Portuguese Dragoons 1966-1974. The Return to Horseback

Published: July 11th, 2020     
Product Image
Author: John P. Cann
Reviewed by: Luke R. Bucci PhD - IPMS# 33549
ISBN #: 978-1-912866-28-1
Other Publication Information: 68 pages, Softbound, 90 photos, 10 maps, 12 color profiles
Price: $29.99
Product / Stock #: Africa@War Series - #42
Product provided by: Casemate Publishing

Thanks to Casemate Publishing & IPMSUSA for the review copy!

John P. Cann has written nine titles on Portugal's colonial actions in Angola. This book is part of Helion & Company's Africa@War Series - #42. John Cann is a Research Fellow and retired Professor of National Security Studies at Marine Corps University (www.usmcu.edu) in Quantico, Virginia. John Cann acknowledged the generous help of Lieutenant Colonel (Cavalry) Miguel Freire and Colonel (Cavalry) Paulo Manuel Madeira de Athayde Banazol for their help. In other words, the author learned about this topic from the horses' mouths, so to speak.

What You Get

An 11 11/16 X 8 1/4 inch softcover book of 96 pages (not counting covers) with color covers and four pages (i-iv) of eight color illustrations and photos in the middle. The book is chock-full of B&W photos and illustrations (~105), with 19 maps, the first being of Africa currently so the reader can keep track of locations. A large list of abbreviations and a short Acknowledgement go right into the brief Introduction, followed by five chapters, Selected Bibliography and Notes.

As a kid growing up watching the nightly news, the Angolan conflicts were mentioned, but details were scanty and the major interest was yet another Communist intervention (including Fidel Castro) at the time of the Vietnam War. This book helps sort out what was really going on in Angola during 1966-1974, and what Portugal did to keep hold of their colony with military action, specifically unusual tactics.

A history of Portugal from prehistoric times to the 1960s proved fascinating and gave important background to understand the courses of action outlines in this book. It is a short history of horse cavalry in general and Portuguese national history. This perspective helps to understand why Portugal used cavalry instead of "modern" equipment. The history of Portugal as a small but feisty colonial nation mixing it up with bigger European countries to carve up the world into their possessions in order to secure raw materials for growth and supremacy is something seldom considered, but is at the root of each soldier's lives and deaths.

The history of Portugal taking and defending its colonial African possession is given plenty of coverage, and goes into history of cavalry actions and why Portugal decided to use horses in 1966.

This book presents and analyzes the use of cavalry by Portuguese military in Angola from 1966-1974. The politics were complicated, and the factions numerous and ever-changing, but the focus is strictly on military training and action, not geopolitics.

Successes and failures were given equal attention so that military lessons can be learned, regardless of what is transporting the troops. The term dragoon defines horse-mounted infantry, with peculiar logistical needs and advantages for certain geographies. Cost of maintaining a war was only one reason to use dragoons - staying close to the indigenous people and troop mobility denied to other modes of transportation were other reasons.

The part I found interesting was the exceptional attention to training dragoons by Portugal throughout history, culminating in relatively modern warfare usage. The human-animal bond was another large part of being a dragoon. Ultimately, the logistics of providing feed and water to horses and mules was a major limiting factor for modern application of horse cavalry in military operations. Opponents learned to target the horses instead of the mounted troops for countering dragoons.

Summary

This quick-read book is an excellent abbreviated history of cavalry use and tactics from olden times up to today. Strengths and weaknesses of horse-mounted infantry (dragoons) was thoroughly explained and determined in actual war operations. In the right setting, dragoons can make sense for limited military operations, even now. Recommended if you like obscure military topics, cavalry, asymmetric forces, colonial domination and indigenous struggles for returning control of their lands.

  • Front cover of Helion Portuguese Dragoons 1966-74
    Front cover of Helion Portuguese Dragoons 1966-74
  • Back cover of Helion Portuguese Dragoons 1966-74
    Back cover of Helion Portuguese Dragoons 1966-74
  • B&W Photograph of Cliff Training for Cavalry showing how arduous and intense cavalry training was.
    B&W Photograph of Cliff Training for Cavalry showing how arduous and intense cavalry training was.
  • B&W Photograph of Cavalry Training for Helicopter Acceptance showing how old tactics were modified for modern warfare.
    B&W Photograph of Cavalry Training for Helicopter Acceptance showing how old tactics were modified for modern warfare.

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