Michael “Mad Mike” Hoare, widely considered the world’s most famous mercenary, has died aged 100.
Born in India to Irish parents, he led campaigns in the Congo in the 1960s that earned him fame at the time, and a controversial legacy years later.
His career reached an embarrassing end in 1981, when he was jailed for leading a failed coup in the Seychelles.
Mr Hoare’s son, Chris Hoare, said in a statement that his father died in a care facility in Durban, South Africa.
“Mike Hoare lived by the philosophy that you get more out of life by living dangerously, so it is all the more remarkable that he lived more than 100 years,” he said.
Accountant turned mercenary
After serving in the British Army during the Second World War and reaching the rank of major, Mr Hoare began his post-war career as an accountant, running several small businesses in South Africa.
But it was in 1961 that he was introduced to Moïse Tshombe – a Congolese politician and businessman who would go on to become prime minister of the Congo three years later.
In 1964, Mr Tshombe hired Mr Hoare to take on the communist-backed Simba rebellion.
When the campaign was completed 18 months later, Mr Hoare and his unit of mercenaries – which he nicknamed the “Wild Geese” – were internationally known.
His fervent anti-communist beliefs earned him no fans in many nations, with East German radio regularly describing him as “that mad bloodhound Hoare”. This led to him being nicknamed “Mad Mike” – a moniker with which he was delighted.
In 1978, a mercenary adventure film called The Wild Geese was released. The film starred Richard Burton as Colonel Allen Faulkner, a character based heavily on Mr Hoare.
But where his campaigns in the Congo earned him global respect, what came next turned him into an international laughing stock.
‘The package-holiday coup’
Mr Hoare appeared to be retired from military life by the start of the 1980s – but in 1981 he launched a surprise attempt at overthrowing the government of the Seychelles.
It is believed that Mr Hoare knew the Seychelles well, and had a particular hatred of its socialist government under President Albert René.
Having gained the tacit support of the governments of South Africa and Kenya, Mr Hoare began to plot.
In October 1981 he had a cache of weapons delivered to his suburban bungalow in South Africa, which he hid in his cellar. He recruited 46 men, and with them he planned to enter the Seychelles disguised as a charitable drinking club of former rugby players.
Almost all of the men managed to get through customs at Mahe airport. However, one of their group joined the wrong queue, got into an argument with a customs officer, and ended up having his bag searched.
When officers found a dismantled AK-47, the man panicked and revealed that there were more weapons outside.
At this point the entire plan unravelled, and amid the ensuing conflict at the airport the mercenaries commandeered an Air India plane and flew it back to South Africa.
When they arrived the mercenaries were jailed for six days, and Mr Hoare and his plans – dubbed “the package-holiday coup” – were ridiculed in the global press.
A year later they were tried for hijacking the Air India plane. Mr Hoare was sentenced to 20 years, with 10 years suspended. He was released after 33 months.
Mr Hoare spent his final years in South Africa, and published several memoirs – including Mercenary, The Road to Kalamata, and The Seychelles Affair.