The 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Jadotville, 13 - 17 September 1961


ONUC – Peacekeeping Mission in the Congo


The United Nations Operation in the Congo (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo), known as ONUC, was established by Security Council resolution 143 on 14 July 1960. The Congo, a former Belgian colony, became an independent republic on 30 June 1960. Twelve days later they made a request for military assistance from the United Nations, in order to maintain their territorial integrity. ONUC was established to ensure the withdrawal of Belgian forces, to assist the Government in maintaining law and order, and to provide technical assistance. This was subsequently modified to include maintaining the territorial integrity and political independence of the Congo, preventing the occurrence of civil war, and securing the removal of all foreign military, paramilitary and advisory personnel not under the UN command, as well as mercenaries.

'MA-P-086-001: Irish Soldiers departing for the Congo'

The 35th Infantry Battalion 


Ireland was one of the countries requested by the United Nations to provide troops to the proposed ONUC mission. They accepted the request and on 19 July 1960 the Irish Government passed the enabling legislation. This activated the first Irish contingent, the 32nd Infantry Battalion, which led to the beginning of the Irish Defence Forces' four-year commitment to service in the Congo. Between 1960 and 1964, over 6,000 Irishmen served in this mission. During this period of service 26 Irish soldiers lost their lives.
The 35th Infantry Battalion was the fifth Irish contingent to serve overseas as part of this mission. They deployed to the Congo in June 1961 and served there until December. They were part of the Katanga Command and were based in Elisabethville. ONUC was continuously engaged with Katangese forces during this period. (The 1st Infantry Group, another Irish contingent, was also serving in Katanga at this time and was based in Kamina.) The early part of their mission was relatively quiet. They carried out long-range patrols to Dilolo, Mokaiyibo, Kipushi, Jadotville, Kolwezi, and Kamina. Gendarmerie movements and activities were being observed during this time. (The Gendarmerie were part of the developing Katanga armed forces.)

(View the 35th INF BN Unit History HERE)

'OS-ONUC-35INFBN-07-04-001: Press Cuttings'
'OS-ONUC-35INFBN-01-01: Airlift of the 35th Infantry Battalion'
'UnitHistory-35INFBN-04: Map with Gendarmerie Positions in Katanga, 30 Sep 1961'

Operation Rumpunch

This operation commenced on 28 August 1961. This was ONUC’s attempt to remove the influence of foreign mercenaries on Katanga. The goal was to arrest these mercenaries. 'A' Company was tasked with taking the Gendarmerie HQ in Elisabethville, arresting all white mercenaries therein and to surround the house of Katangese Interior Minister Godefroid Munongo.

 'Cpl Seamus McDermott speaks about Operation Rumpunch'



“PC-304: Col P Quinlan Private Collection: Operation Rumpunch Op Order”

Force Mide

Prior to 'A' Company’s deployment to Jadotville, Force Mide was temporarily stationed there in late August 1961. This group was under Swedish command and consisted of one Swedish Company and one Irish Company - 'B' Company, 35th Infantry Battalion. Their objective was to take control and prevent uprisings. Force Mide was to remain in Jadotville for two to three weeks and to impress upon the European population there that the UN were on high alert. Maj Mide of the Swedish Battalion soon gathered that they were not welcome and after receiving instructions from Katanga Command’s Sector B commander Col Jonas Waern, made the decision to withdraw his forces at the beginning of September. After some confusion between ONUC HQ, Lt Gen Seán MacEoin and UNHQ, 'A' Company was sent to Jadotville on 3 September.

'PC-304: Col P Quinlan Private Collection: Operation Order for Force Mide with a note from Comdt Quinlan on the withdrawal of Force Mide and deployment of 'A' Company to Jadotville'

'A' Company arrives at Jadotville

'OS-ONUC-35INFBN-03-06: Hand-painted map of Jadotville defensive positions during the Battle. Drawn by Lt Noel Carey, 'A' Company while in captivity'

'A' Company received orders to move to Jadotville on 3 September 1961 to protect the white population there. This population would later be described by Commandant Pat Quinlan, Officer Commanding 'A' Company, as openly hostile to UN forces. Transport was seriously limited at this time. 'A' Company, along with a section of two armoured cars commanded by Lt Kevin Knightly, moved to Jadotville using Irish and Swedish vehicles. The 81mm mortars and 'A' Company’s emergency rations were left in Elisabethville as a result of the quick move and lack of transport. There was an immediate sense of unease when 'A' Company arrived at Jadotville. This grew as the days went on and was intensified by the growing number of Gendarmerie patrolling the area. Comdt Quinlan reported that, on arrival, the Company dug trenches for ‘local protection as per COY SOP’ (Company Standard Operating Procedure). ‘Digging in’ was embedded in Comdt Quinlan’s training. 'A' Company began digging into the extremely hard ground and bolstering their defensive area. These trenches would prove to be lifesaving.

'PC-271-012: Comdt Ollie Barbour Private Collection: Gendarmerie Patrol Car. Set of Photographs from 'A' Company, Jadotville'
'PC-271-008: Comdt Ollie Barbour Private Collection: ‘Digging in’. Set of Photographs from 'A' Company, Jadotville'

'A' Company spent the days leading up to the battle reinforcing and improving their defensive positions. On 9 September Comdt Quinlan requested that a strong reinforcement be sent to Jadotville. Gendarmerie were regularly patrolling the area and their numbers continued to increase. Returning to Jadotville on 10 September, Capt Liam Donnelly, Comdt Joe Clune and Pte Michael Dunne (along with an escort) passed the Lufira Bridge, which was blocked by Gendarmerie. They had been sent by Comdt Quinlan the previous day to Elisabethville to deliver an update to Lt Col Hugh McNamee, OC 35th Infantry Battalion. The Lufira Bridge, located on the Lufira River, is situated sixteen miles from Jadotville and is the main access point from Elisabethville. Gendarmerie numbers had increased on the bridge following 'A' Company’s arrival at Jadotville. Not securing the bridge was a major error by ONUC. 'A' Company were effectively cut off from Elisabethville. This would be a crucial factor later on in preventing reinforcements reaching 'A' Company during the battle. During this time 'A' Company was told to remain in Jadotville, while reports of talks between ONUC and President Tshombe, discussing the situation at Jadotville, reached 'A' Company.

'PRCN-0073-01-01-02: Comdt Pearse Wheatley Private Collection: President Tshombe meeting Lt Col McNamee, Comdt Kane & Comdt Wheatley at a reception at the presidential palace, Elisabethville June 1961'

Operation Morthor

Alongside the growing tension in Jadotville, ONUC was making preparations for Operation Morthor. This operation aimed to topple President Tshombe’s government and end Katanga’s secession from the Congo. The 35th Infantry Battalion were not informed of this operation in advance. ONUC wanted as few people as possible to know about the plan. This left 'A' Company in an extremely exposed position. ONUC had also misjudged how long Operation Morthor would last. After leaving 'A' Company exposed, they had to divert key assets as troops had to be sent to reinforce those under siege at Jadotville. Operation Morthor was launched at 0400hrs on 13 September. Roughly three and a half hours later that same morning, the Battle of Jadotville began.

'PC-304: Col P Quinlan Private Collection: Operation Morthor Op Order'

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