Neall Ellis


Neall Ellis
Neall Ellis.jpg
Birth name Neall Ellis
Nickname(s) Nellis, Gunship Ace
Born (1949-11-24)24 November 1949
Johannesburg, South Africa
Years of service
  •  ?-1971 (Rhodesia)
  • 1971-1992 (South Africa)
  • 1996-2004 (Sierra Leone)

Neall Ellis is a South African military aviator and mercenary. Raised in Bulawayo, he joined the South African Air Force after a brief stint in the Rhodesian Army. As a helicopter pilot he was awarded the Honoris Crux decoration in 1983, and later attained field rank. After retiring from the SAAF he contracted for various private military corporations, including Executive Outcomes and Sandline International. During the civil war in Sierra Leone, he and his crew held off Revolutionary United Front (RUF) forces almost single-handedly. He also provided fire support for British troops during Operation Barras.


Ellis' mercenary work eventually brought him to Sierra Leone, where he and his crew were hired by the British-backed government to support them in the ongoing civil war against the Revolutionary United Front.

Though operating from a single Mi-24 gunship, Ellis' crew were reportedly effective. "The gunship strikes the fear of God into the rebels. They run into the bush as soon as they see it. In Africa the man who makes the loudest noise wins the battle. The helicopter, with all its weapons and engine, sure fits that bill."

As the rebels advanced on the capital, Freetown, the British forces remaining in Sierra Leone evacuated. Freetown looked as if it would fall to the rebels.

Ellis saw things differently. Though the rebels were attacking at night, and he had no night vision devices, he proposed that he and his crew fly out to meet them and try to drive them off. To his crew, this sounded foolish and none would agree to fly the mission. Unperturbed, Ellis, piloting his helicopter alone, flew against the rebel onslaught.

In the dead of night, with no crew and no night vision, Ellis fought off the rebel advance. When the rebels came again, Ellis once again flew alone and turned them back from Freetown. Only when his helicopter broke down and he was unable to fly did the rebels finally take the city.

But Ellis wasn't done fighting. Even though the government of Sierra Leone had lost the capital and could no longer pay him or his crew, they kept flying.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Ellis told them, "I have not been paid for 20 months. I do it because I don't know what else to do. I enjoy the excitement. It's an adrenaline rush."

His staunch defense of Freetown had also drawn the ire of the RUF. His actions had so angered the RUF that they sent him a message: "If we ever catch you, we will cut out your heart and eat it."

Ellis' response was to drop thousands of leaflets over RUF encampments, reportedly with an image of their Mi-24 gunship and the statement: "RUF: this time we've dropped leaflets. Next time it will be a half-inch Gatling machine gun, or 57mm rockets, or 23mm guns, or 30mm grenades, or ALL OF THEM!"[1]

True to this, Ellis continued to operate in Sierra Leone until his efforts drew the attention of the British, who decided not only to return but also to provide support to Ellis and work in conjunction with him.

His vast knowledge of the country made him a valuable asset to the British and he actively participated in operations.

In September 2000, Ellis flew his helicopter in support of Operation Barras, a rescue mission of several soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment who had been captured. He would also flew missions with the British SAS.

Ellis and his crew would stay in Sierra Leone until the defeat of the RUF in 2002.

Later, Ellis would deploy toIraq working with the British during the 2003 invasion


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