Congo 1960/68

The Congolese Rebellion

The rebellion in the Congo was the first real war in modern day Africa and included, not only many thousands of Belgian Troops and rebel forces from Cuba under the command of Che Guevara, but eventually also a few hundred white mercenaries, recruited in South Africa by the Congolese Government, who were formed into a Unit called '5 Commando', which was ultimately destined to bear the brunt of the fighting.

It was clearly understood by all that the rules of engagement were, "No quarter asked, no quarter given", which resulted in savagery and inhumanity on a scale previously unheard of in Africa, and extremely high casualty rates, the extent of which can best be illustrated by the following comparison.

At the time of writing this the American forces in Iraq had lost 2,400 men, but if their losses had been equivalent to those sustained by 5 Commando, approximately 195,000 Americans would have been killed.

  A brief insight into the events which led to the War is covered in the following preface to the Book "Congo Mercenary" by Col. T.M.B. Hoare, which he dedicated,  

"To those who did not come back."

Early in 1964 a minor communist-inspired revolt took place in the Kwilu Province of the Congo. The event seemed of little importance at the time and went largely unheeded, but it was in fact the first clap of thunder to presage the coming storm. Within a matter of five months the minor revolt became a major uprising and involved more than half the Congo's 14 million inhabitant's in armed conflict and ranged over two-third's of it's one million square miles of territory. Before the rebellion had run its course it caused the death of many thousands of innocent Congolese and Europeans and finally it staged a tragedy in the full glare of world publicity which for sheer unparalleled savagery has few equals in history.

The communist character of the rebellion was evident from the very beginning. The centre of operations was at Stanleyville, the stronghold of Antoine Gizenga , the political and spiritual heir to Patrice Lumumba. Ghana and Guinea were both actively supporting the rebel cause and the Soviet bloc, which had previously upheld Gizenga's claim to be the head of the only legal government in the Congo, was subsidizing the rebel movement.

A full year had passed since Mr. Moise Tshombe had been ousted as President of the independent State of Katanga and he was now in voluntary exile in Spain. The United Nations forces in the Congo, financially and morally bankrupt from their "peace keeping" efforts in Katanga, were in no position to undertake any new adventure in the field and were making ready to depart.

Notwithstanding the events of the recent past and the bitterness and rancour which they had engendered in Congolese politics, in the face of the national catastrophe President Kasavubu invited Mr. Tshombe to return from Spain to become Prime Minister of the Congo with a mandate to form a coalition government and suppress the rebellion with all speed.

This unexpected step took the world completely by surprise but served once again to prove that anything can happen in the Congo and frequently does. Mr. Tshombe's  first move on his return to power was to try and reconcile the parties to the conflict but when this failed he was quick to appreciate the real and sinister nature of the uprising and saw it clearly for what it was, an all out attempt by the Communist Bloc to seize power in the Congo, overthrow law and order and establish a communist presence in the heart of Africa.

The initiative was with the rebels and mounting success was theirs. The National Army, bewitched and demoralized, retreated on all fronts and in many cases deserted lock stock and barrel to the enemy. Faced with this extraordinary dilemma Mr. Tshombe decided on extraordinary measures. His immediate resolve was to hire white mercenary troops to assist the Congolese National Army put down the rebellion before it was too late.

Whilst it was an intensely practical solution to the problem and many will say the only one open to him it was one which brought down on his head a torrent of abuse from members of the Communist Bloc and O.A.U., none of whom, however, were able to offer any assistance other than the formation of a Committee of Conciliation which proved moribund from the start.

This book tells the story of the events of the next eighteen months and the adventures which befell 5 Commando A.N.C., the unit of white mercenary soldiers which fought through four campaigns in the Congo to suppress the rebellion. It is very much the personal story of that unit and for that reason makes little mention of the Congolese National Army.

Mercenary soldiering is what one makes it. For my part I wanted only the adventure and the fulfillment of command, but in the event I found myself taking a substantial part in the political life of the Congo and the shaping of the future of that great and magnificent country. If this experience had taught me anything it is that the battle for Africa is now on, and that the newly independent African States are ill equipped physically and ideologically to fight it. Who knows but that the mercenary soldier, if he measures up to the high standard required, may yet prove to be the only real and positive check to the communist invasion of Africa which had now begun.

I make no apologies for being a mercenary soldier. Quite the reverse. I am proud to have led 5 Commando. I am proud to have fought shoulder to shoulder with the toughest and bravest band of men it has ever been my honour to command. I am proud that they stood when all else failed. And I have two regrets. The first is that it should have cost us so dearly in men killed and seriously wounded. The second is that I never quite realized my ambition, to erase the image of les affreux and replace it with a standard of discipline and soldierly behaviour which would have entitled 5 Commando to be called worthy successors of the noblest mercenary soldiers who ever offered their swords for reward and their hearts for an ideal, the "Wild Geese" of the eighteenth century.

T.M.B. Hoare

An article by Edward Brian McCabe published on his Official website

© Copyright Edward Brian McCabe. 2008


Click on Certificate to enlarge and repeat to shrink

A certificate from Mike Hoare to Edward Brian McCabe for serving with him in 2 Campaigns during the Congo rebellion in 1964/65