Siege of Jadotville
|Siege of Jadotville|
|Part of Operation Morthor (Congo Crisis)|
A mercenary serving with the Katangese gendarmerie and four Irish ONUC personnel, taken captive just prior to the siege at Jadotville
|Commanders and leaders|
| Roger Faulques
Michel de Clary
| Pat Quinlan (POW)
Billy Ready (POW)
|Estimates vary widely, from some 500 to up to 4,000 or even 5,000
1 Fouga Magister aircraft
500 Irish and Swedish soldiers
|Casualties and losses|
Up to 1,000 wounded
One transport destroyed
One helicopter damaged
The Siege of Jadotville took place in September 1961, during the United Nations intervention in the Katanga conflict in Congo-Léopoldville, in Central Africa. "A" Company, 35th Battalion (UN service) of the Irish Army ONUC contingent was attacked by Katanga Gendarmerie troops loyal to the Katangese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. The lightly armed Irish soldiers, besieged in Jadotville (modern Likasi), resisted Katangese assaults for six days as a relief force of Irish and Swedish troops unsuccessfully attempted to reach the Irish force.
The outnumbered Irish company was eventually forced to surrender after ammunition and supplies were exhausted, but not before inflicting heavy casualties on the Katangese and their mercenaries. They were held as prisoners of war for approximately one month, with no loss of life. It was the last engagement of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) peacekeeping mission to use Irish and Swedish troops in hostile action.
On Wednesday, 13 September 1961, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld gave permission for the United Nations forces to launch a military offensive, code named Operation Morthor, against mercenary military units serving the State of Katanga, which had seceded from Congo-Léopoldville in July 1960. According to its mandate, the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) forces were to remain strictly impartial in the conflict. But, the Katangese political leadership believed the UN had broken its mandate and its forces were siding with their opponent, the Congolese central government. Soon after the start of Morthor, the Katangese led a counterattack on an isolated UN military unit based at the mining town of Jadotville, approximately 100 kilometers up country from the main UN base in Elizabethville City. A contingent of 155 Irish UN troops, styled as "A Company" and commanded by Commandant Pat Quinlan, had been sent to the mining town, ostensibly to assist in the protection of its citizens. The foreign minister of Belgium had called the UN secretary general, reporting that Belgian settlers and the local population were unprotected, and feared for their safety.
But, when the Irish troops arrived at Jadotville, they were not welcomed by the local people, due to strong pro-Katangese and anti-UN feeling. Two previous companies of ONUC peacekeepers — one Swedish and one Irish — had been withdrawn from Jadotville in the days prior to the arrival of Quinlan's force. It is not clear why the Katangese wanted to isolate the Irish UN troops, although some commentators have suggested that the goal may have been to take the Irish as prisoners for leverage in negotiations with the UN.
The Katangese attacked while many of the Irish troops were attending an 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 Sgt. Billy Ready alerted the company to the threat (Ready was wounded in the subsequent exchange of fire). A five-day battle ensued.
A combined force of mercenaries, Belgian settlers and local Luba tribesmen attacked the Irish. The attackers had a strength of 3,000-5,000 men, mostly bands of Luba warriors, but also many Belgian, French and Rhodesian mercenaries armed with a mix of light and heavy armament. They also had air support from a Fouga Magister trainer jet, fitted with underwing bombs and machine guns. For the most part, the Irish UN soldiers were armed with only light personal weapons, a small number of 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".
The Katangese attacked in waves of 600 or so, preceded by bombardment from 81mm mortars and a French 75mm field gun. The Irish soldiers successfully defended against successive waves of attackers from their positions. The Irish Support Platoon knocked out most of the Katangese mortar and artillery positions with accurate counter-battery fire from 60mm 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 fire proved accurate and effective. Mercenary officers were reportedly observed shooting native gendarmes to stem the rout caused in Katangese lines. The Katangese asked Quinlan for a cease-fire, as their forces had been seriously diminished. By this time their effective strength may have been reduced to 2,000 men. Quinlan agreed.
The 500 Irish and Swedish UN troops based in Kamina, and Indian army Gurkhas, made several attempts to relieve the besieged Irish soldiers. The supporting force of mercenaries, many veterans of the Algerian War, beat back these efforts. They had been brought in by Gen. Moise Tshombe, Katanga's premier, whose secessionist government had been supported by Belgium.
A series of battles took place at a pinch point called the Lufira Bridge. It carried the Jadotville-to-Elizabethville Highway across the Lufira River. The Katangese forces dug in here and brought heavy and sustained ground and air fire onto the relief column, killing several Indian UN troops, injuring a number of Irish UN troops and ultimately forcing the column 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 mercenaries, and an indeterminate number were wounded, with figures ranging from 300-1,000. Quinlan, however, had no access to resupply and reinforcements and, with his transport destroyed by the Fouga Magister jet, a breakout was virtually impossible.
At one stage in the conflict a mission to bring in water by air was successful, but due to the use of contaminated containers (previously used to store petrol) the water was largely 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, having run out of ammunition and food and low on water, Quinlan accepted the second offer to surrender to the Katangese. The Irish were held as hostages for approximately one month, in an effort to extort terms of ceasefire that were embarrassing to the UN. The Katangese and their mercenary allies bartered the Irish soldiers for prisoners in the custody of the Congolese government of Joseph Kasa-Vubu. After being released, the troops were returned to their base in Elizabethville. Some weeks later, however, "A" Company found itself involved in active combat again, this time with the support of Swedish UN troops. Eventually they were reinforced with fresh troops from Ireland (their replacement was the 36th Battalion). After weeks of fighting and their six-month tour of duty now complete, "A" Company was rotated out of the battle zone and were home in Ireland that December.
Inaccurate reports of the deaths of several Irish soldiers circulated in the media at the time of the attacks. Some analysts suggest that the Belgian Fouga pilot mistook bed rolls for body bags as he overflew the battlefield.
Until the early 21st century, the Irish state did not give much recognition to the battle of Jadotville. The term "Jadotville Jack" was sometimes applied as a term of derision about the Irish Defence Forces. After the incident no Irish soldier received any decoration for his actions at Jadotville, although Quinlan recommended a number of his men for the Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG), Ireland's highest award for military valour, for their actions during the battle. In 2016 the Irish government awarded a Presidential Unit Citation to A Company, the first in the State's history.
Although A Company, 35th Battalion had tactically defeated a larger enemy force at Jadotville, the Irish Defence Forces did not overtly acknowledge the battle. There may have been perceived shame that A Company had surrendered, or because of political and strategic errors demonstrated at higher levels. Quinlan eventually retired as a full colonel but never served overseas again. The Irish officers who fought at Jadotville found that it was best for one's career not to mention the battle.
The veterans of Jadotville were dissatisfied that the Defence Forces refused to acknowledge the battle and that there was an implied black mark on the reputation of their commander. Quinlan, who died in 1997, had his public reputation restored nine years after his death. The veterans of A Company reportedly regarded him as an exceptional officer who had saved the lives of his men by ordering them to dig in, and who successfully led his company against an overwhelming enemy force. He was forced into an impossible situation by the apparent failings of the UN leadership. Against the odds, he had saved the lives of each of his men in a battle they had not expected nor planned for.
John Gorman, a retired soldier who had been a 17-year-old private during the fight, campaigned to have the Battle of Jadotville recognized. In 2004 Irish Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea agreed to hold a full review of the battle. A Defence Forces inquiry cleared Quinlan and A Company of allegations of soldierly misconduct. A commemorative stone recognising the soldiers of A Company was erected on the grounds of Custume Barracks in Athlone in 2005. A commissioned portrait of Quinlan was installed in the Congo Room of the Irish Defence Forces' UN School.
In popular culture
Declan Power's history, The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle (2005), was adapted as the film, The Siege of Jadotville (2016). The cast includes Jamie Dornan and Mark Strong, and the movie had a "well received" premier at the 2016 Galway Film Festival. It had a limited cinematic release in September 2016, and worldwide release on Netflix, on 7 October 2016.
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Quinlan's men were to find themselves in combat again, literally days before they boarded the Globemasters to go home. This time it was on the night of December 12, when the Katangese set up a roadblock near the Soco petrol depot
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