View Full Version : Mercenaries

10-29-2004, 07:24 PM
Soldiers of fortune

The profession of mercenary is one of the oldest in the world. Throughout recorded history, mercenaries have played a key part in wars around the world - from Biblical times to modern conflicts such as Bosnia.
Mercenaries are often decried by the media as 'dogs of war' - psychopathic inadequates in search of thrills and cash. True enough, there are a good few Walter Mittys around calling themselves mercenaries. Bosnia attracted a large number of social rejects with plenty to prove. But units such as the French Foreign Legion and the British Gurkhas are, strictly speaking, mercenaries - and they are among Europe's most effective and respected military units.


Outside conventional armed forces, there are international companies which sell military skills - in much the same way as a corporation might sell its services in the field of oil exploration, civil engineering, etc. Nowadays these are often referred to as PMCs (Private Military Companies). Examples include Executive Outcomes (active in Africa during the 1990s, but now closed down), the UK-based Sandline International (Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone), and the US Military Professionals Resource Incorporated (MPRI).
Such companies consist largely of ex-armed forces staff, providing military advice, training, support and materiel to customers who include oil and mineral companies, and states who lack the military capabilities themselves to deal with rebel forces. These type of organisations dislike being labelled 'mercenaries', with all the negative connotations the word carries, but their operations fall squarely into the area that most civilians would think of as the realm of the mercenary. They are, on the whole, keen to point out that they have strict rules about who they will and will not work for, and always operate under the control of a client country's legitimate government.


For the professional mercenary, the post-Cold War world provides plenty of potential customers, from deposed rulers and governments, to businesses needing protection from organised crime, to the organised criminals themselves looking to recruit military support to protect drug factories and the like against security forces and rival gangs alike. The individual has to make up his own mind about what kind of work he is prepared to do, and for whom.
Mercenaries also, on occasions, provide Western governments with a conveniently 'deniable' way of conducting foreign policy. A mercenary outfit can be hired anonymously to conduct operations which would be politically impossible for a government to carry out with its own armed forces. If things turn nasty, the whole thing can be denied. This type of operation has happened in the past, and it would be naive to think it could not happen again.

One of the mercenary's problems can, on occasions, be knowing exactly who he is really working for. The real employer may hide behind a chain of middle men.


Back in the 1960s and 70s, mercenary organisations advertised openly to recruit ex-Special Forces personnel for 'interesting work abroad' - such as the bloody wars in Biafra, Angola and the Congo. Today recruiting is largely a word-of-mouth affair, with recruiters approaching former comrades. This has the advantage that the unit consists of soldiers who have worked together before - making it much quicker and easier to form an effective combat unit.

Finding work

There are many more 'wannabe' mercs than real mercenary jobs. Most of the wannabe's are totally unsuited to the life - even those who have some military training. Mercenary soldiering is not something you should go into because you can't think of any other way of earning a living after leaving the army. Some do it for the money, some because they believe in the cause they are fighting for; almost all enjoy the sense of adventure, and the chance to use skills which have little or no application in civilian life.
Military skills are a vital part of being a mercenary, but the successful mercenary needs other skills that the average squaddie never picks up during his military career. A special forces background is helpful, providing a greater level of self-reliance and independence of mind - plus a healthy scepticism which can prove a lifesaver. When a mercenary group's backer pulls out unexpectedly, the individuals who saw the danger coming and made their own arrangements stand the best chance of getting out alive.

Courtesy of Combat-online.com

10-29-2004, 08:02 PM
Seems like they have more to do these days, "than ever before" I almost did the
mistake to say. Well large parts of the European armies "back in the days" were
mercenaries that were hired. IMO the mercenaries of today, for example the Afghani
fighters that get paid by some local leader and end up at Guantanamo is not much
different of those non-Iraqi civilians that run around in Iraq.

Mercenary 1498

Criticism of the growing role of military contractors

Nicholas von Hoffmann, writing in the June 2004 issue of Harper's
(p.79-80), gives a brief but strong statement of the case against the
growing role of military contractors to provide personnel on or near the
front lines:

In theory, private contracting creates competitive pressure to reduce
costs, but in practive the bidding process can be so opaque and distorted
by favoritism that it becomes an empty formality... The financial savings
have turned out to be highly debatable. The costs and attendant risks are
not. The government's monopoly of violence -- its role as the guarantor
of civil peace and the rule of law -- has been diluted by the new arrangements.

He also argues that we should not take false security for the fact that
these contractors have so far stayed obediently in their assigned roles,
writing, "[T]he praetorian guard protected the Roman emperors for a
long time before it started killing them."

It is notable, however, that much of the criticism of private military
contractors seems to focus on largely theoretical issues with free use of
arguments based on historical precedents whose relevance is to many
non-obvious. Analyses usually make the radical claim that the practice is
fundamentally flawed and has to be rejected. There has been little
publicized effort made to actually go into details to try to pinpoint and
suggest corrections to the actual flaws of the system, thus reaching an
optimal middle ground.

10-30-2004, 06:39 AM
To me PMC is just an euphemism for the same thing.
Most of the soldiers beating back the Turks at the gate of Vienna were "mercs". Yet the enemy they were fighting was mostly moslems or led by moslems as with todays PMC's.
Only difference is today there seems to be a puking need to gloss over and "unharmabelize" things.
On the other hand I guess one could well term the "mercenary" companies that where such an integral part to the power struggles in Italy during the rennaisance as PMC's led by condottieris. They were a scourge to the area nevertheless. :|

10-30-2004, 05:59 PM
One thing nice about mercenaries is they don't have to deal with all the bureaucratic crap that the government has to deal with if it was going to send the military out to do something.

10-31-2004, 02:15 PM
But then again, that's also the reason they have a bad reputation.

11-01-2004, 03:37 PM
The oldest armed force are olso the mercenaries who served the longest time, 500 years.



The Swiss Guard in Vatican

11-01-2004, 03:46 PM
If you want more informations:
in english

in french, german or italian

11-01-2004, 05:48 PM
But then again, that's also the reason they have a bad reputation.


11-01-2004, 08:04 PM
Iam not a Mercenary.....but Iam a hired gun!! LOL


11-01-2004, 08:27 PM
If you want more informations:
in english

in french, german or italian

thanks for the link.

Delta Niner
11-03-2004, 11:23 PM
The oldest armed force are olso the mercenaries who served the longest time, 500 years.



The Swiss Guard in Vatican

Do they carry anything more lethal than spears and swords? pistols and SMGs? or is there another group of swiss guards that handles the 21st century security requirement of the Vatican? :roll:

11-04-2004, 01:15 AM
i would guess that there is both, some who fill ceremonial purposes, and others who fill conventional purposes...but then i dont know for sure :O

11-04-2004, 04:38 PM
Do they carry anything more lethal than spears and swords? pistols and SMGs? or is there another group of swiss guards that handles the 21st century security requirement of the Vatican?

Some of the guards are in providing bodyguard services to the pope but it is more often done by the Vatican Security Corps. They also train shooting with the SIG-550 assault rifle. One of my friends know two guards, he lives in a catholic county, but he says they don’t talk a lot about their special activities.



11-05-2004, 08:41 AM
With today's climate and no end in sight, PMC's/Mercs will be even in greater demand by large companies, especially those with international dealings.

11-30-2004, 01:40 PM
From Wikipedia.org:

A mercenary is a soldier who fights, or engages in warfare exclusively for money, without any regard for ideological, national or political considerations. When the term is used to refer to a soldier in a regular national army, it is usually considered an insult, epithet or pejorative.

Mercenaries and the Laws of War

In the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions(GC) of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977 it is stated:

Art 47. Mercenaries

A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is specially 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.

It should be noted that as many countries including the U.S. are not signatory to the Protocol Additional GC 1977(APGC77). So APGC77 art 47 can best be seen as a guide to what a mercenary is. However without an agreed international definition it is the best around.

Under GC III if a soldier is captured by an enemy, he must be treated as a lawful combatant and therefore a Protected Person which for a soldier is as a Prisoner of War (POW) until the soldier has faced a competent tribunal (GC III Art 5). That tribunal may decide that the person is a mercenary using criteria in APGC77 or some domestic law equivalent. At that point the mercenary becomes an unlawful combatant but they must still be "treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial", because they are still covered by GC IV Art 5. The only exception to GC IV Art 5 is if they are a national of the authority which is holding them but in which case they would not be a mercenary under APGC77 Art 47.d.

If after a regular trial, a captured soldier is found to be a mercenary, then they can expect to be treated as common criminals and may face execution. As they are not POWs they can not expect repatriation at the end of the war. The best known, post World War II, example of this was on June 28, 1976 an Angolan court sentenced four mercenaries to death and nine others to prison terms ranging from 16 to 30 years. The three Britons and an American were shot by a firing squad on July 10, 1976.

The legal status of civilian contractors depends upon the nature of their work and their nationality in respect of the combatants. But if they have not in fact, taken a direct part in the hostilities (APGC77 Art 47.b) they are not mercenaries and are entitled to the protection of the Geneva Conventions.

The situation during Occupation of Iraq 2003 shows how difficult it is to define what a mercenary is. While the United States governed the country, any U.S. citizen who worked as a armed guard could not be called a mercenary because they were a national of a Party to the conflict (APGC77 Art 47.d). With the handover of power to the interim Iraqi government it could be argued that unless they declare that they are a resident in Iraq ie a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict (APGC77 Art 47.d), they are now mercenaries. If no trial of the people accused of being mercenaries takes place, then the allegations tend to evaporate in a spiral of accusations, denials and counter accusations. It should be noted that Coalition soldiers in Iraq which are supporting the interim Iraqi government are not mercenaries, because either they are part of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict or they have been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces (APGC77 Art 47.f).

Gurkhas and French Foreign Legionnaires are not mercenaries

The two best known units in which nationals of a country serve in another nation's armed forces are the British Brigade of Gurkhas and the French Foreign Legion. Soldiers who serve in these two elite units are not mercenaries.

British Gurkhas are fully integrated soldiers of the British Army. They operate in formed units of the Brigade of Gurkhas and abide by the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve (similar rules apply for Gurkhas serving in Indian Army). French Foreign Legionnaires are in formed units of the French Foreign Legion which is deployed and fights as an organized unit of the French Army. This means that as member of the armed forces of Britain or France then under APGC77 Art 47.e and APGC77 Art 47.f they can not be mercenaries.

Mercenaries and domestic law

Some countries try to stop their citizens fighting in conflicts unless they are under the control of their own armed forces. For example under United States law (the "Neutrality Act"), an American citizen who participates in an armed conflict to which the United States is neutral may be subject to criminal penalties.

Switzerland banned her nationals from serving as mercenaries in 1927 with the one exception being the Vatican Swiss Guards.

Mercenary Operations

Private Military Company (PMC)

Private military companies are companies that provide logistics, manpower, and other expenditures for a military force. Their contractors are civilians authorized to accompany a force in the field.

It can be argued that paramilitary forces under private control are functionally mercenaries instead of security guards or advisors. However, national governments reserve the right to strictly regulate the number, nature and armaments of such private forces and argue that providing they are not employed in frontline pro-active military activities that they are not mercenaries.

If employees of PMCs are involved in pro-active military activities they are likely to be defined as mercenaries and their employers will be called mercenary companies. Three companies which the mass media called mercenary companies in the 1990s were:

- Executive Outcomes Angola, Sierra Leone (closed 31 December 1998)
- Sandline International, Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone (closed 16 April 2004)
- Gurkha Security Guards Ltd, Sierra Leone.

In 2004 the industry was given a huge boost because PMCs were employed by the US and other coalition members to do security work in Iraq.

Private military companies tend to be frowned upon by the United Nations (even so, the UN hired Executive Outcomes to do some logistic support in Africa). Nevertheless, PMCs may be useful in combatting genocides and slaughters in situations where the UN is unwilling or unable to intervene.

Mercenaries in Africa

In the 20th century, mercenaries have been mostly involved in conflicts on the continent of Africa. There have been a number of unsavory incidents in the brushfire wars of Africa, some involving recruitment of naive European and American men "looking for adventure" and thrusting them into combat situations where they would not survive to get paid.

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."

Particularly notorious mercenaries include:

- Mike Hoare was involved in the Congo War in the early 1960s and a Seychelles failed coup in 1978.
- Bob Denard was involved in numerous African campaigns in many countries often with the covert support of France. However his particular speciality was intervening in the Comoros. The last time was in 1995, when he staged a coup which failed, thanks to French Government intervention.
- Simon Mann was involved with Executive Outcomes ventures in Angola and Sierra Leone (see below). In 2004 was found guilty in Zimbabwe of "attempting to buy weapons" (BBC August 27) allegedly for a coup in Equatorial Guinean (see below).

Mercenaries fought for the Biafrans in the 4th Commando Brigade during the Nigerian Civil War, (1967–1970). Other mercenaries flew aircraft for the Biafrans. In October 1966, for example, a Royal Air Burundi DC-4M Argonaut, flown by a mercenary Heinrich Wartski also known Henry Wharton, crashlanded in Cameroon with military supplies destined for Biafra.

In the mid-1970s John Banks, a Briton, recruited mercenaries to fight for the National Front for the Liberation of Angola FNLA against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the civil war that broke out when Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. When captured John Derek Barker's role as a leader of mercenaries in Northern Angola led the judges to send him to face the firing squad. Nine others were imprisoned. Three more were executed: American 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.

American Bob 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 solders who to an active part in the fighting against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

A fictional portrait of mercenary operations in the 1970s is Frederick Forsyth's book, The Dogs of War was set on the island of Malabo - renamed 'Zangaro' in the novel - and given a platinum deposit. Since the discovery of oil there in the mid 1990s, it does not need a fictional platinum deposit for it to be of interest to financiers and mercenaries. In August 2004 there was the a plot to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea in Malabo. Currently eight South African apartheid-era soldiers (the leader of whom is Nick du Toit), six Armenian aircrew 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. CNN reported on August 25, 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, it is alleged, by Simon Mann (a founder of Executive Outcomes) a former SAS officer. On 27 August 2004 he was found guilty in Zimbabwe of purchasing Arms it is alledged 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-born 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 September 10, 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.

With the current crises in Zimbabwe, a Boeing 727 will be a useful addition to the state's national airline and the $180,000 should be more than enough to cover the expense of keeping the men in prison.

Mercenaries in European History

Mercenaries in the Classic era

Many Greek mercenaries fought for the Persian empire during the early classic era. For example:

- In Anabasis, Xenophon recounts how Cyrus the Younger hired a large army of Greek mercenaries 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.
- Xerxes I, king of Persia, who invaded Greece in 484 BC employed Greek mercenaries. The best rembered is Demaratus, for his warning to Xerxes not to under estimate the Spartans before the Battle of Thermopylae.
- Memnon of Rhodes (380–333 BC): was the commander of the Greek mercenaries working for the Persian King Darius III when Alexander the Great of Macedonia invaded Persia in 334 BC and won the Battle of the Granicus River. Alexander also employed Greek mercenaries during his campaings. These were men who fought for him directly and not those who fought in city state units attached to his army.

Carthage contracted Balearic Islands shepherds as slingshooters during the Punic wars against Rome.

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 Eastern Roman Emipre otherwise known as the Byzantine Empire is the best known formation made up of barbarian mercenaries. The future king Harald III of Norway, also known as Harald Hardrada ("Hardreign"), who arrived in Constantinople in 1035 was employed as a Varangian Guard. He participated in eighteen battles and became Akolythos, the commander, of the Guard before returning home in 1043. He was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge by the army of King Harold Godwinson of England in 1066.

Mercenaries in Medieval warfare

Byzantine Emperors followed the Roman practise and contracted foreigners especially for their personal corps guard. They were chosen among war-****e peoples. Since they didn't have links to the Greeks, they were expected to be ready to suffocate rebellions. Varangians and Anglo-Saxons were elected for this service.

In Italy, the condottiero was a military chief offering his troops, the condottieri, to city-states.

During the ages of the Taifa kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula, Christian knights like the Cid could fight for some Muslim ruler against his Christian or Muslim enemies.

The Almogavares fought for Aragon but in their expedition to Orient, they followed Roger de Flor in the service of the Byzantine Empire.

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 specialized in forms of combat that required longer periods of training that was not available in the from of a mobilized militia.

Mercenaries in the Modern Age

Swiss mercenaries were sought after during the latter half of the 15th century as being an effective fighting force, until their somewhat rigid battle formations became vulnerable to arquebuses and artillery being developed at about that period.

It was then that the European 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.

St 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.

Mercenaries in Popular Culture

Like piracy, the mercenary ethos resonates with idealized adventure, mystery and danger. Examples of this are:

- The novel Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth and the movie (1981) with the same name, goes into some detail about an actual if fictionalized mercenary operation in Africa in the 1960s.
- The novel The Wild Geese by Daniel Carney and the movie(1978) with the same name. The plot is that a global British financial syndicate seeks to rescue the deposed leader of a central African nation. It hires a band of mercenaries to do the job.

It is interesting to note that the both titles are derived from other sources. Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war; is from Julius Caesar (III.i) a play by Shakespeare's. 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. Many made a living from working as mere mercenaries for continental armies.

A magazine ostensibly written for mercenary soldiers is Soldier of Fortune.

In science fiction, the well-known author Jerry Pournelle has written several books about science-fiction mercenaries known as Falkenberg's Legion. Also, author David Drake has written a number of books about the fictional hovercraft armored regiment Hammer's Slammers. Both series of books are brutal in their portrayal of complex low-intensity warfare despite technological advances.

11-30-2004, 05:09 PM
impressive research there, yosy. :)

12-01-2004, 02:49 PM
Thanks mate :)

More on Anabasis:

Anabasis is the most famous work of the Greek writer Xenophon. The journey it narrates is his best known accomplishment.

Xenophon accompanied a large army of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger, who intended to seize the throne of Persia from his brother, Artaxerxes II. Though Cyrus' army was victorious in a battle in Babylon, 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 or captured by treachery. Xenophon played an instrumental role in encouraging the Greek army of 10,000 to march north to the Black Sea. This is the story he relates in this book.

The Greek term anabasis referred to an expedition from a coastline into the interior of a country. The term katabasis referred to a trip from the interior to the coast. Since most of Xenophon's narrative is taken up with the march from the interior of Babylon to the Black Sea, the title is something of a misnomer.

Socrates makes a cameo appearance when Xenophon asks whether he ought to accompany the expedition. The short episode demonstrates the reverence of Socrates for the oracle of Delphi.

Historically the Anabasis has been one of the first unabridged texts presented to students of the classical Greek language due to its clear and unadorned style, much like Caesar's Gallic Wars for Latin students.

One of the best and most easily found translations is Rex Warner's The Persian Expedition.

Anabasis ebook (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1170)

12-04-2004, 03:54 PM
More on mercs:

Rhodesia's experience with mercs (http://members.tripod.com/selousscouts/rhodesias_experience_with_mercs.htm)

Mercs and the Sealous Scouts (http://members.tripod.com/selousscouts/mercs_and_the_selous_scouts.htm)

12-04-2004, 05:20 PM
- Xerxes I, king of Persia, who invaded Greece in 484 BC employed Greek mercenaries. The best rembered is Demaratus, for his warning to Xerxes not to under estimate the Spartans before the Battle of Thermopylae.

Well, Demaratus was not a mercenary. Demaratus was a ‘political’ exile ex-king from Sparta who was in favor of Sparta neutrality against the Persians. The second King (Kleomenis) convinced the council of five ‘eforoi’ to remove him from power.

12-04-2004, 11:33 PM
PMC's sound suspiciously like Mike Hoare's boys who fought in Katanga in 1964 and were unquestionably recognized as mercenaries.

12-05-2004, 02:28 AM
mercenaries are one of the oldest professions, well that and... p-)