The Forgotten Ally – Portugal in WW1 I THE GREAT WAR Special


100 years ago the first Portuguese troops fought in the trenches of the Western Front. Portugal is often overlooked when people talk about World War 1. And their soldiers were in some ways even forgotten by their own government. And Portugal is what we are going to talk about today. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War
Special Episode about Portugal and the First World War. In the late 19th century, the Kingdom of Portugal
had a much larger territory than Portugal has today. From the Azores in the Atlantic to Angola
and Mozambique in Africa to East Timor in Southeast Asia, Portugal’s foreign territories
were far larger than its European lands. But Portugal had limited military resources
and a small “home” population and couldn’t rely on itself alone to maintain its empire. For that, Portugal relied on close diplomatic
ties with Britain. Those ties prevailed in spite of the “pink
map” affair, when Portugal tried to create a Trans-African colony that would have interfered
with Cecil Rhodes’ plans for a Cape to Cairo railway. The Portuguese government gave in to British
demands realizing that they couldn’t win a war. But that had huge repercussions on public
opinion in Portugal. It was a humiliation and the king and the
government were cowards. The Republican faction exploited this sentiment
to attack King Carlos I. They mounted a failed coup in 1891, but over
the next two decades their support and influence grew and grew. In 1908, Carlos and his son were assassinated
by Republican activists, and in 1910 they mounted a successful coup. Portugal became a republic like France and
Switzerland. The war broke out and the ties with Britain
and strong anti-German sentiment made Portugal view the Entente favorably. That anti-German sentiment was from colonial
issues; the Portuguese African colonies bordered the German ones and there was tension and
even skirmishing between the two before the war. Portugal asked Britain how they could help
out in the war effort, and they were basically put on hold. “For the present moment His Majesty’s
Government would be satisfied if the Portuguese government refrained from proclaiming neutrality. In the event of His Majesty’s government
considering it necessary to make any demand upon the Portuguese government which would
not be compatible with the latter’s neutrality, they would appeal to the Alliance as justification
for such demand.” That appeal finally came in early 1916. Following a British request, Portugal seized
all German and Austro-Hungarian ships in Portuguese ports and Germany declared war on Portugal. Now, Portugal and Germany were already engaged
militarily in Africa, but because it was peripheral neither side had seen the need to officially
declare war, so this declaration was for Portugal’s entry into European hostilities. But it wasn’t just Britain’s request that
brought Portugal into the war. See, the new Portuguese regime wasn’t that
popular among the people, partly because of tax reforms, the secularization of the state,
and the legalization of divorce, but also Portugal’s economic situation was dire. Afonso Costa, the leader of one of the new
parties, thought Portuguese intervention could unite the country around a common goal, thus
using patriotism to stabilize the government. He was the main promoter of the interventionist
movement. Recent historians suggest that he also thought
intervention would bring financial benefits, and that theory is supported by the fact that
he was their representative at Versailles postwar and actively pushed for financial
compensation there. We’ve talked about the fighting in Africa
in our regular episodes and Africa specials, so let’s look at the European theatre. Germany declared war on Portugal March 3,
1916 and preparations for a Portuguese Expeditionary Force – the CEP – began May 24th, when Minister
of War General José Norton de Matos gave the green light to initially drafting and
training 20,000 men. The men spent most of the rest of the year
training in the weapons and techniques of modern war and were then brought to Lisbon
and put under the command of General Fernando Tamagnini de Abreu e Silva. The troops were sent to France over the first
two months of 1917 and were all there by February 23rd. Once at the front, the British gave them further
training in trench warfare and British weapons and equipment. The men were gradually assigned to British
units and the Portuguese to reach the trenches did so April 4th. That same day also saw the first Portuguese
casualty. Soon, the British began to organize entirely
Portuguese units that were integrated into British brigades. When there were enough units, an entirely
Portuguese brigade was formed. This repeated itself until two Portuguese
divisions could be formed, one under General Sinel de Cordes and one under General Gomes
da Costa. Once these divisions were formed, they were
given a section of the front to defend, on the La Lys River between Armentieres and Bethune. This was an 11km section of front. By comparison, in April 1918 the Americans
had about the same amount of front to defend, but had three times as many men there as the
Portuguese. Those Portuguese would also be seriously affected
by events back home. December 1917 saw a change of power in Lisbon. Sidonio Pais’ new authoritarian government
was openly against Portugal participating in the war and he distanced himself from the
whole thing. He had been Portuguese Ambassador to Berlin
until 1916 and was pretty pro-German. For the Portuguese Army in the field this
meant that they would get no further assistance from Lisbon. The men felt abandoned and morale plummeted. This really showed when their sector of the
front went active in April 1918. The Portuguese troops were exhausted after
six straight months at the front and were due to be relieved by British troops April
9th. That very morning, while the relief was in
progress, the Germans attacked with around 55,000 men. The sector was thrown into confusion. The Germans swiftly took the first few defensive
lines. High Command ordered a retreat to new defensive
positions but the Portuguese and British had to delay the Germans to cover the retreat. The orders were to “Die at Line B”. This they did, but they did also slow the
German momentum and by the time the Germans reached the rear of the sector, they were
stopped. The Portuguese forces had been crushed. 1,300 men dead, 4,000 wounded, and 7,000 taken
prisoner. The survivors were replaced by British troops
and the CEP never really recovered after La Lys. That battle did produce the hero Anibal Milhais,
who fought the Germans single-handedly with a Lewis Gun there. He reportedly killed several hundred German
soldiers during the four days he wandered the front, after personally enabling the retreat
of several entire units. He was awarded the highest Portuguese military
honors and remains a badass legend to this day. After La Lys, the men performed mostly auxiliary
tasks until they saw smaller scale front line duty toward the end of the war. General Tamagnini was replaced in July 1918
by General Rosado. A month after the war, Sidonio Pais was assassinated
and the interventionists came to power once again. At Versailles, Portugal got a piece of Mozambique
and the promise of reparations from Germany. These were never paid but Germany did build
a new naval base near Lisbon that’s still in use today. The war had produced a big rift between the
politicians and the army. The army wasn’t even that well received
when it returned home and the military leaders, like Da Costa, who felt neglected during the
war began to participate in the political arena. This, together with high inflation, high unemployment,
and shockwaves from Russia’s Bolshevik revolution put the Portuguese Republic in a precarious
state. Between 1920 and 1926 there were 23 governments
in Portugal, as one fell after another, before Da Costa staged a coup in 1926 that would
begin a period of nearly 50 years of authoritarian rule in Portugal. All that is beyond the scope of this channel,
though. Today was just a brief look at Portugal before
and during the war. You should look it up yourself to get a better
understanding, particularly the colonial struggles with Germany. I just thought I’d say a few words about
one of the smaller nations that fought the war, but still one who sent men to die at
the front, and one whose soldiers were unfortunately neglected by the people at home. Thank you Pedro Paulo for helping us with
the research for this episode. If you want to learn more about the week Germany
declared war on Germany, you can click right here. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and
follow us on Twitter for more background information about World War 1. See you next time.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. Portugal’s army abandoned the Portuguese in Africa, thanks to the devil Soares, May he rest in the Inferno with the devil, and may all that family be wiped out of the planet!!!

  2. No one cares BUT! The photo from Azores, IS NOT, Azores…. Its actually A small island off the cost called, Santa Senhora da Conceição, it used to be a forteres, and now a days is a nightclub, and its on Madeira Islands… NOTAzores 🙂

  3. Português:
    Olá, eu sou Português e o mapa Cor-de-Rosa não é um laço, mas um proposta.

    Á cerca de sermos da "Entente" tem a ver com a aliança que tínhamos com os Ingleses,

    E como se chama essa base naval da Alemanha em Lisboa?

    Adoro o video, e espero mais video.

    English
    Hello, I'm Portuguese and the Pink map is not a tie, but a proposal.

    About being of the "Entente" has to do with the alliance we had with the British,

    And what is the name of this naval base of Germany in Lisbon?

    I love the video, and I expect more video.

  4. Portugal morreu seus idiotas, perdeu independencia e maioria dos burros nem se apercebeu. Cambada de traidores. Vossa amiga UE ja tomou conta das aguas, 2022 vai o mar para bruxellas, agricultura pescas tudo controlado por eles, e muito mais. Povo Portugues esta tudo zombie e burros…

  5. I'm a portuguese born in germany and the best job i ever had in germany, was for the british army in Mönchengladbach. Best mates i ever had.

  6. Its Afonso Costa, not Afonso da Costa. General José Norton de Matos first name is pronounce with a Portuguese J, the same sound as in French. You could have looked at Google translator the approximate correct pronounciation of the Portuguese names.

  7. Brazil participation at the World War I, and I think also at World War II, is even more overlooked than the one from Portugal. You could do a video about Brazil, because many people don`t know that they fought at World War I.

  8. Portugal presence at the World War I is overlooked outside the country because it wasn´t that decisive. Portugal could have remained neutral all the conflict, but unfortunately the need to protect the Colonial Empire from Germany led the Republican government to declare war to Germany in 1916. Portugal participation certainly wouldn`t have been overlooked at all if we had entered World War II on the Allies side, because of that war`s geographical dimension. History also would have been different because our fascist regimen almost certainly would have fallen. An ignorant wrote in here "when Portugal isn`t overlooked?" Try the Portuguese Discoveries, when Portugal started the European Expansion, in the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Portuguese Colonial Empire history. Even the Napoleonic Wars had some important battles of the Peninsular War in Portugal.

  9. Neo comment that I will like to highlight says it all: Hummm… let me see:

    Portugal is the best world tourist destination for the second year in a row…

    Portugal is the best place in the world for expats…

    Apparently Portugal gets tagged by millions on "Facebook" but you had no idea, not even in your wildest dreams… only a world comes to my mind: IGNORANT.

    This is the sort of ignorance played by the usual south-americans swanky braggarts that look at the world from a small tube … LOL

  10. As a portuguese person I thank you for the episode but. Portugal didn't become Authoritarian it became Communist until 1971 when we became "The 2nd Portuguese Republic"

  11. Thank you for taking the time and effort in honoring those men with this video. Very informative. I always enjoy learning more about my Portuguese roots.

  12. Sadly lies were also spread by the British officers and generals, they said that most of the Portuguese men tossed their rifles to the ground and ran during the German operation Georgete; in reality a lot of the Portuguese men actually held their ground to the last breath.
    This whole alliance crud feels very one sided tbh. :,(

  13. My Father went to the colony war with Angola, while his brother was in Mozambique. Both returned once Carnation revolution plan happened. I'm sure everyone knew in the army when it was going to happen. News goes around fast. 😉

  14. It should be clarified that by 1914 Portugal was financially bankrupt and its colonies were on the verge of division in the account of its debt. By joining the war, Portugal saved its colonies from partition

  15. "Soldiers neglected by the people at home."
    A scenario that keeps being repeated time and time again by every nation in the world to this very day.

  16. Just a side note: Although the name "José" in Portugal is identical in spelling to its Spanish counterpart, we Portuguese do not pronounce the "J" as an "H" like the Spaniards do. We pronounce it just like you would in English, like a "J". Thanks. Mike.

  17. Kinda weird how you pronounce the names as if it was spanish.

    For example: José, you say something like this: Hósé.

    Or versailles, you don't even finish half of the word, you just say versái.

    Oh well, it's nice that i got to learn a bit more about my country's history. Learning history is also important.

  18. My grandfather born in Porto 1898.
    1916 Portugal declare war against germany.

    18 years old he imigrate to Brazil .

  19. yea as a portuguese i know that a lot that portugal in many times is forgoten for example portugal was the last empire on earth not rome as a lot of people would have said portugal is a small country but we as my ancestors were able to control a lot of territory and the one who descovered india etc

  20. Pls don’t pronounce Portuguese names like they were Spanish,we thought Spaniards for around 600 years in total not to be humiliated like that,it’s really offensive to us
    And also,de costa’s rule only lasted until 1933,then a new government took over and soon it was ruled by the most dreaded man in Portuguese history,António de Oliveira Salazar,he ruled until 1964,then a new dictator took over but was deposed after the 1974 deathless couo

  21. My grandmother’s uncle died in WW1 for Portugal and when we talk about this war I always remember him. Also Aníbal Milhais there’s a movie about him, I have to watch it some day! 👌🏻🇵🇹

  22. There are two points that you should have mentioned.
    1) Portuguese officers would ostensibly take leaves back to portugal every chance they could. The hardships was just for the common soldier, that was the mentality of the officer class. When the germans attacked the portuguese army was without leadership…
    2) to this day portuguese government does not take care of the war graves… that says a lot about the country

  23. As a portuguese I thank you for doing an episode on my country. I just have one repair to do, the names are not spanish, they have a different pronunciation in portuguese.

  24. Muito Obrigado por exaltarem o meu orgulho patriota.

    E só por causa disso aqui vai:

    As armas e os barões assinalados,

    Que da ocidental praia Lusitana,

    Por mares nunca de antes navegados,

    Passaram ainda além da Taprobana,

    Em perigos e guerras esforçados,

    Mais do que prometia a força humana,

    E entre gente remota edificaram

    Novo Reino, que tanto sublimaram;

    Obrigado.

  25. My great great grandfather was in the ww1 as a Portuguese troop, he fought in the mentioned front, he did survive, however because of the amount of gas that was thrown in to combat at that time, he went mad and committed suicide just like they teached at that time

  26. 3:34 first time seeing Bernadino Machado on video (the one on the left), he was a part of my family and it's very cool to see him on record

  27. Aníbal Milhais was called "Soldado Milhões" (or "Soldier Millions") because his name resembles the world millions in Portuguese. His acting Commander Ferreira do Amaral once said that Anibal was worth "a million soldiers" upon returning from the front and the name stuck.

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