Defence Forces Commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the Niemba Ambush



This afternoon, Saturday 7th November 2020, the 60th Commemoration of the Niemba Ambush took place in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines, Dublin 6 with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial Garden outside the Garrison Church.


Wreaths were laid separately in a reduced ceremony conducted in line with Covid-19 guidelines.


Wreaths were laid by:

  • Company Quarter Master Seargent (Retd) Michael Colton (President, Post 1, IUNVA). Company Quarter Master Seargent  (Retd) Micheal Colton was the member of the 33rd Infantry Battalion and was part of the escort party who accompanied the bodies of their fallen comrades back home to Ireland on 19 Nov 1960. The escort party returned to their duties in the Congo on 01 Dec 2020.
  • Colm Campbell, Chairman of the Board of Directors, ONE.
  • General Officer Commanding 2 Brigade, Brigadier General Tony Cudmore.


Military Archives have also launched an in-depth online exhibition to mark the event


Flickr Album – Niemba Ambush, 60 Years:



Historical Background

No 2 Platoon A Company 33rd Infantry Battalion, Niemba

On 8th November 1960, the biggest loss of life of Irish soldiers in any single incident overseas happened in the Belgian Congo. This significant moment in the history of the Defence Forces took place while these troops were serving as UN peacekeepers with 33 Infantry Battalion as part of the Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC).


On that day Lt Kevin Gleeson took his 11-man patrol over a bridge on the Luweyeye River near the town of Niemba where Baluba tribesmen ambushed them. After a courageous fight against overwhelming numbers, nine of the patrol were killed.


One member of the patrol, 20-year-old Tpr Anthony Browne from Rialto, Dublin, survived the initial attack but was subsequently killed. His body was not found until November 1962. Tpr Browne was also posthumously awarded the first ever An Bonn Míleata Calmachta (Military Medal for Gallantry), the Defence Forces highest military honour, for his conduct during the ambush. His citation reads


“He endeavoured to create an opportunity to allow an injured comrade to escape by firing his Gustaf, thereby drawing attention to his own position, which he must have been aware would endanger his life. He had a reasonable opportunity to escape because he was not wounded but chose to remain with an injured comrade.”


Those that lost their lives were: Lt Kevin Gleeson (30), Sgt Hugh Gaynor (29), Cpl Peter Kelly (25), Cpl Liam Dougan (34), Pte Matthew Farrell (22), Tpr Thomas Fennell (18), Tpr Anthony Browne MMG (20), Pte Michael McGuinn (21) and Pte Gerard Killeen (27).


Two members of the patrol survived, Pte Joseph Fitzpatrick (then 21) and Pte Thomas Kenny (then 24).


From 1960 to 1964, 12 Defence Forces units with almost 6,200 troops, served with ONUC. In those four years 26 Irish troops paid the ultimate sacrifice in the name of peace– 17 died as a result of hostile action, 3 died from natural causes and 6 died in accidents. Of the thirty troop-contributing countries, Ireland had the fourth highest number of fatalities after Ghana (49 deaths), India (39) and Ethiopia (28).


In total, eighty-seven (87) members of Óglaigh na hÉireann have lost their lives on overseas deployment. Of these, thirty-six (36) personnel have died as a result of hostile action overseas.

Niemba wreaths
Colm Campbell, Chairman of the Board of Directors, ONE