Brief Biography

John Banks

Johns brief biography makes very interesting reading, but so do some of the many claims his has made over the years that implicated the UK Government on many occasions during British mercenary involvements around the world, especially Angola during 1975/76, some of these I tend to agree with. They are covered below this Biography.

John Banks was born in Aldershot England in 1945, his father having been an officer in the Army Medical Corps attached to the Airborne Forces. Therefore, John spent most of his early years in and around the Camberley area, being close to the Royal Military Academy and the conglomeration of the Army Barracks at Aldershot. Before he had reached the age of 10, he had lived in Egypt and Cyprus in a service community attending service schools. In 1962 at the age of 17 years he enlisted in the Army at Maida Barracks.

On completion of his initial training he was posted to 'D' Company the elite “Pathfinder” unit of the Second Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. After 4 years in 'D' Company John was transferred to Second Battalion’s Special Patrol Company. A unit specialising in the deep penetration of enemy held territory by small ruthless patrols. It was during this time that John saw action around the world in Aden, Borneo, Cyprus, Malaya and the Trucial Oman States. (Gulf Area).

He claimed he was shot in the stomach in Borneo. In Aden he was shot in the back while carrying a wounded comrade to safety. He was also hit in the face with shrapnel from a Russian Grenade. Because of his injuries in 1968 he was posted to the Parachute Regiment Battle School in Wales, as an unarmed combat instructor.

On 10th June 1969 he was discharged from the Army. John then claims that he applied and was accepted to join the US Army Special Forces. But was released after a few weeks when it was discovered that his brother Roger (the Katangese Mercenary) was believed to be running guns to the Vietcong in the Mekong Delta. John has also claimed (but it has never been verified) that he was then offered and accepted several missions for the CIA in Europe undertaking 4 trips to smuggle people across the Iron Curtain.

In 1970 he met up with David Sterling (founder of the S.A.S.) (Having been introduced by James Kent), who was running a security recruitment firm called “Watchguard”?

John has also claimed (though it has never been verified) that he was recruited as member of the “The Hilton Assignment” as a radio operator. A group of 25 mercenaries where to try and release a large group of political prisoners, from a Libyan prison who would then join up with a coupe that would be in process to overthrow Colonel Gadhaffi. The raid was to be launched from Italy by boat.

There were three attempts to get the raid operational. The first one was made up of 100% English nationality personnel, this the English Government put a stop to not wanting to get involved. The second and third attempts were 100% French nationality personnel. On Sunday the 21.03.71 as the third attempt was being made to start the raid. The Italian security forces stormed on board the “Conquistador X111, as it was about to leave “Trieste Harbour”, arresting the Captain and three French crew members and placing them in prison. After the CIA appealed to the Italian Secret Service and also the British to terminate the assignment.

The Captain was charged under the name of Jock Fraser, (could this be an alias).  John claims in his book “Wages of War” to have been on board a boat called the “Conquistador 111” when it was impounded in Trieste Harbour (not the Conquistador X111 as claimed in the book “The Hilton Assignment” by Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville). If that were the case, then that would make John Banks the Captain and not the Radio operator as he has claimed (being the only Englishman on board at the time). Also according to Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville a Frenchman called Leon led the second and third attempts, and in Johns book he claims to have been serving under a French leader called Leon. It is possible that John was a member of the First attempt (in October 1970) the one that David Sterling was involved with, because John was working with David at that time.

David Sterling was involved with a lot of very high-ranking government members including Sir Alec Douglas-Hume, (Foreign Minister at the time) and he was warned off and told that no British subjects should take part in the raid. The British Government was worried that Colonel Qadhaffi would retaliate against them if the attempt failed. It was for this reason that the second and third attempts used all French Mercenaries. James Kent also took a active part in all three attempts that were made, in fact the first attempt was his plan and he put it into operation, only failing when the arms and ammunition failed to turn up, plus the British government putting a stop to it.

It is hard to confirm or deny whether John Banks was connected with the Hilton Assignment or if it is all part of the legends that has build up over a long period of time. With little white lies being believed by some people, when verification can not be made by governments refusing to give details.

The CIA had thought Gadhaffi would be sympathetic to the USA. How wrong they were once again. (read William Morgan's Biography).

After a few weeks in an Italian prison John arrived back in Britain flat broke. So he started his own bodyguard agency called “Agency Body Guards” which also went broke after just a few months. He then went to Vietnam were he fought on the opposite side to his brother. Recruited by Watch Guard he arrived in February 1971 in Saigon and then went to Da Nang where he joined a small army of mercenaries, mostly British ex SAS men. The mercenaries were organised into ten men “killer” groups, and infiltrated into North Vietnam to carry out specific tasks of demolition, sabotage, kidnapping and assassination.

One of the assassinations targets being a Red Chinese General. This operation, Banks alleges was financed by the Australian Government. A further unproved claim by John is that in 1972 he was fighting in Kurdistan for the Kurd Separatist Troops. John and an ex parachute friend led raids across the rugged mountain border. After 4 months his friend was killed, so John returned to Britain and ran a trucking company delivering goods to the Middle East. In 1975 he ran a Mercenary for hire firm trying numerous schemes but with not a lot of luck, finally ending up with the Security Advisory Services. Then in 1976 he suddenly walked onto a very lucrative recruitment deal sending out over 100 men to Angola to join the FNLA to fight the Cubans, who at that time were taking over the country. He even briefly visited Angola for himself, along with his best friend and personal body guard 'Sutch' Fortuin. However, the number of mercenaries he was delivering at the time were a few short and so he slipped away from Fortuin and deserted him, leaving him in Angola. When Fortuin was eventually captured and put on trial he was sentenced to 24 years in Luanda prison. However, Angola turned out to be another lost cause, and the money soon dried up as the conflict ended in Feb 1976.

In 1980 he was arrested and charged with obtaining money from an American Diplomat in London. For this he was given two years in prison, but escaped and was recaptured 4 months later. 

A few of Johns claims

Apart from Johns Claims of being connected to the ‘Hilton Assignment’, over the years he has also made many other claims.

During 1975/76 when Banks was sending mercenaries out to Angola the press soon picked up that some of the recruits did not even have passports, and that they were secretly being boarded onto aircraft to take them to first Brussels, and then Zaire, before crossing the border into Angola. It was also noted by some of the more vigilant reporters that some of the recruits were even out on bail, and awaiting trial. These were also allowed to board the plane unhindered.

It’s clear that John was being given a helping hand from up high to get the recruits to Angola with the least amount of fuss. Banks once boasted to the ‘News of the World’ newspaper that he had been contacted by Special Branch about his operations and asked if he could add a couple of their M16 men to the group. No doubt hoping to keep the government of the day informed as to what was going on, not wanting to be on the losing side as they say.

Unfortunately for the Government, they left it a little too late to show their hand, when the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a statement in Parliament discrediting the operation and telling the world that they were just a group of small time crooks and robbers with records, looking for big money for doing nothing. While other good law abiding citizens of the UK were earning a good hard living.

Wilson went on to declare that the Government had nothing to do with it, calling it “Utterly abhorrent to the British system and standards of the country”. If this were true then why had the Government not made it harder for these guys to leave the country in the first place? Instead of choosing to make it easier for them?

It has to also be noted that Harold Wilson’s comments were made just after the news of self proclaimed Col Callan executing some of his own men hit the headlines. And it’s clear that Wilson was already distancing himself from the murders that took place on the 10th Feb. It’s also worth noting that the Angolan conflict being fought by the British mercenaries, was over by the 17th February, and mainly because the men had not received the help and support they had been promised, in other words the Americans who had helped finance the venture and the British had both sat on the fence to long dragging their heals wanting to be on the winning side. Far from it, as it turned out they were on the losing side, And still answering questions about what happened to this day.

At one time during 1979/80 John tried to talk Milton Obote into setting up a mercenary backed army, during his stay in London, that would help re-establish him as President back in Uganda. While at the same time he also claimed that the British Government who by this time had changed their opinion of him, and did not like the way he operated. Became deeply involved in stopping him compete against companies like Falconstar for that type of work. John claims Falconstar were given a free hand because of friends in high places namely Whitehall. Falconstar at that time was being run by an ex Scots Guardsman Captain Peter Lemarchant.

Source 1990

'Whores Of War' by John Banks.

'Fire Power' by Chris Dempster and Dave Thomkins.

'The Modern Mercenary' by Peter Ticker


Further articles of interest involving John Banks

John Banks back behind bars 30th December 1981
Article involving John by David Connett published in The Independent Tuesday 6th April 1993
Banks makes roof top escape. Police & Thieves Blog site 17th December 2007