‘A Opcao Pela Espada’ by Pedro Marangoni

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An extract from the above book translated by Pedro Marangoni, and reviewed by Terry Aspinall

Having served in the Brazilian Air Force as a pilot earlier in my career, and later joining the French Foreign Legion where I under took what can only be described as one of the most intense and physical infantry training courses available in the world. I found myself in Mozambique during early 1974 disguised as a "missionary teacher" (at that time the Portuguese government was scrutinising and limiting all foreigners who were trying to enter the country). I was waiting and looking for the opportunity to fight against the Marxist terrorist groups that I knew was operating in the country. At that time I strongly believed that they and the propaganda they were spreading could be the very same enemy that one day might threaten my own country of Brazil. Therefore, I believed it was better to fight them here in Africa rather than in my own backyard.

Events moved quickly leading up to April 1974, after the notorious ‘Carnation Revolution’ took place in Portugal, the country who at the time was ruling Mozambique as a colony. Radical communist believers took control of the country, leaving the colonists in Africa to their own fate. It was not long before the whites were being massacred, as the area was turned into total chaos. I made a quick decision while it was possible and decided to get out of the country while I could, and crossed the border into Rhodesia. I was hoping to find groups of supporters like myself who were against the problems and atrocities taking place in Mozambique. Sadly and not to my liking all I found was plenty of talk with many rumours but no action. Nobody was doing anything to combat the situation.

Back in Mozambique the problems had escalated into a war and it was plain to see that there was to be no truce in the near future. However, at least I was free to fight. Therefore I decided to go back to Mozambique on my own to see what I could do, and so I made my way to an area known as Niassa in the north of the colony, a place that was of great interest me. When I arrived I took full advantage of the bedlam and chaos that was taking place in all the Administrative and Military facilities, a consequence of the revolution that had just taken place in Portugal.

In Niassa, there was a village called Cóbue that was strongly protected by a company of Special Marines, who would eventually withdraw as the Portuguese were throughout the country, leaving the defenceless population to the mercy of the murderous Frelimo guerrillas, desirous of revenge and power.

The barracks that were formerly owned by the “Consolata Mission” were empty. I volunteered to occupy it to avoid it being destroyed by the natives, until the Mission returned. They agreed and so I got the Navy to take me there by boat across the lake and after a very rocky six hour trip I finally landed on the shores of the lake and made my way towards the barracks.

There were 39 African Militias (non conventional soldiers) defending the village of Cóbue, positioned on the shores of Lake Niassa. There were no roads in the area and the landing strip runway had been destroyed earlier by flood water, and the only means of transport around was by boats belonging to the Portuguese Navy. There were plenty of terrorists in the area, and I found myself being the only white man within a radius of hundreds of kilometres of the area.

There I found the Portuguese Marines were preparing to leave. They were armed to the teeth with strips of ammunition crossing their chests, and were also carrying mortars. They remained vigilant fearing an attack at the last minute.

The Portuguese flag was lowered for the last time in the territory, bringing to an end the hard work of generations of young people who gave their blood and sweat on behalf of the Fatherland. The officer then used his knife to cut the strings on the mast so that the flag of Frelimo could not be hoisted immediately. While this was happening the complete Marine Company was formed up on one side of the barracks, while I stood on the other side. I was alone and unarmed at the time watching the ceremony. To the military they may have thought that I was a terrorist, because no white man would ever stay in a place that had once had a whole company of hardened Marines to defend it, and now they were leaving. Now the whole area would be left without protection and I would certainly be on my own.

My only means of communicating with the Naval Base at Metangula would be by radio. Any aid that I required would take a minimum of three hours, and a fast motor boat to reach me. The village was situated near the barracks, and housed the 39 African Militia men all armed with Mauser 1908 model rifles.

The order was given and like a retreat in battle, the Marines who were always vigilant and alert withdrew to their landing craft waiting on the beach, with a rocket launcher placed on one of the boats. Then just as the last Marines prepared to board, a verys light   rose into the air at the end of the old airstrip. The guerrillas were defiantly showing their presence in the area.

The guerrillas were defiantly showing their presence in the area.

It was getting late when the small convoy of boats finally disappeared in the distance. I turned and went back to the barracks to be greeted by 36 empty rooms in a building that was surrounded by trenches and barbed wire.

I opened my bag pulling out two defensive grenades, which I had bought days before from a soldier in Vila Cabral, the capital of Niassa. Using a thin wire I tied one grenade to a leaf of the bedroom door, while fixing another wire from the safety pin of the grenade to a hole in the middle of the next leaf. I slowly closed the doors making sure the tensioned in the wire was not to slack. If someone tried to force the door, the grenade would explode. Obviously I would not be inside. With the other grenade under my shirt I walked in the dark along a path of some 500 meters to the house of the village Administrator, on top of a little hill. The Administrator (a sort of mayor) was an African, and former member of the Parachutists Special Group, and was a reliable person. He was directly responsible for the militia in his village. However, I was going to look after myself.

He gave me a FBP 9mm (looks like a Smeisser German submachine gun), six porters of ammunition and two grenades. We agreed that I could inspect his positions and we could exchange ideas for their improvement and of the protection devices mounted by the militias in the area, something I found deeply flawed. I told him that as we learnt to work together, I would then assume full control of the situation. This came as a great relief to the Administrator who did not want the responsibility.

That first night I went back to barracks, but I did not go in to the room where I had attached the grenade. Instead I climbed a wooden ladder to a kind of garret, (room on the top floor, that was partly in roof) situated in the centre of the building and pulled the ladder up behind me. The window overlooked a large area and the attic had links with the rest of the ceiling. It was clean and the walls were covered with pictures of naked women. Not bad I thought, while mentally thanking the Marine who had the idea to transform the cubicle into a room. I was very tired and fell asleep with my weapon at hand, it being my first night in a real combat zone. This time I was not manoeuvring, as I had done back in Brazil or with the Legion, this was the real thing.

And so began my life as a fighter. Here I was, a one man army replacing an entire company of hardened veteran Marines, who had just left. As a principle I had always believed I wanted to fight, and now here I was with guerrilla enemies completely surrounding me!

The night passed and to my surprise the Frelimo guerrillas did not appeared. Although I had thought that the first night without the Marines would have been a good time for an attack, but apparently the terrorists did not want to attack me immediately. In the morning I changed my civilian clothes for a green militia suit, although officially, I remained a kind of missionary and scoured the village in the company of the administrator.

The so called village "protection device" simply did not exist. The militia usually left their weapons in the huts and went fishing. Later I gather a few staff members together and indicated four strategic points around the village where they were to dig trenches. I also organised a rotation guard system, since I could not stop them from searching for food and started to personally control the stock of ammunition and grenades we had, which the natives respectively used to hunt and fish. Then on my own I undertook my daily patrols exploring the surroundings. There were signs of enemy presence in the area, but as time passed nothing happened.

During one trip the weekly supply boat that came from Metangula, also brought a PSP policemen (Public Security Police), armed with G-3 (semi-automatic rifle), which improved our little arsenal. The African policemen named Abdul became a very valuable aid he was a good military man unlike the lazy Militias villages.

A native whose disappearance was investigated suddenly reappeared in the village with interesting news. Apparently he was captured and later freed by the guerrillas, who questioned him about the departure of the Marines, which they did not believe, thinking it to be some sort of a trap. The native also confirmed that he had also told them he had seen "thirty whites all well armed," a lie that was probably causing the postponement of their attack on the village, and plunder of the canteen, as was customary in the villages were they were unprotected.

We were informed by radio telling us about attacks on nearby places abandoned by the Portuguese. Although of Cóbue there was no news.


On August 2nd, 1974 I dined with my new friend Abdul at the Administrators house, who had travelled to Villa Cabral for a week in one of the Navy boats. At the time I felt like I owned the place. In fact I dropped my guard a little, being tired of carrying a gun in vain I left the weapon in the barracks, and bathed and dressed in comfortable civilian clothes.

At 19:40 pm. after I had cut a piece of yummy grilled fish placed in front of me by a servant a long shrill blast of a Kalashnikov AK-47 ripped through the silence of the night, taking me completely by surprise. Broken flying glass along with the loud sound of the rounds being discharged told me it was very close to home! In a fraction of a second I found myself crawling to the bedroom. Abdul made run for the kitchen, while a servant ran dropping a metal tray with a crash. All of a sudden I had negative thoughts in my head! Here I was unarmed wearing light clothes, looking like somebody who could be picked out as a beginner. Not me I thought! By this time I was crouching and protected by a five feet tall wall that prudently surround the house. I was about to make a decision to run for my weapon. However, Abdul arrived and saved the day, using his G-3. He responded to the fire, giving me coverage while I run to the room in the yard, where I picked up a 9mm Walter pistol and all the grenades I could lay my hands on and returned to the shelter of the wall.

We were being showered by small chips of brick work, as the AK-47s bullets and Russian PPSH impacted into the other side of the wall which we were sheltering behind. Earlier we had been informed that the Frelimo guerrillas were also equipped with 76mm recoilless cannons, if they used them then we are lost.

Although we were in a higher position than the enemy, they were still coming at us, crawling through the high grass that surrounded the area. There seemed to be two groups that consisted of around eight or nine men in each group, and they were making a good job of protect themselves. I was saving my ammo while trying to see the flashes of guns. I could then return fire in their direction. Abdul seemed to be in trouble with his G-3 and looked terrified. A little too late he had suddenly realised that the ammunition loaders were for a Belgian FN rifle, and not for the G-3 he was using, they did not fit his gun. He began to empty them to load the single charger. By this time the enemy was close and shooting at random.

Lost by one, or lost by a thousand, what’s the difference I thought?  I then jumped up and climb onto the top of the wall, knowing that my light coloured clothing would silhouette in front of a black night sky, I cried out.

Frelimo! Frelimo!

For a moment the terrorists stopped firing and listened. I was about to tell them that the war was over along with the revolution etc, etc, but the pause lasted only a few seconds. Suddenly, a hail of bullets pass close by me slashing a papaya tree at my side!

I screamed out at full force "son of bitch", ending my career as a negotiator I jumped to the ground to do whatever I could to fight them off, by making a lot of noise and bluffing the enemy with our firepower.

I threw three grenades in quick succession to the lowlands where I had already heard noises of men and also fired my pistol. I then reloaded a new clip into the Walter. By this time Abdul was returning fire with his G-3. The results were good and the grenades seemed to have hit someone. The guerrillas had not expected a reaction from us and by this time they were very close. However, after the grenades were thrown and both Abdul and I fired a burst into them they receded quickly. However, those who tried to loot the village canteen were also stopped because of an unexpected defence by two of the militia men. After which the guerrillas beat a hasty retreat knowing that if they stayed too long reinforcements would arrive.

However, with some food stolen and six women abducted the "glorious" Frelimo disappeared.

We reload our guns and after a staggering ten minutes of total silence, I jump the wall, followed by Abdul and we run down to the village waving the Walter Pistol in the dark. It's crazy, but I preferred it to the suspense of waiting entrenched at the heights where we were. Lucky for us the enemy had already fled. With the exception of the two men who had held the canteen along with their families, the remaining militias had abandoned their weapons and jumped in the lake among the reeds or hid in the woods!

And so I received my baptism of fire on top of an African hill and along with Abdul, we had repulsed an attack by guerrillas, who had superiority in both manpower and material, which was not enough to overcome their cowardice.

Pedro Marangoni