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Jeeps in the Congo,


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. The 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.(1)

What happened in the Congo over the next few years was far too complex and brutal to be fully described here, but I have tried to summarize the events in which these Jeeps were involved, and I have included footnotes to other sites on the web with more information on the Congo Crisis.

See also Mercenaries vs. Rebels: Jeeps in Congo, 1964-1965 on CJ3B.info.

ONUC Peacekeeping Mission

106 mmThis 1961 photograph by Howard Sochurek from the LIFE Magazine Photo Archive at LIFE.com shows a Jeep and 106mm recoilles rifle manned by United Nations peacekeeping troops in the Congo, part of "Operation des Nations Unies au Congo," or ONUC. Thanks to Federico Cavedo for finding this picture in the archive, as well as one showing the troops mounted on the Jeeps (110K JPEG).

The notes in the LIFE archive don't indicate the country of origin of the soldiers and vehicles in these photos, but they are apparently Indian -- note the paint scheme used by the Indian Army in the Congo, with the rear bodywork, front bumper and bottom half of the windshield painted UN white.

Thirty different countries contributed personnel to the operation, and in 1961 ONUC troop strength had reached its maximum of nearly 20,000. UN fatalities between 1960-64 included 245 military personnel and 5 international civilian staff.(2)

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."(2)

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.

In the fieldApparently one of the Indian 106mm Willys CJ-3Bs was still in the Congo when this UN photo was taken on 3 January 1963. According to UN archives, "Indian troops are seen manoeuvring an armed vehicle in an area between Elisabethville and Jadotville." (3)

Thanks to the UN for this great picture; see the large copy (360K JPEG). Part of the Jeep's problem seems to be some major damage to the left front tire.

Peacekeepers Countries contributing personnel to ONUC included Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Ceylon, Denmark, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, 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.

Contingents 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.(2)

The UN photo above, of three soldiers in Leopoldville, was taken on 12 August 1960.(3) The M38A1 in the background, possibly Canadian, appears to be freshly painted UN white. See also Canadian and Indian military police in a white export CJ-5 (65K JPEG).(9)

M38One of the countries contributing to ONUC brought this M38, seen in a UN photo on the Katanga highway, with an Ethiopian soldier standing guard, on 1 August 1960(3). The Jeep has had "ONU" stencilled on its bumper, but has not been repainted in white.

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.(2)

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.)

Congo at Peace (Briefly)

Swedish J-29Katanga's Belgian officers were removed in 1962 under international pressure, and the Swedish ONUC contingent brought in Saab J-29 fighter jets (left) which gave them air control. UN forces were then able to take control of Katanga, and disband the mercenaries. UN records state, "In February 1963, after Katanga had been reintegrated into the national territory of the Congo, a phasing out of the Force was begun."(2)

This photo of a UN J-29 was taken by an Danish UN soldier, and is courtesy of Alf Blume and the Danish UN Museum. The white Jeeps in the background appear to be a CJ-5 and CJ-6, used by the Swedish contingent as staff cars (60K JPEG).(4)

Another photo scanned by Alf Blume shows both white and olive drab Jeeps on the airstrip as a USAF C-124 Globemaster (30K JPEG) unloads equipment for Ghurka troops from India. (See also the Air Combat Information Group's study of Air Combat in the Congo, Part 1: 1960-1963.)

Katangan flag

Which Side Are You On?


Belgian Congo 1955There had been CJ-3Bs on the ground in the Congo prior to the arrival of the UN force. The Belgian Army's Paracommando Regiment brought the unique military CJ-3As which replaced their well-used MB's in 1952. This 1955 photo is courtesy Para Commando Congo Belge 50/70.

Leopoldville 1959This news photo scanned by John Carroll is captioned, "Willys Jeep with LMG of the 2nd Recce Squadron of the Force Publique -- peace keeping operation during Leopoldville riot in January 1959. Belga Press Agency." It shows a CJ-3B with the windshield removed to allow equipment packs on the cowl and a mounting bracket for something behind the front fender.

The Force Publique was the Belgian colonial paramilitary police, and the riots in Leopoldville were one factor which led to the Belgian government granting independence to Congo in June 1960.(5)

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)

The Mercenaries

UN machine gunThis 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.(3)

A color photo from the collection of Alf Blume, taken by a Danish UN soldier, shows an SKPF and a Willys pickup (140K JPEG) which also appears to be a UN vehicle.(4)

ArmorTwo more 1961 photos by Howard Sochurek from LIFE.com show four armored Jeeps (110K JPEG) which appear to be CJ-6s.

Descriptions found by Federico Cavedo in the LIFE Archive led me initially to think these were UN troops, but the uniforms, and the lack of any visible UN markings on the Jeeps (right) suggest these are actually Katangans and mercenaries, with Belgian officers. The flag on the lead vehicle is certainly not the UN flag, and in fact looks like a variation of the Katangan flag (above).

A photo from an unknown source which may also be from Sochurek's series for LIFE, shows what is clearly a Katangan troop column (130K JPEG) including a similar armored Jeep, with recoilless rifle, and a CJ-5 and CJ-6 in the background.(4) The cross-shaped symbol on the Jeep and the flag, represents cross-shaped copper bars used as currency (see Flags of the World.)

Ironically, Irishman "Mad Mike" Hoare and many of the same mercenaries who had been fighting against the Congolese Army and ONUC, were back in business by late 1963 as "5 Commando" on behalf of the Republic of Congo and with the support of the CIA, trying to put down the communist-backed Simba rebels, or "People's Liberation Army."(7) It's possible the above photo dates from these later operations.

Commando CJ-3B
This photo shows a Jeep with armored grille and windshield used by "14 Commando", a unit of the Congolese Army mainly consisting of Katangese troops, with some white mercenaries.

The photo comes from the Overvalwagen Forum's discussion of Armor in Congo-Katanga.

Stanleyville 1964The dramatic commando raid "Operation Red Dragon" again grabbed world attention on 24 November 1964. Hundreds of Belgian paratroopers flew from Europe in USAF Hercules transports, to seize Stanleyville airport and rescue European and American hostages from the desperate Simba rebels. Scores of hostages were killed, but some 1600 were rescued.

Jeeps were involved in that operation (left), as a column of mercenaries and Congolese troops survived several ambushes (70K JPEG) and rushed into the city to support the paratroopers. Mike Hoare (80K JPEG) supervised the rescue of some of the hostages.(7) These dramatic images by Priya Ramrakha are from the LIFE Magazine Photo Archive.

Mike Hoare The source of this photo is unknown however. It reportedly shows Mike Hoare being interviewed in Stanleyville by the BBC.

Mike Hoare was not the only legendary foreign commander to fight in the Congo. The arrival of Che Guevara with 73 men in early 1965 was an attempt to help the Soviet-backed rebels against the American-backed Congolese Army, but Che and the Simbas were driven from the country by the end of the year.(7)

See more on Mercenaries vs. Rebels: Jeeps in Congo, 1964-1965 on CJ3B.info.

Irish Cavalry

VehiclesNeither was Mike Hoare the only Irishman fighting in the Congo. One of the major participants in the ONUC peacekeeping operation was Ireland. According to Ireland's History with the UN, "On the 28th July 1960 Lt-Col. Murt Buckley led the men of the 32nd Irish Battalion out to the Congo. Twenty-six men died in the Congo, 9 died in one action, the Niemba ambush."

The UN Photo archives describes this photo: "Armored vehicles of the Irish 38th Battalion are seen on the roadway between Elisabethville and Kipushi, 3 January 1963."(3)

A Jeep in the background appears to be a CJ-5, but it's not clear whether the Jeep is attached to the Irish unit.

Irish Cavalry

The 1st Armoured Car Squadron, established in 1922, supplied armored vehicles for the peacekeeping mission. It's not clear whether they took this CJ-3B which is now in the collection of the re-organized 1 Armoured Cavalry Squadron, but the Jeep, and I think all of the vehicles in the background of this photo would be of the correct vintage: a Unimog, a Ferret, and (on the left in the large version of the photo, 100K JPEG) a Ford Mk VI armored car.

The photo was taken by Matt McNamara for his Curragh Information Website, during 2002 anniversary celebrations for the Armoured Car Corps.

Irish CavalryA CJ-3B was present on the tarmac in Dublin, Ireland as peacekeeping troops departed for the Congo in a USAF C-124 Globemaster in 1961.

According to an article in Classic Military Vehicle magazine (August 2012), the Irish Defence Force had purchased 29 Willys CJ-3A Jeeps between 1950-52, followed by 10 CJ-3Bs in 1953.

This image is a frame from a British Pathé newsreel.

Irish CavalryThis former Irish Defence Force CJ-3B is under restoration in Ireland as of 2012. The Jeep carries a spare tire on the hood; it's not clear whether this is an IDF or later modification.

The More Things Change...

When we think about the years 1960-64, it's hard not to think first about Elvis, John F. Kennedy, the Beatles -- people and events that seem far removed from the politics and terror of the Congo.

1960But here's an image that reminds us that the young soldiers who are sent off to fight, are young people just like the ones who wait at home. This UN photo is captioned "Two soldiers of the Irish Army prior to their departure with their battalion for the Congo, 1 July 1960."(3)

The loss of 245 UN military personnel including 26 Irish soldiers, between 1960 and 1964, was the price paid to save countless thousands of civilians from certain death in a brutal civil war. ONUC's interventions, although controversial at the time, were successful in stabilizing the region. And certainly more successful in protecting civilians than some more recent UN peacekeeping operations where the peacekeepers' hands have been tied by more restrictive ground rules.(8)

Indian soldierUN 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."(3)

At least one contingent in the current UN force still has Jeeps on the ground, as evidenced by the Mahindra in the background here.


  1. United Nations from the History Learning Site
  2. United Nations Operations in the Congo from the UN
  3. UN Photo from UN Multimedia
  4. Armor in Congo-Katanga from the Overvalwagen Forum
  5. The Belgian Congo, a colony unprepared from African History to 1875
  6. Congo 1964-65 from US Foreign Policy in Perspective
  7. The Congo, Cannibals And Wild Geese from the Civilization Fanatics' World History Forum
  8. Mediation or Intervention? The UN Operation in the Congo 1960-64 from the Canadian Forces
  9. Canadian Provost Corps UN Operations In The Congo from the Canadian Military Police Virtual Museum

Thanks to Federico J. Cavedo, John Carroll, Alf Blume, Bob Bullock and Roberto Flores. Also UN Photo and LIFE.com. -- Derek Redmond.

Continue to Mercenaries vs. Rebels: Jeeps in Congo, 1964-1965.

More U.N. peacekeeping on CJ3B.info:

Return to CJ-3Bs in History.

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Last updated 10 July 2016 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond