MPLA Order of Battle during the Portuguese Colonial War

The MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) was a group of radical Marxist intellectuals formed in Angola in 1956 (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997). Initially they had only 250 – 300 trained men, organised into small units, and equipped largely with ex Second World War kit. Following a meeting with Che Guevara in 1965 the MPLA began to receive Cuban instructors and Soviet and East German supplies. They had about 4,700 men from 1966 until 1974. During their ‘Eastern Offensive’ they set up two bases (‘Hanoi II’ and ‘Ho Chi Minh’). The ‘Agostinho Neto Trail’ kept them supplied from Tanzania and Zambia. After 1970 they started to get heavier Chinese supplies. MPLA men were trained in Algeria, Cuba, Russia and China (Morris, 1974).

By the end of 1970 they could form squadrons (esquadrões) of 100 – 150 men (Davidson, 1981). These included ‘artillery’ sections equipped with 60mm and 81mm mortars and 75mm recoilless rifles. The heavier weaponry allowed them to attack Portuguese posts.

MPLA fronts/regions were (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972; Morris, 1974):

  • 1st = Northern Front (Luanda, Uige, Cuanza Norte, Zaire); from 1961
  • 2nd = Cabinda enclave; from 1963
  • 3rd = Eastern Front (Moxico, Cuando Cubango); from 18 May 1966
  • 4th = Lunda and Malanje; from 1968
  • 5th = Bié; from 1969
  • 6th = Region of Mocamedes and Huila

At one point up to 200 Cubans were operating with the MPLA out of Congo Brazzaville (Morris, 1974).

In contrast to the FNLA / GRAE forces the MPLA tried to avoid taking food and women from local populations by force (Morris, 1974).

The military wing was formed in 1962 and was called EPLA (Exército Popular de Libertação de Angola) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann,1997).


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.

Humbaraci, A., and Muchnik, N. (1972). Portugal’s African Wars. NY: The Third Press.

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

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