The Avondhu - By The Fireside
tingent, namely the 1st infantry group 35th and 36 battalion’s. The advance party left Dublin on May 8th en route to Elizabethville. The airlift of the remainder of the 37th began on May 18th and was completed on May 28th. The battalion’s destination was changed at this stage from Elizabethville to Leopoldville, except for the Armoured Car Group which landed in Leopoldville on June 8th and left for Elizabethville on June 11th.
The battalion was accommodated in Camp Martini on the outskirts of the city. Conditions were difficult at first being aggravated by the departure of the 36th which used this location as a transit camp. However, with the departure of the 36th for home completed, conditions improved greatly.
The battalion was given the following tasks: a) The security of the airport; b) Security of U.N. stores and rations at the airport; c) Protection of atomic reactor at Lovanium University; d) Hold and guard mercenaries; e) To have uncommitted troops ready to go into action at one hour’s notice.
Mr Tshombe was in Leopoldville at this time having talks with Mr Adoula then Prime Minister of the Congo regarding the reunification of the Congo. This meant elaborate security arrangements had to be in place
The airport security was the responsibility of A Company. C Company was on stand-too, and B Company was in reserve. With the departure of a Nigerian contingent, the responsibility for Tshombe’s protection fell on B company.
A major problem at this stage was the shortage of supplies including ammunition, radio sets, transport and other items of stores essential to carry out normal tasks which had been sent to Elizabethville as part of the original deployment plan. However, bit by bit supplies arrived from Elizabethville.
The units stay in Leopoldville was generally quiet and without any major incidents. Mr Tshombe left for Elizabethville on June 12th. C Company was on duty at the airport and the rest of the battalion was put on stand-to at 0.2:00hrs. Tshombe arrived at 0.710hrs and left without any disturbance.
On July 12th the battalion was placed on 12 hours’ notice to pack up and leave for Elizabethville. This order was cancelled, and some stores had to be unpacked for use. Then on July 17th the battalion was informed they would be air lifted to Elizabethville beginning at 0.300 hrs on the 18th. The unit hurriedly completed preparations for the lift and with aircraft leaving at half hour intervals, the last plane lifted off at 0600hrs on the 19th.
On arrival in Elizabethville the Irish were stationed at Leopold farm. Other UN troops in the city consisted of the following - Madras (Indian) Gurkhas, Raj Rifles (Indian) Tunisian, and Ethiopian forces.
The battalion settled in and morale improved with the climate more favourable than in Leopoldville and much better accommodation.
Duties during the following period mainly consisted of guards, patrols and training. The battalion was placed in Katanga Command reserve and was allotted the following provisional tasks: a) To be prepared to counterattack any Katangese
Gendarmerie attack on the Airport; b). To maintain freedom of movement for U.N. personnel and troops in Elizabethville; c) To assist as required in any other operation.
Other operations of note were the location of the remains of Tpr Anthony Browne of the 33rd Battalion, killed in action at Niemba in November 1960. A small party of 4 officers were sent to Niemba and after a short search the remains were recovered and identified by an anthropologist at Ruashi University near Elizabethville.
At the same time, the remains of Corporal Michael Nolan killed in action on September 15th, 1961, were exhumed from Union Miniere cemetery in Elizabethville. Both bodies were returned to Ireland and laid to rest in the Congo plot in Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin.
The remainder of the 37th tour of duty passed off without the unit becoming involved in any serious outbreak of fighting and the role consisted mainly of patrols and security. No fatalities were recorded, and injuries sustained tended to be not too serious and were treated by battalion medical personnel or in the UN hospital in Elizabethville.
The advance party of the unit left for home on October 24th. The last plane carrying Bn Headquarters and the Calvary personnel arriving in Collinstown (Dublin Airport) on November 15th.
Two further deployments left Ireland in 1962 - the 2nd Armoured in October and the 38th Batallion in November. Most of those units’ time in the Congo took place in 1963 and will be dealt with in a future article in