The 5 Craziest Soldiers of Fortune To Ever Cash a Paycheck
Some people are reluctantly called to war, either drafted into service or volunteering out of a sense of duty. Other people, well, they just really like fighting.
That's why there is such a thing as the soldier of fortune, the mercenary who'll show up and fight in a war between two countries he didn't even know existed until they offered him a paycheck. It takes a certain breed of person to lead this lifestyle. And that breed is batshit insane.
James Long Takes on Texas
You know how sometimes you just get fed up that your government isn't doing something about those bastards across the border? And how sometimes you just go gather your own army and go to war on your government's behalf? No?
"We have the Second Amendment for a reason. And that reason is going to war whenever we feel like it."
Well, then you're not James Long, a wealthy military surgeon and war veteran. In the early 1800s he settled down in Mississippi, planning nothing more for his future than a quiet, Southern kind of life. Until ...
In 1819, America signed a treaty with Spain that would just let those sons of bitches have Texas! And all the U.S. got in return was freaking Florida. Long could do nothing but sit on his plantation, watching the events unfold and quietly seething in patriotic rage until he just couldn't take it anymore.
"What the fuck, arbitrary borderline? I thought we were friends!"
In 1820, Long finally snapped. He gathered several hundred followers and marched straight into Texas. His crew, rumored to be unofficially endorsed by the U.S. government, employed what was perhaps the simplest tactic in military history: They flat out walked in and took over the central town of Nacogdoches. There, they passed the declaration of independence for the newly formed Republic of Texas, elected Long for their president and proceeded to just settle in, establishing their own newspapers and customs rules and everything. While literally in the middle of the legal jurisdiction of a rather powerful and heavily armed European superpower.
This is a rip-off of something, but we're just not quite sure what.
A month later, the laughter finally died down in Spain and they realized that, holy shit, this Long guy is actually serious. So they sent a 500-strong force to drive him and his followers the hell out of Texas.
Long escaped with his life and whatever dignity he imagined he still had -- and immediately proceeded to raise another army, this time against the freshly independent Mexico that was now in possession of his precious Texas. He managed to gather some 300 men (and his pregnant wife, because whatever could go wrong?), march in Texas yet again and straight up commandeer a Mexican military fort.
Noted for its excellent pre-natal plan.
Mexico, like Spain before, was getting a bit annoyed by now, so they went in and arrested Long. He was sent to a prison in Mexico City where he was assassinated by a sentry in 1822, presumably while trying to recruit him into his Texas Crusade Mk. III.
Meanwhile, his arguably more badass wife and three kids were holding off invaders with cannons.
Neall Ellis Trolls Sierra Leone Rebels to Defeat
Neall Ellis had a successful career as a military pilot behind him and an easygoing civilian life to look forward to. There was just one problem: He was immensely bored with living like a regular guy.
So Ellis decided to become a soldier for hire. Specifically, he started taking work as a private mercenary helicopter pilot, securing his first contract fighting for Bosnia in the Yugoslav wars. After that, he spent some time in Angola. Finally, in the late '90s, his duties took him to Sierra Leone.
Um, that's probably a welcoming rocket launcher.
The Revolutionary United Front, a rebel faction fighting the UN-supported government of Sierra Leone, was winning in 1999. They were knocking on the door of the nation's capital, Freetown, and the situation was in fact so hopeless that British forces were abandoning the area just as Ellis arrived.
"The beer's in the fridge. Don't get killed too much!"
Ellis and his team, however, were unshaken by the fact that they were pretty much the only foreigners still in the game. They stayed and fought, presumably for their own amusement, flying missions with Ellis' gunship helicopter and messing with the rebels any way they could. The RUF got so enraged by him that they soon sent him a message:
"If we ever catch you, we'll cut out your heart and eat it."
Ellis responded by stocking his gunship full of weapons (in case he should ever be shot down) and hovering over RUF strongholds, showered them with leaflets saying:
"RUF: This time we've dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57 mm rockets, or 23 mm guns, or 30 mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!"
"I'll probably throw myself out, and then you'll be sorry."
After a while, the government of Sierra Leone stopped paying Ellis, because they were forced to abandon the Freetown area, too. Ellis, however, enjoyed the little flame war he got going so much that he kept flying missions for another year, pro bono. During that time, in addition to his usual antics, Ellis single-handedly stopped the RUF from advancing into Freetown -- without a co-pilot, in the middle of the night and without any night vision.
The first time they forgot the grenades, and everyone knows you get your whole war free if that happens.
At some point, the Brits realized that the ragtag bunch of madmen they'd left behind were actually winning, so they skulked ashamedly back into the fight by financing Ellis and offering assistance.
Ellis and his helicopter stuck with Sierra Leone all the way up to the RUF's defeat in 2002. What does he think of the war-torn country he's spent years fighting in, with a significant portion of its denizens wanting to eat his heart? He loves it. So much, in fact, that he's going to move there when he retires.
"No other country will let me keep my helicopter and my missiles."
Carl Gustav von Rosen and the Biafra Baby Fleet
Some guys just really, really like war.
Take Swedish count Carl Gustav von Rosen. Oh, his career started off normally enough. He started his flying career doing small plane stunts in an aerial circus, then got his first taste of military conflict when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1936, at which point he apparently said, "I want to do nothing but this, from now on. Find me a war!"
Wow, Germany, that's surprisingly generous!
So, when World War II broke out, he immediately volunteered in the Finnish Air Force to combat the Soviet Union. There, he gained notoriety as a bomber -- literally. Unable to score a bomber plane that satisfied his needs, he opted for physically pelting the Soviet troops with bombs, throwing them by hand at the terrified Reds from the open cargo door of a civilian airliner.
"Adequate arm room, helpful air-hostesses, effective destruction. Would fly again."
This is when von Rosen started to run out of militaries willing to let him fly for them. He applied to the RAF but was rejected due to his family's Nazi connections. As a backup plan, he went back to flying commercial flights, and after the war became a special UN pilot. After narrowly avoiding death when the United Nations aircraft he was supposed to be piloting was blown up over the Congo, von Rosen decided to take some time off in 1969. And by "time off" we mean he scoured the globe looking for another war to join.
For some reason the wars always erupted a few days after he left their protected airspace.
He decided to head to Biafra, to help them in their civil war against Nigeria. Why? Because life just wasn't worth living unless he was flying in an aircraft that other people were shooting at.
Upon arrival, von Rosen noticed some imbalance between the warring parties' aerial capacities. Namely, the Nigerian Air Force consisted of powerful Soviet MiG-17 fighters and large bombers, whereas the Biafran counterpart consisted of paper airplanes that the generals made and threw into the sky.
The Soviet Nerf-gun 3000.
So he set out to improve their fleet -- the von Rosen way. He bought five of the tiniest, least intimidating planes he could find. Then, he turned these propeller-driven training planes into makeshift war machines by ... well, strapping some rockets onto their wings and giving them a green paint job. That's it, really.
The Pimp My Ride of the aviation world.
Still, beggars can't be choosers, and a fleet of tiny, overloaded almost-planes is better than nothing as far as the Biafrans were concerned. So von Rosen was allowed to lead his "Biafran Babies" to battle. And boy, did they kick some serious ass.
Somehow, von Rosen's fleet managed to destroy air bases, troop formations, power plants and a good chunk of the superior-on-paper Nigerian Air Force. Despite being under heavy anti-aircraft fire roughly 100 percent of the time and returning from many of their missions riddled with bullet holes, not one Biafran Baby was ever shot down.
It would be like hitting a mosquito with a house.
Eventually, the Biafrans did lose the war -- but we imagine the old Nigerian war veterans piss themselves to this day whenever they hear the squeaky buzz of a toy plane.
William Walker Just Wants a Country of His Own
A filibuster, in military-speak, is someone who has chosen the ass-for-brains profession of poking his nose into other countries' revolutionary affairs with zero authorization or backup from any government whatsoever.
William Walker is hailed as the greatest filibuster of them all. Literally his whole career is a testament to supervillain insanity.
Those cheekbones just scream secret volcano lair.
In 1853, at the age of 28, Walker set his sights on Mexico. After nicely asking permission to take over parts of it and unsurprisingly being denied, he decided to employ force. He gathered troops in San Francisco, marched right in and settled in what would become known as the Republic of Sonora.
Man, anyone with a bit of scrap fabric with a star and a stripe can become a damn country nowadays.
After a few months, Mexico got annoyed with Walker's ever-expanding country that had by then "claimed" nearly a third of Mexico. They sent the military to deal with Walker, who seemed genuinely surprised at this.
The army on his tail, Walker fled back to the U.S., where to the surprise of no one, he was put on trial for petty crimes such as trying to create his own country and declaring war on Mexico. However, the public perceived him as a hero, and the jury acquitted him after a whopping eight minutes.
He has that kind of warmongering attitude America needs!
Encouraged by the rousing success that was his Mexico venture, Walker's next target was Nicaragua. He entered the country with a mere 60 men in 1856 and somehow managed to take over and declare himself president within a single year. He celebrated his newly gained dictatorship by revoking all anti-slavery laws, declaring war on Costa Rica because fuck Costa Rica, and renaming his country "Walkeragua."
Nicaragua now celebrates the event as a "fuck Western arrogance" holiday.
Sadly, one of the people Walker managed to piss off was the wealthy tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose ships he forbade from his waters. Vanderbilt was not happy, so he sent an army of his own after Walker. Holy shit, the 19th century was awesome!
A guy with a cravat and a comb-over could command legions of men!
This and a coalition of every single Central American government (also funded by Vanderbilt, who tended not to mess around) led to Walker getting booted out of the country a mere year into his presidency. Wondering what had gone wrong and somehow managing to reach the exact opposite of the right conclusion, he headed right back to invade Nicaragua again.
Only this time, he attacked Honduras at the same time. What we're trying to say is the guy needed a hobby.
Bob Denard Tortures a Country for the Hell of It
Bob Denard's life reads out like he is some kind of a deranged cartoon antihero. Born Gilbert Bourgeaud, he started his professional life in the French Navy during the 1950s. Then he got bored of naval life and attempted to assassinate the prime minister of France. He was released after serving 14 months in jail, because apparently the French aren't too bothered about the welfare of their political elite.
Upon his release, Denard decided to throw what little caution he had left to the wind and start a career as a freelance dog of war. And soon enough, someone big looked at his resume and liked what they saw.
That someone? France.
"You look like someone who would never surrender. We need that."
Now employed by the country that apparently really really likes people who try to kill its prime ministers, Denard was tasked with a rescue mission in the Belgian Congo. We're not going to dwell on that -- if you're interested in details you can just watch the movie. Let's just say that Denard was a roaring success, and soon he was zigzagging Africa on more top secret shenanigans than you can shake a stick at.
One guess as to where he keeps the stick.
For three decades, Denard had nursed a ridiculously petty personal vendetta against the African nation of Comoros. This started in 1975, when he traveled there in business to oust president Ahmed Abdallah, literally just after he had declared Comoros independent. It looks like Denard enjoyed it way more than he should have, as three years later he decided he didn't like the new president and couped Abdallah back into power. Yes, the very guy he'd kicked out during Coup #1.
Denard, for reasons that make sense only to this type of man, proceeded to overtake large portions of the country during the next few years, attaining land and building an empire of hotels. Abdallah couldn't do jack shit to him, partially because the man had already overthrown and reinstated him once, but also because Denard owned the goddamn Presidential Guard.
Denard also made him wear this hat.
Around 1989, for obvious reasons, Abdallah ordered the Presidential Guard to disarm themselves. This proved to be a bad move, as Denard quickly put together yet another coup.
Abdallah's successor, Said Djohar, noticed a pattern in the power economics of his country and, wisely, flat out denied Denard entrance to the country. Denard responded by -- all together now! -- launching his fourth coup in 1995, when he and 33 men invaded the country by boat and took control. But this time Denard, who had already been to court because of his antics, had gone too far. The French military, utterly fed up with all the bad press Denard had given them, actually invaded Comoros and took it right back from him.
"God, we're really sorry. He's had too much sugar and is just overtired, you know how they can be."
Denard was convicted of being a dick toward sovereign countries, which is apparently an even smaller offense than attempted prime ministercide, seeing as this time he spent just 10 months in jail. Did he learn anything? Well, let's just say he tried to stage a fifth Comoros coup in 2001.
His love of coups was matched only by his weird love of cow print.
For more insane soldiers, check out 5 Real Life Soldiers Who Make Rambo Look Like a Pussy and 5 Soldiers Whose Horrific Injuries Only Made Them Angry.