Siege of Jadotville

The siege of Jadotville [ʒ] was an engagement which occurred in September 1961 in which a small contingent of Irish troops serving as part of the United Nations Operation in the Congo (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, ONUC) were besieged in the mining town of Jadotville (modern-day Likasi) by Katangese forces loyal to the secessionist State of Katanga. The siege took place during the seven-day escalation of a stand-off between ONUC and Katangese forces during Operation Morthor. Although the Irish soldiers resisted Katangese attacks for five days while a relief force of Irish, Indian and Swedish troops attempted to reach them, they were eventually forced to surrender. They were subsequently held as prisoners of war for approximately one month.

Siege of Jadotville
Part of Operation Morthor in the Congo Crisis
Siege of Jadotville (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Date13–17 September 1961
Result Katangese victory


Commanders and leaders
  • ~3,000 Belgian, French, and Rhodesian led Katanga mercenaries and irregulars[4][5]
  • 1 jet trainer aircraft
  • Irish company:
  • 156 soldiers[6][7]
  • In support:
  • 500 Irish, Indian and Swedish soldiers
Casualties and losses
  • ~300 killed[8][9]
  • ~1,000 wounded
  • 3 Indians killed[10]
  • 5 wounded
  • 155 captured
  • 1 transport vehicle
  • 1 helicopter damaged


On Wednesday 13 September 1961, United Nations forces in Katanga launched a military offensive, that was code-named Operation Morthor, against mercenary military units serving the State of Katanga, which had seceded from Congo-Léopoldville in July 1960. According to its mandate, the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) forces were to remain impartial in the conflict. But the Katangese political leadership believed the UN had broken its mandate and its forces were 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 kilometres up-country from the main UN base in Elisabethville.[11] A contingent of 155 Irish UN troops, designated "A" Company, commanded by Commandant Pat Quinlan, had been sent to the mining town to assist in the protection of its citizens after the Belgian foreign minister had called the UN secretary-general, reporting that Belgian settlers and the local population feared for their safety.

Radio operator of "A" Company in the months prior to the siege

When the Irish troops arrived at Jadotville, they were not welcomed by the local people, due to a 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.[12] It is not clear why the Katangese wanted to isolate the Irish UN troops, although some commentators have suggested that the goal may have been to take the Irish as prisoners for leverage in negotiations with the UN.[12]


At 07:40 on the morning of Wednesday 13 September 1961, the Katangese attacked while many of the UN Irish troops were attending an open-air mass.[13] Expecting to take the men off guard, the first attackers moved in rapidly but were spotted by an Irish sentry. A warning shot by Private Billy Ready alerted the company to the threat (Ready was wounded in a later exchange of fire).[14][15] A five-day battle ensued.

A combined force of mercenaries, Belgian settlers and local tribesmen attacked the Irish. The attackers had a strength of 3,000–5,000 men, mostly Katangese and settlers, but with many Belgian, French and Rhodesian mercenaries armed with a mix of weapons and could call on limited air support from a Fouga Magister trainer jet, fitted with underwing bombs and machine guns. The Irish UN soldiers were armed with personal weapons, a small number of water-cooled Vickers machine guns and 60mm mortars.

The Katangese attacked in waves of 600 or so, preceded by bombardment from 81mm mortars and a French 75mm field gun. The Irish Support Platoon knocked out most of the Katangese mortar and artillery positions, including the 75mm gun, with counter-battery fire from 60mm mortars.[16] The fire from the UN Irish positions proved accurate and effective. Mercenary officers were reportedly observed shooting native gendarmes to stem the rout caused in Katangese lines.[17]

Irish ONUC troops in the Congo in 1960 (a year prior to the siege)

The 500 Irish and Swedish UN troops based in Kamina, and Indian army Gurkhas (seemingly 3rd Battalion, 1 Gorkha Rifles) made several attempts to relieve the besieged Irish soldiers.[8] The supporting force of mercenaries, many of them French, German, Belgian and South African, of whom almost all were veterans of the Algerian War, beat back these efforts.[18] They had been brought in by Moïse Tshombe, Katanga's premier, whose secessionist government had been supported by Belgium.[19]

A series of battles took place at a pinch point called the Lufira Bridge. It carried the Jadotville-to-Elisabethville Highway across the Lufira River. The Katangese forces dug in here and brought heavy and sustained ground and air fire onto the relief column, killing several Indian UN troops, injuring a number of Irish UN troops and ultimately forcing the column off the bridge.[20]

A number of days later, the besieged Irish radioed to their headquarters: "We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey".[11] The Katangese asked Quinlan for a cease-fire, as their forces had been seriously diminished. By this time their effective strength may have been reduced to 2,000 men. Quinlan agreed. "A" Company, 35th Battalion, suffered five wounded in action during the siege.[n 1] The Katangese, suffered up to 300 killed, including 30 mercenaries and an indeterminate number of wounded, with figures ranging from 300 to 1,000. Quinlan, however, had no access to resupply and reinforcements and, with his transport destroyed by the Fouga Magister jet, a breakout 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, having run out of ammunition and food and low on water, Quinlan accepted the second offer to surrender to the Katangese on the afternoon of Sunday 17 September.[13][15] The Irish soldiers were held as hostages for approximately one month, in an effort to extort terms of ceasefire that were embarrassing to the United Nations.[22] The Katangese and their mercenary allies bartered the Irish soldiers for prisoners in the custody of the Congolese government of Joseph Kasa-Vubu. After being released, the troops were returned to their base in Elisabethville. Some weeks later, however, "A" Company found itself involved in active combat again,[23] this time with the support of Swedish UN troops. Eventually, they were reinforced with fresh troops from Ireland (their replacement was the 36th Battalion).[24] After weeks of fighting and their six-month tour of duty now complete, "A" Company was rotated out of the battle zone and were home in Ireland that December.[12]


Fouga Magister similar to the one used by the Katangese during the siege

Inaccurate reports of the deaths of several Irish soldiers circulated in the media at the time of the attacks. Some analysts suggest that the Belgian Fouga pilot mistook bedrolls for body bags as he overflew the battlefield.[citation needed]

Until the early 21st century, the Irish state did not give much recognition to the battle of Jadotville. The term "Jadotville Jack" was sometimes applied as a term of derision about the Irish Defence Forces. After the incident no Irish soldier received any decoration for his actions at Jadotville, although 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,[25] the first in the State's history.[26]

Although "A" Company, 35th Battalion had tactically defeated a larger enemy force at Jadotville, the Irish Defence Forces' leadership did not overtly acknowledge the battle. There may have been perceived shame that "A" Company had surrendered, or because of political and strategic errors demonstrated at higher levels.[17] Quinlan eventually retired as a full colonel but never served overseas again. The Irish officers who fought at Jadotville found that it was best for one's career not to mention the battle.[citation needed]

According to RTÉ, "Commandant Quinlan's action is cited in military textbooks worldwide as the best example of the use of the so-called perimeter defence".[27]

The veterans of Jadotville were dissatisfied that the Defence Forces refused to acknowledge the battle and that there was an implied black mark on the reputation of their commander. A number of Irish soldiers, who had been involved in the siege, reputedly took their own lives in later years.[16][28] Quinlan, who died in 1997, had his public reputation restored nine years after his death.[29] John Gorman, a retired soldier who had been a 17-year-old private during the fight, campaigned to have the Battle of Jadotville recognised. In 2004 Irish Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea agreed to hold a full review of the battle. 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 on the grounds of Custume Barracks in Athlone in 2005. A commissioned portrait of Quinlan was installed in the Congo Room of the Irish Defence Forces' UN School.[30]

In October 2017 a plaque commemorating Quinlan was unveiled in his native County Kerry, by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny.[27] The decision of the state to honour the soldiers of Jadotville or their next of kin was one of the last decisions taken by Enda Kenny before he retired as Taoiseach in June 2017. They were presented with special medals in Athlone on 2 December 2017.[31]

In popular culture

Declan Power's history, The Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle (2005),[32] was adapted as the film, The Siege of Jadotville (2016).[33] The cast includes Jamie Dornan and Mark Strong, and the movie had a "well received" premiere at the 2016 Galway Film Festival.[34] It had a limited cinematic release in September 2016,[35] and worldwide release on Netflix, on 7 October 2016.[36][37] A radio documentary on the siege was broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 in 2004.[38]


  1. Among the wounded was 20-year-old Private (later Sergeant) Bill Ready from Mullingar, County Westmeath, who was shot in the leg,[15][14] and thus earned "the unusual distinction" of being the first Irish Army soldier "injured in combat on foreign soil".[14][21] He later said that after receiving medical treatment he returned to the fight as everybody was needed.[14]



  1. "Soldiers of Fortune Mercenary wars: Congo 1960/68".
  2. Ciaran Byrne (27 July 2016). "The True Story of the Heroic Battle That Inspired the New Netflix Film The Siege of Jadotville". Time. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  3. Tom Farrell (9 October 2011). "Band of brothers: Tom Farrell talks to some of the survivors 50 years on". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 October 2017. Although he is described in the text as a 'platoon commander' who was eventually a captain, the accompanying photograph is marked 'Lt Noel Carey'.
  4. Power 2005, p. 153: "the Katangans had begun moving in large numbers of troops culminating in a brigade strength unit of approximately 3,000"
  5. "Congo, Part 1; 1960–1963". Air Combat Information Group. Archived from the original on 11 November 2014. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  6. O'Donoghue 2006.
  7. Stanley Meisler (1995). United Nations: The First Fifty Years. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 9780871136565.
  8. "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. 3rd Battalion, 1st Gorkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment) was operating as part of 99th Indian Infantry Brigade during Morthor. Nambiar, Sundaram, Chhina, 'For the Honor of India: A History of Indian Peacekeeping,' Centre for Armed Forces Historical Research, USI of India, New Delhi, ISBN 978-81-902097-8-6, 2009, 201, 217.
  9. Peace Operations and Intrastate Conflict. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1999. ISBN 9780275961732.
  10. Asante 2014, p. 302-303.
  11. "War in Katanga". TIME. 22 September 1961. Archived from the original on 20 April 2008.
  12. "The True Story of the Heroic Battle That Inspired the New Netflix Film The Siege of Jadotville". TIME. 27 July 2016. probably with the aim of taking the Irish as prisoners and using them as leverage in negotiations with the U.N.
  13. Power 2005, p. 201-208.
  14. Tom Farrell (9 October 2011). "Band of brothers: Tom Farrell talks to some of the survivors 50 years on". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 October 2017. Bill Ready of Mullingar, then a private aged 20 ... Sergeant Ready was the first casualty, shot in the left thigh about four hours later. ... ... I was back out in the trenches before long because everyone was required that could move.'
  15. "Brave Vets Medal Shame; Jungle fighters honoured.. with award they had to pay for themselves". Sunday Mirror. 5 May 2002.
  16. "The legacy of Jadotville for Irish veterans: Suicide, alcoholism and PTSD". Irish Times. 19 August 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  17. Whelan 2006.
  18. Ralph Riegel, John O'Mahony (2010). Missing in Action: The 50 Year Search for Ireland's Missing Soldier. Mercier Press Ltd. p. 106. ISBN 9781856356947. [at the] Lufira River [..] the UN didn't have the bridging equipment to bypass the Katangan position [.. and ..] the Katangan gendarmes were now being led by freshly recruited French, German, Belgian and South African soldiers who were Algerian veterans almost to a manCS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  19. Asante 2014, p. 302: "Moishe Tshombe, leader of Katanga, declared, with Belgian support, Katanga independent
  20. Power 2005, p. 229: "An attempt by Gurkha infantry, accompanied by Irish armored cars, to make a lightning dash across the bridge [..led to..] Three of the Indians were killed outright and eight other soldiers were wounded"
  21. Eilis Ryan (7 November 2016). "Death of Jadotville soldier Bill Ready". Westmeath Examiner. Retrieved 30 October 2017. he was shot at Jadotville, and held the unusual distinction of being the first Irish soldier injured in combat on foreign soil
  22. Haskin 2005.
  23. Power 2005: "Quinlan's men were to find themselves in combat again, literally days before they boarded the Globemasters to go home. This time it was on the night of December 12, when the Katangese set up a roadblock near the Soco petrol depot"
  24. "The Real Siege of Jadotville Part III: Veteran Tony Dykes on the Fight for Elisabethville | All About History". Retrieved 16 May 2018.
  25. "Soldiers recognised for Jadotville bravery". RTÉ News. 17 September 2016. Retrieved 17 September 2016.
  26. "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
  27. "Former Taoiseach unveils plaque honouring Jadotville commandant". RTE. 28 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017. Commandant Quinlan's action is cited in military textbooks worldwide as the best example of the use of the so-called perimeter defence.
  28. "Five Irish soldiers took their own lives after Jadotville siege". Irish Times. 15 May 2019. Retrieved 19 October 2020.
  29. 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.
  30. Sweeney, Eamon (5 August 2016). "The Siege of Jadotville: How the bravery of Irish UN soldiers was shunned". Derry Journal. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  31. Majella O'Sullivan (29 October 2017). "Jadotville hero is honoured on the Ring of Kerry". Irish Independent. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  32. Power 2005, p. 1.
  33. "28th Galway Film Fleadh – July 2016 – The Siege of Jadotville". Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  34. "Jamie Dornan's latest film wins standing ovation at Galway Film Fleadh". Irish Independent. 11 July 2016.
  35. "'The Siege of Jadotville' to receive limited cinema release". Irish Times. 12 September 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  36. "The Siege of Jadotville (2016)". IMDb. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  37. "First trailer of Siege of Jadotville is nail-biting". RTÉ. 10 September 2016. Retrieved 11 September 2016.
  38. "The Siege At Jadotville". RTÉ Radio 1. 21 January 2004. Retrieved 15 August 2020.


Further reading

  • Doyle, Rose & Quinlan, Leo (With) (2006). Heroes of Jadotville (The Soldiers' Story). Dublin: New Island. ISBN 1-905494-31-9.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  • Dunleavy, Pat & O'Donoghue, David (Editor) (2005). "Fighting For Our Lives With 'Jadotville Jack'". The Irish Army in the Congo 1960–1964: The Far Battalions (Reprinted 2006 ed.). Irish Academic Press. pp. 105–112. ISBN 0 7165 3319 7.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Foghlú, Sean Ó. No White Feather. Book Republic. ISBN 978-1-907221-06-4.
  • Froberg, Lars & O'Donoghue, David (Editor) (2005). "Remembering Jadotville". The Irish Army in the Congo 1960–1964: The Far Battalions (Reprinted 2006 ed.). Irish Academic Press. pp. 113–126. ISBN 0 7165 3319 7.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Greene, John. Red Legs: One Irish Boy's African Adventure. ISBN 9781904244837.
  • Erik Kennes, Miles Larmer, The Katangese Gendarmes and War in Central Africa: Fighting Their Way Home, Indiana University Press, 2016