Peacekeepers Go to War

Jeeps in Congo, 1960-1964


This page is mostly superceded by Leif Hellström's much more detailed 2017 series of articles on Military Jeeps in the Congo, but this page does provide a summary of UN peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during 1960-64.

One of the flashpoints of both the Cold War and of the upheaval in post-colonial Africa in the early 1960s, was the fighting in the former Belgian Congo from 1960-64. An independent Republic of the Congo was declared in June 1960, despite the fact that it was clearly unprepared. In the first week of July, the army mutinied against its remaining white officers, and numerous attacks took place against Europeans. The problems were made worse when the copper and uranium-rich province of Katanga separated from the Congo, with the support of Belgian business interests and Belgian troops. Katanga had the potential to make Congo one of the more wealthy African states, but without it, the new nation would remain poor.

Le Soir

The cover of the Belgian newsmagazine Le Soir Illustré of 14 July 1960 reads, "In 16 pages, all the pictures of the uprising in the new Republic of Congo."

The photo of a Jeep labelled "Gendarmerie" is captioned, "During a patrol, black militia soldiers have arrested Europeans and taken them away in a Jeep."

In the first week of July, a rebellion had broken out within the Force Publique against its officers, who were still predominantly Belgian. This was a catalyst for disturbances arising all over the Congo, and in many areas the violence specifically targeted European victims. Within weeks, the Belgian military and later the United Nations intervention force evacuated the largest part of the more than 80,000 Belgians who were still working and living in the Congo. (Wikipedia)

Canadian M38 United Nations peacekeeping troops had begun to arrive in the Congo within 48 hours of a Security Council resolution on 14 July 1960 authorizing military assistance and calling on Belgium to withdraw its troops.

A Canadian Royal Canadian Corps of Signals M38, freshly painted in UN white, is shown here departing for the Congo, equipped with a frame for laying communication cable. (Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada Item 4234731.)

Peacekeepers Thirty different countries contributed personnel to "Operation des Nations Unies au Congo," or ONUC. Three soldiers from different contingents are seen in Leopoldville with an M38A1 in the background on 12 August 1960, in this UN Photo.

Canadian troops ONUC troop strength reached its maximum of nearly 20,000 in 1961, and fatalities between 1960-64 included 245 military personnel and 5 international civilian staff.

This undated photo shows Canadian troops with what appears to be a Mahindra CJ-3B, presumably supplied to the UN by India. Photo courtesy RCSigs.ca.

106 mm This Mahindra Jeep with its Indian crew carries a 106mm recoilless rifle. The modified paint scheme used on many of the Indian Jeeps had only the rear bodywork, front bumper and bottom half of the windshield painted UN white. Thanks to Federico Cavedo for finding this 1961 photograph by Howard Sochurek in the LIFE Photo Archive at LIFE.com.
The UN's own records of United Nations Operations in the Congo state: "Originally mandated to provide the Congolese Government with the military and technical assistance it required following the collapse of many essential services and the military intervention by Belgian troops, ONUC became embroiled by the force of circumstances in a chaotic internal situation of extreme complexity and had to assume certain responsibilities which went beyond normal peacekeeping duties."

Armor These controversial actions included offensive operations in 1961-62 against the breakaway province of Katanga, whose forces were supplemented with white mercenaries and Belgian officers.

A 1961 photo by Howard Sochurek from LIFE.com shows four armored CJ-6s manned by Katangans and mercenaries, with Belgian officers.

Jeeps and machine guns were a significant factor in favor of the mercenaries in their early brushes with the ANC and UN forces, many of whom were equipped with outdated small arms.

The instructions of the Security Council were strengthened early in 1961 after the killing in Katanga of Congo's former Prime Minster Patrice Lumumba. ONUC was to protect the Congo from outside interference, particularly by evacuating foreign mercenaries and advisers. In late 1961, and again in 1962, the Katangan "Gendarmerie" (paramilitary police) and foreign mercenaries clashed with ONUC.

The world's attention was riveted on the Congo in 1961 by the death of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in a mysterious air crash, while on his way to assist in peace negotiations. (The crash was later linked inconclusively to the American CIA and British MI5.)

UN machine gun This UN Photo shows a damaged Swedish SKPF armored personnel carrier under attack by Katangan and mercenary forces on the outskirts of Leopoldville, 1 December 1961. ONUC troops use the vehicle for cover while returning fire from its twin Colt 8mm water-cooled machine guns.

In the fieldAlthough some Indian units were called home for the India-China War of 1962, this 106mm Willys/Mahindra CJ-3B was still in the Congo on 3 January 1963. According to UN archives, "Indian troops are seen manoeuvring an armed vehicle in an area between Elisabethville and Jadotville" in this UN Photo.

Christmas 1963 Members of No. 57 Canadian Signals Unit visited villages near Leopoldville to give out candies and gifts at Christmas 1963. This Canadian Army CJ-3B was driven by Private Kenneth Goble, with Corporal Maurice LeClair. (Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada Item 4235546.)

(This new full-color photo turned up recently, and the color looks remarkably similar to the grayscale photo of the same occasion which I colorized a few years ago for Christmas 1963.)

United Nations Operations in the Congo (ONUC) concluded in June 1964, by which point some of the same mercenary forces had returned to fight for the Congolese government against communist-supported rebels. (See Mercenaries vs. Rebels on CJ3B.info.)

Indian soldier UN peacekeepers were called back to the Congo in 2001, and were further reinforced in 2009. In this UN Photo by Marie Frechon, "A member of the Indian battalion of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) patrols the newly installed operating base at North Kivu, 23 April 2009." At least one contingent in the UN force still had Jeeps on the ground, as evidenced by the Mahindra in the background.

Thanks to UN Multimedia, Library and Archives Canada, RCSigs.ca and LIFE.com. -- Derek Redmond.

See Leif Hellström's series of articles on Military Jeeps in the Congo.

See also more United Nations peacekeeping on CJ3B.info:

Return to CJ-3B and M606 Military Jeeps.

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Last updated 1 December 2023 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond