The Cockleshell Heroes

In the mid 1970’s, much effort was being put into strangling northern Mozambique. More and more ZANU Terrs were based there in the Tete Province. The relationship that ZANU had with FRELIMO made Mozambique a very difficult area to operate in, especially over a prolonged period. Captain Robert Mackenzie, an American who had served with the Rhodesian SAS after the Vietnam War was tasked to find new ways to harass and interdict the enemy and remain undetected. He focused on Lake Cabora Bassas, a man made lake along the Zambezi river in the Cabora Bassas Gorge. It was in the northwestern part of Tete Province and was within a day or two’s march to several infiltration routes into Rhodesia.

Canoeing was part of the SAS history and specialization in the area led to the formation of the British Special Boat Service. Cockle was slang for canoes. In 1942 the British Commandos pulled off a raid in German occupied France using canoes, hence Cockleshell Heroes. But Rhodesia was a landlocked nation and they had not done much in the way of waterborne training. Mackenzie believed that they could use the remote coasts of the Lake to provide hide sites and the Canoes would allow them to travel quickly and silently to land sites near their targets. After their work was done, they could silently slip away and leave no tracks back to their hide.