Epic Siege of Jadotville

Over the centuries Africa has been the setting for battles equal to confrontations fought elsewhere in the world. Little is known of many engagements due to their not fitting the politically correct narrative. Two epic movies did tear apart ‘the curtain of discreet silence’; Zulu and The Wild Geese. The 1961 Siege of Jadotville has been described as alike to the encirclement of Rorke’s Drift in 1879.

Jadotville (today Likasi) is a small town situated in the newly independent Congo Republic. The Jadotville siege took place from September 13, 1961, during the calamitous United Nations Congo Crisis intervention. That debacle claimed tens of thousands of African and European lives. The Crisis occurred during the country’s transfer from Belgian management to that of U.S. based globalist bankers.

During Katanga’s secession, the UN deployed the Irish Army’s 35th Battalion to defend the small Congolese mining township. The township’s community was populated by Congolese natives and Belgian Europeans. Painfully aware of the UN’s shortcomings elsewhere, the community was hostile to the UN military presence in their town. There was preference for the breakaway Katanga government of Moise Tshombe. The community’s antipathy towards them led to further isolation for ‘A’ Company Battalion.

Under attack from troops loyal to the Belgium-backed breakaway Katanga Government, the undermanned outnumbered and virtually disarmed Irish troops were abandoned to their fate. The six day onslaught by the Katanga Gendarmerie was relentless.

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Comdt. Pat Quinlan, second from right, with the Norwegian pilot Bjorne Hovden, left, and Swedish co-pilot, right, of a U.N. helicopter that landed in Jadotville under heavy fire during the battle, in an attempt to deliver water to Irish troops. A Company’s Swedish interpreter Lars Froberg is second from left. Courtesy of Leo Quinlan

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Left: CO Pat Quinlan poses with ‘A’ Battalion in Elizabethville prior to their being caught up in the Siege of Jadotville situated 80 miles away from Elizabethville.

The Irish contingent consisted of 155 Irish troops under UN command. Styled as ‘A Company’, the battalion’s commander was Pat Quinlan. The small lightly armed Irish contingent resisted assaults for six days and nights. A UN relief force was deployed but failed abysmally in its mission.

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Commandant Pat Quinlan in Jadotville shortly before the siege (Picture: Courtesy of Leo Quinlan)

The Katanga attack was launched whilst the Irish troops attended an open-air Mass. This was planned to catch the defenders unarmed and off their guard. Alerted by a warning shot by the aptly named sentry, Sergeant Billy Ready, a week long battle ensued. The attackers were largely Katanga Gendarmeries, Luba Tribesmen and European mercenaries. It is estimated that the 155 Irish troops were confronted by as many as 5,000 fighters.

The Katanga Gendarmerie was further bolstered by air support fitted with under-wing bombs and machineguns. The lightly armed Irish troops had only personal light weapons and a few water-cooled Vickers machineguns and 60mm mortars.

A radio message crackled over the fetid Central African atmosphere:

“We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. We could do with some whiskey.”

Wave after wave of 600-strong Katanga gendarmerie attacked the small outpost of Irish defenders. The defending fire over the next six days was accurate as it was lethal. The attacking forces were scythed by hails of ammunition. Such was the fury of the Irish defence that many of the attackers turned to flee but were gunned down by European mercenaries.

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‘A’ Company battalion at Jadotville

The Irish troops fought valiantly and surrendered only when there was no possibility of relief and their ammunition and food supplies were exhausted. Down to their Swiss Army knives the survivors had little choice but to surrender to the Katanga troops. Moise Tshombe’s armed forces had been thoroughly humiliated by the town’s Irish defenders. Losses suffered by the Katanga Gendarmerie and European mercenaries were out of all proportion to the losses suffered by the Irish defenders.

‘A’ Company, 35th Battalion suffered only five wounded troops whilst as many as 300 of the battalion’s assailants were killed. These included 30 mostly European mercenaries. Overall, it is estimated that 1,000 troops loyal to Moise Tshombe were mown down; the ratio of injured would have been much higher.

Held as hostages for about one month the guileful Katanga victors held also the pitiable UN to ransom. A prisoner exchange was finally agreed upon to the advantage of the government of Moise Tshombe. Thus, a former department store retailer chastened the New York based United Nations. But, his own forces had been decimated by a small Irish Army unit whose troops had little or no fighting experience. Eventually, the gallant defenders of Jadotville were rotated and were home for Christmas.

The battalion’s troops, arguably the bravest and most successful in independent Ireland’s history, were afterwards betrayed by their government. Although their battle was on a par with that of Rorke’s Drift, the Siege of Jadotville had been a debacle for the United Nations. Because the reputation of the UN was considered more important than Irish valour, the affair was played down.

None of the Irish troops involved in the defence of Jadotville were decorated. Although their commanding officer recommended a number of men for Ireland’s Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG) this request was turned down. Over 40 years passed before the Irish government grudgingly conceded the heroism of their troops under fire. Only in 2016 did the Irish government award a Presidential Unit Citation to ‘A’ Company. It was the first in the nation’s short history.

The reputation of the gallant Commanding Officer Colonel Pat Quinlan was restored nine years after death in 1997. The veterans of ‘A’ Company held their commanding officer in the highest esteem. Due to his quick appraisal and response taken at the outset of the surprise attack their commandant ordered his men to take up defensive positions and to dig in. From the onset of the siege his small unit held the town under a siege in which his men were outnumbered 31 / 1.

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Commandant Pat Quinlan is pictured on the left of the group.

John Gorman and Donegal born Henry Hegerty were 17-year old teenagers who had no fighting experience. During the five day battle Commandant Pat Quinlan was credited with saving the lives of every one of the men under his command. It was only during the 21st Century that the Battle of Jadotville was officially recognised. In 2005 a commemorative stone was erected in the grounds of Custume Barracks in Athlone. A commissioned portrait is placed in The Congo Room of the Irish Defence Force’s UN school.

A movie, The Siege of Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle (2016) has since been released and should attract as large an audience as did Zulu and The Wild Geese.

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Henry Hegarty (far right) in Jadotville in 1961 (Picture: Courtesy of Andrew Hegarty)

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Henry Hegarty, from Coventry, veteran of the Jadotville siege in the Congo with his citation

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Medals awarded to Henry Hegarty, from Coventry, veteran of the Jadotville siege

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UN Veterans Michael Tighe and Tom Cunningham are greeted by crowds as they attend the screening of The Siege of Jadotville at the Savoy Cinema in Dublin.

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Jamie Dornan in The Siege of Jadotville [Picture: YouTube]