Operation Dragon Rouge

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Operation Dragon Rouge
Part of the Simba rebellion during the Congo Crisis
Congo Crisis dead hostages.jpg
Belgian paratrooper with hostages killed minutes before their arrival
Date24 November 1964 (1964-11-24)
Stanleyville, Congo-Léopoldville

Belgian/American success

  • Most hostages rescued
Socialist red flag.svg Simba rebels
Commanders and leaders
  • Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Charles Laurent
  • Flag of Belgium (civil).svg Frédéric Vandewalle
  • Flag of the United States.svg Burgess Gradwell
  • Flag of Belgium (civil).svg 320 paratroopers
  • Flag of the United States.svg 128 commandos
  • Flag of the United States.svg 5 C-130 aircraft
500 rebels
Casualties and losses
2 killed, 12 wounded Unknown
24 hostages killed

Operation Dragon Rouge was a hostage rescue operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo conducted by Belgium and the United States in 1964. The operation was led by the Belgian Paracommando Regiment to rescue hostages held by Simba rebels in the town of Stanleyville.

Republic of the Congo (Léopoldville) former country in Africa

The Republic of the Congo was a sovereign state in Central Africa that was created with the independence of the Belgian Congo in 1960. From 1960 to 1966, the country was often known as Congo-Léopoldville in order to distinguish it from its north-western neighbour, also called the Republic of the Congo or Congo-Brazzaville. With the renaming of Léopoldville as Kinshasa on 1 June 1966, it was known as Congo-Kinshasa until 1971.

Belgium Federal constitutional monarchy in Western Europe

Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a country in Western Europe. It is bordered by the Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east, Luxembourg to the southeast, France to the southwest, and the North Sea to the northwest. It covers an area of 30,688 square kilometres (11,849 sq mi) and has a population of more than 11.4 million. The capital and largest city is Brussels; other major cities are Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi and Liège.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.



By 1964, the Léopoldville government, supported by Western powers, was gaining a foothold in its fight to suppress the communist-backed Simba rebellion. Fearing an inevitable defeat, the rebels resorted to taking hostages of the local white population in areas under their control. On 28 October the Simba rebels arrested all Belgians and Americans in Stanleyville. [1] Several hundred hostages were taken to Stanleyville and placed under guard in the Victoria Hotel.

The Léopoldville government turned to Belgium and the United States for help. In response, the Belgian army sent a task force to Léopoldville, airlifted by the U.S. 322nd Air Division. Washington and Brussels worked jointly on a rescue plan. Several ideas were considered and discarded, and all attempts at negotiating with the Simbas had failed.

Belgian Land Component land warfare branch of the Belgian Armed Forces

The Land Component is the land branch of the Belgian Armed Forces. The current chief of staff of the Land Component is Major-General Marc Thys.


The Belgian task force was led by Colonel Charles Laurent. [2] On 24 November 1964, five American C-130 Hercules planes dropped 320 Belgian paratroopers of the Paracommando Regiment onto the airfield at Stanleyville. [3] Once the paratroopers had secured the airfield and cleared the runway they made their way to the Victoria Hotel, prevented Simbas from killing most of the 60 hostages, and evacuated them via the airfield.

Lockheed C-130 Hercules Military transport aircraft

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is an American four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed. Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medevac, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile airframe has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship (AC-130), for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance, aerial refueling, maritime patrol, and aerial firefighting. It is now the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. More than 40 variants of the Hercules, including civilian versions marketed as the Lockheed L-100, operate in more than 60 nations.

Immediate Reaction Cell

The Immediate Reaction Cell (IRC) is an elite fighting force in the Belgian Land Component, consisting of two paracommando battalion’s plus several support units. It was merged with the 7th Brigade to form the Light Brigade in 2010.

Kisangani Place in Tshopo Province, DR Congo

Kisangani is the capital of Tshopo province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the third largest urbanized city in the country and the largest of the cities that lie in the tropical woodlands of the Congo.

At 7h00 the hostages at Residence Victoria were rounded up by the guards and ordered into the street. Around 50 of them had barricaded themselves in their rooms, after having heard the order on Radio Stanleyville at 6h30 to kill all foreigners, but most obediently moved into the street, as they were heading for the airfield. After a short march, when the Simba rebels got word that the airport of Stanleyville was under Belgian control, the hostages were ordered to sit down in the street. After a few minutes, when heavy firing was heard nearby, some of the Simbas opened fire on the seated Belgians and Americans. The Paracommandos intervened and stabilized the situation, of the 250 hostages gathered by the rebels, 18 were already dead, and 40 were heavily wounded. [4]

Dr. Paul Carlson, an American medical missionary, was among those killed during the raid. [5] Around 1,600 foreign nationals and 150 Congolese civilians were evacuated. [6] [7] By mid-December, about one month after Operation Dragon Rouge, a total of 185 foreign hostages and thousands of Congolese had been executed by the Simba rebels. [8]

Paul Carlson was an American physician and medical missionary who served in Wasolo, a town in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He originated from Rolling Hills Covenant Church in Southern California, which is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. He was killed in 1964 by rebel insurgents after being falsely accused of being an American spy.

Aircraft at Kamina airfield prior to Stanleyville flight Dragon Rouge - DG097a.jpg
Aircraft at Kamina airfield prior to Stanleyville flight
One of the hostages being evacuated by plane Dragon Rouge hostage.jpg
One of the hostages being evacuated by plane
Belgian paratroopers on Stanleyville airfield after the operation Dragonrouge1.jpg
Belgian paratroopers on Stanleyville airfield after the operation


The operation coincided with the arrival of Armée nationale congolaise (ANC) and other foreign mercenary units—which likely included the hastely-formed 5th Mechanised Brigade and Mike Hoare's 5 Commando ANC—at Stanleyville which was quickly captured. Because of growing international pressure, Belgium and the U.S. decided to abandon plans for follow-on operations in Bunia and Watsa, a final rescue operation, Operation Dragon Noir, was carried out in Paulis on 26 November. [9] It took the central government until the end of the year to completely put down the remaining areas of the Simba rebellion.

Despite the success of the raid, Moise Tshombe's prestige was damaged by the joint Belgian–U.S. operation which saw white mercenaries and Western forces intervene once again in the Congo. In particular, Tshombe had lost the support of President Joseph Kasa-Vubu and Chief of the Army Joseph-Desiré Mobutu and was dismissed from his post as prime minister in October 1965.

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  1. Odom 1988, p. 40.
  2. Odom 1988, p. 46.
  3. Odom 1988, p. 51.
  4. Odom 1988, p. 94.
  5. Odom 1988, p. 102.
  6. Odom 1988, p. 180.
  7. Wagoner 1980, p. 182.
  8. Wagoner 1980, p. 198.
  9. Odom 1988, p. 122.