The real reason America backed the Congo mercenaries

Let us go back to mid-1964 and consider the context. The cold war between East and West was on – big time. So was the space race, meaning the race to get to the moon first.

The Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, straddles the equator in central Africa, and has scandalous quantities of minerals. The problem is that Russian-backed rebels have occupied half the country and are gaining ground every day. The Congo is surrounded by nine countries, and if the Congo falls to the Russians, those nine countries will likely fall as well, domino-style.

And then, the big prize, South Africa which in 1962 mined 25,5 million fine ounces of gold, which was 68% of the world's output, excluding the USSR (Russia). And 10 million pounds (avoirdupois) of uranium oxide. Remember too that the West-aligned South Africa also had control of the trade route around the Cape on the southern tip of Africa. So, when you overrun South Africa you get a staggering array of mineral wealth – and a huge strategic advantage.

The final straw was the fall on 5 August 1964 of Stanleyville, one of the biggest cities in the Congo, to the rebels; they made it their capital. All the white civilians, probably 1600 people, were taken hostage, among them the staff of the US consulate, including three CIA personnel.

It was time to act, and, with support from Belgium, the former colonial power, the US authorised the recruitment of a force of 3000 'foreign volunteers' to put down the rebellion. Mike Hoare, formerly a major in the British Army in World War 2, was made officer commanding.

Wow! That is a huge force. Anyone with a suspicious mind might ask why such a big hammer to crack such a relatively small nut.

I believe I gave the real reason for the huge force in my biography, 'Mad Mike' Hoare: The Legend, when I say (page 69) America had to act because "control of the Congo would give the Russians a near monopoly on the production of cobalt, a critical mineral used in missiles and many other weapons systems, since the Congo and the USSR were the world's main suppliers of the minerals. Such a scenario would put the United States' own weapons and space programs at a severe disadvantage." (from Chief of Station, Congo by the CIA's Larry Devlin)

In other words, if you can't get cobalt from the Congo, you are out of the space race, and at a severe disadvantage in the production of missiles and other weapons systems – and that was not an option for the USA. Hence the foreign volunteers.

For the record, although 3000-plus men were authorised, the average number of men in 5 Commando at any one time was probably about 300.

A Scandinavian missionary, Mrs Greta Holte, seen here in white, was rescued by the Wild Geese at Bondo. She described them as 'brave South African soldiers'. 30 May 1965

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