"The French system of conscription brings together a fair sample of all classes; ours is composed of the scum of the earth— the mere scum of the earth."An army of thieves and whores is a military force made up of the lowliest dregs and losers of society. There's slaves, beggars, prostitutes (and their kids), robbers, outcasts, renegades, carnies, backstabbers, lawyers and in general everybody you wouldn't expect to see in a proper army. There is a practicality in using them as a military force: criminals, especially serial killers, are more likely to be well-trained and experienced in the art of taking others' lives, and therefore, they are more efficient to use as killing machines rather than wasting time subjecting a conscript to psychological torture which will result in PTSD-induced suicide. The major problem is how to keep your pets controlled so that they won't rebel. However, in fiction and Role-Playing Games, these armies of thieves and whores are often are portrayed as the heroes, because Underdogs Never Lose, or because the concept of ragtag underdogs fighting against a dystopia is very appealing for RPG scenarios. These positive portrayals will likely be put in contrast with the aforementioned dystopia which will be well-ordered and disciplined yet more unsympathetic and ruthless than our downtrodden misfits. There may also be a theme of uniting the downtrodden to stand against their oppressors. The French Foreign Legion is often characterized this way, both in fiction and real life. Less optimistic portrayals will feature "penal battalions" where criminals and the dregs of society such as thieves and whores will be conscripted into the military and sent out as cannon fodder, or at least be Trading Bars for Stripes. See also Boxed Crook. In Real Life, this has often been the makeup of armies throughout history. Military life in the ranks was just too distasteful for someone to volunteer for it that didn't find civilian life just as hard unless he was motivated by ideology. When there was no ideological reason and no Barbarian Tribe nearby to recruit from, this is what you are going to end up with. The pay was simply not good enough to attract respectable people, unless they were from nobility; which sometimes had ancestors who were part of one of these. On the other hand, assembling them into a properly trained army was a rather hard task not only for reasons of literacy or discipline, but also due to the spread of chronic disease in a population with poor or no access to medical care and proper feeding and living conditions. A recruit from the poorest class in the Victorian Era could be expected to have either latent tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea, bone diseases, or, worse, all of them together, and in crowded military camps germs are easily spread. (The ordinary peasant recruit of the State army was not much healthier either. The British Army Medical Corps found out in 1899 the majority of recruits were unfit for combat, even by the low standards of the time.) See also Ragtag Bunch of Misfits for a smaller-scale version. Contrast the Carnival of Killers.
— The Duke of Wellington on the British Army, 1813
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Anime and Manga
- Considering most of the protagonists are pirates in One Piece, almost every force that isn't the government or the revolutionaries fits under this.
- During his escape from Impel Down, Luffy manages to upend the entire system and collects a small army of hardened criminals.
- During the Dressrosa Arc, the gladiators from the tournament for the Mera Mera Fruit form one to take down Doflamingo for his treachery. The pirate Cavendish even points out that Doflamingo's actions have basically united an otherwise uncooperative bunch of outlaws, renegades and champions from across the seas into a cohesive force dedicated to destroying him. After everything is said and done, all of them decide to throw their weight behind Luffy for his efforts, giving the Straw Hats an army of 5,600 pirates.
- In Naruto, Corrupt Corporate Executive Gato uses an army of mercenaries and thugs to keep a leash on the general populace in the Land of Waves.
- The Black Dog Knights of Berserk were made up of the worst criminals of all of Midland. They were so bad that they were sent to a distant prison on the border of the kingdom for their war crimes.
- Askeladd's mercenary band in Vinland Saga consists of dregs and raiders who couldn't even find a lord to serve. Thorkell's band is more of a Blood Knight version, consisting of veteran warriors united in their admiration of their commander and their desire to find a good fight. The two eventually come to blows. Askeladd's group rebels against him, leading Thorkell to kill them all.
- In Bleach the original Gotei 13 consisted of the thirteen most vile and dangerous criminals in Soul Society. This trope still somewhat applies to the modern Gotei as many members, such as Kenpachi, would have been executed in other society.
- Weaver Nine's Society is a dodgy group of outcasts, criminals, and fugitives forged into one of the most dangerous organizations on earth and united under Weaver's leadership. They are regarded as terrorists by most of the world and joining automatically grants a Kill Order. Based in Kenya and suspected to be the real power controlling most of Africa, they are classified as an S-class threat by the Protectorate.
- Hedley Lamarr organizes an evil version of one of these for the climactic battle in Blazing Saddles.
- Norm MacDonald's character from Dirty Work at the end has a crack team assembled of senior citizens, homeless dudes, and "my loyal army of prostitutes", the latter two of which counted as a Chekhov's Gun each.
- Flesh+Blood, features an mercenary band led by Martin (Rutger Hauer), as well as Celine (Susan Tyrell) and Polly (Marina Saura), two camp followers.
- G-rated version in Muppet Treasure Island. Most of them turn out to be full-on villains, except Long John Silver, who is Affably Evil, and Sweetums, who sides with Captain Kermit.
Kermit: Who hired this crew?! This is undoubtedly the seediest bunch of villains, cutthroats and scoundrels I ever laid eyes on so who hired them?!?!
- In RoboCop 3 McDaggett, the boss of OCP's armed force, orders the police to assist in evicting the populace of an entire district by force. The officers refuse and resign en masse. McDaggett decides the city's lowlives will do just fine, and proceeds to assemble a small army of them and attack. They're quite successful against the armed resistance, thanks to being equipped with body armor and heavy weapons (plus OCP had a tank), but then Robocop shows up and slaughters the lot.
- The slave army in Spartacus qualifies as this trope. In this case, however, the army loses.
- In xXx: State of the Union, to counter the treasonous General Ripper's highly trained team of Marines, Darius gathers the local car-jacking outfit and arms them with weapons (then a tank they jacked). It's even lampshaded: "The fate of the free world in the hands of a bunch of hustlers and thieves."
- The Ravagers in Guardians of the Galaxy are a motley gang of Space Pirates whose only rule is to steal from everyone. In the climax of the film, they've been convinced to help the heroes take down the Big Bad.
- Rogue One has the Rebel Alliance as one, hiring mercenaries, assassins, and saboteurs to get a chance against The Empire.
- Gaius Marius' legion in Emperor: The Gates of Rome is viewed by the more conservative Romans due to Marius abolishing the land requirement for entry, bringing in numerous poor citizens who otherwise would have had no means of supporting themselves. And they love him for it. In the second book, Spartacus' slave army also qualifies.
- Since Marius also appears the the Masters of Rome series, his legion fulfills a very similar role, and plays a key role in the first book.
- Temujin's (Genghis Khan's) forces in Wolf of the Plains starts out as one of these, as he initially builds up his forces by recruiting the various outcasts and nomads who would otherwise have nobody to stand with.
- The Night's Watch in A Song of Ice and Fire used to be a universally highly regarded order that was erected to defend Westeros against the Others but nowadays, it involves this trope to a large degree. While there are second/third sons and highborn illegitimate sons from noble houses who still join for the sake of duty and honor, many other members are criminals whose crimes were pardoned in return for joining and some willing volunteers are misfits of some sort. Other than the North, where the Night’s Watch is still considered a noble calling, most other realms see the Watch as essentially a joke because the ancient threat of the Others is believed to be long-gone and few believe it actually has returned. Consequently, the Night's Watch has become ridiculously underfunded, to the point that of the nineteen forts manning the Wall, they can barely garrison three of them by the time the story begins. In A Storm of Swords, some local prostitutes help the Night Watch fight off a wildling onslaught, making this a quite literal example of the trope. Granted, many of the Northern houses still know that the Watch is important and look at taking the Black as an honorable thing but the southern realms of Westeros don’t.
- In A Dance With Dragons, Jon adds wildling warriors and spearwives to the mix in an effort to build up their ranks and help defend humanity (Westeros and wildlings alike) against ever approaching threat of the Others.
- This world also has the Brave Companions, a.k.a. the Bloody Mummers, a mercenary company formed from those the rest of the sellsword community rejected. From what we've seen, they accept psychos, creeps, disgraced pedophile priests, mad doctors and common bandits from all Westeros and Essos.
- In one of the Spellsinger novels, the communist dragon Falameezar rallies the world's rats and mice to rise up against oppression.
- In Un Lun Dun, Deeba's army of rebels starts with the... extreme shoppers, and works its way up from there.
- Michael Moorcock's short story To Rescue Tanelorn. Narjhan raises an army of beggars from Nadsokor and leads them to attack the city of Tanelorn.
- Phule's Company has the Omega Company. In the Space Legion in general asking about a recruit's past is a big taboo, and "Omega" is the unofficial "dumping ground" for commanders willing to get rid from recruits they deem unsuitable. Their own sergeant noted that the result "looks more like a schoolyard" and "separated the problem Legionnaires into two groups: the wimps and the hard cases". That is, either unable to function in an army (or society in general) or inveterate criminals. Then the protagonist business shark promoted to command this mob thought it's not as bad as it looks...
Phule: It's been done before. Specifically the Devil's Brigade... the first Special Service force, which eventually became...Beeker: The Special Forces. Yes, I'm familiar with the unit. If I might point out, however, that was a joint U.S.-Canadian force. At the beginning, the Americans provided a motley assortment of rejects and criminals, as opposed to the Canadians, who donated a crack fighting unit. While you definitely have your allotment of criminals, I fear you're lacking the offsetting crack fighting unit to serve as an example.
- In The Saga of Darren Shan, the vampeze get around their strict refusal to use projectile weapons by hiring human thugs and cutthroats. Debbie and Alice eventually come up with the idea for the vampires to join forces with humans for the same purpose. Those humans mostly end up being homeless people. It's justified because those are the people the vampeze are feeding off of, so they're only too happy to have a shot for revenge.
- Much of the British Army in the Peninsula as seen in Sharpe—hence Wellington's quote below under Real Life.
- Victoria's newborn army in Twilight. She basically turned whoever she could find. It doesn't work.
- The army John brings to fight the Crusades in Dirge for Prester John. They're the cream of Pentexore, but they have no idea how to form an actual army.
- Played with in the Roman army in Belisarius Series. While it clearly has quite a few elements of this in it, and sometimes requires rigorous persuasion from Belisarius to keep them from indulging in war crimes, when put to it they can also act in an honorable enough manner to impress Rajputs.
- The Black Company is one of these. It was standard practice for the Free Companies not to ask questions about who you were or what you did before you joined up.
- Reynard ends up leading a literal one in The Reynard Cycle. By the third installment in the series it has become an Elite Army.
- Another literal example in Dark Ones Mistress, with the ruler's army who are also The Soulless.
- In The Night Angel Trilogy, in the second and third books Logan essentially puts this together. Some of them become his bodyguards, others go back to the life they had for a bit, but mostly, he does this to redeem the once crime ridden country and give it hope for a corruption light future.
- In the Emberverse, Norman Arminger recruits motorcycle gang members into his army to act as enforcers, and become part of his aristocracy, while establishing the Portland Protective Association.
Religion and Mythology
- In Christian metaphor The Church sometimes compared to this, as every member is a repentant sinner; and sometimes at one time a literal thief or a whore.
- Game of Thrones:
- The Night's Watch, which offers atonement for anyone who joins. It used to be highly regarded by all and is still seen as a noble-calling in (only) the North, where there are still second/third sons and highborn illegitimate sons from noble Houses who join for the sake of honor and duty, but because the ancient threat of the White Walkers is believed to be long-gone and few believe it actually has returned, the Watch is seen by a joke by most southern realms and has become underfunded, forcing it to incorporate this trope to help fill out its ranks.
- The men of the Brotherhood Without Banners proudly proclaim that some of them were once swineherds but now they all fight for the people.
- The Bowzocks from Gekisou Sentai Carranger are pretty much the bad guys from Blazing Saddles In SPACE, being an army of alien criminals hired to depopulate the Earth to make way for a hyperspace highway.
- The eponymous Shtrafbat (penal battalion) of the Russian TV series Shtrafbat. The first company is made up from criminal convicts and the second company is made up from political convicts. Very few survive in the end.
- The Maquis in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager is a milder example. Sure, there are people like Chakotay, Cal Hudson and Michael Eddington who deeply believe the cause is just and noble. But there are also Starfleet washouts, thieves, headcases, folks with severe anger management issues, and sociopathic killers. As Chakotay points out when one of his former crew turns out be the last one, they didn't have the luxury of sending out applications - if you could wield a phaser or fly a ship they'd take you.
- The Lost and the Damned in the Warhammer 40,000 universe are a villainous (well, more villainous than usual) version — they make up various Chaos armies, and are composed of mutants, murderers, heretics, and assorted scum of the Empire.
- From the same universe, the Imperial penal legions follow this trope straight, being armies primarily conscripted from the inmates of Imperial prisons. When the Planetary Defense Force contributions to the Imperial Guard from worlds that serve as incarceration centers, the line between "penal legion" and "Guardsmen" become indistinct.
- Most Penal Legions are formed of people that are desperately trying to clear their records by volunteering instead of accepting execution; given that the P Ls are sent to some of the worst parts of the fighting and are considered expendable, this often ends in Redemption Equals Death. It's worth noting that there is no shortage of capital offences in the Imperium (this is an army where you can wind up executed for standing on the same planet as a heretic) so it's not uncommon for people to be eligible for induction into a Penal Legion for some really odd reasons, to our sensibilities.
- The now discontinued Salvar Chem Dogs. An Imperial Guard regiment consisting entirely of drug addicts, thieves and psychopathic thugs, who are kept in check only by their addictions and promises of large quantities of their fix.
- In fact, you could probably look at any Imperial Guard regiment raised from a Hive World, and it will probably be this trope. It's even mentioned that one possible way to raise a regiment from a Hive World is simply sweeping through the Underhive, herding the street gangs onto a space ship, summarily executing the ones who make too much noise, and replacing the old gang colors with uniforms.
- Gunmetal City from the Dark Heresy RPG regularly raised regiments both from the cream of their local enforcers and from mass conscription of the local gangs. It worked quite well... as long as the resulting regiments were stationed on different planets from each other.
- Earlier editions made a point that Astartes chapter recruiting from a hive world is essentially this. However the fact that Astartes practice mind wipe and hypnosis during training probably helps.
- Night Lords Traitor Legion before Horus Heresy. Pretty much any newly-made traitor Astartes probably fall here as well.
- Dark Eldar, essentially Drow in space. Despite their appearance, their raids in material space have perfect discipline, for they all too are well aware what will happen to them shall they die.
- Dungeons & Dragons adventure CM1 Test of the Warlords. The domain ruler Longtooth has "Longtooth's Legion", an army of five hundred thieves armed with bows and swords.
- Exalted has the Vermillion Legion — or, as it had every reason to be called, "the Red-Piss Legion". Had, as thanks to its general, the Lady of War Tepet Ejava, it's now a Badass Army. Which is a very good thing, as she's the nice candidate for the throne of the Realm.
- The Capitol faction of Mutant Chronicles has two flavours. The traditional one is the Freedom Brigades, which consists of volunteers willing to trade ten years of brutal service in the solar system's worst hellholes for a clean rap sheet and Capitol citizenship. The other flavour is the Free Marines, Capitol's most famous special forces outfit. In order to be eligible for the Free Marines, you have to have served for at least two years in another special forces unit, been decorated for gallantry under fire at least three times, been recommended for promotion, and been sentenced to death by a court martial.
- The Vampire: The Requiem supplement Requiem For Rome has the Peregrine College, a collection of the vampiric underclass.
- The 17th Recon Regiment, Camacho's Caballeros, is described as half Battlemech regiment, half gypsy caravan, being a big, tightly knit, and constantly squabbling bunch of extremely talented pilots. Their best scout kills Humongous Mecha on foot and is the literal daughter of a whore and former petty crim, while the regiment itself is full of very capable warriors who probably couldn't go four days in a more traditional unit without being put in a brig.
- The entire Ghost Regiment division of the Draconis Combine, composed largely of the Yakuza of the day, which ranges from old hands following their own personal code of honor to thuggish bullies. Being less hidebound due to not having to follow the demands of the samurai code of honor instilled in traditional units, the Ghosts can pull all sorts of nasty stunts without getting more than a reprimand.
- By the time of the last battles in Twilight 2000, the U.S. Army was willing to take pretty much anyone they could get, including Soviet defectors and forcibly conscripting locals. By 2000, many regular army units on both sides had degenerated into banditry.
- The eponymous team of Team Fortress 2 consists of a hyperactive Bostonian hoodlum, an Australian game hunter turned assassin (not a crazed gunman!), a delusional, nigh-anonymous pyromaniac dressed in an all-concealing jumpsuit, a crazed civilian who believes he's a soldier, a chain-smoking French quintuple-agent, a saw-wielding German quack with mad scientist tendencies, a drunken Scottish swordsman/explosives expert, a Russian boxer with a Chainsaw Grip BFG, and a shotgun-toting Gadgeteer Genius Texan with a robot arm. The last one is the sanest of the group, and he cut off his own hand to attach a robotic replacement to the stump, which speaks volumes about the rest.
- The Player's army in every Fire Emblem game will be this by the end, though it also includes many nobles and trained soldiers as well. You will recruit anybody, despite their background, who even remotely dislikes the antagonists or is friends with someone already in your group. May be justified depending on the exact game; despite the presence of nobles, the player is rarely in command of any sort of disciplined military force, and when they are, it's usually a mercenary group who really would take on anyone who could earn their keep and be trusted not to kill everyone else.
- In Assassin's Creed II Ezio assembles a (literal) army of thieves and whores (and mercenaries) to oppose Borgia rule, and in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood he adds an army of Assassins to the mix, people he recruited simply for standing up to the Borgia.
Ezio, who are the true nobles of Venezia? Men like Carlo Grimaldi and Marco Barbarigo? No! I say we are; the thieves and mercenari and whores!
- You can assemble one in Age of Empires III, either by hiring them from the Saloon building or summoning them as mercenary group. For some reason, they are more expensive than conventional army. The Asian dynasties invert this, by hiring the Repentant version of them from Monasteries. They aren't any better or any worse than the ones summoned from Saloon, though.
- The main characters of Valkyria Chronicles III. The Nameless includes repeat arsonist, convicted murderer, brothel madame, con artist, draft-dodger, sadistic dominatrix, trigger-happy alcoholic, and money-grubbing mechanic. The leader is charged with treason. What a merry band of undesirables! This is just one of the many, many way the game is Darker and Edgier compared to its earlier installments.
- Resident Evil: The Umbrella Corporation has multiple mercenary units. The Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service, first introduced in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is comprised largely of convicts, including death row inmates. While their stated goal was to rescue personnel trapped in Raccoon City, it's revealed in-game that the real reason Umbrella sent them in was so they'd get slaughtered, allowing the corporation to evaluate the military applications of their various monsters.
- Dragon Age: Origins has the Legion of the Dead, a dwarven army composed of anybody willing to give up every single aspect of their former lives in order to take up arms against the darkspawn. A funeral is held for every new member and in all ways save the obvious they are considered dead by society. Thus, if you're bankrupt, wanted, disgraced, insane or somehow otherwise unfit to live among normal people, you can join the Legion and be accepted and pardoned. And many do. Even non-dwarves can join if they wish (something absolutely unheard of anywhere else in dwarven society) because the Legion is chillingly aware it is a Red Shirt Army-in-waiting and takes all the bodies it can get.
- If anointed king, the progressively pragmatic Bhelen Aeducan opens up service in the regular army to Orzammar's Casteless as a means of social advancement.
- Even the Grey Wardens are less extreme in presentation but ultimately just as inclusive and binding. In theory, anyone can be conscripted — from blood-soaked psychopaths right out of the hangman's noose and the lowliest slaves to princes, kings and lords — and in particular apostate mages (who'd otherwise be executed, lobotomized or imprisoned) are free to fight right alongside everyone else. Their job is to stand between the darkspawn and the world, giving up everything (lives included) so the realm can exist in peace, and they are equally legendary and reviled for their heroism and absolute ruthlessness. In practice the order's reputation has dwindled over the years and there are now far fewer high-status Wardens, leaving a fighting force of oddballs, criminals and peasants sometimes unaware of the sacrifices Gray Warden are expected to make.
- In StarCraft, approximately 50% of the enlisted in the armed forces of the Confederacy of Man/Terran Dominion are brainwashed criminals (running the gamut from thieves and murderers to the occasional political prisoner).
- At one point in Neverwinter Nights 2, your character is given command of a unit of Greycloaks, Neverwinter's civilian militia. If you want, you can recruit new Greycloaks by offering amnesty to any criminals who'll join your forces. This will drastically reduce your army's quality though.
- In Mass Effect 3, Shepard can make a deal with Aria T'Loak, an asari crimelord, for one of these. In exchange for helping her get command over the three major mercenary groups of the Terminus Systems, she will send a fleet of said mercenaries and criminal scum to help the war against the Reapers.
- In Long Live the Queen, Elodie can grant a mass amnesty to prisoners to fill out her army if Nova is in peril.
- Mount & Blade allows you to recruit captured bandits into your force. In addition, your normal recruits are common peasants who have joined your army in hopes of a better life; your job is to turn them into something more than that.
- The Exiles of WildStar are composed mostly of this, not that they have much choice in the matter.
- The Courier in Fallout: New Vegas can assemble one from the various factions in the Mojave, recruiting their support in the Second Battle of Hoover Dam to turn the tide for either the NCR, the Legion or themselves.
- Blackwatch from [PROTOTYPE] is implied to be this. They need men willing and able to shoot civilians or even each other on the suspicion of being infected/talkative. In comic tie-in to the first game, Peter Randall (who would later become the division's general) was shown to be a fairly unhinged platoon leader during the Vietnam War, and in [PROTOTYPE 2], when asked what he would be doing if he wasn't in the unit, a Blackwatch soldier implies he'd either be dead or in prison.
- Space Pirate Militia in Metroid Prime 3 are made up primarily of captured slaves and criminals forced into service. Their service mostly consists of acting as canon fodder at for the space pirate vanguard, rations for the rest of the space pirates and anything else which requires disposable bodies.
- Borderlands 2: Brick, of all people, is the leader of such an army on Thousand Cuts, and the most likely to have the dirtiest, most bloodthirsty bandits with at least a common goal. He is obliged to let you kill them though, because they're stupid.
- In Sabres of Infinity, the Tierran Army becomes this after the first year of war. By this time, they've run out of volunteers, and so they're forced to resort to emptying out the prisons to fill the ranks. This leads to your troop (as a Lieutenant) being mostly composed of lower-class conscripts, with correspondingly bad effects on all of the unit's stats.
- Tyranny gives us the Scarlet Chorus, which is a loose pack of Social Darwinist gangs made up of whatever conscripts survive the brutal initiation rites. Mixed in are criminals and psychopaths who willingly join the armies of an Evil Overlord in exchange for a promise of free reign to wreak havoc. The only thing keeping the Scarlet Chorus under a semblance of control is the Voices of Nerat, a gleefully psychotic Humanoid Abomination whose centuries of Torture Technician experience, soul-devouring ways, and pure creepiness terrify even the Chorus' most hardened killers.
- The citizens of Mechanicsburg, ancestral family home of the titular Girl Genius Agatha Heterodyne, descend from the army of thieves and whores who followed the Old Heterodynes. It's all In the Blood for them, because when the Siege of Mecahnicsburg begins in earnest, the attackers find themselves having to fend off surprisingly effective attacks from shopkeepers and artisans in town.
- In The Gamer's Alliance, the Union Workers has an army of well-trained thieves, mages, assassins and the like.
- The CORE in S.S.D.D relies heavily on conscripted criminals from its member nations for Cannon Fodder. Tessa was sentenced to two years for assaulting a police officer, and one of her squadmates was a petty thief.
- The British Army of The Napoleonic Wars. Almost entirely made up of the lowest orders of society anyway, convicted criminals made up perhaps a third of the manpower. Their commander in the Peninsular Wars, Sir Arthur Wellesley (perhaps better known by his later title as The Duke of Wellington), described them as "the scum of the Earth". Though he also added, "It is only wonderful that we should be able to make so much out of them". He was right — they overlapped with Badass Army.
- Wellesley is also reputed to have said, "I don't know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me."
- "Convicted criminals" in Wellington's army often included debtors, poachers, petty thieves, and others whose crimes were either minor by modern standards or were committed because the perps were down on their luck. It is harder to estimate how many would have been hardened professional criminals.
- The French Royalist army was a deconstruction of this. After the Revolution the Republican government controlled all the manpower available and the Royalists had to recruit from mercenaries and not the best of mercenaries from contemporary accounts. Interestingly the most effective Royalists were partisans like the counterrevolutionaries of the Vendee; these were usually peasants who had their own grudge against the new government, namely their clamping down on the authority of the Catholic Church and accompanying secular programs.
- During The River War in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the Egyptian government responded to the Mahdist uprising by sending Colonel William Hicks south with an Egyptian army. Most of these troops were criminals, many even ex-rebels against the Egyptian government, some marched to the front in shackles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hicks' men were annihilated by the Mahdi.
- The Argentinian navy in the 19th Century was something of this. In fact, because most of the convicts that comprised his crews wouldn't remember the sails names, but were experts at card games, Admiral Brown had the sails renamed to cards names.
- Imperial Russian Navy during the Russo-Japanese War became so short of manpower by the moment Admiral Rozhestvensky's fleet set sail, they sent the worst recruits, untrained peasants and convicts for crews. The admiral had whipped them (sometimes literally) into shape during the 4 months of the trip to Pacific.
- The Dirlewanger Brigade of the Waffen-SS from World War II. The unit was originally made up of poachers, but was ultimately ranked with any criminals or mental patients the SS could find. Even the rest of the SS was disgusted with them, though that said, their "disgust" was probably based not so much on their behavior as the fact that the brigade was made up of a large number of people who the SS would normally have gassed or shot. Their actions were heinous but "the rest of the SS" was up to genocide, so they were probably considered at worst a reflection of the kind of barbarity they would expect from such a bunch, rather than the other kind of professional and civilized barbarity practiced by themselves.
- SS General Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger (a man who never had any qualms against organizing genocide in Poland): "Unless this bunch of criminals disappears from the General Government within a week, I will go myself and lock them up!"
- By late 1944-early 1945, Dirlewanger's men used cloth masks when Army or SS photographers were around, due to their evil reputation gained during the Warsaw Uprising (to which the Reich leadership contributed willingly, documenting a lot of things by film and photo, to make an example of the death of rebellious Poles).
- The "Ever Victorious Army", at least in its earliest incarnation. Formed in 1860 in Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion, the initial force was recruited by Frederick Townsend Ward (and his backers) mainly from Europeans present in Shanghai, the "scum of the Shanghai docks": Beached sailors, mercenaries, criminals, deserters and expatriates. Those who survived and stuck around became the officer corps for an army of several thousand Chinese soldiers, and this army of dockside scum grew and evolved into possibly the most veteran, well-drilled, and tactically innovative fighting force of the period, first under Ward's leadership, and then under Charles George "Chinese" Gordon.
- Before Sun Tzu earned his fame, he was given a test from the King: turn 180 concubines into a small army. He pulled it off, though he had to punish some of his officers before they would take him seriously.
- The Continental Army in The American Revolution started out as this. It was made of people who didn't have any experience of warfare, who didn't have any strong officers who could inspire strong discipline among them, many of them deserted the "army" to go back to their families and farms and didn't return in weeks. It suffered from lack of food, uniforms and ammunition, bad language and diseases were infecting the army so hard that hardened Seven Years' War veterans were shocked by it, most of the soldiers only fought the revolution half-heartedly, alcohol was consumed in great volumes, etc. It's said that when George Washington got to see the "army" he had accepted command of, he had a Heroic B.S.O.D. for half a hour before he started cleaning it up.
- In some cases, ironically, the problem of the Continental Army was the reverse. New Englanders at least were small farmers and storekeepers who were too well aware of their dignity as middle class folk to take to military discipline and needed a commander who could work with their cultural eccentricities before they became effective. Historian Fred Anderson draws a picture of that in several of his books.
- Both sides in The American Civil War suffered from this, but a special mention goes out to Wheat’s tigers, “The sweepings of New Orleans.” a unit that Jackson reputedly hid from international observers, not to prevent international observes forming a poor impression of his army, but to stop them getting robbed by the troops and their camp followers. Their reputation on the battlefield was, however, excellent.
- By the end of the Thirty Years' War, every army involved.
- The Musta Nuoli (Black Arrow) battalion of the Finnish Army, led by legendary colonel Nikke Pärmi, whose men were volunteer convicts and prisoners. He claimed after the war that the felons and white collar criminals were excellent soldiers, while political convicts were notoriously unreliable.
- Konnakolmonen (Crook Three), the 3rd Jäger Company of the Pori Brigade, Säkylä. It is an enhanced discipline unit for those conscripts who have criminal records when conscripted.
- This trope was deconstructed by the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War. It had terrible morale, was plagued by alcoholism and petty theft, and to top is all off, it was run by General Rippers who bordered on General Failures. They were given a thorough beating by the Prussians.