Costas Georgiou

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Costas Georgiou on trial in Angola in 1976

Costas Georgiou (Greek: Κώστας Γιώργιου, also Anglicized as Kostas Giorgiou; alias "Colonel Callan") (1951 – 10 July 1976) was an ethnic Greek Cypriot, British mercenary executed following the Luanda Trial for activities during the civil war phase of the Angolan War of Independence.

Early life[edit]

Georgiou was born on Cyprus in 1951, when the island was still a British protectorate. His family moved to London in the early 1960s.

British military career[edit]

Georgiou joined the British Army and served, at first with distinction, in 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland. He was credited as being one of the best marksmen in the unit, and he was also alleged to have fired 26 shots on Bloody Sunday when civilians were killed in Derry.

Despite later claiming to have been a colonel, Georgiou's highest British Army rank attained was that of corporal, and he never received officer training. Others state Georgiou was a private soldier.[citation needed]

Mercenary activity[edit]

Background: Roots of the conflict and Georgiou's recruitment[edit]

In 1975, Portugal recognized the independence of its former colony of Angola, and acknowledged the Soviet-aligned People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) as the de jure government. The new government sought and received help in the form of Cuban military advisors, combat troops and material to fight against rival factions, which included the U.S.-backed National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) and the South African-backed National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (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 Private Military Companies (PMC; also known as PMIs, for Private Military Industry) in the United Kingdom and United States. Funding was provided by various NATO-member intelligence organizations, including the American Central Intelligence Agency and the French Secret Service.

By this time, Georgiou was out of the army and working part-time in construction. He had few prospects for more stable and gainful employment, given his dishonorable discharge for his part in robbing a post office. He was dating a Greek Cypriot woman, Rona Angelo. Her cousin was 'Shotgun' Charlie 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 of putting out an advertisement soliciting mercenary employment for four able-bodied young men. These would be Hall himself, Georgiou, Christodoulou and Costas's old comrade, Mick Wainhouse.

The men 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 the United Kingdom.

Georgiou in Angola[edit]

"Colonel Tony Callan", as Georgiou was now styling himself - the surname having come from the popular hardbitten espionage and action series Callan, starring Edward Woodward as a hired gun for the Crown - went to Angola to work as an unpaid medical orderly, in advance of his three colleagues. It was while he was working in this position that he took part in the decisive action that brought him to the notice of the FNLA leadership. When FNLA soldiers fled the advance of a MPLA force, which threatened to capture the hospital to which he was assigned, Georgious led a handful of Portuguese FNLA soldiers in an offensive defence, stopping the MPLA force in its tracks. The general trend of the war, for the FNLA, at that time was one of a steady string of defeats, ensuring that the defeat of the MPLA column attracted immediate attention from Holden Roberto, who, to Georgiou's surprise, appointed him head of the FNLA army, with the rank of Colonel; still unpaid. His three friends arrived from Britain shortly after.

Together with the Angolan soldiers, Callan led a small FNLA military group composed of mostly Portuguese and Greek Cypriot mercenaries, and an Irishman called Lyndon Sheehan. One of the Portuguese, who styled himself "Madeira" after the famous fortified wine, was also a former champion boxer. This group were 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, led by Sheehan, killed 60 of the approximately 600 MPLA and Cuban fighters, and destroyed four T-34's and four "Stalin organ" mobile rocket platforms, Sheehan lost four men in this firefight. Impressed with their efforts, Holden Roberto dispatched Nick Hall back to England to recruit a full battalion.

Thanks to ongoing recruitment in England, 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. Many 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 first contingent of mercenaries was mostly made up of professional soldiers, selected by a British PMC, Security Advisory Services (SAS), run by John Banks, Chris Depmster, and Dave Tomkins. Georgiou resented SAS's own leadership structure within the group, and perceived John Banks, who remained in Britain, personally as a threat to his own position when Banks visited Angola. Georgiou became increasingly paranoid and belligrent to his own men, murdering African soldiers and creating a climate of fear even among the British mercenaries, none of which aided the morale of the FNLA forces, or their ability to wage war successfully against the MPLA.

The second contingent of mercenaries sent from Britain, unlike the first, was made up mostly of working class men with no military experience. These undisciplined men quickly surmised the perilous situation into which they had been placed, and the instability of their leadership. A group of them consequently seized vehicles and attempted to flee the country, firing on other FNLA forces in the process, including Chris Dempster. The deserters were quickly rounded up by Georgiou's men, and fourteen were summarily executed by firing squad.

A third contingent of similarly inept mercenaries was recruited in the US by an American PMC.[citation needed]

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, increasingly demoralised 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 said 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, not always the best trained and disciplined either. Another factor was leadership inexperience: Georgiou had absolutely no training nor experience as a commissioned officer, nor did most of his counterparts in other units.

Trial and execution[edit]

The principal crime for which Georgiou was convicted during the Luanda Trial, and subsequently 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. Colonel Callan as he used to call himself, killed all of his fourteen or ten men just because they ran away from the position which was under their surveillance. The place used to be called Sanza Pombo. At that time Callan was stationed at S. Salvador.

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.


  • Brittain, Victoria (1997). Death of Dignity: Angola's Civil War. London: Pluto Press.
  • French, Carey (1988). "Of Myths and Mercenaries." The Globe and Mail. October 8.
  • Stevens, Mark (1976). "Death for 'Dogs of War'." Newsweek. July 12.
  • Walker, J. F. (2004). A Certain Curve of Horn. New York: Grove Press.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Cuban documentary footage on YouTube Time 3:28 - 5:56 - Captured and killed FNLA mercenaries possibly from the 14 Feb 76 ambushes of two FNLA patrols in Cuimba. In video clip at time 3:36 - 3:53 possibly wounded mercenaries Gustavo Grillo and John Nammock sitting in the back of a FAPLA truck. Time 4:33 and 4:53 possibly wounded mercenary Gary Acker. At 5:03 mercenary sitting on the ground wearing the beret is possibly Daniel Gearhart.