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Mozambique, 1962-1992
By Tom Cooper
Sep 2, 2003, 10:49

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In our days, Portugal is a small country, but it should be remembered that once before it was both, the first and the last of the great European colonial powers. Discoveries inspired by Henry the Navigator in the 15th and early 16th Century turned Portugal in what was for several centuries the world’s third largest empire, which military fought numerous wars, most of which are forgotten in the English-speaking world today. Although the Portuguese sources are extensive, they are usually (and quite understandably) written in Portuguese, and thus inaccessible to the outsiders.

While there is no intention this article to discuss the Portuguese colonial politics, for orientation purposes several basic facts should be described. For example, from the early 1950s the Portuguese colonial doctrine was that the overseas territories were not “colonies”, but rather integral parts of Portugal, or “overseas provinces” – with special laws suited to their particular level of development, but ruled from Lisbon. It should also be mentioned, that at the time Portugal was ruled by Dr. António de Oliveira Salazar: although he was always denying that his regime was totalitarian, today all authoritative sources have little doubts about Salazar’s right-wing and authoritarian posture, about the fact that there was only a show of a national assembly in Lisbon, as well as that all the opposition was suppressed by the secret police (Polícia Internacional de Defesa do Estado, or PIDE).

Nevertheless, the Portuguese prided themselves on their racial tolerance – and to some degree degree this claim was justified: even if there was a kind of racial segregation there were no such official laws like the Apartheid regulations in South Africa. All African provinces retained their own customs, languages, and religions, and had a considerable number of so-called “assimilados”, Africans who had learned Portuguese, accepted Christianity, shown that they could provide for themselves and their families – but also signed the declaration of loyalty: as such, they were granted all the privileges and liabilities of Portuguese citizenship.

For such reasons, as well as due to the fact that during the 500 years they were in Africa the Portuguese experienced revolts and even invasions but always won through in the end, when a series of uprisings developed in their overseas provinces in the early 1960s, they were slow to recognize the signs of the time. Namely, it was exactly these “assimilados” who became aware of what was happening in other African colonies, and who became sympathetic to the cause of the African nationalism, especially as the Portuguese colonies increasingly became surrounded by independent countries: the Portuguese were to need 13 years to realize what was actually going on.

Portugal was the first European colonial power to arrive in Africa and, with Spain, the last to withdraw. The durability of its empire in Africa can be attributed by a genuine belief in a “civilizing mission” and the determination that this historic role should be fulfilled. The Portuguese always claimed that their version of imperialism was unique since it was not based upon racial discrimination and it aimed at total assimilation of the African. In reality, assimilation fell far shot of realisation. Slavery was abolished only in 1878, and replaced by restrictive system of contract labour. From 1931, the colonies were officially regarded as overseas provinces electing representatives to the National Assembly in Lisbon, and constitution from 1933 – which established Antonoi de Oliveira Salazar’s Estado Novo (“New State”) – divided the population into indigenas (natives) and noa indigenas. By 1961, less than one percent of population in colonies had become assimilados: on the contrary, a number of nationalist groups formed, with tribalism as their powerful drive. Nevertheless, the Portuguese ignored the signs of time: after all, their colonies contributed massively to the economy, being the only sector which regularly recorded a trade surplus. Even if Angola was considered richer than Mozambique, the later province was of at least equal importance.


Mozambique, a territory half the size of France, was a Portuguese colony ever since 1498, but became the latest of “overseas provinces” in which nationalist movements emerged. The three original groups, formed in 1960 and 1961, have had strong regional bases. In 1962 the Mozambiquan nationalists joined together into Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique (FRELIMO), headed by Eduardo Mondlan – a southerner, educated in South Africa and the USA, as well as in Portugal. FRELIMO was originally a fragile movement, due to ethnical and ideological differences between members – some of which left to form minor splinter movements, such like the Chinese-supported COREMO.

Differences within FRELIMO were massive not only in regards of ideology, but also in regards of organisation’s strategy. While some activists were calling for a lightning attack on the capital, others wanted to incite the peasants against Portuguese settlers, while a third group – which included Samora Machel – argued for a protracted guerrilla struggle along classing Communist lines. After fierce argument, the later idea won the day. The rebels therefore prepared a plan for uprisings around the whole country. This had no prospects of success, for several reasons, the most important of which were that the FRELIMO only had a miniature fighting force, that it was barely known within the country, as well as that all the neighbouring countries closed their borders for its activists.

The situation changed only after the independence of Tanganyka (later Tanzania): Julius Nyerere, the first president of the fledgling nation, was sympathetic for FRELIMO, and began providing sanctuaries to Mozambiquan nationalists. This enabled the original nucleus of an armed militia – some 250 fighters in total – to gradually be sent to Algeria for training. Poorly equipped, they began operations on 25 September 1964, in the Muende Plain, where few cross-border raids were undertaken. Over the time, the rebels were given several bases in Tanzania, the largest of which was at Nachingwea. Most of the infiltration by FRELIMO into Mosambique took place across the Ruvuma River. However, as their organisation heavily depended for support on the Makonde tribe, which straddled the border with Tanzania, and with their penetration route being restricted to remote northern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa, the rebels could not do much more but declare a limited number of “liberated areas. These were little more but places where their appearance was more or less tolerated by the Portuguese, or by other tribes living across northern and central Mozambique, foremost the Macuas.

Therefore, the FRELIMO could not penetrate areas south of Cabo Delgado and Niassa Provinces until 1967, by when most guerrilla activity was limited to short-range incursions of small groups, while there was only a minimum number of activists permanently living in Portuguese-controlled territories.

FAP in the Bush

Despite warnings about a possible insurgency, as well as the bloody uprising in Angola, the initial Portuguese reaction to FRELIMO was hesitant, largely through a lack of military resources, until such time as troop levels in Mozambique could be increased. The few small Army and Police units available in Cabo Delgado and Niassa withdrew into defended outposts and relied upon air attack with bombs and napalm and occasional forays on foot, all aimed at containment.

The Fuerza Aerea Portuguesa (FAP) had very few assets in Mozambique of the early 1960s. In late 1961, there was only a handful of North American T-6G Texans and Douglas C-47s deployed at Beira. These flew their first operational sorties early in 1963, targeting the few early bases the FRELIMO established in the north. By 1964, the Portuguese increased their strength in the country to 16.000 troops, and developed airfields at Nampula and Vila Cabral. The FAP followed the pattern by increasing the number of deployed aircraft to around a dozen of T-6Gs, eight Lockheed PV2 Harpoons, a dozen of Dornier Do.27s and few Aérospatiale SA.316B Alouette III helicopters.

Canadian-built Harvard Mk.IVs deployed with FAP in Mozambique mainly looked exactly like examples deployed in Angola. For COIN purposes they were usually armed with machine-gun pods and light bombs. The example here served in Mozambique in the early 1960s and is known to have been destroyed - under unknown circumstances - on 22 October 1967. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Between 1964 and 1966, when the rebels began operating in company-sized units, the war went on at only a very slow pace. FRELIMO established a central command in 1966, however, to better co-ordinate activities in different regions, and grew in size to 8.000 men by the following year. Most of the later were now trained in Tanzania, where the main training camp was located at Kongwa. Soviet aid became apparent, foremost in form of AK-47s and 82mm medium mortars, later also 75mm cannons and RPG-7s (or, more usually, Type 69, their Chinese version). The most effective weapon of guerrillas was the mine, however.

Air power was used to seal off guerrilla supply routes across the frontiers and as an immediate reaction to guerrilla attacks, but deployed assets increasingly proved insufficient. When the FAP became involved in the crisis surrounding Rhodesian declaration of independence, in 1966, and the PV-2s of the Esquadron 101 at Beira flew patrols to prevent British intervention in Mozambique, they had to be reinforced by eight Republic F-84Gs of Esquadron 93.

As originally delivered from the USA, most of FAP PV2s were painted in "Mid-nite" blue colour of the US Navy. Serving in a number of different roles in Portugal over the time, many have got different camouflage patterns, and their equipment varried considerably. Some retained their machine-gun turrets on the back, on others these were removed. Serials were always in white, in the 46xx range, applied on fins, upper side of the right wing, and lower side of the left. The example depicted here, serial 4617 (BuAerNo. 37233) was one of Harpoons that served with FAP in Mozambique, in the early 1960s. It crashed in February 1963. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

The 2nd Congress

In 1968, FRELIMO was reorganized during its 2nd Congress, with the division between civilian and military sectors being abolished, and the militia being deployed in sectors, each of which had ist own “battalion”, consisting of three 150-man companies, each with its own base. The “regular” fighters were backed up by the local People’s Militia. This reorganization was foremost possible – but also needed – because Zambia became independent and the new nation began providing bases for FRELIMO as well. The rebels were thus able to infiltrate the Tete province – twice the size of California – as well, posing a threat to the important Cabora Bassa Dam project, which provided extensive irrigation, navigation and power, and was meanwhile guarded by no less but 15.000 Portuguese troops. This dam included construction of a huge man-made lake, partially to form a barrier against possible rebel penetrations from Zambia. The rebels began receiving Soviet-made 122mm rockets, and these were frequently used to attack the dam. Usually fired from the maximum range of 16km, however, they never seriously interrupted the work. Nevertheless, the FAP commitment in Mozambique was meanwhile higher than either in Guinea of Angola.

The main FAP unit in the country was Esquadron 101, established in 1966 and equipped with Harpoons as well as several T-6Gs. However, the subsequent FAP deployment in Mozambique was based on the concept of airfields, Bases Aéreas (BA), and Aérodromos-Bases (ABs), which were the main centres of operations, rather than on squadrons. Beira became BA.10 already back in 1961, and later included the Esquadron 101, while the AB.5 was also formed there, before moving to Nacala, in 1965. Vila Cabral was AB.6 until it moved to Nova Freixo, in 1965, while AB.7 was formed at Tete, in 1967, simultaneously with AB.8, formed at Lourenco Marques, in the south. The later became the second most important transport base in Mozambique, with Escuadrilha 801, while Nord Noratlases operated from BA.10. Many other airfields were used, including Mueda and Porto Amelia in the north, as well as 40 other strips suitable for light aircraft around the country.

Portuguese Fiats

The rebel campaign in the Tete region during 1968, was inhibited by the migration of a large proportion of the native population into Malawi, as well as in-fighting within FRELIMO, which resulted in the death of at least one of its senior commanders. Nevertheless, the movement was officially recognized by the Organization of African States (OAS), which significantly increased its prestige.

The inner struggle within the rebel organisation reached its high point in early 1969. After the traditionalists were expelled, during the 2nd Congress, and their leader Kavandame went over to the Portuguese, on 3 February 1969, FRELIMO leader Mondlane was killed by a book bomb at his base in Dar-es-Salam. He was succeeded by the much less moderate Samora Machel, later in the year. Under Machel’s leadership, the rebels became much bolder in their attacks. Using Zambia as a base, they managed to break out of the northern provinces.

Initially, the Portuguese reacted foremost with vicious air strikes; the situation of the rebels further worsened when Gen. Kaulza de Arriaga – later nick-named the “Pink Panther” – became the ground force commander, in May 1969. Mainstay of Portuguese air operations in 1968 and for most of 1969, were still the venerable T-6 Texans and Dornier Do.27s. Until that time, FAP tactics mainly consisted of spotting and liaison – tasks in which the Do.27s were excelling. Attacks on guerrilla groups were mainly undertaken by T-6Gs, armed with machine-gun- and rocket pods. Napalm was used as well, already from an early stage of the war. During more extensive operations paratroopers were dropped by Noratlases, but more usually troops were transported by Alouette III helicopters, large numbers of which were based at Nacala. The Portuguese obtained a total of 30 Noratlases, including 18 ex-West German examples: the elephant marking of LTG.62 was not only retained on a number of aircraft but also applied on some supplied from other sources.

With FRELIMO extending its areas of operations and obtaining heavier weapons, however, more advanced aircraft were required. On 25 December 1968, the first eight Fiat G.91R-4s arrived at Beira, disassembled and stored in containers. Despite the Christmas- and New-Year festivities, only six days later all were assembled and transferred to AB.5, entering service with the newly-established Esquadron 502 “Os Jaguares”, commanded by Capt. Fernandes. This unit joined the Esquadra 501 Tigres, equipped with omnipresent T-6s and Do.27s, in order to constitute the Grupo Operacional 5001. Fiats were soon in combat, flying a high number of combat sorties and using napalm extensively: given the size of territory they were required to cover, their pilots had a massive piece of work at hands.

Initially on their arrival in Mozambique, FAP G.91R-4s were painted in tropical light grey overall - a colour that was foremost to decrease the effects of the sun. The aircraft also carried large national insgnia, while several Fiats of the 702 Esquadra (including examples 5425 and 5429) were seen wearing the large unit insignia - a black scorpion - on mid-fuselage as well. The example depicted here, 5404, was seen at Beira, in the early 1970s. For attack operations in Mozambique, FAP G.91s were usually armed with four 12.7mm machine-guns, four 50kg bombs (carried on outboard underwing pylons), and carried two drop tanks (on inboard pylons). (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Gordian Knot

In order to stop the spread of FRELIMO’s influence, the Gen. Arriaga prepared a major operation, “Gordian Knot”. This was launched on 10 June 1970, in northern Mozambique. Some 10.000 troops were involved, but main fighting was undertaken by elite units of Portuguese paratroops, commandos, marines and naval fusiliers – meanwhile mainly consisting of black troops. Extensive use was also made of units of captured or deserted guerrillas to penetrate their former bases. Cavalry was deployed to cover the flanks of patrols and where the terrain was too difficult to motor transport. Known rebel bases were subjected to heavy air and artillery bombardment, then heliborne troops were flown in to surround and eliminate the guerrillas. Gordian Knot saw excellent coordination of light bombers, helicopters and reinforced ground patrols. Fiats and T-6s were at hand to attack escapers, but no strikes were undertaken against FRELIMO bases in neighbouring countries. The operation was to last seven months, especially during the dry-season, and extended into the Moxico Province. The Portuguese eventually reported 651 as killed (a figure of some 440 was most likely closer to reality), and 1.840 captured, for the loss of 132 Portuguese. Gen. Arriaga also claimed his troops to have destroyed 61 guerrilla bases and 165 camps, while 40 tons of ammunition had been captured in the first two months.

During Gordian Knot, the FAP was reinforced by eight additional Fiat G.91R-4s, delivered directly to Tete AB. These fighters entered service with the newly-established Esquadra 702 “Os Escorpiones”, commanded by Capt. Azabuja, in September 1970. The “Escorpiones” was a part of the Grupo Operacional 7001, which otherwise included the Esquadra 701 “Moscordos”, equipped with T-6s, Do.27s, and Cessna 185s, as well as Esquadra 703 “Os Vampiros”, equipped with Alouette III and Aérospatiale SA.330B Puma helicopters.

Beside flying strikes against FRELIMO bases and armed-reconnaissance missions, FAP Fiats were deployed in reconnaissance role, equipped with K-20 camera-pods. These not only enabled photographing of areas behind the Mozambiquan borders, but also cartographing the whole part of the country along the border to Zambia. Close-support sorties, however, were almost unheard of – mainly because of very poor cooperation between the FAP and the army. The Portuguese soldiers were not only badly equipped, but also the liaison between pilots and ground forces never existed, and there were no efforts to improve the situation.

The FPLM thus continued extending its influence southwards along the Zambezi River – even if sometimes at a much higher price – but was unable to penetrate beyond the frontier regions of Cabo Delgado and Niassa, where the Portuguese had been well-prepared to meet the threat. In 1971, the Portuguese launched two additional offensives, Garotte and Apio. Both began with artillery- and air bombardments, followed by well-coordinated heliborne assaults, mine clearance and consolidation on foot, and caused heavy damage to FRELIMO’s infrastructure in the north. But, they failed to destroy the guerrilla capability of infiltration, resulting in Arriaga’s critics commenting that his predecessors had achieved the same results at much less cost and effort.

Search & Destroy

The Portuguese tried hard to clear Tete Province, in part due to the Rhodesian pressure upon their upper ranks, but were unsuccessful. The top Portuguese brass in Mozambique lacked understanding of the nature of guerrilla warfare: although many of them had by then seen service in Angola and Guinea, they never integrated British experiences from Indochina, or even US experiences from Vietnam. Portuguese actions were based on decision-making of local commands, who usually needed days if not weeks to prepare operations upon receiving information about appearance of FRELIMO groups. They never acted immediately on a tip-off, with the result that by the time most of operations were launched, the birds had usually flown. Attacks were undertaken only by daylight, and locals threatened indiscriminately: during their operations, the Portuguese destroyed anything in their path, livestock, crops and villages. The locals would be rounded up for questioning and anyone acting in a suspicious manner would be arrested. Those attempting to escape would be regarded as “fleeing terrorists”, and most usually shot; if they escaped, nobody attempted to follow them. Without surprise, anybody who experienced such “search and destroy” operations was likely to become a supporter of FRELIMO.

Meanwhile, the FAP began utilizing aircraft for chemical and psychological warfare. In December 1971, and again in May 1972, Portuguese transports dropped millions of leaflets over southern Tanzania, attacking President Nyerere and purporting to represent the views of internal opposition. On 30 April 1972, six South African-registered crop dusters flew from Johannesburg to Nacala, and then to Mueda,, from where they operated with FAP escort, beginning with 6 April. Their task was to deprive the guerrilla of food through spraying the powerful 2,4-D-based herbicide Convolvotox. The crop dusters were usually escorted by FAP T-6Gs, one of which was brought down during such an operation, on 14 April, by anti-aircraft fire from a village across the Rovuma river, in Tanzania. Three days later, the Portuguese hit back: G.91s attacked the village using 50kg and 100kg bombs. Nevertheless, South African pilots have left Mozambique after another escorting T-6G and one of crop-dusters were hit by ground fire, on 17 April.

The Hearts and Minds Campaign

Trough the late 1960s, the Portuguese strategy slowly started to change. Back in 1968, Gen. Antonio de Spinola began pursuing the policy of concentration of population in strategic hamlets or defended villages. Spinola initiated a co-ordinated “hearts and minds” campaign, named the “Aldeamentos Programme”, based on building new villages and improving farms, establishing medical centres, cattle dips and a road-building effort that achieved a rate of 1.400km per annum by 1972 – more than the USA had built in six years in Vietnam or Britain in 12 years in Malaya. Contrary to Gen. Arriaga, Spinola believed the war to be winnable, but had doubts as to whether a purely military solution was feasible. The fact was, however, that although a million people – some 15% of Mozamiquan population at the time – was resettled, Spinola’s campaign of civil development not only suffered a setback, but eventually failed: according to contemporary assessments, up to a third of the food grown in the Aldeamentos went straight to the guerrillas, for example.

The worries of Arriaga and officers who shared his opinion increased when on 9 November 1972, FRELIMO – still numbering not more but 8.000 fighters – launched a large offensive in Tete Province. The response from the Portuguese military was fierce, leading to dramatic reprisals in villages through to be supporting the guerrilla. Due to atrocities, as well as the fact that the Portuguese were quite happy to let the insurgents control the bush while holding onto towns, communications links and strongpoints, the insurgents spread their influence. By 1973, they were operating in Beira and Zambezia Provinces, threatening even the railway line with Rhodesia. Several times, therefore, the Portuguese and Rhodesian forces joined their efforts in major pursuit operations.

The Portuguese had over 150.000 men in Africa by 1970: in proportion to the Portuguese population, this represented a troop level five times greater than the American presence in Vietnam in the same year. Over 70.000 troops were stationed in Mozambique. But all the effort was in vain: contemporary observers concluded that the Portuguese effort in this war was of the lowest quality of all of their wars fought in Africa of the late 1960s and 1970s. By 1973, the high command had lost control: as a consequence, Arriaga was recalled in July – but the damage had already been done. Still, their defeat was anything but sure, even if there was a belief that this war could not be won.


In 1973, the FAP had 16 Fiat G.91s, 15 T-6s, five Noratlas and seven C-47/DC-3 transports, 14 Alouettes, and two Pumas deployed in Mozambique. The air force was now more active than ever before, and Fiats of Esquadras 502 and 702 flew dozens of combat sorties each month. Correspondingly, from 1973 the regular FRELIMO-units in northern Mozambique – meanwhile well-supported by China – began receiving SA-7 MANPADs. The first SA-7s were encountered in action by Maj. Costa Joaquim and Lt. Macario. The weapon is not known to have caused any losses to the FAP, even if it forced Portuguese pilots to change their tactics. In one case a DC-3 carrying foreign military attaches and members of the senior Portuguese military command was hit by a SA-7 in one of the engines. The crippled plane managed to land safely and was later repaired. The only Fiat known to have been lost in the course of combat in Mozambique was the G.91R-4 “5429”, flown by Lt. Emilio Lourenco: his plane was destroyed while flying a strike against FRELIMO positions, on 15 March 1973, due to a premature detonation of bombs it released. The pilot was killed.

The FAP suffered another loss on 8 January 1974, when the Douglas VC-47B “FAP-6161” (14134/255579) crashed near Vila Cabral, under unknown circumstances. Additional Fiats might have been damaged in a spectacular attack by FRELIMO mortars against AB.10, in 1974, when the rebels have set the local fuel depot afire. Three replacement G.91R-4s are known to have subsequently been delivered on board FAP Boeing 707 transports.

The attack against AB.10 came actually as no surprise: by the late 1973, the FPLM units were operating not far from Beira, and in the spring of 1974 the rebels launched an offensive into the south, exploiting the slackening Portuguese resistance – especially after the coup in Lisbon. By the time, the war had cost Portugal 11.000 dead and 30.000 wounded or disabled, and the Portuguese military was increasingly demoralized fighting a war thousands of miles from home. Professional soldiers were faced with unenthusiastic conscripts and anti-war subalterns, as well as growing indifference at home, but also increasing hostility from white colonists with whom the army had little sympathy. The later questioned the courage, morale and integrity of the military, and hated its increasing reliance of the army on black troops. The war had also very adverse effects on the already weakened Portuguese economy, especially as the defence expenditure rose from 25% in 1960, to over 40% by 1967. Portuguese civilians were among the most heavily taxed in Europe. Furthermore, international criticism damaged Portugal’s international prestige, putting the government under fierce pressure. It was time for Portugal to vacate its African possessions.

Eventually, negotiations were organized to agree a cease-fire and terms for independence. The cease-fire in Mozambique came into effect on 8 September 1974. An exodus of Portuguese settles began, keeping the FAP busy for months to follow. Aside from flying thousands of civilians back to Portugal, the FAP transports also evacuated G.91R-4s of the Esquadron 702 to Angola, while Fiats of Esquadron 502 were shipped to Portugal.

Upon appearance of SA-7 MANPADs in Mozambique, most of Fiats were overpainted in "anti-radiation olive green" colour, of which there were two versions, the lighter one - shown here - and the more widespread shade, rather similar to the "bronze green" in use on US Army helicopters. The size of national insignia and other markings was considerably decreased. The look of special instructions around aircraft camouflaged this way is not entirely clear, however, then the photographic evidence is insufficient. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Map of most important airfields, installations and areas of wars in Mozambique, with Portuguese designations of local airfields. (Map by Tom Cooper, based on Encarta 2003)


Meanwhile, on the political scene, the Portuguese launched a last-minute attempt to form more moderate African political parties in what was soon to become their former colony. This attempt failed: when Mozambique became independent, on 25 June 1975, and the power was transferred to FRELIMO – which represented less than 10% of the local population at best – Machel became president with no apparent formalized opposition.

The new regime swiftly reorganized the FPLM into official Mozambiquan military – the Forcas Armadas de Mocambique (FAM). This was a small armed force of between 20.000 and 24.000 fighters, trained along conventional lines and armed with Soviet-made equipment. It had no rank structure (this was introduced only in September 1985, when also the Mozambiquan officer corps was established), and consisted of the centrally-controlled Army, Exercito de Mozambique, territorial forces and militia, and the Border Guards (Tropas de Guarda Frontiera). The Air and naval forces were organized as well, but played a much less important role, then the principal duty of FAM was to keep the FRELIMO regime in power.

Like the Portuguese military before, the FAM was not trained or equipped to fight a COIN war, and organized on the basis of provincial commands, each of which reported directly to FAM Headquarters. Each provincial command controlled the major army units within its limits, the sole centrally-controlled elements being eight motorized infantry brigades, an armoured brigade, and a dozen or so independent battalions, plus special troops – including the Presidential Guard in Maputo.

Due to completely irrational and irresponsible decisions of Machel, the FAM was soon to become involved in the next war. Namely, Machel’s relations with Moscow were very close already since the late 1960s, but now very distinguished links were established, the country being clearly steered into the Communist block. This was causing serious disaffection among many FRELIMO members, especially traditionalists. Such disaffection was brutally suppressed after independence and – without surprise – already on 17 December 1975, there was an abortive coup in Lourenco Marques. By mid-1976, Machel’s government abolished the right of private property ownership, and shortly afterward the border with Rhodesia was closed. It did not took long until alienated FRELIMO fighters began an insurgency in Manica Province.

Rhodesian Externals

This was only the begin of problems for the regime in Maputo. Namely, to counter Machel government’s support to insurgents of Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), and its armed wing, Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), which were waging a war against the white regime in Rhodesia, the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) conceived a strong insurgency movement becoming operational inside Mozambique. Thus the Rhodesians joined a number of loosely-organized bands of resistance fighters into what officially became known as Resistencia Nacional de Mocambique – RENAMO. This title was not very well-known in the public of the time, however, which was the reason that for most of the late 1970s, Mozambiquan insurgent-movements were more usually referred to as “Mozambican National Resistance” (MRM) or the “Mozambican National Resistance” (MNR). The first RENAMO leader was André Matsangaisse, an ex-FRELIMO platoon commander, punished for theft and expelled from FAM before being placed in a re-education camp at Gorongosa. Matsangaisse joined the rebellion out of nationalist motives upon escaping from detention to Umtali. Recognized by Rhodesians as a strong leader, one of his first actions was to lead a raid against the detention camp at Gorongosa from which he escaped, freeing over 500 prisoners, most of them ex-FRELIMO fighters. At least 300 decided to join and followed him back into Rhodesia.

Right from the beginning, the CIO agents understood that the anti-regime sentiment was still too weak. The agency therefore set up a powerful 400kW radio station – nick-named “Big Bertha” – the Voz da Africa Libre (“Voice of Free Africa”) and begun transmitting anti-government propaganda in Portuguese from a transmitter in Gwelo. The new radio station soon became so popular with Mozambicans, that the Government sought the assistance of East German technicians to jam it. The powerful transmitter, however, defied all such efforts: step by step, Voz da Africa Libre was successful in focusing anti-regime sentiment and bring ever more disaffected FRELIMO fighters back to bush.

When the war began, the FAM had no defined COIN doctrine. Of course, the military attempted to address security management problems, but it failed to accomplish even this task: the FAM did not manage to maintain overland communications in order to enable troop movement and re-supply; it failed to contain the spread of RENAMO operations; and its capability to counterattack RENAMO forces remained limited at best until well into the mid-1980s.

Aside from facing an internal insurgency, the regime in Maputo and the FAM found themselves also on the receiving end of a whole series of Rhodesian strikes against ZANLA and camps of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) in the country. The first significant cross-country strike flown by the Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF), occurred on 28 February 1976, when Hawker Hunters attacked the ZANLA base in Pafuri, in the frame of Operation “Small Bang”, a raid by Rhodesian African Rifles and Selous Scouts. In late May 1976, the RhAF also struck at a ZIPRA arms depot. On 9 August, Rhodesian Selous Scouts attacked a ZANLA camp on the bend of the Pungwe River tributary, killing 600 personnel and causing the reminder to flee in Operation “Eland”.

A whole series of raids of different scale in size and ferocity followed between October 1976 and mid-May 1977. The RhAF English Electric Canberras and Hunters, helicopters as well as various units of Rhodesian Army – including Special Air Service (SAS), Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI), and Selous Scots – were deployed to hit various targets. The situation culminated with the Operation “Aztec”, when Selous Scouts hit ZANLA targets around Mapai, intending to restrict organisation’s movement into south-eastern Rhodesia. While the Rhodesians have lost a number of RhAF and civilian aircraft while fighting guerrillas insider their own borders, during the mid-1970s, the first RhAF loss during operations inside Mozambique occurred on the evening of 30 May 1977, when C-47A “R3702” was shot down following an attack on ZANLA guerrillas in the frame of the Operation Aztec. The starboard engine of the aircraft was hit by an RPG-7 during depart from Mapai airfield, and the plane crashed, killing Flt.Lt. Collocott, one of crewmembers. On the following morning, Hunters of No.1 Squadron RhAF carried out attacks on FRELIMO and ZANLA bases around Jorge de Limpopo, but were unable to spot enemy mortar positions. Aztec ended on 2 June, with limited Rhodesian success.

In autumn 1978, Rhodesian SAS was deployed in a number of missions well inside Mozambique. Usually, the operators were parachuted in to find targets and designate them for Hunter- and Canberra-strikes. Some of these combined operations, foremost “Melon” and “Dingo”, resulted not only in considerable losses for ZANLA and ZIPRA, but also in heavy losses and destruction of several FAM units. In late November, Operation Dingo was launched against targets in Zambia before the Rhodesian Hunters and Canberras returned to hit the ZANLA camp at Tembue, NE of the Cabora Bassa lake, in Mozambique. Although equipped with a significant number of anti-aircraft artillery pieces and SA-7s, the Mozambiquan military, ZANLA and ZIPRA rebels proved practically defenceless against Rhodesian strikes. They have lost immense amounts of arms and suffered considerable casualties causing negligible Rhodesian losses in exchange. This was later to become the direct reason for establishment of the Mozambiquan Air Force as an armed branch.

The process of founding the Mozambiquan Air Force proved to be a lengthy and complex task, however, and was to take years to accomplish. Before it was so far, therefore, the most the Mozambiquans and the rebels they supported could to was to fire increasing numbers of SA-7s at RhAF aircraft attacking them. Due to excellent training of Rhodesian pilots, very few of MANPADs came anywhere near their targets, however, and most of the strikes flown during the next Rhodesian offensive into Mozambique were practically unopposed. The situation changed completely during the last large-scale Rhodesian incursion, Operation Uric. This brought savage attacks of RhAF Hunters and Canberras against targets in Mapai area, on 5 September 1979, including FAM radar stations, anti-aircraft gun emplacements and warehouses: immense damage was caused to several installations used for supporting infiltrations into Rhodesia. However, this operation signalized also the “beginning of the end” for Rhodesians, then it was not considered as success, especially as the later began to suffer unacceptably high losses. A RhAF Alouette III was shot down already on the first day of the offensive, by an RPG-7, and a South African Air Force Puma transport helicopter involved in supporting the Rhodesian operation was brought down on the following day, killing 12.

Between 28 September and 3 October 1979, Canberras and a Hunters flew a series of strikes against the huge base at Chimoio, holding some 6.000 ZANLA guerrillas, as well as a FAM column moving towards Rhodesian border. Although the main base was eventually occupied and destroyed, during bitter fighting on 30 September, resulting in most of it’s the rebels in situ being either dead or wounded, the Rhodesians were not successful in the end. The approaching FAM column proved a particularly tough nut to crack, then a Canberra and a Hunter each were shot down, with the loss of all crewmembers, including the Hunter-pilot, Flt.Lt. Brian Gordon. This was also the last Rhodesian operation of this kind in Mozambique: only two months later a cease-fire was agreed, and the war in Rhodesia ended.

RENAMO Expansion

While the state of the Mozambican insurgency in 1977 and 1978 was dominated by Rhodesian interests, and the Rhodesian armed forces were hitting different targets in the country almost at will, a number of other oppositional groups emerged, including the Mozambican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario de Mocambique, PRM), active in the provinces of Niassa and Tete, while elements of the Makonde ethnic group launched a rebellion in the north. By early 1979, the FRELIMO government was forced to admit that it had a serious security problem. Its increased security measures proved ineffective, however, and the rebels became active throughout the country, foremost in Manica, Sofala, Zambezia, and Tete Provinces.

The first major RENAMO action was undertaken on 23 March 1979, in the outskirts of Beira, supported by Rhodesian security personnel. In the following month the Tete-Mutarara rail line was sabotaged. The FAM reacted with an unsuccessful attack against the main rebel base in Gorongosa Massif. This did not impress anybody, but for the rest of the year most of the fighting concentrated to this area, and around the town of Macossa (which later fell to the rebels), even if the insurgency spread to the regions of Beira, Tete, Chimoio, and Maputo.

In October 1979, the FAM launched another attempt to destroy the main RENAMO base in the Gorongosa Masif. In the course of fierce battles, on 18 October, Matsangaisse was killed, and four days later the base had to be abandoned – after all non-Mozambicans were airlifted to Rhodesia – despite massive supply effort by RhAF. The rebels reacted with a ferocious attack against Espungabera, on the border with Zimbabwe, some 150km SE of Chimoio, on 1 December, during which the antipathy of their fighters for the regime in Maputo became obvious. All FRELIMO officials and sympathisers caught were decapitated and their heads impaled on stakes; all government facilities and infrastructure were destroyed.

Through 1980, most of insurgent attacks and fire contacts occurred through the Manica highlands and the Gorongosa Massif to the southern tip of Malawi, the rebels targeting infrastructure like railways, bridges, power stations and power lines. During the year, the control of the RENAMO was passed from the Rhodesian CIO to South African intelligence services. During the take-over period, the FAM gained upper hand on the rebels for some time, and in July attacked the Sitatonga Mountain camp, overrunning it in the process. No less but 272 rebels were claimed killed and 300 captured in what was apparently a successful operation, despite the loss of a FAPM spotter aircraft of unknown type to ground fire, on 11 October. Within the shortest possible period of time, however, the insurgents were under South African tutelage and recovering: the rapid regeneration of RENAMO was supported by a large-scale effort to train insurgents in the eastern Transvaal (under auspices of the 5th Reconnaissance Regiment South African Army), and keep them operational inside Mozambique with the help of a sizeable supply network. After training in Transvaal RENAMO fighters were flown up to border in SAAF transports and helicopters, and then deployed in combat. Therefore, through 1981, the rebels were regaining the initiative.

Mozambican MiGs

Following independence from Portugal, the fledgling state of Mozambique was given (at least) seven Noratlases, five or six Douglas C-47s, several T-6Gs, three Do.27s (unclear if any was operational), and four Alouette IIIs to found the nucleus of an air force. Originally, there was no fighting component, but Rhodesian external operations from the period 1976-1979 illustrated that this was a serious deficiency. Correspondingly, a decision was taken to establish an armed force, variously reported as designated the Fórca Populare de Mocambique or Fórca Populare Aérea de Libertacao de Mocambique (FAPM). The work initially progressed slowly, then the new branch had to be established completely from the scratch, the Mozambiquans previously having no qualified pilots or technicians.

First reports about delivery of MiGs to Mozambique were published in 1977, when several fighter jets – often said to have been MiG-17s – should have been seen at Nacala airfield. There is no evidence of any indeed arriving in the country before 1980, however, and it appears that these reports were rather describing the arrival of the first three Mil Mi-8s, or the first two Antonov An-26s (both of which were later seen with bomb shackles under their wings). The first 24 MiG-17s and at least two MiG-15UTIs arrived only in 1980, from the Soviet Union. By then, the FAPM had some 1.200 men. Having an official task of air defence and support to army operations by mid-1981 it operated two squadrons of MiG-17s, one transport-helicopter (equipped with Mi-8) and one transport squadron (flying Noratlases and An-26s). All flying assets were based in Maputo.

Not only at the time, but also for the rest of the 1980s, the FAPM suffered severe shortcomings in personnel quality and training, but even more so in maintenance and logistics. Although much new equipment was delivered during most of it remained useful for only short periods of times; the number of qualified pilots and technicians was never near even sufficient. Several early FAPM pilots also proved unreliable. On 8 July 1981, FAPM Lt. Adriano Bomba defected with his MiG-17 “Red 21” (c/n 5283) to Hoedspruit AB, in South Africa. He reported that by the time the FAPM already had 24 operational MiG-17s, two An-26s, seven Noratlas and five C-47s, as well as three Mi-8 helicopters. His reporting was confirmed by another Mozambiquan defector, who arrived in South Africa on 17 August 1981, flying a Cessna. Lieutenant Bomba’s MiG-17 was eventually returned by road to Mozambique, four months later: the South Africans had by the time carefully evaluated the plane, flying it in mock-combats against their Mirages, and had no requirement to keep what was possession of the Mozambiquan state.

This MiG-17 ("Glatt") was used Lt. Bomba for his defection to South Africa. The South Africans tested it extensivelly before returning this aircraft to Mozambique; it survived the war and was last seen in 1992 - albeit already in derelict condition. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

In a consequence, despite considerable investment and efforts, the FAPM was still not in control of the Mozambiquan skies, which meant that the South Africans were free to continue their clandestine support for RENAMO. The critical situation of the flying branch – as well as past experiences with Rhodesian externals – made this force extremely sensitive to any suspicious activity. Almost without surprise, on 1 August 1981, the FAPM air defence units shot down the Douglas C-47B “F-BJHC” (14311/25756) belonging to Hemet Exploration, on charter to Shell Oil, operating on a legitimate magnetometer survey near Beira. The plane deviated from the original route according to ATC instructions, and this caused it to be mistaken for a hostile transport. Consequently, it was shot down by SA-3 SAM.

Despite such setbacks – or because of them – the Soviets and foremost East Germans continued reinforcing the FAPM. Already in August 1981, East Germany delivered 12 MiG-17s and two MiG-15UTIs to form a third fighter-jet unit. The first ex-East German MiG-17F was test-flown by an East German pilot for the first time on 9 September, and these aircraft were in action already in October of the same year, flying strikes against RENAMO unit active along the railway line in Beira corridor. Their operations were not effective, then the type lacked COIN-warfighting capability and pilots lacked experience.

The sole MiG-15UTI delivered to Mozambique by East Germans was serialled "20". It was the former "04" of the East German Air Force ("NVA"), which served with JG-8 and JBG-31 in the 1960s and 1970s, respectivelly. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

One of the former East German MiG-17Fs was "22", which included some Czecholovak modifications, including additon of hardpoint for bombs and rockets. The aircraft wore the standard NVA camouflage pattern, consisting of brown and green over, and light blue under. Aside from aircraft, the East Germans delivered also 23- and 37mm ammunition, unguided rockets and light bombs. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Zimbabwean Intervention

From mid-1981 onward RENAMO began a revival, acquiring victory after victory over the FAM, despite increasing levels of Zimbabwean military assistance. By mid-June 1981, up to 3.000 rebels were concentrated in the vicinity of Espungabera, and additional were active along other parts of Zimbabwean border.

On 28 October 1981, RENAMO launched the first major offensive, operating against roads and railways between Beira and Zimbabwe. Already in the night to 29 October, several bridges on the railway and the main road in the Beira corridor were destroyed. The FAM was too weak and lacked COIN capability, therefore it limited itself to counterattacks with MiG-17s against rebels. The type proved almost useless fighting this kind of a war. The fighting through the year, together with deliveries of increasing amounts of foreign aid, illustrated the internationalization of this conflict – as now not only the South Africans, Soviets and East Germans, but also Zimbabwe was to become involved as well.

After negative experiences from 1981, in March 1982, FRELIMO reorganized the FAM, creating the post of FAM Deputy Chief of Staff and ten provincial military commanders, with the aim of improving command and control of local operations and combat effectiveness. Simultaneously, some 1.500 ex-FRELIMO fighters were recalled, and units of local militia established and armed. Nevertheless, by early 1983, RENAMO was active in six out of ten Mozambiquan provinces. Even more so, in January 1983, the rebels blew up the Beira-Mutare (Umtail) oil pipeline. This was a development the government in Harrare could not tolerate: in reaction, the Zimbabwean Defence Force (ZDF) was ordered to began deployment of the so-called “Special Task Force” of three Zimbabwean Army battalions along the Beira corridor, and along the Malawi-Zimbabwe road link, in the Tete Province.

Wings of the Golden Dove

To which degree was the AFZ capable of active participation in the Mozambiquan Civil War as of 1983, remains unclear then this force was in the state of turmoil at the time.

The ZDF went through a series of reorganizations in the early 1980s, staged to move it away from its Rhodesian origins. The Rhodesian Air Force was re-titled the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ), and while it retained the organisational structure, and originally remained largely manned and commanded by white Zimbabweans, a programme was launched to integrate an increasing number of blacks – especially former ZANLA and ZIPRA fighters – into its structure. Simultaneously, many former RhAF personnel became reservists, and the serviceability of the aircraft plunged, as many were put into storage for the lack of qualified personnel.

In the course of this re-organization – and with some British help – the new government purchased a limited number of new aircraft while retiring several older types. So it became that Zimbabwe was the launching customer for BAe Hawk, purchasing eight T.Mk.60s in 1981, as replacements for obsolete Vampires. The first eight Hawks were delivered to Gwelo/Gweru AB (former Tornhill), on 1 June 1982, and they entered service with No.6 Squadron, replacing obsolete DeHavilland Vampires. Almost simultaneously with Hawks, the AFZ purchased also five ex-Kenya Air Force Hunters via the British aircraft sales organization Staravia.

Barely two months after delivery of Hawks, in the night of 25 July, the South Africans staged an attack against AFZ aircraft parked at Gweru that caused considerable losses. One Hawk (602) was destroyed and four damaged, two of these so heavily they have had to be rebuilt. Also destroyed were four Hunters and a Reims-Cessna FTB.337 Lynx, while three Hunters were damaged. The sabotage of AFZ aircraft at Gweru was a heavy blow for AFZ, also because initially white aircraft and technicians were accused of being involved and many placed under duress. As a result, most of them decided to leave, and the capability of the air force declined even further, despite deliveries of additional new aircraft. Namely, in October 1982, remaining four Hawks from the original order were delivered (two re-built examples were re-delivered from the UK in 1984), and in April 1984, the AFZ acquired five former RAF Hunter FGA.9s from the UK, to restore the strength of No.1 Squadron (two additional Hunter FGA.9s were delivered in September 1987).

By the time, this unit – like the whole AFZ – depended heavily on Pakistani support, as well as foreign pilots (including Australians) to remain operational. By 1983, the situation became so desperate, that Mugabe had to request Pakistan to detach one of its higher officers to act as the commander of the AFZ. Correspondingly, Air Marshal Norman Walsh, former ex-RhAF Hunter pilot and Chief-in-Command AFZ from 1981 to 1983, was replaced by Air Vice Marshal Azim Dauputa, who was to remain in this position until January 1986. Daudputa was a very respected officer, and a hero from the 1965 war with India. With him, a large number of other PAF officers arrived in Zimbabwe as well.

Exact details about the AFZ involvement in the Mozambiquan Civil War as of 1983, remain largely unknown. It appears that C-47s were used to support the first phase of Special Task Force’s deployment, but it is quite certain that the Zimbabwean flew no combat operations. Namely, while President Robert Mugabe pledged assistance by his armed forces to FAM in the struggle against RENAMO already at Zimbabwe’s independence, this promise was still not entirely kept with the ZDF deployment along the Beira corridor. However, faced itself with the Matabele insurgency along the borders to South Africa, Zimbabwean government was careful to avoid direct confrontation with Pretoria, or provoking South Africans by direct involvement against Mozambiquan rebels. The ZDF therefore received the order to secure only the local installations, but not become involved in active operations against RENAMO.

The Back and Forth War

Meanwhile, the reorganisation of FAM came amid bitter political infighting within FRELIMO. The 4th Congress of the party, held between 26 and 30 April 1983, resulted in the demotion of a number of top leaders. The party attempted to broaden its popular base, and simultaneously demanded the FAM to search for solution in the fight against RENAMO. Within the military many argued that the FAM needed to counter the rebels with a COIN doctrine, but the emphasis in training remained on conventional Warsaw Pact doctrine. Eventually, large portions of the population remained alienated from the government. The insurgents were not welcomed with open arms everywhere, however, then ethnic and regional differences remained strong. Besides, RENAMO’s modus operandi, while proving quite effective in establishing control over large parts of the country, included atrocities against the civilian population.

During the year, the FAPM was further enlargened through addition of 12 MiG-17s, as well as the first batch of MiG-21bis. The deliveries of MiG-21s began already in 1982; interestingly no sighting of two-seat variants – like MiG-21UM – was ever reported from Mozambique. The helicopter arm was increased as well through the first six Mil Mi-25 helicopter gunships and up to 12 Mi-8s. The Mozambiquan Air Force now boasted the strength of some 2.000 men, organized into eight operational squadrons: four fighter-bomber units (flying MiG-17s and MiG-21s), one attack helicopter squadron (with Mi-25s), one transport-helicopter unit (with Mi-8s) and one transport squadron (still equipped with surviving Noratlases, now gradually replaced by eight An-26s and two An-12, mainly used to move troops to centres of disturbance). The FAPM also operated two flying schools. Contrary to what could be expected, Mi-25s and Mi-8s were mainly deployed to support local units in tightening their guard of towns and facilities.

At the time, RENAMO had between 5.000 and 6.000 trained personnel in Mozambique, based in a network of hundreds of camps, spanning the country from the Zimbabwe border to the Indian Ocean. Equipped with sophisticated British-made Racal radios and supplied by frequent nocturnal air drops, they were better equipped for this kind of war than their opposition. Nevertheless, the RENAMO established no “liberated” zones as such – like in Angola, where UNITA held areas from which the government presence had been completely expelled. Instead, the rebels shifted their attention from one area to the other. In summer 1983, this was Inhambane province, in the south, further adding to Government's problems. Despite initial gains, however, the RENAMO offensive was hampered by poor weather and lack of support by the local population. Also damaging was the FAM offensive that destroyed the Tome base camp, a major centre for operations in three provinces, in August 1983. This operation was followed by a major offensive, called “The 50th Birthday of President Samora Machel” and launched in October, in Gaza province, Inhambane, Sofala, and Manica. Despite the grandiose name and vast effort, the FAM was able to claim only 318 insurgents killed and 102 captured, together with 222 weapons.

"208" was one of early MiG-21bis in Mozambiquan service. They were used extensivelly for attacking rebels along the Beira corridor, in 1982 and 1983. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Nkomati Accords

By early 1984, RENAMO had clearly bested the FAM in central Mozambique, destabilizing the FRELIMO government in the process, while enabling the rebels to roam the countryside and strike at will. Eventually, the regime in Maputo was forced to enter serious negotiations with the South African government, designed to ensure that each government would cease support for the other’s dissidents (the Mozambiquans were supporting the armed insurgency of the African National Congress in South Africa). On 16 March 1984, Mozambique and South Africa reached an agreement, designed to normalise relations under the conditions noted above. This agreement, to become known as Nkomati Accords, ascertained that South Africa withdrew formal support to RENAMO; many thought that this would mean a sudden collapse of the insurgency....

The opposite was the case. Elements within South African government, and especially military intelligence, continued to support the insurgents – foremost via the Comoro Islands. Supply flights thus continued during 1984, even if at a much decreased level. RENAMO did not collapse also because the organisation was given a “golden handshake” by South Africans immediately before the signing of the Nkomati Accords: two years of weapons, ammunition and other supplies.

On the verge of collapse, the FAM was once again saved by Zimbabweans: with South African hands bound by the agreement, the ZDF was free to unilaterally undertake operations against RENAMO targets. The three ZDF battalions already deployed in Mozambique were within weeks reinforced to 12.000 men: instead of guarding the Beira corridor, a better part of these moved to fight in the south. For more than a year, with extensive Zimbabwean help, the regime in Maputo prepared a large combined operation, “Grapefruit”. This was launched on 28 August 1985, with attack against central RENAMO HQs at Casa Banana with its 800m long runway, at the base of the Gorongosa Massif. No less but 2.000 Zimbabwean paras were dropped behind the town, while heliborne FAM troops approached from the east with gunship and fighter support. After fierce fighting, on 6 September the rebels withdrew to centre their activities on Inhaminga, which was subsequently been the scene of repeated MiG-17 attacks. FAPM fighters flew several dozens of interdiction and close-support sorties, but during the battle RENAMO claimed three AFZ helicopters, two FAPM Mi-25s, one MiG-17, and even an Ethiopian MiG-21 as shot down. The Government probably suffered some losses, but these claims were definitely exaggerated considering the fact that the rebels possessed no better anti-aircraft weapons but 14.7mm heavy machine-guns. On the contrary, the fall of Casa Banana was a serious setback for insurgency: even if the rebels managed to evacuate the area, they had lost significant quantities of weapons and ammunition, as well as other supplies.

This and the following operations – foremost the one that saw the capture of the insurgent base at Indoro, on 13 September, as well as the capture of the camp complex near Vuruca, seven days later – forced RENAMO to change the modus operandi. Until this time, insurgent camps had been large, relatively accessible installations. Increased ZDF ground and air involvement forced the insurgents to relocate and reconfigure their camps: camouflage and small size became the main issue, required to decrease dangers from FAPM air strikes. Despite setbacks, RENAMO continued own offensive operations elsewhere, and captured several cities in the process. On 18 December 1985, Caia was captured. When the 1st Brigade ZDF attempted to retake the place, two weeks later, it suffered heavy losses. Even more so, on 24 January a helicopter carrying its deputy commander – Col. Flint Magama – was shot down by RENAMO: Magama and several other high Zimbabwean officers were killed.

The FAPM received up to 12 Mi-25s, about which very little is known, except that they operated from Beira and Maputo, and were in service by a single unit. RENAMO rebels claimed at least three as shot down, but without ever providing firm evidence for their claims. Reporteldy, only four or five of these helicopters remained operational by the end of the war. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Machel’s End

The situation of government troops worsened further when in the night from 14 to 15 February 1986 the FAM unit that was left by the Zimbabweans to hold the Casa Banana area was overrun by a 400-man RENAMO force and routed. The Government garrison lost all of its equipment in the process, including two BTR-60PBs, several trucks, a large quantity of ammunition and all heavy weapons. Another blow was the loss of a FAPM An-26 “042”, on 30 March 1986, which crashed near Pemba following a malfunction, killing all 49 on board.

Reorganizing available units, the ZDF concentrated 3.000 troops – supported by 24 AFZ and FAPM helicopters – for another attack on Casa Banana. RENAMO had been forewarned, however, and withdrew 1.500 or so troops from four bases in the area: their camps were found empty, and the Zimbabweans were then faced by a serious of vicious insurgent counterattacks that caused ever more casualties and damage. The AFZ also suffered a loss at the time, when C-47A “7312” crashed at Maputo, killing all 17 on board.

Through the summer of 1986, the regime in Maputo and the ZDF were busy preparing another offensive. Some 1.500 Zambian troops were deployed near Maputo and Nacala as of October 1986. They were supported by several AFZ Hunters, and FAPM MiG-21s – no less of 48 of which were delivered from the USSR by the time. On 3 October, there was a meeting of high-level delegations from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, during which Zimbabweans promised additional aid. Meanwhile, the border to Malawi was closed and Machel was ready to deploy all of his MiGs for operations in the area, commenting: “We have 41 MiG-21s. The Victory is prepared. The victory is organized. It demands cold blood.” In the middle of a series of important meetings, on 19 October 1986, the FAPM Tupolev Tu-134A “C9-CAA” crashed near Mbuzini, only few meters from the border to South Africa, killing Samora Machel and his nearest supporters. Clearly, the South African Government was blamed, then it was clear to everybody by the time that the Nkomati Accords had virtually become a dead letter.

Exploiting the confusion, RENAMO launched a large-scale offensive from bases in the Malawi-Mozambique border area. Three groups of 8.000 fighters each moved, one into Tete province, another from southern Malawi toward the Zambezi, and the third from west of Milange into central Zambezia province. The insurgents also declared a war on Zimbabwe, and launched a number of attacks against tea-plantations near the border. The attack swept all before it, threatening the Beira corridor and pouring into the lower Zambezi River valley. Sena, Mutara, Vilanova, Bane and Vilacaia were captured and the situation in Zambezia was became especially grave when Quelimane was put under a siege. By 8 November, Ulongwe – the capital of Angonia district – was overrun, and this time sizeable rural areas remained under insurgent control.

The Sole Mozambiquan Tupolev Tu-134A, coded C9-CAA, always used for government VIP transport, crashed on 19 October 1986, killing President Samora Machel. For years there were rumours that the South Africans sabotaged the aircraft or even planted a bomb on it, but this incident was never sufficiently investigated. (Photo: Peter J. Bish)


RENAMO’s success from autumn 1986 was not of long duration. Already by early 1987, the FAM was reorganized again (the FAPM commander, Lt.Gen. Hama Thai replaced incompetent Col.Gen. Mabote as Chief-in-Command armed forces, for example) and in January it recaptured the lower Zambezi in cooperation with ZDF. In the following weeks and months, emphasis was finally put on organizing a much lighter COIN force and corresponding training on the basis of agreements with a number of countries, including Great Britain and Portugal.

RENAMO was still in good shape, however, and for most of 1987 the FAM struggled to fight back insurgent activity in Maputo area: the capital came several times under attack, and the traffic around it was under constant threat. In February, an AFZ CASA.212-200 light transport (believed to have been “808”) crashed in Mozambique under unknown circumstances: the Zimbabweans are known to have used the type not only for transport duties, but also as platform for nocturnal attacks with make-shift bombs.

In April 1987, RENAMO lost another of its main bases, at Morrumbala, but the situationw as really stabilized only on 20 November, when government troops began an operation that culminated four days later with the storming of Matsenquenha base, just three kilometres from the South African border. This operation saw considerable involvement of the FAPM, as MiG-21s and Mi-25s repeatedly hit insurgent positions and bases. By the end of the year, the FAM was successful in taking the initiative against RENAMO in many parts of the country.

Combat operations slowed down considerably in the months afterwards, with only the Zimbabweans remaining active, even if they now had only some 10.000 troops in the country – two battalions less then in the period 1985-1986. In fact, the ZDF even expanded its areas of operations to the Zambezia province, and the Chicualacuala Railway line. The AFZ also began deploying newly-delivered Chengdu F-7N fighters in combat, mainly from base in Mozambique. The most notable Zimbabwean operation in 1989 was undertaken in July and August, when bases in Gorongosa came under attack again, the ZDF attempting to kill RENAMO leader Dhlakama as he was leaving for negotiations in Nairobi. Supported by AFZ and FAM fighter-bombers and helicopters, a ZDF brigade-sized task force was deployed, but the insurgents evaded and disappeared in time and then claimed up to a dozen of enemy aircraft and helicopters as shot down.

Otherwise, the year 1989 brought drastic changes. In June, the Soviets announced their decision to pull out all of their 800 advisors from Mozambique and decrease aid for the FAM to minimum. Simultaneously, liberalisation by the government of economic and political structures, begun after Machel’s death, removed RENAMO’s raison d’etre. In June 1989, the Government announced a programme to completely liberalise political and economic activity, and seek international mediation of the civil war. Contacts were established with rebels and – despite complications – there were negotiations in Rome, in July and August 1990, resulting in ZDF units being pulled back into the Beira corridor and then significantly reduced, pending their withdrawal. The South African authorities also took actions against elements supplying aid to RENAMO.

Meanwhile, RENAMO’s rural support base had been serious eroded: due to a major drought that lasted already since 1986, much of rural population was forced to move away from their farms and villages. The drought meant also a disruption of the farming that had helped rebel base camps to be self-sufficient in the production of food. When insurgents began to demand food from locals, their relations worsened. The RENAMO eventually lost the propaganda war as well: the end of the Cold War meant that there was no US or South African interest any more to support an insurgency against what was considered a leftist regime in Maputo. Instead, the rebels found themselves facing fierce criticism for their poor record regarding human rights at the time the Government had committed itself to internal economic reforms and political liberalisation.

The rebellion in Mozambique thus died of “natural causes”, in 1992 and 1993. In the last two years of its existence, the RENAMO was involved in desultory operations only. Even if the morale of FAM and FAPM was rapidly declining, the rebels were not able of more but to maintain a stalemate in draught-ravaged countryside, increasingly unable to support it.

The decline in morale of the Mozambiquan armed forces came foremost from the fact that already since 1989, the government drastically decreased the spending for defence. Very little is known about FAPM operations in the final years of the war, down to few reports about its- and the losses of various companies operating in the country. On 25 November 1991, for example, a C-47B “C9-STD” of Scan Transport Aèros (STASA), overshot the runway in Beira during landing, banked steeply to the left and crashed into trees, killing one of the crew of three. ON 10 June 1992, the An-32B “CCCP-48058” chartered by Aero Pulse, overshot the runway in Marromeu and broke into three parts while on a food relief flight. Finally, sometimes in 1993 a FAPM An-26 was written off after it missed the runway on landing in Cuamba and ended in the grass, killing one of squatters there. Most of FAPM aircraft – except transports and helicopters, which were still much required – were left to root where parked for the last time. Large numbers of MiG-17s and MiG-21s were left to root, and by the early 1990s most were reported as in derelict condition.

Some 150.000 of people were estimated as killed in this war to that date; the number of injured – and especially that of persons maimed by mines – is not likely to ever become known.

Contrary to "Red 208", this and several other FAPM MiG-21bis have got their serials outlined in black. It is possible that the way the serial was applied distinguished aircraft belonging to specific units. This MiG was last seen in decaying condition at the military side of the Maputo IAP, in the early 1990s. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

"Blue 247" was not much different to other FAPM MiG-21bis, except that its serial was applied in blue. Other known serials of Mozambiquan MiG-21s are "Yellow 202" and "Red 240": almost all wer applied in a slightly different style, some with, othes without the outline. This aircraft was last seen parked in front of the local flying school, in Beira, in 1997, in decaying condition, apparently after suffering damage during some kind of an accident - perhaps connected to the collapse of the left main landing gear struit. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)

Sources & Bibliography

Extended excerpts from this article were published in the book "African MiGs", SHI Publications, Vienna (Austria), 2004, (ISBN: 3-200-00088-0).

Except for own research and materials kindly supplied by contributors on ACIG.org forum, especially Mr. Pit Weinert, the following sources of reference were used:

- “CONTINENT ABLAZE; the Insurgency Wars in Africa, 1960 to the Present”, by John W. Turner, ISBN 1-85409-128-X, Arms and Armour Press, 1998

- "MODERN AFRICAN WARS 2: ANGOLA AND MOZAMBIQUE 1961-74" Osprey's "Men-At-Arms" Series No.202, by Peter Abbott and Manuel Rodriguez, Osprey 1988, 1989, 1995.

- "MODERN AFRICAN WARS 3: SOUTH-WEST AFRICA" Osprey's "Men-At-Arms" Series No.242, by Helmoed-Römer Heitman and Paul Hannon, Osprey 1991.

- "THE WORLD IN CONFLICT; Contemporary Warfare Described and Analysed, War Annual 7", by John Laffin, Brassey's, 1996 (ISBN: 1-85753-196-5)

- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989

- "Flugzeuge der NVA in Afrika", by Jürgen Roske, Fliegerrevue 6/92 (German magazine), 1992

© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org

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