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Siege of Jadotville
Part of the Congo Crisis
DateSeptember 1961
LocationJadotville, State of Katanga
(now Likasi, Katanga Province, DR Congo)
Result Katangese victory
Republic of Ireland Irish Army
Support from:
Sweden Swedish Army
State of Katanga State of Katanga Gendarmerie, Belgian colonists and mercenaries
Commanders and leaders
Republic of Ireland Commandant Pat Quinlan State of Katanga Unknown
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 Sikorski S-55 crippled
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 the Congo, central Africa, when a company of Irish UN troops were attacked by troops loyal to the Katangese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe. The lightly armed and equipped Irish soldiers fiercely resisted Katangese assaults for six days as a force of Irish and Swedish troops attempted to fight their way through the siege. Although the outnumbered Irish company was eventually forced to surrender after ammunition and supplies were exhausted, and were held prisoner for almost a month, none were killed, while the Katangese and their mercenaries suffered heavy losses. The siege marked the first time since the creation of the Irish State that an Irish Army unit went into battle against another nation's army.


Having had problems with transportation, the Irish UN troops were forced to deploy to Jadotville (present day Likasi) without their full complement of support weaponry. However, their commanding officer, Commandant Pat Quinlan, had the foresight to order digging of defensive positions before the attacks thus saving them from being quickly overrun. On September 13, 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld's United Nations forces launched the offensive against the State of Katanga in order to end its secession and restore it as a province of DR Congo. Soon after, the Katangans attacked the base of UN forces at Jadotville.[7] The contingent of Irish UN troops was sent to protect the Belgian colonists and local population in Jadotville, where they were attacked by those they were originally sent to protect.


The initial attack by the Katangese occurred while many of the Irish troops were attending Mass. Expecting that the men would be unarmed during Mass, the first attackers moved in rapidly. They were spotted and a warning shot by Sgt 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 combined force of European mercenaries, Belgian settlers and local tribesmen attacked the Irish. They had a strength of 3,000 to as many as 5,000 men, mostly tribal bands of Baluba 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, just 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.

Several attempts were made to relieve the besieged soldiers by the 500 Irish and Swedish UN troops from the base in Kamina and even by the British Gurkhas,[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 Lufira Bridge where the Irish and Swedish force was bombed by a Katangese Fouga Magister. An attempt to resupply water to the troops by a Sikorsky S-55 succeeded, but the water was undrinkable because of contamination.

The A Company, 35th Battalion, suffered five wounded in action during the six days of the siege. The Katangans, 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. 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 only 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 to surrender only due to the failings of the UN leadership and preserved the lives of every one of the men he led into battle.

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.


Further reading[]

  • 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)

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