The Ambush

“DOPS-TEMP-4886-005: Statement by Lt. Col. R.H.W. Bunworth, Officer Commanding 33rd Battalion


Niemba is a small village in the province of Katanga. The village was occupied on 6 October 1960 by Sgt. Guthrie’s party and on 8 October, Lt. Gleeson and part of his platoon took over. He was subsequently joined by the rest of his men. During their time here, Lt. Gleeson’s platoon carried out numerous patrols. One of the incidents of note was their rescue of Father Peeters from Nyunzu. At the beginning of November there were some concerns surrounding the number of road blocks they were finding around Niemba. The Battalion Commander decided to mount two simultaneous patrols to clear one of the roads. The two patrols were to begin 7 November 1960. The patrol south to the bridge on the River Luwuyeye was led by Comdt. P. D. Hogan and was reinforced by Lt. Gleeson and twenty of his platoon. Throughout the day they cleared numerous road blocks. After arriving at the damaged bridge, it was clear that the repair would take hours. It was decided that Lt. Gleeson’s patrol would do the same route the following day, 8 November 1960. The mission was to continue the patrol along the route travelled by Comdt. Hogan to see if they could, in time, move as far as Kinsukulu (for more details of the mission as a whole, view the full 33rd Battalion Unit History HERE). 

At approximately 13:30 on Tuesday 8 November, Lt. Gleeson and his patrol made their way south towards Kinsukulu. They were mounted on a Land Rover and a Volkswagen pick-up and the patrol comprised of the following personnel:

 O.7500 Lt. Kevin Gleeson
 804359 Sgt. Hugh Gaynor
 804234 Cpl. Liam Dougan
 809839 Cpl. Peter Kelly
 806115 Tpr. Anthony Browne
 808548 Pte. Thomas Fennell
 810242 Pte. Gerard Killeen
 804536 Pte. Matthew Farrell
 802900 Pte. Michael McGuinn
 808214 Pte. Joseph Fitzpatrick
 808457 Pte. Thomas Kenny



"The Patrol passed a number of roadblocks."

“PRCN-01-62: Site of the attack. This photo was taken on the 11th November 1960 and looks in the direction of Niemba. The destroyed bridge can be seen in front of the truck and the place of attack is marked with an ‘X’.”


After travelling on the road for approximately an hour and a half, the patrol stopped at the broken bridge they had seen the previous day. Lt. Gleeson ordered the men to dismount the vehicles. Lt. Gleeson, along with Sgt. Gaynor and Pte. Kenny went to inspect the bridge. Pte. Fitzpatrick who, along with Tpr. Browne was on guard at the back of the second vehicle, reported seeing a number of Balubas moving all around the bush. Lt. Gleeson took 3 members of the patrol and went further down the road to check if there were any other obstacles. They returned, informing the rest of the patrol that there was a large group of Balubas on the road approaching their position. He ordered them to turn the vehicles around. However, it was at this point that the Balubas began to run towards the patrol. They were armed with bows and arrows, and clubs. It was widely known that the Balubas carried poisoned arrows. Lt. Gleeson tried to call out to the Balubas. According to the two survivors of the ambush, Pte. Fitzpatrick and Pte. Kenny, Lt. Gleeson ordered the party to hold their fire until he gave the order. They were to wait until they were fired upon first. The order was given to open fire and we know from the search patrol’s reports, that a number of Balubas were injured and killed.

“PRCN-01-62: Scene of attack. This photo was taken from the first truck shown in the first photo.”

"Overcome by sheer numbers, the order was given for the patrol to take cover."

Pte. Fitzpatrick, along with some others ran and were followed by Balubas. As the bush was so dense, it was difficult to keep together. Fitzpatrick took cover in some hedgerow, near Pte. Killeen who had been hit by an arrow and was now being beaten. Pte. Fitzpatrick opened fire and Killeen managed to make it to his position, but died soon after this. Fitzpatrick was able to remain hidden. The next day after some effort, he found the search patrol. Pte. Kenny was hit with two arrows as he ran toward the bush. Found by the Balubas, Kenny was hit with another arrow and badly beaten. According to Pte. Kenny’s statement, a Gustaf opened fire and the Balubas backed away leaving him injured. It was believed to be Tpr. Browne who opened fire. Pte. Kenny has since said that this wasn’t exactly how it happened. He said that he gave an initial statement that was lost and that this version of events took precedence. Pte. Kenny remained hidden for some time. When he managed to get up and move, he was delirious. Nearly two days later, he was able to find the search patrol. Due to the chaos of the ambush and the fact that there was only two survivors, it is difficult to say exactly what happened to each man during the ambush. It is clear from medical reports that the victims were badly beaten.
At approximately 20:35 that night, an urgent message came from Niemba saying that Lt. Gleeson’s patrol were overdue by two and a half hours. A search patrol was organised at Battalion Headquarters of two Officers, two NCOs, six men, one interpreter and three vehicles.

To top