For the past five months, a newly formed rebel group the city of Goma a week ago. The movement, called the March 23 Movement (M23), is made up of former members of previous rebel groups and is largely a continuation of hostilities in the region that date back to the First Congo War in 1996. Amid a complicated web of proxy battles, political posturing, defections, and re-defections, M23 rebel forces (purportedly supported by Rwanda) have fought fierce battles against DR Congo government troops and local Mai-Mai militias, sending civilians fleeing for shelter. UN peacekeeping forces in the region have not resisted the advances of the rebels, claiming their duty is to protect civilians, not to act as a substitute national army. Several hundred rebels, soldiers, and civilians have reportedly been killed, and many more wounded, so far. At the moment, M23 refuses to leave Goma and has a stated intention of overthrowing the national government.
Allen Faulkner (Richard Burton), a British mercenary and former army officer, arrives in London to meet the rich and ruthless merchant banker Sir Edward Matherson (Stewart Granger). The latter proposes a risky operation to rescue Julius Limbani (Winston Ntshona), imprisoned leader of a central African country, who is due to be executed by his own generals. Limbani is currently being held in a remote prison ("Zembela"), guarded by a crack unit of indigenous troops known as the Simbas.
Faulkner provisionally accepts the assignment and sets about recruiting his officers, all of whom have worked with him on previous operations. They comprise:
With the tacit approval and support of the United Kingdom's government, fifty hired soldiers are transported to Swaziland to be equipped and mercilessly trained by Young. The day before the operation is set to begin, Janders exacts a promise from Faulkner to watch over his son Emile should he fail to return from Africa.
The mercenaries are transported by hired aeroplane into the central subcontinent and parachute into a region near Zembala Prison. Upon infiltrating the facility, Pieter Coetzee uses a powerful crossbow with cyanide-tipped quarrels to eliminate the sentries, while the rest of the guards are killed silently with cyanide gas. They rescue Limbani, but he is clearly a sick man and is later wounded by rifle fire. The group then makes its way to a small airfield to await pickup, deeming their mission a success. Back in London, however, Matherson opts to back out at the last moment, having secured his own private deal with Limbani's captors. He cancels Faulkner's exfiltration flight, hoping to wash his hands of the matter.
Stranded deep inside hostile territory without a clear exit plan, the abandoned mercenaries are forced to fight their way through the bush country, pursued mercilessly by Simba troopers.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Limbani and Coetzee develops from initial animosity ("I bleed red like you, white man; don't call me kaffir") to one of understanding, as the South African comes to understand and appreciate Limbani on an individual level.
Fighting off massed assaults and a frantan strike, the mercenary force makes its way towards Limbani's home village, with the intention of rallying support there for the deposed leader. But before everyone can reach the destination, Faulkner is forced to shoot his own gravely injured colleagues rather than leave them at the mercy of their pursuers. Coetzee is also killed while shielding Limbani during an ambush.
At the village, an Irish missionary named Father Geoghegan alerts Faulkner and his surviving men to the presence of an old Douglas Dakota transport aircraft near their location, which the mercenaries may use to flee the country.
As the Simba troops close in, the group reaches the aeroplane and stage a last stand on the empty airfield while Fynn attempts to get the stalled Dakota started. He is ultimately successful, and mercenaries attempt to board under a hail of bullets fired by their opponents. Young and Janders, however, are mortally wounded, and the latter implores someone to finish him off since he cannot make it. As Janders shouts his son's name, Faulkner reluctantly complies with his friend's wishes.
Although low on fuel, the Dakota manages to cross into nearby Rhodesia, where Fynn is refused landing permission until the Rhodesian authorities learn that Julius Limbani is on board. By the time the aircraft touches down near Kariba, Limbani has died from his injuries.
Several months later, Faulkner returns to England and breaks into Matherson's home, pilfering all the cash he can find from a wall safe to compensate for the payment originally promised for Limbani's rescue. He then exacts his revenge on Matherson before making a swift getaway with Fynn.
Faulkner fulfills his promise to Janders by visiting Emile at the latter's boarding school, hoping that they can talk freely about his father.
The body of a dead Congolese army soldier lies in the road between Goma and Kibati, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, on November 18, 2012. Government soldiers were fleeing the eastern DR Congo city of Goma in large numbers today as rebels advanced to the gates of the regional capital, a UN source said. Rebels took control of Goma two days later. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images)
A Congolese boy runs through the town of Sake, 26km from Goma, as gunfire erupted at the edge of the town in the east of DR Congo, on November 22, 2012. Thousands fled the town today as gunfire and mortar explosions rocked the town, which was soon under M23 rebel control. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
Brigadier General Sultani Makenga (seated) of the newly formed Congolese Revolutionary speaks to the media in Rumangabo military camp, DR Congo, on October 23, 2012. The M23 Movement, the newly formed political wing of former M23 rebels, has formed a semi autonomous administration structure in areas under their control. (Reuters/James Akena) #
In this Monday, October 22, 2012 photo, Bishop Jean-Marie Runiga, president of rebel group M23, addresses a rally in Bunagana, eastern DR Congo. Runiga said that fighting may widen soon in eastern Congo if President Joseph Kabila's government does not negotiate with the M23 rebels. A United Nations report accused Rwanda and Uganda of supporting the rebellion. (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera) #
Congolese flee the town of Sake, 27km west of Goma, on November 23 2012. Thousands fled the M23 controlled town as platoons of rebels made their way across the hills from Sake to the next major town of Minova, where the Congolese army was believed to be regrouping. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Displaced families walk towards Goma as they flee from renewed fighting in Sake, DR Congo, on November 23, 2012. Rebels in eastern Congo pushed south along Lake Kivu on Friday after repelling a counter-attack by government forces near the new rebel stronghold in the city of Goma on the Rwandan border. (Reuters/James Akena) #
Uruguayan United Nations peacekeepers watch M23 rebel positions on the outskirts of Goma, DR Congo, on November 18, 2012. Government soldiers fled Goma in large numbers as rebels advanced to the gates of the regional capital.(Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
M23 rebels sit in a truck as they patrol a street in Goma in the eastern DR Congo, on November 20, 2012, soon after the rebels captured the city from the government army. Rebels claimed control of Goma, walking through the frontier city of one million people past U.N. peacekeepers who did nothing to stop them. (Reuters/James Akena) #
A young boy jumps through a hole as others peer through the wall of a cell at Muzenze Prison in Goma, on November 21, 2012. Almost all inmates of Goma's main prison managed to break out after prison overseers abandoned their positions to flee from advancing M23 rebels two days ago. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images) #
Lokuli Loleko Prince, after finding the body of his father in the Ndosho district of Goma, on November 21, 2012. Lokuli's father, a government military doctor, was killed in fighting yesterday between the government army and M23 rebels as they took the provincial capital. Lokuli and his two brothers came across his father's body by chance in the western district of Goma, having searched in the morgue and a hospital yesterday evening. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Congolese soldier at the last Congolese army checkpoint in Munigi, where fighting between the M23 and the Congolese army has been taking place in the past days near Goma, on November 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Melanie Gouby) #
Congolese women run after Congolese soldiers and rebel fighters battled for hours over the eastern Congolese town of Sake, west of Goma, on November 22, 2012. The woman in orange only identified as Mamou, said she lost her husband to a fatal wound to the head from incoming mortar round. Thousands fled the M23 controlled town as the militants seeking to overthrow the government vowed to push forward despite mounting international pressure. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
A child stands near the body of a dead Congolese government soldier in Nyaruchinga, near Goma, on November 22, 2012.(Reuters/James Akena) #
Eli Kakule, 10, sits on his hospital bed at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma, on November 26, 2012. Kakule was seriously wounded by mortar shrapnel during heavy fighting in Goma. Brought to the hospital in shock, he was revived but his arm had to be amputated. His mother Anastasia (not pictured) found him at the hospital, four days later. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
An M23 rebel walks down a street, past a UN armored personnel carrier, in Goma, on November 20, 2012. Following gun fights with government soldiers this morning, the rebels walked through the city of Goma, and continued un-challenged, past United Nations peacekeepers. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
Congolese flee the eastern Congolese town of Sake, on November 23 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Displaced Congolese children stand against the gate of a religious organization on the outskirts of Goma, on November 25, 2012. Over half a million people have been displaced in eastern Congo since the outbreak of the M23 rebellion. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
Internally displaced Congolese gather at the Mugunga 3 camp west of Goma, on November 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Juane, 5, displaced by recent fighting in eastern Congo, sits next to her family's makeshift shelter overlooking Mugunga IDP camp, outside of Goma, on November 24, 2012. (Reuters/James Akena) #
A Congolese woman takes communion at an open-air church service where thousands of internally displaced persons are sheltering on the outskirts of Goma, on November 25, 2012. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
Fighters from the M23 rebel movement sing and celebrate on the back of a truck as they pass a camp for the internally displaced in Mugunga, on November 24, 2012. Thousands of people have been displaced in sporadic fighting between M23 rebel outfit against government forces in eastern DR Congo's North Kivu region. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images) #
Congolese civilians flee the embattled town of Sake, on November 23 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Congolese Red Cross volunteers place the corpse of a government army soldier into a freshly dug grave near Sake, DR Congo, on November 24, 2012. The Red Cross were working around Sake, clearing the bodies left from fighting on Thursday after M23 rebels clashed with the government army. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
An injured M23 rebel lies in a bed at the military hospital in Goma, on November 21, 2012 after being shot in the thorax during an M23 offensive in Kibumba, on November 15, and brought by military doctors to the hospital. The barracks were abandoned when government troops lost the city yesterday, leaving 52 casualties, 46 of whom were government soldiers. "All of our team remained during the clashes" said Dr. Ntumba Stephane, a military doctor. "We were not given the order to leave.". (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
A Congolese M23 rebel walks down a street in Goma, on November 20, 2012, soon after the rebels captured the city from the government army. (Reuters/James Akena) #
A Congo government policeman hands in his weapon to M23 rebels during an M23 rally in Goma, DR Congo, on November 21, 2012.(AP Photo/Melanie Gouby) #
A Congolese man who lost his legs during 2008 fighting between government soldiers and a former rebel group sits on the ground with his prosthetic legs, near Goma's football stadium, on November 21, 2012. Thousands of Congolese soldiers and policemen defected to the M23 rebels, as rebel leaders vowed to take control of all Congo, including the capital Kinshasa. (AP Photo/Marc Hofer) #
M23 rebel spokesperson Vianney Kazarama speaks to a crowd who have gathered at a stadium in Goma, on November 21, 2012. Rebel forces in eastern DR Congo said on Wednesday they planned to take control of the whole of the vast central African country after they captured the eastern town of Goma while United Nations peacekeepers looked on. (Reuters/James Akena) #
Residents of Goma react as they listen to M23 rebel group spokesman at the Volcanoes Stadium in Goma, on November 21, 2012. Lt. Col. Kazarama addressed the population of Goma today in an attempt to calm and reassure the civilians following the fall of Goma to M23 rebels. (Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images) #
M23 rebel fighters show military equipment abandoned by fleeing government army forces, on November 23, 2012, following the capture of Goma. (Reuters/James Akena) #
An M23 fighter guards containers storing arms, abandoned by fleeing government army forces, on November 23, 2012.(Reuters/James Akena) #
Promess Bitibo, 12, who was injured by bullet wounds to the abdomen on November 19 2012, grimaces as he is dressed by a nurse at the Heal Africa hospital in Goma, on November 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Congolese army (FARDC) soldiers sit in a military truck in Minova, some 45 km (28 miles) west of Goma, on November 26, 2012. DR Congo said on Sunday it would not negotiate with M23 rebels in the east until they pulled out of the city of Goma, but a rebel spokesman said Kinshasa was in no position to set conditions on peace talks. (Reuters/Goran Tomasevic) #
A South Africa contingent of UN peacekeepers in Congo erects a razor wire barrier around Goma airport, on November 26, 2012.(Reuters/James Akena) #
Displaced Congolese women walk through Mugunga 3 camp west of Goma, on November 26, 2012. Regional leaders meeting in Uganda called for an end to the advance by M23 rebels toward Congo's capital, and also urged the Congolese government to sit down with rebel leaders as residents fled some towns for fear of more fighting between the rebels and army. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
Congolese M23 rebel fighters detain a man they suspect to be an FDLR (Force Democratique de Liberation du Rwanda) rebel returning from an incursion into Rwanda Near Kibumba, north of Goma, on November 27, 2012. A Rwandan military spokesman confirmed the FDLR attacked Rwandan positions on Tuesday, which they repulsed and send back to Congo. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) #
A column of Congolese M23 rebels motion to the photographer not to take pictures on the road from Goma to Rushuru, as they search for FDLR (Force Democratique de Liberation du Rwanda) members, returning from an incursion into Rwanda Near Kibumba, DR Congo, on November 27, 2012. Speaking in Goma, M23 president Jean Marie Runiga said the rebels refuse to leave the city of 1 million which they seized a week ago. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Soldiers loyal to democratically elected president Alassane Ouattara return from fighting to a checkpoint serving as an operating base, at one of the main entrances to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Supporters of incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo raise their hands in a show of support, at a pro-Gbagbo rally in the Yopougon district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
Ivory Coast's strongman Laurent Gbagbo waits for the arrival of African Union Commission chief Jean Ping and African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra at the Presidential residence in Abidjan on March 5, 2011. Ping was sent into the fray by a panel of five African heads of state tasked with finding a peaceful solution to the dispute in which both men claim to be president.(SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images) #
Women face off against soldiers in an unauthorized protest calling for Laurent Gbagbo to step down, in the Treichville neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Shortly after this picture was taken, soldiers began firing to disperse the protesters.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
Men show bloodstains left on the street where at least six women where allegedly shot dead by security forces loyal to Ivory Coast's strongman, Laurent Gbagbo, on March 3, 2011 in Abobo, a working class neighborhood of Abidjan. Forces opened fire on hundreds of demonstrators calling for the ouster of Gbagbo. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images) #
A UN helicopter passes over the city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Friday, April 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Emanuel Ekra) #
A soldier loyal to Alassane Ouattara wears an antique gas mask as he waits to deploy with other soldiers at a checkpoint at one of the principal entrances to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
An internally displaced woman in Duekoue, western Ivory Coast. She and the many others in this Catholic mission IDP camp were driven from their homes by attacks from pro-Ouattara militias in January, 2011. Photo from the Catholic mission IDP camp and the Celestine Church. Original here. (Mike Fleshman / CC BY-SA) #
Children play in a UNHCR tent at St. Ambrose church in Angree in Abidjan March 18, 2011. The church is being used as a temporary refuge for people fleeing from clashes between forces loyal to incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo and his rival Alassane Ouattara.(Reuters/Thierry Gouegnon) #
An aerial view of a market area in the Adjame neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast Thursday, March 10, 2011.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
A fighter opposed to Laurent Gbagbo's bid to cling to power displays the amulets he wears to protect himself from enemy fire, in the Abobo district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast Saturday, March 12, 2011. Since repelling intense attacks by security forces two weeks ago, an armed force - dubbed the "Invisible Commandos" and comprising neighborhood residents, former rebels, and defecting security forces - has been steadily gaining ground in Abidjan's northern suburbs. The group, allied with internationally-recognized president Alassane Ouattara, now controls a large swath of territory including Anyama and most of Abobo. (AP Photo / Rebecca Blackwell) #
A UN peacekeeper from Jordan patrols the streets of Abidjan, Ivory Coast on April 3rd, 2011. Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo is negotiating his surrender, a diplomat said Tuesday, April 5, 2011, after United Nations and French forces bombarded military sites, backing Ivorian fighters who are trying to install the elected president. (AP Photo/Jane Hahn) #
A UN peacekeeper from Jordan Battalion reloads his weapon as he returns fire on troops supporting Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo during a patrol in the streets of Abidjan, Ivory Coast on April 3rd, 2011. (AP Photo/Jane Hahn) #
Pro-Ouattara fighters of the FRCI (Republican Force of Ivory Coast), one of them wearing a gas mask, prepare for the so-called "final assault" in front of the Golf Hotel in Abidjan on April 5, 2011. Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo is hunkered down in a bunker at his residence in Abidjan, after calling for a ceasefire as rival forces cornered him, the UN mission said. (STR/AFP/Getty Images) #
Karidja Cisse walks through her kitchen, damaged by a mortar during a Saturday bombardment by government forces, in the PK18 area of Abobo, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Wednesday, March 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
In this photo dated Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011, pictures of various people who were allegedly maimed and killed for being suspected supporters of opposition leader Alassane Ouattara lay strewn on a desk at the mayor's office in the Abobo district of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Morgue records obtained by The Associated Press in Ivory Coast provide new proof of mass killings after the country's disputed November 2010 election. As of Tuesday, Feb. 15, nearly three months later, at least 113 bodies are allegedly still being held and have not been released to grieving families, and the Associated Press was refused access to five morgues. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
A man helps a boy to board a bus at the bus station of Adjame in Abidjan March 20, 2011. Thousands of Ivorians fleeing violence in the commercial capital Abidjan gathered in its main bus station on Sunday, crowding onto buses carrying suitcases full of belongings they had salvaged to head to the countryside. (Reuters/Luc Gnago) #
Members of the pro-Ouattara forces are pictured on March 28, 2011 in Blolequin, in western Ivory Coast.(ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images) #
A man takes a photo of a corpse in the street on February 23, 2011 in the Abobo district of Abidjan. About 10 troops loyal to Gbagbo were killed yesterday in clashes with unidentified gunmen in the Abidjan working class district of Abobo -- a Ouattara stronghold, a security source said. (ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images) #
Youth supporters of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo gather at a stadium at army headquarters to sign up for military service in Abidjan March 21, 2011. Thousands of youth supporters of Gbagbo answered a call to join the army on Monday, adding fuel to a violent power struggle that risks sending the country back to civil war. (Reuters/Luc Gnago) #
A Pro-Gbagbo militiamen mans a post in the empty streets of Abidjan as forces loyal to the internationally recognized Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara approach the capital, on March 31, 2011. (JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images) #
A fighter loyal to Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara displays traditional hunters' charms as forces gather outside the capital Abidjan, April 3, 2011. (Reuters/Emmanuel Braun) #
Soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara prepare to deploy at a checkpoint at one of the principal entrances to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
A soldier loyal to Alassane Ouattara lies wounded in the road after a deadly car accident outside Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Tuesday, April 5, 2011. Doctors were unable to get him to a hospital in time to safe his life. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
A tank burns by the roadside after heavy fighting in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan, April 5, 2011. (Reuters/Emmanuel Braun) #
A man who was shot in the hip by security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo rests following initial treatment at a health clinic in the Anyama suburb of Abidjan, Ivory Coast Saturday, March 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
In this photo taken on Sunday, April 3, 2011, looted streets can be seen in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. (AP Photo/Jane Hahn) #
Ivory Coast's internationally-recognized President, Alassane Ouattara, meets with African Union commission chairman Jean Ping, not pictured, at the Golf Hotel in Abidjan, Ivory Coast Saturday, March 5, 2011. Ping traveled to Abidjan on Saturday to invite Ouattara and defiant leader Laurent Gbagbo to attend a March 10 meeting of AU leaders in Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
Explosions are seen during an attack by U.N. and French armed forces in Abidjan April 4, 2011. French helicopters opened fire on a military camp in Abidjan on Monday, French armed forces spokesman Thierry Burkhard said. Earlier, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he had authorized France's military to join a U.N. operation against forces loyal to Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo. (Reuters/Stringer) #
Explosions are seen at a camp of soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo during an attack by U.N. and French armed forces in Treichville in Abidjan April 4, 2011. U.N. and French helicopters attacked Gbagbo's last strongholds in Abidjan on Monday as forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara streamed into the city from the north. (Reuters/Luc Gnago) #
Forces loyal to Ivorian presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara wait beside an injured man in the capital Abidjan, April 2, 2011. Soldiers of Ivory Coast's rival leaders battled for the presidential palace, military bases and state TV in the main city Abidjan on Saturday, in a conflict becoming so brutal that it killed 800 people in one town alone. (Reuters/Emmanuel Braun) #
Civilians raise up their hands as they walk down a street under control of soldiers loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, near the presidential palace in Abidjan April 4, 2011. Troops loyal to Gbagbo have held on to positions around the presidential palace and at his residence in the well-to-do Cocody suburb. (Reuters/Luc Gnago) #
A soldier loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara moves along a road as fighting flares across the country's main city Abidjan April 4, 2011. (Reuters/Emmanuel Braun) #
A French tank crosses General de Gaulle bridge in Abidjan April 5, 2011. Four French tanks and several armored personnel vehicles crossed bridges formerly held by forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan on Tuesday, a Reuters correspondent said.(Reuters/Luc Gnago) #
Soldiers loyal to Alassane Ouattara point to men they claim to recognize among several dozen prisoners captured during fighting and patrols in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #
Backers of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo seized by supporters of Ivory Coast's internationally recognized leader Alassane Ouattara are held on April 5, 2011 at the Golf Hotel, Ouattara's headquarters in Abidjan. Gbagbo supporters on April 6 accused French troops and forces loyal to Ouattara of staging an assassination attempt by attacking his residence and the presidential palace.(AFP/Getty Images) #
A plume of smoke rises over Abidjan April 6, 2011. Forces loyal to Ivory Coast presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara on Wednesday stormed the residence of incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo who has refused to cede power, a spokeswoman for Ouattara forces told Reuters. (Reuters/Emmanuel Braun)