Movie Review: The Siege of Jadotville, Directed by Richie Smyth, 2016 (1h 48m)

Comdt. Pat Quinlan, far left, poses with soldiers of A Company, 35th Infantry Battalion, in Elisabethville, before the siege.4

The siege of Jadotville was an armed conflict that happened in September of 1961 (at the peak of the Cold War), during the Congo Crisis, when the “A” Company, 35th Battalion, of the Irish Army’s United Nations Operation in the Congo was attacked by troops (“Katangese Gendarmerie”) of Prime Minister Moïse Tshombe. “The lightly armed Irish soldiers, besieged in Jadotville (modern Likasi), resisted Katangese assaults for five days as a relief force of Irish, Indian and Swedish troops unsuccessfully attempted to reach the Irish force.”5 The Irish, who were outnumbered by far, were then forced to surrender after their resources were finished, however, they were able to inflict significant damage on the Katangese (and the participating mercenaries). The Irish unit was then held POW for approximately one month… (ibid.) Interestingly too, this was Ireland’s first military engagement as an independent nation.

Historically accurate (which is a rare characteristic in this kind of movies), “The Siege of Jadotville” recounts what happened to the 155 soldiers from the Irish contingent, who suddenly found themselves trapped in an isolated, and “politically” unreachable position, in a remote mining area far from reinforcements and surrounded by a population who did not support the UN in the Congo back then. Even though there are several examples of sieges (and someone else’s conflict) in which Irish units participated, e.g. throughout the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 (in which the Irish contingent was the “Saint Patrick’s Battalion”), this film represents a particular chapter in the history of Irish interventions in the sense that this time the Irish force was practically abandoned to its fate… “In July 1960 the Irish Army made its first major commitment to a United Nations peace-keeping mission, contributing two battalions (the 32nd and 34th) to a UN force whose goal was to bring stability to the newly independent Congo. Over a four-year period, 6,191 Irish soldiers volunteered to serve in the Congo but at a high price: 26 Irish soldiers were killed, nine in the Niemba ambush of November 1960 alone.”1

Comdt. Pat Quinlan, second from right, with the Norwegian pilot Bjorne Hovden, left, and Swedish co-pilot, right, of a U.N. helicopter that landed in Jadotville under heavy fire during the battle, in an attempt to deliver water to Irish troops. A Company’s Swedish interpreter Lars Froberg is second from left.4

One fact (not mentioned in the movie) is that five of the Irish soldiers who participated in the 1961 siege and survived, subsequently took their own lives, even though surprisingly, no Irish soldier died in the event. e.g. “[…] speaking at a meeting of the Trinity Women’s Graduates Association in Dublin on Wednesday night, a sister of one of the soldiers described how her brother never fully recovered from the experience and, years later, ended his own life.”3 According to the Irish Times (ibid.), Matthew Quinlan was only 16 at the time of the mission, his first overseas tour. He “loved the army” and was a very skilled gunner, taking out an enemy tank with a mortar during the battle. […] his sister, Bernadette Quinlan, said that, like most of the men, he had been “treated abominably” by the UN and authorities back in Ireland, who had “swept the whole thing under a carpet” as a diplomatic embarrassment. He left the army a few years later, moving first to England and then Australia, and the family never saw him again. In 1991, aged 47, he died by suicide.

This movie is a good first source to understand this siege, and the (very) complicated circumstances behind it, however if you want to learn more about it, you can always read Declan Powers’s book: “Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle.”

References:

  1. History Ireland. 2018. Film eye: The siege of Jadotville. Consulted on July 10th, 2020. https://www.historyireland.com/volume-25/film-eye-siege-jadotville/
  2. The Irish Times. 2014. Film ‘Siege of Jadotville’ to reveal heroism of Irish troops. Consulted on July 10th, 2020. https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/film-siege-of-jadotville-to-reveal-heroism-of-irish-troops-1.1891868
  3. The Irish Times. 2019. Five Irish soldiers took their own lives after Jadotville siege. Consulted on July 10th, 2020. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/five-irish-soldiers-took-their-own-lives-after-jadotville-siege-1.3893633
  4. Time. 2016. The True Story of the Heroic Battle That Inspired the New Netflix Film The Siege of Jadotville. Consulted on July 10th, 2020. https://time.com/4408017/the-siege-of-jadotville-the-true-story-netflix-film/
  5. Wikipedia. 2020. United Nations Operation in the Congo. Consulted on July 10th, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Operation_in_the_Congo

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