An early recorded use of foreign auxiliaries dates back to Ancient Egypt, the thirteenth century BC, when PharaohRamesses II used 11,000 mercenaries during his battles. A long established foreign corps in the Egyptian forces were the Medjay—a generic term given to tribal scouts and light infantry recruited from Nubia serving from the late period of the Old Kingdom through that of the New Kingdom. Other warriors recruited from outside the borders of Egypt included Libyan, Syrian and Canaanite contingents under the New Kingdom and Sherdens from Sardinia who appear in their distinctive horned helmets on wall paintings as body guards for Ramesses II.Celtic mercenaries were greatly employed in the Greek world (leading to the sack of Delphi and the Celtic settlement of Galatia). The Greek rulers of Ptolemaic Egypt, too, used Celtic mercenaries.Carthage was unique for relying primarily on mercenaries to fight its wars.
In the 20th century, mercenaries in conflicts on the continent of Africa have in several cases brought about a swift end to bloody civil war by comprehensively defeating the rebel forces. There have been a number of unsavory incidents in the brushfire wars of Africa, some involving recruitment of naïve European and American men "looking for adventure".
Many of the adventurers in Africa who have been described as mercenaries were in fact ideologically motivated to support particular governments, and would not fight "for the highest bidder". An example of this was the British South Africa Police (BSAP), a paramilitary, mounted infantry force formed by the British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes in 1889–1890 that evolved and continued until 1980.
Mike Hoare was a British career soldier who served with distinction in the London Irish Rifles during World War II. He later emigrated to South Africa, and was contracted by the State of Katanga in the early 1960s to form "4 Commando, Force Katangaise", a unit of foreign military advisers in the local gendarmerie. Most of Hoare's recruits were Belgians or South Africans. After Katanga's integration in 1963, Hoare remained active in Congo affairs. He was solicited by General Joseph-Desiré Mobutu in 1964 to form "5 Commando" - a second mercenary force raised to crush the Simba Rebellion, which included European adventurers of at least twenty nationalities. Hoare later resurfaced in 1981, shortly after France-Albert René's ascension in the Seychelles, attempting to carry out a coup d'état on behalf of former president James Mancham. His troops were intercepted shortly after debarking on Mahé and only escaped by hijacking an Air India Boeing, which they flew to Durban.
Bob Denard was a former French intelligence operative, policeman, and dedicated anti-communist who saw action during the First Indochina War and Algerian War of Independence. After a brief inroad into civilian life, Denard returned to military service with the Katangese gendarmerie in 1961. Refusing to surrender when secessionist forces collapsed in January 1963, he disappeared into Angola with a nucleus of other die-hards and sought work training North Yemenroyalists before returning to the Congo at the request of then-Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. Denard formed his own unit to fight the Simba Rebellion, les affreux, who were also instrumental in suppressing an attempted coup d'état in 1966. Dismissed by Congolese president Joseph Kasa Vubu, the French mercenary joined the Kisangani Mutinies and was wounded in action. He later went on to serve as a military adviser to several African governments, including Gabon and Rhodesia. Denard has since carried out five attempted coup d'etats in Benin and the Comoros Islands, three of them successful.
White mercenaries fighting alongside Congolese troops in 1964
The Congo Crisis (1960–1965) was a period of turmoil in the First Republic of the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu. During the crisis, mercenaries were employed by various factions, and also at times helped the United Nations and other peace keepers.
In 1960 and 1961, Mike Hoare worked as a mercenary commanding an English-speaking unit called "4 Commando" supporting a faction in Katanga, a province trying to break away from the newly independent Congo under the leadership of Moïse Tshombe. Hoare chronicled his exploits in his book the Road to Kalamata.
In 1964 Tshombe (then Prime Minister of Congo) hired Major Hoare to lead a military unit called "5 Commando" made up of about 300 men, most of whom were from South Africa. The unit's mission was to fight a rebel group called Simbas, who already had captured almost two thirds of the country.
In Operation Dragon Rouge, "5 Commando" worked in close cooperation with Belgian paratroopers, Cuban exile pilots, and CIA hired mercenaries. The objective of Operation Dragon Rouge was to capture Stanleyville and save several hundred civilians (mostly Europeans and missionaries) who were hostages of the Simba rebels. The operation saved many lives; however, the Operation damaged the reputation of Moïse Tshombe as it saw the return of white mercenaries to the Congo soon after independence and was a factor in Tshombe's loss of support from president of Congo Joseph Kasa-Vubu who dismissed him from his position
Later, in 1966 and 1967, some former Tshombe mercenaries and Katangese gendarmes staged the Mercenaries' Mutinies.
Mercenaries fought for the Biafrans in the Fourth Commando Brigade during the Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970). Other mercenaries flew aircraft for the Biafrans. In October 1966, for example, a Royal Air BurundiDC-4M Argonaut, flown by mercenary Heinrich Wartski, also known as Henry Wharton, crash-landed in Cameroon with military supplies destined for Biafra.
In May 1969, Carl Gustaf von Rosen formed a squadron of five light aircraft known as the Babies of Biafra, which attacked and destroyed Nigerian jet aircraft on the ground and delivered food aid. Von Rosen was assisted by ex-RCAF fighter pilot Lynn Garrison.
In the mid-1970s, John Banks, an Englishman, recruited mercenaries to fight for the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the Daniel Gearhart was sentenced to death for advertising himself as a mercenary in an American newspaper; Andrew McKenzie and Costas Georgiou (the self-styled "Colonel Callan"), who had both served in the British army, were sentenced to death for murder. Costas' cousin Charlie Christodoulou was killed in an ambush.
Executive Outcomes employees, Captains Daniele Zanata and Raif St Clair (who was also involved in the aborted Seychelles Coup of 1981), fought on behalf of the MPLA against the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) in the 1990s in violation of the Lusaka Protocol.
American Robert C. MacKenzie was killed in the
Malal Hills in February 1995, while commanding Gurkha Security Guards (GSG) in Sierra Leone. GSG pulled out soon afterwards and was replaced by Executive Outcomes. Both were employed by the Sierra Leone government as military advisers and to train the government soldiers. It has been alleged that the firms provided soldiers who took an active part in the fighting against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
In 2000, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC-TV) international affairs program Foreign Correspondent broadcast a special report "Sierra Leone: Soldiers of Fortune", focusing on former 32BN and Recce members who operated in Sierra Leone while serving for SANDF. Officers like De Jesus Antonio, TT D Abreu Capt Ndume and Da Costa were the forefront because of their combat and language skills and also the exploits of South African pilot Neall Ellis and his MI-24 Hind gunship. The report also investigated the failures of the UN Peacekeeping Force, and the involvement of mercenaries and private military contractors in providing vital support to UN operations and British military Special Operations in Sierra Leone in 1999–2000.
In August 2004 there was a plot, which later became known as the "Wonga Coup", to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in Malabo. Currently[when?] eight South African apartheid-era soldiers, organised by Neves Matias (former Recce major and De Jesus Antonio former Captain in 2sai BN) with (the leader of whom is Nick du Toit) and five local men are in Black Beach prison on the island. They are accused of being an advanced guard for a coup to place Severo Moto in power. Six Armenian aircrew, also convicted of involvement in the plot, were released in 2004 after receiving a presidential pardon. CNN reported on 25 August, that:
Defendant Nick du Toit said he was introduced to Thatcher in South Africa last year by Simon Mann, the leader of 70 men arrested in Zimbabwe in March suspected of being a group of mercenaries heading to Equatorial Guinea.
It was planned, allegedly, by Simon Mann, a former SAS officer. On 27 August 2004 he was found guilty in Zimbabwe of purchasing arms, allegedly for use in the plot (he admitted trying to procure dangerous weapons, but said that they were to guard a diamond mine in DR Congo). It is alleged that there is a paper trail from him which implicates Sir Mark Thatcher, Lord Archer and Ely Calil (a Lebanese-British oil trader).
The BBC reported in an article entitled "Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot":
The BBC's Newsnight television programme saw the financial records of Simon Mann's companies showing large payments to Nick du Toit and also some $2m coming in – though the source of this funding they say is largely untraceable.
The BBC reported on 10 September 2004 that in Zimbabwe:
[Simon Mann], the British leader of a group of 67 alleged mercenaries accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea has been sentenced to seven years in jail... The other passengers got 12 months in jail for breaking immigration laws while the two pilots got 16 months...The court also ordered the seizure of Mann's $3m Boeing 727 and $180,000 found on board.
Muammar Gaddafi in Libya was alleged to have been using mercenary soldiers during the 2011 Libyan civil war, including Tuaregs from various nations in Africa. Many of them had been part of his Islamic Legion created in 1972. Reports say around 800 had been recruited from Niger, Mali, Algeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso. In addition, small numbers of Eastern European mercenaries have also turned up supporting the Gaddafi regime. Most sources have described these troops as professional Serbian veterans of the Yugoslavia conflict, including snipers, pilots and helicopter experts. Certain observers, however, speculate that they may be from Poland or Belarus. The latter has denied the claims outright; the former is investigating them. Although the Serbian government has denied that any of their nationals are currently serving as mercenary soldiers in North Africa, five such men have been captured by anti-Gaddafi rebels in Tripoli and several others have also allegedly fought during the Second Battle of Benghazi. Most recently,[when?] a number of unidentified white South African mercenaries were hired to smuggle Gaddafi and his sons to exile in Niger. Their attempts were thwarted by NATO air activity shortly before the death of Libya's ousted strongman. Numerous reports have indicated that the team was still protecting Saif al-Islam Gaddafi shortly before his recent apprehension.
Amnesty International has claimed that such allegations against Gaddafi and the Libyan state turned out to either be false or lacking any evidence.Human Rights Watch has indicated that while many foreign migrants were erroneously accused of fighting with Gaddafi, there were also genuine mercenaries from several nations who participated in the conflict.
In 18th and early 19th centuries, the imperial Mughal power was crumbling and other powers, including the
Sikh Misls and Maratha chiefs, were emerging. At this time, a number of mercenaries, arriving from several countries found employment in India. Some of the mercenaries emerged to become independent rulers.
Mercenaries were regularly used by the kingdoms of the Warring States period of China. Military advisers and generals trained through the works of Mozi and Sun Tzu would regularly offer their services to kings and dukes.
After the Qin conquest of the Warring States, the Qin and later Han Empires would also employ mercenaries – ranging from nomadic horse archers in the Northern steppes or soldiers from the Yue kingdoms of the South. The 7th century Tang Dynasty was also prominent for its use of mercenaries, when they hired Tibetan and Uyghur soldiers against invasion from the Göktürks and other steppe civilizations.
15th to 18th centuries
The Saika mercenary group of the Kii Province, Japan, played a significant role during the Siege of Ishiyama Hongan-ji that took place between August 1570 to August 1580. The Saikashuu were famed for the support of Ikkō Buddhist sect movements and greatly impeded the advance of Oda Nobunaga's forces.
Ninja were peasant farmers who learned the art of war to combat the daimyō's samurai. They were hired out by many as mercenaries to perform capture, infiltration and retrieval, and, most famously, assassinations. Ninja possibly originated around the 14th century, but were not widely known or used till the 15th century and carried on being hired till the mid 18th century.
In 1615, the Dutch invaded the Ai Island with Japanese mercenaries.
During the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War, a number of foreign pilots served in the Chinese Air Force, most famously in the 14th Squadron, a light bombardment unit often called the International Squadron, which was briefly active in February and March 1938.
The United States could not become overtly involved in the conflict, due to Congressional restrictions, yet felt an obligation to assist the Chinese in stopping Japanese aggression. So in 1941 the Roosevelt administration authorized the formation of three American Volunteer Groups, of which the 1st AVG was deployed to Burma and China and became famous as the Flying Tigers. The pilots earned $600–$750 basic pay per month, plus $500 for each Japanese aircraft confirmed destroyed in the air or on the ground. The 2nd AVG, a bomber group, was recruited in November 1941 but aborted following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many Greek mercenaries fought for the Persian Empire during the early classic era. For example:
Xerxes I, king of Persia, who invaded Greece in 484 BC employed Greek mercenaries.
In Anabasis, Xenophon recounts how Cyrus the Younger hired a large army of Greek mercenaries (the "Ten Thousand") in 401 BC to seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Though Cyrus' army was victorious at the Battle of Cunaxa, Cyrus himself was killed in battle and the expedition rendered moot. Stranded deep in enemy territory, the Spartan general Clearchus and most of the other Greek generals were subsequently killed by treachery. Xenophon played an instrumental role in encouraging "The Ten Thousand" Greek army to march north to the Black Sea in an epic fighting retreat.
Illyrians were hired across the Balkans and further. They were known for their unreliability.
In the late Roman Empire, it became increasingly difficult for Emperors and generals to raise military units from the citizenry for various reasons: lack of manpower, lack of time available for training, lack of materials, and, inevitably, political considerations. Therefore, beginning in the late 4th century, the empire often contracted whole bands of barbarians either within the legions or as autonomous foederati. The barbarians were Romanized and surviving veterans were established in areas requiring population. The Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire is the best known formation made up of barbarian mercenaries (see next section).
Byzantine Emperors followed the Roman practice and contracted foreigners especially for their personal corps guard called the Varangian Guard. They were chosen among war-prone peoples, of whom the Varangians (Norsemen) were preferred. Their mission was to protect the Emperor and Empire and since they did not have links to the Greeks, they were expected to be ready to suppress rebellions. One of the most famous guards was the future king Harald III of Norway, also known as Harald Hardrada ("Hard-counsel"), who arrived in Constantinople in 1035 and was employed as a Varangian Guard. He participated in eighteen battles and was promoted to akolythos, the commander of the Guard, before returning home in 1043. He was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066 when his army was defeated by an English army commanded by King Harold Godwinson.
During the later Middle Ages, Free Companies (or Free Lances) were formed, consisting of companies of mercenary troops. Nation-states lacked the funds needed to maintain standing forces, so they tended to hire free companies to serve in their armies during wartime. Such companies typically formed at the ends of periods of conflict, when men-at-arms were no longer needed by their respective governments. The veteran soldiers thus looked for other forms of employment, often becoming mercenaries. Free Companies would often specialize in forms of combat that required longer periods of training that was not available in the form of a mobilized militia. The White Company commanded by Sir John Hawkwood is the best known English Free Company of the 14th century. Between the 13th and 17th Century the Gallowglass fought within the Islands of Britain and also mainland Europe. A Welshman Owain Lawgoch (Owain of the Red Hand) formed a free company and fought for the French against the English during the Hundred Years' War, before being assassinated by a Scot by the name of Jon Lamb under the orders of the English Crown in 1378 during the
siege of Mortagne.
Swiss mercenaries were sought during the late 15th and early 16th centuries as being an effective fighting force, until their somewhat rigid battle formations became vulnerable to arquebuses and artillery being developed at the same time. See Swiss Guard.
It was then that the German landsknechts, colorful mercenaries with a redoubtable reputation, took over the Swiss forces' legacy and became the most formidable force of the late 15th and throughout the 16th century, being hired by all the powers in Europe and often fighting at opposite sides. Sir Thomas More in his Utopia advocated the use of mercenaries in preference to citizens. The barbarian mercenaries employed by the Utopians are thought to be inspired by the Swiss mercenaries.
A class of mercenaries known as the Gallowglass dominated warfare in Ireland and Scotland between the 13th and 16th centuries. They were a heavily armed and armored elite force that often doubled as a chieftain's bodyguard.
At approximately the same period, Niccolò Machiavelli argued against the use of mercenary armies in his book of political advice The Prince. His rationale was that since the sole motivation of mercenaries is their pay, they will not be inclined to take the kind of risks that can turn the tide of a battle, but may cost them their lives. He also noted that a mercenary who failed was obviously no good, but one who succeeded may be even more dangerous. He astutely pointed out that a successful mercenary army no longer needs its employer if it is more militarily powerful than its supposed superior. This explained the frequent, violent betrayals that characterized mercenary/client relations in Italy, because neither side trusted the other. He believed that citizens with a real attachment to their home country will be more motivated to defend it and thus make much better soldiers.
The Stratioti or Stradioti (Italian: Stradioti or Stradiotti; Greek: Στρατιώτες, Stratiotes) were mercenary units from the Balkans recruited mainly by states of southern and central Europe from the 15th until the middle of the 18th century. The stradioti were recruited in Albania, Greece, Dalmatia, Serbia and later Cyprus. Most modern historians have indicated that the Stratioti were mostly Albanians. According to a study by a Greek author, around 80% of the listed names attributed to the stradioti were of Albanian origin while most of the remaining ones, especially those of officers, were of Greek origin; a small minority were of South Slavic origin. Among their leaders there were also members of some old Byzantine Greek noble families such as the Palaiologi and Comneni.
The stratioti were pioneers of light cavalry tactics during this era. In the early 16th century heavy cavalry in the European armies was principally remodeled after Albanian stradioti of the Venetian army, Hungarian hussars and German mercenary cavalry units (Schwarzreitern). They employed hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, feigned retreats and other complex maneuvers. In some ways, these tactics echoed those of the Ottoman sipahis and akinci. They had some notable successes also against French heavy cavalry during the Italian Wars.
They were known for cutting off the heads of dead or captured enemies, and according to Commines they were paid by their leaders one ducat per head.
17th and 18th centuries
A peasant begs a mercenary for mercy in front of his burning farm during the Thirty Years' War.
During the 17th and 18th century extensive use was made of foreign recruits in the now regimented and highly drilled armies of Europe, beginning in a systematized way with the Thirty Years' War. Historian Geoffrey Parker notes that 40,000 Scotsmen (about fifteen percent of the adult male population) served as soldiers in Continental Europe from 1618 to 1640.
After the signing of the Treaty of Limerick (1691) the soldiers of the Irish Army who left Ireland for France took part in what is known as the Flight of the Wild Geese. Subsequently, many made a living from working as mercenaries for continental armies, the most famous of whom was Patrick Sarsfield, who, having fallen mortally wounded at the Battle of Landen fighting for the French, said "If this was only for Ireland".
About a third of the infantry regiments of the French Royal Army prior to the French Revolution were recruited from outside France. The largest single group were the twelve Swiss regiments (including the Swiss Guard). Other units were German and one Irish Brigade (the "Wild Geese") had originally been made up of Irish volunteers. By 1789 difficulties in obtaining genuinely Irish recruits had led to German and other foreigners making up the bulk of the rank and file. The officers however continued to be drawn from long established Franco-Irish families. During the reign of Louis XV there were also a Scottish (Garde Écossaise), a Swedish (Royal-Suédois), an Italian (
Royal-Italien) and a Walloon (
Horion-Liegeois) regiments recruited outside the borders of France. The foreign infantry regiments comprised about 20,000 men in 1733, rising to 48,000 at the time of the Seven Years' War and being reduced in numbers thereafter.
In Italy, during inter-family conflicts such as the Wars of Castro, mercenaries were widely used to supplement the much smaller forces loyal to particular families. Often these were further supplemented by troops loyal to particular duchies which had sided with one or more of the belligerents.
During the American Revolution, the British government, hired German mercenary soldiers from some of the German principalities to supplement the Army. Although the German mercenaries came from a number of states, the majority came from the German state of Hesse-Kassel. This resulted in their American opponents referring to all of the mercenaries as "Hessians", whether the Germans were actually from Hesse-Kassel or not.
The Spanish Army also made use of permanently established foreign regiments. These comprised three Irish regiments (Irlanda, Hiberni and Ultonia); one Italian (Naples) and five Swiss (Wimpssen, Reding, Betschart, Traxer and Preux). In addition one regiment of the Royal Guard including Irishmen as Patten, McDonnell and Neiven, was recruited from Walloons. The last of these foreign regiments was disbanded in 1815, following recruiting difficulties during the Napoleonic Wars. One complication arising from the use of non-national troops occurred at the Battle of Bailén in 1808 when the "red Swiss" (so-called from their uniforms) of the invading French Army clashed bloodily with "
blue Swiss" in the Spanish service.
The Atholl Highlanders, a private Scottish infantry regiment of the Duke of Atholl, was formed in 1839 purely for ceremonial purposes. It was granted official regimental status by Queen Victoria in 1845 and is the only remaining legal private army in Europe.
Syrian Civil War
A banner on the wall of the office of the Mahdi Army in Al Diwaniyah, Iraq announcing the killing of one of the militia members in Syria