Africa

The Legend of Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Hoare

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Mercenary ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare (1919-2022) was perhaps the best-known of the European mercenaries who fought in the Congo Crisis (1960-1965).  Born to Irish parents in Calcutta he was educated in England. A rarity for mercenaries who spend their lives on the frontlines, Hoare, at 101 years old seemingly benefited from the unstinting devotion of a very special and caring guardian angel. A veteran of numerous conflicts, Mike Hoare earned his spurs as an officer in the London Irish Rifles.

What does an army captain do when World War II becomes history? He becomes a chartered accountant of course. When led by Europeans prosperous and peaceful South Africa was a magnet for many disenchanted Britons. Mike Hoare was no exception. The amiable demobbed Brit set up a charted accountant’s business in South Africa.

As a South African citizen, Mike Hoare combined his sense of adventure and soldierly know-how to organise safaris. Interim, in post-colonial Africa, there were numerous tribal and political rivalries. Many were fuelled, armed and supplied by Western and Soviet interests. There was no end of opportunities for those with guns and military experience to hire.

The Congo Crisis was set to catapult Major Mike Hoare into international fame or notoriety depending on whom you placed your bets on. The officer was recruited by the republic’s Prime Minister Moise Tshombe to command the more conventional unit we know as 5 Commando ANC. In 1960 the ex-British Army veteran saw his first action when the Congolese province of Katanga separated from the Congo Republic. Major Mike Hoare commanded 4 Commando. 

This unit was a part of the regular Armée Nationale Congolaise. Mike Hoare’s second-in-command was Alistair Wicks. Their mission was to deal with the insurgents of the Simba Rebellion then threatening the sovereignty of Prime Minister Tshombe’s legitimate executive.

The professionalism of native troops of the Republic’s conventional army left much to be desired. The soldierly qualities of European mercenaries were essential for dealing with the Simba revolt as the poorly trained Armée Nationale Congolaise troops proved to be as useless as a walking stick with a wheel on it. Clearly, the major was going to need expert assistance. Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Hoare was soon recruiting a colourful diversity of battle-hardened mostly-European mercenaries.

Memory Lane….. interesting days when I was arrested on suspicion of smuggling arms during an unexpected two months marooned in the Congo Republic. ~ Author, Mícheál Walsh

Commando 5’s most notable success was the relief of Stanleyville and the evacuation of 1,600 civilians from the Simba-held city. The rescued Europeans were no doubt ready to elevate Mike Hoare to sainthood. His reward was a more pragmatic promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel and his Commando Five was expanded into two fighting units.

The signature Mad Mike owes its origins to Communist East Germany’s radio broadcasts. Any pro-Soviet commentary on the emerging Congo Crisis was invariably preceded by the hysterical denunciation of ‘the mad bloodhound, Mike Hoare.’

The producers and directors involved in the making of The Wild Geese movie called upon Lieutenant-Colonel Hoare to provide technical advice. The part played by Welsh actor Richard Burton (Colonel Alan Faulkner) was modelled on Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Hoare.

An excellent film, the cast included Ian Yule who had served under the colonel in Commando 5.  Yule was a veteran of the British Parachute Regiment and Special Air Service (SAS).  There was an interesting bunch of colourful characters in the movie’s cast. The cast included four mercenaries who were South African-born and two who were former prisoners of war. Most of the cast had received formal military training and many of the epic movie’s heroes drew on their past military experiences. No doubt their background added a great deal of realism to the movie.

The film was a considerable commercial success in Britain and other countries worldwide. easily recouping its cost. It was one of the most popular movies of 1978 at the British box office taking $3.5 million in its first week of shows.

Related books The Last Gladiators: Fiancés of Death (Paperback / Ebook), Rhodesia’s Death Europe’s Funeral (Paperback / Ebook), Africa’s Killing Fields (Paperback / Ebook), A Leopard In Liverpool (Paperback / Ebook), The Stigma EnigmaThe Stigma Enigma (Paperback / Ebook), The Souls Meet, The Dovetails, The Business Booster, Debtor’s Revenge by Michael Walsh

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