“10 Amazing Stories of Real Life Mercenaries”

As Traveller inspiration:

It takes a very specific sort of person to look at everything the world has to offer and say: “Yeah, give me some money and I will fight all of that.” Some call these people mercenaries. Others use different, more colorful expressions. But most people can agree that these guys have pretty… interesting lives, to put it mildly.

We’re not going to glorify the profession of shooting other people for money. Some of these people have done pretty terrible things. We’re just going to tell their stories, to show how different people end up in one of the strangest professions in the world — and what that profession sometimes turns them into.

10 Amazing Stories of Real Life Mercenaries by By Pauli Poisuo

Just mercing around on one planet is rather exciting – at least until you are killed. If you are just maimed… well, them’s the breaks.

Breaks the man will have to pay for, out of his own pocket.

10. Frederick Russel Burnham

Frederick Russell Burnham was truly old school: A fearless adventurer-mercenary who took part in some of the grittiest wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The stories of his prowess are so legendary that they are frankly a little hard to believe. It’s said that he once outran a horse in a 22-mile race to deliver a message. The writer of King Solomon’s Mines,  who was a friend of Burnham’s, said that the man was more of an action hero than anyone in his books. Another friend, Robert Baden-Powell, cited him as an influence when he created the Boy Scouts. Even Teddy Roosevelt was so impressed by Burnham that he specially invited him to join the Rough Riders.

No matter what you think of these stories, Burnham was certainly always where the action was. His glorious mustache could be spotted in the Apache Wars, or serving as the chief of scouts for the British Army in the Second Boer War. He took part in the Mexican Revolution, and was one of only three survivors of the Shangani Patrol, Rhodesia’s version of the Alamo. There was no telling where the man would pop up next: You could find him in any corner of Africa, or cowboying it up in Tombstone, or casually panning for gold in Klondike. What’s more, he achieved a great many of these accomplishments before he even turned 35.

Of course, all of these adventures did not necessarily mean that Frederick Russell Burnham was a nice man. He was a shameless lifelong racist, and he treated his family as little more than an afterthought: Burnham missed the births of all his three children, and often left his wife alone with them while he was off adventuring.

10 Amazing Stories of Real Life Mercenaries by By Pauli Poisuo

Very Solomani, if I may say so myself. No one said that a wicked man couldn’t be a brave, intelligent, truly gutsy leader.

It just depends on how much weight you put on ethics, how the two types of goodness — “doing the thing right: effective, dependable and accurate” and “doing the right thing: just and morally upright” — mesh in the heart of a single man.

9. South Africa’s Elderly Mercenaries

In the 1980s, Leon Lotz was one of the Koevoets (“Crowbars”), ruthless paramilitary cops fighting for the white South African leaders. Like many people like him, Lotz got into the mercenary lifestyle after the Apartheid regime fell. He finally met his end like he had lived: In a conflict in northern Nigeria, possibly because of friendly fire from a tank. Here’s the strange part: This happened in 2015. Leon Lotz was fighting in the frontlines at the ripe old age of 59.

He was not alone, either. That year, approximately 300 former soldiers of Apartheid were still fighting in Nigeria, despite the fact that some of them are in their early 60s.  

There’s a very simple reason behind this strange phenomenon: Money, or more specifically, a lack thereof. “Former Apartheid thug” is not a marketable skill in most non-mercenary circles, so tons of these people became soldiers of fortune. It‘s the only skill they have, so if they don’t make enough money for a comfortable retirement or otherwise fall on hard times, it’s what they return to. Don’t take this to mean that they’re nice old guys who are just trying to make ends meet. They’re often literal relics of a time gone by — unrepentant racists who never really got around to updating their mental clocks beyond South Africa’s segregation heyday — though the ones who are still active tend to be professional enough to not let that show. Being old doesn’t mean that these people are bad at their job, either. On the contrary: They’ve been doing it for a very long time, and still consider themselves fit enough to do it. The people they were fighting in Nigeria found this out the hard way, as the elderly South Africans played a large part in turning the tide against the militant group Boko Haram, who were trying to sabotage the country’s election.

10 Amazing Stories of Real Life Mercenaries by By Pauli Poisuo

Lots of homeless men in the Traveller universe, their nation vanished and gone, doing the only thing they know to put food in their bellies, a roof over their head, and (maybe) make some sort of impact on the world.

8. Frank Camper

There’s a very special type of mercenary who trains other mercenaries and claims he doesn’t care what they do with the skills he teaches them. That type of mercenary is called Frank Camper. In the 1980s, Camper operated The Mercenary School in Jefferson County, Alabama, where he trained soldiers of fortune from all over the world. He was always a divisive figure: Some say that he was a very capable and effective trainer, while others insist that he’s a fraud and his training consists of little more than campfires and sing-song in the woods. Regardless of which version you want to believe, he was leading a double life: Apart from being a mercenary trainer, Camper was also a dedicated informant to the FBI and Army Intelligence.

These dual roles sometimes put him in strange situations, where he both helped instigate a crisis and prevent the same crisis. He once trained a group that attempted to kill India’s prime minister. When he learned what they were up to, he immediately leaked the information and foiled their plans. He has done the same to smugglers and professional right-wing assassins….

10 Amazing Stories of Real Life Mercenaries by By Pauli Poisuo

Mercenaries, just like regular armies, must worry about informants and spies. Especially those who loudly claim not to care what you’re going to do, or what you’re fighting for.

5. Robert C. MacKenzie

Colonel Robert C. MacKenzie was an expert mercenary who, despite the fact that his career took him to many mercenary-like jobs and contracts, heavily objected to the word “mercenary.” In 1965, the 17-year-old MacKenzie joined the US army and fought in Vietnam, but was severely injured while storming Mother’s Day Hill in 1967. After a full year in the hospital, he was sent back to the civilian life with a disability rate of 70%. However, MacKenzie wanted to be a soldier, no matter what. He traveled to Rhodesia, and joined their SAS forces despite of his disabilities. This proved to be a good career move: Over the next decade, he rose to the rank of Captain and earned numerous medals. After his Rhodesian stint, he joined the South African Defense Force to become a second in command in Special Forces.

In 1985, MacKenzie returned home, and started a second career as a longtime correspondent for Soldier of Fortune. For the next 10 years, he saw action all around the world and wrote well over 40 correspondent reports of said action. In 1995, he accepted a contract that would end in him meeting his fate in the most international way imaginable: After a stint in Bosnia, he was shot while commanding a troop of Gurkha warriors in a war in Sierra Leone.

The reason MacKenzie always disliked the term “mercenary” was that he never fought for the money alone. He treated “international soldiering” as a legitimate profession, and only fought for causes that he personally approved as good and just.

10 Amazing Stories of Real Life Mercenaries by By Pauli Poisuo

It’s natural to assume that all mercenaries are amoral sociopaths/ psychopaths. In truth: “some are… some aren’t.”

2. Bob Denard

French mercenary Bob Denard was one of the most infamous ‘dogs of war’ in modern history. His hands were elbow deep in virtually every conflict and coup he could reach during his 40 years of activity. Denard described himself as a “soldier, not an assassin,” but his actions did not always match up. He was once even accused of planning to assassinate the French Prime Minister. Despite this, he has said that he acts in the interests of France.The way his country kept reducing the prison sentences he kept getting for the… other stuff he was involved in certainly seems to back up this claim.

Denard’s exploits were many, and his tactics could be… unconventional, to say the least. He used many names: Sometimes he was Bob Denard. Other times, Colonel Bako or Mustafa M’hadjou. Occasionally, he even went by his real name, Gilbert Bourgeaud. He once attempted to invade a country with a small, bicycle-riding army. And he loved coups. He loved them very, very much. After fighting in Indochina, Congo, Gabon and Yemen, he got his first taste in the coup business in 1975, when he staged one in the poor island state of Comoros, on the east coast of Africa. After his next coup, a failed 1977 attempt in Benin, he apparently decided to stick to what he knows. He became obsessed over Comoros, and overthrew the country’s government whenever it didn’t please him. Which was often the case.

After Denard’s third Comoros coup in 1989, France had enough of his antics. Denard was swiftly deposed to South Africa and placed in house arrest. This didn’t last: In 1995, Denard returned to Comoros with 30 soldiers and staged his fourth coup. This time, France didn’t mess around, and sent three thousand soldiers to take Denard down. Outnumbered a hundred to one, Bob Denard was finally forced to concede defeat and break the cycle of endless coups.

10 Amazing Stories of Real Life Mercenaries by By Pauli Poisuo

“He loved coups. He loved them very, very much.”

Reminds me of people who really like fire.

Just the kind of exciting passenger to drop on your struggling PCs…

“This didn’t last: In 1995, Denard returned to Comoros with 30 soldiers and staged his fourth coup. This time, France didn’t mess around, and sent three thousand soldiers to take Denard down.”

So the mercenary finally earned the attention of a High Noble. Something for your own PCs to enjoy, one day…

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About Alvin Plummer

I'm working to build a better world, a world that blesses Christ and is blessed by Him. I hope that you're doing the same!
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