The Dogs of War (novel)

The Dogs of War (novel)

"The Dogs of War" (1974) is a war novel by Frederick Forsyth chronicling a company of European mercenary soldiers hired by a British industrialist to depose the government of the African country of Zangaro. Years later, it was revealed that many portions of the novel are based on real-life events of 1973 when Forsyth himself financed an unsuccessful "coup d'état" against Equatorial Guinea on behalf of the Igbo people.cite book |last=Roberts |first=Adam |authorlink=Adam Roberts |coauthors= |title=The Wonga coup : guns, thugs, and a ruthless determination to create mayhem in an oil-rich corner of Africa |year=2006 |publisher=PublicAffairs |location=New York |isbn=1586483714] An eponymous film was released in 1981, based upon the novel and directed by John Irvin.

The mercenary protagonists, (like the protagonist the author's earlier novel "The Day of the Jackal" [1971] ) are professional killers — ruthless, violent men, heroic only in the loosest sense of the word. Thus, they are anti-heroes. The Irishman Carlo Alfred Thomas "Cat" Shannon, commander of the mercenary group, is the exception; the others are life's losers, emotionally impoverished, expendable men.

The story details a geologist's mineral discovery, and the preparations for the attack: soldier recruitment, training, reconnaissance, and the "coup d'état" logistics (buying weapons, transport, payment). Like most of Forsyth's work, the novel is more about the protagonists' occupational tradecraft than their characters. "The Dogs of War" title is a term from line 270, scene 1, Act III: "Cry, 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war", from the play Julius Caesar (1599), by William Shakespeare.

Novelist Forsyth draws upon his journalistic experiences in reporting the Biafran War between Biafra and Nigeria; though fictional, the Central African 'Republic of Zangaro', is based upon Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony. [ [ BBC News article] ] The novels's dedication to five men named Giorgio, Christian, Schlee, Big Marc and Black Johnny and "the others in the unmarked graves" concludes: "at least we tried" — clearly alludes to Forsyth's time in Biafra; the dark tone and cynical plot of the story stem from the same source.


The prologue shows Cat Shannon and his mercenaries leaving a West African war they have lost, saying 'good-bye' to the General, who employed them for six months.

Meanwhile, a ruthless British mining tycoon, Sir James Manson, discovers a ten-billion dollar platinum deposit in the hinterland of the Central African republic of Zangaro. As the Marxist Zangaro president, Jean Kimba, is under Soviet influence, Sir James decides to replace him with a puppet military dictator, Colonel Bobi, a man of little intelligence, who — once installed president — will sign to him the Zangaro nation's mining rights for a pittance price, and a bribe for himself.

On recommendation from a freelance writer, Manson hires Anglo-Irish mercenary soldier Carlo Alfred Thomas “Cat” Shannon to reconnoiter Zangaro, and to propose how to depose President Kimba. Shannon recommends assaulting the presidential palace in Clarence, the Zangaran capital city, and Kimba's assassination; he prices the mission at £100,000 — with £10,000 for himself. Sir James agrees; Shannon assembles the soldier team who will execute the "coup d'état": German ex-smuggler Kurt Semmler, South African mortar expert Jan Duprée, Belgian bazooka specialist “Tiny” Marc Vlaminck, and Corsican knife man Jean-Baptiste Langarotti.

Semmler travels Europe for a suitable cargo transport ship for them and their equipment to Zangaro. Duprée stays in London and buys all their uniforms, boots, and berets. Langarotti travels to Marseilles to buy inflatable boats for the amphibious assault. Vlaminck accompanies Shannon to Belgium to buy one hundred MP40 'Schmeisser' machine pistols from an ex-SS man. Shannon travels to Luxembourg to establish a holding company to handle the sale of the ship, to Spain to buy four-hundred thousand rounds of 9mm ammunition for the Schmeissers with a forged end user certificate, walkie talkies and flares, and to Yugoslavia to buy the bazooka, mortars, and necessary rockets and bombs. Shannon also manages time to have a brief sexual liaison with Julie, Sir James's daughter.

Nevertheless, the geologist who advised Manson of the Zangaran platinum deposit inadvertently has revealed the mineral secret to the Soviets, who appoint a KGB bodyguard to Kimba while they send in their own geologic survey team. Meanwhile, Manson and henchmen, Simon Endean and financier Martin Thorpe, secretly buy the controlling share in Bormac Trading, Plc, a superannuated mining company. When the Zangaro mining rights are sold to Bormac Trading, Sir James will earn an estimated £80 million windfall.

Rival mercenary Charles Roux, jealous that he was not given the Zangaro job, places a murder contract on Shannon, but Shannon traps the assassin in a Paris alley and Langarotti knifes him dead. Hidden in oil drums, the Schmeisser sub-machine guns are smuggled across the Belgian border to France, then loaded to their ship at Marseilles, along with the uniforms and rubber speedboats, supposedly for watersport in Morocco. They then sail to Ploce, Yugoslavia, to load the weapons bought from an arms dealer, without telling them they already have arms aboard. These weapons are then hidden below deck and the ship sails to Spain to collect the ammunition (supposedly sold to the police force of Iraq). The ship then sails to Sierra Leone to pick up six African mercenaries, who also will participate in the "coup d'état" raid, and Dr. Okoye, an African physician.

The assault on President Kimba's palace occurs: mortars bombard the palace courtyard, the gates destroyed with Vlaminck's bazooka rockets, however, Kimba's KGB guard shoots Vlaminck in the chest, who is just able to kill the KGB man with his last rocket. Duprée is killed, with a grenade thrown back in error, by an African mercenary. Semmler shoots Kimba as he escapes out his bedroom window.

Simon Endean arrives in Clarence to install Colonel Bobi as the new Zangaran president; he is accompanied by his own bodyguard, a former enforcer for the Kray twins. Shannon kills Col. Bobi and Endean's bodyguard, leaves Dr. Okoye as head of government, then drives Endean to the border. Meanwhile, Dr. Okoye refuses the Soviet geology survey team's request to land in Zangaro.

Shannon explains to Endean that, in his research, he failed to note the twenty thousand immigrant workers who do most of the work in Zangaro, but who never were politically enfranchised by the Kimba government. Dr. Okoye is one of them, and so are the hundred Schmeisser-equipped soldiers Shannon took to Zangaro at dawn; they lead the new government. When Shannon tells Endean that the "coup d'état" was conducted in behalf of the General, Endean is furious, but Shannon points out that, at least, this government will be fair, and if Manson wants the platinum, he will have to pay market price.

The final scene of "The Dogs of War" reveals Shannon all along suffering from skin cancer. Later, Cat Shannon walks into the African bush, humming a tune, to end life on his own terms: "a bullet in his chest and blood in his mouth”.


In researching "The Dogs of War" story, Frederick Forsyth pretended to be preparing a "coup d'état" against Equatorial Guinea on behalf of the Igbo people whom he passionately supports; he was told it would cost $240,000 dollars American. [Forsyth's first published book, "The Biafra Story", was a history of the Nigerian civil war that politically disenfranchised the Igbo, and was bitterly critical of the British government's policy toward that war.]

Five years after the 1973 attempted "coup d'état", Forsyth's research was subject of a feature story in the London "Times", in 1978, that posited he had commissioned the operation in earnest, many people believed he was planning a real "coup d'état" in Equatorial Guinea. Later, Forsyth said that arms dealers were the most frightening people he had ever met; the mercenaries Mike Hoare, Bob Denard, and "Black Jack" Schramme are all name-checked in the novel.

Forsyth's African activities of that time are an extremely controversial subject, and it is difficult to separate fact and fiction, however, as UK National Archives documents released in 2005 disclose, in early 1973 several people in Gibraltar were planning a "coup d'état" against Equatorial Guinea, in the manner described in "The Dogs of War"; Spain arrested several mercenaries in the Canary Islands on 23 January 1973, foiling the plot (c.f. Roberts, "The Wonga Coup" [2006] ). Although it is difficult to separate what Forsyth pretended to do versus what he might have planned to do, it is now reasonably clear, in view of the released documents, that several people were planning a "coup d'état" as described by Forsyth, at the time he was researching for his novel. {In 2004 an attempted "coup d'état" against Equatorial Guinea involved Mark Thatcher}.

Film version

In 1981, United Artists made a superficial film version of "The Dogs of War", directed by John Irvin, featuring American actors Christopher Walken as "Cat" Shannon, and Tom Berenger. It loosely follows the novel's plot; cast without movie stars, it has a similar, tradecraft approach like the novel, yet with less war business detail, much combat, and little politics.

Walken's effective, realistic portrayal of Shannon, the enigmatic American mercenary, is repressed, almost flat, emphasizing the emotionally dead nature of the professional mercenary soldier.Fact|date=August 2008 Novelist Frederick Forsyth appears in a cameo role as the unnamed freelance writer who recommends the mercenaries to Manson henchman Simon Endean.


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