The red and green Portuguese flag with a poppy field in background

Not many know about the involvement of Portugal in World War 1, side by side with Great Britain and its allies.

The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914 set off a chain of events that led to The Great War, or as we call it now, the First World War. The assassination was traced to a Serbian extremist group that wanted to increase Serbian power in the Balkans by breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On August 5, 1914, all of Europe was at war. On the 2nd of that month, the psychological effects of the war began to be felt in Portugal: the silver coin disappeared from circulation, the price for goods rose and there was a rush to the banks to withdraw the money. In addition to the panic of the population, the government did not know what to do.

On August 7, The Government of Bernardino Machado took to the Congress of the Republic a declaration on foreign policy following the emergency of the war. This declaration reaffirmed the traditional alliance with England without declaring war on Germany. However, only five days later, Portugal organized a military expedition to Angola and Mozambique, thus beginning to fight not in Europe, but in Africa, that is, Portugal’s position in the First World War could not be separated from the defense of overseas colonies, since Germany’s ambitions on these were quite large.

Thus, in a first stage, Portugal participated, militarily, in the war by sending troops to defend the colonies threatened by Germany. Faced with this danger and without a declaration of war, the Portuguese government sent military contingents to Africa.
Even before the outbreak of war, the Anglo-German treaty of 1898 provided for a partition of Angola, Mozambique and Timor, since due to Portugal’s financial difficulties, this country would probably be forced to commit the colonies to solve the crisis.
In 1913, the same countries that joined this treaty concluded on October 20 a treaty revising the previous one.

However, the pretensions of Germany did not bear fruits, due to the Portuguese diplomatic action in London and also because the Germans did not agree with the demand on the part of England to give it prominence. With the outbreak of war, Portuguese possessions in Africa were again at the mercy of Germany’s ambitions.

On August 25, 1914, the German military made an incursion into northern Mozambique.
On September 11, Portugal sends the first military expedition to the colonies.
By the end of 1914, Portugal was at undeclared war with Germany in southern Angola and northern Mozambique. The declaration of war was predictable.

Here the divisions in the national political union begin. Opinions about Portugal’s entry into the conflict were increasingly divided. The Great War therefor marked the destinies of the first Portuguese Republic, from 1914.
On the one hand, the evolutionists of António José de Almeida appear, undecided, although from 1916 they shared the responsibilities of Portugal entering the war. His ideas were guided in the direction of accompanying England; on the other hand, Brito Camacho appears who opposed the intervention of Portugal.

Leader of the unionists, he defended, however, the military reinforcement in the colonies and the fact that Portugal stood on the side of England that was an ally, providing her with all the help she asked, as long as Portugal could give it to her. It adopted a policy of neutrality. Bernardino Machado’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed this idea, where its incumbent, Freire de Andrade, adopted a policy of conditional neutrality.

On the other hand, democratic and Republican intellectuals appear, where João Chagas stands out, who defended Portugal’s participation in the confrontation. These interventionists saw in the war the opportunity to assert the autonomy of Portugal long submitted to the English protectorate. Afonso Costa, for his part, defended the military intervention of Portugal on the side of England, that is, the Portuguese intervention was conditioned by the previous invocation by England of the conditions of the alliance with Portugal.

The role of the Portuguese Republic in the face of the war meant the continuation of diplomacy by other means, that is, since 1910 that Portugal’s foreign policy was made in the sense of maintaining good relations with England, as it helped to consolidate the new regime internationally, since no European state, except the Latin American republics, recognized the Portuguese Republic before England in 1911, when Manuel de Arriaga was elected as president.

On August 4, 1914, the British Foreign Office declared that it did not think it was appropriate for the Portuguese government to declare neutrality or war and that the British government, in case it needed Portugal to intervene, would ask for its help, but would not commit to defending the country and its colonies militarily if Portugal decided to enter the war alone
However, in the last months of 1914, the internal and external situation of Portugal was defined in the direction of intervention. The first foreign request made to Portugal, with a military purpose, came from France, in September 1914, which wanted Portugal to participate with its artillery and infantry.
The British supported the request, and on 10 October the Foreign Office invited the Portuguese government to join the Allies.

On the 14th of that month, Freire de Andrade communicated to the Portuguese legations in Europe that Portugal’s entry into the war as an ally of England was certain. Five days later, on 19 October, an incident in Angola with German troops confirmed this involvement.
On the 20th, a monarchist revolt arose in Mafra, which was against going to war, thus emerging as the first resistance to military mobilization. About a month later, on November 23, the Congress met extraordinarily by order of Bernardino Machado, to obtain authorization to intervene in the confrontation, when and how it deems necessary, as a free nation and ally of England. Two days later, the mobilization was carried out.

Despite the unanimity with which the declaration of 23 November was voted, in practice it did not turn out in the same way. The financial and logistical difficulties that preceded the preparations revealed doubts about the rapid outcome of the war.
New political disagreements emerged among Republicans. The Democratic Party said it was time to form a government of Republican unity under his command, thus ending in the removal of Bernardino Machado from power on December 5, 1914.

Between December and January 1915, the Republic was in chaos. The conditions for a sacred union had not yet been found. The Democratic Party had to shoulder the responsibility, alone, of running a ministry that again needed elections. In this way, Afonso Costa also did not want to assume the head of government, entrusting the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Vítor Hugo de Azevedo Coutinho, to assume the head of a parliamentary government. However, even the unionists abandoned their parliamentary mandates.

Machado Santos resigned his mandate, approving the Senate, among which was Bernardino Machado, a motion of no confidence in the executive.
This government, which became known as the Government of “Les Miserables”, was short-lived. The president of the Republic, Manuel de Arriaga, dismissed the ministry on January 24, 1915, handing over power in dictatorship to the old general Pimenta De Castro.
This dictatorship is inserted in the context of Portugal’s intervention in the war, putting in power not only the opponents of the Democratic Party and The War Party but also the critics of liberal parliamentarism and the more conservative wing of the military hierarchy, thus opening a phase of troubled civil-military relations.

In 1915, the economic and social difficulties caused by the war began to make themselves felt: certain foods began to fail and their prices rose, giving rise to popular uprisings in the main cities of Portugal.
At the end of 1915, the Allies prepared an offensive for the beginning of the following year.
On November 29, 1915, Afonso Costa formed his second government and is sworn in by the new president of the Republic, elected by Congress on August 6, 1915 and sworn in on October 5: Bernardino Machado.

On 30th of December, the Foreign Office asked the Portuguese government if it was available to begin the rescue of German merchant ships that were in the Portuguese ports of the metropolis, colonies and Islands.
Already in January 1916 and before seizing the ships, Afonso Costa tried to get England to authorize Portugal to declare war on Germany, but it was in vain.

On 23 February, the Portuguese government ordered the seizure of the German ships in the port of Lisbon. On March 9, Germany declared war on Portugal. Six days later, António José de Almeida takes over and becomes head of the government, while Afonso Costa takes over the finances. As of March, the government has as a priority the organization of an expeditionary corps.

The resistance is organized: violations of military discipline, the revolt of December 13, 1916 led by Machado Santos, etc. Norton de Matos who, in March 1916, occupies the portfolio of the war, partisan of the intervention of Portugal in the First War organizes in “record” time, together with general Tamagnini, the Division of instruction in Tancos, from which the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP) results. This episode became known as the”miracle of Tancos”.

The first Expeditionary Corps departed on 26 January 1917 for Flanders. This corps lost many men due to German bombing, man-to-man confrontation, the use of poisonous gases by the enemy and the prolonged stay of the troops in combat, since Sidónio Pais refused to replace them.
As the death toll rose in the Expeditionary Corps and its end was predictable, the war became increasingly unpopular.

To be continued…

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