June 18, 2020

Movie Review: The Siege of Jadotville (Netflix - 2016)

The Siege of Jadotville is a true story of an Irish Army company's combat action in the Congo in 1961. The film is based on Declan Power's book, The Siege of Jadotville: The Irish Army's Forgotten Battle.

The film begins with the assassination of Congo's Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba and the outbreak of civil war. The mineral-rich state of Katanga then mounted a succession effort, raising tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union - both coveted the minerals in the state, including uranium needed for nuclear weapons. United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld sent an Irish diplomat to the Congo to attempt to mediate and de-scalate the situation. A year earlier, the UN had established a peacekeeping force - United Nations Operation in the Congo (Opération des Nations Unies au Congo, or ONUC).

Part of the the ONUC force was the 35th Battalion of the Irish Army. The film is focused on a battle between A Company and Katangese Gendarmerie troops loyal to the self-proclaimed Katangese prime minister Moïse Tshombe - Tshombe's troops were led and supported by foreign mercenaries (mostly former French Foreign Legionnaires, at the behest of our favorite French leader, Charles De Gaulle).

The lightly armed 150 Irish soldiers, commanded by Commandant (US major equivalent) Patrick Quinlan, under siege in the town of Jadotville, held off the Katangese assaults for five days as a relief force of Irish, Indian and Swedish troops unsuccessfully tried to reach the Irish company.

The outnumbered Irish company was eventually forced to surrender after ammunition and supplies were exhausted, but not before inflicting heavy casualties on the Katangese troops and their mercenaries. The Irish troops suffered wounds, but none died in the fighting. They were released after a month in a prisoner exchange and returned to Ireland.

The movie addresses quite well the incidents in other parts of the Congo that led to the assault on the Irish troops. It highlights the ineptitude of the UN diplomatic effort and a failure to understand the consequences of deploying "peacekeepers" when there is no peace to keep. What they needed was an intervention force.

The tactical efforts by the Irish, led by Quinlan and Company Sergeant Jack Prendergast, in the defense of their outpost is fascinating to watch - it allowed a force of 150 soldiers to hold off over 3,000 opposing troops. No Irish troops were killed in the fighting, yet they were able to kill over 300 and wound over 1,000 of the enemy.

Recommendation: for most viewers, a good story. For military viewers, an education in leadership and small-unit tactics.

Watch it on Netflix: https://www.netflix.com/watch/80041653