Siege of Jadotville

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Siege of Jadotville
Part of Operation Morthor and the Congo Crisis
Irish captives in Katanga 1961.PNG
A white mercenary serving with the Katangese gendarmerie and three Irish ONUC personnel, taken captive at Jadotville.
Date September 1961
Location Jadotville, State of Katanga
(now Likasi, Katanga Province, DR Congo)

Katangese victory

  • Failed Irish-Swedish relief attempt
  • Surrender of Irish company

United Nations ONUC

Commanders and leaders
Republic of Ireland Pat Quinlan  (POW) State of Katanga Mike Hoare
Irish Company:
155[1]-158 soldiers[2]
In Support:
500 Irish and Swedish soldiers
Estimates vary widely, from some 500[3][4] to up to 4,000 or even 5,000[5][6]
Casualties and losses
5 wounded
158 prisoners
1 transport destroyed
1 helicopter damaged
300 dead[5][6]
300-1,000 wounded

The Siege of Jadotville took place in September 1961, during the United Nations intervention in the Katanga conflict in Congo-Léopoldville in Central Africa when a company of Irish UN troops were attacked by troops loyal to the Katangese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. The lightly-armed Irish soldiers resisted Katangese assaults for six days as a relief force of Irish and Swedish troops unsuccessfully attempted to reach the Irish force besieged in Jadotville.

Although the outnumbered Irish company was eventually forced to surrender after ammunition and supplies were exhausted. They were held as prisoners of war for almost a month but none were killed. The Katangese and their white mercenaries suffered heavy losses. The siege marked the first time since the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) that Irish Army soldiers went into battle against another nation's army.


On September 13, 1961,UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld gave permission for United Nations forces to launch a military offensive, code named Operation Morthor,against mercenary military units working for the State of Katanga that had seceded from Congo-Léopoldville in July 1960. According to its mandate, UN forces in the Congo were to remain strictly impartial in the conflict. However, the Katangese political leadership believed the UN had broken its mandate and were now siding with their opponent,the Congolese central government. Soon after the start of Morthor, the Katangese led a counter attack on an isolated UN military unit based at the mining town of Jadotville, some 100 kilometers up country from the main UN base in Elizabethville City.[7] A small UN contingent of 155 Irish troops had been sent to the mining town to assist in the protection of its citizens. This was the result of a plea by the Belgian settlers and local population who said they feared for their safety.


The initial attack by the Katangese occurred while many of the Irish troops were attending open air Mass. Expecting to take the men off guard,the first attackers moved in rapidly,but were spotted by an alert sentry. A warning shot by Sergeant Billy Ready alerted the entire company to the threat (Ready was soon wounded in the following exchange of fire).[3] This set the stage for a five-day battle.

A Fouga Magister similar to the one used by the Katangese during the siege

A combined force of white mercenaries, Belgian settlers and local tribesmen attacked the Irish. They had a strength of 3,000 to as many as 5,000 men, mostly bands of Luba warriors but also many regular French, Belgian and Rhodesian mercenaries armed with a mix of light and heavy armament. They also had air support in the form of a Fouga Magister trainer jet fitted with underwing bombs and machine guns. The Irish UN soldiers had, for the most part, only light personal weapons, a small number of antiquated water-cooled Vickers machine guns, and 60mm mortars. The besieged Irish radioed to their headquarters: "We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey".[7]

The Katangese attacked in waves of 600 or so, preceded by bombardment from 81-mm mortars and a French 75-mm field gun. The Irish soldiers successfully defended against massive waves of attackers from their defensive positions. The Irish Support Platoon also knocked out most of the Katangese mortar and artillery positions with effective counter-battery fire from 60-mm mortars. After withstanding four days of repeated attacks, the Irish fired on identified Katangese mortar and machine gun positions with several hours of continuous and concentrated fire from their own mortars and machine guns.

The Irish attacks proved accurate and effective. White mercenary officers could be observed shooting native gendarmes to stem the rout caused in Katangese lines. The Katangese then asked Commandant Quinlan for a cease-fire, as their forces had been seriously diminished, and were on the verge of collapse. By this time, their effective strength may have been reduced to 2,000 men. Commandant Quinlan agreed.

Swedish members of ONUC in the Congo, November 1961

Several attempts were made to relieve the besieged soldiers by the 500 Irish and Swedish UN troops from the base in Kamina and Indian army Gorkhas,[5] but they were beaten back by a supporting force of mercenaries who were brought in by the Belgians and Moise Tshombe, the premier of Katanga. A feature of the failed attempts to relieve the siege was a series of battles at a pinch point called the Lufira Bridge. The Lufira bridge carried the Jadotville to Elizabethville highway across the Lufira river.It was here that the Katangese forces dug in and brought heavy and sustained ground and air fire onto the relief column,forcing them off the bridge.

'A' Company, 35th Battalion suffered five wounded in action during the six days of the siege. The Katangese, on the other hand, suffered heavy losses. Up to 300 were killed, including 30 white mercenaries, and an indeterminate number of wounded, with figures ranging from 300 to 1,000. However Commandant Quinlan had no access to resupply and reinforcements, and with his transport destroyed by the Fouga Magister jet a break-out was virtually impossible.At one stage in the conflict,a brave mission to bring in water by air was successful,but due to contaminated containers the water was undrinkable. Quinlan lacked any clear direction or communication from his superiors, and the Katangese gradually infringed on the cease-fire agreement to undermine A Company's position. In the end with his position untenable, without any clear orders or promise of assistance and having run out of ammunition and food and low on water Commandant Quinlan accepted the second offer to surrender to the Katangese.[3] They were held as hostages for almost a month in an effort to extort terms of ceasefire that were embarrassing to the UN,[8] while the Katangese and their mercenary allies bartered them for prisoners in the custody of the Congolese government of Joseph Kasa-Vubu.


False reports of the deaths of several Irish soldiers circulated in the media at the time of the attacks. One theory suggests that the Belgian Fouga pilot mistook bed rolls for body bags as he overflew the battlefield. The battle of Jadotville was not, until recently, given much recognition by the Irish state. The term 'Jadotville Jack' became a term of derision across the Irish Defence Forces. No Irish soldier received any decoration for their actions at Jadotville, even though Commandant Quinlan recommended many of his men for the Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG), Ireland's highest award for military valour, for their displays of heroism during the battle.

Even though A Company, 35th Battalion had tactically defeated a much larger enemy force at Jadotville the Defence Forces buried all record of the battle, presumably over shame that A Company had in fact surrendered. Commandant Quinlan eventually retired as a full Colonel but never served overseas again, and it was recognized by the officers who fought at Jadotville that it was best for one's career not to mention the battle.

However the veterans of Jadotville continued to be dissatisfied with the Defence Forces' refusal to acknowledge the battle, and in particular the black mark on the reputation of their CO, Commandant Quinlan. Quinlan, who died in 1997, had his public reputation finally restored nine years after his death.[9] The veterans of A Company regarded him as an exceptional officer who saved the lives of his men by ordering them to dig in and successfully led his company against an overwhelming enemy force. He was forced into an impossible situation caused by the failings of the UN leadership.And against all the odds,saved the lives of every one of his men in a battle not expected or planned for.

In the wake of a campaign for recognition of the Battle of Jadotville by John Gorman, a retired soldier who was a 17-year old Private during the battle, the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea agreed to hold a full review of the Battle of Jadotville in 2004. A Defence Forces inquiry cleared Commandant Quinlan and A Company of any charge of soldierly misconduct. A commemorative stone honouring the soldiers of A Company was erected in the grounds of Custume Barracks in Athlone in 2005, and a commissioned portrait of Commandant Quinlan now hangs in the Congo Room of the Irish Defence Forces' UN School.


  1. ^ "Royal Irish Academy - Resource Not Found". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "United Nations". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c BRAVE VETS MEDAL SHAME, Sunday Mirror, May 5, 2002
  4. ^ "Congo, Part 1; 1960-1963". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Bravery of Irish soldiers at Jadotville siege to be examined - Naughten, Fine Gael News, 12th May 2004
  6. ^ a b "Peace Operations and Intrastate Conflict". Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  7. ^ a b War in Katanga TIME, Sep. 22, 1961
  8. ^ The Tragic State of the Congo: From Decolonization to Dictatorship by Jeanne M. Haskin
  9. ^ Carney, Jim (c. 2012). "From Galway to the Congo — into the Heart of Darkness – Part 2". The Tuam Herald. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Siege at Jadotville, Declan Power. Maverick House Publishers, Dublin, 2004. ISBN 0-9548707-1-9
  • Fighting For Our Lives With "Jadotville Jack", Pat Dunleavy, pp. 105–112, and Remembering Jadotville, Lars Froberg, pp. 113–126, in The Irish Army in the Congo 1960-1964:The Far Battalions, David O'Donoghue, Irish Academic Press, 2005 (reprinted 2006). ISBN 0 7165 3319 7
  • Heroes of Jadotville (The Soldiers' Story), Rose Doyle with Leo Quinlan. New Island, Dublin, 2006. ISBN 1-905494-31-9
  • No White Feather, Sean Ó Foghlú, Book Republic, ISBN 978-1-907221-06-4

Coordinates: 10°59′S 26°44′E / 10.983°S 26.733°E / -10.983; 26.733 (Battle of Jadotville)