Airborne Operations [2-3.7 AC.F] - TAB E
THE CONGOLESE RESCUE OPERATION
Soon after 1 July 1960, when the Republic of the Congo became independent, Congolese soldiers mutinied and, with the aid of civilian mobs, raised havoc, raping white settlers and plundering property. A United Nations task force sent to the Congo on 16 July brought stability. In March 1964, when plans for the withdrawal of the UN forces were announced for the end of June, tribal rivalries in outlying areas culminated in revolts against the government.
Early in November, 1964, after the armed forces of the Government were augmented by European and African mercenaries, they launched a two-pronged offensive against the so-called People's Republic of the Congo, which had received Communist support, particularly from China, and threatened the rebel capital of Stanleyville. The rebel president announced that he had taken 60 Americans and 800 Belgians as hostages in order to prevent further attacks. On 9 November, he broadcast that he could no longer guarantee the lives and property of American and Belgian citizens. Almost immediately, horror stories emanating from the area indicated the reality of the threat. On 16 November, the rebels announced that Dr. Carlson, an American medical missionary, would be executed as a spy.
By then, American and Belgian representatives were discussing plans for rescuing the hostages by military action.
Planning was secret because the decision to use military forces had been made at the highest levels of the United States and Belgian
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governments, and also because diplomatic efforts were being undertaken to obtain the release of the hostages.
On 10 November, the commanding officer of the Belgian parachute Commando Regiment was called to the Ministry of Defense in Brussels and questioned on the readiness of his command to undertake active operations in the Congo. On 11 November, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed USCINCEUR to start combined planning with Belgian military representatives. Four U.S. officers went immediately to Brussels for discussions. The U.S. would furnish C-130 aircraft based in Europe to transport the Belgian paratroop unit from Belgium to Stanleyville and to evacuate the hostages to Leopoldville. The operation would include an airdrop and airlandings of Belgian troops to assault Stanleyville.
Because only twelve C-130 aircraft were available, not enough to transport the entire regiment, the Belgian commander tailored a special task force of carefully selected personnel and equipment.
The Belgian Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense asked that casualties be kept to an absolute minimum because of international and domestic repercussions that might result and also that the maximum number of white hostages being held in Stanleyville and in other areas of the Congo be liberated.
In an operation where rapid ground exploitation of surprise airborne landings would be vital in saving the lives of hostages, the use of pathfinders, panels, and other means to mark drop zones was abandoned. The Belgians chose a golf course at one end of the Stanleyville airfield for the drop zone.
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The American planners deferred to Belgian wishes in all matters, for they were concerned with providing the aircraft required, delivering the troops, and providing support.
According to intelligence reports, approximately 800 non-Congolese persons, including about 20 U.S. civilians and 5 U.S. consular officials, were being held hostage, were being abused, and were being threatened with death if the Congolese Army mounted an attack against Stanleyville.
Despite the rebel threats, Congolese Army forces were approaching the rebel capital, and one column was expected to reach the city about 22 November. If the hostages were to survive, extraordinary measures were necessary.
The concept evolved by Belgian and American planners had four operational phases.
Phase I, movement to the Congo. A total of 12 C-130E aircraft would transport 545 paratroopers, 8 jeeps, and 12 motorized tricycles from Belgium to Stanleyville.
Phase II, assault on Stanleyville. A total of 320 paratroopers were to be dropped on the golf course to clear the airfield for airlandings. Motorized equipment—including radio-equipped armored jeeps—was to be parachuted. The remainder of the paratroopers were then to be parachuted on the golf course or airlanded on the airfield. Motorized tricycles, drivers, medical supplies, rations, and ammunition were to be airlanded when the airfield was cleared. One or two American B-26 planes in the immediate vicinity were to be ready to render fire support on call—this fire to be delivered only if enemy weapons on
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the ground threatened transports or paratroopers from completing their missions. The paratroopers, formed into three groups of approximate company size, were to block and control the road leading to the airfield, seize and occupy the airfield tower and guest house, and clear the airfield. Assault elements were to be provided with two American radio sets, and bilingual Belgians were to be trained in their use to permit the paratroop commander to communicate with the airlift commander. After clearing the runway of obstacles placed there by the rebels, the troops would seize objectives to provide security for the airfield. With each company leaving a platoon behind for security, the companies would then move into town, flush out the hiding places where the hostages were being held, and seize objectives to block rebel reinforcements form entering the town. While security detachments held these objectives, the bulk of the paratroopers, reinforced by the airlanded troops , would conduct a detailed search of the town and release all hostages being held in the area.
Phase III, evacuation of the hostages. Because the Stanleyville airfield could hold no more than three C-130Es at one time, and because each plane could evacuate only 96 hostages, additional C-130Es, part of the American forces stationed in the Congo, would be used to bring in C-rations and to evacuate hostages.
Phase IV, subsequent actions. The task force would return to Europe.
Late on 15 November, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a warning order, and on the evening of 16 November ordered the U.S./Belgian Task
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Force moved to Ascension Island on the following day, the first stage of the movement to Stanleyville. At Ascension Island, the Belgian task force commander decided to have his troops parachute onto the airfield itself rather than the golf course.
On 21 November, the task force received orders to move from Ascension Island to the town of Kamina, in southern Congo, for the second stage of the operation, there to take on fuel and make final preparations. The task force arrived on 22 November.
The U.S. and Belgian commanders wanted to start the operation at Stanleyville at 0400, 24 November, in order to permit a joint assault with the Congolese Army forces closing on the city, and this recommendation was accepted.
The task force arrived over Stanleyville on schedule, at 0400, 24 November, ten minutes before daylight, and the paratroopers jumped. A low hanging ground fog gave a ceiling of 300 to 400 feet and some rifle and machine gun fire, including tracer ammunition, that hit several aircraft without effect complicated the operation. But the 320 paratroopers who jumped secured the airfield in 32 minutes. Within 45 minutes after jumping, they had cleared the airfield of obstacles—gas drums, burned cars and trucks, and other debris that littered the runway. The main opposition to the airborne landing had come from a quad-fifty
—four .50 caliber machine guns tied together—of Chinese manufacture. But this was quickly eliminated, and at 0450, the first aircraft was cleared to land.
While troops were taking the guest house at the airfield, the
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telephone rang. A Belgian paratroop captain answered. He heard a voice on the other end urge the rebel leaders at the airfield to hurry to the Victoria Hotel in town where the hostages were being held.
Belgian troops moved immediately into town, where they were halted by machine gun and small arms fire. The quick arrival of several armored jeeps spread panic among rebel ranks, and the rebels dispersed. One block from the Victoria Hotel, the Belgian troops heard scattered shooting. As they came into view of the hotel, they saw 400 to 600 civilians huddled together in the square. A minute before, a rebel officer had ordered them gunned down, and machine pistols had opened fire—killing 28 hostages, including 1 American, Dr. Carlson.
Two and a half hours after the jump, the first of the rescued hostages were being moved to the airfield for air evacuation to Leopoldville. A rebel attack on the airfield was rapidly repulsed.
After clearing Stanleyville of all hostages they could find, the Belgian troops turned the city over to the Congolese Army troops, who had arrived during the day. The Belgians withdrew to defend the airfield.
The evacuation continued for two days. About 2,000 hostages were rescued.
On 25 November, the task force received instructions to undertake an additional rescue operation at Paulis, 225 miles northeast of Stanleyville. Troops and equipment for the operation were picked up at Stanleyville by the airlift commander during the early morning hours of 26 November, and 8 aircraft transported the task force to the objective
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The airfield was secured within 30 minutes of the drop, but landings were delayed for 15 minutes more until hostile small arms fire was eliminated. The Belgians were again luck in discovering quickly where the hostages were being held, and while paratroopers controlled Paulis, motorized patrols of Congolese Army forces liberated 355 hostages in scattered locations during the next three days.
On 27 November, the airlift force recovered the Belgian paratroopers at Stanleyville and Paulis and carried them to Kamina. From there the task force departed on 29 November for Ascension. The task force returned to Brussels on 1 December.
The cost of the operation was 2 Belgian soldiers killed, 11 wounded.
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