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Guiné (Portuguese Guinea), 1959-1974
By Tom Cooper and Pedro Alvin
Nov 13, 2003, 02:36

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Portuguese Colonial Wars: Guiné 1960-1974


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).

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 segregation in the USA, or 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.




FAP in Africa, 1960

The Portuguese Air Force (“FAP”) was officially founded as a separate branch of military in 1952, and played a crucial role during the wars in the Portuguese-Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique.

The basic unit of the FAP at the time was a wing = Esquadra. With few exceptions, each Esquadra flew a different type of aircraft, but later in the 1960s, several wings equipped with various types were organized as well. The most important Esquadras of the 1950s and 1960s were:

- Esquadra 10, Republic F-47
- Esquadra 11, Republic F-47
- Esquadra 20, Republic F-84G and Lockheed T-33A
- Esquadra 21, Republic F-84G Thunderjet
- Esquadra 31, North American T-6, Dornier Do.27, and Auster
- Esquadra 32, Junkers Ju-52, Nord 1505 Noratlas
- Esquadra 33, Aerospatiale SA.316B
- Esquadra 61, Lockheed PV-2 and Lockheed P2V-5
- Esquadra 62, Lockheed PV-2
- Esquadra 51, North American F-86F
- Esquadra 52, North American F-86F
- Esquadra 81, C-47
- Esquadra 82, DC-6
- Esquadra 91, Lockheed PV-2, Douglsa B-26, Fiat G.91R-4
- Esquadra 92, Nord 1505 Noratlas
- Esquadra 93, Republic F-84G
- Esquadra 94, Aerospatiale SA.316B

During various wars in Africa, squadron-sized detachments were established at several airfields in Angola, Guiné and Mozambique. Various references designate these as Esquadras or Esquadrons. The most important such units of the 1960s and 1970s were:

- Esquadra 101, PV-2s in Beira, Mozambique
- Esquadra 102, Noratlas in Beira, Mozambique
- Esquadra 103, PV-2s in Beira, Mozambique
- Esquadra 131, DC-6s in Portela, Portugal
- Esquadra 132, Boeing 707-3F5C, in Portela, Portugal
- Esquadra 121, Do.27s in Bissau/Bissalanca, Guiné, later Fiat G.91s
- Esquadra 122, SA.316Bs in Bissau/Bissalanca, Guiné
- Esquadra 123, Noratlas and Do.27, in Bissau/Bissalanca, Guiné
- Esquadra 501, T-6 and Do.27 in Nacala, Angola
- Esquadra 502, Fiat G.91R-4 in Nacala, Angola
- Esquadra 503, SA.316B, in Nacala, Angola
- Esquadra 701, T-6s, Do.27s and Cessna 185, in Tete, Mozambique
- Esquadra 702, Fiat G.91R-4 in Tete, Mozambique
- Esquadra 703, SA.316B and SA.330B Puma, in Tete, Mozambique
- Esquadra 801, C-47s in Lorenco Marques, Angola

Exact history of each of FAP units might be quite problematic to track – at least on the basis of English-language literature only: the FAP had a very flexible structure, and was deploying whole Esquadrons and, even more so, detachments (Esquadrillhas = Flights) from various Esquadras at relatively different airfields as available and necessary at the given point in time. Airfields and bases were spread over very different parts of the metropolitan and overseas territories; units and their detachments were shifted from one place to the other at short notice. It did happen several times for a single squadron to have flights deployed on three or even four of territories over extended periods of times. Correspondingly, the organisational structure of the air force appears complex.

The basis of the entire designation and organizational system was the nomenclature of main Portuguese airfields. On the top of this hierarchy were “Basas Aereas” – fully developed military airfields, with permanently-based FAP units. These were:

- BA.1 Lisbon Sintra, Portugal
- BA.2 Ota, Portugal (given up at an unknown date)
- BA.3 Tancos, Portugal (given up at an unknown date)
- BA.4 Lajes, Azores
- BA.5 Monte Real, Portugal
- BA.6 Montijo, Portugal
- BA.7. S. Jacinto, Portugal
- BA.8 originally planned to be built at Beira, in Mozambique
- BA.9 Luanda, Angola
- BA.10 Beira, Mozambique
- BA.11 Beja, Portugal
- BA.12 Bissau/Bissalanca, Guiné

Next most important were so-called “Aeródromo Base”: intermediate airfields, not built for, but used (also) for military purposes. In the 1960s and 1970s, these were:

- AB.1 at Cabo Verde, Guiné
- AB.2, Bissau/Bissalanca, Guiné, transformed to BA.12
- AB.3, Negage, Angola
- AB.4, Henrique de Carvalho, Angola
- AB.5, Nacala, Mozambique
- AB.6, Villa Cabral, later Nova Freixo, Mozambique
- AB.7, Tete, Mozambique
- AB.8, Lorenco Marques, Mozambique
- AB.9, Luanda, Angola, later BA.9
- AB.10, Beira, Mozambique, later BA.10
- AB.12 Bissau/Bissalanca, Guiné

Finally, there were transit airfields, Aeródromo de Transito (ATs), and forward airfields, Aeródromo de Manobras (AMs), about which much less is known. Cabo Verde, at Sal Island, is known to have been AT.1 until 1975, while in Guiné there were at least six AMs (at least three with paved runways), at Aldeia Formosa, Bafatá, Bubaque, Cufar, Nova Lamego, and Tite. Each airfield was guarded by a squadron of the Policia Aérea – FAP military police.

Correspondingly, the service history of various types in FAP is full of interesting anecdotes and usually quite problematic to reconstruct.

A classic example is that of Douglas C-47 Dakota transports in Portugal. The first aircraft of this type was “acquired” by Portuguese during the World War II, when – time and again – various US and British Dakotas were forced to land in Portugal due to technical problems. While most of these were permitted to leave after repairs, some were interned: at least a single C-47, possibly two, was taken up by the predecessor of the later Transportes Aéreos Militares (TAM), and served as VIP-transport until at least 1958. By that year at least five additional aircraft were acquired from DETA (a small airline in Portuguese Mozambique).

As of 1960, when the uprising in Guiné began, the five or six C-47s available to FAP were distributed between following units:

- Esquadra 81, based in Lisbon, Portugal
- EICPAC (Heavy Training Transport Squadron), based in Luanda, Angola
- ELTS (Medevac Transport Squadron), based in Lisbon, Portugal

By 1971, the FAP operated 18 Dakotas, obtained from very different sources. Four of these were in Angola (only two operational), ten in Mozambique (only four operational), and two with Esquadron 123 in Guiné (reinforced to three by March 1974). While the main task of Portuguese C-47s was transportation, they were also used for reconnaissance, instruction, search and rescue, and MEDEVAC-purposes, while a single example was deployed as a make-shift bomber during the war in Guiné as well.

One of two (later three) Dakotas the FAP deployed in Guiné, was 6163, depicted here. The plane was eventually left behind and later served with the air force of Guinea Bissau (other sources indicated it was handed over to Angola, where it served with the Angolan air force). One of these three Portuguese Dakotas was modified as a make-shift bomber, and used for attacking PAIGC-bases. This artwork depicts it as wearing the insignia of 801 Esquadra, a black Pegasus on shield in Light Blue and Black, with "801" superimposed on a white circle on the top of insignia. There is no photographic evidence that this Dakota - "6163" - ever wore such insignia, but several others did. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)


Other types were obtained in a more direct manner. One example were 12 P2V-5 Neptunes, purchased from the Royal Netherlands Navy, in 1960. They entered service with the Esquadron 61, at Montijo, and remained based there until retirement, even if small detachments were periodically deployed to various other airfields – including Bissau/Bissalanca.

Most of Portuguese aircraft were venerable – but effective – types of US origin. By 1960, the FAP had more than 20.000 men and 150 aircraft in Africa. These included North American T-6 Harvards, Lockheed PV2 Harpoons, and Lockheed P2V Neptunes, but there were also more modern Republic F-84 Thunderjets and North American F-86G Sabres. Also, the transport air arm operated some 66 Nord 1505 Noratlas, Douglas C-47s and C-54/DC-6s, and Boeing 707 transports, as well as a small number of Austers and Do.27s. Although it is frequently said that some 85 Aerospatiale SA.316B Alouette II and SA.330 Puma helicopters were under the Army control, they actually belonged to the FAP as well, yet the air force worked in close and direct cooperation with the Army, functioning much like the Luftwaffe during the WWII.

Aside from aircraft and helicopters, the FAP included also Paratroopers in their structure – much to the dislike of some in the Portuguese Army. The “Caçadores-Paraquedistas” (literally “Hunter-Paratroops”) were an élite force used as the ground arm of the Air Force, deployed in detachments on each air force base. At the beginning of the war in Angola they were dropped from transports such as the Douglas C-54 Skymaster or the Nord Noratlas but as the Alouette III helicopters became available in larger numbers they began to work as heliborne troops. With the Alouette III having five seats the standard companies of Cacadores-Paraquedistas were based on groups of 25 men, that were carried in five helicopters. The heli-attacks of Paratroopers were made in close coordination and co-operation with other FAP units, with support jet and propeller aircraft. Another form of air support was given by specially equipped helicopters known as “heli-cannons” or “Lobo Mau”: these were Alouette IIIs equipped with a 20mm cannon mounted on the port side of the fuselage, where the left doors were removed. Heli-cannons worked as cover and close-support for the Allouette IIIs used as transports.

The versatille SA.316B Alouette III bore the brunt of Portuguese COIN wars in Africa: it could be said that the Portuguese operations in Guiné, Mozambique and Angola were "helicopter-oriented". Wherever the ground troops were sent, the helicopters led or transported them, flew reconnaissance and liaison, CASEVAC/MEDEVAC and other missions. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)


Insurgency in Guiné

The Portuguese Guinea – “Guiné” in Portuguese - was the poorest and the least populated Portuguese colony in Africa, but was considered important because of its strategic position, serving as a connection between the colonies in Angola and Mozambique, and also as administrative station. Relatively small, marsh-infested and intersected by several rivers, Guiné was also encircled by states sympathetic to the nationalist cause, and so became the place where the dissent against the colonial rule was strongest. Already in 1956 the Independence Party of Cap Verde (PAIGC) was founded by Amilcar Cabral, a Marxist, and in 1959 it organized a strike in Bissau: the Portuguese police opened fire and the situation escalated into a catastrophe with 50 dead and over 100 injured.

Like many other colonies in Africa at the time, Portuguese Guinea certainly lacked a capability even for a limited form of self-government, and PAIGC was rather an idea with a pretty pompous name than a serious political movement: Lisbon always invested only the bare minimum of capital in her colonies and gave little in return for the ample flow of natural resources from Africa. The population suffered as a result, and the harsh crushing of the protests had to result in the outbreak of an outright uprising.

Being predominantly occupied with the fighting in Angola and Mozambique, the Portuguese were caught by surprise: very early, they concluded they could not win this war. By the time, namely, run by the PAIGC’s military wing, Forcas Armadas Revolucionarias de Povo (FARC), the insurgents were a no rag-tag group: trained in Algeria, Cuba, USSR, and China, they were relatively well organized and supplied. They fought in small and very mobile groups, partially consisting from the national regular force (the “People’s Army”) and the district guerrilla force (the “People’s Guerillas”). PAIGC fighters were mainly armed with different carbines, ubiquitous AK-47s, some Breda light machine guns, but also Thompsons and – later – Cuban-supplied bazookas, 82mm mortars, and Chinese recoilless rifles. Their units carried all their supplies, ammunition, and weapons, although as the fighting intensified, immense transportation difficulties forced the FARP to organize its own naval service, based in the Republic of Guiné. In the face of such opposition, nevertheless, Lisbon could not give up because of potential effects on the situation in the other colonies.

PAIGC Logo. (via Wikipedia)


An Air Force Mosaic

The war in Guiné began in earnest in August 1961, when - after a series of requests by the PAIGC for the Portuguese to leave the Guiné, and in the light of insurgency operations with growing intensity, as well as because of the almost simultaneous outbreak of the fighting in Angola – the Portuguese began deploying units of the FAP to Bissalanca airfield (designated AB.5, for “Aeródromo-Base”: an airfield considered an intermediate FAP base), in Bissau, in order to reinforce the T-6 Texans already stationed there.

The first serious attacks against police stations and other objects in Buba, Tite, and Falacunda were undertaken by PAIGC (but also a rival movement known as FLING, which disappeared soon after), in January 1963. At the time, the Portuguese had only two companies of troops, and few North American T-6 Texans based in Bissau/Bissalanca (BA.12). Stationed at the same airfield since August 1961 was also the “Detachment 52”, equipped with eight F-86Fs (serials 5307, 5314, 5322, 5326, 5354, 5356, 5361, and 5362) of the Esquadra 51, usually based at the Basa Aerea 5, in Monte Real, in Portugal. The transfer of these Sabres via Gando (Canary Islands) and Sal (Cabo Verde Islands) run under the codename “Operation Atlas”.

The task of the Detachment 52 was close-air-support (CAS) for the Army in Guine, and Sabres saw much combat. By 1964, when they were returned to Portugal due to US pressure, they flew 577 sorties, of which 430 were of ground attack and close air support nature. In the course of these operations, FAP Sabres suffered two losses: in August 1962, 5314 overshot the runway during emergency landing with bombs still attached on underwing hardpoints and burned out, while in May 1963, 5322 was shot down by guerrilla (pilot ejected safely and was recovered shortly after). Several others suffered combat damage of various degree, but were subsequently repaired.

Two other FAP units were to deploy in Bissau/Bissalanca in the 1960s. One was a flight (“Esquadrillha”) of Esquadron 121 “Cafeteiras”, equipped with Do.27K-2s. The other were actually several different flights from Esquadron 123, equipped with Do.27s, C-47s, and Noratlas transports.

An F-86F from Esquadra 51 / Detachment 52, based at AB2 - Bissau / Bissalanca in 1962-1963. This plane was part of the first batch of F-86Fs deployed in Guiné in 1961 and was used in ground attack operations. 5322 was shot down by enemy ground fire in May 1963. (all artworks copyright Pedro Alvin & ACIG.org, all rights reserved)


Battle of Como Island

In early 1964 the rebels captured the Como Island: a counterattack by the Portuguese Army was swiftly repulsed and even the appearance of the F-86Fs from Bissau could not change the outcome of the battle. Quite on the contrary, soon enough it became almost impossible for the Portuguese troops to operate anywhere in Guinea far from their well-fortified bases. Little was done also in the sense of organized anti-guerilla war: only few colons were moved to safer places under control of the regular army, and nothing undertaken in order to distrub the connection between the local population and the guerilla. The war was thus developing negatively for the Portuguese right from the start.

As it became clear that a better-organized operation was needed in order to liberate the Como Island the Portuguese prepared the “Operation Tridente”, which was to involve the Army, Navy, and the Air Force. Eventually, the battle was fierce and the progress very slow, with the Portuguese suffering heavy casualties to enemy action, disease, and malnutrition. After 71 days of tough and bitter fighting the island was cleared of rebel forces - at a terrible price. In the course of the Operation Tridente the FAP flew no less but 851 combat sorties, as follows:

- F-86Fs: 73
- T-6: 141
- Do.27: 180
- Auster: 46
- Alouette III: 323
- PV-2 Neptune: 16
- C-47/Dakota: 2

This massive effort was in vain. Barely two months later the rebels recaptured some of their positions on the Como Island, as the Portuguese had to re-deploy their forces to fight elsewhere. This time, there was no Portuguese counterattack: due to the PAIGC establishing new important positions in the south of Guiné, especially on the Cantanhez and Quitafine Peninsulas, where considerable contingents of the Portuguese Army at Catió and Bedanda were encircled and put under a siege, Como lost much of its strategic importance.

Besides, in October 1964 the FAP was forced to pull out all of the – meanwhile 16 – F-86Fs it had at Bissalanca, due to the severe pressure from the USA: Washington was complaining that Portugal was endangering the NATO’s defences of the European Atlantic coast due to the deployment of Sabres to Africa, and their use for COIN Operations. Strangely enough, the USA did not complain about the deployment of F-84Gs to Angola, but the presence of Sabres in the Guiné was obviously disturbing for one reason or the other.

The Portuguese experienced similar problems with deployment of their P2V-5 Neptunes as well. These were originally obtained to replace the aeging fleet of PV-2 Harpoons, as maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. Due to US pressure, they could not be permanently deployed in Africa, and were based in BA.6. Nevertheless, time and again small detachments were sent to Guiné and Angola as necessary. One of best known such deployments was Operation “Resgate”, undertaken in December 1965, when two Neptunes forward deployed at Sal (Cape Verde) were sent to Bissalanca, loaded with 350kg bombs. After delivering a highly successful attack against PAIGC positions, however, both planes had to return to BA.6, due to US reaction.

Map of what is today Guinea-Bissau - formerly a part of Portuguese Guiné province. The sole large airfield available to the FAP in the area was that in Bissau/Bissalanca. (Map by Tom Cooper, based on Encarta 2003 software)


Fiat’s Tigers

The decision to withdraw Sabres from Guiné has left the FAP without any jet-fighters in Bissalanca for quite some time, unless the government in Lisbon could establish connections to Germany and Italy, in order to obtain replacements that could be used in colonial conflicts it was fighting in Africa. Interestingly, only Germany – which was mainly supportive for different African independence movements (especially that in Algeria) – finally proved ready to sell some ex-Luftwaffe Fiat G.91R-4 reconnaissance fighters to Portugal, albeit under condition that these would be used on the Portuguese territory only. The Portuguese agreed and after getting their Fiats, the FAP deployed them from 1966 onwards in the overseas territories, declaring that these were their national territory!

The Fiat G.91s was soon to become one of the most important FAP assets in the colonies. The type was dependable, easy to maintain, designed to take-off and land on short or ill-prepared runways, and had a good strike capability. The G.91R-4 was armed with four 12.7mm machine guns, and could also carry three cameras in a specially designed nose, which offered a much needed photo-reconnaissance capability. Aside from this, the type was compatible with almost all the bombs and unguided rockets in Portuguese arsenal.

Fiat G.91R-4 from Esquadra 121, based at BA12 - Bissau / Bissalanca in the period 1966 - 1973. The plane shows the "tropical" light blue scheme used in the Fiats by the most part of its use in Guiné.


PAIGC on Advance

By 1967, PAIGC claimed 147 attacks against army camps and barracks, as well as 22 attacks against different airfields, and setting 476 ambushes, as well as control over two thirds of Guiné and 50% of the population. Soon enough it started operating in larger groups, the attacks of which were ranging all over the country. The Portuguese were not to admit a defeat, however: the FAP reinforced the BA.12, in Bissau/Bissalanca, by lengthening the runway, and deploying two additional Esquadrillhas of the 121 Escadron. One of these, nick-named “Roncos”, was equipped with T-6Gs, while the other was “Tigres”, equipped with Fiat G.91R-4 fighter-bombers. Additional Do.27s arrived to reinforce the already busy Esquadron 123.

The main task of these aircraft were close-support and interdiction strikes against supply routes. Most of air strikes were undertaken early in the morning: the aircraft would first deploy to forward airstrips and refuel. The crews could get up-to-date briefings about the situation on the ground, and then start their attacks after covering the shortest possible distances.

Mar Verde

From 1967 the situation changed considerably, when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), officially provided its full support to the PAIGC, de-facto recognising this organisation as an official representation of Guiné’s population. FARP was subsequently reinforced by additional weapons, and - on 19 February 1968 - launched one of its first direct operations against Portuguese bases, raiding the Bissalanca airport, center of FAP operations in the country, albeit with unknown results.

The Portuguese reaction to these developments was instalment of António Spínola as a new governor of Guiné. Spínola launched an intensive campaign of building schools, hospitals, housing, and roads, in an effort to improve the living conditions of the local population. Until then, communications – even the most basic roads - were almost non-existent in Guinea. To improve the means of communication, 12 SA.316B Alouette III helicopters were permanently deployed, in order to support the civilians. Several of these helicopters – so-called “Lobo Mau”(s) – were equipped with 20mm cannons, carried in the rear cabin and fired over the side.

Simultaneously, more intensive and energic anti-guerrilla operations were initiated, as Spínola moved the emphasis of all military operations into areas held by the guerrilla. From 1970 the G.91s started using napalm-filled fire-bombs, defoliants and herbicides, especially along the newly-built or existing roads, so to decrease the danger of ambushes, as well as interdict the flow of supplies. Nevertheless, Spínola simultaneously negotiated with Sekou Touré, the President of the neighbouring Republic Guinea, trying to ascertain help and support, as well as to effect the release of Portuguese PoWs and hostages held by the guerrilla, held imprisoned in Conakry.

These negotiations ended without a success, and the Portuguese were finally forced to start a serious COIN-war: the units already deployed in the field were reinforced by additional troops, flown in by DC-6s of the Transportes Aéreos Militares (TAM), and also several Noratlas transports were permanently stationed at BA.12, in order to be available for local operations.

A series of attacks against villages along the borders to Guinea and Senegal followed, resulting in considerable reverses for the PAIGC and FARP. On 22 November 1972, 400 Colonial troops, lead by Portuguese officers, launched the operation “Mar Verde” by landing in Conakry. In a successful attack they liberated a number of PoWs, including several FAP crews, captured when their aircraft were shot down during the previous battles. Contrary to what could be expected, however, this operation had very negative results, then it was not to cause an uprising against president Touré, but also the support for PAIGC from the USSR and Cuba – via Nigeria – increased. Meanwhile, namely, the rebels were given several Il-14s to their disposal, which flew supplies and ammunition from Senegal. Already in 1969 the crew of one of these aircraft landed directly in Bissalanca due to a navigational mistake. In the same year, the FARP was supplied with Soviet-made PT-76 tanks as well as 122mm multiple-rocket launchers, and deployed its first mechanized units in combat.

Nigerian MiGs and SA-7s

In 1972 the Rebels acquired a number of heavy machine guns (HMGs) calibre 12.7mm, which proved exceptionally useful for air defence against FAP aircraft and helicopters. Soon after, the first reports became known about the FARP forming an own air force, equipped with several MiG-17s, flown by East-European pilots, and based in Conakry.

Contemporary reports indicated that five MiG-17s and two MiG-15UTIS were delivered to the rebels. Such deliveries were never confirmed, however. Most likely, these reports were a cover for the deployment of Nigerian Air Force (NAF) MiG-17s to Conakry. These fighters are known to have operated over parts of Guiné along the border to Guinea-Bissau, already in 1971, and to have flown several attacks against Portuguese troops as well.

Who flew Nigerian MiGs, and whether they were later indeed delivered to PAIGC authorities, remains unknown: the Nigerians have still had very few pilots at the time, and only few foreign mercenaries remained in that country after the end of the war in Biafra. It is unlikely that the FARP had any pilots qualified to fly these jets before 1973, when a group of six students is known to have been prepared for training on MiG-15s and MiG-17s. Certain is only that at the time two Soviet-flown Mil Mi-4 helicopters became operational inside eastern Guiné.

The FAP took these new threats very seriously. A battery of Crotale SAMs was purchased in France to defend the Bissau/Bissalanca airport against a possible MiG-17-attack – but never deployed in Guiné. The Fiats flew a number of combat air patrols in the area where Mi-4-activity was reported, already since 1968, when the Portuguese press reported an encounter between two FAP fighter-bombers and two MiG-17s for the first time. Such reports were never confirmed by Portuguese authorities: FAP-pilots also never detected any of helicopters. This was not surprising, then the radar coverage of large parts of the country was non-existent. Finally, by April 1974, the Portuguese considered a purchase of 12 Dassault Mirage III interceptors from France, with intention of stationing these in Guiné.

Certainly, in 1973, the rebels have got their first batch of Soviet-made SA-7 MANPADs, and these were immediately rushed to the battlefield. Already on 23 March 1973, two FAP G.91s were shot down by SA-7s, followed – six weeks later - by another Fiat, and a Do.27K-2. The loss of three G.91s came as a terrible blow to the FAP, even more so as this caused the Portuguese to stop deploying helicopters and propeller-driven aircraft in combat areas. From that time onwards only G.91s were used in combat, and even they were permitted to operate only at tree-top levels, with the pilots being ordered to permanently monitor the skies for possible SA-7 launches.

The disappearance of the FAP from the skies of the Guiné was a heavy blow for the morale of the Portuguese Army troops: these now knew they would get no helicopter support for casualty-evacuation, nor for gunfire support, and also the appeasing sound of the Fiats flying CAS-sorties would not be heard overhead. Moreover, the Portuguese morale was in decline after Spínola’s departure in 1972. These negative developments finally enabled the FARP to attack and capture Guiledje, an important military base commanding supply routes.

A Fiat G.91R-4 from Esquadra 121, based at BA12 - Bissau / Bissalanca in the period 1973 - 1974. After the PAIGC started using SA-7 Strela MANPADs the FAP camouflaged its Fiats in this dark green "anti-radiation" paint, developed by personnel of the OGMA (Oficina Geral de Material Aeronáutico) facilities in Portugal. This camouflage was to become widespread between all aircraft used in the Portuguese colonies in the mid-1970s. How far this was sucessful remains unknown.


A Self-Inflicted Defeat

In September 1973 the PAIGC – although having its leader, Cabral, assassinated (not by the Portuguese, but by a disgruntled former member of the PAIGC’s Supreme Council), and still far away from being able to really lead the country – declared the Portuguese Guinea for an independent republic. The situation on the ground was actually equalized: successful Portuguese operations (organized and conducted with far more vigour and better manner than in Angola, or – especially – Mozambique) caused losses to the rebels, but these were hitting back hard too.

In the end it was the social, financial and political situation of Portugal that decided the final outcome of this war: by 1974 Portugal was on the verge of bankruptcy. After the coup in 1974, the new government in Lisbon opened negotiations with PAIGC, which resulted with agreement about the pullout of all Portuguese troops.

On 10 October 1974, Guinea-Bissau declared independence, and already five days later the last Portuguese soldiers have left the country. During the last few days numerous Portuguese civilians were evacuated with the help of TAM and chartered civilian transport aircraft. During the eleven years of war in Portuguese-Guinea, 1.875 Portuguese and colonial soldiers were killed, while the PAIGC and FARP – which claimed the downing of 21 FAP aircraft – lost some 6.000.

Under the given circumstances, the Portuguese were forced to leave much of their equipment back: several of their Noratlas, Do.27s, and Alouette IIIs were to form the basis for the new Air Force of Guinea-Bissau. The new nation was soon to turn to the USSR and Cuba for more support: its subsequent development, however, is another story...

When the threat of SA-7s suddenly emerged, in March 1973, the FAP was taken by surprise, and suffered a loss of three Fiat G.91R-4s, as well as one Do.27K-2 within a short period of time. Portuguese reaction was sober, nevertheless, with all the aircraft participating in operations near the combat zone being overpainted in IR-Green colour that helped decrease the IR-signature of the aircraft. The Do.27K-2 depicted here is serialled 3470: this was the serial of the Dornier shot down by PAIGC in spring 1973. It remains unclear, however, if the plane already wore this camouflage pattern by the time, or the usual "peacetime" livery of aluminium, white and day-glo orange. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)





Sources & Bibliography


Additional information and updates for this feature were kindly provided by Jose Matos, Pedro Alvin, and Patrik.

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

- "MODERN AFRICAN WARS 2: ANGOLA AND MOZAMBIQUE 1961-74", by Peter Abbott and Manuel Rodriguez, Osprey's Men-At-Arms Series No.202, Osprey 1988, 1989, 1995, UK (ISBN: 0-85045-843-9)

- "THE CHOPPER BOYS", by Al J. Venter, in association with Neall Ellis and Richard Wood, by Ashanti Publishing Ltd., Gibraltar, reprinted by Greenhill Books, UK (ISBN: 1-85367-177-0)

- "AIR WARS AND AIRCRAFT; A Detailed Record of Air Combat, 1945 to the Present", by Victor Flintham, Arms and Armour Press, 1989, UK (ISBN: 0-85368-779-X)





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