Niemba Ambush

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Niemba Ambush
Part of the Congo Crisis
Date November 8, 1960.
Location Niemba, Katanga Province, Congo
(region claimed by State of Katanga)
Result Baluba victory
United Nations ONUC State of Katanga State of Katanga
Commanders and leaders
Republic of Ireland Kevin Gleeson 
11 men 100 men
Casualties and losses
9 killed 25 killed numerous injured

The Niemba Ambush took place on November 8, 1960,[1] when an Irish Army platoon in the Congo was ambushed and decimated by Baluba tribesmen. Ireland had deployed Irish troops as United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) peacekeepers during the Congo Crisis.


On 8 November, an eleven-man platoon from the Irish 33rd Battalion arrived at a nearby bridge over the Luweyeye River. The bridge had been damaged by locals, and their mission was to repair it. They were forced to leave their vehicles when they encountered a blockade on the road. While clearing it, they were surrounded by about 100 Baluba tribesmen armed with bows, poison-tipped arrows, spears, clubs, as well as some guns. The patrol attempted to greet them peacefully, but was hit with a barrage of poison-tipped arrows.[1]

The platoon leader, Lt. Kevin Gleeson, was overtaken and beaten to death while covering the retreat of his men. The Irish soldiers retreated behind trees on either side of the road and laid down withering fire on the tribesmen with their Gustav submachine guns, Lee-Enfield rifles and Bren light machine guns. The Baluba advanced on them, and the Irish were cut off from their vehicles. Despite taking heavy losses, the Baluba overran the Irish position and fierce hand-to-hand fighting broke out, during which most of the Irish troops were killed.[1]

The surviving Irish troops regrouped by a ridge but were surrounded by the Baluba, and fought to hold them off, but their position was rapidly overrun, and all but three of them were killed. The three survivors managed to escape. One of them reached a nearby village and gave all the money he had to the village women, hoping they would get him help, but was instead mobbed and beaten to death by the village men. His body was recovered two years later. The two surviving soldiers managed to hide were found by other UN troops the following day.[1]

A total of nine Irish soldiers died: Lt. Kevin Gleeson of Carlow, Sgt. Hugh Gaynor of Leixlip, Cpl. Peter Kelly of Templeogue, Cpl. Liam Dougan of Cabra, Pt. Matthew Farrell of Jamestown, Dublin, Tpr. Thomas Fennell of Donnycarney, Tpr. Anthony Browne of Rialto, Pte. Michael McGuinn of Carlow, and Pte. Gerard Killeen of Rathmines. Some 25 Baluba tribesmen were also killed.

The bodies of the Irish dead were flown to Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, where they lay in state. Lt. Kevin Gleeson's coffin was placed on a gun carriage, while those of the rest were placed on army trucks. Following a funeral procession through Dublin, they were buried at Glasnevin Cemetery. For his conduct during the ambush, 19 year old Tpr. Browne was posthumously awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry, Ireland's highest military award. A stone commemorating Lt. Gleeson can be found in his hometown of Carlow.[2]