PAIGC Order of Battle during the Portuguese Colonial War

The Marxist PAIGC (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde) formed in 1956 under Amilcar Cabral (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997). The ‘Pidjiguiti Massacre’ of 3 Aug 1959 turned the PAIGC militant. They commenced sabotage operations in 1961 and guerrilla warfare in 1963.

PAIGC in 1963

In 1963 the guerrillas fought, unsuccessfully, in autonomous groups (Cann, 1997).

PAIGC / FARP in 1964

The military wing was reorganised in 1964 (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The disparate units were combined into the FARP (Forças Armadas Revolucionárias de Povo). It had a regular force (the ‘People’s Army’), a district guerrilla force (the ‘People’s Guerrillas’) and a militia (the ‘People’s Militia’) for local defence. The high level structure of FARP originally had three Fronts (Frentes): Eastern, Northern, Southern. The FARP offered their men two months training including basic political training, care and handling of arms, and elementary guerrilla techniques (Chaliand, 1967). Trainers at the Kindia camp near Guinea (Conakry) included Russians, Algerians, and Cubans (Morris, 1974). Some members were trained in Russia, China, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, Algeria, Senegal, Guinea (Conakry) and Ghana. After that they all learnt on the job. The Portuguese viewed the PAIGC militants as combat hardened, well trained, and making effective use of weapons. There was no formal rank system with commanders referred to as “comrade” like everybody else (Davidson, 1981). Venter (1974b) says the best trained PAIGC units were trained by Israelis.

The basic unit was the Group (grupo) of about 25 men (Davidson, 1981). Abbott & Rodrigues (1998) say 21 men. Cann (1997) says it comprised 21 men divided into three groups of seven men.

In contrast Oswaldo, PAIGC commander of the northern front in 1966, told Chaliand (1967):

“The basic structural unit of our armed forces was the group of eleven men. For certain problems there were squads of five. For important ambushes we often used groups of twenty-two. In the classic eleven-man group there was invariably a political commissar” (p. 84).

Political commissars were at every level of the PAIGC organisation (Davidson, 1981). Oswaldo makes it clear that this practice started at the level of the group, but it went up through the military hierarchy as this was expanded.

PAIGC / FARP in 1965 and the Bi-group

Initial successes led FARP to combine groups into larger units of 100 – 150 men during 1965 (Davidson, 1981). Portuguese offensives showed these were too large and too immobile so the larger units were broken into double or bi-groups (bi-grupos) (Davidson, 1981). They were, fairly obviously, formed from two “groups” (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The bi-group was under joint military and political commanders (Cann, 1997). The two groups in the bi-group could, if the situation warranted, operate separately.

Beyond that there is contradictory evidence for the structure of a bi-group.

In terms of overall size Davidson (1981) and Abbott & Rodrigues (1998) say the bi-group had 30-50 men. Cann 1997) is a little inconsistent: he gives the bi-group 20-25 men, but has a breakdown with 26+ men, says it like a reinforced platoon (implying over 30-40 men) and in one incident states that four bi-groups had 150 men between them implying each had about 37 men.

The bi-group contained two groups which could operate separately. Each group in the bi-group could be the 21 man basic unit of Abbott & Rodrigues (1998) or the roughly 25 man group of Davidson (1981). This would put the bi-group at about 40-50 men.

Oswaldo, PAIGC commander of the northern front in 1966, described the basic unit to Chaliand (1967). It is not clear if he is talking about a bi-group or a single group but this unit is more than twice the size of what he called a “group” on p. 84.

“Since 1966 the basic unit of the FARP has been a mobile group of twenty-three men: one group commander, one political commissar, and twenty-one men armed with submachine guns, plus one bazooka and one heavy machine gun. Some groups also have a mortar” (p. 86).

Note: “Submachine gun” in this case could be an automatic rifle such as an AK47.

“Bi-group” according to Oswaldo

  • 1 x Group Commander
  • 1 x Political Commissar
  • 21 x Submachine guns
  • 1 x Bazooka
  • 1 x Heavy machinegun
  • 0-1 x Mortar
  • 23 men total

Cann (1997) has a much smaller structure. He gives the organisation of a bi-group with 26 men and supporting arms.

“Bi-group” according to Cann (1997)

  • 1 x Leader
  • 1 x Political Commissar
  • 3 x Bazooka aimers
  • 3 x Bazooka loaders
  • 3 x Light machinegun aimers
  • 3 x Light machinegun loaders
  • 9 x Riflemen
  • 3 x Snipers
  • 26 men total
  • Normal supporting arms
    • 2 x Mortars
    • 2 x Heavy machine guns

Guerra Colonial gives the bi-group 38-40 men with

Bi-group according to Guerra Colonial

  • 4 – 6 x Light machine gun (Metralhadora ligeiras)
  • 2 – 6 x Rocket launchers (Lança-foguetes), i.e. RPGs (lança-granadas-foguete or LGF) or Bazookas
  • 2 – 4 x heavy machine gun (Metralhadora pesada)
  • 2 – 4 x 82 mm mortars (Morteiros)
  • 38-40 men total

After researching this Nuno Pereira (private communication) suggested the following structure, although this is echoed by Portuguese sites on the PAIGC (PAIGC: O exercito do PAIGC, XicoNhoca: A Page on the PAIGC; Cart 3494 Guiné Xime e Mansambo DEC71/ABR74 & Camaradas da Guiné):

PAIGC Order of Battle according to Nuno Pereira

  • Bi-group: 38 – 44 men comprising:
    • 1 x Bi-group Commander
    • 1 x Political Commissar (Comissário Político)
    • 1x Equipment of Forward Blocking Team (Equipa de detenção à frente)
      • Group Commander ( chefe de grupo)
      • RPG
      • LMG
    • 1x Equipment of Rear Blocking Team (Equipa de detenção à rectaguarda)
      • Group Commander ( chefe de grupo)
      • RPG
      • LMG
    • 3x RPG
    • 4x LMG
  • Reinforced bi-group: 50-70 men
  • Artillery group (grupo de artilharia): 50 men
  • Cannon/Mortar group (grupo de canhões/morteiros): 23 men
  • Rocket/Anti-aircraft group (grupo de foguetões/antiaéreos): 16 men

On balance I think Oswaldo (in Chaliand, 1967) and Cann (1997) are describing the group, not the bi-group. Cann’s TO&E has slightly more heavy weapons but a similar number of men and may reflect the structure towards the end of the war when PAIGC had more kit. Two of these makes something similar to the TO&E given by Nuno Pereira. It is also in keeping with the 30-50 range given by Davidson (1981) and Abbott & Rodrigues (1998).

When the 122mm ‘Grad’ Rocket Launchers arrived in 1971 the PAIGC organised them into six units each with two grad launchers (Davidson, 1981). Each launcher had a crew of eight so each unit had 16 men.

Davidson (1981) describes a PAIGC operation – Operational Fanta – in 1967. This was conducted by two Bi-groups plus supporting troops. There are a few interesting points to pick out. Firstly the Bi-groups were named after the commander and commissar, e.g. Bi-grupo Numo-Hilario was under Malam Numo (probably the commander) and Hilario Rodriques. The sub-ordinate groups were named after the group commander. Depending on the phase of the operation the Bi-group commander and commissar each accompanied a particular sub-ordinate group.

PAIGC in Operational Fanta

  • Bi-grupo Numo-Hilario (also called Bi-grupo Numo)
    • Comrade Malam Numo
      • (probably the commander given the unit was referred to as Bi-grupo Numo)
    • Comrade Hilario Rodriques
    • Group Sory Djalo
      • (accompanied by Comrade Malam Numo in Phase 2)
    • Group N’bare Tchuda
      • (accompanied by Comrade Hilario Rodriques in Phase 2)
  • Bi-grupo Sanha-Luiz
    • Comrade Malam Sanha
    • Comrade Luiz Correa
    • Group Kemessene Camara
      • (accompanied by Comrade Luiz Correa in Phase 3)
    • Group Temna Kebeque
      • (accompanied by Comrade Malam Sanha in Phase 3)
  • Grupo Samba Seydi of the 1st sub-section
    • (only mentioned in Phase 3)
    • (accompanied by by Pedro Ramos the leader in the zone and member of the central PAIGC committee)
  • Mortars
    • Comrade Cirillo (Commander)

PAIGC / FARP in 1966

By early 1966 FARP were beginning to use combinations of 2 or 3 bi-groups (Davidson, 1981). Cann (1997) said, if warranted, bi-groups could be grouped into larger formations of 200-300 although these were vulnerable to enemy air superiority.

In 1966 Chaliand (1967) visited some PAIGC camps. At one there were about 40 FARP regulars and 100 guerillas. The regulars all had “submachineguns”, khaki uniforms, and plastic sandals. They also had four bazookas, two heavy machine guns, and a mortar. Another group of 200 regulars had uniforms, submachineguns, six bazookas, ten heavy machine guns, and three medium field artillery pieces; the weapons came from various sources. Chaliand didn’t distinguish between guerrillas and the local defense militia; they had rifles and no uniforms. Chaliand saw no trenches or shelters in the camps; when Portuguese planes came over the insurgents just spread out in the forest until the attack finished.

PAIGC / FARP in 1968

Following Portuguese successes from 1968 the Fronts were replaced by about 12 ‘Army Corps’ (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Davidson, 1981). Each Army Corps had up to five bi-groups for offensive operations, one bi-group with artillery, and four specialised units with a small number of men and equipped with the latest weapons. Total man power was 400-450 men. The Army Corps were largely based outside Guinea-Bissau. They sent incursion groups of up to 120 men on operations although they lacked artillery. FARP also had mobile commando units of about 48 men within Guinea-Bissau. I suspect the incursion groups were two or three bi-groups and the “commando” units were a single bi-group.

PAIGC / FARP in 1970

In 1970 the militias were consolidated into the Local Armed Forces (Foras Armadas Locais) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

PAIGC / FARP in 1971

The FARP incursion groups (120 men) began to include an artillery unit (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

PAIGC / FARP in 1973

By 1973 FARP had 5,000 regular troops and 1,500 militia (Cann, 1997).


FARP equipment included (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998):

  • PPSh SMG
  • SKS carbine
  • AK 47
  • Thompson SMG
  • Breda machine guns
  • Soviet 82mm mortars
  • Cuban bazookas
  • Chinese recoilless rifles including 75mm available from 1968 (Davidson, 1981)
  • Soviet 122mm rockets (nicknamed ‘Grads’) from 1971
  • Soviet SAM-7 Strela anti-aircraft missiles from Mar 1973 (Davidson, 1981; Venter, 1974b; Wikipedia: Strela 2)
  • Soviet PT-76s (although they didn’t see action)
  • Soviet AFVs from 1972 although these were not fielded (Davidson, 1981)
  • 12.7mm Dyegtarov-Shpagin anti-aircraft guns – supplied by the Chienese (Venter, 1972)

They also had a navy of light vessels (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). At least one female nurse served with combat units (Cann, 1997).

The Guinean army provided equipment, training camps, and even artillery barrages, and from 1973 a few MiG sorties, to cover FARP operations (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Bazooka and SMG

The term “Bazooka” is used a lot in the sources but I suspect this is just a general term for infantry anti-tank weapon. Certainly Davidson (1981) who was a British Lieutenant Colonel who toured with the insurgents in 1970, seems to do this. He has a photo of an MPLA band and he says one of them has a Chinese “bazooka” but the weapon looks like an RPG to me.

Similarly the term “Submachine gun” does cover the Russian PPsh-41 but also includes assault rifles such as the AK-47.


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

Davidson, B. (1981). The People’s Cause: A history of Guerillas in Africa. Longman.

Guerra Colonial [Portuguese]

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

Nuno Pereira (private communication, 23 Jun 2009)

Venter, A. J. (1972, Feb). Portugal’s Forgotten War. Air Enthusiast, p. 59-62 + 74.

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

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