|Thomas Michael "Mad Mike" Hoare|
17 March 1919|
Democratic Republic of the Congo
|Service/||British Army (Armour) and later mercenary|
|Battles/wars||1981 Seychelles coup d'état attempt|
Hoare was born in British India and was educated in England. He joined the London Irish Rifles at the outbreak of World War II, and served as an officer in India and Burma. He was promoted to the rank of major. After the war, he trained as a chartered accountant, qualifying in 1948. He subsequently emigrated to Durban, Natal Province in the Union of South Africa, where he later ran safaris and became a soldier-for-hire in various African countries.
Mike Hoare led two separate mercenary groups during the Congo Crisis.
During this time he married Phyllis Sims, an airline stewardess.
In 1964, Congolese Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe, his employer in Katanga, hired Major Mike Hoare to lead a military unit called 5 Commando, Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) (later led by John Peters; not to be confused with No.5 Commando, the British Second World War commando force) made up of about 300 men most of whom were from South Africa. His second-in-command was a fellow ex-British Army officer, Commandant Alistair Wicks. The unit's mission was to fight a revolt known as the Simba rebellion.
Later Hoare and his mercenaries worked in concert with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA-hired mercenaries who attempted to save 1,600 civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) in Stanleyville from the Simba rebels in Operation Dragon Rouge. This operation saved many lives. Hoare was later promoted to lieutenant-colonel in the Armée Nationale Congolaise and 5 Commando expanded into a two-battalion force. Hoare commanded 5 Commando from July 1964 to November 1965.
On his return to South Africa, he said to journalists "killing communists is like killing vermin, killing African nationalists is as if one is killing an animal. I don't like either one or the other. My men and I have killed between 5,000 to [sic] 10,000 Congo rebels in the 20 months that I have spent in the Congo. But that's not enough. There are 20 million Congolese you know and I assume that about half of them at one time or another were rebels whilst I was down here."
Later, Hoare wrote his own account of 5 Commando's role in the 1960s Congo mercenary war, originally titled Congo Mercenary and much later repeatedly republished in paperback simply as Mercenary (subtitled "The Classic Account of Mercenary Warfare").
In the mid-1970s, Hoare was hired as technical adviser for the film The Wild Geese, the fictional story of a group of mercenary soldiers hired to rescue a deposed African president. Colonel Alan Faulkner (played by Richard Burton) was patterned on Hoare. At least one of the actors in the film, Ian Yule, had been an actual mercenary under Hoare's command, before which he had served in the British Parachute Regiment and Special Air Service (SAS). Of the actors playing mercenaries, four had been born in Africa, two were former POWs and most had received military training.
In 1978, Seychelles exiles in South Africa, acting on behalf of ex-president James Mancham, discussed with South African Government officials launching a coup d'état against the new president France-Albert René, who had "promoted" himself from prime minister while Mancham was out of the country. The military option was decided in Washington, D.C., due to United States' concerns over access to its new military base on Diego Garcia island, the necessity to move operations from the Seychelles to Diego Garcia, and the determination that René was not someone who would be in favour of the Americans.
Associates of Mancham contacted Hoare, then in South Africa as a civilian resident, to fight alongside fifty-three other mercenary soldiers, including ex-South African Special Forces (Recces), former Rhodesian soldiers, and ex-Congo mercenaries.
Hoare got together, in November 1981, a group of white, middle class mercenaries, and dubbed them "Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers" (AOFB) after a charitable English social club of the 1920s. In order for the plan to work, he disguised the mercenaries as a rugby club, and hid AK-47s in the bottom of his luggage, as he explained in his book The Seychelles Affair:
We were a Johannesburg beer-drinking club. We met formally once a week in our favourite pub in Braamfontein. We played Rugby. Once a year we organised a holiday for our members. We obtained special charter rates. Last year we went to Mauritius. In the best traditions of the original AOFB we collected toys for underprivileged kids and distributed them to orphanages ... I made sure the toys were as bulky as possible and weighed little. Rugger footballs were ideal. These were packed in the special baggage above the false bottom to compensate for the weight of the weapon.
The fighting started prematurely when one of Hoare's men accidentally got in the "something to declare" line and the customs officer insisted on searching his bag. The rifles were well-concealed in the false-bottomed kitbags but the rifle was found and the customs man, running from the scene, sounded the alarm. One of Hoare's men pulled his own, disassembled AK-47 from the concealed compartment in the luggage, assembled it, loaded it and shot the escaping customs man before he could reach the other side of the building. The plan for the coup proceeded despite this set-back with one team of Hoare's men attempting to capture a barracks. Fighting ensued at the airport and in the middle of this, an Air India jet (Air India Boeing aircraft Flight 224), landed at the airport, damaging a flap on one of the trucks strewn on the runway. Hoare managed to negotiate a ceasefire before the aircraft and passengers were caught in the crossfire. After several hours, the mercenaries found themselves in an unfavorable position and some wanted to depart on the aircraft, which needed fuel. Hoare conceded and the captain of the aircraft allowed them on board after Hoare had found fuel for the aircraft. On board, Hoare asked the captain why he had landed when he had been informed of the fighting taking place and he responded that once the aircraft had started to descend, he did not have enough fuel to climb the aircraft back to cruising altitude and still make his destination.
Hoare's men still had their weapons and Hoare asked the captain if he would allow the door to be opened so they could ditch the weapons over the sea before they returned to South Africa, but the captain laughed at Hoare's out-of-date knowledge on how pressurized aircraft functioned and told him it would not be possible.
Four of the mercenary soldiers were left behind and were convicted of treason in the Seychelles.
In January 1982 an International Commission, appointed by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 496, inquired into the attempted coup d'état. The UN report concluded that South African defence agencies were involved, including supplying weapons and ammunition.
Being associated with the South African security services, the hijackers were initially charged with kidnapping, which carries no minimum sentence, but this was upgraded to hijacking after international pressure.
Hoare was found guilty of airplane hijacking and sentenced to ten years in prison. In total, 42 of the 43 alleged hijackers were convicted. One of the mercenaries, an American veteran of the Vietnam War, was found not guilty of hijacking, as he had been seriously wounded in the firefight and was loaded aboard while sedated. Many of the other mercenaries, including the youngest of the group, Raif St Clair, were quietly released after three months in their own prison wing.
While still in prison, Hoare began signing up "Honorary Members" in "The Wild Geese". As the process required some information on former military service and military specialties, many reports called this a recruitment drive. Many thousands of active and former military personnel applied with Hoare, thus quite a database of potential mercenaries (contract employees) was developed, but none were ever called to serve with Hoare.
Hoare was a chartered accountant and member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Previously the Institute had said it could not expel him despite protests from members as he had committed no offence and paid his membership dues. His imprisonment allowed the ICAEW to expel him from membership in 1983.
Hoare's account of the Seychelles operation, The Seychelles Affair, was markedly critical of the South African establishment.
Irish-South African novelist Bree O'Mara (1968–2010) was his niece. She had written an unpublished account of his adventures as a mercenary in the Congo, when she died on Afriqiyah Airways Flight 77.