Today there are plenty of “private military companies” (PMC) that provide logistics, armed security and military training in global hotspots around the world. Today’s PMC contractors—who are technically civilians in tactical gear, with experience—have a poor reputation with professional soldiers. However, there was a time when the “soldier of fortune,” better known as a “mercenary” was considered a special breed of warrior.
The mercenary, who fought for money since antiquity, has never been entitled to protections by the rules of war, and even the Geneva Conventions declare that mercenaries are not recognized as legitimate combatants. As such, the mercenary has become iconic as well as infamous, villainized yet romanticized, a brave hero and liberator to some and to others a soldier without remorse and in some cases without honor.
Perhaps no other man best fits the description of “mercenary” than that of Thomas Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare, who died earlier this month at the age of 100.
The fact that Hoare lived to a ripe old age is truly amazing for a man who opted to make armed combat his livelihood and whose “office” was essentially the rugged terrain of Africa.
He was born in Calcutta to Irish parents, and sent to school in England where he studied accounting. While Hoare was unable to attend studies at Sandhurst (the British military’s equivalent of West Point), he instead joined the Territorial Army and at age 20 joined the London Irish Rifles.
He later joined the 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps and was promoted to the rank of 2nd lieutenant. During the Second World War he fought in the Arakan Campaign in Burma and at the Battle of Kohima in India. By war’s end he was promoted to the rank of major – thus he was truly an officer and a gentleman.
That could have been the end of the story with Hoare, one of thousands of battle-tested officers who returned to a simple civilian life. In fact, it almost was.
He completed his accountant training and moved to Durban in South Africa. But the life of a bookkeeper wasn’t for Hoare and he later ran safaris for some time.
In 1961, he returned to battle and took part in his first mercenary action in Katanga, a rebel-held part of the Republic of the Congo.
Hoare had become friends with Moïse Tshombe, a Congolese politician and businessman who would go on to become prime minister of the Congo. Tshombe hired Hoare and his unit “4 Commando” to fight against the Simba rebellion.
The campaign lasted 18 months and Hoare and his company of mostly white European mercenaries had earned the nickname, “The Wild Geese,” taken from the “Flight of the Wild Geese” of the Irish Jacobite army that left Ireland in exile at the end of the late 17th century Williamite War. It was a fitting moniker for a mercenary with Irish blood.
Due to his intense anti-communist beliefs he was described on East German radio as “that mad bloodhound Hoare,” and soon he was known as “Mad Mike,” a nickname he took pride in. He and his roughly 300 fellow mercenaries took part in a few daring adventures including the attempt to save 1,600 civilians in Stanleyville from Simba rebels.
The “gentleman mercenary,” as he was also known, had largely retired by the 1970s, but in 1981 he took part in an attempt to overthrow the government of the Seychelles.
Unlike his earlier adventures, this one was an ill-planned debacle that was doomed from the start. He had recruited a total of 46 men, all of whom traveled to the Seychelles under the guise of middle-aged retired rugby players on holiday. One of them became engaged in an argument at customs, where the mercenary’s AK-47 was discovered.
The plan unraveled and Hoare and his men “commandeered” an Air India plane and flew it back to South Africa. It was soon dubbed “the package-holiday coup” and Hoare was ridiculed in the international press.
For his part in the hijacking he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but served just 33 months until he was released during a Christmas Presidential amnesty. It was an inglorious end to a colorful career.
Hoare chronicled many of his exploits in a number of books, and likely much of it is somewhat embellished where fact and fiction likely overlap.
While no movie has been made about Hoare (yet), he did serve as technical advisor for the 1978 film The Wild Geese, and the character Colonel Alan Faulkner (played by Richard Burton) was modeled on Hoare. One of the film’s actors, Ian Yule, had even served as mercenary with Hoare in the Congo.
In the end, Hoare returned to the life of an accountant and wrote the aforementioned books about his earlier life.
He passed away on February 2, 2020 – and as the British press described him, Hoare was the “last of the gentleman mercenaries.”