Belgian Armed Humanitarian Operation in the Congo

Operations DRAGON ROUGE and DRAGON BLACK (RODE DRAAK and ZWARTE DRAAK) were developed and launched in response to the taking of foreign hostages during the 1964 revolt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These two operations were considered to be the most complex and successful hostage rescue operations of the Cold War period. Two additional operations WHITE DRAGON and GREEN DRAGON (WITTE DRAAK in Bunia and GROENE DRAAK in Watsa) were cancelled based on orders from US President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Simba Revolt began as an isolated reaction to a corrupt and mismanaged government, but spread quickly. Simba (Swahili for lion) rebels quickly managed to gain control over one-half of the DRC. Stanleyville (now Kisangani) fell to the rebels during August 1964. The rebels seized 1,600 foreign hostages, primarily Belgians and Americans, whom they blamed for many of their problems. Although the Congo Amy (ANC) had 1,500 troops stationed in Stanleyville, they were driven off when attacked by 40 rebels accompanied by Simba witch doctors. The deserting army abandoned a significant stock pile of weapons and ammunition as well as armored vehicles.

Many of the foreigners, including merchants, missionaries, teachers, doctors and representatives of foreign governments, were incarcerated in the Central Prison and local jails. In time, the Simbas moved their hostages, holding them at guest houses, hotels and the hospital. The Simbas vowed the hostages would be bound to oil drums and set ablaze, if any attempt was made to rescue them. At the time, Simba forces included between 2,500 and 10,000 armed soldiers in and around Stanleyville.

Congolese, American and Belgian officials negotiated with the Simbas for 111 days. During this time operational plans for RED, WHITE, BLACK and GREEN DRAGON were developed and finalized, when it became apparent that the Simbas had no intention of releasing their hostages. As previously mentioned, Operations WHITE and GREEN DRAGON were subsequently canceled.

Concurrently, the legitimate DRC government recruited a ground force to retake and overwhelm the rebels. The operation was named, L'OMMENGANG after a medieval Belgian Mardi Gras pageant.

L'OMMENGANG was under the command of Belgian Colonel Frederic Vandewalle. The force included ANC troops as well as the 5th Brigade of white mercenaries, led by Irish mercenary Colonel Thomas Michael (Mad Mike) Hoare. The mercenary force included British, French, Belgian, German, Rhodesian, and South African members. The goal was to drive north from Kamina, the capital city of Haut-Lomami Province, towards Stanleyville, liberating as many towns as possible from Simba control. The L'OMMENGANG force had already commenced when Operation DRAGON ROUGE was launched. Colonel Hoare was also hell-bent to attack the Simba garrison at Stanleyville regardless of DRGON ROUGE.

Belgian Para-Commandos

DRAGON ROUGE included the Belgian elite fighting force, 1st Para-Commando Regiment (Fig. 1) transported in a US Air Force flown C-130 (#63-7868), staging from a British and a Congo airfield. Air support was provided by B-26s flown by the CIA-trained Cuban contract pilots. The commandos parachuted into Stanleyville Airfield at dawn on November 24, 1964. Their first charge was to clear the runway, which was strewn with debris, and to secure the control tower being defended by the Simbas. Although under fire from the nearby jungle, the runway was cleared with an hour and additional troops began being landed. These subsequent landings including armored jeeps and large motorized trikes, which could carry three to four personnel.

USAF C-130 #63-78868

In under two hours, the paras had begun fighting their way into the city. In response, the Simbas opened fire on the hostages, killing 18 of them. Eventually, the total killed would reach 61. The majority of the hostages managed to escape and were rescued by the paras. Close to noon on the 24th, Vanderwalle's column reached the city, allowing the paras to pull back to the airport, which was taking a high volume of incoming fire. At the airport the liberated hostages were loaded on to C-130s for flights out. Over 1,600 of the former hostages had been flown out by afternoon. The Simbas made one final charge across the runway by early evening, but were decimated by the paras. The paras suffered two killed and five wounded.

The Simba revolt would last an additional three months. Colonel Vanderwalle's force continued pursuing them, cleaning up the remnants.

In addition to the hero's welcome upon return to Belgium, the para-commandos would eventually be made eligible for the Belgian Commemorative Medal for Armed Humanitarian Missions. Established on September 11, 1987, the medal was made retroactive to July 1, 1960. The 1964 rescue mission in the DRC was included. The medal may be awarded posthumously.

The 39mm Commemorative Medal for Armed Humanitarian Operations is available to military and civilian members of the Belgian Armed Forces, who participated in good standing in an armed humanitarian operation. The list of the operations for which the medal is awarded is included in the Royal Decrees creating the medal. The Decrees are amended on a regular basis to recognize additional missions.

The award of the medal is not automatic. In order to be qualify one who meets the award conditions has to request it. The medal is authorized by the Human Resources Department of the Belgian Armed Forces. During the period 2009-2013 alone, the Commemorative Medal for Armed Humanitarian Operations was authorized 119 times.

The obverse of the circular bronze medal bears a blue enamel octagon with 10mm sides with a 10mm wide yellow enamel five-pointed star in the center. The central design bears the following Flemish inscription, in relief, GEWAPENDE HUMANITAIRE OPERATIES, in the upper portion and the French inscription, OPERATIONS HUMAITAIRES ARMEES, in the lower portion. This is encompassed by thin lines of red, yellow and black moving outward from the center. The reverse is blank. The ribbon drape is 35mm wide.

Commemorative Medal for Armed Humanitarian Operations (1) "Period" Separator and ZWARTE DRAAK and RODE DRAAK Clasps (2) Close-up of the "Period" Separators and (3) Medal with Belgian Flag Separators

Embossed Slip Over Clasps

One model (Fig. 2 & 3) separates the upper and lower inscriptions with a "period" on either side. A second model (Fig. 4) separates the two inscriptions with the Belgian flag. The difference may be accounted for by the fact that the Belgian government does not issue the actual medal. Recipients, if approved, must secure the actual medal from a private source. Subsequent missions are recognized in the form of additional slip over clasps for the ribbon drape. Embossed bronze clasps (35mm x 4mm) are authorized for each completed mission. A list of official clasps related to the 20th Century Congo operations include:

Operations RODE DRAAK and ZWARTE DRAAK carried out between 24 and 27 November 1964 in Stanleyville and Paulis in the Democratic Republic of Congo by units of the armed forces.

Operation RED BEAN carried out in Shaba (Zaire) between 19 May 1978 and 10 July 1978 by units of the armed forces sent to Kolwezi.

Operation GREEN BEAM carried out on the African continent between 4 October and 2 November 1990.

Operation BLUE BEAM carried out on the African continent between 24 September and 4 November 1991.

Operation SILVER BACK carried out in Rwanda in April 1994.

Operation GREEN STREAM carried out on the African mainland from 23 March 1997 to 6 June 1997.

Non-Official bars during this period include: AFRIKA 1960, AFRIKA 1961, & AFRIKA 1962.

The C-130 Hercules is now retired at Robins Air Force Base Houston County, GA. Air crew members, who ferried the Para-Commandos each received the US Air Medal, while the plane's captain, Mack Secord, received the Distinguished Fly Cross.

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