"Mad Mike" Hoare, who has died aged 100, was an Irish accountant who became the world’s most famous mercenary; the success of his campaigns in the Congo in the 1960s endowed his calling with unprecedented prestige and glamour, but his career as a “soldier of fortune” ended in a humiliating anticlimax when a botched attempt to overthrow the President of the Seychelles in 1981 landed him in jail.
Hoare’s adoption in his forties of a new career as a leader of mercenary forces probably owed more to the influence of well-placed business contacts than to any evidence of military prowess during his service in the Army. He had been running a number of small businesses in South Africa when, in 1961, he was introduced to the Congolese politician Moïse Tshombe.
When Tshombe hired him in July 1964 to crush the Simba rebellion, which was backed by Cuban forces led by Che Guevara, Hoare was unknown to the wider world; by the time the campaign was successfully completed eighteen months later he and his unit, 5 Commando, were internationally famous.

Hoare dubbed his unit “the Wild Geese,” a nickname borrowed from the Irish mercenaries of the eighteenth century, and strove to duplicate the spirit of a conventional British Army regiment among his “volunteers” (“we don’t much care for the word ‘mercenaries’ ourselves,” he once said.)
In contrast to the preponderantly French and Belgian mercenaries then at work in Africa – whom he regarded as “swaggering, crapulous, foul-mouthed and quite unnecessarily armed” – his men had regulation haircuts, no beards or pointed shoes, church parade on Sunday mornings and (despite the Congo’s punishing heat) regular football matches.
Hoare had to be cunning in making sure he retained his authority. When one of his mercenaries raped and murdered a Congolese girl he knew that his men would not stand for an execution, so instead, knowing that the culprit was a professional footballer, he summarily shot off the man’s big toes.
On another occasion he crushed an incipient mutiny by smashing the ringleader to the ground with his revolver butt. But he had great affection for most of his men and when one of his officers, Jeremy Spencer, was killed while Hoare was away attending to the birth of his son, he named the boy Jeremy.

There were many who thought Hoare’s greatest feats of tactical skill were in the field of self-promotion. When, in November 1964, he and his men took part in the liberation of the rebel-held city of Stanleyville, he discovered that the photojournalist Don McCullin had smuggled himself aboard their aircraft; Hoare, initially furious, quickly saw the value of letting McCullin accompany his men as they went about rescuing the thousands of white nuns and missionaries whom the rebels had been holding hostage.
Although a Time reporter observed that Hoare could not prevent his men from looting the places they relieved, western public opinion, previously hostile to mercenaries, began to turn in their favour.
Much of Hoare’s appeal to the public lay in his apparently genuine lack of interest in financial reward. What seemed to drive him was the prospect of glory against the odds – “we shall show them what a small group of determined white men can do,” he told his men – and a desire to protect Africa from “a total communist onslaught” about which western governments seemed apathetic. He rejoiced in the soubriquet “Mad Mike” that the press conferred on him after East German radio had begun regularly to denounce him as “that mad bloodhound Hoare.”
'Mad Mike' Hoare training mercenaries in the Congo in 1964

'Mad Mike' Hoare training mercenaries in the Congo in 1964 CREDIT: INTERFOTO / Alamy
Hoare’s cachet reached its zenith in 1978 with the release of Andrew McLaglen’s mercenary adventure film The Wild Geese, starring Richard Burton as Colonel Allen Faulkner, a thinly disguised portrait of Hoare, alongside Richard Harris and Roger Moore.
Among the actors playing the mercenaries was Ian Yule, who had served in 5 Commando; he persuaded Hoare to act as a technical adviser on the film. Hoare insisted that as far as possible the cast should receive authentic military training – one actor, John Kani, later recalled being bawled out by Hoare for leaving his rifle momentarily unattended on set.
Hoare toured America to promote the film and was feted by the press. Within a few years, however, he had become an international laughing stock, following the failure in 1981 of “Operation Anvil” – or what the newspapers referred to as the “package-holiday coup” – in the Seychelles.
Hoare had seemed to be happily retired from military life but he knew and loved the Seychelles, and detested its new Socialist government under President Albert René. Many commentators have suggested that he was spurred on by envy of the flamboyant French mercenary Bob Denard, his old rival in the Congo, who had masterminded a successful coup in the Comoros in 1978, although by then Hoare had already offered his services to the deposed Seychellois ex-President Jimmy Mancham.
Mike Hoare (left) in 1964 with his personal bodyguard

Mike Hoare (left) in 1964 with his personal bodyguard CREDIT: Monks/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Always something of a puritan, Hoare loathed the sybaritic Mancham (Mancham’s first words to him on the one occasion they met, in London, were “How do you like my suit, Mike?”), but recognised his usefulness as a figurehead, and having secured the tacit co-operation of the South African and Kenyan governments he laid his plans.
On October 6 1981 Hoare received an enormous delivery of weapons at The Old Vicarage, his suburban bungalow in South Africa, and hid them in his cellar. His plan was that he and the 46 men he had recruited would enter the Seychelles disguised as Ye Ancient Order of Froth-Blowers, supposedly a charitable drinking club made up of ex-rugby players.
The more eccentric aspects of Hoare’s plan were pilloried by the press once it had failed, but in fact it worked well enough to get Hoare and nearly all his men through customs at Mahé airport. Disaster struck when one of the last men to arrive, Kevin Beck, possibly drunk, got into an argument with the customs officer after joining the wrong queue, and had his bag searched. When a dismantled AK-47 was discovered, Beck lost his head and declared, “I don’t know what it is but there are 44 more with bags like mine outside.”
The mercenaries holed up in the airport once the alarm was raised, and in the confusion one mercenary, Johan Fritz, a young farmer, was accidentally shot dead by one of his comrades. One Seychellois soldier, 2nd Lt David Antat, was also killed. The Seychellois army began to shell the building, and although at first Hoare thought he had a chance of continuing with the coup, when an Air India plane landed at the airport he realised that if a shell blew it up and killed civilians, he would be held ultimately responsible. “There will not be a place on earth I could go,” he was heard to say.
So instead the mercenaries commandeered the plane to fly them to South Africa, Hoare being frogmarched aboard by his men after insisting that he would stay behind to guarantee their safe departure. They left behind the incriminating tapes on which Jimmy Mancham had recorded the victory message that was to have been played on the national radio station.
The mercenaries were jailed for six days on arrival back in South Africa and then released, but after it became apparent that worldwide opinion was against them they were tried the following year for hijacking the Air India plane and endangering civilian lives. Most received sentences of only a few months but Hoare, at 63, was given 20 years, with ten suspended in deference to his age.
Hoare was outraged that the South African government allowed him to be imprisoned when they had been complicit in organising the coup. In jail he was allowed no writing paper or books apart from the Bible, although he smuggled in Shakespeare and spent his time learning it by heart. He feared that he would be kept in prison indefinitely to prevent him from writing a book detailing the government’s involvement, but in the end he was released after serving 33 months.
“I should have taken Richard Burton and Roger Moore along with me,” Hoare observed when reflecting on his failure, “and we’d have had a happy ending.”
Mike Hoare in 1986

Mike Hoare in 1986 CREDIT: Rex
Thomas Michael Bernard Hoare was born to Irish parents in Calcutta on March 17 1919. He apparently attended an English public school and wanted to apply to Sandhurst, but the sudden death of his father meant that he had to take up a profession, and he studied accounting.
He enlisted with the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1941 and later served in India and Burma; he claimed to have fought with the Chindits against the Japanese, although some commentators maintain that he saw no action and was a junior accounting officer before serving on Mountbatten’s staff. He was demobbed from the Royal Armoured Corps as a major and returned to accountancy, setting up a practice in South Africa in 1953. He went on to establish a second-hand car business and then a safari company, travelling all over Africa.
In 1961 he met Moïse Tshombe, at that time president of the short-lived breakaway state of Katanga, and was commissioned to lead a group of mercenaries, whom Hoare christened 4 Commando. UN troops were trying to clear the Congo of mercenaries, and at one stage Hoare had to pull off some smooth negotiating to save himself and his men from arrest; it was this, rather than any remarkable military feat, that in 1964 prompted Tshombe, by then Prime Minister of the DCR, to recall him to take on the Simba rebels.
Of the many men who answered the newspaper adverts for mercenaries, the ones Hoare picked had to “love combat” and be “tremendous romantics”. The most distinctive of them was the German Siegfried Müller, who insisted on always wearing his Iron Cross – even in his pyjamas.
Hoare was surprised that so many homosexuals – “these highly sensitive and usually very intelligent gentry” – signed up, but welcomed them. “They fulfil a great need – make fine orderlies and cooks, that sort of thing,” he told a Washington Post interviewer. “Can’t imagine why you boot them out of your army.”
Hoare admitted that the mercenary life was especially attractive to the maladjusted, and was deeply grieved that a high proportion of mercenaries committed suicide in later life.
In person Hoare resembled not so much Richard Burton as Ernie Wise: he was short and dapper, his grey hair usually immaculate. His ever-present beret was perhaps intended to emphasise a passing resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery.
Some of his men regarded him less as a great military commander than a performer of genius enacting a superb impersonation of one. He was not always seen to be steady under fire. Perhaps his greatest asset, which he exploited to the full, was his naturally attractive and humorous personality.
Hoare was expelled from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales on being sent to prison – “if there’s one thing that bloody hurts, it’s that,” he said later. He was obliged to sell his home in South Africa, and retired to France. In 1989 he toured the church halls of Britain, lecturing on the power of prayer.
His memoir Congo Mercenary (1967; later reissued simply as Mercenary) was a best-seller and reprinted many times. Among his other books were The Road to Kalamata, Congo Warriors and The Seychelles Affair, as well as the non-military memoirs Adventures in Africa and Three Years with Sylvia – Sylvia being his beloved former Baltic trading yacht.
When he had passed his ninetieth birthday – perhaps the unlikeliest achievement of all for a mercenary – he recorded his collected works as audio books, his beautifully modulated English officer-class accent becoming more Irish in proportion to the rortiness of the anecdotes.
With his first wife, who was English, Mike Hoare had three children. After their divorce he married, in 1961, Phyllis Sims, a South African air stewardess, who showed him unswerving loyalty. She died in 2009; they had two sons.


Book Reviewer
17 March 1919 – 2 February 2020
I just received a call from Mike’s daughter to tell me that Thomas Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare passed away peacefully this morning, Sunday 2 February 2020 in Durban, South Africa, in his 101st year. R.I.P. Mike.

(also posted in Military Obituaries)


Wasn't there even questions about it affecting the many White South Africans joining the British Army at the time ?
IIRC, there was some sort of agreement between the UK and RSA Governments that only a certain amount would be allowed to join. My memory is a bit hazy on this one, but I think it was painted as being about stopping RSA's youth flooding out of the country rather than having a load of well trained white people coming back to launch a coup.

By contrast, a well known British security company was stopped from providing firearms training for an armed response company in SA because the Government did not want civilians better trained than the police.

Fake Sheikh

War Hero
Good article on him in a mercenary magazine sold in the dodgy bookshop near Leicester Square back in the 1980's, he was a legend and at one time if you want a coup you went to Mike, a true gent and always had a good team behind him.

The film Wild Geese Col Faulkner based on Mad Mike.

A quote from Mike once: Mercenaries do not go to heaven they go to hell to re group.
Contractors are regularly employed by government departments, FCO being one.
A new documentary on the FCO links with Keenie Meanie is due out some time this year. The film makers tried to interview Brian Baty.........who provided an 'on camera' statement. It went:.......... 'bugger off'! :cool:
What size were his boots?

Doesn't matter, you could never have filled them.


Book Reviewer
Good article on him in a mercenary magazine sold in the dodgy bookshop near Leicester Square back in the 1980's, he was a legend and at one time if you want a coup you went to Mike, a true gent and always had a good team behind him.

The film Wild Geese Col Faulkner based on Mad Mike.

A quote from Mike once: Mercenaries do not go to heaven they go to hell to re group.

Well worth a read.

This is also a good read, providing a comparison between Hoare and one of his famous contemporaries (who may have helped to bubble the Seychelles operation). I agree with the conclusion:

Hoare was expelled from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales on being sent to prison – “if there’s one thing that bloody hurts, it’s that,” he said later.
Fantastic. I wonder if the ICAEW will mark the passing of their professional colleague in any way? Name a meeting room after him? "Ah, yes, the seminar on the new IFRS treatment of short-term operating leases? Over the corridor in Hoare's room."
The Colonel has just been mentioned on the BBC (Telly) World News.

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