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Jeeps of the
Irish Defence Forces


 

Ireland, like Switzerland and Spain, was a neutral, non-combatant country during World War II, so it didn't find itself with surplus jeeps after the war. Switzerland ordered hundreds of surplus and new Willys Jeeps for its army, and Spain became a manufacturer of Jeeps, but Ireland was a natural market for the Land Rovers built next door in Great Britain.

In 1948, the British War Office lent the Irish Defence Forces (IDF) some war surplus jeeps for testing, and between 1950-54 the Army decided to order 56 new Willys Jeeps (including 11 Station Wagons and 6 Panel Delivery wagons) and the Army reported the Jeeps as giving good service, but starting in 1954 their 4x4 utility vehicle of choice became the Land Rover.

ZL1247 The IDF purchased 29 Willys CJ-3As (with front-mounted winches) between 1950-52, followed by 10 CJ-3Bs in 1953-54, according to Karl Martin's book Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour Since 1922.

One of the 3A's can be seen in the background of this photo, while a CJ-3B with registration number ZL1247 carries officers in what is probably an Easter parade in Dublin. Photo courtesy Irish Military Vehicles Group.
 

ZL1246 The Jeeps were used by various units including Field Artillery and Motor Squadrons (cavalry). CJ-3B ZL1246 of the Artillery Corps is seen here circa 1958 in front of two Morris C8 Field Artillery Tractors, commonly known as Quads, towing 25-pounders. The Jeep carries a radio with antenna behind the front seat.

Photo from the Howard Woods Collection, as reproduced in Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour Since 1922.
 

Surviving CJ-3Bs

ZL1245This picture shows ZL1245 at the former Griffith Barracks in Dublin, apparently when it was still in active service, but with the original registration plate missing. It shows an addition made to at least some of the Jeeps -- a railing above the rear wheels. The reason for it is obvious in the 1958 photo above!

Photo courtesy Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives .
 

ZL1245The same CJ-3B is seen in 2016; it has the same tires but has been repainted, and the side railings have been removed. I don't know where this Jeep is located now -- possibly in an IDF collection since it appears to be driven by a soldier in this parade photo by Dave Keogh from Flickr.
 

Irish Cavalry

The second surviving CJ-3B I am aware of is in the collection of 1 Armoured Cavalry Squadron in Curragh. This photo was taken during 2002 anniversary celebrations for the Armoured Car Corps, by Matt McNamara for The Curragh.
 

ZL1240

ZL1240The third known survivor is ZL1240 which has been in private hands since being retired from service in Cork in 1965, but still has its original number plate. It's seen here in 2012 as purchased by Sean Curtis.

See also a rear view (130K JPEG) prior to repainting, the engine (50K JPEG), and the chassis (90K JPEG) during painting.
 

ZL1240 The spare tire mount on the hood was likely a military modification, and Sean Curtis attached a spare following his repainting. However, I have seen no photos indicating that any of the other Jeeps were similarly modified.
 

2017 The Jeep was bought by Kieran Flynn in early 2017, and immediately became a club project for half a dozen members of the Irish Military Vehicles Group (IMVG) who undertook a number of necessary mechanical repairs and prepared ZL1240 for another repainting. They were aiming to have it completed in time for the IMVG's big annual show in June 2017 at Naas Racecourse near Dublin.
 

2017 This time, it was painted white, in honor of the three CJ-3Bs which were taken to the Congo in 1960 with the Irish contingent of the United Nations peacekeeping force known as Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC). None of those three Jeeps returned to Ireland.
 

2017 The white Jeep made its debut at the June IMVG show, with ONUC markings which are somewhat speculative, as no complete photo of an Irish CJ-3B in the Congo has turned up. The yellow insignia is the logo of the IMVG, and the name "Sophia C" is in honor of Kieran Flynn's baby granddaughter.

The pennant (50K JPEG) flying from the front of the Jeep is a reproduction of the ONUC flag of the IDF's 35th Infantry Battalion, now famous for the "Siege of Jadotville" (see below.)
 

2017 The restoration includes a Pye radio set (150K JPEG) as used in some of the Irish Jeeps.

The IMVG show also featured a Congo re-enactment (260 JPEG) with re-enactors including Finbarr Rush, Declan Gaffney and John Kelly (seen above in the Jeep). Declan comments, "Re-enactment was to feature the Jeep bringing some Irish troops up to a Belgian mercenary roadblock, but the carb developed a touch of incontinence! Belgian forces surrendered after the inevitable firefight."
 

ONUC Peacekeeping Mission

"Belgians... were proud of what they saw as their mission of enlightenment (in Africa), and were fiercely protective of their economic assets. Any process, even one promoted by their protecting power, the United States, that challenged their grip was resisted and resented. And so the Belgian retreat from the Congo was destined to be messy. Into this mess stepped... the tiny forces, diplomatic and military, of Ireland, and in the process both discovered their naivety and lack of preparedness." (1)

27 July 1960 On 28 July 1960, Lt-Col. Murt Buckley led the men of the 32nd Infantry Battalion of the Irish Defence Forces to the Congo to join the Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) peacekeeping force in the Congo. This would be the IDF's first experience in combat since the end of the Irish civil war in 1923. In this exceptional photo (690K JPEG) the battalion marches through Dublin prior to their departure. Photo courtesy UN/Irish Times.
 

Irish Cavalry Irish troops and equipment travelled in USAF C-124 Globemasters. One of the CJ-3Bs was present on the tarmac at Baldonnel Aerodrome near Dublin for this departure in 1961. Newsreel frame courtesy of British Pathé.

According to Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour Since 1922, three CJ-3Bs were taken to the Congo (registration numbers ZL1241, 1242 and 1244) in addition to seven CJ-3As and 23 Land Rovers. None of the vehicles returned to Ireland.
 

IDF CJ-3A A CJ-3A is loaded into a Globemaster in July 1960. Photo courtesy IMVG.

See also a rear view (80K JPEG) of ZL1217 on the ramp (with a single taillight on the right side.) Looks like the driver made at least two tries, because in the rear view he's too far to the other side of the ramp.
 

Troops loading After a final Land Rover is squeezed in, troops board with their lunches for the flight. One writer has commented: "That the small garrison army was unprepared is the stuff of military legend in Ireland: the men in 'bull's wool' uniforms, with Lee-Enfield rifles and World War II-vintage 'home-made' armoured cars!" (1)

Photo courtesy Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives.
 

32 Btn pipe band The 32nd Battalion Pipe Band boards a Hercules at Baldonnel on 27 July 1960 in this UN Photo.

Ireland was shocked when early in the mission, nine soldiers died in a single incident known as the "Niemba Ambush." An eleven-man Irish patrol was ambushed by local tribesmen on 8 November 1960, and nine Irish soldiers and some 25 tribesmen were killed. (2)
 

32 Btn pipe band Ther pipes and drums of another IDF unit march out of the airfield at Elisabethville in the Congo, with United Nations berets now on their heads, in March/April 1961. Photo by the late Lt.Col. Dermod Coffey, courtesy Ann Ryan on Flickr.

From 1960 to 1964, different battalions were rotated into the Congo, and a total of just over 6,000 Irish troops served with ONUC, of whom twenty-six died.
 

CJ-3B There are a handful of photos of Irish soldiers posing with CJ-3Bs in the Congo, none of which show a complete vehicle, and some of which may not be IDF Jeeps. This one, with a distinctive white stripe across the windshield frame and a blue and white UN marker on the side, probably belongs to the Indian contingent (see Military Jeeps in the Congo, Part 8 on CJ3B.info.) Photo courtesy of IMVG.
 

Irish CJ-3B This CJ-3B festooned with flowers in 1962, is still painted in olive drab but with a white bumper, which also might indicate an Indian Jeep. The photo is courtesy of Leif Hellström, who comments, "I have no idea what the occasion is, but apparently some kind of festivity. Assuming the placard is written in Swahili (which is not sure), it would read something like 'Miss is a Lion', whatever that means... "
 

CJ-3B There are at least a couple of pictures which confirm the IDF CJ-3Bs in the Congo were painted in white. Here a sergeant drives a Jeep with a passenger who looks like an Irishman, but in civilian clothes. Undated photo, source unknown.
 

CJ-3B Another undated shot, just wide enough to reveal "ONU" (Organisation des Nations Unies) stencilled on the side, probably in blue. Photo courtesy IMVG.
 

Land Rover For comparison: a Land Rover marked for the 35th Battalion in October 1962 near Elisabethville.

The photo was taken by Dermod Coffey, an officer in the Cavalry Corps. Known to his army friends as Clar, he was a Lt. Colonel when he died in 2012. He served twice in the Congo with the Armoured Car Group of 34 Bn (the first Irish ONUC unit to have an armored component) in 1961, and the Armoured Car Group of 37 Bn in '62. Photo courtesy of his niece Ann Ryan on Flickr.
 

Irish convoy Also for comparison: white CJ-5s (export version with split-pane windshield) supplied by ONUC to the Irish contingent, seen in an undated photo of a convoy with Irish Ford armored cars behind. (See more on the Fords further down on this page.)

See also Military Jeeps in the Congo, Part 7: ONUC Round-fenders.
 

Irish radio An undated rear view of a similar ONUC CJ-5, equipped with radio and machine gun mount. This classic peacekeeping white paint with blue UN insignia and ONUC license plates, provided much of the inspiration for the livery of the IMVG club's restoration of their CJ-3B.
 

CJ-3A This Jeep with a .303 Vickers water-cooled machine gun mounted (possibly from an out-of-service armored car) has been identified as an Irish CJ-3A, but in fact appears to be another ONUC export CJ-5, with a split windshield and a left taillight visible.

Photo from Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives.
 

Irish Armored Cars

Armored cars Beginning in 1961, the Jeeps in the Congo were joined by armored cars. The 1st Armoured Car Squadron arrived in January 1961 with the 34th Infantry Battalion, bringing 8 Ford Mk VI armored cars and 8 Land Rovers. The armored cars had been built by Thompson & Son in Carlow, Ireland in 1941 on a 2WD Ford truck chassis. (3)

Newsreel frame of the departure at Baldonnel, courtesy of British Pathé.
 

Armored cars Two of the first group of Fords are unloaded from a Globemaster in the Congo, still painted in olive drab. They carried Vickers machine guns, but Comdt. A.J. Magennis later wrote, "The few who knew the details of recent tests on their mild steel plating prayed 'Christ help them if they have to fight in those henhouses.'" (4)
 

Armored cars Before long the armored cars are painted in ONUC white, and have been equipped with protective louvers in front of the radiators.
 

Ford Mark VI In April 1961 the 34 Bn moved from Kamina to Elisabethville, and the turrets had to be removed from the Fords, to fit them into a C-119 Flying Boxcar. (3) Photo by Dermod Coffey from Flickr.

Three more Ford Mark VIs were brought when 35 Bn arrived in June 1961. Two were lost in September to Katangan rebels and mercenaries in one of the largest ONUC engagements in which Irish troops were involved, at Jadotville. (The Fords are one of the details left out of the 2016 Netflix film The Siege of Jadotville.)
 

Ford Mark VI A huge amount of maintenance was required to keep the Fords operating in the face of hostile fire, rough terrain and dusty conditions. Spare parts for the ancient vehicles were difficult to obtain.

In early 1962 the United Nations agreed to let the armored cars be painted in dark green again, to make them less obvious as targets, (4) as seen in this July 1962 photo in Elisabethville by Dermod Coffey from Flickr.
 

In action Even the UN helmets are olive drab in this frame from newsreel footage. The Fords proved valuable in support of infantry from the Irish as well as other national contingents.

They helped clear Katangan rebels from Elisabethville in December 1961 following the famous "Battle of the Tunnel," in which 36 Infantry Bn had to storm a railway underpass which controlled the road to the Irish and Swedish ONUC camps. This was two days after their arrival in the Congo, and most of the troops had never seen action. In twelve hours of fighting they took the tunnel from heavily entrenched Katangans and mercenaries. It was a major success, but at the cost of three Irish lives. (5)
 

Ford Mark VI 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." This Ford has had a brush bar added to the front, for clearing obstacles.

When the armored cars were turned over to the Congolese Army, six were still in operating condition. The last Irish troops left the Congo in June 1964.
 

Kalemie Remnants of the Fords can still be found in the Congo. This photo taken in Kalemie (formerly Albertville) is by D. Strachan and T. de Matteis, from Albertville.be.
 

Ford Mark VI A Ford Mk VI has also been restored in ONUC white, and is seen in this excellent photo (340K JPEG) of the 26 March 2016 Easter parade in Dublin, on the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Photo by Ross Mahon from Flickr.
 

The More Things Change...

1960 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, July 1960."
 

IMVG restoration The loss of 245 ONUC 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.

This unique CJ-3B restoration project by the Irish Military Vehicles Group honors those soldiers as well as their vehicles.
 

Thanks to Declan Gaffney and the other members of the Irish Military Vehicles Group involved in the project. Thanks also to Leif Hellström, Ann Ryan, Karl Martin for his book Irish Army Vehicles: Transport and Armour Since 1922, the Defence Forces Ireland Military Archives, UN Multimedia, and the many photographers. The source of some of the photos is unknown; any information about appropriate credit is welcome. -- Derek Redmond.

Footnotes

  1. Thomas O'Loughlin, review in History Ireland, March/April, 2015, of Ireland, the United Nations and the Congo by Michael Kennedy & Art Magennis.
  2. "Irish Army" at Wikipedia.
  3. "Armoured fighting vehicles of the Irish Army" at Wikipedia.
  4. Comdt. A.J. Magennis, "Cavalry in the Congo and Cyprus", An Cosantoir, January 1976.
  5. "Ten Days in Elisabethville" at Ireland's Military Story.



See also Leif Hellström's 2017 series of articles on Military Jeeps in the Congo.
 

More UN peacekeeping on CJ3B.info:


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Last updated 6 July 2017 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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