Military Wiki
Simba Rebellion
Part of the Congo Crisis
Kongo 1964 map en.png
Territorial control in Congo 1964
LocationDemocratic Republic of the Congo
Result Rebellion defeated

Congo Supported by:

United States
Simba Maoists
Commanders and leaders
Moise Tshombe Pierre Mulele
Christophe Gbenye
Gaston Soumialot
Belgium 350 paratroopers
United States 5 C-130 transports
Casualties and losses
200 foreigners & thousands of Congolese executed by rebels

The Simba Rebellion was a 1964 rebellion in the former Republic of Congo (the modern Democratic Republic of Congo) which began as a result of alleged abuses by the Congolese central government.[1] It formed part of the turbulent history of the country in the first half of the 1960s.


The rebels were led by Pierre Mulele, Gaston Soumialot and Christophe Gbenye who were former members of Gizenga's Parti Solidaire Africain (PSA). The leaders of the rebels were politically leftists. Most of their fighters however were tribesmen from the provinces of Kivu and Orientale. Many of them came from traditional African cultures with animist beliefs. The name "Simba" comes from the fact that the tribal fighters were told by shamans that they would be immune to bullets, and would be transformed into "Simbas" (the Swahili word for lions) when they were in battle.[1]

Early fighting

The Simbas managed to intimidate two well-equipped battalions of government Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) soldiers into retreating without a fight. The Simbas quickly started to capture important cities. Within weeks, about half of the Congo was in their control. By August they had captured Stanleyville (since 1977, Kisangani), a large city, when the 1500 man government force fled, leaving behind their munitions (including mortars and armored vehicles) for the Simbas to take. The attack consisted of a charge, led by shamans, with forty Simba warriors. No shots were fired by the Simbas.[1]

As the rebel movement spread, discipline became more difficult to maintain, and acts of violence and terror increased. Thousands of Congolese were executed, including government officials, political leaders of opposition parties, provincial and local police, school teachers, and others believed to have been Westernized. Many of the executions were carried out with extreme cruelty, in front of a monument to Patrice Lumumba in Stanleyville.[2]

Later fighting

In July 1964, Moise Tshombe replaced Cyrille Adoula as Prime Minister of a new national government with a mandate to end the regional revolts. By early August 1964 Congolese government forces, with the help of groups of white mercenaries under their own command, were making headway against the Simba rebellion. Fearing defeat, the rebels started taking hostages of the local white population in areas under their control. Several hundred hostages were taken to Stanleyville and placed under guard in the Victoria Hotel.

Belgian soldier lying in front of dead hostages, November 1964 in Stanleyville.

Operation Dragon Rouge

Refugees move towards the airfield for evacuation.

The Congolese government turned to Belgium and the United States for help. In response, the Belgian army sent a task force to Leopoldville, airlifted by the 322nd Air Division United States Air Force.

Washington, D.C. and Brussels tried to come up with a rescue plan. Several ideas were considered and discarded, while attempts at negotiating with the Simbas failed.

A hostage is hysterical as she is transported to a departing aeroplane.

The task force was led by the Belgian colonel Charles Laurent.[3] On 24 November 1964, five US Air Force C-130 transports dropped 350 Belgian paratroopers of the Para-Commando Regiment onto the Simi-Simi Airport on the western outskirts of Stanleyville.[4] Once the paratroopers had secured the airfield and cleared the runway they made their way to the Victoria Hotel, prevented Simbas from killing all but some 60 of the hostages, and evacuated them via the airfield.[5]

Two missions were flown, one over Stanleyville designated as RED DRAGON/DRAGON ROUGE and another over Paulis called BLACK DRAGON/DRAGON NOIR.[5] Over the next two days over 1,800 Americans and Europeans were evacuated as well as around 400 Congolese. Almost 200 foreigners and thousands of Congolese were executed by the Simbas.[6]

The operation coincided with the arrival of mercenary units (seemingly including the hurriedly-formed 5th Mechanised Brigade and Mike Hoare's 5 Commando) at Stanleyville which was quickly captured. It took until the end of the year to completely put down the remaining areas of rebellion.


Despite the success of the raid, Tshombe's prestige was damaged by the joint Belgian-US operation which saw white mercenaries and western forces intervene once again in the Congo.

The rebellion forms the background to the fictional movie Dark of the Sun, released in 1968 starring Rod Taylor, Yvette Mimieux and Jim Brown. The screenplay was based on a Wilbur Smith novel of the same name.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kinder, Hermann; Werner Hilgemann (1978). The Anchor Atlas of World History. 2. New York: Garden City. p. 268. Retrieved March 16, 2009. 
  2. M. Crawford Young. "Post-Independence Politics in the Congo". JSTOR 2934325. 
  3. "HistoryNet – From the World's Largest History Magazine Publisher". Retrieved 2010-12-21. 
  4. Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965, Maj. T. Odom, Combat Studies Institute. Retrieved January 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Odom, Maj. T. "Dragon Operations: Hostage Rescues in the Congo, 1964-1965." Combat Studies Institute., January 2009. Retrieved: 2 October 2010.
  6. The Responsibility to Protect, International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, December 2001

External links

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