The Avondhu - By The Fireside
36TH BATTALION DECEMBER 1961 MAY 1962
Irish troops continued to serve with the United Nations in the Congo throughout 1962. Four deployments took place in that year, namely the 36th Bn (November ‘61 to May ‘62), the 37th Bn (May ‘62 to November ’62), the 38th Bn (November ‘62 to May ‘63), and the 2nd Armoured (October ‘62 to April ‘63).
The Fermoy based members of the 36th Battalion were Cmdt JR Delaney, Sgt JR O’Keeffe, Sgt S O’Sullivan, Sgt P Fraher,
Tpr W Chambers, Tpr P Doody, Tpr W Duggan, Tpr R Hanna, Tpr J Kealy, Tpr A Mulhearn, Tpr J Murphy, Tpr D Roche and Tpr W Walsh. This contingent made up part of the Armoured Car Group of the 36th.
The 36th Battalion left for the Congo in stages in December 1961. Their planned area of operations was initially to be in the Niemba Nyunzu area. The Advance Party departed Dublin on November 18th en route to Elizabethville via Wheelus Airbase Tripoli and Leopoldville and arrived in Elizabethville on November 22nd. They were then moved to the Niemba Nyunzu area to arrange to take over from the companies of the 35th Battalion, who were about to end their tour of duty and return to Ireland. Before the rest of the battalion arrived, orders were received on December 6th to redeploy to Elizabethville.
Elizabethville (now called Lubumbashi) is the capital city of Katanga, located in the southern part of Katanga, the most southern province of the Congo, just a few miles from the Rhodesian (now called Zambia) border. This province had seceded from the rest of the country in July 1960 after the Congo was granted independence from Belgium. Katanga had its own army (The Katangan Gendarmerie) and even its own currency (the Katanga Franc), which was virtually useless outside of Katanga, which was then under the leadership of Moise Tshombe.
Katanga has vast supplies of cobalt, copper, tin, uranium and diamonds. Without Katanga, the Congo would lose most of its mineral assets. Tshombe was seen in general as maintaining a puppet government controlled by Belgium and run for the benefit of the mining interests. However, not even Belgium recognised the new state despite the fact it was providing it with military assistance. Therefore, the Congo (capital city Leopoldville) under Patrice Lumumba (who was murdered and replaced by Cyrille Adola in late 1960) wanted Katanga to reunite and were prepared to use force to achieve this objective.
On September 13th, 1961 the UN launched an offensive called operation Morthor to take control of the city and arrest and repatriate the mercenaries and political advisors by force, with a view to forcing Katanga to reunite with the rest of the Congo. This situation, despite heavy fighting in September 1961 in which the Irish 35th Battalion was heavily involved, was still unresolved and about to explode into war again by December.
This was the position confronting the 36th when on December 6th the party received orders by telex to return to Elizabethville as best they could, a firm decision having been taken. The entire 36th would now deploy in Elizabethville because of the deteriorating situation there.
By the time they got to Elizabethville fierce fighting had broken out between United Nations and Katangese forces and some elements of the 36th were in slit trenches at the airport waiting to be transported to UN HQ at Leopold farm on the outskirts of the city.
‘STRAIGHT INTO BATTLE’
Lt Colonel M.F. Hogan commanded the 36th Battalion. The main party left in stages starting with the move of the main body on December 5th, 1961 and ended on December 24th. The first plane loads of the 36th were fired on while landing at Elizabethville Airport on December 7th one plane was hit and had an engine knocked out but managed to land and after the troops disembarked, it was able to take off again. The rest of the battalion landed in the following days and proceeded to take up positions around HQ at Leopold farm.
Gradually they began to take over positions under fire from the 35th who were pulled out of the line and moved to Rousseau farm to prepare for a return to Ireland, their six-month tour of duty having been completed.
The 36th went straight into battle with a number killed and wounded in operations to take and hold positions in the city including the tunnel, an important rail and road link into and out of the city. The UN were determined to take control of the city and launched operation UNOKAT on December 16th.
Irish forces launched an attack on the tunnel beginning at 4am on the morning of the 16th and though coming under heavy fire from Katangese forces and losing two, being killed, were in control of the position 06:30hrs. By December 17th, UN forces-controlled Elizabethville. Fighting continued until December 20th when a ceasefire was arranged and Tshombe agreed to talks which took place in Kitona on December 20th. Here, he signed an 8-point plan on December 21st that renounced Katanga’s secession from the rest of the Congo.
While the heavy fighting was over, the situation in Katanga remained uneasy. Outbreaks of inter-tribal warfare continued on the outskirts of the city and UN armoured cars patrolled African communes to maintain order.
On February 15th, the Katanga Assembly authorized the Katanga government to enter into discussions with Leopoldville government to agree an end to Katanga secession.
The situation in Elizabethville then settled down. While UN forces had to be on the alert at all times and were called on to patrol and keep the peace, when necessary, the war situation encountered when the 36th landed in December had ended.
The battalion embarked for home beginning on May 20th, the last Globemaster aeroplane did not leave Leopoldville until May 29th and landed in Dublin on May 30th due to engine trouble. So ended the 36th deployment, however not without casualties.
Six members died, two were killed in action, two died from wounds received, one died accidently, and one died of natural causes. Sixteen were wounded in action. Six were injured due to an accidental discharge of an 84mm recoilless rifle (anti-tank weapon). Luckily, the Fermoy contingent all returned home safe and well.
MAY 1962 - NOVEMBER 1962
The Fermoy based members of the 37th were: Lt A Walsh, A/Sqn Sgt W Gleeson, Sgt R Barry, Cpl W Nolan, Cpl J Nolan, Cpl P Power, Tpr P Crofton, Tpr T Carey, Tpr. O’Halloran, Tpr T O’Mahoney, Tpr T O’Herlihy, Tpr J O’Connor and Tpr R O’Sullivan.
The 37th Battalion was commanded by Lt Col D Ó Broin. This tour of duty was relatively quiet compared to the heavy fighting encountered by the previous con