By Rob Morgan
I honestly thought he’d died years ago, so the appearance of his obituary in The Times the other day surprised me. He was over a hundred years old, which seems a remarkable age to reach for someone who courted death for decades. The ‘Thunderer’ described him as ‘perhaps the best known mercenary since Xenephon’ which definitely strikes a chord, though he may well have shared the honours with the other Englishman, in Medieval times, Sir John Hawkwood.
Hoare’s ‘Wild Geese,’ named entrancingly “5 Commando,” saw a great deal of action in the Congo following the debacle of Belgian withdrawal. He was employed by the Katangan leader Moise Tshombe, and led raids and fast actions to rescue Europeans held hostage by Simba rebels. Active in the Congo for several years, Hoare defeated the rebels repeatedly, and at one time his opponent , based over the border in Burundi, was Che Guevara.
The obit intriguingly refers to his memoir of the war ‘Congo Mercenary’ as not wholly reliable, which is certainly true. Some of the exploits he claimed were actually undertaken by either UN or Belgian forces. Nevertheless, the mercenary campaigns in Katanga and along the shores of Lake Albert would easily transfer to the wargames table. I think Platoon 20 once produced a small range of ‘mercenary’ figures. His own activities, real and fictitious were the basis of the 1978 film ‘The Wild Geese’ with Richard Burton playing the ‘Mad Mike’ figure.
Hoare’s dislike of Soviet influence led him to undertake a disastrous attempt at overthrowing the government of the Seychelles with a group of 50 mercenaries. It was a serious mistake, which led Hoare’s troop to hijack an Air India jet, and flee to South Africa. He was tried, appropriately enough as a mercenary, for piracy. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, he was released after three, and undertook (as far as I’m aware) no further military activity.
I actually bought his book ‘Seychelles Affair’ which dealt with his last raid, as I thought it might have some potential as a wargame. Sadly, Hoare was up against a competent force of well-armed gendarmes and soldiers, with armour, and after putting the book down, I felt the attack was doomed from the outset. So, I think, did he. Perhaps he just wanted to die in arms.