Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Movies In History: The Siege of Jadotville

This very recent release premiered in the United States on Netflix.

The movie concerns a September 1961 battle which pitted a company of Irish Army United Nations Peacekeepers against forces fighting for the breakaway province of Katanga in the Congo.  A more or less forgotten event in the United States, the 1960s were a time of intense turmoil in the former Belgian colony.  Mineral rich Katanga took a run at separating from the Congo in this time frame, with the economic aspect of it being a distinct aspect of the attempt, as the Congo nationalized its mineral wealth.  The Katangan forces were a mix of local gendarme and European mercenaries and made a very serious run at separating the province. The United Nations opposed the efforts which descended into outright war.

The Irish unit was a lightly armed infantry company sent by the Republic of Ireland as part of its peacekeeping mission. There was no thought to the unit being engaged in a full scale siege, but following the decline of the situation this is exactly what occurred and the unit fought for over three days against a mixed Katangan/mercenary force which grossly outnumbered it, surrendering only when the Irish unit had completely expended all of its ammunition. During the course of the battle not a single Irish soldier was killed while over 500 of the attacking force were.

This film was recently made with an Irish cast and based upon a novel on the topic.  While based on a novel, at least based on what little I know of the battle, the movie is quite faithful to the history of the event.  I'll confess, however, that I'm not an expert on this historical episode by any means.

In terms of material details the movie is superb.  Indeed, it's surprisingly accurate.  Taking place, as it does, in 1961 it involves a point in military history when armies were just switching over from bolt actions to automatic rifles.  The film correctly depicts the Irish troops mostly armed with World War Two era weapons, such as Lee Enfield bolt action rifles, a Bren gun and a Vickers machine-gun.  A few FAL's appear, but they would have been brand new at the time.  Madsen submachineguns (at least I think they are Madsen's) also appear in Irish hands.  Likewise, the Katangan forces have a few FALs but are mostly armed with Mauser 98 rifles, which would likely also have been correct. A few French submachineguns are shown in use.

Accuracy even extends out to odd things like vehicles and the single example of a Katangan jet aircraft, which is accurately shown to be a Fouga Magiste, a fairly obscure trainer of the period.  I certainly would not have expected that level of accuracy out of any film.  This is not to say it is perfect, a particularly glaring example of the opposite being the use of a Bren gun for a sniping shot in one episode but all in all, this film gets very high marks.

Indeed, it gets high marks in every respect.  Well worth seeing.

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