Operation Dragon Rouge
Operation Dragon Rouge

In the fall of 1964 Simba rebels seized the city of Stanleyville in the Congo, during the Congolese Civil War, and took over 1600 European hostages. After 111 days of fruitless negotiating, a joint operation was launched by American, Belgium, and Mercenary forces to liberate the hostages. Units are platoon-sized, each map hex represents 500 yards, and turns represent 30 minutes. 129 counters, one 11 by 16 inch color map, rules, charts and tables. Simple combat system, with rules covering limited intelligence, air drops, air landing and evacuation, and the hostages. Six scenarios allow players to explore the historical possibilities. C'est le Congo. $14.00

Historical notes (from the rulesbook)

The revolt in the Congo had less to do with Cold War politics than it did with post-colonial incompetence. Following the withdrawal of Belgian colonial rule, the Congo had seen constant turmoil. The Simba (Swahili word for lion) revolt began as an isolated reaction to government misrule, but quickly spread. By the fall of 1964 the Simba rebels controlled almost half of the Congo. On August 5 Simba rebels seized control of the city of Stanleyville and took over 1600 foreign hostages. The ANC (ArmŽe Nationale Congolaise - the Congolese government troops) had 1500 men garrisoning Stanleyville, but fled when "attacked" by about 40 Simba rebels led by witch doctors waving palm branches. The government troops left behind a stockpile of weapons, including rifles, mortars, and armored cars. This allowed even the jeunesse - the youth gangs - to arm themselves with more than spears and machetes. The victorious Simbas celebrated with the traditional tribal ratissage - a ceremonial cannibalism.

Stanleyville was a large, modern city, with over 300,000 inhabitants. The foreigners living there included missionaries, merchants, teachers, doctors, and the Embassy or Consulate staffs and their families from many countries. The Simba rebels were especially bitter towards the American and Belgian inhabitants, blaming them for the ills of the country. Many of the foreigners were rounded up and held in the Central Prison and the local jail; as time dragged on, the Simbas moved them around, and many ended up at local hotels. The Americans were at various times held at the Sabena Guest House, the Hospital, and any of 6 local hotels. One of the Simba leaders, Christophe Gbenye, vowed that the hostages would be tied to oil barrels and set afire if any attempt was made to rescue them. The number of armed Simba rebels in and around Stanleyville was estimated at between 2,500 to 10,000.

The Allied (Congo, American, and Belgian) governments negotiated with the rebels for 111 days. Several contingency plans were proposed, and the Dragon Rouge plan finalized, when it became obvious that the Simbas had no intention of releasing the hostages. Independent of the Dragon rescue plans (Blanc, Noir, Rouge, and Vert), the Congolese government organized a ground force to retake Simba-held areas and suppress the rebellion. This ground force was named L'Ommengang, after a Belgian Mardi Gras celebration, and led by Colonel Vandewalle. The force included ANC troops as well as the 5th Brigade of white mercenaries, led by Colonel Mike Hoare. The goal of Vandewalle's force was to drive north from Kamina towards Stanleyville and Paulis, liberating as many towns as possible from Simba control. The L'Ommengang force was well underway when Operation Dragon Rouge was launched. In fact, Hoare was ready to drive into Stanleyville regardless of any Allied airdrop.

Operation Dragon Rouge was planned and executed by a truly multi-national force. The Belgian paratroops were flown in American (Airforce) planes, using a British and then a Congolese base to stage from. The air support consisted of B-26's flown by Cuban exile pilots trained and operated by the CIA (many of them Bay of Pigs veterans). The L'Ommengang force was a mixture as well, with British, French, Belgian, German, Italian, South African, and Rhodesian mercenaries fighting alongside the Congolese troops.

The first B-26's flew over the airfield just before 0600 on November 24. They drew no fire, and so flew off in search of other targets. The first wave of paracommandos followed, dropping onto the airfield and the golf course. The units formed up and began to secure the airfield. Several platoons were allocated to secure the Control Tower, which the Simbas defended. Others struggled to clear the barricades from the tarmac - the Simbas had placed 50 gallon drums filled with oil and water on the runway, as well as old cars which had the wheels removed. Almost immediately the paras came under fire from the jungle surrounding the airfield. By 0700 the runway was clear, and the air landing troops began to arrive.

The air landing troops included the recon elements, with their armored jeeps and AS-24's - large motorized tricycles that could carry 3-4 men and weapons. Colonel Laurent organized the lead elements and headed into town.

In Stanleyville, meanwhile, the Simbas had begun to round up the hostages. As the planes flew overhead, they herded them into the streets. The Simba's command structure broke down, and everyone had conflicting orders. Some Simbas wanted to kill the hostages immediately, while others wanted to use them as a human shield while they moved north out of town. Gbenye was already in flight, and nowhere to be found (his car had been ambushed by the paras near the Sabena Guest House, but he was not in it). At 0740 the paras reached the city limits and pressed towards the central hotels and prison. At 0745 the Simbas opened fire on the hostages, killing 18 of them. Most, however, were able to run or hide. At 0750 the paras reached the massacre site, and began killing Simbas. For the next several hours the paras rescued hostages, exchanged fire with Simbas, and secured portions of the city.

Vandewalle's force had been on the move all night, moving towards Stanleyville along the jungle roads. The column was ambushed three times, and had trouble crossing one of the rivers south of the city. At 1100 the lead elements reached the city, and linked up with the paras. A stiff fight ensued for the Ketele Military Camp, which was eventually secured. As the mercs and ANC troops fought their way through the city, the paras fell back to the airfield, which was coming under increasing fire. Hostages continued to pour in. The wounded were treated, and loaded onto C-130 transports that shuttled them out. By that afternoon over 1600 hostages (men, women, and children) had been evacuated by air. The last Simba attack against the airfield was at 1745, complete with a mortar barrage and a charge across the runway by 150 Simbas led by a witch doctor. They suffered the same fate as the others.

The planners did not feel that the operation had been a total success. The fact that even one hostage was killed weighed heavily. The final statistics were astonishing: 33 hostages were killed, while over 1600 were rescued. 28 more bodies would be found later, south of the Congo River, bringing the total hostages killed to 61. The Belgians lost 2 paras killed and 5 injured or wounded. Simba casualties were unknown, but probably high. World reaction was predictable. Demonstrations were held in Moscow, Prague, Nairobi, and Cairo, denouncing "American imperialism." The mob in Cairo managed to burn the JFK Library (all 270,000 volumes) to the ground in a brilliant display of self indulgence. The Simba revolt lasted barely another three months, as Vandewalle's force continued to clean up northeastern Congo. Gbenye eventually ended up in a Nairobi bar, spewing bile at any who would listen about "Yankee stooges" and the like. The point remained - a handful of dedicated men had risked their lives to rescue noncombatants and succeeded. The 340 Paracommandos were given a hero's parade in Brussels on December 1.

Historical notes, counter art, and map art are ©1995 Randy Moorehead