Guinea-Bissau War of Independence

Guinea-Bissau War of Independence

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Guinea-Bissau War of Independence
partof=Portuguese Colonial Wars

caption=A PAIGC soldier with an AK-47
date=January 23, 1963 - 1974
place=Guinea-Bissau, Guinea
casus=Rise of independence movements in nearby colonies, Portuguese mistreatments of the colony
result=Independent Guinea-Bissau.
combatant1=Flagicon|Portugal Portugal
commander1=António de Spínola
commander2=Amílcar Cabral
casualties3=15,000 dead [ [ Twentieth Century Atlas - Death Tolls ] ]

Guinea-Bissau War of Independence was an armed conflict and national liberation struggle in Guinea-Bissau between 1963 and 1974.


Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde had been claimed by Portugal since 1446 and was a major trading post for slaves during the 18th century. The interior was however not conquered until the latter half of 19th century. Sporadic fighting continued during and the Bijagós Islands was not captured until 1936. In 1952 by a constitutional amendment Guinea-Bissau became an oversees 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 Sao Tome and Principe 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 first hostilities broke out in January 1963 when PAIGC guerrilla fighters attacked the Portuguese garrison in Tite, south of the capital Bissau. Similar guerrilla actions quickly spread across the colony, mainly in the south. Portugal responded soundly to the attacks and deployed a large garrison force. During the first years the Portuguese troops took mainly a defensive position.


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. In 1968 commander António Spínola's strategy took the offensive pushing back PAIGC and gaining momentum. In 1970 the FAP began to use similar weapons to those the US was using in the Vietnam War: napalm and defoliants, the former to destroy guerrillas when they could find them, the latter to 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. Efforts to undermine the organizational structure of the independence movement increased and culminated in 1970 with Operation Green Sea, an attempt to overthrow the PAIGC-friendly government of Guinea and cut off supply lines. The coup d'etat failed however several PAIGC ships where destroyed and several large POW camps with Portuguese soldiers were re-taken. This escalated the conflict with Algeria and Nigeria offering support for PAIGC and Soviet warships being sent to the area. After 1968 Portugal had the upper hand but was constantly attacked by PAIGC troops, now supplied with Soviet material, most notably SA-7 rocket launchers, effetely undermining Portuguese air superiority. The USSR and Cuba began to send more weapons to Portuguese Guinea via Nigeria, notably several Ilyushin Il-14 aircraft to use as bombers. In January 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 associateFact|date=March 2007. Independence was unilaterally declared on September 24 1973 and was recognized by a 93-7 UN General Assembly vote in November [] , unprecedented as it denounced illegal Portuguese aggression and occupation and was prior to complete control and Portuguese recognition. 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 September 10, independence was granted; 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.

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.

End of hostilities

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 PAIGC.

Independent Guinea-Bissau

Portugal granted full independence to Guinea-Bissau on September 10, 1974, after 11½ years of armed conflict. Luís Cabral, half-brother of Amílcar Cabral became president. Following independence from Portugal, local soldiers that fought along with the Portuguese Army against the PAIGC guerrillas were slaughtered by the thousands. A small number escaped to Portugal or to other African nations. The most famous massacre occurred in Bissorã. In 1980 PAIGC admitted in its newspaper "Nó Pintcha" (dated 29/11/1980) that many were executed and buried in unmarked collective graves in the woods of Cumerá, Portogole and Mansabá.


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