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I am not sure when either of these two badges were introduced or superseded.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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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 part of a larger collection of items belonging to a South African mercenary who served with the British Parachute Regiment and then went on to become a decorated mercenary officer of 5 Commando of the Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) in the Congo from 1966 until it was disbanded in 1967.
At this stage I am still researching and am awaiting a promised detailed personal biography of the soldier from the seller in South Africa. So, right now the details that I have are scant, largely based on the photos and documents contained in the group. As more information comes to light I will update this post.
William (Bill) Martin Jacobs was born in Cape Town, South Africa on the 20th of March 1933. In 1957 he went to the United Kingdom and joined the Parachute Regiment passing out from Depot, The Parachute Regiment as a member of either 103 or 104 platoons according to one of the newspaper clippings in the group.
Bill was then posted to the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in time for it’s redeployment to Cyprus after the Suez operation, to combat the Greek terrorist organisation EOKA who were waging a campaign to drive the British out. Included in the group are some photographs from his deployment to Cyprus including a picture of the Police station in the village of Kilani and a photo of Bill in the Troodus Mountains, however I am yet to discover more information about his activities there.
Newspaper clipping showing Major-General R.A. Bramwell Davis, G.O.C., Aldershot District inspecting newly graduated recruits from Airborne Forces Depot Recruit Company Platoons 103 and 104. Private Bill Jacobs is the soldier on the right speaking with the General. I am unsure of the exact date of this event. Collection: Julian Tennant
Group photo of Bill Jacobs (back right) and fellow paras from the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment, during camouflage training in Aldershot. Collection: Julian Tennant
William Jacobs in the Troodus Mountains of Cyprus during his deployment with the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in 1958. Collection: Julian Tennant
At the time of his discharge in 1960, Bill had attained the rank of corporal, qualified as a Marksman and Light Machine Gunner, plus been awarded the General Service Medal (1918) with Cyprus clasp. I am not sure what Bill did then and I assume that at some point he returned to South Africa before signing up as a Mercenary with Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare’s famous 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) of the Armee Nationale Congolaise.
According to the documents accompanying the group, I believe that he joined 5 Commando in 1966, which is after Mike Hoare had left the Congo at the time when the unit was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Peters, then subsequently by Georg Schroeder.
Included in the 5 Commando section of the group are several rare company patches, beret badge, rank slides, photographs, his ANC Identification book and his Bronze Cross of Valour (Croix de la Bravoure Militaire des Forces Armee Nationale Congolaise), which according to Jacobs’ documents, was only awarded to six members of 5 Commando. However, inspection of the Bronze Cross of Valour indicates that this particular medal is actually the subsequent variant used when Congo had evolved into Zaire, so I believe that this medal is a replacement that was added later. Bill Jacobs left 5 Commando in 1967 and I assume that it was as a result of all the mercenary contracts being suspended by Mabutu Sese Seko in April 1967.
When I obtained this group, Bill Jacobs was living in South Africa. It’s a fascinating and rare record of a unique individual’s service, which fits well into my mercenary insignia collection. Hopefully I will be able to find out more about his service in the near future, but I’ll definitely be showing more of the group in future posts featuring the insignia used by mercenaries in the various African wars that sit in my collection.
Some of William Jacobs souvenirs of his military service including insignia from the Parachute Regiment and from 5 Commando in the Congo. Also included in the group is his British GSM with Cyprus clasp, Congolese Bronze Cross of Valour (one of only six awarded to members of the Commando), identification book and Lieutenant’s rank insignia. Collection: Julian Tennant
Cover of the Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) Identity Card issued to Lieutenant William Martin Jacobs whilst serving with 5 Commando in the Congo, 1966-67. Collection: Julian Tennant
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