FRELIMO Order of Battle during the Portuguese Colonial War

FRELIMO (Frente Libertação de Moçambique) was created in 1962 from the combination of three existing liberation movements (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Initially FRELIMO debated three strategies: lightning attack on the capital, incite the peasants against the white settlers, and conduct a classic Communist protracted guerrilla struggle (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The latter strategy won out. They began sending men to train in Algeria in 1962 and began operations in Sep 1964 (Cann, 1997). Initially they tried to organize rising all over the country but without support from South Africa, Malawi and Rhodesia the southern and central fronts collapsed quickly. That left the route from Tanzania into the northern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa.

Frelimo has bases in Malawi (Venter, 1974b).

The military arm was FPLM (??) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Officially FRELIMO started the war with a conventional military structure of battalions, detachments, companies and units under regional commands, however, initially they only had 250 trained and equipped men operating in units of 10 – 15 (Cann, 1997; Morris, 1974). The first operations were platoon strength ambush and hit-and-run operations. FRELIMO numbers grew over time. By 1965 they claimed 1,500 trained men and could field companies. By 1966 they actually had real battalions, introduced a Central Command and initiated company sized assaults on Portuguese camps in the north-western area. In 1967 FRELIMO claimed 8-10,000 men (excluding Militias); in the early 1970s 7,200 regulars and 2,400 militia. FRELIMO men had positional titles rather than ranks.

A Womens’ Detachment was created in 1967 (Morris, 1974). Much was made of photos of armed women however the women were also forcibly used as ‘bed fodder’.

In 1968 Samora Machel reorganised the military wing (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). From 1968 the FPLM had military sections for Sabotage, Materials, Reconnaissance, Infantry and Artillery. Each sector had a base with a ‘regular’ guerrilla ‘battalion’ of up to four 150-man companies. The companies were the operational field units. They were sub-divided into platoons (36 men), sections (12 men) and groups (three men).

Venter (1974b) says Frelimo operated in groups of six to eight men.

After 1970 the regular units had sufficient heavy weapons to attack Portuguese fortified post (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Weapons were mainly from the Soviet Union but from 1970 Chinese versions of Warsaw Pact weapons appeared (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Morris, 1974). Initially the FPLM were equipped with:

  • Bolt action Mauser rifles
  • MAT-49 SMG
  • Grenades
  • Mines
  • AK 47s
  • SKS carbines
  • Tokarev pistols
  • Chinese made “bamboo bazooka”
  • variety of mortars, mines and explosives from both East and West

From 1970 the also had these heavy weapons (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998):

  • RPD machine gun
  • 75mm recoilless rifles
  • 82mm mortar
  • 129mm mortar
  • Chinese-made Type 56 (RPG-2) rocket launcher
  • Chinese-made Type 69 (RPG-7) rocket launcher
  • Soviet 122mm rocket (first used Nov 1972 according to Venter, 1972)
  • Soviet SAM-7 Strela anti-aircraft missiles from 1973 (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Venter, 1974b; Wikipedia: Strela 2)

Venter (1974b) mentions, AK-47s, SKS carbines, RPG-2 rockets, 60mm and 82mm mortars, and Russian 122mm rockets. Fremlimo first used 122m rockets in Nov 1972; the targets were on Matenga in the Tete area and an area about 20 km from Tete. Venter also mentions Russian 20mm exploding shells used in anti-aircraft fire; I’m not sure what the weapon would be.

By 1974 20-30 Chinese advisers were based with FRELIMO in Tanzania (Morris, 1974). The provide advice and training and helped with weapons supply.

Frelimo had groups of over 1,000 bearers to transport equipment and material from Tanzania to to the areas of hostilities (Venter, 1974b). These groups moved through the bush in single file so columns could be 5-6 km. They carried their burdens on their heads or backs. The equipment carried could be quite heavy, e.g. the Russians 122mm rockets.


Abbott, P. and Rodrigues, M. (1998). Modern African Wars 2: Angola and Mozambique 1961-74. Osprey.

Cann, J. P. (1997). Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese way of war 1961-1974. Hailer.

Chaliand, G. (1967). Armed Struggle in Africa: With the Guerrillas in “Portuguese” Guinea. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Guerra Colonial [Portuguese]

Morris, M. (1974). Armed Conflict in Southern Africa. Cape Town, South Africa: Jeremy Spence.

Venter, A. J. (1974b). The Zambesi Salient: Conflict in Southern Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins.

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