Timeline for the Portuguese Colonial War

The Portuguese had been in Africa a long time before the Portuguese Colonial War started. The Portuguese founded Luanda in Angola in 1576 (see my African New World) and in the late 19th Century the Portuguese scrambled for the interior of Africa along with the rest of Europe (see Portuguese Scramble for Africa). There had been many wars and revolutions within the Portuguese African possessions throughout those centuries but, in a sense, the ultimately successful liberation wars really began with a UN resolution in 1955.



The USSR and some other countries passed a UN resolution condemning colonialism as a violation of human rights and the UN Charter (Cann, 1997). Portugal claimed this did not apply to itself on the grounds that both the metropole and all the overseas provinces were part of a single state with a single constitution, therefore Portugal had no colonies. This issue was debated until 1960.



A group of radical Marxist intellectuals formed the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) was (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997). PIDE immediately began to target the membership. Some leaders were forced into exile , mostly in Leopoldville.


In 1956 in Guinea-Bissau Amilcar Cabral formed the Marxist PAIGC (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).




The UPA (União das Populações de Angola) was a non-marxist nationalist organisation formed in 1957 (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997; Morris, 1974). There membership was largely from the Bakongo people whose territory spanned Angola and Belgium Congo.



PIDE arrested large numbers of MPLA in 1959-60 (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). It took the MPLA until 1965-66 to recover.


In Guinea-Bissau the ‘Pidjiguiti Massacre’ of 3 Aug 1959, when Portuguese troops killed 39-50 strikers at Pidgiguiti dock in Bissau, turned the PAIGC militant (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997; Morris, 1974). Following the incident Portuguese security units suppressed the PAIGC’s urban network.




On 15 Dec 1960 the UN General Assembly ruled that Portugal did have colonies so was in contravention of the 1956 resolution on Colonialism (Cann, 1997). Portugal refused to accept the resolution. Through 1960 NATO helped Portugal against the UN.

The Portuguese metropolitan and colonial armies were finally integrated into a single force (Cann, 1997).


Congo became independent in 1960 (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The new regime began to support the UPA including allowing them a radio station and training camp.

The Portuguese arrested Dr. Agostinho Neto, Chairman of the MPLA Steering Comittee, on 8 Jun 1960 (Morris, 1974). His supporters demonstrated at Catete and Portuguese troops opened fire killing and wounding several people.

MPLA formed its military wing based in Congo (Leopoldville) (Cann, 1997).

Late in 1960 peasant cultivators and plantation workers spontaneously rose in the cash-crop region northeast of Luanda (Davidson, 1981). Morris (1974) says at Baixa de Cassange in the Malanje district. Patrice Lumumba and Antonio Mariano were the leaders of the movement. The rioters apparently sang hymns to their leaders. Stores, a Catholic Mission, and official residences were attacked. The revolt was quickly put down. [Abbott and Rodrigues (1998) say early 1961 rather than 1960. Morris (1974) suggests both 1962 and 1960 but mentioned the “fall of Patrice Lumumba” in Sep 1960 so I’ve opted for that year.]

On 31 Dec 1960 the Portuguese had 1,500 European and 5,000 locally recruited troops in Angola (Cann, 1997). They were scattered throughout the colony. Most were providing local security were involved in recruitment and training.


The USSR assigned Daniel Semenovich Solod, an expert in infiltration and subversion, as Ambassador in Guinea-Bissau (Cann, 1997).


Reputedly, on 16 Jun 1960, Portuguese troops killed 500 blacks in a peaceful demonstration in Mueda in Mozambiques cotton growing area (Cann, 1997; Minter, 1972).

São João de Ajuda

The French colony of Dahomey became independent (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). This was significant to the Portuguese because they had a post in the small coastal town of Ajuda. Their fort was called São João de Ajuda.



Tanganyika became independent as Tanzania on 9 Dec 1961 (Davidson, 1981; Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).


In Apr 1961 members of the Portuguese Supreme Council for National Defense plotted to overthrow Dr Salazar (Cann, 1997). Salazar got wind of the coup and had the plotters detained on 13 Apr.


Maria’s War (Guerra de Maria) occurred in Feb 1961 (Minter, 1972). Antonio Mariano led a rebellion in Kasanje in the Angolan cotton growing areas. The insurgents destroyed crops and European property. The Portuguese military put down the rebellion, capturing and killing Mariano.

On 4 Feb 1961 an MPLA group armed with clubs and knives attacked police patrol to capture the weapons (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). The group went on to attack police installations (including the City Police Station in Luanda), the Civil Prison of Sao Paulo, and a radio station in Luanda (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Morris, 1974). They released 52 political prisoners. Seven policemen and 40 of the MPLA were killed. Shooting broke out the next day at the funeral of one of the policemen. On 10 Feb the MPLA attacked the prison again but were driven off. 12 Feb saw another attack. On 13 Feb Lisbon sent 166 paratroops to the area. The government suppressed the revolt, killing several hundred blacks in the progress, and effectively destroying the MPLA in Angola. A small number retreated to the Dembos forests near Luanda. A MPLA group under Tomas Ferreira was destroyed in the region of Fuesse as it tried to reach the interior or north (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). José Mendes de Carvalho, otherwise Comrade Henda, who would later become the MPLA commander inside Angola returned from exile in 1961.

UPA squad leaders had crossed the border on or about 28 Feb 1961 to urge the Bakongo people in the north of Angola to rise in revolt (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997; Morris, 1974). On 15 Mar 4,000 – 5,000 armed men with shotguns, catanas, and agricultural implements crossed the northern border into Angola from Belgium Congo on a 300 km front. Forced recruiting may have got their numbers up to 25,000. The insurgents successfully attacked European farms, trading settlements, and government posts in an area bounded by the Congolese frontier, the Kwango river, the Malange-Luanda railroad, and the Atlantic Ocean. The first victims were at Quitexe (pronounced keytesh), but in total 45 places were attacked – including Carmona, Maquela do Zombo, Songa, Madimba, Uige, Primavera, Nambuangongo, Luvo, Ucua, M’Bridge, Mavoio, and Quibaxe. The insurgents thought themselves immortal; the believed the “milongo” they rubbed into their skin would turn bullets to water. They cried “Lumumba!” and “Mata! UPA! Mata! UPA!” (“Death! UPA! Death! UPA!”) as they advanced. Prior to the invasion the attackers were liberally plied with drugs (e.g. hashish) and alcohol (e.g. aguardente). They killed everything in their path – men, women and children, White or Black, cattle, dogs, poultry, domestic cats. Quite a few people died – 300 whites on the first day, and possibly another 1,000 whites and 6,000 loyal blacks in the first three weeks. Morris also puts forward evidence that squads of European advisors accompanied the insurgents. The Portuguese could do little in the first month except organise civil militia, arm loyal Africans, and call for Metropolitan reinforcements. 2,000 settler volunteers were armed and were involved in the initial defence and subsequent reconquest. In April units of the 21st Paratroop Battalion reoccupied the village of Mucaba; aerial reconnaissance directed them to insurgent groups in the elephant grass. Reoccupation began on 13 May and was complete on 7 Oct. Battalion 88 was the first of the Metropolitan reinforcements – arriving on 31 May – and assumed responsibility for 12,000 square km around the city of Damba in the centre of the devastation. 20,000 Metropolitan reinforcements arrived in Jul-Aug and the numbers grew throughout the rest of the year. Atrocities were committed during the pacification process including victims who had nothing to do with the revolt. In total about 500 whites and 20,000 blacks died. UPA survivors either withdrew into Congo or into the Dembos area north of Luanda.

The Animist belief in magico-religious powers created some interesting military situations. Chaliand (1967) gives three examples from the UPA actions of 1961 in Angola (p. 116):

  • A group of UPA believe a Portuguese plane was their guiding spirit/leader (called Mbuta Muntu) come to spread the word. Portuguese bombs changed this view.
  • The same guiding spirit/leader forbade his followers to look backward. When four Portuguese trucks and a jeep pulled up behind them 1 km from Ucua, the insurgent commander prayed, ordered his men to about face, threw a stone at the Portuguese, shouted “UPA”, then led a rush against them.
  • The same group killed 30 white men in Ucua, including the commander and a “big white witch-doctor”. The latter was José Matias the proprieter of the Hotel d’Ucua. The insurgents believed he put his bullets in a kettle with a snake, then inside his naked wife, before loading his gun to fire at the insurgents from a second story window. An unfired cartridge fell out the window and the insurgents claim they used this to kill Matias.

Following their defeat in the 1961 revolt UPA changed their name to FNLA (Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola) (Cann, 1997). The Portuguese managed to persuade those displaced in the north to move into controlled settlements. This, and their own internal failings, prevented the FNLA establishing a foot hold in Angola.

On 9 Aug 1961 Portuguese forces evicted the nominally UPA aligned Ferraz Bomboko from the town of Nambuangongo where he had formed a Socialist Republic (Morris, 1974). Bomboko’s men took to the bush in scattered pockets.

It seems Bomboko began negotiations with the MPLA as in late Oct 1961 the MPLA sent 20 men under Tomas Ferreira to support him (Morris, 1974). The UPA were under orders to intercept any MPLA groups crossing the border. In this case the MPLA group was intercepted in northern Angola by a larger UPA group. Most of the MPLA men were captured, interrogated and hanged. A few escaped including Hoji ya Henda who was subsequently the MPLA commander in the east.

Hostility from the FNLA and the Congolese government meant that the MPLA armed forces where limited to Congo (Brazzaville) – the former Middle Congo of French Equatorial Africa – and the Angolan enclave of Cabinda (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997).


In 1961 PAIGC commenced sabotage operations in Guinea-Bissau (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). At the start of hostilities the Portuguese had only two infantry companies in Guinea Bissau and these concentrated in the main towns giving the insurgents free reign in the countryside (Morris, 1974). The PAIGC blew up bridges, cut telegraph lines, destroyed sections of the highways (Chaliand, 1967), established arms caches and hideouts, and destroyed Fula villages and minor administrative posts.


São João de Ajuda

The new Dahomean government gave the Portuguese an ultimatum about São João de Ajuda (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The Portuguese governor, the only white and only officer in the post, burnt down the fort and left of the airport.


During 17 – 19 Dec 1961 Indian forces invaded and captured the Portuguese Indian territories of Goa, Damão and Diu (Cann, 1997). Subsequently, in 1963, the Portuguese government sacked the senior officers in command at the time. The armed forces saw these officers as scapegoats for governmental failings.



On 27 Mar 1962 the UPA and some minor groups formed the FNLA (Morris, 1974). Nine days latter they formed a government in exile – GRAE – with Roberto as Premier. Jonas Savimbi, a Ovimbundu, was Foreign Minister.

By Jul 1962 Dr Neto had returned to Congo (Leopoldville) and asserted control of the MPLA (Morris, 1974). He was President by Dec 1962.

Around Mar-Apr 1962 the Congolese authorities intercepted a MPLA group on the frontier (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).


In late 1962 the Portuguese launched an offensive and evicted the PAIGC cadres that had not integrated with the local population (Chaliand, 1967).


In Jun 1962 FRELIMO (Frente Libertação de Moçambique) was created in Dar es Salaam from the combination of three existing liberation movements (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Davidson, 1981). They elected Eduardo Mondlane as their leader. Newly independent Tanganyika (later Tanzania) offer them sanctuary. Their main training camp was at Kongwa in southern Tanzania. Membership was ethnically and ideologically diverse and this posed problems for Mondlane. Much of the manpower, however, was from the Makonde people of northern Mozambique. They immediately began sending men to train in Algeria.



About May 1963 the UPA / FNLA / GRAE wound down its military efforts in Angola in preference for photos shoots by American media at their camp in Congo (Morris, 1974.

Under UPA / FNLA / GRAE influence the Congo-Kinshasa leadership forced the MPLA to move from Congo (Leopoldville) to Congo (Brazzaville) (Cann, 1997; Morris, 1974). Denied access to northern Angola they concentrated on the Cabinda enclave (Minta, 1972). The MPLA were restricted to a border only 200 km long thus were exposed to a higher concentration of Portuguese patrols. MPLA was also opposed, at least politically, by FLEC the Cambindan’s own independence movement. Given the Portuguese tendency to stay in the settlements in the enclave the MPLA made various claims to control large chunks of the countryside but this was largely or entirely rhetoric as operations were largely restricted to mine laying and press ganging of Cambindan blacks.

By the end of 1963 some 250-300,000 Angolan Blacks had crossed into Congo (Morris, 1974). Half had then returned bringing anti-insurgent propaganda with them. UPA / FNLA began to patrol the border to shoot any returnees. They also began a systematic harassment programme to move villages en-masse into the Congo, a practice known as “herding”. By 1965 they had shifted half a million Blacks into the Congo.


On 23 Jan 1963 the PAIGC attacked the Tite barracks (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

In Jan 1963, having prepared fully, PAIGC commenced guerrilla warfare in the south of Guinea-Bissau (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Cann, 1997; Davidson, 1981; Minter, 1972). [Chaliand (1967) says operations started at end of 1962 and beginning of 1963 in the south.] The geography, dense forests with numerous waterways, were favourable to guerrilla activity. The PAIGC had few weapons – perhaps only one submachine gun and two pistols per group – so attacked Portuguese convoys to gain more weapons. Each group fought in isolation and established a forest based independently from the others. Many groups were formed on tribal and religious grounds. These groups began to abuse the locals and people began to flee the “liberated” zones. The central PAIGC command were horrified and considered this military “commandism”. Around Oct 1963 the Portuguese began to retaliate against PAIGC activity with bomber raids; by the end of 1963 some villages had been abandoned as the occupants took to the forest.




Nyasaland became independent as Malawi (Davidson, 1981).


In Jul 1964 Moise Tshombe became Prime Minister of the Congo (Morris, 1974). He was sympathetic to the Portuguese and hence hostile to the FNLA / GRAE. He let FNLA / GRAE continue to operate but place restrictions on its officials and restricted the already problematic supplies to the Kinkuzu camp.

Comrade Henda organised the underground movement in Cabinda (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

The Portuguese Security Police destroyed a FNLA / GRAE spy cell in the Army HQ at Lobito on the southern Angola coast (Morris, 1974). This cell had been one the of the principal intelligence sources for the FNLA / GRAE.


In Feb 1964 the military wing of PAIGC was reorganised (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Davidson, 1981). Leaders accused of militarism, ‘commandism’, regionalism, and/or ‘tribalism’ were disarmed and removed. The disparate units were combined into the FARP (Forças Armadas Revolucionrias de Povo). It had a regular force (the ‘People’s Army’), a district guerilla force (the ‘People’s Guerrillas’) and a militia (the ‘People’s Militia’) for local defense. Prior to Feb 1964 the basic unit in FARP was 21 men divided into three groups of seven men but from Feb 1964 it was the bi-group (bigrupo) (Cann, 1997).

In 1964 PAIGC opened their second front in the north (MInter, 1972). [Chaliand (1967) says Jun 1963 in the north.]

In Apr 1964 the Portuguese launched a counter-offensive (Chaliand, 1967). They attacked the PAIGC held island of Como in the south of the country. 3,000 Portuguese, with air support, were involved but after 65 days were forced to withdraw.

The PAIGC harassed the Portuguese during the rainy season (Chaliand, 1967).

At some time during 1964 Portuguese plans failed to verify their target and bombed Portuguese troops (Chaliand, 1967). In retaliation Portuguese soldiers and sailors attacked an the squadron barracks at Bissau.


On 28 Aug 1964 the Khartoum based Mozambican African National Union (MANU) started sporadic attacks inside Mozambique attacking administrative and military posts in Cabo Delgado province (Morris, 1974). MANU were one of the three groups that formed FRELIMO in Jun 1962 so it is interesting if they were conducting independent operations from FRELIMO.

FRELIMO commenced hostilities in Mozambique on 25 Sep 1964 (Morris, 1974). In Sep 1964 FRELIMO began operations from bases in Tanzania (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Davidson, 1981). Initially they tried to organize rising all over the country. In November the fighting in Cabo Delgado spilled over into Niassa province. At the same time they began a Second Front in Tete province and initiated isolated attacks in Zambezia province. Without support from South Africa, Malawi and Rhodesia the southern and central fronts fizzled out within six months and FRELIMO concentrated their forces in Cabo Delgado and Niassa near the Tanzanian border (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

Portugal had 16,000 troops in Mozambique at the start of hostilities (Morris, 1974).



In Oct 1965 General Joseph Mobutu overthrew Tshombe in the Congo (Morris, 1974). Mobutu was a friend of Roberto and lifted the restrictions Tshombe had put on FNLA / GRAE.

Following a meeting with Che Guevara in 1965 the MPLA in Angola began to receive Cuban instructors and Soviet and East German supplies (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

With Zambian independence in 1965 the MPLA gained access to Eastern Angola (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). MPLA opened supply routes through both Zambia and Tanzania (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

In Sep 1965 the first group SWAPO men (6 in total) passed through south-eastern Angola on their way from Zambia to South West Africa (Morris, 1974).


The PAIGC kept up their harassment campaign although it dropped off towards the end of the year as they gained more land and the associated security (Chaliand, 1967).

On 31 Dec 1965 the Portuguese launched a large operations in the south (Chaliand, 1967). The PAIGC claimed 3,000 Portuguese troops were involved and that it was not a success.


By 1965 FRELIMO could field companies (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998) although platoon sized ambushes and hit-and-run actions were still the norm (Morris, 1974).



In Feb/Mar 1966 the second party of SWAPO men (10 this time) passed through south-eastern Angola on their way to South West Africa (Morris, 1974). They attacked two Portuguese trading stores, killed the shop-owners and assistants (both black and white), and took what they wanted from the stores. In May Portuguese forces intercepted a pair of SWAPO route-reconnaissance and contact men. One insurgent was killed but the other escaped and joined yet another SWAPO group that crossed in July.

By 1966 the MPLA had replaced the FNLA as the main resistance movement in Angola (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The bulk of their forces moved to Lusaka in Zambia to open their ‘Eastern Offensive’ or third region in the Angolan “panhandle” in the Cazombo area (Cann, 1997; Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). They had about 4,700 men from that time until 1974. They set up two bases (‘Hanoi II’ and ‘Ho Chi Minh’). The ‘Agostinho Neto Trail’ kept them supplied from Tanzania and Zambia. Bicycles were were the principle transport on the trail and used to carry up to 200 kg of supplies each (Morris, 1974). Moxico was the first area affected, from 18 Mar 1966 . The first action of the eastern front was on 18 May 1966 when MPLA forces ambushed a Portuguese patrol. Comrade Henda was given responsibility for MPLA military organisation throughout Angola.

At this time MPLA were still active in the Cabinda enclave were operations were declining (Morris, 1974).

MPLA were also operating, at a low level, in the Dembos forests around Cuanza Norte (Morris, 1974). With a hostile government in Congo-Kinshasa and FNLA / GRAE interception squads on the boarder the MPLA had difficulty reinforcing the Dembos area. But they tried in late 1966 and early 1967. Most groups were stopped by the FNLA / GRAE but two small groups managed to reach the Dembos. A MPLA force of 200 men, too big for FNLA / GRAE to handle, was sent but intercepted, disarmed and arrested by the Zairian troops of General Mobutu.

In late 1966 the FNLA / GRAE launched a minor offensive into the north-eastern part of Malanje district of Angola from jump off points inside the Kwango region of Congo (Morris, 1974). The insurgents occupied scattered villages such as Marimba Tembo and Tembu Lumba during November, before being pushed back across the border by Portuguese forces.

1966 saw the first combat operations by Portuguese helicopters (Cann, 1997). Prior to that time they were used solely for transport. FNLA / GRAE ambushes had become a serious problem in the north between Zala and Nambuangongo. The Portuguese countered these by dropping helicopter-borne elite units behind the ambushers to cut their escape route.

In May 1966 Alexandre Taty split from the MPLA with his followers (Morris, 1974). The resulting Angolan Military Junta in Exile (Junta Militar Angolano no Exilo or JMAE) worked with the Portuguese army in the Cabinda enclave.

FNLA / GRAE also tried operating in the Angolan “Panhandle” to counter the MPLA (Morris, 1974). However the Bakongo nature of the organisation meant they acquired few supporters in the east.

In Mar 1966 Savimbi and his followers, who had previously broken away from the FNLA, formed UNITA (União Nacionalpara a Independéncia Total de Angola) at Muangai, near Luso in Angola (Morris, 1974). They also began operating from Zambia into eastern Angola (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). They built up support amongst the Mbundu and Luchazi tribes peoples of the Moxico District. UNITA began their operations with an attack on the Portuguese post of Cassamba (Cann, 1997).

In Oct 1966 MPLA and GRAE signed a peace agreement in Cairo (Morris, 1974). Mutual hostilities were meant to stop and prisoners were to be released. The agreement satisfied the OAU but made no difference on the ground.

On 25 Dec 1966 UNITA cut the Benguela railway during an attack on Teixeira da Sousa (Morris, 1974).


1966 saw the third PAIGC front opened in the east (Minter, 1972). [ Humbaraci and Muchnik (1972) say the eastern front in Cabú was opened after the Congress of 1964 which seems terrible early.]

From the summer of 1966 the PAIGC claimed to have destroyed several isolated posts, stopped all river traffic, and liberated the central region of Boe to link the two regions already under control (Chaliand, 1967).

Chaliand (1967) describes a scenario where the Portuguese were repairing a bridge on the Olosato-Bissota road. The PAIGC used bazookas to damage the repaired portion. The Portuguese retaliated by bombing local villages.

Chaliand (1967) describes an incident where the Portuguese conducted a search and destroy operation against the PAIGC 20 km from the frontier. Five helicopters landed 50 white plus some African soldiers. . 36 FARP men under Bobo, commander of the Sambuya zone, drew the Portuguese forces into a wooded area. Bobo launched an ambush 1700 hours, inflicted casualties, and forced the Portuguese to withdraw. The PAIGC claimed the Portuguese suffered five dead and several wounded against their own four wounded.

In 1966 the Portuguese attempted four large unsuccessful search-and-destroy sweeps of Iracunda (Chaliand, 1967). Each included several hundred conscripts with automatic weapons, mortars, bazookas, and air support. Warned by the peasants or by their own reconnaissance patrols the PAIGC pulled back, loosely encircled the Portuguese, and launched night attacks to break up the column. The insurgents would sometimes feint at the end of the line to distract attention from the main attack elsewhere. The PAIGC considered the conscripts inept in the jungle.


By 1966 FRELIMO had battalions (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Prior to this time FRELIMO had restricted itself to platoon sized ambushes and hit-and-run actions, however from mid-1966 they began to launch assaults on Portuguese army camps with company sized forces.



The duration of Portuguese national service was extended from two to four years (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). For most conscripts this included a two year tour in Africa.


In Jan 1967 a MPLA column of 72 fighters crossed the frontier from Zaire and made their way to the the insurgents in the Dembos forests (Davidson, 1981). In Jun another group of 153 crossed the border but where ambushed by FNLA and Portuguese forces. Only 22 managed to reach the Dembos. Subsequently the MPLA sent a column from eastern Angola. They made it 2/3s of the way to the Dembos before being wiped out. No further attempts were made.

Humbaraci and Muchnik (1972) mention two successful MPLA penetrations. The Cienfuegos column successfully crossed the Congo-Kinshasa border in the north around 1966-67. The Kami column successfully followed the same route in Mar 1967. I’m not sure if these are the same as the columns mentioned in Davidson (1981) or different.

Was it UNITA?

Savimbi denied UNITA involvement on the attacks on the Benguela railway and claimed he had ordered his units to desist from disrupting rail traffic. Several independent observers also believed that 3rd parties instigated the sabotage to discredit UNITA with the Zambians. The Portuguese, MPLA and FNLA / GRAE have all been blamed.

UNITA derailed two trains on the Benguela railway in Mar 1967 (Morris, 1974). After then and the Dec 1966 attack Tanganyika Concessions, owners of the railway, closed the line for 6 weeks “to effect repairs” and warned that further attack would lead to permanent closure. This pressure had the appropriate effect and Zambia, which depended on the railway for its copper exports, revoked Savimbi’s temporary residence permit. Savimbi went to Cairo in mid-1967.

In Jun 1967 a OAU Military Commission found that the Portuguese had contain the insurgency in northern Angola (Morris, 1974):

  • MPLA operations in the Cabinda enclave had ceased
  • The small FNLA / GRAE encroachment into Malanje had only managed to temporarily divert some Portuguese forces
  • The Dembos still contained some survivors of the UPA bands from 1961 and MPLA penetrations of 1966/67 but these were contained and on the decline.

The OAU Military Commission found the only activity was on the eastern front (Morris, 1974) where:

  • MPLA were the major player. MPLA forces were ambushing or clashing with Portuguese troops, sabotaging bridges, roads and equipment along the upper waters of the Zambezi and other rivers. All supplied via the Neto trail from Zambia and ultimately the Indian ocean.
  • UNITA, despite Savimbi’s departure, was still battling the Portuguese in a small area south of the Benguela Railway but lacked a major support base inside Angola
  • FNLA / GRAE operations had ceased

As the result of the Military Commission the OAU African Liberation Committee transferred its recognition as the true representative of the Angolan people from GRAE to MPLA (Morris, 1974). OAU funding however was split 50/50 between OAU and FNLA.

The Portuguese were active against MPLA in the east (Morris, 1974). From the MPLA perspective the Portuguese:

  • Created a scorched earth zone along the Angola/Zambia border defended by a string of posts
  • Left Moxico and Cuando-Cubango un-garrisoned
  • Defended more western provinces, Bie and Mlange, with a barrier of forts
  • Conducted search and destroy operations backed up by air-assault by helicopter-borne elite units


Davidson (1981) includes the operational plans for two PAIGC missions of 1967.

Operational Solidarity: to isolate the garrisons of the Portuguese posts of Gabu-Boé in the north-eastern grassland country (Davidson, 1981). Their specific objectives were to sabotage the Contabini-Madina road, the ferry-raft at Canda Mandim on the Corubal river, attack Madina by surprise, capture weapons, subvert African troops, and mobilise the people for the struggle. The PAIGC force had a commander and three units of 11 fighters, plus porters. Each group had 3 submachine guns, 5 rifles, 8 pistols, 50 hand grenades, ‘incendiary bottles’ and detonators. The insurgents were to seize arms and ammunition from the enemy as they progressed. The groups travelled separately. They carried only 5-8 days food and then relied on supplies fro the locals. They were ordered to avoid sheltering in villages and overnight in the bush.

Operation Fanta: to isolate and attack four Portuguese posts, two strongly fortified encampments and two smaller hamlets (Davidson, 1981). The operation involved two bi-groups. The plan involved cutting the roads and destroying the bridge to the first major encampment, then launching an attack. They were then to repeat this with the second major post. The smaller posts were expected to fall after that.


In 1967 FRELIMO claimed 8,000 men (excluding Militias) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). In 1967-70, with heavier weapons and more experienced fighters, FRELIMO undertook combined operations (infantry and artillery) against major Portuguese posts (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972; Minter, 1972). Mueda, with its major airfield, was attacked several times; in one attack in 1968 FRELIMO claimed 12 Portuguese planes destroyed. FRELIMO also claimed to attack attacked bases at Nacatara, Maniamba, Sipaki, Nambude and Nova Coimbra.

By late 1967 the Portuguese had moved over 250,000 tribespeople in the northern areas into fortified villages (aldeamentos)



The Portuguese armed forces had finalised its transition into an counterinsurgency force (Cann, 1997). Cann says “the insurgencies were under relative control” and the Portuguese had achieved their “goal of attaining a subdued, low-tempo conflict [that] had been realized alongside an apparent indefinite sustainability” (p. 81).


The Zambians expelled UNITA after the latter sabotaged the Benguela railway line, which carries Zambia’s copper exports to the coast (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Following expulsion UNITA shrunk to at most 500 active guerrillas.

During 1968-69 MPLA units targeted UNITA units (Morris, 1974). Observers calculated that more insurgents died from the hands of of other insurgents than from the Portuguese. MPLA informers also passed information to the Portuguese on the where abouts of other insurgent groups thus allowing the Portuguese to do the dirty work. UNITA survived mainly because of their popular support in the south-east.

On 14 Apr 1968 Comrade Henda, the MPLA commander inside Angola, was killed (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). He was leading an attack by the 4th section on Karipande barracks on the border of the third region.

On 8 May 1968 the MPLA extended operations into the Lunda and Malanje regions in northeastern Angola – the 4th front (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

The Portuguese launched a major offensive in eastern Angola (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).


By 1968 PAIGC claimed control of 2/3 of the land area of in Guinea-Bissau and half the population (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The Portuguese assigned Brig. (later General) António de Spinola as Commander-in-Chief in the territory and he began a hearts and minds campaign to reverse the trend.

In Feb 1968 the PAIGC attacked Bub, the main Portuguese military base in the south (Davidson, 1981). Davidson includes a photo (Fig 15.1, p. 188) of a PAIGC crew of a 7mm recoilless rifle attacking the post.

In Mar 1968 the PAIGC conducted an Exemplary Exploit against the main Portuguese airfield just outside Bissau (Davidson, 1981). The airfield was protected by wire, minefields and blockhouses. 13 volunteers infiltrated to the edge of the field and fired into the base, damaging planes on the ground, hangars, and other installations. They then withdrew with no casualties.

The Portuguese stationed an infantry company at Madina do Boe in the east near the border with the Republic of Guinea (Cann, 1997). With few inhabitants and structures to protect, and a long permeable frontier to guard, the company ended up just protecting themselves. Despite the fact there was no real benefit to keep them there the authorities refused to withdraw the unit until 1969. As feared the PAIGC used the withdrawal as a PR opportunity with foreign journalists.


FRELIMO opened their Tete front in Mar 1968 from bases in Zambia (Minter, 1972; Morris, 1974). The giant Cabora Bassa dam project became the focus of operations for both sides. The heavily wooded and relatively sparsely populated border with Zambia was easy to infiltrate hence difficult to defend. However the local population were as unwilling to accept FRELIMO authority as Portuguese.

From 20-25 Jul 1968 at the 2nd FRELIMO conference the conservatives, from the Makonde people, were denied a separate Makonde state, were deserted by the Tanzanians, and expelled from FRELIMO (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Faction fighting broke out; Makonde militiamen in Cabo Delgado fought the FPLM and killed at least one senior commander.

Operation Crusade: In Jun 1968 five COREMO men tried to escort12 Pan African Congressmen (PAC) across Mozambique to Swaziland. The plan was to saboutage the Beira-Umtali pipeline on route. However, Portuguese forces intercepted the group about 250 km west of Beira. All of the insurgents were killed or captured.

COREMO also had a small publicity snipe at other insurgent groups when the president, Gumane, told The Times of London that COREMO was “in no position yet to kill thousands of Portuguese” and “anyway, if all the claims made by other movements were true, there would be none left for us to kill” (Guardian, 15 Aug 1961, cited in Morris, 1974).



Unusually in Jan 1969 a unit FNLA / GRAE attacked a train on the Benguela railway near the Zaire border killing 14 workers (Morris, 1974). This action was against FNLA / GRAE policy, appalled both the movement’s establishment and the Zairian government. The commander of the offending unit was executed on his return to Zaire.

On 6 Jun 1969 MPLA extended operations into the Bié region in eastern Angola – the 5th front (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

In late Nov 1969 MPLA ordered a group, designated Final Victory to establish a link between the the “third Military Region” in the east with the “First Military Region” in the north (Morris, 1974). The group 200 km to Quitapa between Malanje and Vila Luso before being liquidated by the Portuguese.

By 1969 the Portuguese had managed to isolate the UNITA forces in eastern Angola (Cann, 1997). UNITA avoided conflict with the Portuguese because of a severe supply problem. It did however try to extend its underground network into south-central Angola.


In mid-1969 the PAIGC launched operaton Tenaz against Portuguese positions around Bafata, north of the River Corubal (Davidson, 1981). They started by secretly depositing ammunition in dumps to the rear of areas of engagement. Reconnaissance was provided by two bi-groups that infiltrated the area to discover the Portuguese dispositions. Then two strike forces of several hundred men entered the area.


General de Arriaga was appointed Commander of all Portuguese Ground Forces in Mozambique (Morris, 1974).

On 3 Feb 1969 Eduardo Mondlane, leader of FRELIMO, was assassinated in Dar es Salaam (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

On 3 Apr 1969 the Makonde leader, Lazaro Kavandame, went over to the Portuguese taking 60,000 Makondes with him (Morris, 1974).

In May, after some political in-fighting, Samora Machel, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and the guy who’d argued for a protracted guerrilla war, was elected FRELIMO president (Morris, 1974). Machel reorganised the military wing of FRELIMO (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).

In 1969 FRELIMO changed their tactics in the Tete district (Cann, 1997). They switched from attacking the Cabora Bassa dam project to killing tribal chiefs north of the Zambezi, a tactic which quickly destabilised the area.

By the end of 1969 FRELIMO insurgents had saturated the area around Mueda in the north of Cabo Delgado (Cann, 1997).



On 26 Oct 1970 the ARA (Acção Revoluciondria Armada) damaged the ship Cunene used for transporting troops to the colonies (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). In Nov 1970 they sabotaged the ship Niassa transporting ammunition, a military school, and the USIS centre in Lisbon.


In 1970 MPLA transitioned from small guerrilla detachments to larger, 100-150 man, squadrons (esquadroes) (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Venter, 1974b). Their weapons got better too. Prior to 1970 MPLA equipment was largely ex Second World War. After 1970 they started to get heavier Chinese supplies (60mm and 81mm mortars and 75mm recoilless rifles).

Larger units and heavier weapons gave MPLA the capability to attack Portuguese posts in Angol (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Venter, 1974b). MPLA claimed that heavy attacks by their men forced the Portuguese to abandon two barracks – Karipande and Mussuma in the Eastern region. the Portuguese deny being driven out of any barrack or town during the 13 year war.

In 1970 MPLA operations reached the western bank of the river Cuanza (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

In 1970 UNITA transferred their emphasis back to the north-east, north of the Angolan “panhandle”, and again targetted the Benguela railway (Morris, 1974). UNITA was based in the mountainous area south of Vila Luso.

By 1970 the war in Angola has reached a stalemate (Cann, 1997).


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

In Nov 1970 locals from the village of Bissássema told the Portuguese that PAIGC was planning an attack with four bi-groups totalling 150 men (Cann, 1997). The Portuguese hid a patrol in the jungle near the camp and laid booby-trapped mines on the only possible escape route. When the PAIGC launched their attack they were caught in a crossfire between the two Portuguese forces and the survivors ran into the mine field.

In late 1970 during operations near the confluence of the Geba and Corubal rivers, a PAIGC group infiltrated across the border from Kandiafara (Cann, 1997). Their mission was to cut and mine the Bafata road. One evening they attacked Bambadinca then withdraw to wait for reinforcements of two further bi-groups. The following day a patrol from Artillery Battalion 2917 captured a PAIGC scouting party. A senor officer was amongst the captives. He was flown to Bambadinca by helicopter and offered the choice of dying or revealing the PAIGC plan. Within a few hours the Portuguese knew the plan.

On 22 Nov 1970 “a Portuguese led force including African drafted into the Portuguese Army and dissidents from Guinea-Conakry attacked Conakry from the sea” (Minter, 1972, p. 151). The attacked failed.


General de Arriaga was appointed Commander of all Portuguese forces in Mozambique (Morris, 1974).

In Mar 1970 FRELIMO made a supreme effort to break the stalemate (Morris, 1974). Small groups led the main thrust from southeastern Tanzania. Northeastern Tanzania was the base for a secondary thrust into Niassa. The third thrus was from Zambia into Tete province.

In Jul 1970 the Portuguese responded with Operation Gordian Knot (Nó Górdio) in the north (Cann, 1970). It was the largest operation in the Colonial Wars, lasted 36 days and involved over 8,000 personnel. The target were the FRELIMO insurgents around Mueda in the north of Cabo Delgado. The Portuguese tried a giant hammer and anvil strategy. A perimeter of regular forces provided the anvil whilst the hammer comprised air-supported ground assaults. The Portuguese captured many weapons and reported 651 terrorists killed, 1,840 captured, 61 based and 165 camps destroyed (Morris, 1974). None-the-less overall results were poor as the insurgents themselves disappeared into the native population to avoid combat then moved eastward to escape.

Despite Operation Gordian Knot FRELIMO continued to push south along the Zambezi river (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

The FRELIMO regular units now had sufficient heavy weapons to attack Portuguese fortified post (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). From 1970 Chinese versions of Warsaw Pact weapons appeared amongst the FRELIMO fighters. However in general the combat was seen as “shadow boxing” (Cann, 1997).

Dr. MIguel Murupa, former FRELIMO secretary for External Relations who had defected to the Portuguese, estimated FRELIMO numbers as between 3-4,000 (Morris, 1974).

By the early 1970s FRELIMO had killed more than 450 Makonde and wounded or press-ganged many more (Morris, 1974).



On the night of 8 Mar 1971 the ARA raided Tancos airbase near Lisbon and destroyed 12 helicopters newly delivered from France (Cann, 1997; Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).


Portuguese sweeps of the Black quarter of Luanda during early 1971 netted 100 MPLA supporters (Morris, 1974).

In Jun/Jul 1971 the MPLA blew up a key bridge on the Luso-Gago Coutinho highway (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

Agostinho Neto visited Peking in Jul 1971 and negotiated Chinese supply of heavy weapons (rockets, artillery) to the MPLA (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

At 1500 hours on 15 Jul 1971, after a three year siege, the MPLA took the Karipande barracks in the municipality of Kazombo near the Zambian border (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).

In Aug 1971 a large FNLA / GRAE column travelled from Zaire to the Dembos area (Morris, 1974). They sabotaged roads and bridges along the way. Heavy attacks by Portuguese forces netted 111 insurgent losses for only 7 Portuguese dead.

In Oct 1971 Portuguese trained members of the Lunda tribe attacked a Zambian para-military force at Mwinilung, on the Zambia’s north-western frontier (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). A MPLA detachment under Commander Lucio Lara rescued the Zambians.


PAIGC began to receive heavier equipment starting with Soviet 122mm ‘Grad’ rockets (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).

In Jul 1971 the Portuguese captured a field message near Gadamel on the southern frontier (Cann, 1971). This reiterated that no PAIGC unit was to stay in the same location for more than two days. Failure to obey would bring punishment by the PAIGC command and the Portuguese Air Force.

In the period Jan – Aug 1971 PAIGC claimed 508 major actions (Davidson, 1981). This included 369 attacks on garrisons in urban areas (including three entrenched camps and many smaller encampments); 102 ambushes and other attacks on enemy road transport; 15 major landmining operations; 14 actiosn against river and sea transport; and 8 commando-type actions against especially difficult targets in urban centres (e.g. airfields, repair shops).


From Mar 1971 FRELIMO changed tactics and began to attack road and rail links with Tete province including the Tete-ongo and Cucmana-Zobue roads (Morris, 1974). From Sep 1971 onwards Rhodesian transport companies using the main road from Rhodesia to Mozambique via Tete-Blantyre began suffering more landmine and direct insurgent attacks. An attack occurred in early September, and others on 21 Sep, 14 Nov, and 17 Nov, and 30 Dec; from that time civilian vehicles had to join a military convoy. During Sep and Oct FRELIMO also attacked the Beira-Tete main line railway; the September attack involved destroying a rail bridge. FRELIMO also began “selective terrorism” to encourage recruitment, killing 55 traditional chiefs in 1971.

FRELIMO launched several actions in northeastern Niasssa and parts of Cabo Delgado (Morris, 1974). Most were small-unit affairs although there was one major effort in late Oct 1971. Portuguese control of the north, with sealed roads and airfields, easily dealt with these efforts.

In one of the small in the last week of Nov 1971 FRELIMO attacked a freight train near Catur on the Nov Freixo to Vila Cabral railway (Morris, 1974). They stopped the train with mines then opened fire with small arms. A Portuguese security force drove them off.

In late Oct to early Nov 1971 3-4,000 civilian blacks fled Tete province for Malawi (Morris, 1974). FRELIMO had persuaded these people that the Portuguese were going to take reprisals for various landmine incidents. FRELIMO, however, told the world that the exodus was due to Portuguese atrocities. The refugees found little sympathy in Malawi and many returned after a few months.



The ARA destroyed large quantities of war material on the Alcantara dock in Lisbon (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972).


By the start of 1972 the Portuguese had noticed increased MPLA activity in the panhandle (Morris, 1974). This involved mines, ambushes and night attacks on army posts. By now the insurgents were well armed and had rocket projectors and mortars at least as good as the Portuguese.

By 1972 morale in the FNLA military arm based in Zaire was so low they mutinied (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Tanks and airborne troops of the Zairian army intervened and disarmed and arrested 1,000 supposed mutineers. Zaire subsequently took over training at the base.

On 18 Jan 1972 the population of the frontier posts of Honguena (Angola) and Ochicango (Namibia) attacked well armed South African troops with only spears and pangas (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). A Portuguese battalion, comprising native Angolan troops, rescued the South Africans.

In Jun – Dec 1972 the FNLA / GRAE and MPLA leadership met to discuss unifying (Morris, 1974). A joint council was formed in Dec but hostility in the field remained. FNLA units were still ordered to kill or capture any MPLA men they encountered.

During 1972-73 the Portuguese undertook extensive sweeps one of the MPLA controlled areas of Eastern Angola, inflicting a major defeat (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). The first of these, Operation Atila, started in the last week of Feb 1972 (Morris, 1974). In that first week the MPLA lost 27 dead, 7 wounded and 10 captured. The summer of 1972 offensive concentrated on the Benguela Railway (Humbaraci & Muchnik, 1972). One of the Portuguese sweeps of the period captured the MPLA’s ‘Ho Chi Minh’ camp. Portuguese operations halved the insurgent numbers in the east. The local population was also being moved into aldeamentos. Meanwhile the MPLA destroyed the Lumbala Garrison on the Eastern Front.

In 1972 UNITA reported clashes with Portuguese forces including the Faithful Ones (Fiéis; the ex-gendarmerie of Katanga) in their Zone Three (Morris, 1974). It is more likely that UNITA was clashing with the security forces of the Diamang concession area, some 300 specially recruited, trained and armed Katangese.

After 1972 there were no ‘liberated’ (i.e. insurgent controlled) areas within Angola (Cann, 1997).


In 1972 Gen. Spinola left Guinea-Bissau and Portuguese morale declined (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). PAIGC attacked and captured Guiledje, an important Portuguese military base dominating supply routes from Guinea (Conakry).

None-the-less the PAIGC and Portuguese were negotiating at the end of 1972 (Cann, 1997).


Portuguese activity had reduced FRELIMO endeavours to mine laying by night, firing mortars or rockets from extreme range, and the occasional ambush (Morris, 1974). Ambushes were usually a quick burst of fire following by a hasty departure – a tactic the Portuguese called flagellation (flagelacao). Some months were worse than others. On 9 Feb 1972 a truck carrying explosives to Cabor disregarded orders to remain in convoy and overtook the lead military escort vehicle. A FRELIMO bazooka team took the opportunity to blow up the civilian vehicle and the resulting explosion killed four civilians and five soldiers and injured another five soldiers. The next week saw three more ambushes on three consecutive days. More ambushes occurred in April and September saw numerous attacks. FRELIMO attacked two goods trains in Apr 1972 in separate incidents. More attacks occurred in Oct focussing on the railway line near the Malawi border.

In Feb 1972 a COREMO force on its way to a sabotage mission clashed with a FRELIMLO force (Morris, 1974).

For three days in early Apr 1972 Tanzanian anti-aircraft batteries fired at Portuguese aircraft operating along the Rovuma River (Morris, 1974). The Tanzanians downed one T6 aircraft. Tanzania claimed this was because the Portuguese planes had violated its airspace to attack FRELIMO bases.

In the first half of 1972 FRELIMO killed as many as 32 chiefs to encourage the population in the Tete area to cooperate (Morris, 1974).

16 Official Portuguese reports covering the period 26 Jun to 25 Oct 1972 fell into the hands of FRELIMO supporters (Venter, 1974b). In the 16 week period of the reports show Frelimo launched 1,027 attacks against military and civilian targets. An average of 64 per week. Most were Tete province. The incidents included isolated shots at passing convoys, sabotage attempts particularly on bridges and railway lines, full on assaults on Portuguese positions, and attacks on civilian resettlement camps. Frelimo losses were 240 killed, 67 wounded and 136 prisoners. During the same period the Portuguese lost 72 killed, more than 500 wounded, and 17 missing. The report mentioned Frelimo bases in the mountainous area along the Rhodesian border, in the Dzembe Mountains halfway between Tete and Beira, and a camp within the Gorogoza Game Park.

In Sep 1972 FRELIMO was operating in the vegetable farming area of Mungari, about 120 directly south of Tete (Morris, 1974). They attacked a South African geologist. There were also vague accounts of insurgent activity just north of the Umtali-Beira rail and road during Oct 1972. It is possible during this time that FRELIMO had convinced some Sena tribespeople to give them shelter in this area.

The brutal Colonel Armindo Videira, governor of Tete, instigated the tragedy of Wiriyamu on 16 Dec 1972 (Cann, 1997). He was subsequently dismissed but the Portuguese had lost the confidence of the local population. .

Between 25 Dec 1972 and 1 Jan 1973 the Portuguese coordinated with the Rhodesians to clear their mutual border in the Tete province (Morris, 1974). The Portuguese killed 98 FRELIMO in a large offensive between Cabora and the Rhodesian border. A second Portuguese offensive 200 km upstream on the south bank of the Zambezi killed another 51. The Portuguese destroyed about 45 camps in these actions. The Portuguese made further forays throughout Jan 1973.

Various Portuguese estimates at the end of the year for FRELIMO numbers were 6,330, 7,200 and between 5,000 and 6,000 (Morris, 1974).

At the end of 1972 General de Arriaga, the Commander-in-Chief in Mozambique, thought it was only a matter of time before Portugal won the war in Mozambique (Morris, 1974). His definition of “won” is indicative:

  • the immediate detection by Portuguese Forces of any infiltration from across the borders
  • the neutralisation or destruction of the infiltrated group within a matter of days or even hours



The MPLA reeled under Portuguese blows (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). 800 MPLA guerrillas sought safety in Congo (Brazzaville). Daniel Chipenda, one of the best MPLA commanders, took his men over to the FNLA. The Soviets stopped supplies to the MPLA and the Tanzanian’s persuaded the Chinese to redirect their support to the FNLA.

In Sep 1973 only 2% of Angola was controlled by the insurgents (Rene Pelissier cited in Morris, 1974).

None-the-less by late 1973 the Benguela railway was under considerable pressure from both UNITA and MPLA (Morris, 1974). The Portuguese believe attacks on the western line between Muhango and Luso to be by UNITA and those to the east by MPLA. Trains stopped and night to allow a day-time run to the Zaire border and had an armoured military railcar at the front.


In Jan 1973 a PAIGC member assassinated Amilcar Cabral (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998; Davidson, 1981). Amilcar’s brother, Luiz, became deputy secretary-general of PAIGC.

In Mar 1973 the PAIGC could deploy SAM-7 ?? ground-to-air missiles (Davidson, 1981).

In Sep 1973 the PAIGC proclaimed an independent Republic of Guinea-Bissau (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). It was another year before the Portuguese acknowledged independence.

Late in 1973 the Portuguese had 225 fixed garrisons and fortified camps in Guinea-Bissau (Davidson, 1981). 72 were held solely by Portuguese troops; 71 by African militia alone; 82 by a mixed force of Portuguese and African militia.


Venter (1974b) quotes a DGS inspector in 1973 as saying “The worst mistake you can make in a guerrilla war is to concentrate all your forces in one area, because the guerrillas simply switch to another. We made that mistake in Cabo Delgado, and now we’re paying for it in Tete”.

In Feb 1973 perhaps 400 FRELIMO insurgents launched operations in the vegetable farming area of Mungari, about 120 directly south of Tete (Morris, 1974). Between Feb and Jul 1973 small groups of FRELIMO men infiltrated as far southwards as Manicaland . A largish group infiltrated via the Gorongoza Game Reserve and began operations against the rail and road links between Beira and Salisbury. A sub-unit of this group attacked a civilian aircraft landing at the own of Maringue, midway between Beira and Tete in the Manica and Sofala Province. Another sub-unit attacked the Chitengo Rest Camp in the Gorongoza Game Reserve. Jul 1973 saw an ineffectual FRELIMO rocket attack on the Portuguese command centre at Estima, 32 km from the Cabora wall. Generally all these activities due swift Portuguese responses. Portuguese troops were assigned to guard bridges. Special tracking teams were deployed to the area. The GEP were committed to search and destroy operations.

In the north FRELIMO launched a major offensive in early Jun 1973 (?? check whether this is from Morris ??; Venter, 1974b). Before dawn 400 insurgents attacked the Nazombe base about 20 km from Tanzania. Some insurgent breached the camp’s wire (Venter says there was no wire) but the attack was driven off by the defending company (150 men). The Portuguese killed 50 insurgents for the loss of 10 of their own.

In Jul 1973 Fremlimo attacked the base at Gago Coutinho (Venter, 1974b). In total Frelimo attacked six border camps in 1973.

Max Hastings, a British journalist, revealed in the London Evening Standard that Rhodesian and Portuguese forces were coordinating operations in Mozambique (Venter, 1974b). The Rhodesians were trying to seal the frontier and get at infiltration routes. The Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) and 400 men of the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) were conducting search and destroy missions lasting two or three weeks.

At the beginning of Aug 1973 General de Arriaga relinquished his role as Commander of all Portuguese Ground Forces in Mozambique (Morris, 1974). He was replaced by General Tomaz Basto Machado – the Adjutant-General of the Army.

In Aug 1973 the Portuguese estimated that Frelimo had 500 guerrillas south of the Zambezi/Luenha Rivers (Venter, 1974b). About 50 operating near Vila Pery and another 30 in the Gorongoza Game Park.

By the end of 1973 FRELIMO attacks against the Portuguese were a rarity; most insurgent action was against tribal blacks (Morris, 1974). A report by the Mozambique Services for the Centralization and Co-ordination of Information in Feb 1973 calculated that FRELIMO had deliberated assassinated 689 civilians and wounded 2,000 more since 1964. Another 6,500 civilians had been forcefully used as bearers or labourers or had been press-ganged into military training. In one ten day period FRELIMO had conducted 40 actions, all against civilians. In that period they attacked 17 villages, killed 12 civilians, seriously wounded 17, abducted 7 (mostly young girls), stole 100 head of cattle, stole cash, and laid mines.

Source is Morris (1974, p. 90)
Year FRELIMO Attacks Against Civilian Targets
1964 60
1965 182
1966 278
1967 123
1968 174
1969 106
1970 170
1971 413
1972 564

Following the opening of their front in Tete FRELIMO continued to push south along the Zambezi river (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). By 1973 the advanced guerrilla groups were operating near Beira. Davidson (1981) talks this up as a “very brilliantly demonstrated … ‘right hook'” (p. 8) by Samora Machel and goes on to claim it was “the blow that finally destroyed the Portuguese army’s last hope of defeating FRELIMO” (p. 8) and that the Portuguese commander had “his back to the wall, outfought and outmanoeuvred” (p. 8). Although they had a presence in southern Mozambique FRELIMO’s propaganda claims rather over played their actual achievements.

In an attack on Mueda Airbase FRELIMO launched 31 122mm Russian rockets from 17 km and missed with all of them (Morris, 1974). This might be the same incident that Venter (1974b) mentions where FRELIMO fire rockets from a hill over looking Tete airport and missed with all of them.



25 Apr 1974 brought a coup in Portugal (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Portuguese units in the field retreated to their barracks, organised local ceasefires, and ignored commands to continue operations. MPLA began to recruit openly in the cities. Soviet arms sailed into the Angolan ports. Right wing settlers revolted in Mozambique but without the backing of the armed forces the rising collapsed within three days. The Portuguese Junta negotiated independence treaties with the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau and FRELIMO in Mozambique but failed to make an arrangement with the competing factions in Angola (MPLA, FNLA, UNITA).


At the start of 1974 the MPLA had little presence in the west and centre of Angola (Davidson, 1981). In the east they were fighting the Portuguese, FNLA and UNITA. Following the coup in Portugal the MPLA moved to the cities of the western seaboard where the urban population supported them


Fighting ceased in May 1974 (Davidson, 1981). The Portuguese troops began withdrawing in Aug. Independence was declared in Sep.

Cape Verde

PAIGC militants openly advocated for independence (Davidson, 1981).


On 5 Feb 1974 FRELIMO announced that the Umtali-Beira railway would be their main target (Morris, 1974). This had become possible because Zambian copper was no longer transport via this route. The attacks could be explosions or just indiscriminate firing. In the first week of Feb 1974 the overnight passenger trains between Umtali and Beira were cancelled because of the threat of insurgent action.

The railway system was not the only target. A light aircraft taking off from Nova Freixo has hit by a FRELIMO bazooka and all six occupants killed (Morris, 1974).

On 6 Feb 1974 a FRELIMO group attacked Nhacambo village in northwest Tete (Morris, 1974). The 60 insurgents under Fernando Napulula overwhelmed the village militia, destroyed 160 of the 186 huts, and massacred at least 17 of the inhabitants including women and children.

The Portuguese response was to maintain the defensive lines on the northern border and around the Cabora Bassa Dam scheme, to use regular troops to sweep the bush, move intervention units into the Manica-Sofala zone, and gather intelligence on the FRELIMO groups (Morris, 1974). The army struck in the first week of Mar 1974. Regular troops were used to sweep the bush whilst the intervention units struck directly at the insurgent camps. The Portuguese report a high number of insurgents killed, wounded or captured. “Tiger”, the senior FRELIMO commander in Manicaland, was one of the fatalities. The Portuguese claimed 542 FRELIMO dead for the loss of 66 Portuguese.



By mid-1975 the MPLA had about 20,000 troops in Angola and a large amount of Soviet equipment (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). By Sep 1975 they controlled 12 of the 16 districts (Davidson, 1981). The US and South Africa began to support FNLA and UNITA. The South African invaded from bases in Namibia. A Zairian force invaded and reached the outskirts of Luanda in Oct 1975.


Cape Verde

Independence under PAIGC leadership was declared in Jun 1975 (Davidson, 1981).


Nov 1975


The Portuguese withdrew from the African colonies (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998).


On 11 Nov 1975 Angola was declared a sovereign republic under MPLA (Davidson, 1981). Open civil war resulted in Angola (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). Cubans immediate arrived to support the MPLA.

Many African born Portuguese soldiers stayed behind (Abbott & Rodrigues, 1998). This was particularly true in Angola. The more radical joined the MPLA. Others fought with the FNLA or UNITA and eventually ended up in South Africa’s elite Portuguese speaking 32 Battalion.




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.

Chandelle: A Journal of Aviation History: COIN: The Portuguese in Africa, 1959-1975

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

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

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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