13 may 1978 starts another chapter in the Legion's history

Joseph Cosgrove

Moderator
Legionnaire
#1
13th May 1978
6000km away From France at 05:30 local time, machine gun fire could be heard on the far side of the mining town of Kolwezi, Zaire, nowadays known as République Démocratique du Congo.

Little bit of history:
Zaire, other times known as the Belgian Congo or the Kongo Kingdom, was first discovered by a Portuguese expedition in what was then to be named the Kongo Kingdom. It amalgamated the territories of what are today’s modern RDG and the people’s republic of Angola. Things went well for a few decades, with the monarchs of Kongo, known as the Mani Kongo, and the Portuguese until the main commerce centralised on the slave trade. The only people taking profit from this trade were the monarchs, and their chief officials, and of course the Portuguese soldier-merchants, who shipped the slaves to Europe.
Hostilities broke out with the various tribes, with some of the monarchs and several Portuguese citizens being assassinated. Those monarchs that had been spared were the ones openly against the slave trade, which led to a breakdown in relations between the Kongo and Portugal.
The Portuguese sent a large military force to try and establish some semblance of order. However they found it extremely difficult to govern the tribes of the kingdom and various claimants continued to assert their rights to lands. The kingdom became split into two, separated by the Congo River.

The first European to travel down the river was the Belgian explorer Henry Morton Stanley in 1877. Leopold 2nd, king of Belgium, commissioned Stanley to undertake further exploration and to establish a port and trading stations along the river. After the success of Stanley’s expedition and his discoveries, king Leopold’s claims to the Congo River basin were granted at the Berlin Conference in 1885. Under Leopold’s personnel rule, he established “the independent state of Congoâ€￾.
Brutalities and massacres, which Leopold turned a blind eye to, became so severe that, in 1908, under international pressure, the Congo became a colony placed under direct rule of the Belgian government.

In 1959 nationalist rioting broke out so intensely in the capital Kinshasa, formally known as Leopoldville, that the Belgian government, under public pressure both home and abroad, granted independence a year and a half later. With next to no time for preparation, a coalition government was formed with Joseph Kasavubu as president and his ethnic rival Patrice Lumumba became premier. Political and ethnic rivalries grew in politics and in the streets to such a crescendo that the very existence of the new democratic republic of Congo was threatened. The central government in Kinshasa was unable to control its outlying provinces.

Moise Tshombe, the political leader of the province of Katanga took advantage of the weak government and, backed by European settlers with investments in mines, declared Katanga an independent state. Kasavubu, finding no solution to the rioting and a country, now uncontrollable, dismissed the premier Lumumba and then later had him arrested. A year later, Lumumba was assassinated. With the help of Colonel Joseph Mobutu, Kasavubu seized control of the army. Cyrille Andoula was made premier.
Because it was so rich in metals, one of them being cobalt, which is added to the hydrogen bomb to increase its force, Katanga province was vital to the Congo’s income. The Congo is by far the largest producer of cobalt in the world. Calling upon the United Nations for military assistance in 1963, Kasavubu retook Katanga and Tshombe fled to Spain. The triumph was short lived, the unrest continued and a year later it was the turn of Andoula to be ousted from the government. Tshombe’s enormous popularity led Kasavubu to recall him back to the Congo and made him premier.
Even with this change, the government still could not keep a hold on the country. In 1965 Mobutu once again seized power, but this time kept it for himself by deposing Kasavubu and returning Tshombe to exile. Mobutu appointed himself prime minister in 1966 and became president in 1967. He then declared that his party the MPR, popular movement for the revolution, the sole official party.

Although he had been charged with violating human rights Mobutu, who had by then changed his first names from Joseph Desiré to Sese Seko did, with his hard line tactics, bring political stability to the Congo. In 1971, in another political move, Mobutu changed the country’s name to Zaire, taken from the KiKongo tribal name Nzadi, meaning river. By that time Mobutu had reduced the church’s influence in the country and made the people change their names from Christian or European to African.
A year later the province of Katanga had its name changed to Shaba which in Swahili means copper, denoting another example of the provinces wealth. Despite these changes, discontent and rioting continued until Nathaniel N’Bumba took his gendarmes stationed in Shaba, who had not been paid for several months, across the Congo River to Angola. There, Cubans trained them properly in weapons and tactics and they were brain washed by communism.

On 8th March 1977, after several months of intensive training, the ex-gendarmes, led by the newly promoted general N’Bumba invaded Shaba. They were armed and supplied by the USSR who would profit immensely by Shaba’s wealth in metals, minerals, industrial diamonds and notably its cobalt.
President Bongo of the organisation of United Africa called upon King Hassan 2nd of Morocco to send in troops. Our planes flew the Moroccans and supported by Mobutu’s elite division “Kamnayolaâ€￾, sent them packing back to Angola.

After a couple of months the situation became a stalemate with neither side taking the initiative. However under pressure from Cuba and Moscow, N’Bumba captured the mining town of Kolwezi. Unfortunately N’Bumba lost control of the ex-gendarmes which would undoubtedly lead to pillaging and rape.
A radio message had been intercepted by Mobutu’s internal security service which stated that N’Bumba has ordered his rebels to massacre their hostages. The rebels had been estimated at being 800 hard-core and several hundred sympathisers. Up until that moment only one family had managed to get out of the town and it was reported of at least 40 Europeans had been massacred on the East side of Kolwezi at a place called “Chateau d’eauâ€￾. The nationalities of those massacred had yet to be established.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, president of France gave the go ahead for a military intervention within the least possible delay. “with or without the help of other nationsâ€￾.
“Which para is on alert ‘Guépard’?â€￾ he had asked, referring to the parachute regiment whose turn it was to be on short notice alert. The word Guépard, meaning cheetah in French, speaks for itself.
The general commanding the 11th Airborne Division, Jeannou Lacaze, answered him (as incredible as it may seem): The particular regiment in question has long been overdue leave. “I have just been informed that their commanding officer has allowed them a few days stand down.â€￾

General Lacaze, went on: “there is only one para regiment which maintains a constant state of readiness and can hope to assemble the number of troops necessary without forewarning. I myself commanded the regiment in 1967 and am sure, in spite of the short notice, that the 2e REP can be readyâ€￾ (this involved landing two helicopters on the 4th RE -Castel-parade square to pick up their men on courses).

And another chapter was written in the Legion’s history.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuXhHmZKZFw
 
Last edited by a moderator:

loustic

Banned
Banned
#2
Don't forget January 2013 when President Hollande gave his go ahead and 2 REP jumped at night to free Timbuktu from the rebels
 

mark wake

Actual or Former Legionnaire
Legionnaire
#4
Don't forget January 2013 when President Hollande gave his go ahead and 2 REP jumped at night to free Timbuktu from the rebels
Hmm. May 1978 you were a fecking toddler. So shut it!! Night jump? Done over 15 of them between REP and Brit para's kudos anyway on the Mali jump!
 
O

Ossie O

Unregistered
#5
Thanks Joe Cos for the 'Petite Histoire'. During my stint there were still Kolwezi vets in the Regiment. 3CIE had Cpl/Chef Cazale and Adj/Chef Legris (Mark W, you knew Legris). One day while having a quite beer in the 3CIE company club, Legris came and tapped me on the shoulder and motioned to come with him. I followed him to his office. On his desk were about 20-30 b/white photos of the Kolwezi operation. He went into great detail explaining what took place for close to an hour. There is only one Kolwezi vet still serving in the Legion. The Major is now with 13DBLE. In the museum at Calvi there is a good section dedicated to Kolwezi, including the late Colonel Erulin's medals....R.I.P the 5 Legionnaires killed during Operation Leopard.
 

dusaboss

Hyper Active Member
#6
I heard about this event many times. Seems to me like textbook operation. This one, legion can really be proud of. Minimal casualties with high efficiency and many hostage liberated in short period of time.

When I hear about actions like this one, I'm screaming inside out of desire to become member of a family! To put that white cap on head is much more than to become professional soldier.

I'm jealous of you green ones!
 
#7
Their was still a few Brit's in the REP when I got their that had took part! Spoke about it over a few bottles of "K" in the foyer, "once" I remember thought it was typical of the legion job well done but not a lot of talk (Action louder than words) but also thinking I had missed something as my previous experience was a few tours of Belfast.
 

mark wake

Actual or Former Legionnaire
Legionnaire
#8
I heard about this event many times. Seems to me like textbook operation. This one, legion can really be proud of. Minimal casualties with high efficiency and many hostage liberated in short period of time.

When I hear about actions like this one, I'm screaming inside out of desire to become member of a family! To put that white cap on head is much more than to become professional soldier.

I'm jealous of you green ones!
Hmm. Odds are about even over here lad! Three cases of beer say you go or not! Being a smarty I did a double or nothing! Rest is up to you!
 

dusaboss

Hyper Active Member
#9
Hmm. Odds are about even over here lad! Three cases of beer say you go or not! Being a smarty I did a double or nothing! Rest is up to you!
You got it ancien! When is my deadline?

On first my leave in town fresh legionnaires and me will enjoy beer bought by Kolwezi veteran. ;) Other option, me alone, rejected because of some stupid unexpected and unfair reason, curing soul with three cases of beer. Third option would be, somehow I don't go and you get beer from me, but only possible way this could happen is if I'm dead, In death case no bear for you mate :(

Of course if I understood you well. Am I?
 

mark wake

Actual or Former Legionnaire
Legionnaire
#10
You got it ancien! When is my deadline?

On first my leave in town fresh legionnaires and me will enjoy beer bought by Kolwezi veteran. ;) Other option, me alone, rejected because of some stupid unexpected and unfair reason, curing soul with three cases of beer. Third option would be, somehow I don't go and you get beer from me, but only possible way this could happen is if I'm dead, In death case no bear for you mate :(

Of course if I understood you well. Am I?
Aye. Nothing like free beer! Deadline?? You have until the end of may!
 

loustic

Banned
Banned
#11
I heard about this event many times. Seems to me like textbook operation. This one, legion can really be proud of. Minimal casualties with high efficiency and many hostage liberated in short period of time.

When I hear about actions like this one, I'm screaming inside out of desire to become member of a family! To put that white cap on head is much more than to become professional soldier.

I'm jealous of you green ones!
Well, come to france and join ! GO GO GO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

mark wake

Actual or Former Legionnaire
Legionnaire
#13
Can't give guarantee on that. It's possible that I will need week or two over that. So if I'm not in France by 15/6/2017 you and You earned yourself a beers
Best I can do lad is extend that to 6th of June. Ring a bell? Anyway signing off now doing a jump in honor of the big anniversary then getting hammered! Cheers all!
 
#14
(...) “Which para is on alert ‘Guépard’?â€￾ he had asked, referring to the parachute regiment whose turn it was to be on short notice alert. The word Guépard, meaning cheetah in French, speaks for itself.
The general commanding the 11th Airborne Division, Jeannou Lacaze, answered him (as incredible as it may seem): the particular regiment in question has long been overdue leave. “I have just been informed that their commanding officer has allowed them a few days stand down.â€￾

General Lacaze, went on: “there is only one para regiment which maintains a constant state of readiness and can hope to assemble the number of troops necessary without forewarning. I myself commanded the regiment in 1967 and am sure, in spite of the short notice, that the 2e REP can be ready.â€￾ (...)
Okaaay... Let me put it straight : this is total bullshit. The regiment in question was 8e RPIMa (Régiment de parachutistes d'infanterie de Marine). They were ready and more than willing to go. Lacaze maneuvered to have ‘his’ good old 2e REP designated instead and that was meeting also the political concerns to avoid ‘French’ losses in case things would turn really bad. From that standpoint the politicians applied the famous principle of general de Négrier (Légionnaires, vous êtes soldats pour mourir et je vous envoie où l'on meurt , legionnaires, you are soldiers meant to die and I'm sending you where one dies).
The 8e RPIMa badly resented this choice and for years onward, the two units were pretty harsh rivals.
 

Joseph Cosgrove

Moderator
Legionnaire
#16
Okaaay... Let me put it straight : this is total bullshit. The regiment in question was 8e RPIMa (Régiment de parachutistes d'infanterie de Marine). They were ready an more than willing to go. Lacaze maneuvered to have ‘his’ good old 2e REP designated instead and that was meeting also the political concerns to avoid ‘French’ losses in case things would turn really bad. From that standpoint the politicians applied the famous principle of general de Négrier (Légionnaires, vous êtes soldats pour mourir et je vous envoie où l'on meurt , legionnaires, you are soldiers meant to die and I'm sending you where one dies).
The 8e RPIMa badly resented this choice and for years onwards, the two units were pretty harsh rivals.
Was that your old regiment? Because I worked in the museum in Aubagne and read through all the transcripts. No I have no copies with me but I can tell you why the REP was chosen.
 
#17
Was that your old regiment? (...)
No, it's not. I served with 1er RCP (Régiment de chasseurs parachutistes).

(...) I worked in the museum in Aubagne and read through all the transcripts. (...)
You know like me that a number of things do not appear in any official document, don't you? Anyway, the reason(s) why 2e REP was selected for the intervention at Kolwezi is now history (both official and unofficial).
That of course doesn't reduce in any way the merit of the légionnaires parachutistes. They knew when they were parachuted that, if things had turned bad, they couldn't expect any prompt reinforcement. Fortunately, they confronted only the rear guard elements of the so-called Tigres katangais and most of the combats were over after 2 nights and 2 days.
 

loustic

Banned
Banned
#18
(...) the reason(s) why 2e REP was selected for the intervention at Kolwezi is now history (both official and unofficial).
And why was 2 REP chosen for Serval and Timbuktu in 2013 ? (with 93 RA if my memory is correct, but they had no chutes!)
In fact we were on alerte Guépard just before January 2013 ! That cost me a PLD in those days! No regrets

Hmm. May 1978 you were a fecking toddler. So shut it!! Night jump? Done over 15 of them between REP and Brit para's kudos anyway on the Mali jump!
It was a night jump in a combat zone! And we started fighting as soon as we landed. Hum ! In fact, the enemy was not there, so we had no problem. But we did not expect that, and we started immediately chasing the jihadists in the North and in the mountains !
With all the respects due to the comrades who did the Kolwezi operation, with much more difficulties.
 
#19
(...) (with 93 RA if my memory is correct, but they had no chutes !) (...)
93e RA? Do you mean 93e RAM (Régiment d'artillerie de montagne)? In that case, no surprise they had no chutes, it's not an airborne regiment. The artillery regiment of the 11 Abn Brigade is 35e RAP (Régiment d'artillerie parachutiste).
 

mark wake

Actual or Former Legionnaire
Legionnaire
#20
And why was 2 REP chosen for Serval and Timbuktu in 2013 ? (with 93 RA if my memory is correct, but they had no chutes !)
In fact we were on alerte Guépard just before January 2013 ! That cost me a PLD in those days ! No regrets

It was a night jump in a combat zone! And we started fighting as soon as we landed. Hum ! In fact, the enemy was not there, so we had no problem. But we did not expect that, and we started immediately chasing the jihadists in the North and in the mountains !
With all the respects due to the comrades who did the Kolwezi operation, with much more difficulties.
We jumped at 200 meters in broad daylight and were getting fired at as we came down! More difficulties?? What do you think we were doing? Making tea? You fecking little prick!
 

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