The Commandos are a special forces unit in the Portuguese Army. The unit is split into various sections in the special forces group. They were created as counter-guerrilla special forces in response to the need of the army to have units specially adapted to the type of war that, in 1961, started in Angola and later in Portuguese Guinea (current Guinea-Bissau) and Mozambique – the Portuguese Colonial War.
In 1962 the army needed units with the ability to:
- conduct special actions in Portuguese territory or abroad
- fight as assault infantry / shock troops
- provide the high political and military commands with a force able to conduct irregular operations
The first objective that the army set out to achieve was that of building a force specially prepared for counter-guerrilla operations, but the Portuguese commandos also participated in irregular operations, with units specially organised for each operation, and in assault operations, with conventional warfare characteristics, especially in the last years of the war, when they operated in battalion strength, backed up by artillery and the Air Force.
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The history of the Portuguese commandos began on June 25, 1962, when, in Zemba (Northern Angola), the first six groups of those that would be the predecessors of the commandos, were formed. For the preparation of these groups, the CI 21 – Centro de Instrução de Contraguerrilha (Counter-Guerrilla Instruction Centre) was created, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Nave, and had as instructor, the photographer and former French Foreign Legion Sergeant, the Italian Dante Vachi, with experience in the Indochina and Algerian wars.
The six groups prepared in this center achieved excellent operational results. Nonetheless, the military command in Angola decided to re-evaluate the instruction and integration of these units into the army and, in 1963 and 64, the 16 and 25 Instruction Centres (CI 16 and CI 25) were created, in Quibala, Angola. For the first time, the term “Comandos” (Commandos) was applied to the troops instructed there.
On February 13, 1964, the first Mozambique Commandos Course was initiated in Namaacha (Lourenço Marques, now Maputo) and in 23 July of the same year, in Bra (Guinea-Bissau), the first Guinea Commandos Course.
During the Colonial War, they were one of the best guerilla/counter-guerilla units in the world.
The commando training course had the objective of preparing for combat and had two characteristics – the practice and realism – based on two aspects: the combat technique and the psychological preparation. All this having as foundation the physical and psychic selection with high standards, although these decreased as the war dragged on.
The psychological preparation to war was perhaps the aspect that most distinguished the commandos. Its objective was to transform the man into a self-disciplined soldier, competent and effective in combat, able to fight in any situations and conditions. The psychological component was, probably, the most striking component of the instruction, assuming that its main weapon was one’s will.
To perfect the will’s domain over all other instincts, the commando instruction’s physical demands reached the limits of the recruit’s resistance, aspiring to make each one the master of his own will