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Operação Mar Verde / Operation Green Sea

The largest Portuguese amphibious operation was an attack on the government of President Ahmed Sékou Touré, the leader of the Republic of Guinea. Portugal commenced Operação Mar Verde or Operation Green Sea on 22 November 1970. This seaborne invasion of Conakry, conducted under cover of darkness, sought to overthrow Touré, a staunch PAIGC ally, to capture the leader of the PAIGC, Amilcar Cabral, and to cut off supply lines to PAIGC insurgents.

Guinea very actively supported the nationalist forces attempting to end Portuguese colonial rule in adjacent Guinea-Bissau, from their first appearance in the early 1960s until their ultimate success in 1974. The only significant nationalist organization, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e do Cabo-Verde—PAIGC), had maintained its headquarters in Conakry and its rear area bases in Guinea close to the border with the Portuguese colony. The leader and major force of the PAIGC until 1972 was Amilcar Cabral. Cabral's residence in Conakry was close to that of President Touré, and the two leaders espoused a similar ideology on domestic and international affairs.

According to a wide variety of reports, at the time considerable confusion existed regarding the size and composition of the force as well as the invaders' intentions. A subsequent United Nations (UN) mission — dispatched to Conakry to investigate the situation — clarified to some degree what had actually occurred, although the report of the mission of inquiry and the procedures followed in producing it were open to question by some observers.

According to the UN mission of inquiry, two unmarked World War II landing craft of the LST class and a 5,000-ton cargo vessel, with the aid of several small motorized boats, landed an infantry force of 250 to 300 men on Conakry's beaches, wearing uniforms identical to those of the Guinean army. More recent accounts suggest the force consisted of about 200 armed Guineans - in uniforms similar to those of the Guinean Army and commanded by Portuguese officers — and 220 African-Portuguese and Portuguese soldiers.

The invading force rapidly attacked several key targets throughout the city and beyond, including the city's power station. Although President Touré's summer villa was attacked and destroyed, only a minimal effort was directed at the presidential palace, where he was spending the night. The main attacking force reached but ignored the airport and apparently attacked what they thought was the operative radio station, unaware that its use had been discontinued when replaced earlier by a new station.

The invaders concentrated on destroying the headquarters of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands (Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e do Cabo-Verde — PAIGC) in an unsuccessful attempt to capture PAIGC leader Amilcar Cabral, who was in Europe at the time. Others seized the political prison camps and liberated a number of prisoners, including Portuguese soldiers and airmen who had been captured earlier by PAIGC forces and turned over to the Guineans for safekeeping; some had been held captive in these camps for as long as seven years.

At this point, half of the invading force withdrew with the released prisoners to the waiting ships, leaving the task of overthrowing the Guinean government to a force estimated at fewer than 150 men. This group apparently hoped for an uprising by the population, but such a reaction failed to occur. Outside observers have speculated that public support was not achieved because the invaders failed to seize the right radio station, which continued to operate under government control. Moreover, most important government or party officials avoided capture.

During the first hours after the invasion, limited Guinean resistance was mounted. PAIGC personnel defending their headquarters and Guinea's Garde Républicaine, in whose camps the political prisoners were located, bore the brunt of the fighting. After the disquieting events of 1969, most of the Guinean army troops had been dispersed throughout the country and the few military units that remained in or near the capital did not have sufficient combat capability to participate in its defense. The following day the PDG rallied considerable resistance to the remaining invaders. Apparently the brunt of the fighting was borne by the Guinean militia and other security force units.

By evening the invasion ships had withdrawn, and most of the remaining invaders had been killed; at least sixty were taken prisoner, including six Portuguese. Guinean authorities reported that other forces from Portuguese Guinea had attempted an invasion by land just after the seaborne landings but had been driven back.

Fearing a continuation of the attacks, the Guinean government appealed to the UN and to other African states for military forces to aid in Guinea's defense. No troop response was forthcoming, but a number of countries offered other support. For example, Egyptian transport planes carrying light arms donated by Egypt and Nigeria landed at Conakry- Gbessia airport shortly after the president's appeal. The mission of inquiry, which was the UN response to President Touré's plea for assistance, later concluded that the vessels and about half of the invading force were under the control of the Portuguese army and that their mission had been limited to the liberation of Portuguese prisoners and the crippling of the PAIGC. The rest of the force, according to the UN mission, was composed of military members of Guinean exile opposition groups bent on a coup d'etat.

The Portuguese government subsequently denied any connection with the invading force, but the Assembly of Guineans in Europe (Régroupement des Guinéens en Europe—RGE) claimed full credit for the operation, stating that they had hired the ships in Europe and had embarked from training bases in Sierra Leone, unknown to that country's government. The RGE insisted, however, that its only objective had been the liberation of 400 political prisoners.

In the aftermath of the invasion an extensive purge of the Guinean political and administrative elite was carried out in three stages. When it was concluded, sixteen of the twenty-four members of the cabinet, five former government ministers, thirteen of the country's twenty-nine governors of administrative regions, several Guinean ambassadors, and the Roman Catholic archbishop of Conakry had fallen. Many of those arrested, including the archbishop, were among President Touré's oldest friends and closest supporters.

Only a few military and police officers were among those seized in the initial purge. In this move ninety-two persons were sentenced to death (thirty-four in absentia) including four former cabinet members and the chief of state security. A further seventy-two persons were sentenced to imprisonment for life at hard labor. Even in the first wave of the purge, at least as many Guinean officials as captured invaders were involved.

The November 1970 invasion gave the communist states a chance to improve relations with Guinea. All of these countries rapidly and strongly condemned the attack, attempting to link it to Portugal's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Support was not limited to words, however, as the PRC announced a grant or loan equivalent to US$10 million.

Since the 1970 invasion of Conakry, Soviet ships were on almost constant patrol off the Guinean coast as a screen against a possible repeat of the seaborne invasion. The naval patrol continued in early 1975, as did other significant Soviet, Chinese communist, and Cuban military and civil assistance projects.

The Soviet interest lay not in Guinea itself but in the Cape Verde Islands and their strategic relationship to South Atlantic oil movements. Soviet access to port and air facilities on the Cape Verdes would shorten the reaction time of Soviet naval and air units targeted against US naval operations in the vicinity of the Mediterranean approaches and in the eastern Atlantic. The Soviets’ maritime reconnaissance operations would gain flexibility and their anti-submarine warfare capability would be enhanced with the acquisition of an alternative facility for shorter range aircraft, such as the IL-38 May. This would end the Soviets’ need to rely solely on TU-95 Bear D reconnaissance operations from Conakry, Guinea, some 700 nautical miles to the southeast. Overflight rights, however, would have to be granted by several countries along the Mediterranean littoral to such shorter range aircraft.

In return the Soviet air force was granted the use of Guinean airport facilities for reconnaissance flights over the Atlantic Ocean, and Soviet naval vessels received bunkering rights and other port privileges in the port of Conakry. It has been reported that the Soviet Union sought permission to establish a naval base in the vicinity of Conakry, but apparently Guinea did not grant the request. Thus in early 1975 both the Soviet Union and the PRC clearly held significant positions in Guinea. The extent of their real influence over the sensitive Guinean government, however, was difficult to measure as President Touré continued to make a considerable point of balancing the communist states' position with Western involvement.

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Page last modified: 29-01-2013 13:01:41 ZULU