THE SLAVER’S WHEEL: Sully in the Congo

By Jack Lawson with Sully deFontaine
Excerpted from The Slaver’s Wheel: A Green Beret’s True Story of His CLASSIFIED MISSION in the Congo, JNM Media (March 22, 2018), Chapters 20-21, with permission from Jack Lawson

Slavers Wheel Book Cover

Editor’s Note: In 1960, Belgium granted the Congo its independence under pressure from the United Nations, knowing that the country was woefully unprepared and would likely devolve into multi-tribal conflict. Green Beret Sully deFontaine with his small team was sent on a secret mission to rescue missionaries and others from the ensuing ethnic cleansing to rid the country of the hated white colonists. All manner of horrors awaited those that were to fall victim.

The “Slaver’s Wheel” lays out the situation and the effectiveness of the mission. These two chapters suspensefully tell of just one incident from the mission. The whole book is well worth the read.


Robert One, this is Robert Four, come in!” Frenchy’s voice crackled over the radio from the small airport at Coquilhatville to where Sully had moved the team. The call awakened Sully, Clement and Mazak. Sully looked at his watch; it was 4:45 in the early morning hours of July 19, 1960. He shook his head in disbelief.

Sully leaped off his cot and grabbed the radio handset. “This is Robert One, go ahead Robert Four,” he answered.

“Robert One, I just had a call from a group of people in Gwante calling for help. It sounds like they’re in real trouble. I’ve confirmed twelve people including nuns, a priest and some missionaries. The message was weak, but he made it clear that his missionary outpost is under attack by a large group of rebels. The rebels are threatening to kill them.”

“Robert Four, did you tell them to mark their location with a white cross or flag?” “Affirmative, Robert One.”

“Okay Robert Four, we’re on our way!” Sully relayed. “How the heck did Frenchy pick that call up at this time in the morning?” Sully wondered aloud, shaking his head in disbelief.

“He’s sleeping with his headset on!” Clement said chuckling.

As only one aircraft was available in Coquilhatville, Sully and Mazak took off in it, heading toward Gwante.

Sully left instructions with Captain Clement that as soon as another aircraft arrived at Coquilhatville from Brazzaville, it was to be immediately refueled and he was to fly out to assist them.

Despite seeing no flag or marker in the area of Gwante or any building resembling a church or mission, the pilot set the aircraft down on a dirt road bordering the village to conduct a search. Sully got out of the plane with two hand grenades concealed in his pockets while Mazak covered him with a submachine gun. Sully briefly searched the village and found no one. Still concerned that the people may be in hiding, Sully told Mazak to search the village further while he proceeded to search from the air.

When Sully left him at Gwante, Mazak was carrying a medical backpack, a radio, grenades, a submachine gun and more ammunition than most Special Forces soldiers would take with them. It was like Mazak had once confided to Sully: “I always carry one more knife, one more grenade and twice as many magazines as the guy next to me. That’s how I’ve stayed alive this long.”

Mazak was to radio him if he found the evacuees at Gwante. After flying ten miles east of Gwante, Sully caught a glimpse of a white flag fluttering from a church steeple in the neighboring village of Mombaka.

The pilot landed on a narrow road leading into the village, the tree branches on the sides of the road scraping the wings. Coming to a stop in a clearing about a hundred yards from the church, Sully got out, and the pilot turned the aircraft and readied for takeoff.

Outfitted in his British safari suit and armed only with the two concealed grenades and the pistol in his medical bag, Sully approached the church. A middle-aged priest with snow-white hair ran toward him. His smock was drenched in blood, his face was bruised and cut, and one eye was swollen shut.

“Are you who I radioed for help?” he asked Sully. “Yes, I’m Robert. Where is everyone, Father?”

“In the church. Come this way,” the priest said. He beckoned as he turned and both men hurried to the church door. The priest took Sully aside and described their ordeal.

“When the rebels came into the village we barricaded ourselves inside the church, but they broke in and beat us for it. Six of the women are sisters of this church. All of them and others have been abused by the rebel soldiers. I am afraid that some will not live very long. They’re all badly in need of medical treatment. We have bandaged them, but I think two of the elderly sisters have internal hemorrhaging.”

Sully handed the priest his medical backpack, telling him to do the best he could with what was in it and that he would try to radio for more help from Coquilhatville.

The priest told Sully that he believed there were about a hundred rebels terrorizing the village. He also reported that the commander of the rebel forces had said he would return to kill the priest and the others. They had tried several times to get out of the village and escape into the jungle, but were chased back each time.

Calling for Help

Sully heard the sound of rifle and machine gun fire close by and, realizing that he had little time to spare, called the pilot on his radio handset.

“Jake Nine, this is Robert One, come in.” Sully received no answer and called again, “Jake Nine, this is Robert One, come in please!” There was silence. He called again, ‘’Jake Nine, do you read me?”

This time the message from Jake Nine was garbled. Sully called for Mazak.

“Robert Three, this is Robert One. Come in.” Sully called Mazak and waited, but received no answer. “Robert Three, this is Robert One. Come in, over,” Sully repeated.

“Robert One, this is Robert Three, I read you but your signal is two by four,” meaning Mazak’s reception was poor. Sully suspected there was something wrong with his radio.

“Robert Three. I’ve found the evacuees. I’m at Mombaka, ten kilometers due east of Gwante. Have the Belgians send a platoon of Para Commandos immediately, and I need another plane here as soon as possible. My radio is on the blink. Have Jake Nine land the plane now. The situation here is not going well. Do you copy?”

“Roger, Robert One. I read you. I’ll radio Jake Nine and the Belgians in Coquilhatville immediately!”

“Are they sending help?” the priest asked.

“Yes,” replied Sully. He turned to the priest and told him the plane would have room for only six passengers. “Get the sisters ready to move. We’re going down by the road to load those injured the worst on the plane. But the rest of us will have to go into the jungle and hide until more help can get here.”

Sully organized the small group of refugees, moved them out of the building and down the road to where the aircraft would land.