A Brief History of the Mercenary - Soldier of Fortune - and Contractors

Still under construction and adding new information as it comes in

Over the years Mercenary work has been regarded as the second oldest profession in the world.

Quote. Although some might argue that it is a peculiarly male version of prostitution, it has effectively been around for as long as war has been waged. Unquote As referred to by Peter Tickler in the introduction to his book ‘The Modern Mercenary’ published by Patrick Stephens Ltd 1987 ISBN No 0-82059-8125. Well worth a read.


Quote The armed forces of many nations have, at one time or another, used foreign volunteers who were motivated by political, ideological or other considerations to join a foreign army. These may be formed into units of a given nationality or may be formed into mixed nationality foreign units. Sometimes foreign volunteers were incorporated into ordinary units. The practice has a long history, dating back at least as far as the Roman Empire, which recruited non-citizens into Auxiliary units on the promise of them receiving Roman citizenship for themselves and their descendents at the end of their service. Unquote  Source Wiki


A tactic used by Alexandra the Great (356-323BC) was to employ mercenaries to work and fight alongside his men to pass on their trade. These were foreign nationals in high demand for the specific skills that they possessed, and they were well paid for their work.


It’s a recorded fact that Hannibal (248–181BC) used mercenaries in his army. He trained more than just battle-hardened veterans.  He took an army of mercenaries, men that came from all over the known world, and moulded them into a tough fighting force, and one of the first professional armies in the world.  If you have good training, you don't expect to have 16 or 32 rows of men behind you in battle.  You know that as long as you have basic support, you can stand your ground. That fact helped to free up men who would otherwise be at the back of the phalanx.

The phalanx is the name given to a particular military formation. The credit for having developed this formation goes to Alexander's father Philip II. The phalanx is a box formation made up of infantry soldiers. The number of men may vary from eight to thirty six. The men who made up the front ranks were required to carry spears measuring at least twelve feet in length. It was essential that all of them carried the spears in an upright position. This would create a wall of spears. Besides looking very formidable this formation had another function. The wall of spears served to conceal what was going on inside the formation. The soldiers inside could take aim and kill the enemies without disturbance, as they themselves would be practically invisible. And if the long spears were held horizontally then enemies could be killed from a safe distance. The phalanx was considered a very revolutionary development and was a very useful and potent strategy. The men used for this formation were given thorough and continuous practice in the form of drills. All the practice made them perfect in their job. This formation was to be used by many later armies and adapted further to suite other conditions of battle.


The Romans made full use of mercenaries wherever possible. It’s recorded in several places in British history how the Romans took young villages into pressed service with their Auxiliary units. In return and providing that the villages did not complain and fight against the Romans, they were left in relevant peace. Once the press ganged villager had served a term of around 20 years they were allowed home and in some cases ended up in prominent positions. There are also records to prove that some of them were allowed to go to Rome and were even granted Roman citizenship.


1100’s to 1200’s

Genghis Khan (1162-1227) one of the world's most infamous conquerors, united the tribes of Asia and formed the greatest continental empire in history. Khan is known to have used mercenaries in his army as he swept across the globe capturing and killing all before him during the 1200’s. Many of his enemies changed sides and offered to fight for him. Although it’s a fair bet that had they not agreed to fight for him they would have been slaughtered themselves.

As Genghis Khan advancing with great speed across the continent, he sent a group of diplomats to the Khwarezmid Empire (modern Turkmenistan / Uzbekistan). However, intimidated by the Mongol's increasing strength, the Khwarezmid ruler put these foreign representatives to death. Khan's response was one of systematic destruction. There was no pardon for either the people or their lands. People were ruthlessly massacred from one city after another, and their land was completely destroyed.

After the Mongols had destroyed the Khwarezmian Empire in 1220 and moved on. Many Khwarezmians survived by working as mercenaries in northern Iraq. Manguberdi's followers remained loyal to him even after his death in 1231, and raided the Seljuk lands of Jazira and Syria for the next several years, calling themselves the Khwarezmiyyas. Ayyubid Sultan Salih Ayyub, in Egypt, later hired their services against his uncle Salih Ismail. The Khwarezmiyyas, heading south from Iraq towards Egypt, invaded Christian-held Jerusalem along the way, on July 11, 1244. The city's citadel, the Tower of David, surrendered on August 23, the Christian population of the city was decimated and the Jews expelled. This triggered a call from Europe for the Seventh Crusade, but the Crusaders would never again be successful in retaking Jerusalem. After being conquered by the Khwarezmian forces, the city stayed under Muslim control until 1917, when it was taken from the Ottomans by the British.


1300’s to 1600’s

The gallowglass or galloglass comes from the Irish gallóglaigh (plural), gallóglach (singular) were an elite class of mercenary who came from the Gaelic-Norse clans in the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland between the mid 13th century and late 16th century. As Scots, they were Gaels and shared a common origin and heritage with the Irish, but as they had intermarried with the 10th century Norse settlers of western Scotland, the Irish called them Gall Gaeil ("foreign Gaels").

They were the mainstay of Scottish and Irish warfare before the advent of gunpowder, and depended upon seasonal service with Irish chieftains. A military leader would often choose a gallowglass to serve as his personal aide and bodyguard because, as a foreigner, the gallowglass would be less subject to local feuds and influences.

The first record of gallowglass service under the Irish was in 1259, when Aedh Ó Conchobair, King of Connacht, received a dowry of 160 Scottish warriors from the daughter of the King of the Hebrides. They were organised into groups known as a "Corrughadh", which consisted of about 100 men. In return for military service, gallowglass contingents were given land and settled in Irish lordships, where they were entitled to receive supplies from the local population. By 1512, there were reported to be fifty-nine groups throughout the country under the control of the Irish nobility. Though initially they were mercenaries, over time they settled and their ranks became filled with native Irish men. They were noted for wielding the massive two-handed sparth axe (a custom noted by Geraldus Cambrensis to have derived from their Norse heritage) and broadsword or claymore ("claidheamh mór"). For armour, the gallowglass wore mail shirts over padded jackets and iron helmets, he was usually accompanied by two boys (like a knight's squires), one of whom carried his throwing spears while the other carried his provisions.

The importation of gallowglass into Ireland was a major factor in containing the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century, as their ranks stiffened the resistance of the Irish lordships. Throughout the middle Ages in Ireland, gallowglass troops were maintained by Gaelic Irish and Hiberno-Norman lords alike. Even the English Lord Deputy of Ireland usually kept a company of them in his service.

In a paper entitled "A Description of the Power of Irishmen", written early in the 16th century, the Irish forces of Leinster are numbered at 522 horse, 5 battalions of gallowglass (gallóglaigh) and 1432 kerne, and those of the other provinces were in like proportion. Mac Cárthaigh Mór, commanded 40 horse, 2 battalions of gallowglass, and 2000 kerne, the Earl of Desmond 400 horse, 3 battalions of gallowglass, and 3000 kerne, besides a battalion of crossbowmen and gunners, the smaller chieftains supplying each their quota of men. In the year 1517, "when the reformation of the country was taken in hand," it was reported that the Irish forces in Thomond were 750 horse, 2324 kerne, and 6 "batayles" of gallowglas, the latter including 60 to 80 footmen harnessed with spears; each of these had a man to bear his harness, some of whom themselves carried spears or bows. Every kerne had a bow, a 'skieve' or quiver, three spears, a sword, and a skene, each two of them having a lad to carry their weapons. The horsemen had two horses apiece, some three, the second bearing the 'knave' or his attendant.

The 16th century in Ireland saw an escalation in military conflict, caused by the Tudor conquest of Ireland. Gallowglass fighters were joined by native Irish mercenaries called buanadha (literally "quartered men") and by newer Scottish mercenaries known as "redshanks". The flow of mercenaries into Ireland was such a threat to English occupation that Queen Elizabeth I took steps against them in 1571. Around 700 of them were executed after the first of the Desmond Rebellions. In spite of the increased use of firearms in Irish warfare, gallowglass remained an important part of Hugh Ó Neill's forces in the Nine Years War. After the combined Irish defeat at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, recruitment of gallowglass waned, although Scottish Highland mercenaries continued to come to Ireland until the 1640s (notably Alasdair Mac Colla). The Gallowglass of the Mac Cárthaigh Riabhaigh is recorded as having attacked Mallow in County Cork as late as 1645. Images of Gallowglass fighting as mercenaries in European mainland armies were sketched by Dürer in 1521 and later by French and Dutch artists. Gallowglass also served in the forces of King Gustav Adolphus of Sweden in his invasion of Livonia during the Thirty Years War.

Though the Gallowglass were abolished as military units, their Clan names endure to this day, often concentrated in areas where their ancestors were settled in the service of Irish lordships. The 6 oldest and most famous Gallowglass clans in Ireland along with their places of origin in Argyll, Scotland were:

...........Mac Cába (MacCabe) from Arran.
...........Mac Domhnaill (MacDonald / McDonnell) from Kintyre and Islay.
...........Mac Dubhghaill (MacDougall / McDowell) from Lorne.
...........Mac Ruairí (MacRory) from Bute.
...........Mac Síthígh (MacSheehy / Sheehy) from Kintyre.
...........Mac Suibhne (MacSweeney / Sweeney) from Knapdale.

We have an Edward Brian McCabe on this website who fought in the Congo during 1965



Mercenaries are sometimes referred to as Wild Geese. A wording that has derived from  ‘The Flight of the Wild Geese’ which refers to the departure of an Irish Jacobite army under the command of Patrick Sarsfield from Ireland to France, as agreed in the Treaty of Limerick on October 3rd 1691, following the end of the Williamite War in Ireland. More broadly, the term ‘Wild Geese’ is used in Irish history to refer to Irish soldiers who left their country to serve in Continental European armies during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

The first Irish troops to serve as a unit for a continental power formed an Irish regiment in the Spanish Army of Flanders in the Eighty Years' War during the 1580s. The regiment had been raised by an English Catholic William Stanley, in Ireland from native Irish soldiers and mercenaries, whom the English authorities wanted out of the country. Stanley was given a commission by Queen Elizabeth I and was intended to lead his regiment on the English side, in support of the Dutch United Provinces. However, in 1585, motivated by religious factors and bribes offered by the Spaniards, Stanley defected to the Spanish side with the regiment.

It has to also be mentioned that it was Major Mike Hoare who rekindled the name Wild Geese and brought it to public notice when he became the military advisor for the film ‘Wild Geese’ made in 1978. Since then it has become a house hold name.


Swiss Guards is the name given to the Swiss soldiers who have served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards, and palace guards at foreign European courts since the late 15th century. In contemporary usage, it refers to the Pontifical Swiss Guard of Vatican City. They have a high reputation for discipline and loyalty to their employers. Apart from household and guard units regular Swiss mercenary regiments have served as line troops in various armies, notably those of France, Spain and Naples up to the 19th century.

Various units of Swiss Guards existed for hundreds of years. The earliest such unit was the Swiss Hundred Guard (Cent-Garde) at the French court (1497 – 1830). This small force was complemented in 1567 by a Swiss Guards regiment. The Papal Swiss Guard in the Vatican was founded in 1506 and is the only Swiss Guard that still exists. In the 18th century several other Swiss Guards existed for periods in various European courts.

The institution reflects the situation of Switzerland at the time. Unlike the present, Switzerland was a poor country whose young men often sought their fortunes abroad. They were also one of the most professional and successful in what they did, and were highly sort after, and highly paid.



The Swedish Foreign Legion known as the Värvat Främlingsregemente (Enlisted Foreigner Regiment) was a Swedish Army infantry regiment organised and recruited in Poland in 1706 during the Great Northern War. It was made up of 1,200 men, mostly former Polish soldiers who had been captured or that had deserted. In 1709 when the regiment marched out of Poland, 960 men deserted, and the regiment was disbanded. The remaining soldiers were transferred to other regiments.



The American Revolutionary War of 1775–1783 or American War of Independence, began as a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen British colonies in North America, and concluded in a global war between several European great powers.

The Thirteen Colonies of North America banded together believing they were being bled dry by a British government that govern them 3000 miles away and had no idea as to the living conditions and problems within the new colonies. All they were concerned with was the collecting of taxes to help King George the 3rd live the high life.

While the Colonialists could muster more than 50,000 volunteers the British were in a position where they only had around 30,000 men at arms, and half that number were manning permanent garrisons in Ireland. Therefore in the summer of 1775 they set about trying to hire a mercenary army. Their first contact was with Catherine the Great of Russia. An agreement was reached for her to supply 20,000 men and the British would pay her £70,000 immediately and a further £70,000 would be paid once the men were on board ships leaving for the America’s. However, Catherine was not to be trusted, not only did she not keep her word, but she kept the first installment of cash. By this time word had already spread to the Americas, and many were dreading what might happen if the mercenaries were to step foot in the America’s.

By this time the British were becoming desperate and next contacted the Dutch Government wanting to hire the ‘Scots Brigade’ that had been formed 150 years earlier, although by this time it was still commanded by Scottish officer but was composed of mercenaries from all over Europe. Many referred to the unit as the Dutch Foreign Legion. However, the Dutch government was deeply split as to allowing them to be hired by Britain, so much so that in the end they told Britain that the deal had gone through but only on the condition that the men did not leave Europe.

Frustrated and running out of time, in late 1975 the British turned to Germany who at that time had some of the most feared but highly trained mercenaries within its military. However the Germans knew they were good and whenever, they were hire out the price was very high. A Colonel Faucitt was dispatched to Germany where at first he was given the cold shoulder with several rebuffs. However he eventually managed to gather an army together from several of the German Counts, although it was a mix of military assistance. Although he did managed to secure the use of 13 Battalion’s Hessian troops some of the best in Germany. These troops were feared wherever they fought and they fought well, but they did come at a high price, costing far more than the reminder of the other troops all added together. They boarded their ships and set sail for America on the 15th February 1776. As a good a fighting unit as they were they were still defeated at the battles of Trenton and Saratoga Springs and later 5000 desertion and swelled the ranks of the German settlers already established in the colonies.

This being the Americas first war it did not sit well that they had to fight mercenaries, something that has always been remembered in America to this day. In fact laws were later passed stopping their countrymen from becoming mercenaries and fighting for other governments.

However, many did and still do to this day. Since the Second World War the American CIA was one of the biggest recruiters and suppliers of Mercenaries especially in the Latin American countries. 'The End of the Scots-Dutch Brigade' by Joachim Miggelbrink.

During the 1700’s it’s estimated that more than one third the male population of Scotland was serving as a mercenary somewhere in Europe. Where most wars between the European countries were using mercenary soldiers.



1830 to 1950 The Dutch East Indies Army (KNIL), informally known as the "Dutch Foreign Legion”, was formed by Royal decree on 10th March 1830. It was not part of the Royal Netherlands Army, but a separate military arm specifically formed for service in the Netherlands East Indies. Its establishment coincided with the Dutch drive to expand colonial rule from the 17th century area of control to the far larger territories comprising the Dutch East Indies seventy years later, which remain the present boundaries of Indonesia.

The KNIL was involved in many campaigns against indigenous groups in the Netherlands East Indies including the Padri War (1821–1845), the Java War (1825–1830), crushing the Puputan (the final resistance of Bali inhabitants to colonial rule) of 1849, and the prolonged Aceh War (1873–1904).

After 1904 the Netherlands East Indies were considered "pacified", with no large-scale armed opposition to Dutch rule until World War II, and the KNIL served a mainly defensive role protecting the Dutch East Indies from the possibility of foreign invasion. In 1894, Lombok and Karangasem were annexed in response to reports of the local Balinese aristocracy oppressing the native Sasak people. Bali was finally taken under full control with the Dutch intervention in Bali (1906) and the final Dutch intervention in Bali (1908).



During a war in Nepal in 1814 the British failed to annex Nepal as part of the Empire, but Army officers were impressed by the tenacity of the Gurkha soldiers and encouraged them to volunteer for the East India Company.

Gurkhas served as troops of the East India Company in the Pindaree War of 1817, in Bharatpur in 1826, and the First and Second Sikh Wars in 1846 and 1848. During the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the Gurkha regiments remained loyal to the British, and became part of the British Indian Army on its formation. The 2nd Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) defended Hindu Rao's house for over three months, losing 327 out of 490 men. The 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps (later part of the Royal Green Jackets) fought alongside the Sirmoor Rifles and were so impressed that following the mutiny they insisted 2nd GR be awarded the honours of adopting their distinctive rifle green uniforms with scarlet edgings and rifle regiment traditions and that they should hold the title of riflemen rather than sepoys. Twelve Gurkha regiments also took part in the relief of Lucknow. Gurkha regiments in the British Indian Army served in both World Wars.

Some have suggested that the Gurkha Brigade could be classed as Britain’s Foreign Legion.

The Brigade of Gurkhas is the collective term for units of the current British Army that are composed of Nepalese soldiers. The brigade, which is 3,640 strong, draws its heritage from Gurkha units that originally served in the British Indian Army prior to Indian independence, and prior to that of the East India Company. The brigade includes infantry, engineer, signal, logistic and training and support units. They are famous for their ever-present kukris, a distinctive heavy knife with a curved blade, and for their reputation of being fierce fighters and brave soldiers. They take their name from the hill town of Gorkha from which the Nepalese kingdom had expanded. The ranks have always been dominated by four ethnic groups, the Gurungs and Magars from central Nepal; and the Rais and Limbus from the east, who live in hill villages of hill farmers.



The Lafayette Escadrille (from the French Escadrille de Lafayette), was a squadron of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique militaire, during World War I it was composed largely by American volunteer pilots flying fighters.

The squadron was formed in April 1916 as the Escadrille américaine (number 124) in Luxeuil prior to U.S. entry into the war. Dr. Edmund L. Gros, director of the American Ambulance Service, and Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying for France, led the efforts to persuade the French government of the value of a volunteer American air unit fighting for France. The aim was to have their efforts recognized by the American public and thus, it was hoped, the resulting publicity would rouse interest in abandoning neutrality and joining the fight. Not all American pilots were in this squadron; other American pilots fought for France as part of the Lafayette Flying Corps.

The squadron was quickly moved to Bar-le-Duc, closer to the front. A German objection filed with the U.S. government, over the actions of a supposed neutral nation, led to the name change in December. The original name implied that the U.S. was allied to France when it was in fact neutral.

Their fighter aircraft, mechanics, and the uniforms were French, as was the commander, Captain Georges Thenault. Five French pilots were also on the roster, serving at various times. Raoul Lufbery, a French-born American citizen, became the squadrons first, and ultimately their highest scoring flying ace with 16 confirmed victories before his squadron was transferred to the US Air Services.



The Spanish Legión (Spanish LegiónEspañola, LaLegión or colloquially El Tercio), formerly Spanish Foreign Legion, was an elite unit of the Spanish Army. Founded as the Tercio de Extranjeros ("Foreigners Regiment"), it was originally intended as a Spanish equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, but in practice it recruited almost exclusively Spaniards. The Spanish Legion's animal mascot is the Legión's goat.

The Spanish Foreign Legion was formed by royal decree of King Alfonso XIII on January 28, 1920, with the Minister of War José Villalba Riquelme stating, "With the designation of Foreigners Regimentthere will be created an armed military unit, whose recruits, uniform and regulations by which they should be governed will be set by the minister of war." In the 1920s the Spanish Foreign Legion's five battalions were filled primarily by native Spaniards (since foreigners were not easy to recruit) with most of its foreign members coming from the now independent Republic of Cuba.

The Spanish Foreign Legion was created along the lines of the French Foreign Legion as a corps of professional troops that could replace conscripts in colonial campaigns. There has been much confusion—even today—in the English speaking countries over the Spanish title for this military unit "La Legion Extranjera" which roughly translates in English as "The Legion of Foreigners". The misconception is over the Spanish word "extranjero" which has a triple meaning and can be translated as "foreigners," but also can mean "foreign" or "abroad". In this case the translation is "abroad". The Spanish title actually should be translated in English as "The Legion to serve abroad". While the Spanish Foreign Legion did accept non-Spaniards when it was first recruited (e.g. the first unit recruited had one Chinese and one Japanese recruit), it was always intended that the majority of its members be Spaniards who were joining to fight outside of European Spain.

The Spanish Legion's first major campaign, for which they are still famous, was in Spanish North Africa. In 1920 Spain was facing a major rebellion in the Protectorate of Spanish Morocco, led by the able Rif leader Abdel Krim. On September 2 of that same year, King Alfonso XIII conferred command of the new regiment on Lieutenant Colonel of Infantry José Millán Astray, chief proponent of its establishment. Millán Astray was an able soldier but an eccentric and extreme personality. His style and attitude would become part of the mystique of the Legion.

On September 20 the first recruit joined the new Legion; this date is celebrated yearly. The initial make-up of the regiment was that of a headquarters unit and three battalions (known as Banderas, or "flags"). Each battalion was in turn made up of a headquarters company, two rifle companies and a machine gun company. The regiment's initial location was at the Cuartel del Rey en Ceuta on the Plaza de Colón. At its height, during the Spanish Civil War, the legion consisted of 18 banderas, plus a tank bandera, an assault engineer bandera and a Special Operations Group. Banderas 12 through 18 were considered independent units and never served as part of the tercios.

Francisco Franco was one of the founding members of the Legion and the unit's second-in-command. The Legion fought in Morocco in the War of the Rif (to 1926). Together with the Regulares (Moorish colonial troops), the Legion made up the Spanish Army of Africa. In 1934 units of both the Legion and the Regulares were brought to Spain by the new Republican Government to help put down a workers revolt in the area of Asturias.

Under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Juan Yagüe the Army of Africa played an important part in the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist side. The professionalism of both the Legion and the Regulares gave Franco's Nationalists a significant initial advantage over the less well trained Republican forces. The Army of Africa remained the elite spearhead of the Nationalist armies throughout the Civil War. Following the Nationalist victory in 1939, the Legion was reduced in size and returned to its bases in Spanish Morocco. When Morocco gained its independence in 1956 the Legion continued in existence as part of the garrison of the remaining Spanish enclaves and territories in North Africa. The Legion fought Arab irregulars in the Ifni War in 1957-58.



The International Brigades (Spanish Brigadas Internacionales) were military units made up of anti-fascist volunteers from different countries, who traveled to Spain to defend the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939.

An estimated 32,000 people from a claimed "53 nations" volunteered. They fought against rebel Spanish Nationalist forces, which were led by General Francisco Franco and assisted by German and Italian forces.

Using foreign Communist Parties to recruit volunteers for Spain was first proposed in the Soviet Union in September 1936—apparently at the suggestion of Maurice Thorez by Willi Münzenberg, chief of Comintern propaganda for Western Europe. As a security measure, non-Communist volunteers would first be interviewed by an NKVD agent.

By the end of September, the Italian and French Communist Parties had decided to set up a column. Luigi Longo, ex-leader of the Italian Communist Youth, was charged to make the necessary arrangements with the Spanish government. The Soviet Ministry of Defense also helped, since they had experience of dealing with corps of international volunteers during the Russian Civil War. The idea was initially opposed by Largo Caballero, but after the first setbacks of the war, he changed his mind, and finally agreed to the operation on 22 October. However, the Soviet Union did not withdraw from the Non-Intervention Committee, probably to avoid diplomatic conflict with France and the United Kingdom.

The main recruitment centre was in Paris, under the supervision of Polish communist colonel Karol "Walter" Świerczewski. On 17 October 1936, an open letter by Joseph Stalin to José Díaz was published in MundoObrero, arguing that liberation for Spain was a matter not only for Spaniards, but also for the whole of "progressive humanity"; in a matter of days, support organisations for the Spanish Republic were founded in most countries, all more or less controlled by the Comintern.

Entry to Spain was arranged for volunteers: for instance, a Yugoslavian, Josip Broz, who would become famous as Marshal Josip Broz Tito, was in Paris to provide assistance, money and passports for volunteers from Eastern Europe. Volunteers were sent by train or ship from France to Spain, and sent to the base at Albacete. However, many of them also went by themselves to Spain. The volunteers were under no contract, nor defined engagement period, which would later prove a problem.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade refers to volunteers from the United States who served in the Spanish Civil War in the International Brigades. As time went on, the name Abraham Lincoln Brigade became used loosely, in the United States, as shorthand to describe any unit with an American component.


The Portuguese Legion (Portuguese, Legião Portuguesa) was a Portuguese paramilitary state organisation founded in 1936 during dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar's right-wing regime, the Estado Novo. It was during dissolved in 1974.

Its stated objectives were to "defend the spiritual heritage [of Portugal" and to "fight the communist threat and anarchism". During the Second World War the Portuguese Legion was the only Portuguese state organisation that openly adopted and defended Hitler's aims for Europe.

The Portuguese Legion was under the control of the Ministry of the Interior and War, and was responsible for coordinating civil defense in Portuguese territory, including in the Portuguese Empire. It was deeply involved in multiple collaborations with PIDE, the political police that was the authoritarian regime's main tool of repression.



After the fall of Poland to the invading German army during 1939, many Polish pilots made their way to the UK where they enlisted in the Royal Air Force. Many of the pilots became some of the top pilots in the RAF and were highly decorated. Sadly their heroic flying was not recognised by the powers that be. It’s a known fact that they can be given the honour of being one of the major reasons why the Germans finally gave up on their persistent bombing of London, that was supposed to lead up to the German invasion of England. At the end of the war and during the celebration London witnessed a very larger fly over of the city by almost every aircraft they could get into the air. Sadly the surviving Polish pilots were not allowed to take part. Apparently Churchill who had under taken a few shady deals with the Russian leader Stalin, and did not want to offend him. Many Polish pilots were killed during that campaign and overnight their deeds had been forgotten. Britain had won the war, but sadly the Polish pilots knew they had lost the war. Many were later shunned by the British public leading to them leaving the country to return to Poland were some of them mysteriously disappear. What price freedom?


Before the bombing of Pearl Harbour and America’s entry into the Second World War, many American pilots went to the UK and enlisted in the Royal air Force. The British had formed three squadrons that became known as ‘Eagle Squadrons’, for volunteer pilots from the United States.

Charles Sweeny, a wealthy businessman living in London, began recruiting American citizens to fight as a US volunteer detachment in the French Air force, echoing the Lafayette Escadrille of the First World War. With the fall of France a dozen of these recruits joined the RAF. Sweeny's efforts were also co-ordinated in Canada by World War I air ace Billy Bishop and with artist Clayton Knight who formed the Clayton Knight Committee, who, by the time the USA entered the war in December 1941, had processed and approved 6,700 applications from Americans to join the RCAF or RAF. Sweeny and his rich society contacts bore the cost (over $100,000) of processing and bringing the US trainees to the UK for training.


At the start of the Second World War many Canadians went to the UK and enlisted in the Royal air Force, although they were from a commonwealth country they were not citizens of the UK, as they held Canadian passports.


Before the bombing of Pearl Harbour and America’s entry into the Second World War, many American pilots went to China and joined the famous Flying Tigers.

Flying Tigers was the popular name of the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941-1942. The pilots were United States Army (USAAF), Navy (USN), and Marine Corps (USMC) personnel recruited under Presidential sanction and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault; the ground crew and headquarters staff were likewise mostly recruited from the U.S. military, along with some civilians. The group consisted of three fighter squadrons with about 20 aircraft each. It trained in Burma before the American entry into World War II with the mission of defending China against Japanese forces. Arguably, the group was a private military contractor, and for that reason the volunteers have sometimes been called mercenaries. The members of the group had lucrative contracts with salaries ranging from $250 a month for a mechanic to $750 for a squadron commander, roughly three times what they had been making in the U.S. forces.

The Tigers' shark-faced fighters remain among the most recognizable of any individual combat aircraft of World War II, and they demonstrated innovative tactical victories when the news in the U.S. was filled with little more than stories of defeat at the hands of the Japanese forces.

The group first saw combat on 20 December 1941, 12 days after Pearl Harbor (local time). It achieved notable success during the lowest period of the war for U.S. and Allied Forces, giving hope to Americans that they would eventually succeed against the Japanese. While cross-referencing records after the war revealed their actual kill numbers were substantially less, the Tigers were paid combat bonuses for destroying nearly 300 enemy aircraft, while losing only 14 pilots on combat missions. In July 1942, the AVG was replaced by the U.S. Army 23rd Fighter Group, which was later, absorbed into the U.S. 14th Air Force with General Chennault as commander. The 23rd FG went on to achieve similar combat success, while retaining the nose art and fighting name of the volunteer unit.



The Machal (Hebrew: מח"ל ‎, an acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz LaAretz (Hebrew: מתנדבי חוץ לארץ ‎), lit. Were volunteers from outside the Land [of Israel) is a term used to describe both Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers who went to Israel to fight in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War including Aliyah Bet. About 4,000 volunteers from all over the world came to fight on the Israeli side.

The Mahalniks were mostly World War II veterans from American and British armed forces. Allied armies were reduced considerably after the end of the war and many soldiers were demobilised, moreover, the service experience became mundane and did not suit some servicemen, particularly pilots. In various circumstances they were invited, or heard of the Jewish state's struggle for independence and volunteered. There were Jews and Christians, both ideological supporters of Zionism and mercenaries.

The Ha'apala movement, also called "Aliyah Bet", which attempted to evade the 1939 and 1948 British Naval blockade restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine, was assisted by 236 Mahal former servicemen of the Allied Navies as crews of ten clandestine Jewish refugee ships, out of sixty-six participating vessels.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War saw approximately 3,500 foreign volunteers from forty-three countries among the Jewish forces, out of an estimated 29,677–108,300 total (its size grew considerably in later stages of the war owing to immigration into Palestine). A total of 119 Mahalniks were killed in battle.

One of the most senior Machal personnel was Mickey Marcus, a Jewish United States Army colonel who assisted Israeli forces during the war and became Israel's first Brigadier General. Marcus's wartime experience was vital in breaking the 1948 Siege of Jerusalem.

The largest presence of Machal was felt in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), making up nearly a quarter of its personnel, to the point that English overtook Hebrew as the most common operational IAF service language.

A few hours before the final cease-fire on 7 January 1949, a flight of four British RAF Spitfires bypassed the southern Israeli border on a reconnaissance flight. They were attacked by a pair of Israeli Air Force Spitfires, resulting in three of the British planes shot down. The Israeli Spitfires were flown by Mahal volunteers "Slick" Goodlin (USA) and John McElroy (Canada). Both were former US Army Air Forces and Royal Canadian Air Force pilots, veterans of World War II.
Covert and overt cargo flights flown by Mahal air crews transported weapons and supplies to Palestine from Europe, and thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. During the Egyptian Army siege on the Negev region in 1948, Machal pilots airlifted thousands of tons of supplies to communities behind enemy lines, usually by night landings of large cargo planes and converted airliners on makeshift, unpaved sand runways, hand lit by oil lamps. The national Israeli airline El Al was partially founded by Machal veterans.

The integration of Machal personnel into the Israel Defense Forces did not proceed without difficulty. Occasional tensions surfaced due to the superior pay and service conditions demanded by and given to the volunteers over native Israeli soldiers, mainly in the Air Force; some of the volunteers were adventurers with little commitment to Zionism or to a rigid, disciplined hierarchy. This culminated in the disbandment of the Air Transport Division, following "industrial action" by its Machal personnel over pay conditions. The division was re-established with Israeli personnel
After the end of the war in 1949, the majority of the Machal returned to their home countries. Although some remained to live in Israel; the village of Kfar Daniel near Lod was founded by Mahal veterans from North America and the UK.



1961 to 1980 Rhodesian Light Infantry, informally known as "Rhodesian Foreign Legion".

The 1st Battalion, The Rhodesian Light Infantry (1RLI or RLI) was a regular airborne commando regiment (paratroops and heliborne troops) in the Rhodesian army. The RLI was originally formed as a light infantry regiment in 1961, reformed as a commando battalion in 1965, became a parachute Battalion in 1977 and was disbanded at the end of the Rhodesian War in 1980. Nicknamed 'The Saints' or 'The Incredibles', the Rhodesian Light Infantry was regarded, through astounding success with both internal Fireforce operations in Rhodesia and external preemptive strikes against guerrillas based in Mozambique and Zambia as one of the world's foremost proponents of counter-insurgency warfare.

Composed only of white recruits, the Rhodesian Light Infantry was formed within the army of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in Bulawayo on 1 February 1961. The Battalion's nucleus was formed from the short-lived Number One Training Unit, which had been raised to provide personnel for a white infantry Battalion as well as for C Squadron 22 (Rhodesian) SAS and the Selous Scouts (a Federation Armoured Car Corps). The latter is not to be confused with the Selous Scouts, a Special Forces regiment of the same name, whose Commanding Officer, Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, had been the RSM and later a Captain in the RLI.

The first RLI intake included 100 recruits from South Africa, and was trained by instructors seconded from the British Army; shortly afterwards the regiment moved to its purpose built, and at the time state-of-the art HQ at Cranborne Barracks near the capital, Salisbury.

As well as Rhodesian-born (or raised) soldiers, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (and 3 Commando in particular) attracted foreign volunteers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, the United States, Mozambique (settlers of Portuguese descent), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, West Germany, Scandinavia and other places. This does not mean however, that this was a mercenary unit, as it was a regular unit of the Rhodesian Army and the non-Rhodesians (who all spoke English) had the same pay and conditions of service as the Rhodesian regulars. The significant majority (probably more than 80%) of serving members were Rhodesian.

From 1977 onwards around half of the Battalion was composed of selected Rhodesian conscripts, who served less time (in theory) than a regular. In practice, there was such a high turnover that the conscript could serve longer than many a regular. The quality of these conscripts was overall at least as high as the regulars, of which many were former conscripts.

Quote. While those who volunteered to fight in the Congo in the 1960’s were mercenaries in the accepted sense of the word, many who arrived in Rhodesia a decade later resented being labeled as such. It somehow mattered that they were part of a regular army, police or air force, serving under the same terms and conditions and the same meager wages as their Rhodesian Colleagues. Unquote. From Anthony Rogers and his book ‘Someone Else’s War’ published by Harper Collins 1998. No 0-00-472078-4.  Another book worth reading.


Modern Day Private Military Companies (PMCs)

The private military company (PMC) is the contemporary strand of the mercenary trade, providing logistics, soldiers, military training, and other services. Thus, PMC contractors are civilians (in governmental, international, and civil organizations) authorized to accompany an army to the field; hence, the term civilian contractor. Nevertheless, PMCs may use armed force, hence defined as: "legally established enterprises that make a profit, by either providing services involving the potential exercise of [armed] force in a systematic way and by military means, and/or by the transfer of that potential to clients through training and other practices, such as logistics support, equipment procurement, and intelligence gathering".

Private paramilitary forces are functionally mercenary armies, not security guards or advisors; however, national governments reserve the right to control the number, nature, and armaments of such private armies, arguing that, provided they are not pro-actively employed in front-line combat, they are not mercenaries. That said, PMC "civilian contractors" have poor repute among professional government soldiers and officers — the US Military Command have questioned their war zone behavior. In September 2005, Brigadier General Karl Horst, deputy commander of the Third Infantry Division charged with Baghdad security after the 2003 invasion, said of DynCorp and other PMCs in Iraq: These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force... They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place.

If PMC employees participate in pro-active combat, the press calls them mercenaries, and the PMCs mercenary companies. In the 1990s, the media identified four mercenary companies:

Executive Outcomes.  Angola, Sierra Leone, and other locations worldwide (closed 31 December 1998)

Sandline International. Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone (closed 16 April 2004)

Gurkha Security Guards Ltd. Sierra Leone.

DynCorp International. Bosnia, Somalia, Angola, Haiti, Colombia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan (active)
In 2004 the PMC business was boosted, because the US and Coalition governments hired them for security in Iraq. In March 2004, four Blackwater USA employees escorting food supplies and other equipment were attacked and killed in Fallujah, in a videotaped attack; the killings and subsequent dismemberment were a cause for the First Battle of Fallujah. Afghan war operations also boosted the business.

In 2006, a U.S. congressional report listed a number of PMCs and other enterprises that have signed contracts to carry out anti-narcotics operations and related activities as part of Plan Colombia. DynCorp was among those contracted by the State Department, while others signed contracts with the Defense Department. Other companies from different countries, including Israel, have also signed contracts with the Colombian Defense Ministry to carry out security or military activities.

The United Nations disapproves of PMCs (still, the UN hired Executive Outcomes for African logistic support work). The question is whether or not PMC soldiers are as accountable for their war zone actions as are the Bosniak armed forces. A common argument for using PMCs (used by the PMCs themselves), is that PMCs may be able to help combat genocide and civilian slaughter where the UN is unwilling or unable to intervene.

In February 2002, a British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) report about PMCs noted that the demands of the military service from the UN and international civil organizations might mean that it is cheaper to pay PMCs than use soldiers. Yet, after considering using PMCs to support UN operations, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, decided against it.

In October 2007, the United Nations released a two-year study that stated, that although hired as "security guards", private contractors were performing military duties. The report found that the use of contractors such as Blackwater was a "new form of mercenary activity" and illegal under International law. Many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, are not signatories to the 1989 United Nations Mercenary Convention banning the use of mercenaries.


Of Britain’s need to use mercenaries in its armed services it’s worth noting that during the 18th and 19th century the population of the country was quite small especially when you compare it to some of the other war like nations on the continent. Around that time Britain’s population is guessed to have been between 5 and 7 million. While in France Britain’s natural aggressor their population was estimated to have been around 20 million, about the same size as Russia. While Germany was also known to have had a very large population. Therefore if Britain was to flex its muscle around the world it had to recruit from where ever it could. The British Army was also tiny in comparison with its neighbours that it used mainly in a policing role around their huge Empire, against inferior and in most cases poorly armed (enemies). The British Army was never meant nor could it, go head to head with large continental armies of the time. The Kaiser when speaking of the ‘Contemptible’ British Army was not referring to their fighting ability, but the pathetic size of it.

Quote There is something Peculiarly Hypocritical about the occasional condemnation of mercenary activity issued by various British Governments over the past quarter of a century. British governments have always used mercenaries whenever it suite their interests and indeed continue to do so even now. Unquote taken rom Anthony Mocklers book ‘The New Mercenaries’ Published by Corgi Books 1985 ISBN No 0-552-12558X. Another good book to read.

Anthony’s quote is something I have always believed to be the case. Most people claim the description of a mercenary is somebody who soldiers for pay for a country that is not his own. I like to go a little further and add that its somebody who fights for a country of which he is not a citizen, in other words he is fighting under a Foreign Flag. This includes those who chose to go to France and join the Foreign Legion. Those who chose to join a British Ghurka unit, as well as those British soldiers who moved on to serve in the Forces of the Sultan of Oman. For those who chose to join the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, to protect the Roman Catholic Pope. For the Americans who flout their own countries laws and offer their services to many of the Latin American countries, and there are many more.

Most of the major countries who signed the 1947 Geneva Convention did so only after the original wording had been changed in order that it suited that countries need. This allowed them to carry on doing what most of them had been doing for a couple of thousand years. In Britain’s case it was to allow them to recruit the Ghurkas. The Ghurka’s were not British citizens, or they were not until last year when public opinion turned against the government, and they had to change the law to grant many of them passports and visas. Which was not a bad swap for the services these people had given Britain over a couple of hundred years.

Like in France where they were still allowed to recruit for an army that was 95% made up of foreign soldiers who over the years have served France well. After all they were treated as expendable and were used as front line shock troops in most conflicts.

Like the Vatican who could carry on recruiting for their Swiss guard un-hinded by world opinion. It has to also be remembered that all the time this recruiting was going on the Governments involved were always denying that they used mercenaries in their armed forces.

They have always claimed that under article 74 of the Geneva Convention that they signed in 1949 allowed them to carry on as usual. They were exempt under clauses 47 (a) (c) (d) (e) and (f). In fact both Britain and France would not have signed the Convention if the clauses had not been included especially for them.

Art 47. Mercenaries
1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.
2. A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is especially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.


Officially this is what Britain, France and the Vatican hide behind to this day.

Foreign nationals recruited from countries of the Commonwealth of Nations in the British Army swear allegiance to the British monarch and are liable to operate in any unit. Gurkhas however operate in dedicated Gurkha units of the British Army (specifically units that are administered by the Brigade of Gurkhas; however, although they are nationals of a country that is not part of the Commonwealth, they still swear allegiance to the British monarch and abide the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve, similar rules apply to Gurkhas of the Indian Army. French Foreign Legionnaires are formed units of the French Foreign Legion, which deploys and fights as an organised unit of the French Army. This means that as members of the armed forces of Britain, India, and France these soldiers are not mercenary soldiers per APGC77 Art 47.e and APGC77 Art 47.f.


Protocol I was a 1977 amendment protocol to the Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts. It reaffirms the international laws of the original Geneva Conventions of 1949, but adds clarifications and new provisions to accommodate developments in modern international warfare that have taken place since the Second World War.

As of 8th June 2007, it had been ratified by 168 countries, with the United States, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iraq being notable exceptions. However, the United States, Iran, and Pakistan signed it on 12 December 1977 with the intention of ratifying it. According to an appeal by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1997, a number of the articles contained in both protocols are recognised as rules of customary international law valid for all states, whether or not they have ratified them.


In 1998 South Africa passed the "Foreign Military Assistance Act" that banned citizens and residents from any involvement in foreign wars, except in humanitarian operations, unless a government committee approved its deployment. In 2005, the legislation was reviewed by the government because of South African citizens working as security guards in Iraq during the American Iraq occupation and the consequences of the mercenary soldier sponsorship case against Mark Thatcher for the "possible funding and logistical assistance in relation to an alleged attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea" organized by Simon Mann.


Books Source All well worth a read

  1. ‘The Modern Mercenary’ by Peter Tickler published by Patrick Stephens Ltd 1987 ISBN No 0-82059-8125.
  2. ‘The New Mercenaries’ by Anthony Mockler Published by Corgi Books 1985 ISBN No 0-552-12558X.
  3. ‘Someone Else’s War’ by Anthony Rogers Published by Harper Collins 1998. ISBN No 0-00-472078-4


WebSite Source



Further Articles of Interest

The French Foreign Legion
The Spanish Foreign Legion
The Gurkha Brigade (British Foreign Legion)