 9 inches for men in lorries.

Patrol Boat

  • Up to 8 inches.
  • Heads towards an alarm point, starts searching.
  • No other alarms or no identified target - random movement (1D6 inches)
  • 1 - Stationary 2,3 - forward, 4 - bear left, 5 - bear right, 6 - reverse
  • (if movement is in a direction that is not possible do the opposite)


  • By sight in a 90 degree arc forward from spotter, distance able to detect a target:
  • 6 inches unaided.
  • 12 inches with searchlight.
  • To spot the target throw 1D6: 5,6 spotted, otherwise not seen.
  • A Sentry/Watchman on a first sighting will raise the alarm by wave light or firing shot in the air.
  • A Sentry/Watchman on subsequent sighting can fire pistol/rifle at a kayak.
  • Patrol boat crews can fire on a target whenever they spot it.



You most spot the target first, see Spotting.

  • Weapon Ranges:

Pistol 6 inches

Rifle/SMG/LMG 24 inches.


  • Weapon Hits

If target spotted, throw:

1D6 for Pistol/Rifle

2D6 for SMG

4D6 for LMG.


  • Results

Hit is 5,6 (otherwise a miss).

If hit roll 1D6 for saving throw: 1,2,3 Dead; 4,5,6 - OK.



It is assumed damage from small arms firing is minimal and has no effect on the kayak.

If a kayak is run down by Patrol Boat, throw 1D6. Result:

  • 5,6 OK next move; otherwise kayak is destroyed and crew killed.



A Kayak must be stationary for the move adjacent to the target, throw 1D6 for attempt to fix a mine:

  • 1 - dropped it, lost in the murky depths.
  • 2 - failed to attach try again next move.
  • 3,4,5,6 - attached. If attached, add a mine marker to the ship.


After all game moves have finished the limpet mines explode after their time delay. For the results of detonation throw 1D6 per attached mine on a ship:

  • 1 no effect (faulty timer or dropped off).
  • 2-6, add this many damage points to the target's total.


Total up total damage points for each mined ship, The results are as follows:

  • 2-6 points, ship afloat with minor hull damage, throw 1D6
  • 1 will eventually take water and sink
  • 2,3,4,5,6 stays afloat needs quick repair
  • 7,8,9 badly damaged, taking water and listing, may sink.

Throw an additional 1D6 for result:

  • 1,2,3 sinks
  • 4,5,6 stays afloat needs major repair.
  • 10+ kaboom! starts sinking straight away.



I have used these rules to play a couple of solo games and also in a game with my regular gaming opponent. In general the rules gave a fun game, the ‘spot to fire’ aspect of the rules makes it difficult to engage the kayaks emulating the reality that events would have occurred in the dark. The patrol boat movement scheme is not perfect, when playing with an opponent a couple of movements seemed ‘illogical’; the options for sensible movement were agreed and decided by roll of the dice.



The commandos made their way into the harbour undetected, two of the kayaks moved up one side of the harbour one to mine targets starting with the oil terminal jetty and then further in to get to the larger ships. The other two kayaks moved up the other side of the harbour heading towards the main dock area. The watchman at the fuel terminal spotted something in the water and fired his very pistol, the harbour patrol launch headed out to investigate, followed shortly after by the second patrol boat (the tug) which went to investigate an alarm raised by one of the ships moored in the centre of the harbour.

The harbour patrol launch spotted a kayak by one of the freighters with its searchlight and opened fire with its LMGs, killing both of its commandos. The harbour patrol launch then moved on towards the fuel terminal, on its way it spotted another kayak by a large fishing boat and in the light of the searchlight the LMGs opened fire killing both commandos in the kayak. The second patrol boat reached the fuel terminal, searching it could see nothing. Meanwhile the other two kayaks reached the main dockside un-detected and start fixing mines on the freighters. The second patrol boat moved along from oil terminal up by two of the freighters as it reached the corner of the dock it spotted shots a kayak and fired on it , one of the commandos is hit. As the patrol boat manoeuvred it lost sight of the kayak. The harbour patrol launch moved round to the other side of the harbour to search there.

The two remaining kayaks moved slowly out of the harbour one either side of the centrally moored ships. The harbour patrol launch spotted a kayak and opened fire (one commando was wounded) and then lost sight of the kayak going past it. The harbour patrol launch and the other patrol boat sweep around towards the fuel terminal but find nothing, as the remaining two kayaks make their way slowly to safety.

The commandos managed to mine all targets, resultant damage as follows:

FR1: no damage (1 mine, 0 damage points)

FR2: minor damage slight leak, fixable (2 mines, 6 damage points),

FR3: severely damaged and taking water, would probably sink (2mines, 8 damage points)

FR4 - the large freight ship docked by the warehouses , kerboom !! blew up and started sinking (4 mines attached, 20 damage points).

OTJ - minor damage to the jetty, fixable (2 mines, 6 damage points).



This scenario is set in Port Dimette Normandy.


Approaching the harbour and wharves under the cover of darkness are four commando kayaks. Their objectives are to mine all large ships (ideally a minimum of two mines each ship), the oil terminal jetty and to get as many kayaks back out to safety afterwards.

Table Layout

The table was laid out rather like this.


4 Commando Kayaks

Starting at position K: each kayak with two crew.

  • Armaments: each man with pistol and hand grenade, plus 8 limpet mines.



There is one on each ship (FR1, FR2, FR3, FR4) and one by the oil terminal jetty (OTJ)

  • Armaments  each is armed with a pistol, lamp and Very pistol


Four harbourside patrolmen

  • Armaments: Rifle armed, positioned at start of game by the defending player.

Patrol boat 1

This is a harbour patrol launch (HPL). The harbour patrol launch remains at the dockside until a six on a 1D6 is thrown or until the first alarm is raised.

  • Armaments: 2 front mounted LMGs, rear and front searchlights; crew plus officer with a pistol and 3 rifle armed sailors.


Patrol boat 2

This is a tug (Tug) with crew and on deck an officer with a pistol and three rifle armed sailors.

The tug remains at the dockside for one move after the harbour patrol launch has made its first move.

  • Armaments: The officer is armed with a pistol and the crew comprises three rifle armed sailors.


The commandos made their way into the harbour undetected, once spotted a couple of alarms were raised and the patrol boats were in action searching for and firing on targets. The commandoes lost two kayaks, the other two managed to get back out of the harbour. The commandos managed to mine all targets, and the damage caused was as follows:


  • FR1: no damage (1 mine, 0 damage points)
  • FR2: minor damage slight leak, fixable (2 mines, 6 damage points),
  • FR3: severely damaged and taking water, would probably sink (2mines, 8 damage points)
  • FR4 - the large freight ship docked by the warehouses, kaboom! It blew up and started sinking (4 mines attached, 20 damage points).
  • OTJ - minor damage to the jetty, fixable (2 mines, 6 damage points). 



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