The Dogs of War (novel)

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The Dogs of War
First edition (UK)
Author Frederick Forsyth
Cover artist Ian West / Michael Brett[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre War novel
Publisher Hutchinson (UK)
Viking Press (US)
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)

The Dogs of War (1974) is a war novel by Frederick Forsyth featuring a small group of European and African mercenary soldiers hired by a British industrialist to depose the government of the fictional African country of Zangaro.

An eponymous film was released in 1980, based upon the novel and directed by John Irvin. The movie was filmed on location in Belize.

The mercenary protagonists, like the protagonist in 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. Initially introduced as simply killers, as the novel progresses they are gradually shown to adhere to a relatively moral mercenary code; however as the mercenary leader Shannon tries to explain at one point, it is difficult for civilians to understand this.

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

Forsyth draws upon his journalistic experiences in reporting the 1970 Biafran War between Biafra and Nigeria; though fictional, the African 'Republic of Zangaro', is based upon Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony.[2] The novel'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" — and clearly alludes to Forsyth's time in Biafra; the dark tone and cynical plot of the story stem from the same source.

Plot summary

1970: The prologue shows "Cat" Shannon and his fellow mercenaries leaving a West African war they have lost, saying their goodbyes to the General, who employed them for six months.

Subsequently, a prospector employed by British-based company Manson Consolidated sends mineral samples, acquired from the "Crystal Mountain" in the remote hinterland of the African republic of Zangaro, to headquarters. When they are analysed, ruthless British mining tycoon Sir James Manson realises that there is a huge platinum deposit in Zangaro. Despite this, thanks to the president of Zangaro, Jean Kimba, being Marxist, homicidal, insane, and under Soviet influence, any public announcement of the findings would benefit only the Russians. Confiding only in his top assistants, security chief Simon Endean and financial expert Martin Thorpe, Manson plans to depose Kimba and install a puppet leader who, for a pittance, will sign over Zangaro's mining rights to a shell company secretly owned by Manson. When Manson Consolidated later acquires the shell company for a fair market price, Sir James Manson and his aides will pocket £60 million.

On recommendation from a freelance writer, Endean hires Anglo-Irish mercenary soldier "Cat" Shannon to reconnoitre Zangaro, and to investigate how Kimba might be deposed. After visiting the country posing as a tourist, Shannon reports that the army has little fighting value and that Kimba has concentrated the national armoury, treasury and radio station within the presidential palace in Clarence, the Zangaran capital city and principal port. If the palace is stormed and Kimba killed, there will be no opposition to any new regime. Because there is no organised dissident faction in Zangaro, the attacking force will have to be organised outside the country and land near Clarence to launch the attack. Shannon prices the mission at £100,000, with £10,000 for himself. Although Shannon has dealt only with Endean who is using a false name, he has had Endean tailed by a private investigator and has discovered his true identity and his involvement with Sir James Manson.

Although Manson has taken steps to silence the few people aware of the Crystal Mountain platinum deposit, the chemist who analysed the samples has inadvertently revealed his findings to the Soviets, who assign a KGB bodyguard to Kimba while they prepare to send in their own geological survey team. Manson learns from a Foreign Office bureaucrat that the Soviets have got wind of the deposit. He commissions Shannon to organise and mount the coup, to take place on the eve of Zangaro's independence day, one hundred days hence, although he does not tell Shannon of the Soviet involvement.


Shannon assembles his old team to execute the attack on Kimba's palace: German ex-smuggler Kurt Semmler, South African mortar expert Janni Dupree, Belgian bazooka specialist "Tiny" Marc Vlaminck, and Corsican knife-fighter Jean-Baptiste Langarotti. Semmler travels Europe looking for a suitable cargo ship to transport them and their equipment to Zangaro. Dupree remains in London to buy all their uniforms, boots, haversacks and sleeping bags. Langarotti travels to Marseilles to acquire inflatable boats for the amphibious assault. Vlaminck accompanies Shannon to Belgium to obtain one hundred "Schmeisser" submachine guns from a former member of the SS, then remains in Belgium to prepare them to be smuggled out in oil drums. Shannon then travels to Luxembourg to establish a holding company to handle the purchase of the ship, to Spain to buy 400,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition for the Schmeissers with a forged end user certificate, walkie-talkies, foghorns and flares, and to Yugoslavia to buy bazookas, mortars, and ammunition for them. He also finds time for a brief sexual liaison with Julie Manson, Sir James's daughter, from whom he learns the bare essentials of Manson's true plan.

Martin Thorpe has meanwhile secretly purchased the controlling share in Bormac Trading, a mining and plantation-owning company which has long ceased trading, from Lady MacAllister, the ailing widow of the company's founder. His and Manson's involvement is concealed behind the names of several fictitious shareholders. Endean has simultaneously obtained the agreement of Colonel Antoine Bobi, a former commander of the Zangaran Army who fell out with Kimba and is now in exile, to participate in Manson's scheme. Once installed as president, the venal and illiterate Bobi will sign over the mineral rights to the Crystal Mountain to Bormac Trading for a nominal price but a large bribe for himself.

The mercenaries get underway after Semmler acquires a nondescript tramp cargo ship, the Toscana, for the operation. Hidden in oil drums, the Schmeissers are smuggled across the Belgian border into France and loaded aboard the Toscana at Marseilles, along with the uniforms and inflatable boats, marked supposedly for watersports in Morocco. They then sail to Ploče in Yugoslavia to load the mortars and rocket launchers purchased legitimately from an arms dealer, without telling the Yugoslav authorities that they already have arms aboard. These weapons are then concealed below deck and the ship sails to Castellon in Spain to collect the ammunition (supposedly sold to the Iraqi police force). The ship then travels to Freetown in Sierra Leone to pick up six African mercenaries, disguised as casual stevedores, who will also participate in the attack, and Dr Okoye, an African academic.

The assault

The assault on President Kimba's palace takes place as planned. In the early hours of the morning, the mercenaries land on the shores of Zangaro and set up foghorns and flares to disorient the defenders and light their way through the attack. Dupree and two of the African mercenaries begin the assault by using mortars to bombard both a nearby army camp and the interior of the palace compound, thereby eliminating the palace guard, while Vlaminck destroys the compound gates with anti-tank rockets. As the bombardment ceases, Shannon, Semmler, Langarotti and the other four African mercenaries storm the palace while Semmler shoots Kimba as he tries to escape through his bedroom window. Kimba's KGB bodyguard escapes the firefight and shoots Vlaminck in the chest, but Vlaminck retaliates, killing him with his last bazooka rocket before he dies. Meanwhile, Dupree and his two African mercenaries attack the nearby army camp. A Zangaran soldier throws a grenade at them as he flees and one of the African mercenaries throws it back, but it falls short and Dupree, deafened by the mortar and gunfire, fails to hear the warnings and is accidentally killed in the blast.

Around midday, Endean arrives in Clarence to install Colonel Bobi as the new Zangaran president. He has his own bodyguard, a former enforcer and London East End gangster. When Endean and Bobi arrive at the palace, Shannon lures Bobi into a room where a shot is heard; just as Endean realizes that Shannon has killed Bobi, Shannon then shoots Endean's bodyguard in self-defense when the bodyguard tries to draw his gun, and casually introduces Dr. Okoye as the new head of government. At Shannon's request, the Soviet geological survey team's request to land in Zangaro is permanently refused.

The aftermath

As Shannon drives Endean to the border, he explains that Endean's otherwise comprehensive research failed to note the 20,000 immigrant workers who did most of the work in Zangaro, but were politically disenfranchised by the Kimba government. A hundred of them, in new uniforms and armed with Schmeissers, have already been recruited as the nucleus of the new Zangaran Army. When Shannon tells Endean that the coup was really conducted on behalf of the General, Endean is furious but Shannon points out that this government will at least be fair, and if Manson wants the platinum, he will have to pay the proper market price. Endean threatens revenge if he ever sees the mercenary in London, but Shannon is unconcerned with the warning.

In the novel's epilogue, it is revealed that Dupree and Vlaminck were buried in simple unmarked graves near the shore. Semmler, having sold the Toscana to its captain, died while on another mercenary operation in Africa and Langarotti's fate is ambiguous; the novel tells only that after he took his pay, he was last heard of going to train a new group of Hutu partisans in Burundi against Michel Micombero, telling Shannon "It's not really the money. It was never for the money."

The final scene of The Dogs of War reveals that before embarking on the Zangaro operation, Shannon was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer (skin cancer in some American editions). He posts the remainder of his earnings to the surviving family members of his fallen teammates, and also sends a manuscript (presumably outlining the entire plan) to a journalist in London (presumably the aforementioned freelance writer). Later, Shannon walks into the African bush, humming a favourite tune ("Spanish Harlem"), to end his life on his own terms with "a gun in his hand, blood in his mouth, and a bullet in his chest".


  • Carlo Alfred Thomas Shannon
     – nicknamed CAT, an Anglo-Irish former Royal Marine turned mercenary soldier
  • "Tiny" Marc Vlaminck
     – Huge Belgian mercenary and bazooka expert, bartender
  • Kurt Semmler
     – German World War II veteran turned mercenary soldier, smuggler
  • Janni Dupree
     – a South African mercenary and mortar expert
  • Jean-Baptiste Langarotti
     – Corsican-born former French Paratrooper turned mercenary soldier, knife expert and member of the Unione Corse
  • Sir James Manson
     – owner of Manson Consolidated
  • Simon Endean
     – Manson's chief of security and the man who hires Shannon
  • Martin Thorpe
     – Manson's top financial expert
  • Jean Kimba
     – Zangaro's President turned dictator
  • Antoine Bobi
     – Kimba's exiled former aide who Endean recruits as a puppet leader
  • Dr Okoye
     – African academic installed as acting leader of government by Shannon after the coup
  • Julie Manson
     – Daughter of Sir James Manson and Shannon's lover


While researching the story of The Dogs of War, 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 US dollars.[3]

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, "Black Jack" Schramme and Rolf Steiner 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 (cf. Roberts, The Wonga Coup [2006]). Although it is difficult to separate what Forsyth pretended to do from 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 his novel. Ironically there was a coup d'état in Equatorial Guinea in 1979 - the left-wing dictator of Equatorial Guinea was overthrown and killed by his nephew, the current right-wing dictator of Equatorial Guinea. In 2004, in a copycat plan based on Forsyth's fictional book, an actual attempted coup d'état against Equatorial Guinea, intended to secure lucrative mining rights granted by a client puppet government, involved Mark Thatcher, who was intending to trade on his mother's (British prime minister Margaret Thatcher) connections and reputation to call favours, and the mercenary Simon Mann, who subsequently stood trial and was convicted.[4] {Thatcher received a suspended 4-year sentence; Mann was sentenced to 34 years in 2008 but was pardoned in 2009}

In Ken Connor's book How to Stage a Military Coup, the author praises The Dogs of War[5] as a textbook for mercenaries; in much the same way that The Day of the Jackal[6] is appreciated as a guide for assassins.

Film adaptation

United Artists released a 1980 film adaptation directed by John Irvin and starring Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger.


  1. Modern first editions – a set on Flickr
  2. "Mark Thatcher and the Dogs of War". BBC News. 18 November 2004. Retrieved 12 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 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. In 1999 the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra was founded to promote a separate Biafra state.
  4. Chittenden, Maurice (11 June 2006). "Forsyth: my real life Dogs of War coup". The Times. London. Retrieved 12 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The Dogs of War at Fact Behind Fiction". Retrieved 12 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "The Day of the Jackal at Fact Behind Fiction". Retrieved 12 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>