Soldiers of Fortune are men who have no political interest in the outcome of armed conflict but participate in it as hired infantry in exchange for lucrative payments. Most of these men received training while serving in European and American military forces. The reasons men fight as mercenaries are probably as varied as those for joining a regular military organization. Still, no matter their circumstances, they’ve probably concluded that the pay is worth the risks. One risk, but not the only one, is that mercenaries have no legal protection. If their operations fail, hired soldiers are subject to arrest, trial, and capital punishment —which is one motivation for winning their battles.
One such man was Thomas Michael Hoare (1919-2020), a British mercenary leader and adventurer in Africa and Seychelles, who passed away in February. Hoare’s parents were Irish expatriates working in Calcutta when “Mike” was born. His father sent him to Margate College in England for his education when he was 8-years old. Believing that his son was best suited for training in accountancy, Mike’s father did not allow him to attend Sandhurst; Mike instead joined the British territorial guard, an integrated reserve organization.
At the commencement of hostilities in World War II, military authorities assigned Mike to London’s Irish Rifles. He later joined the 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment of the Royal Armored Corps, received a commission to Second Lieutenant, and served in Burma and India. By 1945, Hoare was serving as a Major. After the war, he married Elizabeth Stott, with whom he had three children. Short in stature, most people regarded Hoare as a “charming fellow,” whose dress and appearance was always “dapper.”
After the war, Mike re-enrolled in an accountancy program to complete his training, and he was qualified and certified in 1948. When Hoare realized how bored he was with his sedate lifestyle in London, he relocated his family to Natal Province, South Africa. There, while working in accountancy, he organized safari operations as a part-time interest. It was then that he began to quietly advertise his availability to work as a soldier for hire. Always athletically active, Hoare kept in shape by marathon walking and long-range motorcycle races (Cairo to Cape Town).
By the early 1960s, Hoare realized that he wanted to return to a soldier’s life. Between 1961-65, Major Mike Hoare led two mercenary expeditions into the Congo. His first mercenary action occurred in 1961 in Katanga, a province attempting to break away from the newly created Republic of the Congo. His mercenary unit called itself “Four Commando.” By this time, Elizabeth had had her fill with her husband’s adventurous life, and they divorced. Hoare later married Phyllis Sims, an airline stewardess, with whom he had two additional children.
In 1964, Congolese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe (his employer in Katanga) re-hired Major Hoare to lead a unit called Five Commando, Armée Nationale Congolaise (also, 5 Commando ANC), comprised of around 300 men of mixed nationality, to help put down a revolt known in history as the Simba Rebellion. A former British officer named Alistair Wicks served as Hoare’s second-in-command. Tshombe brought in mercenaries because he distrusted his military commander, General Joseph-Désiré Motobu, who had already led two coup d’états against Tshombe and refused to commit the Congolese Army against the Simba.
Once hired, Hoare recruited his commando force by running ads in South African newspapers, asking for physically fit white men experienced in the combat arms. While in control of 5 Commando, the press began referring to Hoare as “Mad Mike,” painting him as a wild man. “Wild” was not an accurate description of Mike Hoare. He was competent, resourceful, and thorough in planning mercenary operations. Hoare was also a strict disciplinarian who demanded that his men shave, wear close-cropped hair, dress smartly, and attend church services weekly. 5 Commando was an all-white combat unit, its men representing South Africa, Rhodesia, Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom —all of whom previously served during the Second World War.
Mad Mike repudiated claims that 5 Commando was a mercenary unit. He instead argued that his men were volunteers who resisted a communist takeover in the Congo. In 1963 dollars, Hoare’s men earned $1,100/monthly. Mike fought the sobriquet Soldier of Fortune; he claimed the money was never an issue with either himself or his men. It may have been true for Mike Hoare, but such a claim did not describe his men, who frequently looted and misappropriated United Nations property in the Congo.
Reflecting pride in his Irish heritage, Hoare adopted a flying goose as his unit’s symbol. He called his men Wild Geese, after the Irishmen who fought for the Stuarts in exile during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mike Hoare had an excellent reputation as a combat commander. He was calm and courageous under fire, always leading his men from the front to inspire them. As a disciplinarian, Hoare once pistol-whipped one of his men who attempted to organize a mutiny.
Initially, the officers of the Simba force included tribal leaders who were, in turn, guided by military advisors from Eastern Bloc nations seeking to establish a communist regime in the Congo. Ultimately, the Simba’s leadership devolved to the military advisors because tribal leadership was inept. At first, Simba rebels successfully captured much of eastern Congo and, in doing so, quickly proclaimed the People’s Republic of Stanleyville —perhaps thinking the war was almost over. However, poor Simba organization, lack of cohesion, and competing tribal interests defeated these initial successes.
Hoare capitalized on these failings. His use of available air support, his application of diversionary tactics, and his innovative use of reverse marches enabled him to deceive and confuse Simba rebel commanders; he was never where they thought he might be. Hoare was also known to hijack boats on the Congo River and use them for making lightning-fast water-borne raids to rescue hostages. Hoare was also ruthless in combat. Having no time for prisoners, he never took any.
Later in the rebellion, Hoare worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA-hired paramilitary forces who attempted to save 1,600 European civilians and missionaries in Stanleyville. Of the Simba treatment of their captives, Hoare reported, “The mayor of Stanleyville, Sylvere Bonekwe, was a great and respected man, whom the Simba forced to stand naked in front of a frenzied crowd while one of them cut out his liver.”
In another Congolese operation, labeled Dragon Rouge, Hoare saved another 2,000 European lives when he rescued them from Simba savages. Before the rescue, the Simba tormented their captives to the point where these wretched people no longer resembled human beings. Hoare remarked, “Taking Stanleyville was the greatest achievement of the Wild Geese. There is only so much 300 men can do, but there we were, part of a very big push, and clearing the rebels out was a major victory. As a result of this one incident, Hoare became a hero in the western press. Hoare didn’t see himself as a hero, however —but he was thoroughly disgusted by the savagery of the Simba rebels and gave them no quarter in combat.
In 1964, Tshombe promoted Hoare to Lieutenant Colonel and added another battalion to Hoare’s force. Hoare commanded 5 Commando through November 1965. Reflecting his anti-Communist attitude, Hoare said, “I had wanted nothing so much as to have 5 Commando known as an integral part of the ANC, a 5 Commando destined to strike a blow to rid the Congo of the greatest cancer the world has ever known —the creeping, insidious disease of communism.”
After returning to South Africa, Hoare told the press that “killing communists is like killing vermin, killing African nationalists is as if one is killing an animal. My men and I have killed between 5,000-10,000 Congo rebels in the 20 months that I have spent in the Congo. But that’s not enough. There are 20 million Congolese, you know, and I assume that about half of them at one time or another were rebels whilst I was down here.” One of the Simba advisors was an Argentine-Cuban officer named Che Guevara, a murdering swine of such low character and regard for human life that he wantonly murdered hundreds if not thousands of people. Hoare was proud of the fact that he was the first man to have defeated Guevara.
The exploits of Hoare and 5 Commando in the Congo have been much celebrated and have contributed to veneration of the mercenary lifestyle. Many of Hoare’s exploits appeared in Soldier of Fortune Magazine and pulp novels. Fictional writers and filmmakers modeled their heroes after Colonel Hoare. One fictional film account of the Wild Geese in 1978 starred Richard Burton, Roger Moore, and Richard Harris, with Burton playing the Mike Hoare character’s role.
The Republic of Seychelles is an archipelagic island country in the Indian Ocean that consists of 115 islands. In 1978, Seychellois exiles living in South Africa approached South African officials to discuss the prospect of launching a coup d’état against usurper-President France-Albert René. René promoted himself to president from prime minister while the duly elected President James Mancham was out of the country. The United States viewed a coup d’état favorably because of the distrust certain Washington officials had of René and the proximity of Seychelles to the American base at Diego Garcia.
With a clear signal of U.S. backing, friends of Mancham contacted Colonel Hoare to see if he would be willing to lead an operation to Seychelles to reclaim Mancham’s presidency. Of course, Hoare was willing, so he raised a force of around 55 men from former South African special forces, former Rhodesian troopers, and ex-Congo mercenaries. For Hoare’s plan to work, he disguised his men as rugby players and named them Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers. He hid automatic weapons at the bottom of their luggage, which was then possible because South African rugby players often acquired toys and returned them to South Africa to distribute among several orphanages.
However, while going through the customs line at the Seychelles airport, one of Hoare’s men erroneously entered the “Something to Declare” line. Once in that line, customs officials insisted on searching his bag, discovered concealed weapons, and sounded an alarm.
Another of Hoare’s men then pulled out a rifle, quickly assembled it, and shot the customs office before he could escape. Despite this setback and no other option available to him, Hoare continued the operation, and fighting broke out inside the airport. In the middle of this melee, an Indian jetliner was slightly damaged upon landing when it collided with trucks on the runway. Realizing that the Indian flight passengers were in danger of finding themselves in a crossfire, whether they remained aboard the aircraft or not, Hoare quickly negotiated a ceasefire with Seychellois officials. Once these passengers safely deplaned, Hoare and his men boarded the Indian plane, hijacked it, and flew back to South Africa.
Upon returning to South Africa, the South African government charged Hoare and his men with kidnapping (the aircrew). Since kidnapping carries no minimum sentence in South Africa —and because it appeared as if Hoare and his men might “walk,” international powers pressured South Africa to recharge Hoar with aircraft hijacking, a more severe offense. A South African court convicted Hoare and 42 of his 43 men. The one-man found not guilty was an American ex-soldier, a former Vietnam War veteran wounded at the airport and placed on the aircraft while in a sedated condition.
Colonel Hoare received a sentence of ten years imprisonment for his part in the Seychelles Affair. The South African government quietly released Hoare’s mercenaries after serving only three months in jail. Hoare, on the other hand, remained in confinement. After serving 33 months in prison, South Africa’s president granted Hoare a Christmas Day pardon.
In total, Mike Hoare authored eight books about his life as a mercenary. He passed away from natural causes on 2 February 2020.
About Modern Mercenaries
Mercenaries continue their work in the world’s cesspools, but no longer as “Soldiers of Fortune.” Today they’re called Corporate Warriors. These modern men are no longer the hard-drinking quick-fisted dogs of war of years past. They wear designer clothes, use the finest after-shave, and rather than operating from their home offices, they rent spacious glass and chrome-plated offices. Corporate executives are well-read and experienced former combat officers, astute businessmen, and politically connected players in the field of regional conflict. They maintain good relations with the political movers-and-shakers of their own and other countries. They refer to combat units as “security groups.” They also no longer confine themselves to coup d’états; today, they focus their attention on mining security, engineering, transportation, finance, and of course, area and personal security for highly placed politicians. These well-connected modern corporations no longer need to smuggle arms and munitions —FedEx delivers them to corporate warehouses.
Who hires these kinds of firms? The much-celebrated Kofi Anan discussed hiring corporate warriors while serving as UN Under-Secretary for peacekeeping operations. For one thing, hiring a private security group is more cost-effective than maintaining a regular military defense force. There is even talk of replacing traditional police departments with corporate law enforcers.
A Personal note
I have known one mercenary. While serving as Adjutant, Marine Aircraft Group 46 (1979-81), one reservist served as an airfield operations officer in one of the group’s subordinate drill units. I will refer to him as Major Charles Claire (not his real name).
Claire had an average build, lean, but had a pallid face with no evidence of over-exposure to the sun. His deep blue eyes complimented his dark blond hair. A somewhat melancholy man, Claire spoke effectively but always in a quiet tone. He had immense pride in his military accomplishments and his uniformed appearance. Whether authorized by Marine Corps uniform regulations, he always displayed his French parachute wings. Occasionally he would join me for lunch at a local restaurant during scheduled training weekends, and, knowing that I found his adventure interesting, recounted several of his more exciting tales. He often spoke of operational planning (mostly how combat operations never seemed to go as planned), logistical challenges (resupply, caring for the wounded), and glitches involving rapid extraction at the operation’s conclusion.
When Claire left active duty following a Vietnam combat tour in 1967, he knew that he enjoyed the risks associated with combat service but found Marine Corps culture too restrictive. While maintaining his reserve commission, he went to France, where he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion for five years. It was after this when Charles began hiring himself out at a mercenary. Whether he ever served with Hoare, I cannot say; it never came up in our conversations. When he wasn’t fighting, he worked as a freelance writer.
“You can’t argue with the pay,” he told me, “but now I question whether the pay was worth it.” Claire’s problem was that he was dying —something he kept concealed from the Marine Corps hierarchy. In Angola, he said, he contracted intestinal parasites. Returning to the United States, he consulted with medical specialists who told him that he had a significant infestation. It was so profound, the doctors told him that an operation would probably kill him. Claire’s only recourse was to deal with it until the parasites killed him. His announcement seemed consistent with his lunch fare, which always consisted of mashed potatoes and a glass of water: no meat, no salad, no dessert.
Claire’s stories were enough to convince me that a mercenary life is not something a normally-wired person would pursue—but then, I never considered Claire normal. He had a heck of a life, just not a very long one. It might have been better were he shot to death than to die slowly. I last saw him in 1981.
- Burke, K. Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.
- Dadrian, E. Mercenaries in Africa: From Soldiers of Fortune to Corporate Warriors.org online, 2004.
- Hoare, C. Mad Mike Hoare: The Legend. Partners in Publishing, 2018.
- Mockler, A. The New Mercenaries.New York, Bantam Books, 1985.
- Venter, A. J. War Dog: Fighting Other People’s Wars: The Modern Mercenary in Combat. New Delhi: Lance Publications, 2006.
 William Leach-Lewis established Margate College in 1873 as a secondary institution and preparatory school for boys. Lewis gave his life while in service as Mayor of Margate in 1906. Margate College High School advertised that “Boys are prepared for Oxford and Cambridge local examinations, for the College of Preceptors, also for the Army and their universities. Today, a shopping center stands at the site of the original campus.
 The Simba Rebellion (1963-65) (also, Orientale Revolt) took place within the larger context of the Congo Crisis (several simultaneous rebellions) and the Cold War. The rebellion leaders were the followers of the deceased Patrice Lumumba, ousted and killed in 1960.
 Alistair Wicks served in the RAF during World War II. After the war, while studying law at Oxford, Wicks migrated to Rhodesia. Hoare recruited Wicks to serve as his second-in-command of 4 Commando. When Wicks wasn’t engaged in mercenary work, he was employed by Rhodesian Air Services. He resigned from mercenary in 1967 following four-months imprisonment in Biafra.