Comandos Marching on…

While generally forgotten in the West these days, the bad old European colonial powers stood fast in Africa in the 1960s and 70s against a tide of Marxist-Communist insurgencies during the chilliest part of the Cold War. One of the least chronicled is the fight that the Portuguese military put up against the Moscow-backed insurgents in Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique. Most of this war was fought by local troops augmented by small fire brigade-type Comando units led by men with the hearts of lions.

One of those was João de Almeida Bruno.

Bruno, during the 1970s. He earned the First Class War Cross and the Silver Medal of Military Valor, with palm, leading small units of Comando in the bush.

Born in 1935, Bruno graduated from Portugal’s historic (founded in 1640) officer academy in 1952 and saw his first posting to Africa as a cavalry captain in command of the Companhia de Cavalaria nº 108 in 1961.

Portuguese dragoon in Angola. Note the HK G3. The Portuguese used horse-mounted cavalry in COIN operations well into 1974

Passing the 5th Comando Course held by the Portuguese Army, he soon rose to command such special operations units and by 1972 was a major in command of the Batalhão de Comandos da Guiné.

In all, some 9,000 operators served in 67 Comando companies, attached to a variety of Caçadores (hunter) battalions, fought in Africa between 1962 and 1974, suffering no less than 1,156 casualties.

A gentleman, Bruno would avoid the stain suffered by some such officers fighting “dirty wars” on the Continent and go on to command the Portuguese military academy (Academia Militar) from 1989 to 1993 and head the country’s Supreme Military Court from 1994 to 1998 before retiring after 46 years of service.

He joined his last muster on Aug.10, 2022, at age 87. His body was in state at the Military Academy over the weekend.

“The President of the Republic evokes, with respect, admiration and friendship, General João de Almeida Bruno, presenting his condolences to the Family and the Portuguese Army, which served with independence, a sense of mission and integral devotion”, reads the statement of the Presidency of the Republic.

Today, after a decade in which they were disbanded, the reformed Regimento de Comandos is one of NATO’s premier Ranger-style organizations.

Their motto is Audaces Fortuna Juvat (Latin for “Luck Protects the Bold”) and their war cry is “Mama Sumae” a Bantu phrase they picked up in the 1960s in Angola that roughly translates to “here we are, ready for the sacrifice.”

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