Operation DRAGON ROUGE
November 24, 1964
The Congo Crisis (1960-1965) was a period of turmoil in the First Republic of the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu. The mission would involve a 14-plane airlift of 600 Belgian paratroopers to Africa.
Aboard the first plane were, two Combat Control Team members Captain Donald R. Strobaugh, commander of the 5th Aerial Port Squadron (APRON) and Sergeant Robert J. Dias.
Captain Strobaugh and Sgt Dias instructed the Belgians on the use of the PRC-41 and PRC-47 radio sets they had brought for communication between the men on the ground and the planes overhead. They also instructed 21 Belgian jumpmasters on C-130 jump techniques-few of the Belgian paras had ever jumped from the Hercules-then supervised as they trained the remainder of the force.
Once on the ground after the jump, the Para-Commandos began rushing to secure the field so rescue force aircraft could land. Within 30 minutes the Belgians managed to eliminate all resistance at the airport and within 10 minutes had cleared away about 300 water-filled 55-gallon drums and 11 wheel-less vehicles that had been placed on the runway as obstacles.
To Captain Strobaugh, who was serving aboard Dragon Nine as jumpmaster, the Belgians’ efforts were ‘nothing short of miraculous.’ At 0450Z, the first C-130 landed at Stanleyville and discharged a load of equipment and troops, then took off again to fly to Leopoldville-where the drop planes had already gone-for refueling and to await word to return to Stanleyville and evacuate refugees.
Although the Belgians spoke English, they were not used to speaking with rapid-talking Americans, many of whom were Southerners with distinct accents. To eliminate possible confusion, Colonel Laurent asked Captain Strobaugh and Sergeant Dias to take charge of communications with the American aircrew men and radio operators.
With the airport secure and the freed hostages beginning to make their way there, Strobaugh requested an airlift to take them out, along with air support for the strike forces. In addition to the American C-130s, Belgian Douglas DC-6s joined the airlift. Several airplanes landed with bullet holes received while on landing approach.
Even though the rescue was not without cost to the Belgians, the mission had been an overall success, resulting in the release of hundreds of hostages who doubtless would have been killed had it not occurred.