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Rather than being a night of celebration New Year’s Eve 1964 was set to be a catastrophe for Europeans residents of Stanleyville. The vulnerable jewel city set in the Belgian Congo had a 150,000 population.

Urged on by firebrands’ the unexpected hordes of attacking Simbas presented a fearsome sight. Fuelled by drugs and believing they were invincible the dark-skinned marauders descended on the great city as UN peacekeepers took to their heels.

Their spineless retreat left the city’s European population exposed. The Simbas were tribesmen and for these savages New Year’s Eve was open season on Europeans. These primitives were gifted thousands of defenceless European civilians courtesy of the United Nations.

Michael Walsh, author of  THE LAST GLADIATORS includes a quote:

“The Simbas fierceness and lack of compassion equalled that of the Mau Mau (Kenya Uprising) of earlier atrocities. Their favoured method of killing was to make a nun drink gasoline and then cutting her open set her on fire. European children were tied between Jeeps and torn apart. Crucifixion and castration were the norm. Only those who were there would understand (the scale of gratuitous depravities).”

About 120 ethnic-European mercenaries were hastily formed to block the waves of approaching Simbas. Of these around 100 were English speakers and only 35 had military experience. However, this was neither the time nor place for checking job applicants’ curriculum vitae.

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Divided into fighting units, these poorly equipped European forces advanced clandestinely and were ‘injected into Stanleyville’. Their purpose was to secure the city and offer a token defence, to hold out until greater forces could be deployed. The European fighters would meantime deal with the Simbas.

The soldiers-of-fortune had much to keep them occupied. By this time the entire Katanga Province was facing the Simba uprising. The demagogue leading the Simbas was former railway clerk General Olenga. The jungle warlord was not acting independently and took his inspiration and orders from a native woman known as Mama Orena. Very much a shrewd and manipulative woman this mirror-image of South Africa’s Winnie Mandela empathised well with the native psyche.

A natural leader, Mama Orena balanced rhetoric and drugs to create a psychosis that convinced the Simbas that they were indestructible. Little is known of her fate after the liberation of the region. The considerable reward of $50,000 placed on her head was never claimed. It is rumoured that she escaped to the United States.

The Simba name struck terror into Europeans and Africans alike. Such was the mindless savagery of the Simbas that two well-equipped battalions of government Armée Nationale Congolaise evaporated on their hearing the Simbas were approaching.

The drug-crazed warriors without the necessity of actually fighting soon commanded half of the former Belgian Congo. The gratuitous violence of the Simbas was such that conjure up visions of hell and damnation. The Simbas appeared unstoppable as they poised to descend on Kasai Province and the frontiers of Portuguese occupied Angola.

Katanga Prime Minister Moise Tshombe acted decisively. A resourceful leader he set about pulling together whatever forces were necessary to turn back the Simba tide. Tshombe wasted no time and was not too fussy about the background or credentials of those who made up the defensive forces. As a consequence the war against the Simbas was soon going well. However, there was desperate need also for resourceful battle-hardened experienced mercenaries.

The need was filled by several hundred European dogs-of-war recruited in Paris, London and Brussels. These small formations of irregular and experienced troops were largely made up of German, French, South African, Irish, Spanish and Portuguese fighters. Many were veterans of World War Two campaigns and so former enemies.

The mercenaries’ bravery and expertise were decisive in the war against the Simbas. Certainly, their participation was sold as evidence of European colonialism again rearing its ugly head. However, this was counter balanced by the popular sentiment that the dogs-of-war were avenging angels and heaven sent to inflict punishment on the Simbas.

The Soviet-backed Simbas were no match for the mercenaries. It seemed Moscow had backed the losers. The presence of these mercenaries being pivotal the Simba onslaught was stopped in its tracks.

What motivated Europe’s ex-servicemen to drop whatever they were doing and deploy to Central Africa?  First and foremost a soldier is a fish out of water in civilian life. He misses the discipline, the training, comradeship, danger and adventure. If the pay is good then that is a bonus.

Europe’s unemployed ex-servicemen were promised gold and substantial land by Moise Tshombe. Held out was the promise of a life as a European settler in a future peaceful Congo Republic. As in the then Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola and South Africa there would be opportunity to own and manage land. These men must have imagined sprawling villas and gardens, household staff and the perks of a settler’s life. Who then would wish to face a future as a factory manager, a truck driver or salesman in Dublin or Ostend?

The camaraderie and spirit, the influence of these unconventional dogs-of-war can never be underestimated. There were many areas of conflict other than Stanleyville and Katanga. Unrest and fighting was widespread through most of the Congo as warlords jousted for position and influence.

Like wildfires conflict was prone to break out anywhere.  The Congo Crisis offers opportunity to give due credit to a pan-European fighting force central to a conflict in which there were quite definite divisions of black and white, not in an ethnic sense but in a sense of good against evil.

Interestingly, Soviet president Leonard Brezhnev was at this time feted by Britain and the United States political elite. Hollywood has yet to produce a movie depicting the Simbas as great revolutionaries usurping the wicked European colonialists.

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MICHAEL WALSH is an internationally acclaimed journalist, author, poet and broadcaster shunned by liberal-left corporate media.

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