Siege of Jadotville

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This article is about the historical event. For the 2016 film based on it, see The Siege of Jadotville (film).
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 four Irish ONUC personnel, taken captive just prior to the siege 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
State of Katanga Katanga

United Nations ONUC

Commanders and leaders
State of Katanga Michel de Clary
State of Katanga Henri Lasimone
Republic of Ireland Pat Quinlan  (POW)
Republic of Ireland Billy Ready (WIA) (POW)
Estimates vary widely, from some 500[1][2] to up to 4,000 or even 5,000[3][4]
1 armed Belgian-flown Fouga Magister aircraft
Irish Company:
155[5]-158 soldiers[6]
In Support:
500 Irish and Swedish soldiers
Casualties and losses
300 dead[3][4]
Up to 1,000 wounded
Five wounded
158 prisoners
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 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 (modern Likasi).

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 but none were killed. It was the last engagement of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) peacekeeping mission to involve Irish and Swedish troops in hostile action.


On 13 September 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 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.[7] 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. This was the result of an angry telephone call from the Foreign Minister of Belgium to the Secretary General that Belgian settlers and local population were unprotected and who said they feared for their safety. It turned out that when the Irish troops arrived they were not welcomed by the people who they were to protect, 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.[8] It has never been properly explained why the Katangese wanted to isolate the Irish UN troops, however some commentators have suggested that the goal was to take the Irish as prisoners for leverage in negotiations with the UN.[8]


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 company to the threat (Ready was soon wounded in the following exchange of fire).[1] 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 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 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 successive waves of attackers from their defensive positions. The Irish Support Platoon also knocked out most of the Katangese mortar and artillery positions with accurate 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. Non-native (white) mercenary officers were reportedly observed shooting native gendarmes to stem the rout caused in Katangese lines.[9] The Katangese then asked Quinlan for a cease-fire, as their forces had been seriously diminished, and were on the verge of collapse.[citation needed] By this time, their effective strength may have been reduced to 2,000 men. 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 based in Kamina and Indian army Gurkhas,[3] 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 mercenaries, and an indeterminate number of wounded, with figures ranging from 300 to 1,000. However 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 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 and having run out of ammunition and food and low on water, Quinlan accepted the second offer to surrender to the Katangese.[1] They were held as hostages for approximately one month, in an effort to extort terms of ceasefire that were embarrassing to the UN,[10] while the Katangese and their mercenary allies bartered them for prisoners in the custody of the Congolese government of Joseph Kasa-Vubu. After their release, the Irish troops returned home to Ireland in December.[8]


Inaccurate 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 the early 21st century, given much recognition by the Irish state. The term 'Jadotville Jack' was sometimes used as a term of derision across the Irish Defence Forces. After the incident no Irish soldier received any decoration for their actions at Jadotville, even though 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,[11] the first in the State's history.[12]

Even though A Company, 35th Battalion had tactically defeated a larger enemy force at Jadotville, the Irish Defence Forces did not overtly acknowledge the battle - possibly over shame that A Company had surrendered,[citation needed] or because of the political and strategic errors demonstrated at higher levels.[9] Quinlan eventually retired as a full Colonel, but never served overseas again, and it was recognized by the Irish officers who fought at Jadotville that it was best for one's career not to mention the battle.

The veterans of Jadotville however continued to be dissatisfied with the Defence Forces' refusal to acknowledge the battle, and in particular the implied black-mark on the reputation of their commander. Quinlan, who died in 1997, had his public reputation restored nine years after his death.[13] The veterans of A Company reportedly regarded him as an exceptional officer who saved the lives of his men by ordering them to dig in, and successfully leading his company against an overwhelming enemy force. He was forced into an impossible situation by the apparent failings of the UN leadership and against the odds, saved the lives of each 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, in 2004 the Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea agreed to hold a full review of the battle at Jadotville. 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 in the grounds of Custume Barracks in Athlone in 2005, and a commissioned portrait of Quinlan sited in the Congo Room of the Irish Defence Forces' UN School.

In popular culture[edit]

A 2016 film, The Siege of Jadotville, with a cast including Jamie Dornan and Mark Strong, had a "well received" premier at the 2016 Galway Film Festival,[14] with a limited cinematic release in September 2016,[15] and worldwide release on Netflix on 7 October 2016.[16][17] The film is based on the 2005 book The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle by Declan Power.[18]


  1. ^ a b c "BRAVE VETS MEDAL SHAME; Our jungle fighters honoured.. with award they had to pay for themselves". Sunday Mirror. 5 May 2002. 
  2. ^ "Congo, Part 1; 1960-1963". Air Combat Information Group. Archived from the original on 11 November 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Bravery of Irish soldiers at Jadotville siege to be examined - Naughten". Fine Gael News. 12 May 2004. Archived from the original on 1 September 2007. 
  4. ^ a b Peace Operations and Intrastate Conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1999. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  5. ^ David O'Donoghue. "Army's Congo Mission Casts a Long Shadow" (PDF). Royal Irish Academy. Archived from the original on 2 November 2007. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  6. ^ Stanley Meisler (1995). United Nations: The First Fifty Years. Atlantic Monthly Press. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "War in Katanga". Time Magazine. 22 September 1961. 
  8. ^ a b c "The True Story of the Heroic Battle That Inspired the New Netflix Film The Siege of Jadotville". Time Magazine. 27 July 2016. probably with the aim of taking the Irish as prisoners and using them as leverage in negotiations with the U.N. 
  9. ^ a b Michael Whelan (2006). "The Battle of Jadotville - Irish Soldiers in Combat in the Congo 1961" (PDF). South Dublin Libraries. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  10. ^ Jeanne M. Haskin (2005). The Tragic State of the Congo: From Decolonization to Dictatorship. Algora Publishing. 
  11. ^ "Soldiers recognised for Jadotville bravery". RTÉ News. 17 September 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2016. 
  12. ^ "Jadotville ceremony rights a "grievous wrong"". Westmeath Examiner. 17 September 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2016. This is the first time that a Unit Citation has been awarded within the Irish Defence Forces 
  13. ^ Carney, Jim (c. 2012). "From Galway to the Congo — into the Heart of Darkness – Part 2". The Tuam Herald. Archived from the original on 5 October 2011. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  14. ^ "Jamie Dornan's latest film wins standing ovation at Galway Film Fleadh". Irish Independent. 11 July 2016. 
  15. ^ "'The Siege of Jadotville' to receive limited cinema release". Irish Times. 12 September 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2016. 
  16. ^ "The Siege of Jadotville (2016)". IMDB. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  17. ^ "First trailer of Siege of Jadotville is nail-biting". RTÉ. 10 September 2016. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  18. ^ "28th Galway Film Fleadh - July 2016 - The Siege of Jadotville". Retrieved 11 September 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle, Declan Power. Maverick House Publishers, Dublin, 2005. 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
  • Red Legs: One Irish Boy's African Adventure',John Greene ISBN 9781904244837
  • O'Donoghue, David (2006). "Army's Congo Mission Casts a Long Shadow". Irish Studies in International Affairs. 17: 43–65. JSTOR 30002097. 

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