The Wild Geese

Painted illustration on canvas for the film poster in 1978 by painter Arnoldo Putzu

Original sold on sothebys

A small warning

If you've never seen the Wild Geese, I can't do anything but advice you to take two hours of your time and enjoy this very good piece of memorabilia.

I will talk about the film, it's pitch, the military operation that is central to the story, the guns and uniforms they use. You will be spoiled and I think it would be a shame to miss on this surprising movie that has a lot more to offer than just another soldiers for hire piece.

One of the promotion pictures of the movie, that's it, you have the whole atmosphere in there

Picture from antonyearnshaw

The story is rooted in this shady period of our story that saw a number of former soldiers take their kit to Africa and fight in endless conflicts.

After leaving the service, some felt decieved by the political players that sealed their fate in the field and took upon themselves to carry on the fight on their own terms and for their own profits.

"Mad" Mike Hoare, former british Army officer turned commander of the mercenary 5 Commando in Katanga, here during the battle of Baraka in 1965

Picture from telegraph

Central point of the intrigue, some of these infamous mercenaries were even present during the filming, including the casting of Ian Yule, a former paratrooper and real soldier of fortune during the Congo war in "Mad" Mike Hoare's 5 Commando and whom even invited him to meet the director.

Wagner Group mercenaries in Senegal in 2022

Picture from apnews

"Mad" Mike Hoare and director Andrew Maclaglen in 1978 during the filming of the Wild Geese

Picture from pattern-53-enfield

after recruiting, the unit goes to Swaziland for the final training, 50 men in ranks

Seen on imdb

Cinematographical monument from a lost era of military history, the Wild Geese is a mercenary ode to mateship and soldiering that takes on some very serious subjects opposed to some of the lighter atmospheres of the film.

Some cool and unusual guns

Pillar of the story, the crossbow used by Lieutenant Coetzee, south-african Boer played by actor Hardy Krüger

Picture from moviestillsdb

A south-african FAL 50 on the left and a Sterling SMG for the Sergent Major

Still from the film

Even with a communist backup, the fictionnal country and the soldiers of fortune attacking it are mostly equiped with european weaponry, which is highly believable in this context. A lot of the guns are variants of the mythical FN FAL from Belgium and produced under licensing in the UK and the rest is sourced from south-african used weapons.

A real treat for connoisseurs, some are quite rarely seen.

Most of the mercenaries are former british Army and they quite naturally wear standard issue DPM camo, appearing in 1966 in England.

The main thing that differs between them are the berets, red for the "officers" and brown for the grunts. Everyone of them wears a beret badge corresponding to his former posting in the british military, as Tosh and his SAS canvas insigna. Lieutenant Coetzee did not serve in Her Majesty's military but wears a para badge nonetheless.

Spraying the Cyanide, with a Danish Madsen M50 SMG covering

Still form the film

Three of the officers, with badges from left to right: Royal Welsh Fusiliers for Faulkner, Irish Guards for Flynn and Royal Green Jackets for Janders

Still from the film

Left to right: Royal Army Medical Corp, Grenadiers Guard, Lancers, Paras, Black Watch and Royal Scots

Picture from movie-dude

An east-german officer in the control tower at the airport

Still from the film

Military plan

After being approached by a wealthy and very well politically introduced industrial mogul, the former Colonel Faulkner is hired to get inside of an hostile south-african country and extract a disgraced president in the hope of getting him back to his posting.

To come up with an actable plan, he goes after two officers he served with and procedes to interview a bunch of ex-soldiers, most of them already saw combat under his command. Daring operation, they have three hours on the ground to achieve their objectives and get out.

The theory is simple as can be, after a night high altitude jump, they need to take simultaneously two separate objectives, extract the high-value target and get back in the plane just as it lands before getting out.

On Christmas day, they rely heavily on shock and awe to complete the mission without casualties.

It's as classic as it gets, silence the lookouts, break in, take over the prison, locate and extract the target towards the airport and get off from there.

It could have been just that, an overused intrigue with simple tactics but this is where this film really rise up. Adapted from a novel of the same title by rhodesian author Daniel Carney, the story as interesting and unusual twists.

Night jump, in sticks and in the dark for the Wild Geese

image from billstclair

Actor Ian Yule, former para and real mercenary in the Congo war, using a very unusual L1A1 carbine SLR fitted with a 40 rounds mag and a very early red dot optic. The character, Tosh, is a former SAS as his beret insigna shows and the gun might well be his personnal weapon

Picture from twitter

A very reliable FN MAG 58 GPMP in front and a rather surprising SIG STG47 from switzerland

Picture from imfdb

A captured Vickers MG on the right side and a very interesting Samopal VZ25 in the foreground

Picture from imfdb

The uniforms

Soldiers for hire

Inspired by real dogs of war units, the one in the movie is not just taking up on their stories.

Genuine armies, mercenaries outfits fought on every african soil during the troubled time period after a succession of independance wars.

Soldiers of fortune often get this bloodthirsty, greedy and unscrupulous tag attached to their back.

Bloodthirsty they indeed were, but a lot of them carefuly chose the cause they wanted to fight for and they were often paid badly, late or in some cases even got nothing out of it.
A great number of these private armies were only working for their own governments, doing political tasks without involving anything official.

Going on with the plan

Still from the film

A lot of different weaponry is used in during the production, most of them sourced through South-Africa, as it is done in the story.

A few of the hardware that was selected, however plausible in this context, are pretty rare and to this day are a subject of discussion among enthousiasts.

But surely what is an unexpected tactic is the use of the fearsome cyanide, both in vials attached to Lieutenant Coetzee's crossbow darts and as a deadly gas sprayed over the resting guards in the barracks. True war crime, this mass murder of the enlisted doesn't seem to bother the dogs of war at all, dreafully efficient.

The elite "Simbas" unit and their east-german officer wearing outdated british Denison camo

Still from the film

A cuban advisor in the prison

Still from the film

The Wild Geese is not just another well done war movie, with a stellar casting for the time. it's also a surprising take on some very serious subjects discussed in a quite pioneering light.

It's treating racism in a way you don't see very often, especially with the duo Coetzee/Limbani and discuss other issues that were far less vocals than nowadays, as the question of openly gay people in the military with the character of medical orderly Witty that sacrificed himself with much bravour and tackled back every sexual joke thrown at him.

Last words

It's on a broader scale the issue of the return to civilian life for soldiers and all it's difficulties that is central to the film. The reasons they have for going back differs, some are in for the camaraderie, others for money problems, lack of adventure or they just grew bored of the "normal" life but none of them had it easy leaving the military.

This article is a bit different than what i usually do, I hope you were interested by some of what I wrote and that you happenned to discover -or re discover- this awesome movie that is a great part of my youth and that I enjoyed thoroughly.