The Portuguese Colonial Wars in Miniature – Part I

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Modern 15mm, Uncategorized

I became interested in gaming the Portuguese Colonial Wars a couple of years ago when my company sent me to Lisbon, Portugal to work on a software project. There was an older fellow in the office, and one day, when several of us went to lunch, he mentioned to me that he fought in Mozambique during the wars. Up to that time, I was largely ignorant of that segment of history, so I read up a bit on it, and eventually decided I wanted to play out the period on the tabletop.

This force was originally designed to play with AK-47 Republic rules, but later I expanded it a bit so that I can also use it with Cold War Commander rules also.  If you’re familiar with the AK-47 rules, you know it’s not meant as a strictly accurate treatment of history, but more as a loose, fun game. Because of that, I made a few choices that fit with the game but maybe weren’t so accurate in terms of what actually took place. I’m ok with that, and I designed the Cold War Commander force to be a bit more true to history, at least according to what I could find out.

The first up are some Portuguese army infantry units. All of the figures here are from Peter Pig, which is the only manufacturer that I’m aware of that does figures with the Portuguese uniforms and weapons:

Next are some heavy weapons for the troops. I used some extra figures I had lying around the spare parts box for the mortar teams (Old Glory and QRF, I think). Yes, those are German heavy machine guns you see there.  The Portuguese had a license-built copy of the MG-42, which they used right up to the  end of the Colonial Wars in 1975.

To augment the regular infantry, I wanted to add a smaller elite unit. The Portuguese had several to choose from. There were the Dragoes, the mounted infantry, which I thought were pretty cool. You don’t often see horses on the modern battlefield. They also had the Commandos, the para-quedistas (paratroopers), the Grupos Especias (which were primarily native Africans, and the Fuzileiros (marines). Each of these had their own distinctive uniforms, and most of the elite unites wore berets in different colors. The Commandos wore brown berets, the para-quedistas wore blue, the Fuzileiros had black, and the Grupo Especias had a different color for each battalion. I decided finally on the Fuzileiros as my elite unit:

Here’s a jeep for the Fuzileiros which can be used in game as a reconnaissance unit, mobile gun platform, or a simple transport. The Portuguese used quite a few jeeps, especially in the earlier period, but i’m not entirely sure they used them in the way I am with my game army. This is essentially just a Peter Pig WWII British airborne jeep built almost straight from the package. The heads of the crew are separate,   so I went with the beret-wearing heads instead of the helmeted ones, and then painted them in Fuzileiro colors. I also added a thin wire for the radio.

The Portuguese really went for armored cars in a big way, and they used them a lot in Africa. They had a wide variety of different types, from old British WWII scout cars to sleek, modern French ones. They also had some fairly bizarre-looking field-modified vehicles. I would have loved to do several different vehicles, but I decided to give my guys some French AML-90s. I have always loved the way the AML-90 looks, and it packs a powerful gun.

To move troops around, the Portuguese relied on a variety of transports, both armored and unarmored. The truck was the most common type of transport vehicle. In the beginning of the period, they mostly used American jeeps and trucks, but as the wars continued, they began to use European-made UNIMOGs. I decided to give my troops the UNIMOGs also, but made some slight modifications. The Portuguese preferred their troop transports to be flatbeds with what looked like a park bench arrangement mounted on the back. The thinking behind this was that the men could deploy more rapidly if they came under fire.

Peter Pig helpfully includes this “park bench” with their UNIMOG kits, but the models aren’t really flatbeds. They have low sides which had the added drawback of not allowing seated figures to be placed on the benches. To fix the situation, I cut off the low sides from the trucks and then was able to attach the benches and riders:

AK-47 uses objective markers, and for those, I raided the spare parts box again. I was trying to put something together that looked like supply caches and an abandoned weapon. As you can see, I used a lot of WWII-era stuff:

And finally, every time I build an army, I like to include at least one relevant piece of terrain. In this case, I decided to build an African village for the boys to fight over. In the AK-47 rules, the individual buildings are unimportant. As long as the troops are on the village template, they are considered to be in the village. So I made the individual houses on their own stands which can be placed anywhere on the template. They can be moved to make room for units moving through the template:

I made the buildings out of Sculpey clay, and they were super-simple to make. The template is a sheet of thin plywood with a bit of flocking attached.

I would like to post additional Portuguese units in the future, as well as their guerrilla opponents, so keep an eye out.

  1. Mac says:

    Thanks for this, I am doing the period, although in 28mm, and this gives me some ideas.

    Here is a link if you want a look.


    • cdingley says:

      Thanks for the comment! Those are some great looking figures, Mac. In fact, 28mm is my favorite scale, and I’d love to finally find Portuguese figures in that scale. It’s just a fascinating period.

  2. steventhomasnz says:

    Great stuff. I’m building up Portuguese and Insurgents as well. Also 15mm Peter Pig. Some photos here

    And seem to be landing on CWC as the rules. Wondered if you’ve any insights.


    • cdingley says:

      I think everyone has their own opinions about which rules are best, but I really like CWC and would highly recommend it. I think it’s a very flexible set, especially in terms of creating your own army lists. Also, I find the forum very helpful and supportive.

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