Author Ivan Smith served with Lt Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare’s 5th Commando, technically part of the Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC), the military of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Congolese Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe hired Hoare in 1964 to recruit a mercenary force to help put down the Simba rebellion in the east of the vast country. The bulk of the force was recruited in South Africa and Rhodesia. Smith was signed-up in Salisbury and was primarily interested in the money, being something of a party-animal at the time.
In this personal account takes a jaundiced view of his six months making “easy money” and in the process raises some interesting questions about mercenary outfits – primarily regarding a military disciplinary and regimental system, discipline, leadership, training and skills.
The first issue he raises – at least as far as his companions go – is the calibre of the recruits too many of them ne’er-do-wells, drunks, drug addicts, sociopaths and braggards. More like candidates for a disciplinary barracks than elite force! Next, many of these characters exaggerated previous military experience, or entirely concocted it; meaning subjects such as weapons handling, battle drills, field craft and the like was patchy. From this flowed the main problem leader-group faced: commanding men motivated by cash not cause – the more so in the absence of military law and a regimental system. “Those in command knew as little as us about the goings-on in the country or where we are going next. Not always, but most of the time, their commands were no more than requests. That was because they feared the men they commanded. Everything ran on that one constant: fear. The few NCOs formed a small, tight knit unit for their own mutual protection, as did the rest of the men in the Commando.” Also decidedly lacking was training and logistics: food, water, bedding, uniforms, medical provisions and personnel as well as arms and ammunition. Then there was the thieving “paymasters”.
Once deployed they found “fighting” for the Congolese army as much as the Simba rebels consisted of the brutal rape and beastly murder of civilians in newly “captured” localities. The latter was affected with an approximation of both sides who had the most powerful witchdoctor and who made the most noise when letting off their weapons – generally into the air: a safe way to wage “war” but for civilians. “Both groups postured as crack troops, but were in mortal fear of any fighting and of each other. The men in both groups were untrained and unpaid, acting as soldiers. The orgy of murder was a reaction to fear… The same fear had haunted all of us during the retreat outside Lisala and later when we first entered town, but the realisation that the rebels were very weak and had no stomach for war came soon. It was then that the mercenaries stopped fearing the enemy. When the Commando stopped shooting on sight many lives were saved.”
Mad dog killers – the story of a Congo mercenary
30 Degrees South Publishers
Also published in the UK by:
Helion & Company Ltd
No index, bibliography