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Guinea Bissau War of Independence

Also called: Guerra do Ultramar/Guerra Colonial

Years: 1963-1973
Battle deaths: 15,000 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
Portugal, Guinea-Bissau

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2014-08-10 17:40:39
Guerilla warfare against the Portuguese in Guinea (not in Cape Verde, however, as logistical reasons prevented an armed struggle on the islands) began in March 1962 with an abortive attack by PAIGC guerillas on Praia. After being nearly crippled militarily, Amílcar Cabral ordered that sabotage be the PAIGC’s main weapon until military strength could be regained.

A PAIGC soldier with an AK-47In January 1963, Cabral declared full scale war against the Portuguese, and on January 23, the Portuguese fortress at Tite came under heavy gunfire from PAIGC guerillas. Frequent attacks in the north also took place. In that same month, attacks on police stations in Falacunda and Buba were carried out not only by the PAIGC but also by the short lived FLING, which was soon assimilated into the PAIGC.

Soon after these attacks, the communist nations of the world realised that the colonial wars in Portuguese Africa could be a way of gaining a foothold on the continent. PAIGC guerillas received Kalashnikovs from the USSR, bazookas from Cuba and recoilless rifles from the People’s Republic of China. Guerillas were also trained in these countries.

The first party congress took place at liberated Cassaca in February 1964, in which both the political and military arms of the PAIGC were assessed and reorganised, with a regular army (The People’s Army) to supplement the guerilla forces (The People’s Guerillas)

Como Island was the site of a major battle between PAIGC and Portuguese forces, in which the PAIGC took control of the island and resisted fierce counterattacks by the Portuguese, including airstrikes by FAP (Portuguese: Forca Aerea Portuguesa; Portuguese Air Force) F-86 Sabres.

Throughout the war, Portugal handled themselves poorly: it took them a long time to finally take the PAIGC seriously, diverting aircraft and troops based in Guinea to the more serious conflicts in Mozambique and Angola, and by the time that the Portuguese government began to realised that the PAIGC was a serious threat to their continued rule over Guinea, it was too late. Very little was done to try and curtail the guerilla operations; the Portuguese didn’t try to sever the link between the populace and the PAIGC until very late in the war, and as a result, it became very dangerous for Portuguese troops to operate far from their fortresses.

Following the loss of Como Island, the Portuguese army, navy and the FAP began Operation Tridente, a combined arms operation to retake the island. The PAIGC fought fiercely, and the Portuguese took heavy casualties and gained ground slowly.

Finally, after 71 days of fighting and 851 FAP combat sorties, the island was taken back by the Portuguese. However, less than two months later, the PAIGC would retake the island, as the Portuguese operation to capture it had depleted much of their invasion force, leaving the island vulnerable.

Como Island ceased to be of strategic importance to Portugal following establishment of new PAIGC positions in the south, especially on the Cantanhez and Quitafine Peninsulas. Large numbers of Portuguese troops on these peninsulas were encircled and besieged by guerillas.

By 1967, the PAIGC had carried out 147 attacks on Portuguese barracks and army encampments, and effectively controlled 2/3rd of Portuguese Guinea. The following year, Portugal began a new campaign against the guerillas with the arrival of the new governor of the colony, António de Spínola. Spínola began a massive construction campaign, building schools, hospitals, new housing and improving communications and the road system, in an attempt to gain public favour in Guinea.

However, in 1970 the FAP began to use similar weapons to the USA were using in the Vietnam War: napalm and defoliants, the former to destroy guerillas when they could find them, the latter to try and decrease the number of ambushes that occurred when they could not.

Spínola’s tenure as governor marked a turning point in the war: Portugal began to win battles, and in a daring raid on Conakry, in the neighbouring Republic of Guinea, 400 amphibious troops attacked the city and freed hundreds of Portuguese prisoners of war kept there by the PAIGC.

The USSR and Cuba began to send more weapons to Portuguse Guinea via Nigeria, notably several Ilyushin Il-14 aircraft to use as bombers.

In September 1973, a crushing blow was dealt to the PAIGC: its leader, Amílcar Cabral, was assassinated, not by the Portuguese, but rather by a disgruntled former associate.

Though the Portuguese army in the Guinea colony began to start winning battles more frequently, the government in Lisbon was on the verge of bankruptcy, and in 1974, following a coup d’état, the Portuguese government began to negotiate with the PAIGC, and on October 10, independence was granted, and Luís Cabral, brother of Amilcar, became the country’s first president.

1,875 Portuguese soldiers (out of 35,000 stationed in Portuguese Guinea) and some 6,000 (out of 10,000) PAIGC troops were killed by the end of the 11 year war. Though originally slated to be part of a union with Guinea, Cape Verdeans, under United Nations supervision, voted for separation by a landslide.

Source: Wikipedia | Wikipedia Article | Published under the GNU Free Licence


Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: PRIO Battle Deaths Dataset v3.0 (link) (1946-88) ID: #82
Low: 1,200 High: 15,000

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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