Operation PELI PELI

International Operation Name: not applicable

International Operation Dates:  not applicable

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Africa

Location:  Congo

Canadian Operation Name: Operation PELI PELI

Canadian Operation Dates: 1967/11/02 – 1967/11/20

Mission Mandate: To evacuate mercenaries and their supporters from the Congo at the request of the International Red Cross.

Mission Notes:

When the UN left the Congo in June 1964, the country was far from secure. The UN had hardly departed when the Simba rebels attempted to create their own state in eastern Congo. The Congolese military was an ineffective entity, wracked with patronage and nepotism. Moïse Tshombe, former secessionist leader of Katanga and now newly installed Prime Minister, hired mercenaries to lead the army in putting down the Simbas. These mercenaries included “Mad Mike” Hoare, Robert Denard and Jean Schramme, a Belgian plantation owner who had lived 23 years in the Congo. After the Simbas were defeated, many of the mercenaries remained in the country on the government payroll, assuring the control of eastern Congo. For his efforts, Tshombe was first removed as Prime Minister and then charged and convicted for treason.

On 5 July 1967, Schramme, his mercenaries and supporters staged an uprising. With Schramme marching on the city of Bukavu in Kivu Province, the Congolese army fled. Schramme’s goals were to have President Mobutu restore democracy, annul the treason conviction of ex-Prime Minister Tshombe and appoint Tshombe to the Cabinet. Mobutu rejected the demands. Schramme subsequently defeated the few attacks mounted against him; however, as military pressure built up against him, he realized he would eventually face defeat. In October 1967, the International Red Cross was able to negotiate an agreement with Schramme and Mobutu whereby the white mercenaries would be flown to Malta and his Congolese supporters would be flown to Zambia. At the time Schramme’s forces were being pushed out of Congo and into Rwanda.

The Red Cross had asked a number of countries to provide aircraft, including Great Britain, the United States and Canada – for two aircraft. With countries coming on-side, the Red Cross reduced its request of Canada to one aircraft. Throughout the early period of November, Mobutu kept changing his mind as to whether he would allow the evacuation. In the end, the Red Cross withdrew from its efforts while Mobutu talked privately with a number of countries. The evacuation did eventually take place in mid-November.

On 2 November, the Department of External Affairs advised Canadian Forces Headquarters (CFHQ) that the International Red Cross had approached various countries on 31 October to arrange military transport for an estimated 900 Katangans -Schramme supporters- and between 400 and 500 women and children. Canadian Forces Headquarters issued an order on 2 November for Operation PELI PELI. Two Hercules (one each from 435 and 436 squadrons) were placed on 24-hour notice to move, as were a rifle company from the Royal 22e Regiment (R22eR), ten in-flight security teams (each team with one Sergeant and 4 men), and ten medical orderlies. The expectation was that the operation could occur as early as 5 November.

Late on November 7th, the R22eR company was cancelled and only one aircraft, from 436 Squadron, was tasked. One in-flight protection party and two medical assistants would also deploy. Hercules No. 10310, including two aircrews, a seven person servicing crew, the security team and the medical personnel – a total of 29 personnel- was in Ascension Island by 11 November where they awaited instructions.

With the withdrawal of the Red Cross from the operation on 17 November Canadian Forces Headquarters considered the return of the Hercules, which was also recommended by the Canadian attaché in Kinshasa. CFHQ agreed to the suggestion and ordered the Hercules home on 18 November. On the 20th it arrived back in Ottawa.

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