Cockleshell Hero

Lord Astor's hunting lodge, at the head of West Loch Tarbert, has an interesting  map on the wall signed by the artist,  B. Hasler.



It shows the positions of the leading lines, pairs of stone markers that when lined up indicates the safe passage through the fast flowing, dangerously rocky,  fearfully narrow river-like passage that links the inner loch haven with the middle loch and the sea.  Having followed it, I can say it is a real Swallows and Amazons adventure for grown ups. The challenge starts just with trying to find the concealed  entrance to the channel in what is an apparent cliff wall.  It's a rollicking, boys' own adventure. But then so is  B. Hasler.

Lieutenant Colonel Herbert George "Blondie" Hasler DSO, OBE, Croix de Guerre was a distinguished WWII Royal Marines Commando officer who established the Special Boat Service,  the  water-borne unit of the UK special forces.

In 1941 Blondie Hasler had  considered taking the war to the enemy by stealth rather than by force and wrote a paper suggesting the use of canoes (cockles) and underwater swimmers. His ideas were tested in 1942 when, at the age of 28, he planned and led Operation Frankton, a hair-brained scheme to attack Bordeaux, an operation  immortalised in a 1955 feature film The Cockleshell Heroes.

A keen sailor of these waters of the west coast of Scotland,  he had been working on methods of attacking shipping while in harbour. He developed a suitable canoe for this task, which was able to carry two men with 75 kg of stores, yet could fit through the fore hatch of a submarine.  The attack on an enemy port some 60 miles from the sea and  with an escape route overland, was deemed by Admiral Lord Mountbatten so unlikely to succeed that he doubted that  any of them would return.

Of the ten men, only two would survive.

After the event Admiral Lord Mountbatten wrote: "Of the many brave and dashing raids carried out by the men of Combined Operations Command, none was more courageous or imaginative than "Operation Frankton".

Blondie  was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but since he  had not come under fire, it was not awarded.  He  died in 1987 and his ashes, fittingly,  were spread in the near by  Gulf of the swirling Corryvrechan.

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