Kostas Georgiou (Greek Κώστας Γεωργίου, also Anglicized as Costas Georgiou; alias "Colonel Callan"; 1951-1976) was a Greek Cypriot mercenary executed following the Luanda Trial for activities during the civil war phase of the Angolan War of Independence.
British military career
Georgiou joined the British Army, and served, at first with distinction, in the 1st Parachute Battalion in Northern Ireland, credited as one of the best marksmen in the unit. However, he was later court-martialed, along with his fellow-trooper Mick Wainhouse, after they robbed a Northern Ireland post office, and was dishonorably discharged.
Despite later pretensions to the rank of colonel, Georgiou's highest British Army rank attained was that of corporal and he never received officer training.
Background: Roots of the conflict and Georgiou's recruitment
In 1975, Portugal recognized the independence of its former colony of Angola, and acknowledged the Soviet-aligned MPLA faction as the de jure government. The new government sought and received help in the form of Cuban military advisors, combat troops and materiel to fight against rival factions, which included the U.S.-backed FNLA and the South African-backed UNITA, which received some US funding but no actual military aid. At the same time, British and American ex-military were recruited by FNLA through contacts in the United Kingdom and United States. Funding was provided by various NATO-member intelligence organizations, including the American CIA and the French Secret Service.
By this time, Georgiou was out of the army and working part-time as in construction. He had few prospects for more stable and gainful employment, given his dishonorable discharge. He was dating a Cypriot woman, Miss Rona Angelo. Her cousin was Charley Christodoulou, like Costas an ex-paratrooper of Greek Cypriot extraction, but honorably discharged. An acquaintance, Nick Hall, another dishonorably discharged airborne veteran took the initiative and put out an advertisement soliciting mercenary employment for four able-bodied young men. These were Hall himself, Georgiou, Christodoulou and Costas's old chum, Mick Wainhouse.
The group received a prompt reply from "Dr." Donald Belford, a former British Army medic who had volunteered for a humanitarian aid group in Africa some years before. While there, he had treated several Angolan fighters wounded in the struggle against the Portuguese, earning their friendship and trust. One of his friends was Holden Roberto, leader of the FNLA. After independence, Belford became Roberto's official emissary in Britain.
Georgiou in Angola
"Callan," as Georgiou was now styling himself, led a small FNLA military group composed of mostly Portuguese and Cypriot mercenaries with the odd Briton thrown in. One of the Portuguese, who styled himself "Madeira" after the famous fortified wine, was also a former champion boxer. This group was all excellent, experienced soldiers, but far too few in numbers to accomplish a decisive victory. Still, the record they amassed in their short guerilla campaign was impressive. In one ambush on an MPLA column, the squad-sized unit killed 60 of the approximately 600 MPLA & Cubans, and destroyed four T-34's and four "Stalin's organ" mobile rocket platforms. Impressed with their efforts, Holden Roberto dispatched Nick Hall back to Britain to recruit a full battalion.
Thanks to ongoing recruitment in Britain, a somewhat larger mercenary contingent was formed, but a full battalion was never realized. The enlarged force was still rather small relative to MPLA/Cuban forces, and many of the men were civilians with no military experience at all. Many of the men refused to submit to military discipline. This, combined with the foreign, Mediterranean origin of most of the core leadership (Georgiou, Christodoulou and the Portuguese) created a deep gulf between the officers and British men -- to say nothing of the native Angolans recruited as infantry and support troops. Most of these had no military experience, and many knew no English or even Portuguese, then still the language of government and the native elite.
The "battalion" fought several more dramatic engagements, including successful ambushes of minor MPLA detachments. However, given his limited resources and the fact that many of his men — European and native alike — were untrained amateurs, Georgiou's campaign was ultimately a failure. According to mercenary David Tomkins, the group spent most of its time foraging for food, usable weapons, and ammunition. Much of this foraging consisted of "raids" on villages where the men would casually walk into town brandishing their weapons, searching for anything of use. Anyone who offered violent resistance would be shot, although Tomkins says in an interview that this was rare.
Lack of proper equipment was one of the key factors in the failure of foreign mercenary units in Angola generally, and in Georgiou's case in particular. The MPLA had Soviet tanks, artillery and crack Cuban troops. The other two factions had mostly light infantry, and not always the best trained and disciplined at that. Another factor was leadership inexperience: Georgiou had absolutely no training nor experience as an officer, nor did most of his counterparts in other units.
Trial and execution
The principal crime for which Georgiou was executed was the slaying of fourteen of his men who had attempted to desert in some of the trucks that were carrying the unit's supplies. They did this after mistakenly firing on one of the other vehicles in their convoy, for which they feared punishment. He was also accused of killing two Angolan civilians, as well as torturing civilians to extract intelligence on enemy troop movements. In addition, fighting as a rebel soldier was itself considered a crime by the prosecuting MPLA authorities.
Georgiou's sister was allowed to visit him during his captivity in Angola. In a BBC interview, she said they spoke mainly about their family and the trial proceedings. They conversed in Greek. Georgiou's body was repatriated to England, and he was buried according to the rites of the Greek Orthodox Church.
- BBC retrospective for June 28, 1976
- BBC retrospective for June 11, 1976
- Tomkins Interview
- Military Law Review article on mercenaries & international law, from the US Army JAG Corps; incl. discussion of Luanda Trial & Georgiou