Authors: Ralph Riegel
3B Oak House, Bessboro Rd
Blackrock, Cork, Ireland.
© Ralph Riegel and John O’Mahony, 2010
Epub ISBN: 978 1 85635 737 1
Mobi ISBN: 978 1 85635 774 6
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To the memory of
Trooper Patrick Mullins and the extended Mullins-Kent-Dwane-Kelly family.
‘I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field and I will be the last to step off – and I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me, God.’
Lt Col Hal Moore, 7th Cavalry, US army, in a public address to his troops before the battle of Ia Drang, Vietnam.
This book would not have been possible without the incredible support of a great number of people.
Foremost amongst these are the extended Mullins-Kent-Dwane-Kelly families who, for half a century, have loyally kept the memory of Pat Mullins burning bright. The family never, despite innumerable setbacks and disappointments, faltered for a second in their determined campaign to locate Pat’s body and bring his remains back home for a Christian burial. As the old German military proverb goes: ‘The finest monument a soldier can have is carved not in marble or bronze but in a cherished memory.’
The family were hugely supportive of the idea for this book from the very start and were unfailingly generous with their recollections of Pat and access to family photos and letters. It is our cherished hope that this book, in some small way, does justice to their courage and dignity. We are honoured that they entrusted us with this project.
Secondly, a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to Art Magennis who, more than any other person, has battled over the years to see justice done for Pat Mullins and his family. His dedication has gone above and beyond the call of duty – and reflects all that is best about the Defence Forces. Art’s fascinating memoirs were of enormous assistance in tracing the sequence of events back in 1961 and his personal photographs offer a vivid glimpse of what it was like for the soldiers of Ireland’s 35th Battalion. Linking up with Art at his Blackrock home in Dublin was also one of the unexpected pleasures of working on this book.
Special mention must also be made of retired Sgt Tim Carey, whose heroism at the Radio College in September 1961 – despite an horrific injury – stands as testimony to the finest military traditions of loyalty, courage and honour.
Another stalwart supporter of this project was military histo-rian Paudie McGrath. Paudie has been a good friend to the Mullins family for many years and very kindly provided some key photographs for this book. Paudie has also been a tireless cam-paigner for military service and sacrifice to be both recognised and
Thanks also to the former soldiers who agreed to be interviewed, supplied vital material or simply lent moral support for this book, including Des Keegan, Danny Sullivan (RIP), Martin O’Keeffe, P.J. O’Leary, Bill Maher, Michael Boyce (RIP), Tommy McCarthy, James Ronan, Brigadier-General Paul Pakenham and Liam Nolan. Thanks also to former Minster for Defence Willie O’Dea and his staff. Thanks to
assistant news editor, Don Lavery, and Jonathan Healy of NewsTalk for their expert opinions on the manuscript. Don’s late father Jim served in the Congo as an officer with the Irish 33rd and 36th UN Battalions and alongside Art Magennis on UN duty in Cyprus. Jim Lavery was awarded a DSM for his actions in 1962 at the Battle of Kipushi in the Congo. Armoured cars under his command fired 60,000 rounds from their Vickers guns in just a single day.
The background details to events in the Congo and Katanga in 1959–61, as listed in Chapter 4, are recreated thanks to reference to some superb historical and political works. All are listed in the bibliography, but special mention must be made of Martin Meredith’s
The State of Africa
, Ludo de Witte’s
The Assassination of Lumumba
, David O’Donoghue’s
The Far Battalions
, Raymond Smith’s
The Fighting Irish
and Thomas Pakenham’s
The Scramble for Africa
. The BBC,
were also valuable sources.
The photographs included in this book are courtesy of the ex-tended Mullins family, John O’Mahony’s collection, Art Magennis’ coloured slides of the Congo, Paudie McGrath, Bill Maher and Keith Dransfield.
We have taken the liberty to ‘interpret’ events from Pat Mullins’ perspective in the eight hours between the ambush and his death, particularly in Chapters One and Eight – but this dialogue is strictly based on the available evidence as to what most likely happened on 14/15 September 1961. All other events are as detailed in memoirs, journals, newspaper reports and books from the period, as well as government reports and the Defence Forces special 2010 review on the circumstances of Tpr Pat Mullins’ death.
This entire project hinged on the support of Mercier Press – and our thanks to Clodagh Feehan and Mary Feehan for their faith in this book from the outset; to Wendy Logue for her excellent editing; to Catherine Twibill for her fantastic cover design and to Patrick Crowley for his marketing expertise.
Thanks to the staff of Cork Library’s reference section for their unstinting support in accessing archival and research material for this book.
It should also be noted that while Tpr Pat Mullins is Ireland’s first soldier of the modern era to be ‘Missing In Action’, he is not alone. In this regard, special mention should also be made of Private Kevin Joyce who was kidnapped and killed in Lebanon in 1981 while on UN duty. The Joyce family find themselves in the same traumatic position as the Kent-Mullins family in mourning a loved one whose remains have yet to be repatriated.
Finally, a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to our respective families for supporting this project since it was first mooted in January 2009. In John’s case, thanks to my wife, Sheila, and sons, Brian and Desmond, daughters-in-law, Tara and Mary, granddaughter Maeve, and sisters Anna-May and Peggy, without whose help, support and encouragement I would not have been able to play a part in producing this book. Thanks also to everyone in Post 25 of IUNVA for being such great comrades and friends.
In Ralph’s case, thanks to my wife, Mary, my children, Rachel, Rebecca and Ralph Jnr, my mother Nora, as well as Rorey Ann, Craig, Conor, Cian and Caiden. Thanks also to everyone in Independent Newspapers for their staunch support over all the years.
Special mention also to Joe Kearney and the staff of The Grand Hotel in Fermoy, County Cork, who provided the coffee to vitally refuel this project at regular intervals. Special thanks also to Fermoy GAA and Pitch & Putt Club for kindly agreeing to host the launch of the book.
Ralph Riegel & John O’Mahony
Fermoy & Tallow
14 September 1961, Elisabethville, the Congo
Pat Mullins’ eyes
flickered open to a scene straight from Dante’s
. The interior of the old Ford armoured car stank of sweat, blood and acrid smoke. Pat’s eyes desperately struggled to focus in the gloom of the biting cordite fog. Worse still, his head felt as if it had just been hit with a jack-hammer – he had a roaring sound in his ears and his temples felt as if they were going to explode from the inside.
As Pat’s eyes slowly focused, he gazed groggily around for a clue as to what the hell had just happened. Corporal Michael ‘Mick’ Nolan (22) lay sprawled on the floor of the armoured car – apparently unconscious – blood slowly soaking into his uniform blouse.
Pat knew instantly that his friend was gravely injured. But what had caused the injury?
Painfully, he eased himself up off the car’s cramped metal floor and looked around in a daze at the interior of the armoured vehicle for some clue as to their plight.
A chink of dull light was visible from the lower portion of the cupola, the raised armoured viewing lip in the turret where the old Vickers machine gun was angled mutely at the sky. There was something vaguely wrong about that. The Ford’s chassis was made of heavy plate steel obtained from an old boiler at the Liffey Dockyard facility in Dublin. While this wasn’t plate-hardened steel, it was still almost three-quarters of an inch thick on the hull front. Yet something had just torn a hole through the steel plating like it was nothing more than wet cardboard. Pat realised the armoured car had been hit. But was it by a missile or a recoilless rifle round? Was this just a potshot or had their patrol stumbled into an ambush?
Pat slowly shook his head in a desperate bid to try to clear his thoughts. He gingerly tried to rouse the injured radio operator, but he got no response. Mick was from Colbinstown in County Wicklow and was just four years older than Pat. Always full of lively talk, he now lay still and silent on the ground. His eyes were closed and his face was getting paler by the second.
Desperately Pat looked around for the armoured car’s other two occupants, his commanding officer, Cmdt Pat Cahalane and the driver, Sgt Tim Carey (27). Surely they would know what had happened and what they were supposed to do next? They were nowhere to be seen.
There was only himself and Mick Nolan in the armoured car, which, Pat realised with a sudden jolt, was eerily silent. There was no familiar rumble from the old Ford V8 engine; although, craning his neck he could see no obvious damage to the dashboard plate that controlled the car’s ignition, lights and steering. The driver’s armoured visor plate was still locked in the ‘up’ position.
Looking at the driver and commander’s positions, Pat saw further signs of combat. There was a pool of slowly congealing blood by the driver’s seat from where Sgt Carey had, just two hours earlier, steered the modified Ford out of the Irish UN Battalion’s base at Prince Leopold Farm on the outskirts of Elisabethville.
Pat remembered that they were supposed to be helping check on the Irish troops guarding the Radio College building – nothing more than a routine resupply patrol they had been told. So what had gone wrong? The heavy fighting was supposed to have been over when UN units, comprising Irish, Indian and Swedish troops, had moved to seize Katangan positions around Elisabethville over the course of the previous day. This was supposed to be nothing more than a resupply and ‘fly the flag’ operation. They were to check on the position of the Irish detachment, then drive to ‘The Factory’ where another Irish unit was based and, if everything was OK, head back to base.
Pat knew the fighting the previous day had been fierce because the rifle and machine gun fire coming from the city centre had echoed for more than thirty-six hours around the Irish base. There had even been fighting several hours before their patrol had been sent out, but everyone presumed this was merely part of the mopping up operations. A few Katangan gendarmes – the paramilitary force, which supported the secession of Moise Tshombe and his government from the rest of the Congo – had taken potshots at the Irish base, but there had been no attempt to mount a serious assault on the fortified UN position. Everyone assumed that this was merely the precursor to a phased withdrawal by the secessionist forces in the face of the UN mission.
UN troops had successfully taken the Elisabethville Post Office and the Radio Katanga building the previous day. There had been rumours of heavy losses by the Katangan gendarmes when the Indian troops stormed both and there had also been gossip about the nature of Katangan losses at Radio Katanga. But it was all just rumour. The Irish operations had gone relatively smoothly and the only loss had been Trooper (Tpr) Edward Gaffney who was killed when the Bedford truck he was driving got caught in crossfire. There had also been a lot of gossip about heavy fighting involving Irish troops in the north of Katanga near Jadotville. But as far as Pat knew the battle had gone well for the UN.
The truth was that no one seemed to know precisely what was happening, which made the plight he now found himself in all the more alarming. Were the Katangans and their mercenaries now mounting a counter-offensive? Had the UN forces found themselves caught in a Katangan trap? If so, where the hell was the rest of the Irish patrol?
All Pat could remember was standing in the gunner’s position inside the cupola and suddenly, without warning, everything went black just as they drew level with the Radio College building. He vaguely recalled a loud bang and then everything dissolved into blackness.
Pat tried to clear his throat to call for help, but his mouth seemed burned by the smoke that still hung inside the armoured car like a choking mist. His mouth felt coated with the toxic stuff. Mercifully, darkness had now fallen and the oppressive, sticky heat of the Congo day had begun to ease into the welcome cool of night. But it was still gallingly hot inside the armoured car and sweat was pouring off his forehead. As Pat’s head began to clear he frantically wondered what to do next. His eyes fell on the radio and he wondered whether it had been knocked out by the shell impact.
Suddenly, a shout came from somewhere outside the car. It ran like an electric current through Pat’s mind, jolting everything back into focus. There was someone else here. He couldn’t make out what was being shouted, but it seemed as if the shouts were intended for the occupants of the armoured car. Pat shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts and his eardrums. Who was shouting? It didn’t sound like any member of his platoon – he couldn’t understand what was being shouted but he could make out that the voice was accented.
It was an ambush, he thought. Our patrol drove right into a trap. There was no other alternative. But who was outside now and what did they want? He raised his head and, glancing through the driver’s slits, realised it was pitch black outside. What the hell had happened to all the other lads?
Pat realised that he had to get Mick to a medic before he lost any more blood. Yet, he worried that other members of the patrol might be pinned down nearby and need the fire support of the armoured car. There were two armoured cars, a jeep and a bus full of troops in the patrol that had departed the Irish base. He had left the Irish UN operations camp about two hours earlier in the second, open-topped armoured car but, as part of a patrol re-arrangement, had been transferred to the forward armoured car to man the Vickers machine gun in its enclosed turret. They had left base around 9.30 p.m. but what time was it now – and how long had he been unconscious?
The old Vickers, dating back to the First World War, was the Irish patrol’s main defensive weapon. Without the old machine gun the lads only had the Browning machine gun in the open-topped armoured car to the rear of the patrol and a few rounds for the single recoilless anti-tank rifle in the jeep. But the recoilless rifle rounds weren’t much use on their own in an ambush scenario – anyone trying to use them in the open would probably be cut to pieces, particularly given the rumours that the mercenaries now leading the Katangan gendarmes had brought with them heavy weaponry and the skills to use it.
The old Vickers was a weapon to fear, but it was heavy and its water-filled cooling jacket was vulnerable to damage. Some idiot had forgotten to install a trap inside the armoured car for the hot cartridges ejected from the breech after firing – a factor which meant Pat and the other crewmen had to dodge hot shell casings. They also had to be wary of stepping on the steel plate floor in case they slipped on the casings, which rolled and rattled around the hull interior.
A dull throbbing pain suddenly penetrated the fog in Pat’s mind and he gingerly felt for the source. As he rubbed his chest, his hand ran over a large set of keys in the upper pocket of his jungle blouse. He must have been lying on the damn keys and they’d left a painful bruise on his chest. As he removed the keys, he saw the back of his hand and realised it was smeared with blood. Was it his blood or Mick Nolan’s? Absent-mindedly Pat ran his hand over his face and traces of fresh blood were left on his hand. The blood must be coming from a head wound or his ears. But he felt okay so it mustn’t be too bad.
Someone shouted again from outside the armoured car. But whether it was the armoured hull or the damage to his ears, Pat still couldn’t make out precisely what was being said. He shook his head in a vain effort to get rid of the roaring noise in his ears and listen to what was happening outside. All he knew for certain was that the voice definitely wasn’t Irish. His training took over and he remembered his Carl Gustav sub-machine gun. In a smooth motion Pat grabbed the Swedish gun, checked its magazine of 9mm shells and flipped off the safety. At least he was now in a position to defend himself and Mick. He had to find out exactly who was outside.
Just metres from the armoured car, a White Missionary priest, Fr Paul Verfaille, wondered what to do next. He had repeatedly shouted for the occupants of the armoured car to get out of the vehicle and follow him to the safety of the missionary house just up the road. At his side stood a local doctor, Dr Jean Defru, who was also trying to help the occupants of the armoured car. His first shouts had been from the relative safety of the roadside verge, but he wasn’t sure that his voice would carry to anyone inside the armoured car.
If they were still alive the soldiers must understand that their best chance of safety lay in getting out of the armoured car and following him. But maybe they were dead or so badly injured they couldn’t respond to his entreaties. The missionary stared intently at the damage to the armoured car, which he guessed must have been hit in the opening exchanges of the ambush. The shell had sliced through the car’s armour leaving the hull looking pockmarked. Surely no one was alive inside the car now, he thought.
Brave as he was, Fr Verfaille was reluctant to get too close to the armoured car in case he was shot by mistake by either the UN troops or the gendarmes. He knew that the other members of the Irish UN patrol had already taken shelter in a building adjacent to the communications complex. Their vehicles now lay strewn across the roadway in front of the Radio College. But there were dozens of Katangan gendarmes now swarming around the area and he knew that he was being carefully watched. The gendarmes were acting under the orders of mercenaries who had been flown into the country by Moise Tshombe to defend his regime. The cleric also knew that, at this very moment, there were probably guns trained both on him and the armoured car.
The missionary understood that the Katangan gendarmes were now specifically acting under the orders of the mercenaries – but he wasn’t quite sure if they were French, Belgian, British or South African. Whoever they were, these men knew how to use the heavy weapons that had just crippled this armoured car. Smouldering behind him was the blackened hulk of the bus that had transported the UN troopers to Radio College.
The cleric glanced carefully around him. Just down the road the second UN armoured car lay abandoned, though it did not appear to have been too badly damaged. The jeep and the bus were also still where they had braked to a halt. There was no sign of any of the UN personnel and there were no bodies lying near the vehicles. Fr Verfaille prayed that no one would die this night.
The fighting, which had been going on for almost two hours, had now been reduced to an ominous silence. Less than an hour ago it had seemed as if the very gates of hell had opened such was the violence of the ambush. It was so bad that the occupants of the mission lay huddled for shelter on the floor behind concrete walls. But slowly, the balmy calm of an early African evening was returning.
The missionary prayed silently that the soldiers would negotiate a truce and end the bloodshed. The peace of the previous decade now seemed a long-distant memory and, like his fellow missionaries, he was caught up in a hurricane of violence beyond both his control and understanding. He made up his mind to make one final effort to talk to whoever might still be alive inside the armoured car before withdrawing to safety. He edged closer to the armoured car and banged on the heavy steel door and he shouted out his identity one more time: ‘I am missionary.’
‘Mercenary’. Pat Mullins was sure he could make out the word that had been shouted above the din of the roaring in his ears. It was muffled and heavily accented, but surely that was what had just been shouted at him from outside the armoured car. As he glanced over at Mick Nolan, the icy ball in his stomach transformed into a red cloud of rage. Surrender was out of the question and yet there was no way he could defend all four sides of the armoured car while it was stranded almost in the middle of the road. If it stayed motionless the old Ford was a sitting duck for any anti-armour weapons the Katangans possessed.
Besides, if he surrendered, what would happen to Mick? No one knew what the Katangans’ policy was towards wounded soldiers and Pat didn’t want to find out. Fresh in his mind was the realisation that the Katangans had themselves suffered heavy losses in the UN operations the previous day. They obviously weren’t going to take too kindly to the UN soldiers they held responsible for those losses.