55 years ago, a small detachment of Irish soldiers took up battle thousands of kilometers from their homeland - deep in the Belgian Congo. For many years, they preferred not to remember this siege near the town of Jadoville. And only recently did the soldiers of the UN contingent receive the honors they deserved more than half a century ago.
Heart of Darkness
On June 30, 1960, the Belgian Congo, with its capital in Leopoldville, after many decades of uncontrolled Belgian rule, declared independence. The first president of the independent republic was Joseph Kasavubu, and the prime minister was the charismatic leader of the leftist National Movement, Patrice Lumumba. At the solemn ceremony, Lumumba, addressing the Belgian king Baudouin I, said: "We are not your monkeys anymore!" ("Nous ne sommes plus vos singes")... Congo has become the third largest country in Africa after Sudan and Algeria.
However, the happiness was short-lived. The local police and army were decaying before our eyes - after all, all the officers were previously white. Rich in copper, cobalt, uranium and diamonds, the southern provinces of Katanga and Kasai declared independence (July 11 and August 9, respectively). A civil war broke out in the country - one of the bloodiest in the entire era of the 60s.
Belgian troops, citing the need to protect farmers (Belgian citizens), stubbornly refused to leave the Congo. In addition, the Belgians, with money from international mining companies - for example, Union Miniere - openly supported the Katanga separatists led by Moise Tshombe. Between July 11 and September 8, 1960, over 100 tons of weapons and ammunition were transferred to Katanga. The Belgians also provided Tshombe with 25 Belgian Air Force aircraft. 89 Belgian officers served in the Tshombe Guard, and 326 non-commissioned officers and technicians were considered "volunteers." Western countries took an intermediate position: on the one hand, they blocked anti-Belgian resolutions at the UN, on the other hand, they did not allow Belgium to recognize the independence of Katanga, despite Belgium's threats to withdraw from NATO.
On July 12, Kasavubu and Lumumba were asked to bring in UN troops. UN Secretary General Hammarskjold agreed but insisted on five conditions. First, the UN forces will be under the exclusive control of the UN Secretary General (i.e., Hammarskjöld himself). Second: the UN will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Congo. Third: "blue helmets" get freedom of movement throughout the Congo. Fourth, they can only use weapons for self-defense purposes. And finally, fifth: UN forces will not obey orders from their countries of origin. Accordingly, the UN troops did not plan to subdue the rebel provinces or support any faction in the Congo government. The UN also refused to recognize the Belgian intervention as an act of aggression - to the disappointment of Lumumba (and the Soviet Union).
Meanwhile, Lumumba was ousted by President Kasavubu and placed under house arrest. But Lumumba escaped arrest, was caught, sent to Katanga and killed. Now the UN had to deal with four groups at once. One, "legal", led by Kasavubu, had about 7,000 fighters in the Leopoldville area. The next leader, Gizenga, Lumumba's successor, led about 5,500 soldiers in Stanleyville in the northeast of the country, supported by the USSR, China, the United Arab Republic and many African countries. Moise Tshombe had between 5,000 and 7,000 supporters in Elizabethville. And finally, Albert Kalondzhi - about 3,000 troops in the breakaway South Kasai.
Negotiating with the faction leaders was not easy. Moise Tshombe wasted time in every possible way, concluding agreements - and immediately breaking them. On September 17, Hammarskjold planned to meet with Tshombe in Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia), but on the 18th, the plane with the UN Secretary General on board was shot down, or, according to other versions, crashed. All 6 crew members and 10 passengers, including Hammarskjold, were killed.
Green Island on the Black Continent
On July 29, 1960, the 32nd Irish Volunteer Peacekeeping Battalion arrived in the Congo. In total, the battalion, assembled in just a few days, numbered 689 people. On November 8, their patrol while crossing the village of Niemba was ambushed by the Baluba tribe. A hail of poisoned arrows rained down on the peacekeepers. However, later local fighters claimed that it was the UN who fired first. Eight of the 11 Irishmen on the patrol were killed, two were found alive, and one (Private Brown) was missing. His body was found only two years after the skirmish. The tension between UN units and all kinds of paramilitary formations gradually, but steadily grew.
In September 1961, about a hundred and fifty Irish soldiers went to Katanga, to the town of Jadoville, to protect the local white population. The reasons why a small detachment was sent to an area from which a much larger contingent had recently left are rather vague. They were about 90 miles from the headquarters. Therefore, given the hostility of the locals and even the gendarmes, the Irish settled near the town and began to dig trenches.
In the meantime, part of the UN command was planning Operation Morthor - for the sudden capture of Tshombe. There was no surprise - Tshombe fled, supporting his African units and white mercenaries engaged in open battles with "blue helmets".
Siege of Jadoville
At 7 o'clock in the morning on September 13, the Irish garrison was "delighted" with a radio message that the operation had begun. And on the night of September 12-13, Katanga fighters occupied the post office and radio station in Zhadovil. In the morning, during the Catholic Mass, about 30 gendarmes and soldiers in jeeps and on foot attacked the location of the peacekeepers. To their surprise, they found the Irish sitting in trenches and ready to defend - although most of the garrison did gather for Mass. After a ten-minute skirmish, the locals retreated. For the first time in 40 years since the founding of their own state, Irish soldiers fought in battle.
There was a pause. Commandant Pat Quinlan received a message from intelligence that reinforcements were approaching the gendarmes. Sensing a siege, he ordered to fill all available containers with water.
At 11:30 a heavy mortar shelling began. However, the Irish responded by quickly destroying the mortar and detonating the ammunition depot, which burned all day and night. During the day, the peacekeepers repulsed several attacks with fire from a long distance. The battalion's history says that on that day, 60mm mortars, armored cars and machine guns of the Irish destroyed at least three enemy mortar crews.
During the afternoon, during the lull, Quinlan contacted the Belgian mayor by telephone and asked him to intervene to end the fight. The mayor demanded that the Irish surrender - otherwise he ... also attacks them. Quinlan replied that surrender was not discussed, and if anyone tried to attack, it would be worse for them.
At night, the Irish regrouped and fortified themselves on a patch of high ground measuring about 230 by 110 meters. All around were villages. Thick bushes began at a distance of 550 to 1400 m.
At about 4 am the enemy made his way into the house at a distance of 300 meters from the Irish positions and opened heavy fire on the peacekeepers from there. In response, the anti-tank team destroyed the house under cover of machine-gun fire. The enemy requested an armistice.
At night, a small Fouga jet from the Katanga Air Force flew over the defenders' positions. As it turned out later, it was run by a Belgian mercenary. The Irish left their homes - and on time. The attack aircraft bombed them twice and fired at them with machine guns. During the day of the raids, the plane disabled the entire transport of the company and wounded two privates in a trench.
In the morning, the Irish caught two white mercenaries in civilian clothes. The mercenaries came straight from the Tshombe residence, confident that the Irish were already taken hostage. Later, these testimonies formed the basis of the theory that the UN contingent was deliberately sent into a trap. An entire arsenal was taken away from the prisoners - two machine guns, a couple of F.N. rifles, grenades and revolvers.
The Irish, having repulsed from eight to ten attacks in two days, lost only three people wounded. During the siege, they dined between 8 and 9 pm on stew with biscuits, and had breakfast at about 4 hours - tea and again biscuits. The rest of the time I had to do with bottled water - which quickly dries up.
On the fourth day of the siege, a Swedish helicopter arrived with water, which was barely enough for twenty people, moreover, the water was mixed with diesel fuel.
The forces of the besiegers numbered about two to three thousand people. However, the attackers suffered heavy casualties from accurate Irish fire. White mercenary officers were seen shooting their own retreating soldiers. It is curious that among the mercenaries, according to rumors, the famous Michael Hoare, nicknamed Mad Mike, a native of Dublin, fought against his fellow tribesmen.
Swedish, Irish and Nepalese soldiers from the UN forces on armored personnel carriers tried to break through under fire to help the besieged. They moved along the roads littered with tree trunks, firing at the barricades with an 84-mm recoilless gun - but they moved too slowly. The column was bombed by the same plane, three Gurkhas were killed, five more and an Irishman were wounded. It was impossible to overcome the fortified bridge with small forces, and, as it turned out, to bypass it too. It remained to return. On the way back, the convoy was ambushed, losing another ten soldiers wounded. In a collision of several cars, two gurkhks were killed, ten were injured.
On the fifth day, the supply of water and food finally came to an end. The cartridges were also running out. Finally, after six days and five nights of fighting, Quinlan accepted a new surrender offer. For almost a month, the Irish were held hostage until they were released with the help of the Red Cross. Having lost only five wounded, during the siege they killed about 300 attackers, including mercenaries.
None of the participants in the siege were awarded or marked after the battle. The fact is that false rumors reached Ireland about large losses during the siege - which caused a violent reaction from families. Later, real losses became known, as a result of which for almost forty years the Irish of this company were considered cowards, and their commander, who, according to one of the veterans, "brought 157 people - and returned 157 people" - was almost a traitor. Quinlan died in 1997 without cleaning up his reputation. Only in 2016 the company was separately noted by the President of the country - for the first time in the history of Ireland.
From 1960 to 1964, 26 peacekeepers from Ireland were killed in the Congo, 10 of them for non-combat reasons. In total, over 6,000 islanders served in the distant African country. Mobutu became the head of the Congo for more than three decades. In 2002, the Belgian government apologized for its involvement in Lumumba's death. It is striking that one of the participants in the Battle of Jadoville was Private John Gorman - the complete namesake of the famous tanker in narrow circles who rammed the "Royal Tiger".
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