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This week True Lies is honored to host Jim Hawes as the guest blogger, this time in his own words. Jim had a Forest Gump-like ability to be at the center of several fecal whirlwinds from the mid-sixties. For the first episode, see The Real Deal, Jim Hawes | Part I: SEALs Goad North Vietnam (2015 July 19).


Eastern Hemisphere Unit 4


The U.S. Government posted one SEAL to the Congo, our man Jim. It was 1965 and mercenaries hired by Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe had the Soviet- and Cuba-backed Simba (Masai for “lion”) Rebel army in retreat. Like many, I knew next to nothing about the Katanga province’s failed secession of 1961 (see the Appendix at end for a synopsis) and the 1964 Simba War in central Africa with Lake Tanganyika running along the eastern border of the conflict. I’d read about “Mad” Mike Hoare and Che’ Guevara, of course, but hadn’t placed them in the same place at the same time: on opposite sides in a brutal jungle, savanna, and lake war.


Lake_tanganyika fish



SEAL Team-2 Lt (jg) Hawes’s task was to recruit the leaders of this putative Navy from legendary mercenary Mike Hoare’s 5 Commando regiment. Scrounging ships from local sources, the Albertville-based unit thwarted rebel resupply efforts, inserted ground troops along the lake’s western shore to attack the Marxist rebels, and provided supporting fire.

And now I pass the talking stick to Jim, looking back fifty years to when he was 26 and still had a full head of air . . . almost!

Bradley West, Singapore, 2015 August 16


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Excerpt from Cold War Navy SEAL: My Story of Che’ Guevara, War in the Congo and the Communist Threat in Africa by James M. Hawes, © 2015-2018. Reproduced by permission of the author.


In 1960 the Congo had declared independence from Belgium.  The country’s abundance of copper, cobalt, diamonds and gold had made it a Superpower target.  Independence triggered a war of secession in the mineral-rich province of Katanga, followed by a rebellion that ravaged Eastern Congo.  Government officials in the Congo and the U.S. government were preoccupied with combating the scourge of Communism, which they feared would lead to a loss of control over Congo’s strategic mineral wealth.

The Simba rebels’ brutalities against hundreds of Europeans and thousands of Congolese  culminated in late 1964 when Western nations mounted Operation Dragon Rouge to rescue almost 2,000 hostages trapped in Stanleyville. The atrocities and the increasing Communist support for the Simba rebels outraged the West and prodded the U.S. government to act.  As part of the plan to halt the savagery, I was posted to Albertville (today named Kalemie and situated mid-way down the eastern border at the mouth of the Lukuga River) to set up a “Navy” on Lake Tanganyika. Our mission was to interdict weapons and supplies coming across the lake from Karilani, Tanzania to the rebel enclaves along the western shores of what is the second largest (by volume) and deepest lake in the world.

Congo Simba Rebellion 1964



My navy was to be staffed by recruits picked from the soldiers of fortune who populated the 5 Commando battalion led by Mike Hoare (and paid by the Congo government with Western money).  My first challenge was to identify the best of these thugs, perverts, addicts, and killers; train them as sailors; and lead the interception of the support to the rebels. To the surprise to the world, we discovered Che’ Guevara and over two hundred Cubans and Soviets who were aiding the rebellion, hoping to create a Marxist state in the heart of Africa.


Mad Mike Hoare

Lt Colonel Mike Hoare. Source: Agence Presse photo (1964) as sourced from


One event contributed more than any other toward the success of the Force Navale Congolaise. It was the recruitment of 5 Commando’s Regimental Sergeant Major (“RSM”) Sam Cassidy, originally from Glasgow. He was a hardened soldier of fortune and a knowledgeable veteran of the Congo. He had trained every 5 Commando soldier, and one of the keys to his value was the personnel files in his head.  I believed that acquiring Cassidy, with his knowledge and assessment of the troops, would provide an edge in recruiting the best of the mercenaries.  If I could do that, I’d be able to build a navy with the capabilities needed to accomplish this mission.

When Cassidy returned from medical leave, I requested that he meet me at the Hotel Du Lac, my home in Albertville. My ultimate success in his recruitment had a direct link back to the year I spent as a UDT/SEAL Instructor. (Thank you Captain Lee.)  I took some liberties in order to convey a sense of leadership of this emerging navy.  I allowed everyone to believe what they seemed to want to believe, that I was a Commander, instead of a twenty-six-year-old Lieutenant (Junior Grade), not even a full Lieutenant (Senior Grade). But in this heart-of-darkness Congo, I was facing a situation that required grit and poker-playing skills.


Hawes' home in Hotel Du Lac Albertville

Source: James M. Hawes


Sam Cassidy was older than I was, a murderer and a plunderer with a hair-trigger temper that often led to violence. He was a mean-tough Glaswegian, and through a catalog of savage acts had earned the fear of every mercenary in the Congo, and many other parts of Africa.  Cassidy’s extreme character came out in his mood swings. His foul temper was rumored to be caused by a bad liver, brought on by a wicked combination of tropical diseases, contaminated water and copious booze. He was paranoid when drunk, which he was a much of the time when off-duty.

When I met him that afternoon, instinctively I addressed him as if he were a UDT/SEAL trainee. I told him, “We’re going to build a navy, with or without you.  But if you come on board, together we will make the navy an effective force.  I know you’re a mercenary, but I will not bid against Lt. Colonel Hoare for your services.  What I will do is see to it that you are commissioned a Lieutenant, and if you are as good as you are reputed to be, and I believe you are, made Captain.”

My plan was to maintain the army ranks, and not introduce navy ranks, as the mercenaries were all officially still a part of 5 Commando. “You have a decision to make,” I said. His eyes narrowed, either in fury or deliberation, I couldn’t tell which.  I knew that as RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) he was the senior non-commissioned officer of the 5 Commando Regiment. I sensed that getting a commission was important to him.  It was a status Cassidy knew he would never receive from Hoare, because he was more valuable as RSM than as an officer. I forged ahead as if I had all the power, as though this “recruit’s” future were up to me, just like a wannabe SEAL back at Little Creek, VA. “Now you either come on board, or pack your kit and get out.” I paused, but not for long. “What is your decision?”

Luckily, I walked away from that encounter instead of taking a .45 between the eyes, which was exactly what Cassidy did to an unfortunate contractor in a bar a few months later.  It was a too-much-to-drink setting and the man’s crime had been that Cassidy felt he had insulted him in front of the troops. [BW note: Convicted of murder, initially Cassidy received the death sentence from the court, but this was commuted to life. With the intervention of President General Mobutu, charges were dropped after Cassidy allegedly paid a large sum in gold. Cassidy gained his freedom in 1967 and departed for South Africa soon after. In January, 2018 I received an email from Cassidy’s daughter who corrected the original timeline. It seems that Cassidy spent no more than five weeks in prison before being pardoned. In addition, General Mobutu awarded Cassidy the Republique Democratique du Congo Military Cross 1st Class for Valour while serving with 5 Commando.]

Cassidy agreed to sign on to my nascent navy, and he became exceptionally loyal. More accurately, I suppose he was as loyal as he was capable of being.  This was because I could give him a military status that he wanted and believed he might never achieve otherwise: an officer’s commission.  So, together we began recruiting troops, and started to mold them into sailors.

The loss of his Regimental Sergeant Major infuriated Lt Col Hoare, but the navy was autonomous from Hoare’s command and there was nothing he could do about it. Lt Col “Mad” Mike Hoare was a first-class actor in the view of Congo CIA Station Chief Larry Devlin.  Devlin was both intellectually tough and physically brave, and referred to Hoare as a “gentleman adventurer,” a characterization that covered a variety of roles. According to Cassidy, the colonel was a bandit with senior 5 Commando officer John Peters and Cassidy tasked with securing Hoare’s share of anything 5 Commando found in the banks, vaults and safes in every town they “liberated” in the Congo.

Lt Col Hoare’s transition to adventurer came out of unlikely circumstances. Like many people, Hoare’s life might seem nondescript right up to the point where he first gained notoriety, which happened to be in the Congo.

Hoare was born in Ireland, spent his boyhood in India, was educated in England, and joined the British Army when Word War II broke out. There he served in North Africa, Italy and then on Lord Mountbatten’s staff in South Asia. By the end of the war, Hoare had attained a captain’s rank at twenty-five. A few years later, he attained a Chartered Accountant’s qualification, and eventually moved to Durban, South Africa where he ran safaris. Thus the sixteen years from the end of WWII to the troubles in the Congo were hardly prerequisites for a new career as a mercenary commander. Through a friend, Hoare was introduced to one of the Congo’s most powerful political figures, Moïse Tshombe. In 1960–1961 he first fought as a mercenary in Katanga where Tshombe was governor. There Hoare led 4 Commando on behalf of the western-backed central government and Tshombe. That assignment went well enough that in 1964 when the Simba Rebellion started, then-Prime Minister Tshombe brought Hoare back to lead 5 Commando.

Some of his critics would label Hoare a martinet, which is far from accurate.  Hoare’s ability to play his role was crucial to commanding a mercenary army, particularly because he was the law. There wasn’t a parallel military disciplinary infrastructure to make and enforce rules. Meting out frontier justice required Hoare’s mix of substance and theatrics. Hoare once punished a 5 Commando enlisted man convicted of rape by shooting off his big toes. Hoare also possessed good fundamental military skills, and, just as importantly, he could recognize those same skills in others and deploy them accordingly.

Hoare masterfully played the “above the riff-raff” role of a British gentleman-officer.  Tapped to lead mercenary troops in overcoming a Communist threat, his theater of war was a small, but important strategic part of the Cold War world. Hoare had an acute sense for both strategy and tactics, and I saw him juggle cold-blooded killers, African leaders and US Embassy employees with aplomb, while still focusing on chasing down and destroying the rebels.

Also, he was lucky. Hoare had Belgian Colonel Hardenne, Chief of Staff Ops Sud (Operations South) as his quasi-boss. Hardenne coordinated between an ineffectual Congolese Army and the mercenaries.  A high-minded and competent Belgian, he was a “get the mission accomplished regardless of who got the credit” type of military leader. Hoare benefited from Hardenne’s exemplary character more than once, ever receptive to public praise.

We had daily operations meetings at 16:00 hours, except during campaigns. A bit ragged and contentious in the beginning, the meetings became focused and productive once Hoare clearly understood the navy’s value, and my determination to be cooperative and supportive.  Initially, it was a bitter pill for him to swallow that he wouldn’t be commanding the navy, but he came to realize we would make it possible for him to get his job done. The navy would be as available as the interdiction mission permitted, and that would make Hoare look good, which suited him. The agendas always included strategies on how the navy could best reinforce army movements with gunfire support, and by troop landings on the lake shore beaches. The rebels were well-entrenched in these lakeside enclaves and we were going to do our best to identify the sites and cut off the supplies to the rebels. We plotted and constantly revised tactics on how the navy would break those supply lines.

In time, Hoare accepted the separate command structure, particularly after it became apparent that the new arrangement actually made him more effective. Throughout the following months our daily meetings became essential as the pace and complexity of the operations increased. We were occasionally accompanied by Cassidy, who helped review and plan operations. One evening after a particularly successful day, Cassidy finally gave me his impression of our initial meeting. “Commander, “I trained every mercenary in 5 Commando, and no one, including Lt Col Hoare, ever talked to me the way you did that first day. I didn’t know whether to join you or kill you. Lucky for us both, I signed on.”  Once again, the old adage “Better lucky than good” proved valid. Whatever the reason, we were now a working team in charge of a landlocked, yet increasingly lethal Congo Navy.

With Cassidy’s stature among the mercenaries and my incentives, we got the toughest and smartest from the ranks of 5 Commando. But in that context, “toughest” and “smartest” had their own definitions with “most brutal” and “conniving” probably more accurate depictions. The recruits assumed there was a prospect that the American military might put them on its payroll longer term. Consequently Cassidy had little trouble convincing the men we selected from Hoare’s command to come on board.

With Lake Tanganyika’s 1,100 miles of steep-cliffed shoreline, a strong storm would turn the lake into a giant wind funnel, which I later discovered would periodically create swells rising six to eight feet. Substantial sea walls had been built to protect the port facilities from storm damage. Several 3,000 to 5,000-ton Lake Steamers were idle, no longer sailing in trans-lake commerce. It was one of these, the 1910-vintage Lake Tanganyika steamer the Kivu, that provided the final piece of the puzzle. The Kivu wasn’t sexy, but it became a recruiting magnet for the navy.



Source: James M. Hawes


The Kivu was idle, tied up at the dock. It was destined to become the Navy’s barracks barge and mess.  The mercenary army, the ground-pounders, slept rough and ate bad: lousy food, plenty of bugs, and crude latrines. Our steamer offered shelter, a bed, a clean mess-hall with decent food, some security, and one other important element: status. Cassidy, as mess-Captain, could ensure cleanliness and sanitation to a degree not possible in the army. Eat well, sleep clean–a recipe for recruitment and one of the reasons for our success in attracting the best of a very bad lot.

I had no cash with which to acquire the Kivu so I applied a little imagination instead to get what we needed. One sweltering morning I stood on the dock with a contingent of newly-hired armed men. We simply boarded the Kivu and took it over. I wrote out an IOU to the stunned sailor on board who appeared to be in charge. “The U.S. Government owes you US$5,000 for one vessel,” it read.  I included a description of the ship, the fact that it was commandeered by the Force Navale Congolaise for use on Lake Tanganyika and I dated and signed it, “James M. Hawes, Officer of the United States of America.” A dollar a ton for a half-antique, out-of-service vessel seemed a fair price to pay. It was a dramatic and probably unnecessary display of force. As far as I know, no one ever attempted to collect on that IOU.

Cassidy, as Captain of the Mess, designated one man as the provisions person, a gofer who would arrange and fetch supplies, plus act as errand-boy. Since each mercenary in the Navy contributed from his pay to the “mess,” they all had a stake in maintaining an on-going food supply.  When Cassidy discovered that the gofer had embezzled from the mess, he dispensed punishment that was the most extreme, pressurized bullying tactic I had ever witnessed. Cassidy’s ruthless form of discipline would have given apoplexy to the U.S. Navy and the “UCMJ” (Uniform Code of Military Justice) as it broke every rule. Incidents like these highlighted the key differences between a proper military and a mercenary force. The cold locker on the fifty-year-old ship was equipped with thick, insulated walls, built when ice was the only available cooling system.  Over years of misuse and abuse, it had deteriorated to the point that it was now inhabited by rats and a squadrons of creepy-crawly, biting creatures that thrived in the dark, hot and damp environment.

When Cassidy discovered the larceny, he called the sailors into formation.  This misappropriation would have been a petty concern when compared to Cassidy’s escapades, but, nonetheless, he stood the men at attention as the pilferer’s crime was announced. “This man stole from the mess,” he declared. And with that, Cassidy threw the man into the cold storage locker and bolted the door. The ranks were dismissed and the men went back to work.

Twenty-four hours later, Cassidy again assembled the sailors and brought them to attention. He retrieved the criminal out of cold storage, considerably less perky after spending a day and night in pitch dark, solitary confinement in the company of disease-carrying vermin and blood-sucking insects.  Cassidy made the identical announcement as the previous day, “This man stole from the mess.” And he threw the man back in and locked the door.

The scene was repeated the following day. With the men at attention, Cassidy pulled the gofer from the isolation tank.  Only now the man’s body had begun to physically jerk and spasm, and it’s possible he was hallucinating.  He swatted at unseen creatures flying over his head.  Cassidy made his announcement, “This man stole from the mess,” and again threw the man back into the hellhole.

On day-three, after seventy-two hours of no food and minimal water, Cassidy produced the man and the histrionics were repeated. Only now the gofer was nearly insane, completely broken. Three days in the sodden dungeon, battling real and imaginary demons, had taken its toll. Cassidy stood back and allowed his men a long, thought-provoking look at the wretch before them. Then he pointed at the thief and shouted, “This man stole from the mess! No one will ever steal from the mess again.” And none of those thieves ever did.

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I had hoped Jim would go on to provide us with the outcome of his Africa adventures, but that’s our inducement to buy Cold War Navy SEAL: My Story of Che’ Guevara, War in the Congo, and the Communist Threat in Africa. (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018.)

Next week True Lies will be looking at the CIA and its air transportation policies of the last fifteen or so years.


Appendix: Katanga Secession of 1961 as Prelude to the Simba War of 1964-65

Resource-rich Katanga province lies inland and borders the western shore of Lake Tanganyika. The Welsh explorer Stanley was one of the first westerners to traverse its resource-rich vastness in the 1880s. King Leopold II of Belgium made Katanga one of the centerpieces of his personal fiefdom, the Belgian Congo. (See King Leopold’s Ghost for a chilling account of a genocide that may have killed 5-8 million Congolese from 1885 through 1908.)

By 1960, Europe’s colonies were clamoring for independence, the Belgian Congo among them. Mid-year, black-white violence exemplified the chaos. Katanga and South Kasai provinces declared their independence. Each had Belgium’s support. The UN sent in peace keeping troops. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba was a leftist, and he petitioned the Soviet Union for aid. The Cold War had moved to Africa, with the US and Belgium supporting President Joseph Kasa-Vubu against the Marxist-backed forces of Prime Minister Lumumba. Later in 1961, Lumumba was captured, tortured and executed. UN troops helped the national government defeat Katanga and South Kasai by late 1963.

The Simba Rebellion started in 1964 as a second Marxist-supported insurrection in the eastern provinces. At its peak, the Simba rebels controlled most of the country but Lt Col Hoare’s mercenaries had turned the tide by year end and the rebels were in retreat. This is the conflict Jim Hawes entered in 1965.