Military Wiki
Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
Part of the Portuguese Colonial War
A PAIGC soldier with an AK-47
DateJanuary 23, 1963 - September 10, 1974
(11 years, 7 months, 2 weeks and 4 days)
LocationGuinea-Bissau, Guinea
Result Stalemate:[10] Portuguese forces unable to control Guinean territory. Carnation Revolution and consequent Independence of Guinea-Bissau.


Supported by:
Flag of Cuba Cuba[1][2]
Flag of the People's Republic of China China[3][4]
Flag of the Soviet Union Soviet Union
Flag of Senegal Senegal[5]
Flag of Guinea Guinea[6]
Flag of Algeria Algeria[7][8]
Flag of Libya (1972–1977) Libya[9]
Portugal Portugal
Commanders and leaders
Flag of PAIGC Amílcar Cabral
Flag of PAIGC Luís Cabral
Flag of PAIGC João Bernardo Vieira
Flag of PAIGC Domingos Ramos
Portugal António de Spínola
~10,000 ~32,000
Casualties and losses
6,000 killed + nearly 4,000 unconfirmed ([11]) 2,069 killed
3,830 with permanent deficiency (physical or psychological)
5,000 civilians[11]

Portugal Colonial War 1970

Portuguese-held (green), disputed (yellow) and rebel-held areas (red) in Portuguese-Guinea and other colonies 1970.

The Guinea-Bissau War of Independence(also called "Portugal's Vietnam") was an armed conflict and national liberation struggle that took place in Portuguese Guinea (modern Guinea-Bissau) between 1963 and 1974.


Portuguese Guinea (as well as the nearby Cape Verde archipelago) had been claimed by Portugal since 1446 and was a major trading post for commodities and African slaves during the 18th century, before the former had been outlawed by the Portuguese authorities. The interior was however not fully controlled by the Portuguese until the latter half of 19th century. Sporadic fighting continued during the early 20th century and the Bijagós Islands were not pacified under Portuguese rule until 1936. In 1952 by a constitutional amendment Guinea-Bissau became an overseas province.

While there had always been local resistance it was not until 1956 the first liberation movement was founded by Amílcar Cabral and Rafael Barbosa, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

The first major actitive of the PAIGC was a strike by dock-workers in Bissau on August 3, 1959. The colonial police violently repressed the strike and more than 50 people died, the incident became known as the Pijiguiti Massacre. The massacre led to a major upswing of popular support for the PAIGC.

By 1960, it was decided to move headquarters to Conakry in neighboring Guinea in order to prepare for an armed struggle. On April 18, 1961 PAIGC together with FRELIMO of Mozambique, MPLA of Angola and MLSTP of São Tomé and Príncipe formed Conference of Nationalist Organizations of the Portuguese Colonies (CONCP) during a conference in Morocco. The main goal of the organization was cooperation of the different national liberation movement in Portuguese colonies.

The Portuguese overseas armed forces vs the PAIGC and its allies[]

PAIGC posto de controlo

PAIGC soldiers.

The war in Guinea has been termed "Portugal's Vietnam". The main indigenous revolutionary insurgent movement, the Marxist African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde or PAIGC was well-trained, well-led, and equipped and received substantial support from safe havens in neighbouring countries like Senegal and Guinea-Conakry. The jungles of Guinea and the proximity of the PAIGC's allies near the border proved to be of significant advantage in providing tactical superiority during cross-border attacks and resupply missions for the guerrillas.

Open hostilities broke out in January 1963 when guerrillas from the PAIGC attacked the Portuguese garrison in Tite, near the Corubal River, south of Bissau, the capital of Portuguese Guinea. Similar guerrilla actions quickly spread across the colony, mainly in the south. In 1965 the war spread to the eastern part of the country; that same year the PAIGC expanded its attacks in the northern area of the country, where at the time only the Front for the Liberation and Independence of Guinea (FLING), a minor insurgent force, was operating. By this time, the PAIGC, led by Amílcar Cabral, began openly receiving military support from the Cuba and China, the Soviet Union.

The success of PAIGC guerilla operations forced the Exército Português do Ultramar (Portuguese overseas armed forces) deployed in Portuguese Guinea on the defensive at an early stage; the latter were forced to limit their response to defending territories and cities already held. Unlike Portugal's other African territories, successful small-unit Portuguese counterinsurgency tactics were slow to evolve in Guinea. Defensive operations, where soldiers were dispersed in small numbers to guard critical buildings, farms, or infrastructure were particularly devastating to the regular Portuguese infantry, who became vulnerable to guerrilla attacks outside of populated areas by the forces of the PAIGC.[12]

They were also demoralized by the steady growth of PAIGC liberation sympathizers and recruits among the rural population. In a relatively short time, the PAIGC had succeeded in reducing Portuguese military and administrative control of the country to a relatively small area of Guinea. The scale of this success can be seen in the fact that native Guineans in the 'liberated territories' ceased payment of debts to Portuguese landowners as well as payment of taxes to the colonial administration.[12]

The branch stores of the Companhia União Fabril (CUF), Mario Lima Whanon, and Manuel Pinto Brandão companies were seized and inventoried by the PAIGC in the areas they controlled, while the use of Portuguese currency in the areas under guerilla control was banned.[12] In order to maintain the economy in the liberated territories, the PAIGC was impelled at an early stage to establish its own Marxist administrative and governmental bureaucracy, which organized agricultural production, educated farmworkers on protecting crops from destruction from government attacks, and opened collective armazéns do povo (people's stores) to supply urgently needed tools and supplies in exchange for agricultural produce.[12] By 1967 the PAIGC had carried out 147 attacks on Portuguese barracks and army encampments, and effectively controlled 2/3 of Portuguese Guinea.

The next year, Portugal began a new campaign against the guerrillas with the arrival of the new governor of the colony, General António de Spínola. General Spínola instituted a series of civil and military reforms, intended to first contain, then roll back the PAIGC and its control of much of the rural portion of Portuguese Guinea. This included a 'hearts and minds' propaganda campaign designed to win the trust of the indigenous population, an effort to eliminate some of the discriminatory practices against native Guineans, a massive construction campaign for public works including new schools, hospitals, improved telecommunications and road networks, and a large increase in recruitment of native Guineans into the Portuguese armed forces serving in Guinea as part of an Africanization strategy.

'Africanization' of the conflict[]

Until 1960, Portuguese military forces serving in Guinea were composed of units led by white officers, with commissioned soldiers (whites), overseas soldiers (African assimilados), and native or indigenous Africans (indigenato) serving in the enlisted ranks. These discriminatory colour bars to service were eliminated as part of the Africanization policy of General Spínola, which called for the integration of indigenous Guinea Africans into Portuguese military forces in Africa. Two special indigenous African counterinsurgency detachments were formed by the Portuguese Armed Forces.[13]

The first of these was the African Commandos (Comandos Africanos), consisting of a battalion of commandos composed entirely of black soldiers (including the officers). The second was the African Special Marines (Fuzileiros Especiais Africanos), Marine units entirely composed of black soldiers. The African Special Marines supplemented other Portuguese elite units conducting amphibious operations in the riverine areas of Guinea in an attempt to interdict and destroy guerrilla forces and supplies.[13]

General Spinola's Africanization policy also fostered a large increase in indigenous recruitment into the armed forces, culminating the establishment of all-black military formations such as the Black Militias (Milícias negras) commanded by Major Carlos Fabião.[13] By the early 1970s, an increasing percentage of Guineans were serving as noncommissioned or commissioned officers in Portuguese military forces in Africa, including such higher-ranking officers as Captain (later Lt. Colonel) Marcelino da Mata, a black Portuguese citizen born of Guinean parents who rose from a first sergeant in a road engineering unit to a commander in the Comandos Africanos.

Tactical changes[]

Military tactical reforms by Portuguese commanders included new naval amphibious operations to overcome some of the mobility problems inherent in the underdeveloped and marshy areas of the country. These new operations utilized Destacamentos de Fuzileiros Especiais (DFE) (special marine assault detachments) as strike forces. The Fuzileiros Especiais were lightly equipped with folding-stock m/961 (G3) rifles, 37mm rocket launchers, and light machine guns such as the Heckler & Koch HK21 to enhance their mobility in the difficult, swampy terrain.

Between 1968 and 1972, the Portuguese forces increased their offensive posture, in the form of raids into PAIGC-controlled territory. At this time Portuguese forces also adopted unorthodox means of countering the insurgents, including attacks on the political structure of the nationalist movement. This strategy culminated in the assassination of Amílcar Cabral in January 1973. Nonetheless, the PAIGC continued to increase its strength, and began to heavily press Portuguese defense forces.

In 1970 the Portuguese Air Force (FAP) began to use similar weapons to those the US was using in the Vietnam War: napalm and defoliants in order to find the insurgents or at least deny them the cover and concealment needed for rebel ambushes. In an effort to hamper assistance to the PAIGC from the neighboring Republic of Guinea, Portugal commenced Operação Mar Verde or Operation Green Sea on 22 November 1970 in an attempt to overthrow Ahmed Sékou Touré, the leader of the Republic of Guinea and staunch PAIGC ally, and cut off supply lines to PAIGC insurgents. The operation involved a daring raid on Conakry, a PAIGC safe haven, in which 220 Portuguese Fuzileiros (amphibious assault troops) and 200 Guinean anti-Ahmed Sékou Touré insurgents attacked the city.

The attempted coup d'etat failed, though the Portuguese managed to destroy several PAIGC ships and air force assets and freed all the 26 Portuguese POWs. One immediate result of Operation Green Sea was an escalation in the conflict, with countries such as Algeria and Nigeria now offering support to the PAIGC as well as the Soviet Union, which sent warships to the region (known by NATO as the West Africa Patrol) in a show of force calculated to deter future Portuguese amphibious attacks on the territory of the Republic of Guinea. The United Nations passed several resolutions condemning all the Portuguese cross-border attacks in Guinea, like the United Nations Security Council Resolution 290 and United Nations Security Council Resolution 295.

In general, the PAIGC in Guinea was the best armed, trained, and led of all the guerrilla movements. After 1968 PAIGC forces were increasingly supplied with modern Soviet weapons and equipment, most notably SA-7 rocket launchers, radar-controlled AA cannon, and even jet aircraft in the form of several Ilyushin Il-14 bombers.[14][15] These weapons effectively undermined Portuguese air superiority, preventing the destruction by air of PAIGC encampments in territory it controlled.[14][15] By 1970 the PAIGC even had candidates training in the Soviet Union, learning to fly MIGs and to operate Soviet-supplied amphibious assault crafts and APCs.

Assassination of Amílcar Cabral[]

As part of the efforts to undermine the organizational structure of PAIGC, Portugal had tried to capture Amílcar Cabral for several years. After the failure of capturing him in 1970 the Portuguese started using agents within the PAIGC to remove Cabral. Together with a disgruntled former associate, agents assassinated Amílcar Cabral on January 20, 1973 in Conakry, Guinea. The assassination happened less than 15 months before end of hostilities.

The end of Portuguese rule in Guinea[]

On April 25, 1974 the Carnation Revolution, a left-wing military led revolution, broke out in Portugal ending the authoritarian dictatorship of Estado Novo. The new regime quickly ordered cease-fire and began negotiating with leaders of the PAIGC.

On 26 August 1974, after a series of diplomatic meetings, Portugal and the PAIGC signed an accord in Algiers, Algeria in which Portugal agreed to remove all troops by the end of October and to officially recognize the Republic of Guinea-Bissau government controlled by the PAIGC.[16]

Independence and violent reprisals[]

Hastear da bandeira da Guiné Bissau após o arrear da de Portugal

Guerrilla forces of the PAIGC raise the new flag of Guinea-Bissau in 1974.

Portugal granted full independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974, after eleven-and-a-half years of armed conflict. With the coming of independence, the PAIGC moved swiftly to extend its control throughout the country. The PAIGC had already unilaterally proclaimed the country's independence a year before in the village of Madina do Boé, an event that had been recognized by many socialist and non-aligned member states of the United Nations. A one-party state controlled by the PAIGC and headed by Luís Cabral, half-brother of Amílcar Cabral was established.[17]

Being given the choice of either to go back home with their families and belongings, and full payment till the end of December that year, or to join the PAIGC military, a total of 7,447 black African soldiers who had served in Portuguese native commando units, security forces, and the armed militia decided not to join the new ruling party and were summarily executed by the PAIGC after Portuguese forces ceased hostilities.[16][18][19]

See also[]


  1. The Cuban Intervention in Angola, 1965-1991: From Che Guevara to Cuito Cuanavale, 2005. Page 354.
  2. Cuba in the World, 1979. Page 95-96.
  3. Guerrilla Warfare: A Historical and Critical Study, 1976. Page 362.
  4. Revolution and Chinese Foreign Policy: Peking's Support for Wars of National Liberation Peter van Ness, 1971. Page 143.
  5. Guerrilla Strategies: An Historical Anthology from the Long March to Afghanistan, 1982. Page 208.
  6. Communism in Africa, 1980. Page 25.
  7. Modern African Wars: Angola and Moçambique 1961-1974, 1988. Page 12.
  8. Wars in the Third World since 1945, 1995. Page 35.
  9. Qaddafi: his ideology in theory and practice, 1986. Page 140.
  10. A Guerra - Colonial - do Ultramar - da Libertação, 2nd Season (Portugal 2007, director Joaquim Furtado, RTP)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Twentieth Century Atlas - Death Tolls
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Humbaraci, Arslan and Muchnik, Nicole, Portugal's African Wars, New York: Joseph Okpaku Publishing Co., ISBN 0-89388-072-8 (1974), pp. 140-144
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Afonso, Aniceto and Gomes, Carlos de Matos, Guerra Colonial (2000), ISBN 972-46-1192-2, p. 340
  14. 14.0 14.1 Chilcote, Ronald H., The Struggle for Guinea-Bissau, Africa Today, July 197), pp. 57-61
  15. 15.0 15.1 Dos Santos, Manuel, Disparar os Strela, Depoimentos, Quinta-feira, 28 de Maio de 2009, retrieved 26 May 2011
  16. 16.0 16.1 Lloyd-Jones, Stewart, and Costa Pinto, António, The last empire: thirty years of Portuguese decolonization, Portland, OR: Intellect Books, ISBN 1-84150-109-3, p. 22
  17. Embassy of The Republic of Guinea-Bissau - Country Profile: History, Diplomatic & Consular Yearbook Online, retrieved 28 May 2011
  18. PAIGC, Jornal Nô Pintcha, 29 November 1980: In a statement in the party newspaper Nô Pintcha (In the Vanguard), a spokesman for the PAIGC revealed that many of the ex-Portuguese indigenous African soldiers that were executed after cessation of hostilities were buried in unmarked collective graves in the woods of Cumerá, Portogole, and Mansabá.
  19. Munslow, Barry, The 1980 Coup in Guinea-Bissau, Review of African Political Economy, No. 21 (May - Sep., 1981), pp. 109-113
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