The Angolan War of Independence (1961–1975) began as an uprising against forced cotton harvesting, and became a multi-faction struggle for control of Portugal's Overseas Province of Angola with 11 separatist movements.
During the early 1960s the MPLA named its guerrilla forces the "People's Army for the Liberation of Angola" (Exército Popular de Libertação de Angola - EPLA). Many of its first cadres had received training in Morocco and Algeria. In January 1963, in one of its early operations, the EPLA attacked a Portuguese military post in Cabinda, killing a number of troops. During the mid-1960s and early 1970s, the EPLA operated very successfully from bases in Zambia against the Portuguese in eastern Angola. After 1972, however, the EPLA's effectiveness declined following several Portuguese victories, disputes with FNLA forces, and the movement of about 800 guerrillas from Zambia to the Republic of Congo.
It was essentially a guerrilla war in which the Portuguese Armed Forces successfully fought against several independent groups dispersed by some sparsely populated areas of the vast Portuguese-administered Angolan countryside. Several atrocities were committed by all forces involved in the conflict.
On August 1, 1974 a few months after a military coup d'état had overthrown the Lisbon regime and proclaimed its intention of granting independence to Angola, the MPLA announced the formation of FAPLA, which replaced the EPLA. The war ended in 1975 when the Angolan government, UNITA, the MPLA, and the FNLA signed the Alvor Agreement, after a leftist military coup at Lisbon in April 1974 which overthrew Portugal's Estado Novo regime.
In November 1975, on the eve of Angola's independence, Cuba launched a large-scale military intervention to defend the leftist liberation movement MPLA from United States-backed invasions by South Africa and Zaire in support of two other liberation movements competing for power in the country, FNLA and UNITA. Following the retreat of Zaire and South Africa, Cuban forces remained in Angola to support the MPLA-government against the UNITA-insurgency in the continuing Angolan Civil War.
In late 1975 early 1976 John Banks, a British ex para recruited mercenaries to fight for the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) against the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the civil war that broke out when Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. When captured, John Derek Barker's role as a leader of mercenaries in Northern Angola led the judges to send him to face the firing squad. Nine others were imprisoned. Three more were executed: American Daniel Gearhart was sentenced to death for advertising himself as a mercenary in an American newspaper; Andrew McKenzie and Costas Georgiou (the self styled "Colonel Callan"), who had both served in the British army, were sentenced to death for murder. It’s reported that Costas took full responsibility for the soldiers serving under him whilst in the court room.
By mid 1976 the FAPLA had been transformed from lightly armed guerrilla units into a national army capable of sustained field operations. This transformation was gradual until the Soviet-Cuban intervention and ensuing UNITA insurgency, when the sudden and large-scale inflow of heavy weapons and accompanying technicians and advisers quickened the pace of institutional change.
Unlike African states that acceded to independence by an orderly and peaceful process of institutional transfer, Angola inherited a disintegrating colonial state whose army was in retreat. Although Mozambique's situation was similar in some respects, the confluence of civil war, foreign intervention, and large-scale insurgency made Angola's experience unique. After independence, FAPLA had to reorganise for conventional war and counterinsurgency simultaneously.
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14th November 1965 a Letter from Che Guevara to Oscar Fernandez Padilla. (Document obtained from Archivo del Comite Central, [Archive of the Central Committee]).
Interview with Robert W. Hultslander
Former CIA Station Chief in Luanda Angola
21st November 1967
CIA Special Memorandum
The USSR and Cuba 21st November 1967
22nd November 1972, Memorandum, “The Shipment of Comrades to Angola and Mozambique,” From Major Manuel Piñeiro Lozada to Major Raúl Castro Ruz. (Document from the Centro de Informacion de la Defensa de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias, CIDFAR, [Center of Information of the Armed Forces]).