I love reading books about history and I especially enjoy military history. Currently I’m listening to Lieutenant Colonel Mike Hoare’s memoir Congo Mercenary which he self narrated. You don’t expect an adventurer and mercenary to to have a flair for writing but I’m really enjoying the book and am especially enjoying Hoare’s descriptions of the characters he met and commanded as well as what life was like in central Africa in the 1960’s. As you can tell by his rules, he had rather a romantic outlook on life but many of his rules are nevertheless, timeless maxims for soldiers and those going into harm’s way. I’ve added a few notes at the end if any of the rules leave you a little puzzled.
Hoare named his Congo Unit, 5 Commando (he’d led 4 Commando in a previous action in the Congolese province of Katanga). Here are Mike Hoare’s Top 10 Rules of Battle:
5 Commando’s Rules of Battle
1) Pray to God daily.
2) Make a fetish of personal cleanliness; take pride in your appearance. Even in the midst of battle; shave every day without fail.
3) Clean and protect your weapon always. They must be bright clean and slightly oiled. Examine your ammunition frequently. Check and clean your magazine springs and clips.
4) Soldiers in pairs; look after each other; be faithful to your mate. Be loyal to your leaders.
5) Tell no lies in battle. All information must be accurate or your unit will suffer. Exaggerate to your girlfriends later, but NEVER NEVER in battle.
6) Be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Mark all your equipment. Keep, It handy at all times. At night develop a routine for finding it.
7) Look after your vehicle. Fill it with petrol before resting. Clean it. Do not overload unnecessarily.
8) Take no unnecessary risks.
9) Stand-to dawn and dusk. At night have confidence in your sentries; post as few as the situation demands.
10) Be aggressive in action – chivalrous in victory – stubborn in defense.
Andrew’s Explanatory Notes on 5 Commando’s Rules of Battle
- Self Explanatory
- There were two reasons for this rule. The first was Hoare’s early association with the British Army where he attained the rank of Captain in an Armoured unit. The British Army has traditionally equated a soldierly look with soldierly competence. The second reason is that fastidious hygiene reduces the likelihood of disease and infection.
- Clean, lightly oiled weapons fed clean ammunition through clean, well maintained magazines are safer and have fewer malfunctions.
- We still use the ‘buddy system’ in the U.S. Army. You break soldiers down into pairs and have each one look after the well-being of the other. A soldier is much more likely to request medical attention for his buddy than for himself. Loyalty to the chain of command is a life and death matter in combat…orders must be followed immediately and without hesitation or people die.
- A commander can’t make good decisions on the basis of bad information.
- Keep your kit ready and know how to lay your hands on it at night. If you know any combat experienced soldiers… watch what they do with their shoes at night…what you’ll likely see is that they put their shoes in the same place every night so as to be able to lay their hands on them quickly even in the dark. The same goes for all their gear in combat.
- Self Explanatory
- Self Explanatory but kind of ironic when you consider this rule was written for a bunch of white mercenaries from ‘apartheid’ practicing countries who were being paid by a newly independent and primarily black Congolese government to fight in their civil war.
- Stand-to is a period of 100% security when everyone is on ‘guard’ and ready for an attack. It also serves to acclimatize your eyes to changes in the level of illumination. Hoare was a big proponent of getting plenty of sleep and rightly so. Sleep deprivation leads to very poor performance and decision making.
- Self Explanitory…and elegantly put