The Battle of Kolwezi – Mission Impossible

Chronology of a „Mission Impossible“

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Thanks to AALEP !

„19. May 1978 / 15:40 p.m. vertically above the city of Kolwezi and 6000 kilometres from France, suddenly 400 parachutes appears on a leaden African sky. The operation Bonite has begun.“

Operation Bonite. Zaire, May 1978.

In the 1970s Zaire was a strategically positioned and mineral rich country in equatorial Africa. (Copper, Gold, Diamonds, cobalt and even Uranium.) The 13. May 1978, it was a Saturday, early in the morning, some of 4000 forces of the Front de Libération Nationale du Congo (FLNC*) coming from Angola entered Kolwezi by force, (site of Gécamines Mining Company in the hidden Shaba Province). * The FNLC operation was headed by Nathaniel M’bumba, assisted by officers from the Communist states of Cuba and the German Democratic Republic.

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From the beginning, the “Tigers” started to rape women, murder men, African as well as Europeans (2400 Europeans, Belgians, USA citizens, French, Italians and even Greeks were living on the spot in Kolwezi).

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The 14. May rebels had already killed ten Europeans, nine Belgians and one Italian and the slaughter was growing by the hour. The French ambassador in Kinshasa pushed for action, the United States ( President Jimmy CARTER) immediately set the 82. airborne division in high alert, also did the Belgian Government with theirs Commandos, but they were unable to react immediately.

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So Zaïre’s President Mobutu wanted the French “Légion étrangère” to intervene. On the 17th of May, Giscard d’Estaing, the President of the French Republic (1974 until 1981) assigned the 2. REP (paratroopers of the French Foreign Legion part of the 11. Parachute Division’s Rapid Action Force) led by col. ERULIN to this dangerous and delicate Operation. United States provided equipment’s for transport (C-130) and also the Parachutes (american T-10 ).

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CAMP RAFFALLI

In Calvi / Corsica, colonel ERULIN received a call from 11. DP – Text:

„ Bonite / 6 Hours / Guepard Elements and 2 additional Companies! “

The call was confirmed by telegram message shortly after.

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Meanwhile General M’Bumbas “Tigers” intended to execute all hostages.

At about 06h00 a.m. on 18. May the legionnaires moved to Solenzara / Corsica, where Captain Stephane Coevoet was to organize the men to board the jets that would fly them to Kinshasa.

ERULIN LACAZE SOLENZARA BA 126

Colonel ERULIN and General LACAZE in SOLENZARA AIRBASE 126

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Colonel Coevoet/ chef de corps du 2. REP 1988-1990

Before the 2. REP was dropped over Kolwezi, the commander Colonel Philippe Erulin told to his men:

– One the ground: Rally within minutes

– Attack your target immediately – quick march!

– Focus on the mission and do not take care about comrades killed or wounded in action.

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Equipez vous – Get ready in Kinshasa

Off course the legionnaires took care about deaths and wounded comrades but priority was absolutely given to rapidity! The legionnaire’s code d’honneur says …

T 10 KINSHASA 1978

„… tu n’abandonnes jamais ni tes morts, ni tes blessés, ni tes armes./ you never abandon nor your fallen comrades, nor your wounded, nor your arms“.

Targets

Jean XXIII School / First Company / Cne. Poulet

Gécamines Hospital / Second Company / Cne. Dubos

Hotel Impala / Third Company / Cne. Gausseres

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  1. May 1978 late in the afternoon, first wave: “Stand up, hook up, Check Static Line and Equipment than shuffle to the door.”

Only seconds later: “GO!” The first 400 parachutes opened, and on the ground, rebel gunners opened fire on the descending troops before they even hit the ground.

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First Wave over Kolwezi

This first wave jumped from 820 feet altitude into the hippodrome of the city. The drop was performed under fire from light and heavy infantry weapons. Six legionnaires were wounded while landing, another one, isolated from his unit, was killed and mutilated before even removing his parachute.

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… from house to house!

The legionnaires started to write history (again!). The airfield and the designated targets were retaken from the Tigers within  hours.

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20. May 1978. The second wave of 145 paratroopers exited their aircrafts C-130 (Hercules).

In the early daylight the Legionnaires combat from house to house in a bloody and horrible urban (Built up Area) fight. Very quickly 2. REPS Snipers, their covering fire from cal. 50 Browning and the Legionnaires determination made the difference. Within two days, the entire city was under control. Five Legionnaires has been killed in action, 20 wounded. The enemy had about 250 deaths.

CAPITAINE MORCILLO CAPORAL SIMON

CAPITAINE MORCILLO and CAPORAL SIMON People needs help !

  1. REP victims: † Staff-sergeant DANIEL, lance-caporal ARNOLD*, Legionär CLEMENT, lance-caporal HARTE, lance-caporal ALLIOUI.

Back in France, the 2e régiment értranger de parachutistes received a hero’s welcome.

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Photo – Légion étrangère- 30. MAY – Woundeds are evacuated to  Lumbumbashi

Résumé: 2150 Europeans and 3000 Africans were evacuated. 60 Europeans and about 100 Africans were massacred.

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Return on experience: Lot of the legionnaires of the regiment were young soldiers, but colonel Erulin later on stated:

“As soon as the first shot was fired, all acted like veterans.”

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Vive la Legion! 

Vive les PARAS …

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Unknown proud veteran having participated in the Battle of Kolwezi

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