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Film / The Siege of Jadotville

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The Congo, 1961. The Cold War is at its height. The United Nations has authorised Operation Morthor in Congo's separatist Katanga province. Under the auspices of Conor Cruise O'Brien, an operation on Radio Katanga results in a disastrous bloodbath with multiple civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, at Jadotville, "A" Company from the Irish Army's 35th Battalion suddenly comes under attack by a force of Katangese rebels and mercenaries in retaliation for the events of Operation Morthor. What would follow was a six day siege with the Irish company outnumbered by a factor of twenty.

The film was notable for giving public recognition for the true events of what happened at Jadotville. For many years, the soldiers who fought there were treated as cowards for surrendering. In reality, they had been left with no choice, having run out of supplies and ammunition and cut off from any reinforcements. While the film was made specifically for Netflix, it received a limited theatrical run in Ireland.

This film provides examples of:

  • Armchair Military: Dr. O'Brien. He issues orders and plans from the comfort of his office, and only visits the battlefield once, when he goes to view the aftermath of the massacre at the radio tower.
  • Armor Is Useless: The reason none of the Irish wear helmets is because the UN issued ones were plastic.
  • Artistic License – History: Hammarskjöld's plane crashed the day after the siege ended.
    • And the fighter that lines up behind his plane is an American F-4 Phantom II which had only started deploying with the US Navy in Virginia two months earlier.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: After the first attack Quinlan's radioman reports on what battalion HQ tells Company A.
    Radioman: They said God bless, and hold tight.
    Quinlan: "God bless"? What's that supposed to mean?
    Radioman: Um, I suppose he means God's blessings be upon us, sir.
  • As You Know: At the bar at the beginning, a soldier approaches Quinlan, but is reminded by Sgt. Pendergast that "he's your commanding officer."
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: While the Katangese rebels use other tactics like mortar fire, air support, and sneaking a machinegun onto the field under the guise of removing their dead, this is their main strategy. Somewhat justified; they outnumber A Company ten to one, so in theory, a head-on assault is the quickest way to end them.
    Faulques: On our next engagement, we will overrun them with twenty times their forces. We'll finish this in one all-out victory.
  • Badass Army: "A" Company. Heavily outnumbered, badly outgunned and lacking supplies, they faced a force twenty times their number, killing 300 and wounding around 1000 rebels while taking no losses and only 5 wounded.
  • Badass Boast: During the first truce, we get this exchange.
    Rene Faulques: You do realize that you are outnumbered by a factor of twenty.
    Pat Quinlan: I see a lot of dead men here. None of them are mine.
  • Bittersweet Ending: "A" Company survives the siege and gets back home in one piece having acquitted themselves above and beyond the call of duty. However none of them get any sort of recognition for their actions and it isn't until 2006 that the story becomes widely known.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Defied from the outset. A check of the ordnance stores reveals a severe shortage of proper equipment and sufficient ammo stocks to begin with. "A" Company is forced to surrender after using up all of their ammunition twice over (See Desperation Attack).
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Prendergast notes that most of "A" Company's armament is leftovers from World War II.
  • Casting Gag: PJ states that he thinks that Quinlan will get everyone killed. He's played by Quinlan's grandson.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Quinlan's response to Faulques' insults about Ireland's lack of war experience and his annoyance at Quinlan's quoting of Erwin Rommel is to state that "Not many Frenchmen like German tacticians. It only took them two weeks to take over your entire country."
  • Chekhov's Lecture: At the beginning of the film, Quinlan notes that soldiers on the ground understand tactics, but not strategy and that politicians the other way around. O'Brien essentially hangs him out to dry for strategic and political reasons, while Quinlan's concerns on the ground are entirely tactical.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Despite A Company being badly outnumbered and low on ammunition the entire time, the siege is this for the Katangese. 300 Katangese troops are killed and 1,000 wounded, while the only casualties on A Company's side is 5 wounded men and no deaths.
  • Decapitated Army: Subverted. Ready manages to kill the Man in a White Suit, who is implied to be the mercenaries' financial backer. A truce is called at this point and Faulques offers Quinlan a chance to surrender. Quinlan makes the same offer before both parties go back and keep fighting.
  • Desperation Attack: "A" Company use some dynamite and their empty shell casings as improvised fragmentation devices when they are overrun.
  • Due to the Dead: After the first attack, Quinlan sees a hyena gnawing at a dead rebel's boot. He fires several rounds into the air to scare it off.
  • Everybody Lives: Everyone in "A" Company survives the battle, though they're all willing to fight to the death. Quinlan's priority at the end is just to get his men out alive.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Bill Ready is referred to as "Sniper" throughout the film by his comrades. With good reason too as A: his last name is asking for all kinds of confusion if called out loud (albeit pronounced "Reedy") and B: the guy is a crack shot with both his scoped Lee-Enfield and improvised use of a Bren Gun as a sniper weapon.
  • A Father to His Men: Commandant Quinlan. It's ambiguous at first the way some of the men talk about him, but his main concern at the end of the film is getting all his men out alive. When "A" Company returns home, his men give him a rather heartfelt salute after he punches out General McEntee. The real Quinlan apparently trained his men hard and they noted after that it saved their lives during the siege.
  • Fighting Irish: "A" Company of the Irish Army fight hard, despite light equipment, inferior numbers and limited supplies.
  • Glory Hound: Conor Cruise O'Brien is more than willing to throw "A" Company under the bus for his own political gain. The disaster of the Radio Katanga massacre is what leads to the siege in the first place and the whole thing is covered up to save face.
  • Good Guns, Bad Guns - The Irish peacekeepers use FN FAL rifles, Lee Enfields, Vickers Machine Guns and Bren Guns, all traditionally Good Guns. The Kataganese rebels use FALs too so the trope is zig zagged, but the rebel who wounds an Irish soldier has a Mauser rifle (Bad Gun). The French mercenary has a Walther P38, distinctly a Bad guy gun.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Moise Tshombe is the overall leader of the Katanga rebellion and his appearance in the film is part of the political backdrop and the overall impetus for the backstory.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: The entire siege gets covered up by the U.N. and Irish government and the "Jadotville Jacks" are instead criticized for cowardice.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Justified as the UN-provided helmets are plastic shells which provide about the same amount of protection as a beret.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • In real life, Dag Hammarskjöld is considered one of the greatest Secretaries-General of the U.N. and even received a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize. In the film, he's portrayed as an cold-blooded politician who is about to throw O'Brien under the bus for political reasons when he's killed.
    • Zigzagged for Rene Faulques. In spite of being the enemy commander who is fighting for the profit of private enterprise rather than to bring peace, he's portrayed as a fairly honorable (if ruthless) Worthy Opponent. While the epilogue notes that he's considered a hero of the French Foreign Legion it does specifically state that he spent his entire career destabilizing goverments in underdeveloped nations for the financial benefit of his own country, wich, in case it needs to be said, is not a heroic thing to do.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Quinlan states over the radio to HQ that "We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey." This was Truth in Television.
  • In-Universe Factoid Failure: When digging trenches shortly after arriving at Jadotville, a snake slithers into one, freaking out the troops digging. Quinlan calmly picks up the snake and tosses it away, admonishing them for not reading the pamphlets they were given on the local flora and fauna and panicking over a non-venomous snake.
  • Last Stand: Defied. At the end of the film, the members of "A" Company want to do this in spite of the fact that they are surrounded and out of ammunition, but Quinlan won't let them.
  • Majorly Awesome: Quinlan's rank of Commandant is equivalent to that of Major in other armies. His actions in the battle in leading a company to take on a force that badly outnumbers them and keeping them all alive puts him squarely in this trope.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Quinlan takes a round to the shoulder at one point. One of his men asks what getting shot is like. He notes that he wouldn't recommend it.
  • No, Mister Bond, I Expect You To Dine: Rene Faulques invites Quinlan and his men to have some Cognac with him when they arrive at Elizabethville while they talk shop. Played with in that they're not quite enemies in the strictest sense yet, but there is some antagonism there.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Conor Cruise O'Brien and, to a lesser extent, General McEntee are this. When Quinlan sends Prendergast to them to get reinforcements prior to the siege, they make him wait around for hours and send him away empty handed. When Quinlan requests reinforcements by radio during the siege, they send him a token effort of thirty men, who are unable to break through. When "A" Company returns home, Quinlan's response to McEntee telling him that the whole thing is being covered up is to punch him out.
  • One-Book Author: This was the feature film debut of veteran music video and commercial director Richie Smyth, and is to date his only film project.
  • Person with the Clothing: The Man In A White Suit is implied to be the mercenaries' financial backer, given his cleancut appearance and immaculate white suit, compared to the fatigues worn both by "A" Company and the mercanaries. The white suit marks him down as an important target and one who is easily brought down courtesy of Bill Ready.
  • Private Military Contractors: European (mostly French and Belgian) mercenaries are hired ostensibly to protect the mines in Katanga province, but they are really assisting the Katangese rebels with fighting the UN peacekeepers.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Falques is only really Quinlan's enemy because he's being paid to be. After the battle, he considers Quinlan a Worthy Opponent and gives him the chance to get his men out alive.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: The Katangese and mercenary forces win the siege, but only after they lose 4 times as many men as the Irish even had (and 260 times as many casualties as the Irish) and after the Irish run completely out of ammo.
  • Ranged Emergency Weapon: Quinlan only falls back on his sidearm towards the end of the film when his rifle runs dry and he barely appears to have a single magazine for that.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: The siege begins when "A" Company is attending Sunday Mass.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Double Subverted. O'Brien calls Dag Hammarskjöld to resign. Hammarskjöld accepts his resignation, just seconds before his plane is shot down.
  • Sergeant Rock: Company Sergeant Prendergast is typical of this trope. He fights hard, at one point even taking a Vickers Gun to the enemy, while Quinlan tells someone to "help that mad bastard". He tries to instill calm in the men during the battle, telling them to "Breathe, squeeze, kill! Breathe again!" when some of them start missing shots in panic. At the end of the film, just prior to "A" Company's surrender due to being out of ammunition, he has his bayonet fixed for a potential Last Stand.
  • The Siege: It's in the title, so yeah. The Irish company is besieged for five days and attack in several waves.
  • The So-Called Coward: The Real Life "A" Company were treated like this. The truth of the battle was covered up for political reasons and the term "Jadotville Jacks" was used as a derogatory term for them.
  • Stock Scream: One of Sniper's many kills gets a classic Whilhelm Scream, after being shot in the head, improbably enough.
  • Strategy Versus Tactics: A major theme of the film. This is discussed in the pub by Quinlan and his officers before "A" Company deploys to the Congo. As the film goes on, Quinlan is left in the dark and essentially hung out to dry by his superiors, who are only thinking of the larger scale of Operation Morthor. On the other hand, O'Brien doesn't seem to care about what happens to "A" Company, essentially considering them acceptable losses. On returning home and discovering that not only will his men not be getting the medals that he is recommending for them, but that the whole affair is to be covered up, Quinlan is understandably upset and punches out his commanding officer.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Faulques assumed that defeating the Irish peacekeepers would be easy due to their small numbers and lack of combat experience. But the Irish troops only surrender after killing a few hundred rebels and mercenaries and completely depleting their ammunition twice over.
  • Villains Out Shopping: We first see the mercenaries when A Company's commanders bump into them at a bar. They share a drink and trade threats and insults.
  • War for Fun and Profit: The background for the movie set during the Congo Crisis, which Katanga split from Congo and UN sent peacekeepers (including "A" Company of Irish Army) to prevent further chaos. Many mining companies along with Private Military Contractors began to seek profits in the region in turmoil to the point where Lumumba was deposed to prevent the nationalization of minerals.
  • War Is Hell: The film minces no words or scenes in portraying war as an inglorious, nightmarish affair.
  • We Have Reserves: The rebels and mercenaries boasted large numbers compared to the "A" Company, but ended up with hundreds of men killed or wounded in contrast to the total of zero deaths on the other side.
  • Worthy Opponent: Faulques sees Quinlan as this by the film's ending and offers him a second chance to surrender.