Portuguese Painting Guide for the Portuguese Colonial War

This is both a uniform guide and a painting guide for the Portuguese Colonial War. It covers all of the Portuguese forces. It is an update of an earlier post, primarily adding a graphic on painting ‘french’ camouflage.

Steven’s ‘French’ camouflage

The Portuguese used ‘French’ camouflage throughout the war (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998) so I painted all my guys in camo using this scheme. ‘French’ camouflage has green and brown patches on a light green base. 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.

For my ‘French” camouflage I used:

  • Light Green Base: Vallejo (093) Brown Violet [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: Vallejo (094) 70.924 Russian Uniform [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

Here is my entire painting guide in one graphic:

Caçadores - Painting Guide for Portuguese Colonial War
Caçadores – Painting Guide for Portuguese Colonial War

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.

Portuguese Shirt 1970s Lizard Camouflage
Portuguese Shirt 1970s Lizard Camouflage

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.

Here are some of the resulting Caçadores:

Caçadores Combat Group 1 - Close Up
Caçadores Combat Group 1 – Close Up

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

Here are some of the resulting Commandos:

Portuguese Commando Combat Group 01 Close Up
Portuguese Commando Combat Group 01 Close Up

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

Here is my Special Group or Paratrooper Special Groups:

Special Group – Close Up
Special Group – Close Up

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).

See my Painting Recce Vehicles for the Portuguese Colonial War. Here is my collection so far:

Busy week of painting Portuguese vehicles
Busy week of painting Portuguese vehicles

African Skin Tones

Pretty much all of the insurgents and quite a lot of the “Portuguese” troops are negro / black African. 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.

Lança-Foguetes De 37mm Para Tropas Terrestres

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

1 thought on “Portuguese Painting Guide for the Portuguese Colonial War”

  1. The base colour of the camo uniform varies widely from a German grey green, more grey than green to a mint green more green than grey. A good example of the base colour would be the West German uniform prior to Flecktarn. The brown varies from a dark brown to a reddish brown while the green swatches were
    ’40 shades of green ! Ispoke once with someone in the Museo Militar in Porto about this. He explained that sun bleaching, repeated washing and the occasional use of substitute dyes in the manufacture of uniforms produced this apparent lack of uniformity. Even he didn’t know if Marine uniforms used darker hues or were just constantly wet !


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