Congo 1960/68

The First Recruiter for the Congo

When the Congo is ever mentioned the first Mercenaries name that comes to mind is South African Mike Hoare. A man who had great respect from those he commanded and is still a house hold name whenever the word mercenary is ever brought up.

However. long before Mike Hoare became involved, the first recruiter of Mercenaries to fight in the Congo during  the early 1960’s was Russell Cargill,  who later became good friends with Mike as a recruiter of pilots to serve in the Congo during his campaign.

The following is part of an original list that was drawn up by Russell Cargill, that I’ve just received from somebody who was one of his early recruits. He’s asked that I do not refer to him by name but has given me a  few details of how he remembers the events unfolded with permission to use it.

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Letter one

Richard Browne was one of the first recruited by Russell Cargill, then Jimmy Stewart. All 3 carried out interviews. When about 20 had signed on, March 61, we all went in pairs to the airport to fly to Katanga & look as innocent as possible as the press were around.

When we were about 40 in number, we drove to Piano from our training base at Shinkolobwe. From there we drove to retake Manono, a big mining town, from the Congolese. On the way we had numerous road block ambushes & arrived in Manono that afternoon. Jimmy Stewart received a nasty bullet wound in his left upper arm which cracked the bone from shoulder to elbow. Even a year later he couldn't scratch his head with it. There were Nigerian UN troops in Manono who were friendly & after a few beers they moved off. There were no Ethiopians there.

The plan was we had to tell the UN & get their permission before we could retake these Katangan towns from the Congolese & drop leaflets to let the enemy know we were coming. From Manono we drove to Kabala where the plan was to attack Kongolo from 3 sources. A Sabena DC 4 would take 30 of us, a ferry would be filled with Belgian led Katangan troops with 3 of our guys & approach from the river & a train again with 3 of our guys with Katangan troops would approach up the railway line. The plan was to arrive simultaneously, didn't happen of course. The train was attacked all the way & never made it. The ferry was machine gunned & went straight past. The UN said to Richard we could have half the town & the Balubas the other half. On landing the 30 of us slid down the rope & went to the side of the strip. An Ethiopian colonel came up to Richard who asked which half of the town was ours. None replied the colonel, you are all under arrest. Richard showed the letter from the head of the UN & the Colonel just said they had changed their minds. We thought of fighting as our plane had rushed off, when the colonel raised his hand & 1200 troops stood up. It seemed a good idea not to fight!!

We were flown to Kamina & locked up for a month & then flown to Leopoldville to be deported. I stress there was no fight & no Ethiopian troops injured. In fact after 3 days Richard, Ian Gordon and I were put before a firing squad by a shitty little lieutenant even though his troops complained. Fortunately the Colonel arrived, hit him with his swagger stick & apologised to us. The ferry was sunk on its way back with an awful lot of casualties including deliberate shooting of people in the water. The UN denied this of course.

Letter two

I will expand on our capture. As already stated the UN reneged on their agreement with us & captured all those who arrived on the plane. We were all locked up at the large railway station for about 5 days & then put in a DC3, sat on the floor with no seat belts, & guarded by some huge Canadian MP's with sub machine guns pointed at us all the way. On landing at Kamina we were locked up for 1 month & guarded by Ghurkhas & then flown to Leopoldville until the various embassies arranged our release. Richard, Ian & I were the first ones freed. The UN flew us in a helicopter to Brazzaville & then we were put on a normal airline to fly to Jo'burg. Interestingly the head Colonel, a Norwegian, offered the 3 of us a position as military advisors in Laos!! We declined!!

We saw the paddle steamer go straight past as they were being machine gunned by the Ethiopians. After we had gone, they tried coming back & were again machine gunned plus 3 mortars were fired. One went straight down the funnel & blew up in the boiler room, completely destroying the steamer. On one bank were the Balubas were waiting to kill any survivors, in the water were crocodiles having a feast & on the other bank were the Ethiopians who were still shooting at the survivors trying to reach the river bank. The river was very wide, over 1 km I think. A Belgian priest in clerical uniform somehow managed to reach the bank & pleaded with the lieutenant to stop shooting. The lieut picked up the lmg & calmly shot the priest. The others decided to try their luck swimming downstream & grabbed bits of timber from the steamer & floated down river until rescued. I got this story from 2 of our guys who survived, the third was shot in the ear & was flown to Belgium for surgery.

Letter three

Ian Gordon was in the Royal Military Police based in Germany, left & joined the Bechuanaland Colonial Police where he had his forehead knocked in by a murderer he was trying to arrest. This ruined his eye sight & had to wear thick contact lenses which meant he had to leave the police. His father was a missionary in Bechuanaland at Molepole near the Kalahari desert. I don't know what he thought of his son! He, Richard Browne & I were all on the front page of the Saturday Jo'burg paper after the UN deported us from the Congo! I'm fairly sure he wasn't killed in 64/65 but at 81 I think the whiskey might have got him! Any way of finding out?.

I haven't heard from Mike for years; he contacted me years ago to see if I was interested in flying in to Algeria, I think, where Tshombe had been imprisoned on Mobutu's orders, to arrange a rescue as the UN were embarrassed at this but unfortunately it appears someone poisoned him before we could. I  remember a Yorkshire man McKay who along with Simon Donaldson, an ex Lifeguards officer, were tragically caught & eaten by the Balubas.

Letter four

I see you had Ben Louw down in the 1964 group; he was one of the originals in 1961, a terrific bloke, leathery & tough. On one attack at 4.30 am, Ben was about 2 feet to my left when a blunderbuss was fired from a trench at ground level which made Ben recoil before firing his 9mm Vigneron almost at my feet. The blunderbuss flash ruined my night vision but I could make out a dead Baluba in the trench. I could see blood coming from his ear & went to help. In typical Ben manner Ben said stuff my ear, look at this as he opened his shirt & I could see 2 wounds near his nipple. One lump of mettle had gone right through & was in his shirt, the other was stuck behind his shoulder blade, both had pierced his right lung. A helicopter picked him up & flew him to Elizabethville hospital & the doctors operated to remove the lump of mettle. Ben's cure was to sneak out of hospital to the nearest bar & have a few whiskies to sterilise the wound. He was related to a minister, someone Louw, can't remember the first name. I'm not surprised to see you have him down for the 64 group.

Copyright Terry Aspinall - Mercenary Wars