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Flight Plan Africa: Portuguese Airpower in Counterinsurgency, 1961-1974

Flight Plan Africa: Portuguese Airpower in Counterinsurgency, 1961-1974 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review August 2015 Title Flight Plan Africa: Portuguese Airpower in Counterinsurgency, 1961-1974
Author John P. Cann Publisher Helion
Published 2015 ISBN 9781909982062
Format 480 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $49.95


For nearly 15 years, the Portuguese Air Force – Força Aérea Portuguesa – fought guerrilla movements in three African colonies.

Now distinguished historian John P. Cann illumines those struggles in Flight Plan Africa: Portuguese Airpower in Counterinsurgency, 1961-1974 – a truly terrific tome from Helion.

From the earliest, makeshift missions in Angola with grenades in glass jars tossed from Auster D.5/160 observation aircraft through integrated counterinsurgency operations with Fiat G.91s in Guiné to truly tectonic effects of 1974's revolution, Cann tells the total tale.

With limited resources, Portugal strove to learn history's lessons. And while "there was never any formal [Portuguese] air doctrine", Cann embeds case studies of French and, obliquely, US and British counterinsurgency airpower innovations. These especially involved use of armed, rotary-wing assets and relatively low-tech solutions – and help illumine Portuguese operational methods.

Cann also traces the leadership and operations of all indigenous insurgent movements throughout Portugal's African colonies – and recaps key metrópole and ultramar political developments. Nor does Africa alone dominate coverage: a sliver of the study recaps the loss of Portuguese Goa.

Absorbing anecdotes abound. Cleverly employing a UPA-marked T-6G to save the people of Púri, for instance, proved an elegantly simple – and deadly – deception. And what do cannibals consider the tastiest parts of the human anatomy? Cann discloses those gruesome details, as well.

Nitpicks? Some. The Korean War ended in 1953 – not 1952. That's Juscelino Kubitschek – not "Kubitscheck". It's Mike Hoare – not "Hoar". And Portuguese Lockheed PV-2 Harpoons retained robust bombing capabilities – and were not just "open-ocean reconnaissance aircraft" essentially conscripted for more militant missions.

None of these, however, detracts from the value of this vital volume. Dozens of photos, maps and annotations augment Cann's account. Interested in low-intensity warfare? Grab this one.

Robustly recommended!

With thanks to Casemate Publishing for the review copy!