A couple of the earlier Congo Mercenary insignia in my collection.
Here are a couple of relatively recent additions to my Congo mercenary collection, an early 5 Commando shoulder title and the shoulder patch of the Congo Commando Force Publique, both of which were worn on the right shoulder.
Both are featured in Gérard Lagaune’s excellent reference book Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs but unfortunately the book provides little contextual information about the insignia.
I am not sure when either of these two badges were introduced or superseded. The aforementioned book suggests that the Congolese Commando Force Publique was created in the 1950’s and based at Sonankulu near Thysville, receiving their training from Belgian Commando instructors and that the patch dates from before 1960. Other information suggests that the Commando Force Publique patch was only worn between 1957 and 1960.
However whilst researching these badges I found this photograph of one of the original South African mercenaries in the Congo, Georg Schroeder wearing the insignia whilst a 1st Lieutenant in 5 Commando.
Georg Schroeder was a former South African Parachute Jump Instructor who arrived in the Congo in 1964 and was the last commanding officer of 5 Commando in Congo before they were disbanded and returned to South Africa in 1967.
This studio photograph shows him wearing an interesting assortment of insignia, including the aforementioned 5 Commando shoulder title and Congolese Commando shoulder patch. His rank is that of a 1st Lieutenant, which according to the information on Terry Aspinall’s Mercenary Wars site, indicates that this photograph was taken sometime between 17 September and 26 December 1964, when he was promoted to Captain and took over the command of 53 Commando.
Also visible are his South African PJI wings on his left breast above what appears to be the United Nations Medal with CONGO clasp that was awarded to denote service with the ONUC Mission (1960-64). I am not sure if he was entitled to the medal issue as he is also wearing a Belgian 1st Para Battalion beret despite not having served with that unit. The badge on his right breast remains unknown (to me) although I think it may be the same qualification that is shown as #911, but also unidentified in Andrew Ross Dinnes’ book, Border War Badges: A Guide to South African Military & Police Badges 1964-1994.
Congo mercenary insignia is one of my areas of collecting interest and whilst my collection remains quite small it does contain some nice pieces that I have previously featured on this page, most notably a patch worn by 10 Commando led by Jean ‘Black Jack’ Schramme and a nice group featuring insignia, medals, photographs and paperwork that belonged to another South African, Bill Jacobs, who served with the British Parachute Regiment in Cyprus, prior to enlisting in 5 Commando in 1966. If you are a collector of Mercenary insignia and have spares that you are interested in trading or selling, I will be very interested in hearing from you, so please contact me.
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During the Vietnam war there was at least two sport parachuting clubs operating in South Vietnam although I have patches in my collection that indicates there may have been as many as three. Detailed information about the histories of these clubs appears to be quite scant although two of the three are mentioned in various accounts and the crossover is such that I wonder if they may in fact be exactly the same group of skydivers, just jumping under two different club names? But if that were the case why the different patches?
Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du
The Viet-Nam Parachute Club Nhay Du was co-located with the Vietnamese Airborne Division HQ at Tan Son Nhut airbase. The club had a mix of Allied and Vietnamese members, with most of the latter coming from the Airborne School staff who sometimes used the opportunity for free-fall descents to qualify for the higher-grade parachute monitor wings. Thom Lyons a long time skydiver, served with the USAF in Vietnam andrecounted his experiencesjumping with the club during his tour of duty in 1966-67. He recalled that after “Charles” had made jumping difficult at the old DZ“, jumps were done on the military DZ at Ap Dong, which was used by the Vietnamese Airborne school.
The Saigon Sport Parachute Club
Thom Lyons also jumped with the Saigon Sport Parachute Club (SSPC), which used the same DZ at Ap Dong. Thom recalls,
I was in a group of crazies in 1966-67 called the Saigon Sport Parachute Club jumping at Ap Dong. We used H-34’s which is strange cause when you spot you can yell “5 BACK!”.
The first incident was a 10,000 footer and at about 4000′ I noticed that the DZ was being shelled!!! I seriously wondered if it was worth it to open at all or just get it over with, but I wasn’t that young or that stupid.
Next was a few weeks later when the crew chief ordered everyone out for some reason. We were down wind over a jungle canopy to the east of the DZ and no way could we get back. I spotted a small clearing maybe 25′ in diameter and started towards it with my 28′ cheapo. I had to work the target and put my M-45 Swedish 9mm sub-machine gun together at the same time. I land in the clearing, but the canopy was in the trees and I was dangling a foot or so off the ground. I heard people running towards me and I almost shot three kids who came after me to carry gear or whatever for money or cigarettes. They got my gear out of the tree and when I went to put some ripstop tape on some small tears from the tree, I found two small calibre bullet holes! Don’t know when I got them. Let’s say the experience was UNIQUE! The DZ was also had as rock so you either did an excellent PLF or stood it up which wasn’t often in that heat and humidity. AP DONG was also the DZ for the Vietnamese 2nd Airborne Division and there was a small triangular fort on the DZ. The chopper could land right next to the packing area, but we discouraged that for obvious reasons.
Every time we jumped, we were plagued by people trying to sell us everything from Coke-Cola to their daughters and these boys were all over who would field pack for you for a couple of cigarettes. Carry your gear back for another one.
The club had mostly Army in it, and a couple of Navy and Air Force but also some Aussies and American Civilians. The first CrossBow in Viet Nam didn’t get jumped more than a few times. An American civilian brought it in and did a hook turn into a tree trunk and the H-34 had to fly him to the 3rd field hospital which left us without a jump ship for several hours.
By the way, the H-34 was Viet in VNAF colors and we paid the pilots a (5th) bottle of Johnny Walker each to fly for us, the chopper was free. I didn’t drink so it was usually my ration for 5th’s that got used up.
After TET in 1968 the club couldn’t get the chopper anymore and the club folded, I’m told.
The club jumped every Sunday morning and had a mix of military and civilian members from Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and the USA. The club seems to be run on a shoestring budget, with Dan Bonfig, the President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer and Chief Rigger who was working for the RMK-BRJ construction consortium based at 12 Thong Nhut, Saigon administering the club from his workplace. Unfortunately, he has passed away and I have not yet been able to find out any more information about the SSPC or its relationship to the Viet-Nam Parachute Club. A lot of the anecdotal information that I have uncovered so far seems to cross over between the two clubs, hence my belief that there may be a direct connection between the two.
Cape St Jacques Skydivers VN
The club represented by this last patch is a complete mystery to me. Cap Saint-Jacques was the French Indochinese name for Vũng Tàu, which during the 2nd Indochina War was home to the1st Australian Logistics Support Groupas well as various US military units. It was also a popular in-country R&R destination during the war so it does seem logical that a skydiving club may have existed there. However, I cannot find any record of this club existing during the war and none of the Australian veterans I have asked about it have any recollection of a parachute club being located there. The spelling of Cap Saint-Jacques as Cape St-Jacques on the patch suggests to me that it is post French era and my best guess is that it may be an earlier club that had folded by the mid 1960’s when the military presence started to build up in the area, but this is speculation on my part.
If anybody can help provide more detail about any of these clubs, I would love to hear from you to help clarify the situation and record some more detail about their respective histories before they are lost forever.
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The Wild Geese patch as shown above is often misidentified as being a mercenary or mercenary veteran’s insignia. This is untrue, however there is a real connection between it and one of the world’s best known mercenaries.
Thomas Michael Hoare (born 19 March 1919), better known as ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare achieved legendary status in the mid 1960’s for his exploits as a mercenary in the Congo suppressing a Communist backed revolt and helping to rescue up to two thousand civilians from atrocities being carried out by the Simba rebels.
Hoare’s unit, comprising around 300 mostly South African mercenaries was officially designated 5 Commando Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) but unofficially referred to as ‘The Wild Geese’. This was a reference to the unit shoulder patch which featured a goose in flight below the title ‘5 Commando’ and was inspired by the “flight of the wild geese”, when Patrick Sarsfield, the 1st Earl of Lucan took his 19 000 strong Irish Jacobite army into exile in France in 1691. The term subsequently became associated with all the Irish soldiers who served with the continental European armies from the 16th thru 18th centuries. Hoare, a soldier of Irish descent, used this as a way of distinguishing his 5 Commando from the French and Belgian mercenaries also active in the Congo at that time.
In 1978, Daniel Carney’s novel about a British banker hiring a group of mercenaries to rescue a deposed African President from the hands of a corrupt dictator made its cinema debut as “The Wild Geese”. The title of the movie was based on Hoare’s 5 Commando nickname and he was hired as the technical advisor for the film which was mostly shot in South Africa. The mercenary commander, Colonel Alan Faulkner (played by Richard Burton) was patterned on ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare. The film was a commercial success and helped to reinforce the connection between the title and mercenary activities in the English-speaking world.
Meanwhile, around the same time, Seychelles exiles allied with the ex-president James Manchan were holding discussions with the South African Government about the possibility of overthrowing the new Seychelles president, France-Albert René, whose supporters had deposed Mancham whilst he was visiting London the previous year. Both the South Africans and the Americans were concerned about the presence of a socialist government in the Seychelles and gave their blessing, directing Manchan’s representatives to Hoare.
With South African support, Hoare raised a team of 54 mercenaries (half of whom were actually serving members of the South African Defence Force) for the operation which he estimated would cost US$ 5 million to fund. However, they could only secure US$300 000 and this lack of financial backing led to compromises in the plan which ultimately led to a disastrous outcome.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about the operation which involved the mercenaries entering the Seychelles disguised as a rugby club (named “Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers“), then disperse around the island before launching the coup whilst René was holding a cabinet meeting. Terry Aspinall provides interesting additional information about the operation and its outcome on his mercenary-wars.net website and you can also see the Associated Press uncut video ‘rushes’ showing the aftermath of the operation in the AP Archive.
On 25 November 1981, Hoare and the main party of 43 mercenaries, with their weapons hidden in their luggage, flew into Seychelles International Airport at Pointe La Rue on Mahé. Unfortunately, the AK-47 of one of the mercenaries was discovered during a luggage check, triggering a six-hour gun battle at the airport. Eventually the mercenaries commandeered a Boeing 707 (Air India Flight 224) which flew them back to South Africa, leaving behind five mercenaries, one South African National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent and a female civilian accomplice, all of whom were arrested and subsequently convicted of treason in the Seychelles. One mercenary had been killed and two wounded.
Arriving back in South Africa, the mercenaries were initially charged with kidnapping, which carried no minimum sentence, but after international pressure this was upgraded to hijacking. After a five-month trial, 42 of the mercenaries were found guilty and given between six months and five years in prison although most sentences were later reduced to six months. For his part, however, Mike Hoare was sentenced to ten years in prison but was pardoned and released on the 7th of May 1985 after serving 2 years, eight months and 10 days of his sentence.
Lack of finances had contributed to the decision to hide the mercenary’s weapons in their luggage as smuggling them to the island by boat was too costly and now, facing mounting legal bills, a plan was devised to raise contributions from sympathetic observers. This included selling ‘Wild Geese’ merchandise via the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa and later, Soldier of Fortune magazine. The fund raising merchandise included patches and autographed paperback copies of Mike Hoare’s book, Mercenary, which recounted his adventures in the Congo.
Back in those days I was a regular subscriber and after seeing the advertisement (or possibly the editorial promotion shown above) in Soldier of Fortune, I was soon the proud owner of a Wild Geese patch. This came with a personalised, serial numbered certificate, confirming that I was “an Honorary Member of the Wild Geese”. From the same advert I also bought an autographed paperback Corgi 1982 reprint of Hoare’s book Mercenary. At the time, the patch cost US$5 and the book US$12.
Unfortunately, I traded all of those items with another collector many years ago as at that point in time they were outside of my collecting interests. It was a decision that I later regretted as my focus began to shift to mercenary insignia, but thanks to the help of fellow collector Alan Bennett I have been able to get some of the original items that were advertised in SOF for my collection. Alan, who corresponded with the Hoare family at the time, also made me aware that the patch was actually made in two sizes although I only recall the larger size being offered for sale in the Soldier of Fortune promotion. I suspect that the smaller patch may be part of an earlier run of the the patches that were first offered for sale in South Africa as the note from Mike’s wife, Phylis describes them both as being ‘buff coloured’ whereas the original patch offered in Soldier of Fortune was white. UPDATE: Alan Bennett has kindly shared a picture of the smaller buff coloured badge with me and I have included it at the bottom of the post alongside his example of the larger original patch of the type sold in SOF.
I say original, because despite being somewhat of a novelty item, these patches are actually being extensively reproduced and sold to collectors via eBay with varying descriptions along the lines of “5 COMMANDO MIKE HOARE MERCENARY CLOTH PATCH BADGE WILD GEESE” and the like. Some collectors, based on the descriptions being offered, may actually be led to believe that the patch was used by the mercenaries and on occasion dealers have tried to capitalise on that asking ridiculous prices for the patches. One dealer I am aware of currently has a patch listed for US$250, which he describes as an ‘original veterans badge’ along with a black & white photocopy of the “Honorary Member of the The Wild Geese” certificate. Most of the faked patches are relatively cheap though and it is quite easy to distinguish the original patch from the copy and I’ve included pictures of both for comparison.
Alan was also kind enough to send me some other material, including correspondence with Mike Hoare’s wife, Phyllis and a scan of his “Honorary Member” certificate to include in this article as I no longer have mine. Some sources refer to Hoare creating a database of potential mercenary recruits whilst in prison by signing them up as “Honorary Members of The Wild Geese”, which has contributed to the mythology around these items, but I wonder if those sources are confusing these fundraising certificates with something more sinister? I don’t know.
It is probably a question that I should have asked Mike’s son, Chris when we discussed these patches and the Soldier of Fortune promotion recently. He recalled the promotion in SOF and also provided the following information which is also in his biography of his father.
“To assist in paying the various legal fees, Mike had some round cloth badges made in two diameters, 105 mm and 60 mm. The badges said, ‘The Wild Geese’ and showed a goose flying over an island, and palm trees. A display in the Sunday Times of 20 June 1982 advertised the badges for sale for R5 with a signed certificate naming buyer’s honorary members of The Wild Geese. For another R10, buyers could also order signed copies of the Corgi edition of Mercenary. Later, Phyllis (Mike’s wife) advertised the badges for sale for $5 in Soldier of Fortune magazine in America; someone signed Mike’s name on the numbered certificates. There was a lot of sympathy for Mike and his Froth Blowers, and more than 3500 people responded…”
Apart from reminding me of the existence of the smaller patch, which I don’t recall being offered in the SOF advertisement or editorial promotion, Chris cleared up another thing that I had been thinking about. If Mike Hoare, was in prison at the time that all the books and certificates were being sold to his supporters, how did he sign them? Well, according to Chris it was someone else and that, considering the circumstance makes sense to me. However, despite this gem of information it should not detract from these very interesting items related to a colourful and legendary soldier.
Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to the assistance of fellow collectors Alan Bennett and Alex Iide for their help in finding images for some of the source material that I used in this article. Thanks guys, your help is very much appreciated.
Postscript: In March 2019, Mike Hoare and his son, Chris, released a limited re-edition of the patch with a new certificate. This limited re-issue was limited to 50 examples.
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This is a recent addition to my collection. It is an original shoulder patch used by the mercenaries of 10 Commando who were under the command of Colonel Jean Schramme in the 1960’s. This version is known as the 2nd pattern of the patch and is distinguished from the earlier type by only having the outline of Lake Tanganyika in blue, whilst the first version had the entire lake in blue silk. Both of the original patches were made using the precise, machine embroidered, silk-bevo style of construction as seen in this example. Collectors should note that there are numerous fakes of this badge, many of which originate from the same fakers who make all the ARVN and US Vietnam war patches that can be found on ebay and at the War Surplus market at Dan Sinh. If you are interested in the mercenary insignia used in the Congo during the 1960’s, I would recommend that you try to find a copy of the late Gerard Lagaune’s excellent privately published reference, Histoire et insignes des parachutistes et des commandos de Pays des Grand Lacs.
10 Commando formed part of the 5th Mechanised Brigade, which was raised on the 1st of November 1964. It was led by Belgian mercenary, Jean Schramme. “Black Jack” Schramme was a teenager when he went to the Congo to run the family plantation, located to the north-east of Stanleyville and it should be noted that despite often being seen wearing the beret of the 2nd Belgian Commando Battalion (and contrary to some of the information he presented in his biography), there is no evidence that he had ever qualified as a commando or served in the Belgian Commando Battalion prior to his mercenary activities.
In the troubles that followed independence in 1961, Schramme fled to Uganda and then moved to Katanga where he took part in the fighting, forming a group recruited from local tribes near the Kansimba region which he referred to as the “Leopard Group”. After that period of fighting ended in 1963 he moved across the border into Angola before returning in 1964 with his now named 10 Commando which operated out of Fizi-Baraka to the East of the province of Maniema and not too far from a plantation that he had once controlled.
In 1967, 10 Commando was part of the revolt against the government of Colonel Mobuto Sese Seko who had become president two years previously. In early August, Schramme’s 10 Commando captured the border town of Bukavu, holding it for 7 weeks despite repeated attempts by the government ANC forces to recapture the town. On October 29, 1967 the ANC forces finally recaptured Bukavu and the soldiers of 10 Commando fled towards Rwanda crossing the border on the 13th of November 1967, where they were disarmed, ending the existence of this colourful mercenary unit.
On 25 April 2016, Australian and New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed to Iraq with Task Group Taji commemorated the Task Group’s first Anzac Day at the Taji Military Complex, Iraq. This year’s Anzac day marks the 100th anniversary since the first Anzac Day service in 1916. To commemorate the day a special one-off patch was produced by a Sydney based company for the troops serving with Task Group Taji.
Personnel from Australia and New Zealand based at the Taji Military Complex in Iraq are part of the broader international Building Partner Capacity (BPC) mission training members of the Iraqi security forces. The training includes weapon handling, building clearances and obstacle breaching techniques; as well as training in the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for squad through to company-level operations to use in their fight against Daesh.
Task Group Taji’s BPC contribution is part of Australia’s broader Defence contribution to Iraq, codenamed Operation OKRA, which includes a Special Operations Task Group and an Air Task Group.
One of my collecting interests are the insignia worn by various insurgent groups and guerilla armies. Burma/Myanmar is a country of particular interest to me, so I was quite excited to obtain this printed Karen National Liberation Army patch recently. This printed patch appears to be one of several different variations that are used by the KNLA.
The Karen National Liberation Army (Burmese: ကရင်အမျိုးသား လွတ်မြောက်ရေး တပ်မတော်; abbreviated KNLA) is the military branch of the Karen National Union (KNU), which had been fighting the Burmese/Myanmar Government for the self-determination of the Karen people since 1949 until signing a ceasefire agreement with the government in January 2012.
The KNLA was reported to have had a strength of roughly 6,000 soldiers in 2012 and according to the Karen National Union website,
‘The KNLA has seven brigades and three headquarters battalions. Brigades are comprised of up to five battalions, each of which has four companies, each of which in turn has three platoons. The KNLA also has 3 main branches, General Staff Office, Adjutant General Office, and Quartermaster Office.
The mission of the KNLA from its foundation through to the present day is solely as a self-defense force for the Karen people and the organisation, since without such a defense force the Karen would likely be eradicated. The KNLA has no aspirations other than to safeguard and guarantee the safety of the Karen people and to support the organisation in their stand for political dialogue. Karen self-defense requirements include countering Burma Army aggression; to ban narcotics; to provide village security; and to provide security for humanitarian relief missions.’ (http://www.knuhq.org/about/defense-department/)
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NEW ZEALAND ARMY DISTINGUISHING PATCHES 1911-1991. Volumes One and Two
Malcolm Thomas and Cliff Lord
Published by: Malcolm Thomas and Cliff Lord, Wellington, 1995.
Softback. 176 + 148 pages respectively.
These two invaluable reference books were published in 1995 and are long out of print, but if you can find copies, definitely add them to your reference library. The two volumes present descriptions and photographs of the uniform and insignia of various branches of the Army including Nurses and Women’s Auxiliary service, UN peacekeepers, Pacific Island forces, Home Guard, School cadets etc.
Part One concentrates on the development of the New Zealand Army and shows the various formations and their distinguishing patches. Included are chapters on the military forces of Fiji and Tonga during the Second World War and also wartime auxiliary organisations such as the New Zealand Red Cross.
Part Two shows the badges and insignia that were worn by the New Zealand Army at the time of writing (1991) including the different Orders of Dress, unit distinctions and insignia of the New Zealand Cadet Corps.