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Book Review
Kolwezi 1978
Operations Leopard and Red Bean Kolwezi 1978 French and Belgian Intervention in Zaire
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by: Darren Baker [ CMOT ]


Helion & Company have released a series of titles looking at Africa and the conflicts that have plagued that continent through the colonial wars and internal faction rebellions. The series is titled 'Africa @ War'. This offering looks at 'Operations Leopard and Red Bean Kolwezi 1978 French and Belgian Intervention in Zaire'.


This offering from Helion & Company is No.32 in the Africa @ War series and is a soft backed offering. This title has been authored by Daniel Kowalczuk. The book is roughly A4 in size and consists of 72 pages. The soft cover is a heavy card offering that should do a reasonable job of protecting the pages within for some time with reasonable use. The paper used inside is a very good quality gloss paper that should be hard wearing and shows off the included photographs very well.

The contents of this offering are broken down as follows:
Zairian Military Forces
Foreign Military Forces
Angolan Powder Keg
I Shaba War
II Shaba War

As the colonial powers that had controlled African continent were being removed both forcibly and willingly Africans generally became more unhappy with the situations they found themselves in with the effect that tribal wars were being fought nearly everywhere. The African continent had been pretty much controlled by three European countries with the UK and France being by far the worst offenders in this regard, but Belgium also had its realm in the African continent. This title looks at the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Zaire depending on your age and looks at the Belgian and French efforts to rescue Europeans after supporting Moise Tshombe. Moise Tshombe was supported not because he was the best person for the job, but because he would enable the Western countries to have access to the mineral wealth of the country. The result was that with the aid of mercenaries; primarily from South Africa he took control.

The book does quite a good job of introducing you to the man in a charge of the country and was an enjoyable read that provided a lot of information I did not know. I suspect many of us know very little about the African Wars as in my youth it was considered as over there and not our problem. Forces only ever really got involved in African Wars when it came to rescuing Europeans or more usually where it looked as if Russian influence was gaining ground and so looking as if it would take over.

The sections looking at some of the forces involves is another nice section of the title due to offering up the grounding as to who, what and where. The side views of the aircraft and vehicles used in the conflict where well received by me. The part I found most visually interesting are the images showing the uniforms of some elements in colour; the leopard spot camouflage with red detail worn by the FAZ elements is particularly eye catching that if on a figure would certainly catch most viewers attention.

We then get an education into the first Shaba War in 1977 and the FNLC invasion from Angola and their rapid advance into Zaire. This rapid advance to displace Tshombe was stopped and turned around by the intervention of Moroccan forces aiding FAZ troops with financial support from France and America. The retreat could really be considered a rout from what I have learnt here.

Moving onto the 2nd Shaba War in 1978 and a reinvigorated FNLC who quickly reached the mines in Kolwezi. The Europeans from many nations were in this area usually working for the mining companies and a large number were executed by FNLC insurgents. There were approx 2,500 Europeans and Americans in this area at the time of the invasion with some being killed during the taking of the area and many more being executed for any number of reasons. Initially a joint French and Belgian force was going in to rescue the European survivors, but France lost trust in the Belgians after media reports giving the enemy all of the details of the intended operation. The action of the French is well covered and shows that the French Forces are a capable force. The Belgians arrived later than the French, but their actions are also well covered.


This is an interesting book covering the events in the DRC and the actions of the French and Belgians during the rescue of the European and American civilians and military advisors. The photographs are all black & white offerings which is not an issue for me, the colour frames are interesting particularly where the uniforms are covered. Reading the text I did find some words omitted, but this was only in a couple of places and so did not affect the readability of the book.

Darren Baker takes a look at a title from Helion & Company covering "Operations Leopard and Red Bean Kolwezi 1978 French and Belgian Intervention in Zaire".
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN : 97819123905
  PUBLISHED: Jan 18, 2019

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About Darren Baker (CMOT)

I have been building model kits since the early 70ís starting with Airfix kits of mostly aircraft, then progressing to the point I am at now building predominantly armour kits from all countries and time periods. Living in the middle of Salisbury plain since the 70ís, I have had lots of opportunitie...

Copyright ©2020 text by Darren Baker [ CMOT ]. All rights reserved.


Looks like another decent delve into a pretty obscure conflict by Helion. That guy's leopard skin pattern uniform is really something else, certainly deserves to be rendered in model form.
JAN 22, 2019 - 10:28 AM
I was in direct contact with this operation beginning with flying in the Shaba II operations that began for the crew I was part of, beginning in early May of 1978. Continued ongoing operations with the French Foreign Legion (especially the 2 ReP) for an extremely busy part of 3 months straight, that year. It was constant flying into Dakar Senegal, Libreville Gabon, Kinshasa and Lubumbashi and Kolwezi Zaire, and into Solenzara Corsica, where the FFL was based during that time. Things were so violent, with so much recovery needed, that those operations and participating on those flights, that these operations were so needed that the missions lasted well into 1979. It was also with multiple opportunities during that time, that I was introduced to the AML 90, driving a few of them to and from our aircraft. I also have received a copy of this publication and read it from cover to cover that first day. It was the best description of my time there...a time machine of sorts. My aircraft is the exact C-5 mentioned/listed at the end (but from Dover, Delaware, not Dover U.K.). Most of the vehicles and personnel and aircraft listed, and pictured, was also witnessed. Little is mentioned, or known, of American participation in Zaire during 1978-1979. It's about time this information is shared and credit given to our participation. Thank you Daniel, for writing such an accurate description of events during the time(s) of Shaba.
JAN 22, 2019 - 01:39 PM
John, your experience sounds like an adventure, but certainly a hair raising one at times for you, no doubt, and obviously a terrible outcome for many others. When I wrote the word 'obscure' I had in mind that it probably would turn out not to be so obscure for someone in this site... I have read one of the books in this series (relating to Angola) and I think it's true to say that they are another level up from the likes of Osprey in terms of the level of detail included, as well as volume of content (though as you say, still readable in a day or two) and it is admirable that they are documenting some of these conflicts in this way.
JAN 23, 2019 - 01:59 AM
Matthew, thank you for the comments. The death and destruction that surrounded this Operation was abhorrent. Especially early on around Lubumbashi's airport. The wounded was all around, but not allowed on airport grounds (from what I could tell, and this is a personal opinion). Perhaps purposely so the press would not embarrass the Zairian Govt. I recall a Belgian C-130 with patients in it's cargo bay, lending them a mechanical hand to fix some issue I can't recall. This is where I saw wounded on the outskirts pass that Belgian aircraft...as if it was used to mask their existence. There were at least two Zairian C-130's on the tarmac as well, plus other private aircraft. Perhaps one of the oddest natural barrier was the grass...something around 10 to 15 feet tall. It reached the bottom of our number 1 engine, which is 13 feet off the ground to the bottom of the cowl. In the end, I have a few of these books on various African conflicts. They seem to be very in depth and accurate since some of the missions I flew on the African continent are mentioned in those editions I've collected.
JAN 23, 2019 - 02:58 PM

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