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Congo, Part 1; 1960-1963
By Tom Cooper
Sep 2, 2003, 09:29

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Countless thousands of people died in the Congo crisis of the early 1960s. This conflict was marked by political and tribal violence rather than conventional warfare, and marked the saddest chapter in modern-day African history. The murderous events that followed independence from Belgium hold distinct lessons for history. They exposed, for instance, the grave inadequacies of parliamentary institutions in post-colonial Africa. Furthermore, not only did the Soviet Union unmask its intent to fill the political vacuum left by departing colonialists, but private capitalists sought to carve financial fiefs from the mineral-rich provinces, prompting them into secession.

For the United Nations the Congo provided a test case for military intervention, resulting in a humiliation.

The Bloody Independence of the I Republic

In 1959, Belgium declared intention to grant independence to Belgian Congo, a territory almost as large as Western Europe – or bigger than Texas and Alaska together – with population of barely 14 million, groupped in around 200 ethnic groups and tribes. Rich on gold, diamonds, copper, uranium and other ores (most of which were exploited by the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga in the Katanga Province, in which British, French and South African parties had substantial holdings in addition to Belgians), the new country was to embody a bicameral legislature, dividing authority between one central and six provincial governments. The independence of Congo was considered precipitate: it was a hasty response of a small European country determined to rid itself of responsibility for growing colonial disorders.

On 30 June 1960 King Baudouin of Belgium presided over the independence celebrations of the vast territories of the Belgian Congo. The first President of the new nation, Joseph Kasavubu, declared Patrice Lumumba, leader of the Congolese National Movement (the strongest single party in Congo at the time, although with nothing like a majority) for Prime Minister. Kasavubu and Lumumba were representatives of a disparate but elite corps of black civil servants, teachers and priests, who originally reached agreement in Brussels on a constitution. Lumumba was an exceptional African politician, in that he was looking beyond tribal politics towars pan-African unity, bu he failed to prevent the outbreak of civil strife on the very day following the independence ceremonies. Therefore, his and Kasavubu’s agreement with Belgians barely survived the following elections, marked by violent skirmishes between the major divisions of the country’s major ethnic groups.

Already on the morning of 31 June 1960, black troops of the new Armée Nationale Congolaise (ANC = National Congolese Army) mutinied in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), the capital of the new nation, against continued appointment of Belgians in all critical positions. The mutiny swiftly spread into other towns, where whites were intimated causing a sudden, panicked flight. Thousands crossed the river from Leopoldville to Congo-Brazzaville, while others left by air, turning the flight into a mass exodus. Expecting something of this kind to happen, and interested in protecting their considerable financial interests in the southern Congo, Belgians reinforced their forces still deployed in the country, known as the Force Publique (FP). The FP already operated a small air arm, including two Sikorsky S-55 and three Aérospatiale SA.313B Alouette II helicopters, a DeHavilland Heron and ten DeHavilland Doves. Most of these were based at Leopoldville International Airport (IAP), but some also at Kamina. Additionally, the Force Aérienne Belge (FAB = Belgian Air Force), which already operated 16 North American T-6G Harvards and four Fouga CM.170 Magisters of the Vervolmakings VliegSchool (VVS = Flying School FAB) at Kamina, has deployed its No.15 Air Wing in Congo, consisting of flights equipped with Douglas C-47/Dakota, C-54 /DC-6 Skymasters, as well as Fairchild C-119F Flying Boxcar transports.

The commander of ANC, Col. Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, exploited the chaos to bring the army under control, practically establishing a state within the state. Within the shortest period of time he replaced as many Belgians as possible by Congolese NCOs. This was not enough, then poor communications in a huge country were not permitting Mobutu to exercise control everywhere. On 9 July, ANC troops in Elisabethville, capital of Katanga (later Shaba) mutinied as well and the provincial Premier, Moise Tshombe, requested help from Brussels. In response, the FAB transports deployed 800 Belgian paratroopers into Kongolo from Kamina, and began repatriating civilians. In the following days also several Alouette IIs of 16ème Escadrille Légère were rushed from Germany to Congo, and three additional examples were flown in from Ruanda.

The evacuation efforts were covered by VVS T-6Gs and Magisters, equipped with machine-gun pods and unguided rockets, but these soon proved vulnerable to ground fire. The T-6G serialled H-202 was shot down already on 11 July, near Matadi, while H-210 came down near Inkisi – while escorting Alouettes – killing the pilot, on 18 July. Two other Texans, as well as two Aluettes (serialled A-1 and A-2) crashed in the same period, but the most serious FAB loss occurred when C-119 “CP-36” crashed, on 19 July.

Katangese Gendarmes

Wishing to maintain close ties to the West, which poured huge amounts of capital into the area, Katanga seceded from Congo and declared itself an independent state, on 10 July. Tshombe – in agreement with the Union Minière and the Belgian government – announced secession, accusing Lumumba of wishing to sell out the whole country to the Soviet Union, while appointing himself president. Another Congolese province, the “Autonomous Mining State of South Kasai”, declared its independence already days before Congo, with capital at Bakwanga.

In desperation Lumumba appealed for assistance to the United Nations, which within days flew in 3.500 troops from Tunisia, Morocco, Ghana and Ethiopia, and 625 Swedish troops from the UN emergency force in the Gaza Strip. Thus the Force de l’Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) came into being. Part of the urgency was to forestall Soviet intervention, for on 14 July, after recognizing his inability to control events, Lumumba appealed to the Soviet Union for aid against Belgium, which thereupon increased its troop levels. Nikita Khrushchev responded with a “hands off” warning to the West. “The Soviet Union” he said, “will not shrink from resolute measures to curb the aggression.”

The ONUC-contingent lacked resources for own deployment. For moving Ghanaian troops the RAF deployed DeHavilland Comets from No.216 Squadron, and Bristol Britannians of Nos.99 and 511 Squadrons, while no less but 132 USAF Fairchild C-124 Providers and Lockheed C-130 Hercules’ were required to bring in 4.000 troops from other African countries as well as the Irish contingent, including eleven Ford/Thompson armoured cars (built in 1941, on 4x2 Ford truck chassis, with a Thompson light armoured body). The majority of the original UN contingent arrived in Congo by 18 July, and by the end of the month over 10.000 “peacekeepers” were deployed. They included a sizeable Swedish contingent, equipped also with eight Karosseri Pansar SKPF armoured trucks, armed with twin Colt 8mm water-cooled machine guns, some M-8 Greyhound and M-3 scout cars, as well as an Ethiopian battalion, supported by nine Landsverk armoured cars originally built in Sweden for the Belgian Gendarmerie in Congo, but confiscated by UN troops. The later were attached to the largest contingent, which was from India. This included a brigade group, supported by a cavalry squadron from 63 Cavalry, equipped with ten Daimler scout cars, and ten British-made Ferret scout cars of the Malaysian squadron.

An USAF C-130B Hercules transport. USAF provided hundreds of transport aircraft in support of the UN contingents. (Photo: Unknown Danish UN-Soldier, via Alf Blume)

The UN released resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Belgian forces and vigorously opposing the secession movement in Katanga. The intervention was too little too late: in a single move credited by several military historians with reviving the mercenary profession in modern time, Tshombe was already hiring white mercenaries, led by former Belgian Colonel “Black Jack” Schramme. Schramme was ordered to Kasimba, in northern Katanga, where he recruited teenage soldiers from local tribes to form his “Leopard Group”. They were the nucleaus of what later became the infamous “10 Commando”.

The mercenaries arrived at the same time as Belgian Maj. Crèvecoeur, was contracted to create a Katangan Gendarmerie. This para-military arm was based upon Belgian junior officers and police. With the gendarmerie in being and numbering some 10.000, the 400 or so original mercenaries formed into three battaions, including 5 Commando under Mike Hoare, 6 Commando under the Frenchman Bob Denard, and Schramme’s 10 Commando. Equipped with weapons and uniforms of the gendarmerie, they acted as an elite spearhead, forming mobile groups and operating in columns of eight to nine jeeps. Schramme, Denard and Hoare were commissioned majors in Katangan Army, later appointed Colonels. Crèvecoeur and several other Belgian staff officers were, however, officially appointed as “technical assistants” to Tshombe and his staff.

Most of the mercenaries were Belgian ex-servicemen recruited in Brussels, while others had answered advertisements in Johannesburg, Salisbury and Bulawayo. Some were Frenchmen who had seen service in Algeria while others were British. Only on arrival were they issued with their service contracts. Basic pay was up to Pounds 180 a month, plus allowances and other inducements. The Compagnie Internationale, as the outfit organised for recrutation was known, was commanded by a British officer. The mercenaries were tough men, physically fit, who had joined up for a variety of personal and political motives. Their assignments were hard, their equipment largely improvised (even if it included few M-8 scout cars, left behind be the Belgians, or captured from the ANC), and there is no doubt that they saved the lives of many missionaries and settlers in isolated areas. They were present in Elizabethville (now called Lubumbashi), Kolwezi, Jadotville and Albertville (Kalémié), indeed wherever the United Nations forces were not.

Otherwise, it soon was clear that Khrushchev had simply taken advantage of confusion to establish a Soviet presence in Africa. He pushed his candidate, Lumumba, who used at last nine Soviet Ilushin Il-14 twin-engined aircraft (supported by more than 200 “technicians”) to ferry loyal ANC troops to the secessionist areas, foremost to Bakwanga, where these attempted to persuade the local population to remain loyal to the Congo.

Under pressure and in a bid to ensure that Katangan mercenaries and Belgian regulars left the Congo, UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold appointed Conor Curise O’Brien, a British left-winger, as his special representative in Congo. O’Brien worked swiftly: all but 600 Belgians had left by 15 August 1960: the FAB evacuated a number of Magisters to Belgium, but left five Doves, eight T-6s, a Heron, an Alouette II, a Piper L-18C and a single S-55 helicopter to form the nucleus of what became the Force Aérienne Katangaise (FAK).

The Katangese authorities were swift to put a number of civilian but also military aircraft left behind by the Belgians, or privately owned, into military service, and apply their own - Katangese - national insignia on them. The DH.104 Dove serialled "KAT-14" was showing one version of the KAT fin flash. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Lumumba Deposed

The Soviet presence was short-lived, however, for as next the UN occupied and closed the Congolese airports to all but their own flights. Nevertheless, more than 100 Soviet GAZ-63 trucks had already been landed on the coast at Matadi in support of Lumumba´s centralist government. President Dwight D. Eisenhower “deplored” such interference which seemed, he said, “to be motivated entirely by the Soviet Union’s political designs in Africa.” The Soviet involvement, namely, resulted in a situation in which the USA were closer to becoming involved in Congo than in Vietnam.

The CIA had plotted the overthrow of Lumumba already since some time, and on 14 September 1960, Mobutu seized control. One of his first decisions was to expel Czech and Soviet Army advisers and close European communist block embassies in Leopoldville. Deprived of his backing, the Congolese Prime Minister was placed under UN-supervised house arrest, where he remained until late November.

Once again, it was the CIA that influenced the following developments. On 27 November 1960, Lumumba was enabled to escape from Leopoldville, making for Stanleyville to launch a dramatic attempt to rejoin his supporters in Oriental province. ANC troops loyal to Mobutu captured him only a few days later and returned him to the capital, where he was imprisoned. Lumumba´s supporters threatened to cut off the heads of whites in Stanleyville (Kisingani) in retaliation unless he were freed. Antoine Gizenga, Lumumba´s closest associate, proclaimed a new, pro-communist government in Stanleyville, on 13 December 1960, again backed by Soviet air power. Additional support came from Oriental and Kiwu provinces, so that clashes with Mobutu’s forces – seldom involving more than 100 men on either side – became more frequent.

In early January 1961, ANC-units loyal to Lumumba invaded northern Katanga to support a revolt of Baluba tribesmen against Tshombe´s secessionist regime. Allegedly for “safety” reasons, the CIA and Mobutu decided to transfer Lumumba from Leopoldville to Katanga, on 17 January 1961. He was to be flown to Bakwanga, but as the plane that carried him arrived there the runway was blocked, so the aircraft flew on to Elisabethville, where Lumumba’s future was more than certain. Beaten up on the aircraft, Lumumba was shot shortly after arrival.

The murder of Lumumba, announced only on 12 February, shocked the world. Belgian embassies were attacked by angry demonstrators in some countries. President Nasser confiscated all Belgian property in Egypt and on 14 February, led the first moves, with the Soviet Union, to recognise the Lumumbist government in Oriental province. East Germany, Ghana and Yugoslavia followed suit. This action was accompanied by a call for a new all-African force to replace the UN troops in the Congo. Khrushchev took the initiative, backed by India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and the heads of 66 other governments. Khrushchev accused UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld of playing the role of “chief assassin”.

Communist support for Gizenga

On 24 February, 300 troops supporting Gizenga seized control of the capital of Kasai province. Very few lives were lost during the fighting there, and during the following attempted march into northern Katanga, then ANC forces either withdrew or sided with the rebels. Soon enough, despite UN presence, Gizenga’s troops controlled three out of the country’s six provinces. While assuming Lumumba’s role, Gizenga lacked his qualities and depended on his bureaucratic colleagues. With backing of communist states, he expelled the consular authorities of those countries which had not recognised his government, causing another exodus of Europeans and other foreigners.

Elsewhere, in March 1961, some 400 Lumumbists penetrated northern Katanga and captured Manono. The Gendarmerie was used to repel the invasion, but the mercenaries spearheaded the attack which captured the town.

In the meantime, by late July 1961, different civilian aircraft – mainly operated by Sabena – had evacuated 34.484 civilians through Leopoldville. Royal Rhodesian Air Force was also involved, using Dakotas of No.3 Squadron to fly many from Ndola to Salisbury, while Italians were evacuated in AMI’s C-119Gs. The ONUC was still supported by a large number of US, British and different NATO transport aircraft, as well as by Swedish Voluntary Air Component, which handled liaison flying for the UN with DeHavilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers, DHC-3 Otters, and several helicopters. To control this wide range of flying activities, the UN Air Division was formed, in August 1961.

By then, Gizenga agreed to join a central cabinet under Cyrille Adoula and to participate in a parliament in which Lumumbists held the key posts. Anticipating his early dominance of the new government and encouraged by Adoula’s socialism and neutral stand in world affairs, Gizenga dissolved his Stanleyville base, on 18 August. Both men were determined to end Katanga’s secession, which was largely made possible by Belgian mining interests, particularly the Union Minière du Haut-Katanga. Their partnership did not last long, however, then other involved parties had their own interests: by the late summer 1961, there were therefore four major forces involved in conflict, apart from the UN, including the ANC (some 7.500 fighters, based in Leopoldville and Equateur), Gizenga’s Kivu and Orientale (some 7.000 fighters), the Kasai Balubas (3.000 fighters), and the Katangese gendarmerie (comprising 5.000, including up to 500 white mercenaries). With arch-enmities between Asai Balubas and Katangese, as well as general disagreement and mutinies against the central authorities and the UN military presence, it did not last long until new violence broke out.

Avikat: Katanga Air Force

All through 1960 and early 1961, Tshombe was successfully searching to reinforce his military capabilities. Shopping for more potent aircraft for KAT than the Harvards, he purchased nine CM.170 Magisters from France. Only three of these were delivered to Kolwezi, on 15 February 1961, by a Boeing YC-97 transport (with US registration N9045C), to be flown by mercenary pilots Joseph Deulin and Magain. Jan Zumbach (“Mr. Brown”), a Polish pilot serving in RAF during World War II, was contracted to organize and command a KAT – better known as “Avikat” – AT-6-unit. The main base of Avikat was Luano airfield.

KAT Magisters apparently became operational during July 1961. By October 1961, the Avikat was reinforced with five Dornier Do.28As from West Germany.

After the cooperation between Katanga and Sabena officially ended, in late 1961, Katanga also organized an own airline, AirKatanga, equipped with one DC-3, with registration “KA-DFN” (this was a former South African Air Force mount, “ZS-DFN”). Later on also the DC-3 “OO-AUX” was added. With the help of Sabena, Lubumbashi became the base with supporting infrastructure: personnel and technicians were from Sabena. AirKatanga’s DC-3 was almost instantly leased for military purposes.

On 4 April 1961, the Katangese liberated the airport at Elisabethville from Swedish, and three days later at Manono there was another battle with Ethiopian ONUC-contingent, leaving several of the later killed. On 14 April, ONUC was authorised to use force in pursuit of its goals. Henceforth, ONUC appeared to pursue objectives which have been the subject of considerable controversy: instead of attempting to bring order, the peacekeepers operated discriminately, primarily with a view to ending Katangese secession. The UN commanders went so far that at Coquilhatville, on 26 April, Tshombe was arrested while there for negotiations. In the meantime, the FAK had been further strengthened by the delivery of five Piper Carribeans from South Africa, while also a number of paras from the disbanded 1er REP arrived from Algeria. Realising that the rebellion was strengthening, Hammarskjöld ordered O’Brien to get the mercenaries out of Katanga as well. In reaction, the ONUC launched the Operation “Rumpunch”, with objective of rounding up mercenaries.

KAT-22 was one of few Avikat DH.104 Doves, that survived the war in Katanga. It was interned in Angola, in 1963. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Most of Avikat's Texans had a rather simple - and worn-out - appearance, like in the case of this anonymous example. Other than most of the aircraft from the same batch, this T-6G was painted in mid-grey and dark green. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

One of the best-known Avikat T-6Gs was the example serialled "KA-30". The serial was applied by hand, and quite crudely. Note the orange "X" bellow the cockpit, which represented the national marking: this was added at a later stage, since the same Texan was seen with its nick-name ("DoSolle"?) applied in front of the cockpit only. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Several Avikat Texans have got nick-names. This one was named "Petty", and wore also its "bomb-score" (in the form of seven small white bombs) directly bellow the front cockpit. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

The UN Invasion

The UN troops were initially highly successful, then the Katangese and mercenaries were not ready to fight the UN forces, even if these were drafted into Katanga to bring an end to secession. Out of 512 known white mercenaries contracted by Tshombe some 400 were rounded up within a single day without a shot being fired. Schramme as arrested in Kamina and sent with four others to Leopoldville as prisoners of the ANC: after three months in prison, he escaped to Belgium, only to promptly return to Katanga by way of Rhodesia. Like Schramme, most of the other mercenaries slipped away, and returned to the fight, even if some had left. The situation escalated and a number of fire-fights erupted between UN troops and Katangese.

Emboldened by the success of Operation Rumpunch, O’Brien decided to foment a copu d’etat in Katanga, aimed at ending secession and bringing the province back under Congolese rule. On 13 September 1961, the Indian troops of the UN contingent seized key positions in Elisabethville. On the same day, Hammarskjöld, flew into Leopoldville.

The KAT prepared a retaliatory operation. On 15 September, Deulin and Magain attacked UN positions at Elisabethville IAP flying Magisters, and Deulin destroyed the DC-4 “OO-AND” while Magain damaged the Transair DC-6B “SE-BDY” (nicknamed “Albertina”). Two days later it was turn on Kamina, and here the Magisters destroyed the Starways Skymaster “G-APIN”, chartered to the UN. Finally, in the late afternoon, some 500 Katangese surrounded the 158-man Irish garrison at Jadotville, and Deulin strafed a relief column, eventually forcing the Irish to give up.

Two DC-3s (front) and two DC-4s chartered by the ONUC as seen at the tarmac of one of Congolese airfields (probably Elisabethville). As Congo is - essentially - a land-locked country, with very poor land communications, a large number of transport aircraft was required to support the UN peacekeeping force. (Photo: Unknown Danish UN-Soldier, via Alf Blume)

After repairs, the DC-6B “Albertina” was flown up to Leopoldville. There it picked up Hammarskjöld to fly him to Ndola, just across the Northern Rhodesian (today Zambian) border, for negotiations with Tshombe. The aircraft, piloted by Capt. Per-Erik Hallonquist, approached Ndola at around midnight, but crashed just to the north, killing all on board. Immediately, there was speculation about the case of the accident and its backgrounds, with two theories emerging: one was based on engine failure, and the other on instrument failure. There was also a sabotage theory (which blamed the Soviet Union, Mobutu and Conor Cruise O’Brien, the Irish UN representative in the Congo), as well as the external attack theory, suggesting that an DeHavilland Vampire of the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF), or KAT Magister attacked the DC-6B.

The reason for this crash was never satisfactorily established, but most likely, Hammarskjöld’s DC-6 crashed for engine or instrument failure: the altimeter was found to be 37m adrift, and – as already mentioned – the aircraft was damaged during the KAT attack on Elisabethville IAP.

In the light of Hammarskjöld’s death, a ceasefire was agreed, on 21 September, but not before Deulin had attacked O’Brien’s HQ in Katanga. Nevertheless, one of Magisters crashed during these operations, while the other developed engine problems, leaving the Avikat with only one CM.170, and Deulin as the sole qualified pilot.

This ceasefire was not to last long: accepting failure, Hammarskjold’s successor, U Thant, forced O’Brien to leave Congo. The Katangans cheered, then, effectivelly, they have achieved a clear-cut victory in the first battle for Katanga. Nevertheless, the ONUC contingent was still in the province and now gearing up to deal with the Avikat and mercenaries.

Above and bellow: The most potent combat aircraft in Avikat arsenal was Fouga CM.170 Magister, three of which were purchased from France. The aircraft appear to have been serialled 91, 92, and 93, and have worn panels in different colours: the 91, shown here, was captured in derelict condition at Kamina, with panels in orange. This aircraft, and apparently 92 as well, have had machine-guns mounted on the upper side of the nose. The 93, seen bellow, was photographed early after Katangan secession, with Moise Tshombe in the rear cockpit. This aircraft wore yellow pannels. Except for machine guns, the main armament consisted of Matra pods for unguided rockets and light bombs. (Artworks by Tom Cooper)

Indian Canberras

The elimination of the KAT was to be undertaken as a two-prong operation. On one side, the UN and ANC troops planned to capture all airfields used by Avikat. On the other, the Katangese Air Force was to be destroyed in a series of air strikes flown by the newly established UN air force. The later was under command of Air Commodore Morrison, from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), and consisted of four Ethiopian Air Force (EtAF) North American F-86F Sabres, deployed to Leopoldville in mid-September, where they were joined by six Indian Air Force (IAF) Canberra B(I).Mk.58s of the No.5 Sqn, on 9 October. Indian ground-support personnel and equipment were transported from Agra in four USAF C-124 Globemasters, and the No.5 Squadron was led by Wg.Cdr. AIK Suares. Finally, on 5 October, three Saab J-29B Tunnan fighters, and two S-29C – unarmed reconnaissance fighters – of Swedish Air Force (SwLM) F22 Squadron were deployed to Kamina. A squadron of 16 AMI C-119s, and a combined UN Dakota squadron (commanded by IAF Wg.Cdr. Singh) crewed by members of different air forces rounded up the order of battle.

A pair of USAF Douglas C-124 Globemaster transports seen unloading Ghurka troops and their equipment. (Photo: Unknown Danish UN-Soldier, via Alf Blume)

The Operation “Morthor” was launched on 20 October 1961, when 5.000 ANC troops crossed into Katanga. KAT aircraft immediately responded, strafing several columns, especially in Kabongo area. In the meantime, UN-chartered aircraft lifted 1.500 Gizengist troops from Stanleyville into northern Katanga. Namely, Gizenga meanwhile returned to Stanleyville, but his arrival resulted in mutinies against both – the central authority and the UN military presence. Gizengist troops therefore proved extremely unreliable – and dangerous: on 9 November a ten-man Irish patrol was ambushed at Niemba, by Baluba “Jeunesse” (Young Fighters”), and massacred. Just two days later, pro-Gizenga fighters at Kindu caught 13 Italian airmen flying the C-119G with 46° Stormo AMI, whose bodies were cut into pieces and distributed to bloodthirsty bystanders. Such atrocities were a part of a more general picture of tribal massacres, set off by the sudden withdrawal of colonial authority.

Despite massive problems with Gizenga and frequent ambushes and attacks of the Katangese, the Indian UN troops held the airfields at Elisabethville and Kamina, and supplies were delivered from Leopoldville in chartered Seven Seas C-46 transports, based in Luxembourg. This interesting company’s crews were made up of US, Swedish and British, the main task of whom was to deliver fuel. Albertville, Niema and Manono soon fell to the ONUC, which then prepared for a final offensive against Katanga. A total of 27 USAF C-124s from 63rd Troop Carrier Wing (TCW), brought troops, arms and armoured cars to Elisabethville (where at least one of US transports was damaged by ground fire).

One of Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando transports chartered by the UN, as seen after crash-landing on one of Congolese airfields. This type was in service with the Swedish company Seven Seas, and mainly used for transport of fuel drums. (Photo: Unknown Danish UN-Soldier, via Alf Blume)

The new operation was launched on 5 December, with ONUC preparing a three-wave attack. In the first, the IAF Canberras were to attack the airfields at Jadotville and Kolwezi. The navigation during this operation proved extremely problematic, then the intelligence was poor and targets over 1.290km away from the base. Wg.Cdr. Suares had first to find a lake due west of Kolwezi, and then map-read over the final leg to the airfield – and this with a cloud base at only 122m above the surface of the lake. Just as the Canberras arrived over Kolwezi, a light transport was seen taking off and rapidly disappearing into the low clouds; two large transports were parked near the control tower, while other aircraft were parked near the main runway. Suares first strafed different aircraft using 20mm cannon, while Flt.Lt. Bob Gautham destroyed the sole Fouga Magister found: this was the mount usually flown by Deulin. The two Canberras made two more passes, setting most of the aircraft, the control tower, and the nearby fuel depot afire before making place for four additional Indian bombers.

The first strike against Kolwezi was a full success, then not only that Flt.Lt. Gautham had taken out the last operational Magister, but Wg.Cdr. Suares had destroyed also two Do.28s, a DC-3, a DC-4, a Dove and another disabled the second Magister, serialled “92”. The second strike was less successful, then this time Suares’ Canberra was hit by ground fire and his navigator heavily injured: the Indian had to abandon his attack and return to Kamina, where IAF bombers were stationed subsequently.

Simultaneously, on the ground the Indian troops clashed with Katangan column moving from Jadotville towards Elisabethville, near Sabena Guesthouse. Using recoilless rifles, the Indians knocked out one M-8 Greyhound scout car and a “home-made” Momouth tank, built on caterpillar chassis, and disabled several armoured trucks and other vehicles, forcing the opposition to pull back.

The sole surviving Avikat Fouga CM.170 Magister was this example, apparently captured by UN troops at Kolwezi airfield. It seems to have been the example that suffered from engine problems. (Photo: Unknown Danish UN-Soldier, via Alf Blume)

After flying a number of armed reconnaissance sorties, on 9 December, Suares was briefed in situ by the commander of the Indian Brigade in Congo, Gen. K.A.S. Raja about new targets in Elisabethville. The Canberras then attacked the main Katangese communication centre in the city, the post office and radio station, with far-reaching effects. Supported by a group of forward observation officers, other bombers subsequently strafed road convoys, ammunition dumps and different strong points – most of which were expertly camouflaged. At Kolwezi, a Union Minière fuel store was set ablaze, but on 12 December also a hospital at Shinkolobwe was attacked.

Under relentless pressure, the Katangese were forced to retreat towards Kipushi, and the ONUC advanced, in turn causing another exodus of – mainly white – civilians, to Northern Rhodesia. Tshombe refused to surrender, however, instead calling for a ceasefire. Elisabethville was now under complete UN control by 18 December, but heavy fighting continued around Kongolo, and IAF Canberras continued flying reconnaissance missions. A ceasefire was agreed on the following day, and Tshombe flew to the UN base at Kitona in the US Presidential VC-121E (53-7885), for talks with Prime Minister Cyril Adoula.

IF901 was one of six Indian Air Force Canberras deployed with the UN-contingent in Congo. These bombers proved instrumental in effectivelly neutralizing the Avikat. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Gizenga’s Final Game

Congo was not to see any peace, however. Balubas were still active around Kongolo, where they had massacred 19 missionaries, in mid-December, while Schramme and Denard continued fighting with the rest of their force. Meanwhile, Gizenga was in deep troubles after failing to consolidate his base in Stanleyville: his own party split, and fighting broke out, in January 1962. On 14 of this month, some 300 followers surrendered, and Gizenga was taken prisoner by the ANC. Nevertheless, when the Egyptian UN contingent withdrew, it had left – reportedly at Soviet request – 67 tons of arms for Gizenga, so that these were able to take Luluabourg just ten days later.

Planning to resurrect his air force, Tshombe had flown to Geneva. Via different intermediaries, Tshombe acquired six T-6Gs from ex-USAF stocks in Belgium and, after testing in Switzerland, these were flown back to Antwerp, from where they were delivered to Luanda, in Angola, in May 1962. Assembled by Portuguese Air Force (FAP) technicians and then flown to Kolwezi via Malanie, Vila Luzo and Teixeira de Souza with Dove escort, the aircraft were eventually distributed between airfields at Kipushi, Kolwezi, Jadotville, Kisenge and Dilolo, well outside the UN-controlled zones. Officially, their crews were in Katanga to help run the AirKatanga airline: unofficially, they were to avoid the capital or any other UN bases.

Despite heavy losses to Canberra attacks, other parts of the Avikat remained operational as well. A Do.28 is known to have crashed for unknown reasons, in March 1962, and otherwise the Katangese kept routes into Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia open.

Meanwhile, the IAF contingent in Congo was rotated: Wg.Cdr. Suares and his pilots were returned to Agra, in India, and replaced by Wg.Cdr. Pete Willson and a number of new pilots. The new contingent was deployed at Kamina – which was held by Swedish troops by then, and became a base for Swedish J-29s and Ethiopian Sabres as well. The activity of this second ONUC contingent was limited compared with previous events: the Canberras mainly flew reconnaissance sorties over Avikat bases and along countless roads used by Katangese Gendarmerie. While faster UN jets were not fired at, one of Seven Seas C-46s was shot down by ground fire. The pilot made a crash-landing and the aircraft burned out, but there were several survivors, some of which set out on foot, to try and find help. None were ever seen again, although a SAR operation mounted by a helicopter, escorted by Canberras, later found the crash site.

One of four Ethiopian Sabres deployed to Congo was "258". Other than the small title "ONU", the aircraft's appearance was the same as "at home". Little is known about the activity of Ethiopian F-86Fs in Congo, indicating that they were not especially active. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

KAT’s Last Battle

During the following spring, the KAT was completely re-built. At least one Dove was armed with a Hotchkiss machine gun and locally-made bombs. This plane is known to have carried out several armed reconnaissance flights in the Kongolo area. Meanwhile, a single Lodestar, two Cessnas and four additional T-6s were bought from Aero Services at Johannesburg. The Avikat personnel recovered also a second Dove, a Comanche and a Tripacer from Kolwezi, and returned them to operational condition. Later in 1962, the Katangese also acquired two Vampires of indeterminate origin, delivered via Johannesburg: it appears, however, that these were destroyed on the ground at Kolwezi before becoming operational.

From May 1962, the Harvards were used extensively to attack ANC positions, flying from Kisenge and Kolwezi. As the conflict between the Katangese and the ANC extended by September 1962, Albertville was occupied by Kivu ANC troops, and four T-6s, a Dove and the Comanche were flown up to meet with Schramme near Niembe. From there, they attacked a local HQ.

Nevertheless, the overall Katangese situation was worsening. During the summer, the ONUC established a kind of tenous control of Katanga – or, at least its major cities; Schramme and Denard were able only to operate in the jungle interior. By November the ANC and UN troops were battling the remnants of the Katangese Gendarmes and last groups of mercenaries around Kongolo and Kabongo. Major battles were fought in these areas between 11 and 16 November, after which most of the Katangan Gendarmerie recruits returned to the land or disappeared, while most of the mercenaries left for Angola (to fight with the Portuguese).

The departure of the main supportive combat force actually marked the end of the independent state of Katanga, even if a part of ist military continued fighting. The Avikat T-6Gs were used to attack ANC positions, while Katangese casualties were evacuated by Rhodesian DC-3s. On 21 December the Lodestar and two surviving T-6Gs were flown to Dilolo and Kisenge, respectively, from where the later flew to a flying club strip at Kolwezi, each day to mount new air strikes.

As it became clear that Tshombe’s rule was nearing an end, the ONUC now prepared a final offensive. The USAF brought in Douglas C-133 Cargomasters of 1607th Air Transport Wing (ATW) and Douglas C-118 Liftmasters of 1611th ATW in support of Irish troops in Elisabethville, while two Swedish S-29Cs from Leopoldsville flew reconnaissance missions. Simultaneously, Ethiopian troops were flown into Elisabethville and the UN began a fresh air offensive. In September 1962, EtAF F-86Fs were flown back to Ethiopia, and replaced by four additional J-29Bs, from F8 Squadron SwLM, as well as four AMI Canadair Sabre F.Mk.4s of 4 Aerobrigata, which arrived at Leopoldville, on 14 January 1963. Six additional Sabres were sent from the No.9 Squadron Philippines Air Force (PhAF), and more were to follow. In late December 1962, the Shah of Iran also granted his approval for deployment of four Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) F-86F Sabres in response to the corresponding UN request. These aircraft arrived at the Kamina airfield on 19 January 1963. Between the nine IIAF pilots who flew in Congo was Capt. Khatami (later C-in-C IIAF), Capt. Rabie (last C-in-C IIAF), and two other officers from Vahdati AB who reached the rank of General in the 1970s. Overall command of the newly-established UN Fighter Wing had Swedish Col. Sven Lampell.

One of Swedish J-29 Tunnan fighters from the second batch, sent to Congo in 1962. Note the standard aluminium-grey colour and the mix of SwLM and UN markings. (Photo: Unknown Danish UN-Soldier, via Alf Blume)

Once again, the ONUC Canberras and fighter-bombers attacked Avikat airfields, supporting the UN offensive, spearheaded by an attack of Swedish troops under Lt.Col. Bengt Fredman’s Battalion (locally known as “P-6”) on Kaminaville, on 31 December 1962, during which two M-8 Greyhound scout cars captured from Katangans were pressed into service. The IIAF contingent was very active, its F-86s flying more sorties than Philippine and Swedish contingents combined. Only one IIAF Sabre – flown by Lt. Alaghband - was damaged by ground fire, but the pilot landed safely and the aircraft was repaired within 24 hours. In reaction to UN air strikes against Kipushi, Kabongo and Jadotville, the Katangese swiftly dispersed their aircraft, but most of these were gradually taken out.

By 15 January 1963, the UN established full control over Katanga: Tshombe went into exile in Spain, and his military commander swore an oath of allegiance to the Congo. The ONUC’s Fighter Wing was disestablished in the following days and weeks, most of the contingents returning home. The last four J-29Bs left for Sweden in April 1963, the remainder being destroyed at Kamina; most of Swedish scout cars – the P-6 Battalion meanwhile operated at least four M-8s and two M-3s – were handed over to the Congolese. The last troops of the UN contingent in Congo withdrew on 30 June 1964.

One of four IIAF F-86Fs deployed to Congo in early 1963. Contrary to Ethiopians before them, the Iranians applied larger title "UN" bellow the cockpit. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

One of the most-used transport aircraft of the time, and thus massively chartered by the ONUC, was Douglas DC-4. This example, registered as "HB-ILB", was seen while unloading at Kamina airfield. (Photo: Unknown Danish UN-Soldier, via Alf Blume)

Aircraft Camouflage, Serials & Markings

- Fouga CM.170 Magister: All three Avikat Magisters were left bare metal overall, but had orange or yellow nose, tailband and wing tanks, as well as black serials on the forward fuselage: 91, 92, 93.

- Dornier Do.28A: Most of these aircraft were originally purchased from civilian stocks, and therefore in white over, bare metal under, with black cheat line, and black serials on the fin (like KA3018, KA3020 etc.). Some were later camouflaged – except for engine nacelles and undersurfaces – by the application of green paint, crudely daubed by hand. It appears that in case of such aircraft the serial was also applied on the lower side of the wings (confirmed by photograph of KA-(3)016, which crashed in March 1962).

- T-6G/AT-6: Ex-Belgian T-6Gs were camouflaged in dark green and dark brown over, medium blue under, and wore white serials on rear fuselage: KA-33.

- DC-3: KAT-02 and KAT-03 were operational, KAT-04 was purchased, but never put in service (this ex-Swissair mount, with former registration “HB-IRL”, was used as source of spares).

- Canberra B(I).Mk.58: Deployed to Congo were aircraft IF-898, IF-901 (operational with No.106 Sqn IAF as of 2004), IF-907, IF-908, IF-961, and IF-962. All were from the No.5 Sqn IAF, all left in bare metal overall, and wore black serials on the fin, as well as large black “ONU” title on rear fuselage.

- Saab J-29B & S-29C: Originally, the SwLM deployed a total of three J-29Bs and two S-29Cs to Congo. These were initially left in their “bare metal” overall, and had small black serials on rear fuselage, large white code outlined in black on fin, title “UN” in black on white box on fuselage and upper wings.

Camouflage colours were applied after KAT air strikes against airfields used by the ONUC. This usually consisted in blue-grey and olive colours, with yellow streaks over, and bare metal under. The first five Tunnans known to have been deployed were:
- D (29374), J-29B
- E (29393), J-29B
- F (29398), J-29B (today preserved in the Flygvapenmuseum, in Linköping)
- A (29944), S-29C
- B (29906), S-29C (modified to S-29E, with “sawtooth” wings)

At least one of Tunnans was written off while in Congo, then only two J-29Bs and two S-29Cs were returned, in April 1963. Previously, in 1962, the surviving Tunnans were reinforced by four additional J-29Bs, including A/29475, which was seen in bare metal overall.

Sources & Bibliography

Special thanks to Mr. Alf Blume for providing a sellection of exclusive photographs from collection of an unknown Danish UN-soldier.

Except for own research, the following sources of reference were used:

- WAR IN PEACE, An Analysis of Warfare since 1945, Consultant Editor Sir Robert Thompson KBE, CMG, DSO, MC; Orbis Publishing, London, 1981 (ISBN 0-85613-341-8)

- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989 (ISBN: 0-85368-779-X)

- “CONTINENT ABLAZE; The Insurgency Wars in Africa, 1960 to the Present”, by John W. Turner, Arms and Armour Press, 1998 (ISBN: 1-85409-128-X)

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