Invaders for Portugal

Last revised August 26, 2000

During the latter part of the 19th century, the major powers of Europe went on a binge of colonialist expansion, and large regions of Africa and Asia were carved up into colonies, concessions, and zones of influence by England, Germany, France, Belgium, and Portugal. The colonization competition became so fierce that it became necessary to hold a conference in the 1880s in Berlin to partition Africa among the European powers. In the Berlin conference, Portugal was awarded Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea.

Armed resistance to the Portuguese colonial administration broke out in Angola in 1961 and had spread by 1964 to Mozambique and Guinea. By 1974 Portugal had committed approximately 140,000 troops, or 80 percent of its available military forces, to Africa.

At the time, Portugal was under the control of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who had come to power as Prime Minister in 1932 and who had an authoritarian, antiliberal, anticommunist view of the world. He personally exercised both executive and legislative functions, controlled local administration, police, and patronage, and was leader of the National Union (União Nacional--UN), an umbrella group for supporters of the regime and the only legal political organization. The new constitution of 1933 embodied the corporatist theory fashionable at the time in Fascist Italy, under which government was to be formed of economic entities organized according to their function, rather than by individual representation. In reality, however, Salazar headed an autocratic dictatorship with the help of an efficient secret police. Strict censorship was introduced, the politically suspect were monitored, and the regime's opponents were jailed, sent into exile, and occasionally killed. For nearly forty years, Salazar completely dominated Portuguese government and politics. However, he suffered an incapacitating stroke in June 1968 after a freak accident and died, still in a coma, more than a year later.

In 1964, the Portuguese government attempted to purchase 29 surplus B-26 Invaders from the civilian market in the United States for use by the Forca Aerea Portuguesa (FAP) in fighting Portugual's African wars. However, by this time a storm of international protests had been raised against the Portuguese military campaigns in Africa, which had resulted in a United Nations embargo against arms deliveries to Portuguese colonies. Consequently, the US State Department refused to approve an export license for the planes.

Undeterred, Portugal was able to acquire seven Invaders in 1965 by a complicated series of subterfuges before US Customs got suspicious and shut off any further deliveries. FAP serials were 7101 to 7107. Following delivery, there was some nose-swapping, resulting in a final mix of six B-26Bs and one B-26C. These aircraft were not initially used in combat and were based at BA 3 Tancos in Portugal, where they were used in weapons trials.

In 1971, six of the FAP Invaders were deployed to Angola for use in the civil war in that colony. Most of the missions flown by the FAP B-26s in Angola were armed reconnaissance flights, with only a few close support and general interdiction missions being carried out. Only once was an Invader actually hit by ground fire, and this did not damage any vital parts of the aircraft and the plane landed safely.

The Angolan civil war dragged on until January of 1975, when Portugal finally threw in the towel and agreed to Angolan independence. By that time, the Portuguese had lost over 11,000 soldiers in Africa. However, the three liberation movements (FNLA, UNITA, and MPLA) that were fighting against the Portuguese colonial forces were not able to agree on the formation of a new government, and within only a few months after the granting of Angolan independence general civil war was raging throughout the country. The Portuguese soon realized the futility of the situation and in November quickly withdrew all their forces from the country, abandoning their B-26s. The planes seem not to have been flown very much by the new government that took over in Angola and remained derelict at Luanda for many years. Some of them may still be there.

All throughout the Angolan war, FAP serial number 7104 had stayed behind in Portugal. It had been struck off charge there due to corrosion. 7104 was transferred in pieces to the Museu do Air in 1976 and is still in storage there.

A B-26B on display in Cuba is probably a former FAP machine, acquired by Cuban air force personnel while whey were based in Angola during the 1980s, fighting in the series of Angolan civil wars.


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  2. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume I, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988.

  3. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  4. Foreign Invaders--The Douglas Invader in Foreign Military and US Clandestine Service, Dan Hagendorn and Leif Hellstrom, Midland Publishing, 1994.

  5. US Library of Congress Country Study--Portugal