Tous les blancs ont
une montre, mais ils n'ont
jamais le temps.
Katanga (Shaba province) is situated in the south east of former Belgian Congo.
With its very rich mineral deposits, especially diamond, this highly coveted territory of over 40,000,000 inhabitants (in 2004) seceded during the independence of Congo in 1960, before being reunified three years latter.
In 1971, during Colonel Mobutu’s reign, the country's name was changed to Zaire.
In 1977, another secession attempt, led by Katanga separatist rebels, was foiled by Zairian armed forces supported by a powerful expeditionary Moroccan force provided by H.M. King Hassan II.
In 1978, the ‘’tigers‘’ attacked…
Early May 1978, the second Shaba war broke out, with a massive attack by Katanga rebels of the FNLC (Congolese National Liberation Front) under the supervision of Cuban mercenaries from Angola.
On May 13, 1978, after having taken over the aerodrome as well as several military posts, the separatists, who called themselves the ’’tigers’’, attacked the peaceful mining city of Kolwezi, where an African population lived and worked alongside more than three thousand Belgian, French and Moroccan executives and expatriates.
Zairian troops were immediately disabled or forced to escaped, while civilians, unarmed, hid themselves wherever they could. Only a few Zairian parachutists were still in control of an airport situated in the south of Kolwezi.
Unarmed civilians were massacred
Then came a period of terror, characterized by looting, violence, barbaric acts and assassinations. The invaders killed several thousands of unarmed civilians, irrespective of colour or nationality, and sometimes piled up the mutilated bodies in public buildings.
In France, President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who was following the developments keenly, immediately understood the gravity of the situation and, especially, the urgency required to stop the massacre of innocent civilians. He personally entrusted this mission to the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (REP), based in Corse.
On May 18, 1978, the 2nd REP took off from its Calvi base for this overseas operation, some six thousand kilometres away.
In the air, the legionnaire parachutists encountered several technical problems with their aircrafts. Eighty 2nd REP men boarded these machines whereas they had been designed for a maximum of 64 parachutists. The US-made parachutes received from the Zairian army were not adapted for jumping with personal equipment and weapon…
"In any case, with a few strings and iron wire, the D system would do."
The 700 parachutist legionnaires were dropped in two successive batches. Without any air cover, they had to face a 5,000-man rebel force, equipped with light armoured vehicles.
Immediately the first batch touched the ground, fighting started and went on for the whole day. Hostages that had been taken were liberated amid an overflow of emotions.
The second batch of parachutists was dropped on May 20, 1978. The separatist rebel groups were attacked one after the other and destroyed or forced to escape.
Fighting ended on May 23, 1978 after all hostages had been liberated and the 2nd REP had taken control of the entire sector.
The regiment returned to Calvi after a ceremonial parade organized in its honour in the capital, Lubumbashi, by President Mobutu.
For this glorious feat of arms, during which 5 legionnaires were killed and 10 wounded, the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment was commended in the Army Order.