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Modern Irish Defence Force Awards


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Hi Ulsterman,

No First Class, of this type, were ever awarded - this example one of ony a few in existence.

The only First Class (design variation) ever awarded was to a Trooper Anthony Browne in the UN Congo Mission.

A small patrol of Irish soldiers under Lt Kevin Gleeson had set out to examine a damaged bridge near Niemba when they were attacked by 200 warriors. Gleeson was forced to order his men to open fire as they got to a small hill, but they were quickly overrun, killing about two dozen of their attackers. Some of the soldiers managed to scatter into the bush, and one of them, Trooper Anthony Browne, won Ireland's highest military award for bravery that day, the Military Medal for Gallantry.Browne had a chance of escaping but he fired his sub-machinegun at a group of Balubas attacking Pte Tom Kenny, who was one of two survivors of the 11-man patrol.Trooper Browne's body was recovered in 1962 in a special Irish Army operation.

Regards - An Ceallach

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Hi Ulsterman,

No First Class, of this type, were ever awarded - this example one of ony a few in existence.

The only First Class (design variation) ever awarded was to a Trooper Anthony Browne in the UN Congo Mission.

A small patrol of Irish soldiers under Lt Kevin Gleeson had set out to examine a damaged bridge near Niemba when they were attacked by 200 warriors. Gleeson was forced to order his men to open fire as they got to a small hill, but they were quickly overrun, killing about two dozen of their attackers. Some of the soldiers managed to scatter into the bush, and one of them, Trooper Anthony Browne, won Ireland's highest military award for bravery that day, the Military Medal for Gallantry.Browne had a chance of escaping but he fired his sub-machinegun at a group of Balubas attacking Pte Tom Kenny, who was one of two survivors of the 11-man patrol.Trooper Browne's body was recovered in 1962 in a special Irish Army operation.

Regards - An Ceallach

Trooper Browne's award was actually a Second Class, not a First Class. The First Class has never been awarded and most likely never will since if they could not give it to Browne (or some of the other 2nd class recipients like Commandant Michael Nestor for example) it is difficult to see how anyone could ever get it. I believe Browne's medal is still with the family despite the efforts of a mutual acquaintance of ours to persuade them to sell it.

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how did you get a 1st class??? there probably one of the rarest awards ever made and has been said have never been awarded!!!!!!

The 1st class has never been awarded and most likely never will. Personally I think the powers that be at the time of the award to Browne messed it up by awarding a 2nd class since they effectively created a benchmark which made a future award of a 1st class impossible. How much braver can you be than to willingly draw fire onto your own position and hold off an attack (giving your life in the process) in order to save a comrade. It should also be pointed out that Trooper Browne was only about 18 at the time of his deed.

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ah i know but still not bad for nothing!!! ;) !but yeah in Ireland alot of people say the same thing!i think the joke is to win the 1st class you have to die twice to win it!! :ninja::ninja:

A rare medal indeed. Is it the recession uncovering these rarities, I was offer 3 Good Conduct medals at the last North Star fair. And is it the recession that is killing off the Dublin medal dealers. Paddy is gone from the Powers Court centre and I hear Cyril has given up the shop as well.

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The 1st class has never been awarded and most likely never will. Personally I think the powers that be at the time of the award to Browne messed it up by awarding a 2nd class since they effectively created a benchmark which made a future award of a 1st class impossible. How much braver can you be than to willingly draw fire onto your own position and hold off an attack (giving your life in the process) in order to save a comrade. It should also be pointed out that Trooper Browne was only about 18 at the time of his deed.

Hallo Paul :beer:

I agree with your post above, the only other reason I could imagine is the First Class award is

being held in Reserve for an officer rank, should he ever make the ultimate sacrifice.

Another anomaly in my opinion is the fact that Reserve Defence Force personnel

get a "21" year bar to add to their service medals, whereas the Regulars get no such bar.

More penny-pinching to save cash?

Kevin in Deva. :beer:

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What a rare thing indeed! Until 1984, the MMG was awarded in three classes, 1st, 2nd and 3rd, the grade denoted by the pattern of the riband. The grades have, I believe, since been described as the Military Medal for Gallantry with Honour, or so-called 1st Class grade, followed by the "with Distinction" and "with Merit" grades. When it was instituted in 1944, Ireland was a neutral state in the style of Sweden or Switzerland and the award was for members of the Defence Forces for exceptional valour in non-combat situations. They clearly couldn't have foreseen United Nations-related situations involving extreme combat, like the Niemba Ambush on 8.11.1960, for which Anto Browne received a posthumous MMG 2nd Class.



He endeavoured to create an opportunity to allow an injured comrade to escape by firing his Gustaf thereby drawing attention to his own position which he must have been aware would endanger his life. He had a reasonable opportunity to escape because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade.

The text of the citation suggests that Browne died at the scene of the ambush. However, this does not seem to have been the case. The patrol?s mission was the repair of a river crossing near the village of Niemba, damaged by local Baluba tribesmen aiming to hinder raids into their territory by Katangan secessionist troops. These local Baluba were loyal to the government installed in L?opoldville the previous June, following independence from Belgium.

The UN forces were there to try to maintain order. This brief justified the dispatch of Lt Gleeson and his ten-man patrol to repair the bridge in question. For their part, the local Baluba must have seen this as not just an unacceptable interference in their affairs but an action that seemed to favour the interests of their enemies.

Niemba was a cock-up. The patrol had no working radio equipment and were wearing home-issue kit, totally unsuitable for conditions in the Congo. Even though the Irishmen killed at least twenty-five of their attackers, the fact remains that it was a terrible defeat, compounded by the fact that Lt Gleeson had ordered the patrol?s two Bren gunners, including Kenny, to leave their weapons in the truck when they bebussed, so they were unarmed, despite their protests. Three of the men, including Browne, were armed with Gustav submachine guns. The rest had Lee-Enfield Mk4s. Some Irish Congo veterans feel that Gleeson might have been court-martialled had he survived.

Gleeson and his men came under a hail of arrows, some of which had been dipped in Black Mamba venom. In the ensuing battle, eight of the Irish soldiers were killed, either outright or beaten and hacked to death as they lay wounded or dying from the snake venom. Three Irish soldiers escaped: Ptes Kenny, Fitzpatrick and?Browne. Kenny and Fitzpatrick were found alive by search parties in the following days but Browne was listed as missing, presumed dead.

Of the eleven man patrol, just two survived: Ptes Thomas Kenny and Joe Fitzpatrick. Lt Kevin Gleeson, Sgt Hugh Gaynor, Cpls Peter Kelly and Liam Dougan and Ptes Matthew Farrell, Thomas Fennel, Gerard Killeen, Michael McGuinn and Anthony Browne were killed.

When the badly wounded Kenny was found early in the morning of 10.11.1960, he identified himself and was said to have described Browne as the only member of the patrol who did not panic. Kenny allegedly stated that attacking Baluba warriors were attracted to Browne because of the sound of his Gustav submachine gun and that Browne then drew the Baluba away from the wounded Kenny, who subsequently lost sight of him. Kenny had been pierced by four arrows, one of which fractured his skull. Kenny also reportedly described Browne as dragging him into cover before running in the opposite direction, chased by ten or more Baluba.

Given the heroism of Anthony Browne, as publicised by the Irish authorities at the time, it does indeed seem odd that Browne did not receive the highest grade of the Military Medal for Gallantry, as illustrated in this thread. As the citation stated: "He had a reasonable opportunity of escaping because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade". Browne?s parents were duly presented with their son?s MMG 2nd Class in September 1961.

However, about a year later, an Irish Army officer stationed in the Katangan capital Elizabethville learned from a Belgian official that the whereabouts of Browne?s remains were known. These were recovered by the Irish Army on 7.11.1962 and a four-page report was filed, following enquiries in the area. As a result of the report, 33 Bn?s unit history was amended by the addition of an appendix to the account of the Niemba action, which stated:

Information which we had received from Baluba survivors [of the 8 November 1960 incident at Niemba] in Manono hospital led us to believe that he [browne] had been killed immediately after saving Private Kenny, and that his body had been removed from the scene by the ambushers?. The amendment further stated: :?Apparently some days after the ambush,wounded,exhausted and starving he [browne] had called some women at the outskirts of the village [of Tundulu] and asked them for food and directions to the railway line, offering them 200 francs. They took his money but instead of helping him they told the young men of the village who came out and killed him.?

The late Brigadier-General P D Hogan, commanding the Niemba search and recovery operations in November 1960, had this to say in an interview shortly before his death in 2004:

It was a sad business. Sadder was the fact that Browne was alive?a fact which hasn?t added to the gaiety of my life since,I can tell you. He travelled some miles through the bush, as Kenny did, but he didn?t come out onto the road as Kenny did. Kenny was lucky to find the road. There was no road right or left of it for twenty miles. He was bloody lucky. But poor Browne didn?t find the road. If he did we would have picked him up. He went back towards Niemba?whether that was by design or by accident?through the bush. Some days later on he was lying outside a village and some young women came out collecting firewood. By signs,he offered them money for food. They went back to the village but instead of bringing out food they brought out young men who beat him to death. We found his skeleton two or three years later on. I have a photograph of it, indeed. His remains were brought home and buried with full military honours in Dublin.

The Irish Army managed to arrest some of the Baluba involved in the ambush, who received fairly light prison terms. The army report on this operation, comprising a raid on the hospital where the Baluba wounded were being treated, remains unpublished. Before the Niemba incident, the Irish UN soldiers in the region had been on reasonably friendly terms with the Baluba although Kenny is further quoted as saying that the ambush happened because army staff ignored warning signs of unrest amongst the local Baluba following incidents such as the wounding of a local chief?s son by an Irish soldier. For their part, the Baluba have always maintained, since the publication of their own report, written on 9.11.1960, less than twenty-four hours later, that the Irish opened fire first.

This was rather embarrassing, of course, so the Irish Army decided to stick to the official version of events. However, in 2000, Thomas Kenny made some rather controversial statements. which were reported in The Irish Independent, amongst other newspapers:


Kenny said: "I am not trying to denigrate the bravery of Anto Browne during that attack when it was every man for himself, I saw him firing and fighting with the best of them. But everyone believes he died to save me and that is not the truth. It is a terrible burden for everyone to think that the reason I am alive is because someone gave up his life to save me. It just isn't true and I want what really happened to become public knowledge rather than just among the Army, who have never came out and said what really happened".

If Kenny's statements are true and he did indeed make a frank report to his superiors upon his return from the Congo, then this might explain why Anthony Browne did not receive the highest grade of the Military Medal for Gallantry at the time. There may have been dissension resulting in a compromise of sorts. It certainly seems to be the case that Browne did not lay down his life for his comrades, as the official version of events and the citation state, because he survived the action and was killed several days afterwards. The eight other men killed in the action received posthumous awards in 1998 as part of a general issue of retrospective and posthumous awards.

However, awards for Niemba had previously been proposed in D?il ?ireann at various times; in 1987, Defence Minister Noonan had parried with a vague undertaking to consider the possibility of a memorial to the fallen of Niemba. This, at least, was better than his predecessor?s reponse in 1985 to the proposals of MMGs or DSMs for the Niemba fallen: ?The best memorial to those men is the certain knowlege to their families that the men are remembered with pride and affection by the Irish people?.

Neither Tom Kenny nor Joe Fitzpatrick received any awards. Perhaps Thomas Kenny had a black mark on his record for trying to set the record straight with the report he made to his superiors when he got back from the Congo. Perhaps the Irish Army feels that surviving was sufficient recompense for Kenny and Fitzpatrick. However, the lasting image for me in relation to this terrible affair, however, is that of poor Anto Browne dying alone out there. I suppose his parents eventually learned the truth, which must have been pretty grim for them. If their son's MMG brought them some comfort, then who would begrudge them that? He probably earned it, even if the citation gets it wrong.


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To say that it is a pleasure would be a clumsy use of words but you know what I mean, Paul. It was a terrible incident and all the worse because Gleeson's patrol was simply doing what the UN forces were supposed to do in terms of maintaining open lines of communication. Whoever sent a ten-man patrol and a young officer to repair a bridge known to be a hot point between the two factions the UN were trying to keep apart ought to have been cashiered.

I shan't bore you with an explanation of how the area around the bridge should have been secured to at least a reasonable minimum but anyone with even the most basic military training in field tactics and field craft would agree that near-criminal recklessness was one of the contributing factors to Niemba. From the young subaltern who ordered the Brens to be left in the truck - unattended! - against SOPs, despite being told, apparently, by Pte Kenny that it was ill-advised and against orders, to the idiots who ordered them out there to fix the bridge, heads should have rolled.

Ah well, poor Gleeson did pay a heavy price and one oughtn't to speak ill of the dead and all that, but considering that they took out at least twenty-five attackers with the weapons they had, they might have fared better had Kenny and the other Bren gunner been covering the operation from fire positions instead of deployed as unarmed manual labourers. It is hard to say because they were heavily outnumbered.

The action of the Baluba in drafting a statement the following day proves that, savage through they were in battle, these were not simple, ignorant tribesmen. They were not "savages", as they were described in various quarters. They were gendarmes. They were, for their intents and purposes, members of a bona fide paramilitary unit with a brief to defend their territory and their people from hostile incursions.

They were brutal because Belgian rule had brutalised them, a legacy that persists to this day in the region. Paradoxically, it had been an Irishman, Sir Roger Casement, who brought Belgian bestiality in the Congo to the World's attention before the First World War, an exposure that led to slightly better behaviour on the part of the Belgians and, ultimately, independence in 1960.

Some elements amongst the local Baluba certainly realised that they had erred in slaughtering the Irish UN soldiers, hence the statement and, perhaps, the murder of Browne, whom they probably viewed as a witness who might identify perpetrators. Or perhaps they just liked killing white people. This would be understandable, given their history with the Belgians. Here is the other side's view of the Niemba incident, in the form of a report by Commandant Louis Mambwe of the Kiambi Gendarmerie. The report was drafted on 9.11.1960 and released as a statement on 15.11.1960.

Territory of Manono

Kiambi Post

Kiambi, 15 November 1960

Re:Kasanga chieftainship?s war against the UN.

I,the undersigned, Louis Mambwe, Commandant of the Kiambi gendarmes, present the following report:

When we left Kiambi on 9 November 1960,Chief Kasanga and his president, Andr? Ngoie, told us that they had fought that battle the day before?that is to say, on 8 November.

This is how it happened:

1 We were told that those against whom we had fought were UN people. That is not possible. If they had been UN personnel, they would not have been patrolling with some of our enemies among them. This is the third time they have come to our area, because we don?t have a war here. We only want to fight the Kiambi people; those are the ones whom we seek. We have learned that they are real men and that?s why we want to fight them.

2 Those Europeans from the Niemba post,came here for the third time. What was their motive? It?s 35 km from Niemba to Kasanga, and at the 25-km mark there runs a small river called the Lweyeye; we destroyed the bridge spanning it because we feared our enemies would come that way to enter our territory. We are all members of the coalition here, as are the Kiambi people. Although the Europeans constantly repaired the bridge,we demolished their work each time. They asked us if the Kiambi people had come to demolish their work on the bridge and we replied, ?Yes?. Then they told us they wanted to fight against the Kiambi people. The first time they said that, they went back because it was impossible to advance.

3 Another day, they came to repair the bridge again and said they were from the UN. We let them do it but we thought that if they were from the UN, they could not fight against the coalition. They returned to Niemba saying they?d come back in three days.

4 Then we asked ourselves how we would know if they were from the UN or were our enemies, the next time they?d arrive at our barrier.

5 Our commander?an ex-sergeant major, first class?said we should dress in our coalition clothing, including leopard-skin headdress, as if preparing for combat. The UN people had already seen coalition warriors dressed like this. If they were really UN people, they would not do anything.

6 When it was time for them to go to Kiambi, our commander called his gendarmes to enact the battle. He positioned his advance guard at the barrier to our territory. Then he told us that when these men came, he would approach them dressed as a member of the coalition. If, at that moment,they fired their rifles, it would mean they weren?t UN personnel but our enemies. Ngoie is the president of the Kasanga Senate, imposed by the Niemba administration to the aforementioned chief.

7 In fact,when they arrived on the other side of the Lweyeye, our commander approached them. He put a leopard-skin on his head, in the manner of the coalition [forces] and left with four gendarmes.

8 The commander went in front of their truck, with his gendarmes, and pointed to the leopard-skin on his head. All of a sudden, without warning, he was struck by bullets, as were the four gendarmes. The commander fell dead on the spot.

9 Seeing that their commander had been shot dead,along with the four others who had followed him, the remaining gendarmes, who were armed, unleashed a hail of arrows.

10 When these enemies saw the coalition forces firing arrows, they increased the firing rate of their own weapons, which included a machinegun and a Bren gun. Having seen this,the coalition forces understood that these people did not intend to flee and were behaving like enemies. They [the coalition forces] continued to fire their arrows.

11 In truth, many enemy and coalition personnel died there. The battle began at 3 o?clock and finished at 5 o?clock. Bodies were scattered everywhere.

12 Now, we are accused of having waged war against the UN, whereas it was they who were at fault: (a) it was they who started shooting; (b) they fired non-stop for two hours, until the end of the battle?why?; ? we saw no difference between the UN and our enemies because they didn?t stop firing.

13 If they were from the UN, they would have stopped firing for a second or a minute, and the battle would not have continued. In any case, there would not have been so many gendarmes killed.

Kasanga, 9 November 1960

Commandant Louis Mambwe

Edited by PKeating
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Coming back to Niemba, the debates continue in the D?il:

2005: http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/...0511030014.html

2006: http://historical-debates.oireachtas.ie/D/...0611160017.html

In the second record from a Dublin parliament session in 2006, Defence Minister Willie O'Dea stated:

The second area of controversy in regard to the record of the Niemba ambush is what did Trooper Browne do to contribute to the survival of Private Kenny. The report clearly concludes that prior to his escape from the ambush site, Trooper Browne fired his weapon at the Balubas who were intent on beating Private Kenny to death, thereby distracting them and saving his life. The Medal Board that was convened in 1961 awarded Trooper Browne the military medal for gallantry.

Despite all the research, consultation and interviews, there is no absolute certainty achievable in regard to these two matters of controversy. I wish, however, to address some of the ambiguity that may have resulted from the two scenarios recorded in the unit history. In the absence of the wide and detailed research available to me now, the best advice previously available to me was that Trooper Browne most likely died at the scene of the ambush and the Baluba tribesmen carried his remains away. This must now be discounted.

I wholeheartedly recognise and acknowledge that Private Kenny, particularly in view of the serious wounds and injuries he sustained, and Private Fitzpatrick survived a horrific encounter with hostile forces, displaying courage, fortitude and tenacity in order to survive until finally rescued. I commend them both for the selfless service they gave to their country and hope that this report will bring some peace of mind to them both.

So the truth is finally albeit gradually emerging, dragged from the Irish authorities as if it were blood from stones. It might, of course, have been more convenient for the Irish establishment had Kenny and Fitzpatrick also died. As for MMGs or DCMs for Kenny and Fitzpatrick, the Minister offers them "peace of mind" as a reward not just for displaying "the courage, fortitude and tenacity" of their dead comrades, who all received posthumous medals in 1998, but surviving.

O'Dea continued:

Now that we have fuller information, I am required to officially correct the record and I have no difficulty with doing so. I also have no difficulty with making an apology to the two men if the original record at my Department got the facts wrong. I apologise for any trauma or grief caused by the fact that the record was incorrect.

It is not within my power to grant a medal. That is a matter for the Army, which decides on who is awarded medals. In this case it recommended not to do so, which is no reflection on either of the gentlemen in question. Detailed considerations are involved. After two military boards, the Army has not recommended medals. I cannot tell the Army when to award a medal.

The report has just come into the public domain and the type of recognition to be given is still under discussion. I hope we will find a way to adequately recognise the courage and fortitude of these two men.

Mr O'Dea seemed to be saying that the Irish Defence Forces were not subordinate to his ministry. Great! Roll on military rule in Ireland! The ghost of Eoin O'Duffy must be smiling. Well, if the Irish Army were subordinate to the government elected by the Irish People, Mr O'Dea and his colleagues might be able to advise the military board to recommend awards to the two survivors of Niemba, given that it is abundantly clear that they were not only as brave as their comrades but managed to survive in very hostile country until they were rescued.

On top of that, Kenny was unarmed as a result of the order to leave his Bren in the truck. Browne may well have saved Kenny by drawing his attackers away, in which case he might have deserved the MMG 1st Class, had he been killed doing so or not. Kenny contends that Browne did not save him. Kenny was probably delirious when he was found after the fight so anything he may or may not have said then might not be reliable but in the light of his more recent statements, it seems as if the Irish Army wanted a hero and Browne was the man, Ireland having always placed a higher premium on dead rather than living heroes.

According to the Baluba "gendarmes", the Irish were firing with at least one Bren. It is possible that the other Bren gunner managed to retrieve his weapon from the truck. After all, if the Baluba version is to be given any credence, the Irish managed to hold hordes of fearless tribesmen off for two hours. Two hours is a long time. A lot of ammunition would be required for a section to maintain the high rates of fire suggested by the Baluba's own account of the engagement and the recollections of Kenny and Fitzpatrick. The initial firefight may have taken a few moments, whilst the butchering of the dead and wounded Irishmen and the decoration of trees with their body parts and innards may have lasted until 17:00 hrs, before the victors retired to celebrate around their fires.

However, if we are to be politically correct and to place as much faith in an enemy action report - although the UN cannot refer to hostile combattants as "the enemy" - in this case as we would place in, say, a German report on which Allied bravery decorations were based in the Second World War, we would be obliged to conclude that Ptes Kenny, Fitzpatrick and Browne were the last men standing at the end of a two-hour defensive battle and that they then escaped and evaded enemy forces for several days afterwards, trying to make it back to their lines, we would have to concede that Kenny and Fitzpatrick deserved to be decorated as much as their less-fortunate comrade Browne.

There are quite a few people in Ireland who share this viewpoint, hence the regular pressing of the question by various TDs in the D?il. The Irish establishment awarded the Military Star (An R?alt Mileata) to the NoK of the Niemba KIA at Collins Barracks in June 1998, this being an exclusively posthumous decoration for members of the Irish armed forces who have been killed in the line of duty. Other MS were awarded that day. So the MS cannot be awarded to Kenny and Fitzpatrick.

One is always wary of devaluing military awards by allowing politicians to hand them out decades after an event as if they were candy but this does seem to be a case in which the Irish establishment has behaved shabbily, from causing those men to be out there so badly equipped in the first place to all the prevarication and obfuscation of the intervening years. In view of the revelations following the award of the MMG 2nd Class to Browne, who, as we have concluded here, probably earned it even if the wrong reasons were cited, his fellow survivors should certainly receive the MMG as well. Ideally, they ought to receive the MMG 2nd Class.

Something fairly similar to the Niemba fiasco happened to some French paratroopers in Afghanistan this year. Those men were let down badly. The difference is that President Sarkozy had the character to fly out there and assume responsibility. It is time for Ireland to assume responsibility for Niemba and to put things right by apologising publicly to the survivors and to the next-of-kin of the dead and by decorating the survivors, thereby giving them something tangible that they can wear on their lapels to show that their country really does care...

A parade in front of Collins Barracks in Dublin, even if it is a museum now, with Tom Kenny and Joe Fitzpatrick receiving the MMG from the President of Ireland would be a fine thing to see. It would be a graceful gesture by an Ireland that paid so much lip service to the question of protecting the country's neutrality during the lead-up to the recent Lisbon Treaty referendum. Perhaps they will rectify all this for the 50th Anniversary of Niemba in 2010. Or they could just do the decent thing and call Kenny and Fitzpatrick up in front of the nation sooner rather than later.

And pigs might fly...

Edited by PKeating
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Hallo Mr. Keating :beer:

thanks for the interesting posts with regards the Niemba ambush,

you might find the following to be of some interest as it deals with the Congo UN Mission:

"Lessons from the Congo" by Declan Power.

Published in the Defence Forces Review 2008.

. . . . . . . Although U.N. troops were speedily deployed to the Congo, landing there only two days after the U.N. Resolution was passed, they were no means a cohesive force.

As a basic military force in the field O.N.U.C. was not just unwieldy, it basically did not function and a position paper on the Congo from Waterloo University in Ontario, Canada points out some of the special rules which the Secretary-General developed for the mission, but which in turn seriously curtailed the scope of the entire operation:

1. The force was to be under the exclusive command of the Secretary-General, responsible only to the Security Council.

2. It could not take orders from the host government and it had to be separate and distinct from the activities of any national authorities.

3. The U.N. could not become a party to internal conflicts. U.N. troops could not be used to enforce any specific political situation.

4. The force was supposed to have freedom of movement throughout the Congo.

5. U.N. troops could use force only in self-defence and could not exercise any initiative in the use of armed force.

6. The composition of the force would be decided by the Secretary-General, although the views of the host country would be considered.

7. National units in the U.N. force would only take orders from the U.N. and not from their home governments.

Additionally these troops who arrived in the Congo were lightly armed. They were equipped and briefed for what could best be described as a police-type action involving the restoration of law and order and dealing with recalcitrant members of the mutinous A.N.C.

By the 15th July, more than 1,200 troops were on the ground and within a month the total had soared to 14,000, drawn from 24 states. In terms of numbers involved, and the scope of the mission, this was a force of unprecedented magnitude but in order to have any prospect of success clear mission objectives with defined command, control, and communications systems were required. Whether the United Nations could actually control such a force was unclear.


However, the root of the post-deployment difficulties lay in the erratic personality of Patrice Lumumba. In 1960 there seemed little doubt that Lumumba was under the influence of Communist advisers.

Even U.N. Secretary-General Hammarskjold believed this to be true and the Prime Minister showed little interest in cooperating with the U.N. in its efforts to restore order and deal with the secessionist province of Katanga where President Moise Tshombe, with the assistance of Belgian officers and civilian advisers had established an oasis of relative tranquility.

Tshombe persistently refused to admit U.N. troops while Lumumba demanded that the U.N. expel the Belgians from Katanga and compel Tshombe to end his secession. Hammarlskjold could not do this without violating all of his own ground rules and while he personally led the first U.N. contingent into Katanga in a move to establish the U.N.'s right to freedom of movement, this did nothing to resolve the political impasse.

The O.N.U.C. force comprised troops from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Ceylon, Denmark, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Liberia, Malaya, Federation of Mali, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Sweden, Tunisia, United Arab Republic and Yugoslavia.

Cultural, linguistic and economic factors were to be a major issue when it came to leading and administering such a force and the situation was compounded by the attitude of the host country who the U.N. were supposed to be assisting.

Documents compiled by Canadian staff officers at the time show that while the Congo government invited the U.N. to come into their country in order to establish law and order and restore economic life, the Prime Minister and some of his colleagues quickly became antagonistic to white troops in particular and to the U.N. force in general. The Canadians stated that it was becoming more obvious with each passing day that a police state was in the making.


Following initial confusion about who was to be the senior O.N.U.C. military officer Major-General Carl von Horn from Sweden was the one who took the reigns of leadership. However the main problem he faced was rooted in the fact that the O.N.U.C. military leadership was hamstrung by the O.N.U.C. civilian leadership who insisted upon taking operational decisions which they were ill-equipped to make.

O.N.U.C. was composed of both a military and civil wing with the heads of both operations subordinated to a Special Representative, Dr. Ralph Bunche, who reported directly to Secretary General Hammarskjpld. This created major problems for von Horn who upon arrival at Leopoldville found the military side of the mission in total chaos with O.N.U.C. and its military planners completely incapable of filling the vacuum created by the quick departure of the Belgian government.

It was clear there was an intense need for an international force to restore order but in a subsequent book on his peacekeeping experiences, "Soldiering for Peace", von Horn confirmed all of his difficulties particularly the poor facilities and lack of communications.

Even his transfer from U.N.T.S.O. in the Middle East had difficulties. The aircraft flying him to Africa broke down and arriving on the 18th July he immediately objected to decisions already made by the U.N. political leadership which he felt were degrading his force's ability to conduct military opperations.

So strongly did he feel about this that he threatened to resign on three seperate occasions in the month following his arrival. The first occurred when Hammarskjold turned down a request for a larger force to impliment the mandate.

The second crisis erupted when von Horn discovered all of his communications were being filtered through a civilian sieve before reaching their destination at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

But the straw that nearly broke the camel's back, and consequently was to cause morale and operational probelems for the O.N.U.C. troops on the ground were the political decisions to return arms previously seized from the A.N.C. units in U.N. raids.

Added to these complications was the increasingly erratic and hostile attitude of the Congolese government to O.N.U.C. forces. A state of martial law was declared in August with demands that all U.N. personnel, civil and military, carry I.D. and produce it on request to the Congolese authorities. While this could be interpreted as the fledgling state simply trying to assert authority, it also seriously impeded the conduct of O.N.U.C. operations.

Canadian staff officers at O.N.U.C. Headquarters reporting on the situation states that O.N.U.C. was primarily a civilian organisation with a military component. Having started with a handful of U.N. officials under Buche, and a small group of officers (mostly Canadian) borrowed from U.N.E.F. in Sinai and U.N.T.S.O., the organisation had mushroomed into an awesome establishment, but lacked cohesion, know-how and any real practical authority.

The Canadians stated that "for weeks, civilians, officers and other ranks have been pouring in from all over the world: people who have little in common and who are tied by strings which prevent or restrict their use. This rapid expansion of HQ O.N.U.C. seemingly without plan, has resulted in most of the effort being directed at their own administration to the detriment of the 18,000 troops spread over a territory as large as the whole of Ontario but without its means of communication. This situation, together with an almost total lack of telephonic communication between offices and an impossible accommodation set up has caused intolerable delay, confusion and frustration right from the start and the end is not yet in sight."

By late 1960, von Horn had fallen into ill health and had withdrawn more and more from operational decision-making. His senior staff officers were now despairing and in December von Horn returned to U.N.T.S.O. when a new O.N.U.C. force commander was appointed to take his place - General Sean McKeown from Ireland.

While McKeown's main problem was stabilizing the Congo he also had the added difficulty associated with the politically sensitive nature of his planning staff. The officers a commanding general has to assist him are crucial to the formation of strategy and implementation of policy.

Staff officers are the generals hands, eyes and ears and normally will have been assembled over a number of years. They are usually bright up-and-coming officers who in addition to being professionally competent, will also be attuned to the personality and nuances of their commander. Such cohesion in times of stress can be the difference between operational success and tactical failure.

When McKeown arrived he had to accept a number of people on his staff who were there purely to satisfy political demands and agendas and while there were some Canadians, a few Irish, and a number of well-regarded Indian officers, there were a number of others whose military education and poor English made for very difficult communication. There were also a number of other officers who privately questioned McKeowns judgment by citing his lack of previous war experience.


One of the first tenants of any military operation is the provision of good intelligence without which the commander cannot carry out any realistic estimate of the situation or the appreciation of the ground. And aside from purely military applications, it gives a commander an understanding of such things as enemy morale, local civilian morale and prospective cultural interpretation of his own military strategies.

But more importantly, good intelligence acts as a force multiplier in areas such as devising or countering propaganda or psychological operations and used in such a fashion it may often achieve objectives with minimum-loss. Therefore intelligence must be examined from both the strategic and tactical points of view and employed correctly as commanders like McKeown devise operations, and subordinates on the ground execute them.

But what was the U.N.'s intelligence-gathering capability in O.N.U.C.? Commenting on a report produced by Swedish Colonel Jonas Waern in which he examined the situation in Elisabethville, Connor Cruise O'Brien recalled that Waern referred to several items of information as having been "gleamed from my spies".

This touches on a particularly sensitive point because while individual countries supporting the U.N. operation did maintain intelligence networks, the U.N. itself did not. Hammerskjold actually referred to this on one occasion at a meeting of the Congo Advisory Committee. He admitted that this was a serious handicap but justified the situation on the grounds that the U.N. must have clean hands.

O'Brien rightly observed that trying to institute such a service would have been fraught with difficulties where in attempting to observe the necessary tight security between so many different nations there would have been the added practical difficulties of language, not to mention the traditional perception that intelligence gathering essentially involved lying, bribery, blackmail theft and so on.

The U.N. also agonized over the belief that any U.N. intelligence service would be subject to infiltration by agents of national services - which in fact provides an argument for not having a U:N: force committed to any area of conflict to begin with.

In any case Hammerskojld's "clean hands" aspiration ( with corresponding lack of intelligence) frequently resulted in bloodied peacekeepers and butchered civilians and many U.N. personnel, both military and civilian, despaired of such international innocence, and the trivial manner in which such an important military function was treated.

O'Brien later recalled that "we infringed the 'clean hands' doctrine to the extent of employing in Elisabethville one Greek ex-policeman with an imperfect knowledge of French who was already - as we later found from captured documents - known at the headquarters of Tshombes's Gendarmerie by the proud title of "Chief of the United Nations Intelligence Services in Katanga".

The rest of the said services consisted of a few Baluba houseboys who, sometimes for money but more often out of sheer political zeal, would bring scraps of information, usually alarmist gossip, from time to time".

That is what Colonel Waern meant when he referred to "my spies" and O'Brien later rightly described the intelligence gathering, particularly what intelligence professionals call handling or running agents as having bound to become a little comical. Frankly, it beggars belief that General McKeown, much less O'Brien himself, was expected to operate a complex civil-military operation with such a set up.


A number of incidents involving Irish troops took place some months after their arrival in the Congo. The most infamous, and the one with the greatest impact in the minds of the Irish public, was the Niemba massacre on November 8, 1960 Niemba was an isolated trading post on the River Likuga in Katanga and was of no real tactical importance.

However, nine Irish soldiers, including platoon commander, Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson, while on patrol in the area were slaughtered south of Niemba by marauding Baluba tribesmen in an unprovoked and ferocious attack.

A primitive tribal people the Baluba had regularly been terrorised and abused by the mercenary led forces in Katanga with many of their number having already fled to Elisabethville, where ironically they were being protected by the Irish and other U.N. forces.

Its likely that the attack itself was a knee-jerk reaction by a primitive people who had already been terrorised by white soldiers - but in the aftermath both the Katangans and Balubas constantly blamed the U.N. for siding with one or other faction.

The Irish troops had been instructed to go out and remove roadblocks that had been set up by the Balubas and it was while they were doing this, that they were set upon. Studies and reports in the aftermath acknowledge that had there been greater intelligence available to O.N.U.C. at the time, it would have been clear an attack was imminent.

If proof were needed that O.N.U.C. H.Q. had no general or regional intelligence picture, and little understanding of the complex environment into which their troops were being deployed, then Niemba proved that point.

After the massacre instead of trying to discover what had provoked the Baluba O.N.U.C. simply withdrew from the area as newspaper stories about the arrow pierced bodies of the troops recovered after the ambush fed into the mindsets of the general public.

AS far as the Irish people were concerned, our troops were fighting a savage but ignorant force armed with stone-age weapons and our soldiers died because they did not want to intimidate or take aggressive action. The reality, however, was distinctly different.


And then there was Jadorville. I do not wish to go back over the details of the battle that took place at the mining village in September 1961, but rather I want to look at some of the things that led its strategic failure.

The battle itself was a tactical success - a company of 150 Irish troops well dug-in and defending their ground successfully against a mercenary-led force that at one point numbered up to 3000. The fact (that) the Irish troops of "A" Company, 35th Battalion were able to hold out for a week in the face of numerically superior force with support weapons and airpower should be a matter of pride to all of us who have worn the uniform. However, many of the mistakes made were to come after the battle and they were largely made through the lack of information at all levels in both the Irish and O.N.U.C. command structure.

The besieged Irish troops had managed to fight their opponents to a stand-still and agreed to a ceasefire after four days. In agreeing to the cease-fire, the Irish had given much and received little, not even the water they had been promised. Commandant Pat Quinlan, the company commander had made decisions based on the promise of U.N.jets being deployed to support the besieged defenders. The initial mention of this seems to sway negotiations in Quinlan's favour, but then when the jets didn't appear it undermined his bargaining position.

Unfortunately he found himself and his troops becoming cogs in a U.N. apparatus that couldn't make up its mind whether it was a war machine or a peace force. The Katangans has simply exploited the U.N.'s lack of focus and unwillingness to apply military force - a piece of classic asymmetrical warfare, long before Al-Qaeda had even reared its head.

Firstly, the U.N. could not decide whether it was on a war footing to stop a province seceding or merely conducting a police action. Then, it decided to engage in actions that its forces were plainly not equipped for. Why wasn't air support sought in the early stages. One jet could have made all the difference for Quinlan and his men. Having said that, one series of well-aimed radio broadcasts at the population in the Jadotville area could have had an impact.

However it was obvious that neither Conor Cruise O'Brien, nor the various military officers running operations, had any grasp of the gravity of Quinlan's situation. Had they been monitoring his radio traffic, the news of the surrender would not have come as a surprise. As it happened the bluff in relation to provision of air support merely served to speed up that inevitability. It is obvious that this is at least one lesson we have learned from the Congo and recently we have seen Lieut-General Pat Nash use it to good effect in his preparations for the E.U.F.O.R. deployment to Chad. General Nash was clear there would be no deployment of troops until the necessary resources were put in place on the ground to support them. . . . . . . . .

So it seems that a failure of any intelligence mechanism local or O.N.U.C. Mission zone wide was a contributing factor to events leading up to the ambush, no troops cannot be expected to work in the dark.

Kevin in Deva :cheers:

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Dear Mr Ryan,

Thank you very much for posting this article. I hadn't seen it. Declan Power summarises the situation and the events very clearly, although most of the informed commentaries on Niemba refer to a bridge that had been damaged, rather than a roadblock per se.


Copyright ? D'Lynn Waldron

I haven't seen the bridge near Niemba but this photo, taken in 1960 by the author and photographer D'Lynn Waldron, shows a fairly typical road and road bridge of the time. Such road bridges are fairly easy to render impassable but can just as easily be repaired. I intend to try to interview Messrs Kenny and Fitzpatrick the next time I am in Dublin. I suppose the truth of Niemba may lie somewhere between the accounts rendered by both sides. There are statements in the report published by Commandant Mambwe that are hard to believe but then, can any account composed of various eye witness reports be completely accurate?

There is a certain element of bathos in Mambwe's description of the Balubas' alleged initial contact with the Irish UN truck. If it is true or partly true, one can only imagine the reaction of a load of boys from poor areas of Dublin and a couple of country lads when confronted by terrifying "savages" in leopard headdress, straight out of old soldiers' tales from the 19th century, armed with all sorts of nasty-looking weapons, like the ones below.


Copyright ? D'Lynn Waldron

When I was a kid in Dublin in the 1960s, black faces were very rare; the only black people one saw were Trinity and UCD students, diplomats and the occasional merchant seaman. Ireland was whiter than Daz. If one of them did loose off a shot - and one of the survivors is recorded as having 'thought' that he heard a shot before the hail of arrows - it would certainly be understandable, even if it could not be condoned.

It is more likely to have been the case that the Baluba crept up on the patrol and jumped them. Although the prison terms handed down to the Baluba snatched from a local hospital afterwards by Irish forces were considered light by the Irish, they nonetheless averaged five years, which is no joke in that part of the world. In other words, the Congolese authorities seem to have tacitly admitted that fault lay with the Baluba. Interestingly, the Irish Army report on the hospital snatch remains off-limits to the public.

Here is the text of the interview Joe Fitzpatrick gave from his hospital bed after the incident. Tom Kenny was in an adjacent bed.

On 8th November 1960 a Platoon of Irish UN Troops set out on what should have been a normal Patrol, nine of them died at the hands of the Balubas. Two of the Platoon survived to tell the story of the ambush. They were Trooper Thomas Kenny and Private Joe Fitzpatrick.

I think I could give no more graphic description of the ambush than to quote in full, the interview which Private Fitzpatrick give when in hospital in Albertville. In the same ward in the bed beside Fitzpatrick lay the other survivor Thomas Kenny.

"We were on a routine patrol. It was normal to go down the road leading south from Niemba and find a roadblock that had to be cleared.

Balubas were always doing this and we used to curse them almost good-naturedly while, in the hot sun, pulling down their handiwork - usually heavy logs piled across the road.

But this time they had done a more thorough job. They had pulled to pieces a wooden bridge across a small river, and it was taking us a lot more time than usual to put it right.

We had noticed lately that the parties of Baluba we met were getting more sullen and hostile. We never had more trouble than an odd arrow shot our way and we had always managed to bring about a peaceful end to our meetings with them.

So we were not at all expecting what happened this time. There we were, working away at that bridge with our Platoon Commander, Lt. Kevin Gleeson, and Sergt. Gaynor supervising, when someone called out there were Balubas coming down the road behind us. I looked up and there were about a hundred of them carrying bows and arrows, spears, panga knives and clubs.

Lt.Gleeson told us to stop working and be on alert with our weapons. Even then we did not expect trouble. We thought it would be another parley and then they would go away.

Lt. Gleeson walked towards them alone, holding up his right arm in sign of peace. They called out "Jambo" which is an African word meaning "I greet you in peace"

I looked away for just a moment for some reason or other and heard a shout from the lads. Then I saw Lt.Gleeson staggering with an arrow in his shoulder. I heard him yell, "Take cover, lads get behind the trees.

We did just that and withdrew into the trees on each side of the road. Most of the boys took cover on the opposite side of the road that I did - that is really how my life was saved, because the major Baluba attack went that way.

The air was suddenly black with a shower of arrows, and the Buluba let out blood-curdling yells that sounded like a war cry and rushed down the road like madmen, jumping in the air and waving their weapons.

I don't know who give the order to shoot, but we seemed suddenly all to be shooting.

I saw Lt. Gleeson killed. He didn't really get off the road. He fired into the Baluba with his sub-machine gun, covering us, looking quickly back over his shoulder to make sure we had taken cover. Then he turned and ran for the trees himself.

But they overtook him and ran him down. Some had outflanked him and cut off his attempt to get to cover. A lot of them reached him at the same time and they were howling like animals. Our Officer went down under a hail of blows from knives and clubs.

I don't know what I was thinking at the time but I have plenty of time to think since and that sight was the most awful memory of it all. Lt. Gleeson was a wonderful man and we loved him- we all loved him.

From that moment it all became very confused. The fight spread out among the trees. I could not see most of it. But there was a terrible noise, shouts, shooting and screaming.

The Baluba seemed to be everywhere, crushing through the bushes and giving their sort of high pitched battle-cry.

I heard our lads yelling, too. I heard one of them swearing. I remember I recognised his voice and I called out his name.

I heard another Irish voice say! Oh my God! and it ended in a sort of sob.

I saw about 12 Baluba in a hand-to-hand fight with one of our lads, who was using his rifle like a club. I feared to shoot for hitting him. Then I realised he was going to be killed anyway if I did not shoot and I fired two long bursts and saw three Buluba fall.

The rest of the Baluba ran away and I went to the lad who was my friend. He was still alive but could not answer when I spoke to him. He had three arrows in his body and was terribly cut with knives or spear wounds.

I tried gently to pull the arrows out of him but they would not come away because they were barbed. I stayed with him till he died ten minutes later.

I could still hear the Baluba about me but there was no more shooting.

I started to move through the bush, knowing that if they found me they would kill me.

Suddenly there was a crashing to my right. I threw myself on the ground, rolled under a bush so that I was covered.

I heard Baluba voices almost right above me- I think they were so close I could have touched the speakers.

For one terrible moment I waited for the spear-thrust I felt sure must come. But then they moved away. They had not seen me.

I lay there without moving for three hours till it became dark. Ants and other insects crawled over me.

After it was dark I got up and moved towards the road but in such a way that I would miss the scene of the fight. I found the road and moved along it, keeping close to the trees. I felt ice cold and my teeth were chattering although I knew the night was sticky and warm. I wondered if I had malaria or fever, or something.

I walked cautiously with my gun at the ready. The night was pitch black and I could just see the pale blur of the road. I began to tremble violently.

I was jumping at every sound. I began to feel that I was being watched and followed. I stepped on a dry twig, which snapped, and my heart jumped at the sound. Suddenly I heard a distant singing. I came to a native village at the roadside where there was singing and shouting and I saw fires burning. They sounded terribly drunk. I felt certain that it was the people who had attacked us.

For a moment I had a wild impulse to creep up on them and let them have it with every bullet left in my gun. Instead I moved back into the jungle on the opposite side of the road. I was getting terribly exhausted and several times fell over roots and things and collided with tree branches in the dark.

I could hear frightening sounds and rustlings of animals about me, but I was past caring. I stumbled and put my hand on the branch of a tree to steady myself and yelled out aloud in pain and fright. The branch seemed alive with crawling insects. Something had stung my hand.

I staggered a few more yards and sank to the ground. I felt dazed and my thoughts began to wander. I thought of my mother, and the coolness of Ireland, of the rain in the streets of Dublin and how peaceful it was there.

I wished so much that I could get out of this God-forsaken country of filth, sweat and heat and savages. I think I prayed it might be so. I think I dozed or fell into a stupor or something then because suddenly it was getting light.

Pulling myself to my feet I wandered slowly through the jungle again. Suddenly I heard the sound of a truck and heard Irish voices. I shouted and ran towards the lovely sound of it. I fell but got up and kept on going and came out on the road. It was a truck full of some of the boys from Albertville.

I fell into their arms.


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In addition to not having radio equipment with them - not that the Irish Army communications equipment was up to much in the Congo anyway - Lt Gleeson's patrol was a composite sub-unit. Gleeson himself was an engineer officer and had not undergone normal officer training. The patrol was not an infantry section. Some sources say that they were based at Kamina. To get to Niemba involves a drive of somewhere in the region of 700 km. Albertville - now Kalemie - is about 80 km from Niemba and it is more likely that the patrol was out of Albertville.

Based on interviews given by Kenny and Fitzpatrick at various times, the sequence of events appears to have been as follows: The two trucks pulled to a halt a short distance from the damaged bridge. The eleven men debussed. Lt Gleeson ordered the two Brens to be left in the trucks, despite protests about this from Kenny. Lt Gleeson and Pte Kenny then approached the bridge. Apparently, the rest of the patrol just stood about in the road, rather than going into all-round defensive positions as infantrymen would have done.

On 24.11.1960, two weeks after Niemba, Irish Defence Minister K Boland responded to questions in the D?il. Amongst other things, he confirmed the following: the patrol's firepower comprised two Bren guns, four Gustaf SMGs, four rifles and (Lee-Enfield Mk4s). The medical orderly was unarmed. Mr Boland also stated that the patrol was not carrying wireless equipment. In his book Irish Army Vehicles, Karl Martin gives the following information:

4x2 VW Pick Up

Lt Kevin Gleeson: Gustav

Sgt Hugh Gaynor, Driver: Gustav

Cpl. Liam Duggan: Gustav

Pte.Matthew Farrell: Unarmed Medic

Pte Gerard Kileen: Lee-Enfield Rifle

Land Rover 88 ZIK 119

Cpl. Peter Kelly, Driver: Gustav

Tpr Thomas Fellell: Bren

Tpr Anthony Browne: Gustav

Pte. Michael McGuinn: Bren

Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick: Lee Enfield Rifle

Pte Thomas Kenny: Lee Enfield rifle

Kenny has stated that he was a Bren gunner and that he was unarmed, which was part of the basis for the award of the MMG to Browne, who was said to have defended his unarmed comrade and then drawn the Baluba away from him. However, it seems odd that Lt Gleeson would order a soldier to accompany him up to the bridge without a weapon. Perhaps Kenny had someone else's Lee-Enfield. There again, he maintains that he was unarmed and as Gleeson had already ordered the Brens left in the vehicles, he may just have been reckless or naive enough to approach the bridge with a man he had just disarmed.

So, we have a composite sub-unit of men with inadequate equipment and, moreover, inadequate training, hundreds of clicks from their home base, in a situation with clear potential to turn very nasty very quickly. In other words, some bastard sitting in a dry billet back at base has heard that the road bridge near Niemba is damaged and has sent a handy engineer officer and, it seems, any spare dick they could round up, off out into "injun country"...without a radio.

On that subject, Defence Minister Boland had this to say, and I quote the section from D?il records:

Mr. Carroll: Will steps be taken to ensure that in future the patrols will have radio facilities available to them?

Mr. K. Boland Mr. K. Boland

Mr. K. Boland: A patrol such as this would not normally carry wireless equipment. It is extremely doubtful if it would have been of any avail in the circumstances prevailing on that occasion.

Mr. Lindsay Mr. Lindsay

Mr. Lindsay: Will the Minister use his good office, through prior consultation with Deputies who put down questions of this kind, to ensure that the least possible publicity will attach to them and thus save the feelings of bereaved relatives and, accordingly, allay the fears of those who have left their loved ones in the Congo?

Put another way: Can we hush this whole fecking mess up in case the voters start asking a load of awkward questions?. Politicians never change, do they? It is agreed that the fight kicked off around 15:00 hrs.

Everyone agrees that the action commenced at approximately 3 p.m. local time on 8th November. There is grim humour in Boland's remark about how useless radio equipment would have been. The standard issue 10 MHz equipment was just about up to allowing communications between the Irish Army bases but the Irish UN contingent had no direct link with Dublin. To digress, a short time before Niemba, an Irish engineer in Uganda, Terry Tierney, happened to be a radio ham and kept in touch with a friend, Father Jim Stone, in Dublin via their 28 MHz radio sets.

As the story goes, Tierney was dialing around the 7 MHz frequency one day and heard Captain Brendan Deegan using the Charlie Quebec callsign of the Curragh Camp Army Radio Club. Capt Deegan was based in Goma, one of the Irish main bases in the Congo. As a result, Deegan was able to give the lads fresh news from home. Tierney then built Deegan a 28 MHz transmitter.

Arranging an RV on the border, the two men met and Tierney gave Deegan and his escort the transmitter and a suitably powerful receiver. It should be pointed that that the drive to the RV took Tierney twelve hours and that much of it was through dangerous territory because of the armed bands operating without regard for the border between Uganda and Congo, much like the situation persisting today. In return, Tierney was given some biscuits, packets of tea and a couple of jerry cans of petrol.

Now, in case you're all anticipating an account of how Capt Deegan was able to establish comms with Dublin, thanks to the courageous Tierney (who should have gotten a medal as well), don't hold your breath. Deegan drove back to Goma and established comms with...Fr Jim Stone. The Chief of Staff of the Irish Army, General Se?n McKeon, finally heard of the link to Goma and was duly invited by Fr Stone to visit his home beside the parish church in Killester, Dublin to address the troops in the Congo. By chance, General McKeon's visit was on 9.11.1960. Some sources say it was the previous day. As he communicated with the CO of 32 Bn, Colonel Buckley, in Goma, General McKeon was informed of the trouble at Niemba. Not long afterwards, Army HQ in Dublin set up a telex link to their forces in the Congo. The Dubliners amongst you can see Fr Stone's radio in the Howth Martello tower.

Coming back to Niemba and the chronology of events based on an evaluation of the various accounts from the survivors, the Baluba apparently overran the two vehicles as they approached the patrol, depriving the patrol of any chance to retrieve the Brens. This therefore casts doubt on the Baluba assertion that a Bren was deployed against them. Lt Gleeson walked up to the Baluba and was attacked. The 2IC, Sgt Gaynor, trying to come to the Lieutenant's aid, was also attacked. The remaining nine men were now leaderless and three of them were unarmed. They stood no chance at all. The only thing that saved Browne, Kenny and Fitzpatrick was the Baluba's own lack of field discipline, enabling the three men to escape. It is revealing that "gendarmes" on their home turf, who tried to present themselves as a legitimate defence force of sorts, did not send pickets to flank the intruders, as they saw them, before launching their attack.

The Irish soldiers at Niemba and in other places in the Congo were let down, as soldiers through the ages so often have been let down. Some might see the radio story as quaint and charming but as an ex-soldier myself, I see it as grotesque. Ireland was not short of experienced combat veterans. She never has been! They may not have served under the Tricolour when gaining their experience but many of them would later serve in the Irish Army after WW1 and WW2 as Senior NCOs. Some of them were officers but few of the officer corps of the 1950s and 1960s had ever been in combat of any kind and it showed during those early years of Irish participation in UN operations. They obtained their ranks and advancement on the golf links of Wicklow and Kildare and in the gentlemen's clubs of Dublin. If the Irish Army has managed to acquit itself well since the Congo, it is due to the backbone provided by tough NCOs from tough districts in Dublin and Cork, who grew up, to paraphrase Se?n Tracey, with a smell of broken glass in their noses...

It would probably make quite a good film. It would be a much better film than The Wild Geese and that whole genre of mercenary sub-dramas of the 1960s and 1970s. I met "Mad Mike" Hoare, who was a buffoonish ex-Pay Corps REMF and Bob Denard, who was much more serious, as one might expect of someone so obviously employed by the Belgians as a "black ops" or "wet ops" troubleshooter. I also know the only Englishman known to have been taken prisoner by the Irish Army. He lives here in France now but I have known him for thirty years. He has always said that the Irish soldier on the ground is second-to-none and that's high praise from a former 2 Para officer and veteran of Katanga's mercenary levies, a public school Englishman of a certain age and background who might normally be inclined to sneer at the Irish in general.


Edited by PKeating
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Were they privately named or did the army do that for the guys?



The MMG is normally named by the army. The pieces you see here are unissued. What is unusual is that even though the army names the MMG it does not name the next level of award, The Distinguished Service Medal. Inconsistent or what !

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  • 1 year later...

From my collection.

MMG 3rd. Class

An Ceallach

Hi Ceallach!

Is it ok for us to use your exellent pictures of Eire military medals on the site www.medalj.nu?

With Swedish winter greetings


moderator for medalj.nu

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