Mike Hoare was a man out of time. Like his peer and fellow British Army veteran Colin Mitchell (who has been profiled by this publication before), Hoare earned the appellation “mad” because he seemed like a relic from the glory days of European imperialism. Hoare admits that his ideals were out-of-step in his own account of his days in the Congo, much in the same way that “Mad” Mitch mockingly labeled himself a “nigger-bashing imperialist.” However, while both men shared a fondness for lost causes and the same Celtic temperament, “Mad” Mitch always seemed far more theatrical than “Mad” Mike. After all, only someone with a flair for the dramatic would constantly pepper the streets of Aden, an Arab metropolis, with the sounds of Scottish bagpipes.
Hoare, who had his own Scottish piper, is best known for his time serving as the leader of 5 Commando—a group of mercenaries who fought during the last days of the Congo Crisis between 1963 and 1965. Congo Mercenary, Hoare’s very readable account of 5 Commando’s war, served as the inspiration for the hit 1978 film, The Wild Geese. The white mercenaries in the film are slightly more romantic, if not more roughish than Hoare’s men. After all, Congo Mercenary makes it all too clear why men from South Africa, Rhodesia, West Germany, and Italy signed up for 5 Commando:
Much as I would like to say that we were motivated by anti-communist sentiments I am unable, in truth, to say so. Here and there, there may have been an idealist whose actions were governed by these principles, as there were also some who came for adventure and not basically the reward, but by and large we were there for one reason only—money. Having accepted the mercenary calling the only principle I insisted upon was a reasonable standard of personal behavior.
For Hoare, the gold standard of soldiering (or at least mercenary soldiering) became the symbol of 5 Commando—the image of the Wild Goose, which meant to symbolize 5 Commando’s inheritance from the 19,000 Irish mercenaries who served as the “Wild Geese” for the Catholic kingdoms of Europe in the eighteenth century. Hoare, the son of an Irish family with a long military tradition, certainly knew his history. Congo Mercenary also shows that Hoare was an astute observer of geopolitics, sociology, and race. Indeed, those inclined towards the Dissident Right might label Hoare an early race realist. He certainly made no bones in his writings about what could cure Congo and all of sub-Saharan Africa after the colonial powers left.
The effects of the too hasty independence have certainly been far reaching and calamitous, but it is not too late to make amends. The salvation of the Congo, as I see it, will be the reintroduction of as many Europeans as are prepared to emigrate to the country to become the fabric of the Congo, to help the Congolese on the road to political maturity and to teach them the skills of commerce and administration.
Hoare, like Ian Smith of Rhodesia, sincerely believed that white civilization could bring black Africa out of its generational malaise. However, both men believed that native Africans had their limits, and Congo Mercenary is unflinching when it comes to detailing the savagery of Afro-Marxists and black nationalists once they recognized that the Europeans had pulled out of Africa.
In order to understand the full extent of Hoare’s commentary, as well as the heroic feats that his men pulled off, one has to understand the unique history of the Congo and where the country stood just after achieving independence.
The Heart of Darkness
Thanks to Adam Hochschild’s critically-praised book King Leopold’s Ghost, Congo’s colonial past has become synonymous with racial genocide. According to Hochschild’s account, King Leopold II, who created the Congo Free State as a “personal union” (essentially, all of the Congo was Leopold’s private property), turned the largest African nation into a giant sweatshop. Here, capitalist enterprise and the cultivation of rubber forced millions of native Congolese to toil for little to no wages at all. If they rebelled or shirked their duties, King Leopold’s representatives would apparently cut off their hands. Worse still, Hochschild argues that Leopold oversaw a massive campaign of genocide that killed ten million people.
The only problem with this number is that it is more or less fabricated. Ryan Faulk has pointed out with great clarity that the best estimates of the Congolese population in 1885 was only 9,801,150 people. That population rose by 1900. Furthermore, the European council that ultimately removed King Leopold from power in the Congo could find no conclusive documentation that official policy dictated amputations as punishment. Faulk notes that even outraged Europeans who considered Leopold a butcher concluded that most of these amputations were done by poorly disciplined members of the Force Publique, the local army made up of black troops and white officers. Historian Barbara Emerson and others have called out Hochschild for his lazy research and broad assumptions. Hochschild’s personal history as a Boomer veteran of the anti-war movement and various left-wing publications (Mother Jones, Ramparts) makes it fairly obvious that his depiction of King Leopold II is based on political expediency. Another bad European male is good for business, you see.
In 1908, the government of Belgium officially took control of the Congo. The small, half-French, half-Dutch nation found itself as the ruler of the richest prize in all of Africa. However, Roger Anstey argues in his 1966 book King Leopold’s Legacy that Brussels looked on its good fortune with trepidation. Anstey, no apologist for Belgian colonialism, notes that “Belgium’s position in 1908, in regard to the Congo, was akin to that of an heir who inherits an estate with a predominating sense of duty, rather than fulfillment of a long-felt wish.” Still, despite misgivings, Brussels turned the Congo into a powerful colony. The Force Publique was one of the best-trained armies in all of colonial Africa, and even scored victories in World War I over the brilliant German general Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. Belgian technicians helped to build beautiful cities like Leopoldville, Stanleyville, and Elizabethville. Hoare, a proud citizen of Her Majesty’s realm, admitted that Belgium surpassed all other European powers in terms of construction and investment in their colony.
…in my journeying around the Congo I had seen with my own eyes ample evidence of an enormous Belgian investment in the country, both in money and labour [sic]. Beautiful towns and cities with prosperous and thriving industries had been won from the suffocating equatorial jungle. Magnificent schools and missions had arisen, where once there had been nothing but disease and pestilence. Every village now boasted its own clinic. No village was so humble but it possessed its own water pump…
Raw economic statistics reveal the truth behind Hoare’s words. According to Howard Epstein’s thoroughly detailed history of Congo’s first years of independence, “In the years just before independence the Belgian Congo had become the most developed country in tropical Africa.” Between the years of 1950 and 1957, the Belgian Congo enjoyed an impressive annual growth rate of 6.7 percent. By 1959, the Belgian Congo had a commercial surplus of $192 million. The country enjoyed the highest wages and literacy rates in all of sub-Saharan Africa. These are not indicators of a country in decline or in need of a massive socio-political revolution.
That happened anyway in 1960. On May 22nd, the Congolese National Movement became the largest and most powerful party in the Congo. The party’s leader, Patrice Lumumba, came from the educated middle class of the country. He sought guidance from the liberal Enlightenment, with Rousseau and Voltaire as his chief heroes. The Belgian state considered him a secret “red” and a criminal (the latter charge was true—Lumumba was arrested in Belgium for embezzlement in 1956). During his short reign in 1960, Lumumba positioned himself as a radical black nationalist and potential friend of the communists in Moscow and Beijing. Although he paid lip service to the idea that whites had helped to bring about Congolese independence, Lumumba’s followers were often motivated by fanatical race hatred and superstition. This fact would later require the services of “Mad” Mike Hoare and his 5 Commando.
In the interim, Congolese independence became something of a sham almost immediately. In Leopoldville, Lumumba tried to establish a centralized state against the wishes of more federalist-minded Congolese politicians. Chief among this latter group was Moise Tshombe. Tshombe and his CONAKAT (roughly, the Confederation of Associated Tribes of Katanga) party declared the southern state of Katanga independent. Lumumba and his supporters could not stomach this secession, for Katanga was the economic dynamo of the entire country. In particular, Katanga was well-known for its copper mines, abundant plantations, and large cobalt and diamond reserves. Even worse for Lumumba, Tshombe, a Christian and a member of the Lunda tribe, sought to keep close relations with Belgium and the West in order to present a united anti-communist front in Africa.
The United Nations and the United States gave their support to Lumumba. In large part that support was due to America’s anti-colonial policy. On the other hand, Lumumba was undeniably popular with black people across the globe. He even popularized the notion that America’s prestige and wealth came only because of black labor. “”Africans built America and developed America,” Lumumba told a crowd in Stanleyville in 1960, “They are the reason that America has become a great world power.”” For an American in the midst of a Civil Rights revolution, officially condemning Lumumba might be seen as a furtherance of “white supremacist” politics. Even in 1960, the fear of being branded as “racist” trumped the fact that the U.S. knew full well that Lumumba’s government had formerly requested Soviet and Chinese aid, even including a July 14, 1960, letter that asked for a military intervention from Moscow in case of a Belgian “conspiracy” against Congolese independence.
In 1960, UN troops were sent to the Congo in order to prop up the weak central state. Even this move proved controversial, as several Afro-Marxist states, including Ghana and Uganda, felt that the UN should only send black African troops to the Congo, rather than the Indian, Moroccan, Irish, and Swedish troops that they actually sent. The whites of the Congo supported Tshombe to the point where they occasionally took up arms against UN “peacekeepers.” The famous Siege of Jadotville (1961) should be rightly remembered as a story of Irish heroism, but it should not be overlooked that those Irish troops were fighting on behalf of a Congolese government that not only tried to force Katanga into an unwanted union, but also sought to further Lumumba’s legacy—a legacy that Tshombe, Congo’s white citizens, and several tribes found toxic.
Lumumba’s arrest and execution in 1961 put some of the thornier issues to rest. An international commission created in 1961 found that Lumumba’s execution had been ordered by Tshombe and carried out by members of Katanga’s gendarmerie. Many left-wing academics believe that Lumumba was actually executed by the CIA, Britain’s MI6, and other Western spooks. Whatever the case, Lumumba became a martyr.
This martyrdom would help to foment a serious revolution in 1964. Called the Simba Rebellion, this violent outbreak bore many disturbing similarities to the military mutinies that initiated Congolese independence four years prior. In 1960, members of the military and rival tribes began rampaging through the cities of Leopoldville and Luluabourg. Not too long afterwards, their public displays of violence took on a racial character, with Congolese troops abducting, raping, and murdering white citizens. Thousands of white citizens fled the country or to Katanga, where President Tshombe promised protection. The riots of 1960 proved so bad that 800 Belgian paratroopers, at the request of President Tshombe, returned to Elizabethville in order to put down a mutiny that had already killed six whites. Belgian troops would stay in the country until African protests grew too loud, and the UN forced them to leave.
White Giants Arrive
By 1964, the Belgian presence in the Congo had dwindled considerably. Belgian military officers still served as advisers to the Congolese army, but that was about it. Unfortunately, despite the presence of Belgian officers, the Congolese army proved totally incapable of putting down a small, pro-communist rebellion that erupted in Kwilu Province. Because of this inefficiency, and because the rebels received unchecked aid from Uganda and the Sudan, the rebellion conquered two-thirds of the nation in just five months. Despite this civil war, UN troops continued to leave the country because of an early security agreement with Leopoldville. Knowing full well that the Congo hung precariously close to dissolution, President Joseph Kasavubu named Tshombe as the country’s new prime minister. Tshombe received nearly unlimited powers, and he used these powers to immediately order the creation of mercenary units to augment the failing Congolese army. This move immediately earned Tshombe the ire of both the African communists and international organizations such as the UN and the OAU (an organization of Francophone countries in Africa). From his home in Durban, South Africa, Hoare got the call to head 5 Commando. Tshombe promised him unfettered control over his men, their pay, and deployment. He would receive none of this, and his men almost mutinied several times because of lack of pay.
Hoare had first cut his teeth as a member of the London Irish Rifles in World War II. During the war, he served in India (his birthplace) and Burma, where he got a first-hand look at the long-range reconnaissance tactics of the Chindits. The Chindits utilized light infantry tactics and highly mobile warfare to harass the Japanese and their local allies in Southeast and Southern Asia. Such techniques would become the trademark of 5 Commando. By the time President Tshombe gave Hoare the green light to establish a 1,000-man mercenary army in the Congo, the fighting Irishman had already served in Katanga as a member of Tshombe’s police force.
Hoare began looking for volunteers by placing this simple advertisement in the newspapers of Johannesburg and Salisbury:
Any fit young man looking for employment with a difference at a salary well in excess of 100 pounds per month should telephone 838-5203 during business hours. Employment initially offered for six months. Immediate start.
Volunteers for Hoare’s 5 Commando mostly came from South Africa and Rhodesia, those white African countries most threatened by a communist takeover in the Congo. Other volunteers came from Greece, Italy, and the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique and Angola. British, Canadian, and American volunteers joined too, and so did German, Belgian, and French soldiers. 5 Commando’s air force was made up entirely of Cuban expats who loathed communism because of their experiences with Fidel Castro. Some of Hoare’s men lived up to the sordid reputation of mercenaries, with standout out troopers including a Dane who boiled African skulls to sell to international buyers and one professional soccer player who raped and murdered an local woman after she mocked the size of his penis. German journalist Hans Germani, who joined 5 Commando as a rifle-carrying medic, described other interesting characters who wound up in 5 Commando.
For instance, Charles Gardien, a mercenary veteran of Egypt’s war in North Yemen, went to Congo to fight communism. Gardien’s anti-communism was coupled with a fondness for black women, according to Germani. Other odd characters included a Rhodesian-born lieutenant named Paul Galinos, an Austrian mechanic named Ingo Hudovernik, a wealthy Belgian jeweler named Leon de Grouwe, a former French Foreign Legion soldier named Edward Lambrette, and a Belgian white supremacist with connections to the OAS named Jungels. In his own account, Hoare plays down the eccentricities of his men in favor of lauding their excellent soldiering skills, their bravery, and, at times, their idealism. Both Germani and Hoare spent copious pages detailing the softness of these hated white mercenaries. Even Jungels is shown carrying a young black child to safety. These are the men that the Simba rebels called “white giants.”
The humanity of the commandos contrasted drastically with the utter savagery of the rebels. Both Hoare and Germani describe the rebellious Simbas (“young lions”) as drug-fueled adolescents with a license to kill. Their leaders, like Gaston Soumialot, were committed communists, but most Simbas cared only about revenge against the Congo’s whites and the chance to rape and pillage to their heart’s content. For them, Lumumba was both a warrior for the black race and a powerful wizard. Congo Mercenary details how tribal witch-doctors, even some who claimed to be Christian, would convince the rebel soldiers that their magic could help to turn bullets into water. The power of local witchcraft could be comical (such as when rebels would shout incantations in order to protect themselves from bombs and FAL rounds), but in the case of the Congo in 1964, it was mostly malevolent.
Stanleyville and the War for Civilization
The most infamous moment of the entire Simba Rebellion occurred when the city of Stanleyville fell on August 4, 1964. Thanks to sixty trucks containing rebel soldiers and witch-doctors, the entire Congolese army garrison in the city gave up and ran away without a fight. A day later, the rebels controlled Stanleyville Airport. With the city on lockdown, the large white population was fair game.
Hoare’s 5 Commando, which included several inexperienced and ill-trained volunteers, rushed into action immediately and set about liberating towns and villages along the approach to Stanleyville. After taking the village of Kindu, which had been subjected to the devious desires of one fourteen-year-old rebel, 5 Commando learned the true horror of the rebellion.
A young boy of about fourteen had installed himself as the chief executioner, and took fiendish delight in running up and down the line hacking his panga [a machete-like tool] at a defenceless [sic] man here, or savagely attacking a woman there, lopping off a hand or a foot as it took his fancy. The crowd would encourage him in his excesses, until maddened with his own power he would give the order to fire, when a dozen or more Simbas would open up at point-blank range, sometimes killing, sometimes wounding the men and women selected for death that day. The bodies of the prisoners were then flung into the Lualaba, dead or alive.
European and American nuns and priests were favorite targets of the rebels. Even professional airmen were not exempt from slaughter. Three years earlier, in 1961, mutinous soldiers had captured nineteen Italian air force pilots. These men were tortured, murdered, and partially eaten by their captors. These rest of their body parts wound up as meat in small markets in rebel territory. Most of these outrages would occur in front of shrines or monuments to Lumumba, who became a kind of anti-white fetish for the rebels. Germani summed up their relationship to Lumumba and his ideals as “It was a fanatic movement against the white man, an appeal to wild dreams of a coloured [sic] dominion of the world.” Germani and Hoare both agreed that the rebellion of 1964 represented an atavistic revolt with just a patina of orthodox communism at the very top.
The rebels of 1964 also proved that death can sometimes be preferable. Both Hoare and Germani recount stories of European and American nuns who were raped every day for months by rebels. Some of these victims became pregnant, and upon being liberated by the mercenaries, had to deal with the issue of getting an abortion—a cardinal sin in the Catholic Church. Others, including both men and women, were forced to eat the excrement of rebels, while local villagers watched and laughed. More than a few white civilians had to witness the murder of their husbands, wives, and children. Congo Mercenary shows that rebel warlords often tried to make young white girls their concubines. When they resisted, they were often killed outright. As the war dragged on and the rebels increasingly lost ground, revolutionary officers gave orders to kill every white person within striking distance. Such an order was carried out in the small town of Likati, where Simbas killed an entire Greek family, including two infants.
At Stanleyville, between November 24th and 27th, approximately seventeen white hostages faced the threat of death at the hands of rebels under the command of Christopher Gbenye, a protégé of Lumumba. Gbenye refused to let the International Red Cross into the city, and he refused to let anyone leave. This forced Brussels to intervene with Operation Dragon Rogue, a multi-national operation featuring Belgian paratroopers descending on the city after jumping out of American planes. 5 Commando stood outside of the city until given the go-ahead by Belgian military advisors. Hoare’s men would eventually enter the city, but were too late to stop the murder of those white civilians who had been held prisoner at Stanleyville’s formerly posh Hotel Victoria.
On the morning when 5 Commando raced towards the city, Gbenye’s official newspaper and radio station belched out: “Ciyuga, Ciyuga! Kill, kill! Kill all the white people. Kill all the men, women and children. Kill them all. Have no scruples. Use your knives and your pangas!” When the mostly Belgian and American hostages were eviscerated, Belgian paratroopers were just two miles away and 5 Commando’s jeeps and trucks were racing towards the heart of the city. The European owner of the once prestigious Stanleyville Hotel summed up the terrible trauma of the city’s white population when he told marauding soldiers to drink up everything in the hotel bar. As for him, he was going back to Belgium and leaving the “God-forsaken” Congo.
The Secret History
Despite the well-documented cruelties of Stanleyville and other unknown villages throughout the Congo, the Western press continued to write biased articles in favor of the rebels. One West German periodical even wrote with a straight face that “The Rebels kept order; they always swept the streets clean.” As for the mercenaries, they always got bad press, with European and American reporters telling lurid tales about mercenary atrocities and runaway looting (Hoare is not shy about admitting that, at times, his men indulged in taking booty). Such partisan tactics would have a much greater impact during America’s war in Vietnam.
Another German journalist, Uwe Siemon-Netto, would write decades later that “Media celebrities of a new kind and their youthful wannabe acolytes” went to Vietnam as the “products of increasingly ideological liberal arts colleges and universities.” These same political operatives used their skills as agitprop artists to great effect during the Tet Offensive, a military disaster for the North Vietnamese that turned into a propaganda victory thanks to skewed reporting and millions of eager anti-war protestors. At the Battle of Hue, Siemon-Netto saw left-wing reporters try to convince themselves that the victims of North Vietnamese death squads had actually been killed by American bombers. Such bias undoubtedly colored their reporting.
For 5 Commando, they realized that the world, especially the West, did not want to know that the Simba rebels carried out their massacres thanks to Chinese guns, Uganda mercenaries, and Cuban and Algerian trainers. By 1965, during 5 Commando’s final push into the border lands that connect the Congo with Sudan and Uganda, Hoare’s men not only found that Simbas would retreat across the border into Uganda when things got too hot, but also that reports written in Spanish kept appearing at abandoned Simba outposts. Evidence also showed that Algerian soldiers were on the ground in the Congo, and they showed the Simbas how to used and detonate lethal mines that had earlier worked against the French.
The war in the Congo, which so often is portrayed in the American classroom as a neocolonial affair, was actually part of the Cold War, where anti-white, Afro-Marxist forces received direct aid from the communist world while pro-Western forces got terribly little from either Europe or America.
Tragically, Hoare and 5 Commando became victims of their own success. As the war reached its final days in late 1965, President Tshombe was removed from office by a political rival. This created a political crisis that forced yet another military coup in the young nation. Unfortunately, the wheels had already been set for a closer collaboration between Leopoldville and Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of the Congo. This allowed left-wing agitators from Brazzaville to enter into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and foment further political unrest. Even before 5 Commando had completed the destruction of the last Simba redoubts, left-wing protestors ransacked Leopoldville, burned the Belgian flag, and defiled a statue of King Leopold II. The politicians of Leopoldville furthered this blunder by cancelling Hoare’s contract and disbanding 5 Commando. Germani calls this the destruction of the white giants by the “white dwarfs.”
Germani also blames Hoare’s termination on left-wing Belgian Army officers still serving as advisers to the Congolese military. Congo Mercenary blames short-sighted Congolese politicians for being too quick to cave to the demands of other African nations.
Whatever the truth, it cannot be denied that “Mad” Mike Hoare and 5 Commando stopped a possible genocide in the making. This small band of mercenaries momentarily saved the Congo from itself through sheer bravery and excellent soldiering. Congo Mercenary deliberately tries to compare 5 Commando to the past heroics of white men in Africa, like the British explorer Henry Morton Stanley, British engineer Cecil Rhodes, and British scout Alan Wilson, who led the insanely brave Shangani Patrol during the First Matabele War. Even in 1965, when there still existed European colonies in Africa, such comparisons were hopelessly old fashioned. 5 Commando perished along with the last flames of imperial adventure in the “Dark Continent.”
In spite of the dismal situation in the Congo and the fact that the nation has been mired in constant warfare since 1996, the accomplishments of Hoare and his men deserved to be recognized for the contribution they made to Congolese society and history. Hoare, his mercenaries, and those Belgian advisors who stayed on in the Congo all shed their sweat and blood in order to maintain the Congo as the most civilized and economically powerful nation in equatorial Africa. They succeeded, but their victories were discarded by cowardly politicians.
Bibliography: : Hoare, Mike. Congo Mercenary (London: Robert Hale, 1967): 68. : Ibid, 285. : Anstey, Roger. King Leopold’s Legacy: The Congo Under Belgian Rule, 1908-1960 (London, New York, and Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1966): 37. : Hoare, 283. : Epstein, Howard M., Ed. Revolt in the Congo, 1960-1964 (New York: Facts on File, 1965): 176.
: Ibid, 177. : Epstein, 35. : Ibid, 17. : Ibid, 10. : Hoare, 13. : Ibid, 33. : Germani, Hans. White Soldiers in Black Africa (Beperk: Nasionale Boekhandel, 1967):12-13. : Ibid, 4. : Hoare, 91. : Germani, 30. : Ibid, 57. : Hoare, 233-234. : Ibid, 121-122. : Ibid, 129. : Germani, 37. : Siemon-Netto, Uwe. Duc: A Reporter’s Love for the Wounded People of Vietnam (Self-published, 2013): 74. : Ibid, 199. : Hoare, 278.