Painting Guide for the Portuguese Colonial War

This is both a uniform guide and a painting guide for the Portuguese Colonial War. It covers the Portuguese forces and the insurgents.

Portuguese Army

Equipment was as light as possible and might be just a couple of ammunition pouches and a water bottle. Boots and pistol holsters were black. Webbing was khaki.

1960-61 Light Infantry (Caçadores) in camouflage

The real light infantry (Caçadores) regiments, as opposed to the Special Light Infantry Companies (Companhias de Caçadores Especiais or CCE), wore camouflage uniforms from 1960 (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

1960-61 Other arms in light khaki

In 1960-61 other units were issued a light khaki uniform (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Most troops fought in the Portuguese steel helmet which lacked a cover.

From Aug 1961 camouflage for all Portuguese Army

From Aug 1961 all regular troops fought in camouflage uniform without the helmet (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The shirt remained khaki until 1963. Few troops wore rank insignia in the field. In the field they wore a cap although walking out dress was a beret. Artillery, Cavalry, Signals, Supply, Medical, Ordinance and General Service wore black berets until 1963 otherwise the regulation beret colour was chestnut brown. Most berets had the infantry red and green ribbons at the back regardless of arm-of-service.

There were two general camouflage patterns (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998):

  1. ‘French’. Green and brown patches on a light green base. See Abbott and Rodrigues (1998) Fig. B3, C1, D1, E3. In use throughout the war. Judging from the illustrations the balance of brown versus green varied a lot. The supposedly “light green base” also seemed to vary from a light grey to a light tan.
  2. ‘Green’. Mix of dark, medium and light greens. See Abbott and Rodrigues (1998) Fig. E1. Introduced in the mid-60s.
Portuguese Shirt 1970s Vertical Lizard Camouflage
Portuguese Shirt 1970s Vertical Lizard Camouflage

For my ‘French” camouflage I used:

  • Light Green Base: Coat D’arms 628 Russian Brown (which is actually a greenish khaki and the colour I used for my Spanish Civil War Nationalists)
  • Brown patches: Vallejo 137 Cavalry Brown (which has a reddish tinge)
  • Green patches: Coat D’arms 226 Olive (which is about right in tone but in 15 mm tends to disappear against the Russian Brown so it might be worth using a slightly greener green)

Check out my Portuguese for the Portuguese Colonial War for how I painted the Portuguese camouflage.

Commandos (Comandos)

The commando’s initially wore a chestnut brown beret and crimson neckerchief (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Some time after 1970 the beret changed to crimson to match the neckerchief.

I did some of my commandos with brown berets to distinguish the unit from the Cazadores.

  • Beret itself = Coat D’Arms 223 Horse Chestnut Brown
  • Ribbons (if any) = Vallejo 628 Vermillion and 086 Luftwaffe camouflage green

Dragoons (Dragões)

The dragoons wore standard combat uniforms although most replaced their ankle boots with riding boots or leggings (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Portuguese Air Force

Paratroops (Pára-quedistas)

The paratroops wore emerald green berets hence their name ‘Green Berets’ (‘Boinas Verdes‘) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Spencer & Machado, 1992). They wore French ‘OTAN’ pattern steel helmets in 1959. By 1961 they wore US pattern steel helmets (plain olive drab or with net cover) and jump boots when jumping into combat. Each company had a different coloured scarf including crimson, yellow, green and white.

Abbott and Rodrigues (1998) say they used AR-10 rifles until the G-3 replaced these in the mid-1960s but it wasn’t as simple as that. A more accurate picture is that the initial units had AR-10s but as the number of battalions expanded some were issued with G3s instead.

Air Force Police (Polícia Aérea)

They wore a light blue beret and, presumably, the standard light khaki airforce uniform rather than camouflage (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Portuguese Navy

Marines (Fuzileiros)

The marines wore normal combat uniform (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). They had a beret and judging from photos they wore the beret on operations. Abbott and Rodrigues state the beret was black however Miguel Silva Machado (co-author of Spencer & Machado, 1992) posted some errata for the Osprey book on the New Rhodesian Forum: Guerra colonial / Portuguese Colonial War (1961-1974) and said the Fuzilier’s didn’t have a “black beret with green and red ribbons, but a dark blue beret with black ribbons, and the beret was only for Fuzileiros Especiais (Special Marines)”.

Portuguese Para-military Forces (Forças Militarizadas)

Volunteers, OPVDCA, OPVDCM

The original white volunteers had no uniforms (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). They were typically bare headed, with a white shirt and khaki trousers, and armed with the Mauser rifle.

From 1962 they were organised into the Provincial Volunteer and Civil Defense Organisation (Organisaao Provincial de Voluntários e Defesa Civil) of Angola (OPVDCA) and Mozambique (OPVDCM) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997). The OPVDC at least adopted an arm band in national colours (red over green with white badge). Post 1966 they were issued olive green uniforms and field cap. Parade uniform included a black beret and white neck scarf.

Public Security Police (Polícia de Segurança Pública or PSP)

Public Security Police (Polícia de Segurana Pública or PSP) had black constables (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Militia (milicias)

Police NCOs wore their uniform (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998) and presumably so would any army officers. Others wore the military work uniform, including either shorts or trousers, and an arm band in national colours (red over green with white badge). These were both khaki until replaced by olive green in 1966. The officers and sergeants were often white but the rest were black.

Typically the militia carried Mauser bolt-action rifles (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998) but also had light machine guns, AK47s, G3 rifles, or Uzis (Cann, 1997).

The special militia in Guinea-Bissau were armed with G-3 assault rifles and bazookas (Cann, 1997).

Arrows (Flechas)

The Arrows (Flechas) carried Soviet weapons, and wore guerrilla clothing (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Special Groups (Grupos Especiais or GE)

The GE had their own distinctive uniform (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The shirt, trousers and cap were black. Walking out dress included coloured berets, neckerchiefs and boot laces. Each group had a distinctive colour including light blue, red, yellow, white.

For my GE unit:

  • Uniform: Base of Black with dry brush of Vallejo 166 Dark Grey
  • Beret: Base of Vallejo 122 Tan Yellow then top coat of Vallejo 014 Deep Yellow
  • Webbing: Coat D’arms 528 Russian Brown
  • Grenades and Canteen: Coat D’arms 226 Olive
  • G3 Rifles and barrels of “Madsen” machine guns: 50/50 mix of Vallejo 179 Gun Metal Grey and Vallejo 167 German Grey

Paratrooper Special Groups (Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas or GEP)

The GEP wore the black GE uniform but favoured yellow berets (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

Portuguese Vehicles

All Portuguese military vehicles and guns were painted a plain olive green (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).


FNLA were well turned out in uniforms from the US or ANC (which were khaki but looked US style). The FNLA badge was a white disc with a yellow edged red diagonal band bearing a yellow star.

The MPLA looked pretty rough by comparison. They wore a mix of civilian and military cloths. Some had East German ‘rain drop’ pattern cap, shirt and/or trousers. Others wore captured Portuguese items. Soviet camo could appear as could non-descript ‘olive’ items. The MPLA emblem was a yellow star on a a disc divided horizontally red over black.

UNITA were also poorly kitted out. The UNITA party badge was the black cock (galo negro).

The PAIGC forces wore a mix of civilian and military items. Ex-Portuguese items were used along with khaki and olive green fatigues. khaki hat, shirt and trousers were common. By the late-1960s East German ‘rain drop’ pattern cap, shirt and/or trousers were common. PAIGC regulars, particularly the heavy weapons crews and artillery, wore the East German steel helmet in the original stone grey colour.

FRELIMO regulars wore khaki hat, shirt and trousers in the later part of the war although were issued East German ‘rain drop’ pattern clothes for the victory parade.

Many insurgents wore a visored field cap. It appeared in a variety of colours including olive, khaki, and East German ‘rain drop’ pattern. Although ‘rain drop’ pattern caps were seen a ‘rain drop’ pattern uniform was usually matched with a plain field cap.

Berets were also used. They were a variety of colours but black, green, and East German ‘rain drop’ pattern were known.

‘Khaki’ is a much abused term. According to Wikipedia: Khaki (Color) the original meaning was a sandy colour, i.e. light brown, rather than the alternate meaning of greenish olive-drab. Vallejo do quite a good Khaki (Vallejo 115) but the ‘Khaki’ uniforms in the illustrations of Abbott and Rodrigues (1998) isn’t light brown. In fact in the tropics British troops wore Khaki Drill. It is this colour, a light slightly yellowish sandy colour, that was worn in illustrations. Technically I think is is a light khaki, the difference being the yellowish tinge.

The East German ‘rain drop’ pattern was dark-brown raindrop camouflage pattern on a stone-gray background (East German: Uniforms, Decorations and Insignia).

Insurgent Camouflage

Check out my Insurgents for the Portuguese Colonial War for how I paint the various camouflage patterns used by the insurgents.

The following table shows how I painted these colours and patterns.

Colour / Pattern Base Hi-light if plain colour Camouflage Pattern
Portuguese ‘French’ Camouflage Coat D’arms 628 Russian Brown (which is actually a greenish khaki) Brown diagonal swaths: Vallejo 137 Cavalry Brown (which has a reddish tinge)

Green diagonal swaths: Coat D’arms 226 Olive (which is about right in tone but in 15 mm tends to disappear against the Russian Brown so it might be worth using a slightly greener green)
East German ‘rain drop’ Camouflage Vallejo 104 Stone Grey
Vallejo 104 Stone Grey
Vallejo 148 Burnt Umber in masses of little vertical stripes
Soviet green and buff camouflage Vallejo 086 Luftwaffe Cam Green
sparse dots of Vallejo 122 Tan Yellow
Soviet older 1960s Camouflage Vallejo 122 Tan Yellow
close dot pattern with:Brown dots: Vallejo 137 Cavalry Brown (which has a reddish tinge)

Green dots: Vallejo 086 Luftwaffe Cam Green
Khaki Vallejo 128 German Cam Orange Ochre
Vallejo 122 Tan Yellow
Olive Coat D’arms 508 Olive Drab Coat D’arms 226 Olive

I originally tried Vallejo 086 Luftwaffe Cam Green as the base for my olive but it was too green. That is why I tried Coat D’arms 508 Olive Drab. In the absence of this then Olive with a touch of black would be fine.

African Skin Tones

Pretty much all of the insurgents and quite a lot of the “Portuguese” troops are negro/black. I’ve got some notes on painting Negro Skin Tones but what I do is paint the facial features (forehead, nose, checks, chin, ears) and other flesh (hands, arms, legs) with Vallejo 140 (984) Flat Brown leaving the rest as black


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.

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

Humbaraci, A. and Muchnik, N. (1974). Portugal’s African Wars: Angola, Guinea Bissao, Mozambique. The Third Press.

Lança-Foguetes De 37mm Para Tropas Terrestres

Minter, W. (1972). Portuguese Africa and the West. NY: Monthly Review Press.

Spencer, D. E. and Machado, M. (1992). The Unknown War: Portuguese Paratroops in Africa, 1961-74 (I). Military Illustrated Past & Present, 47, 21-27. ADH Publishing.

Wikipedia (Polish): Panhard EBR

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