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Monumento aos mortos da Primeira Guerra Mundial in Coimbra, Portugal

Despite its old alliance with Britain, Portugal did not form a part of the system of alliances which became enemies in World War I and thus kept its neutrality during the first years of war. Portugal suffered from the German U-Boat warfare which sought to blockade the United Kingdom — at the time the most important market for Portuguese products. Clashes also occurred with German troops in the south of the Portuguese colony of Angola.

Initially both the Portuguese and the German governments formally stuck to Portuguese neutrality. However, eventually the tension between wanting to comply with British requests and staying neutral grew too great, and a confiscation of German economic interests resulted in Germany declaring war.


1916-1918, Portugal in the war

When Portugal complied with the British request to confiscate the German ships interned in Portuguese ports, Germany reacted by declaring war on Portugal, thus forcing the Portuguese into the war.



  • February 23 Following a British request, Portugal interned German ships anchored in Portuguese ports.
  • March 9 Germany declared war on Portugal
  • June 9 Afonso Costa (Finance Minister) and Augusto Soares participated in an Allied Economic Conference where the Allies decided that as condition for peace, Germany would have to return the territories of Alsace-Lorraine to France (occupied since 1871) and Kionga in Mozambique to Portugal (occupied since 1894).
  • July 15 The British government formally invited Portugal to take an active part in the military actions of the Allies.
  • July 22 The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (Corpo Expedicionário Português, CEP), with 30,000 soldiers, was established in Tancos, Portugal, under the command of General Norton de Matos.
  • August 7 The Portuguese parliament accepted the participation of Portugal in the war, following the invitation of the British government. The Portuguese war effort reached 55,000 infantry soldiers, plus 1,000 artillerymen, to be sent to France - 4,000 soldiers per month - in order to man 12 km of battlefront. In fact, only the first two divisions reached France, as the shipping of American troops drastically reduced the Allies' transportation capacity. At the same time Portugal fielded forces in its African colonies, in Mozambique, to defend the colony from German colonial forces, and in the south of Angola, against native unrest instigated by the Germans.
  • December 26 The French government asked Portugal to send artillery crews to France to operate 20 to 30 heavy artillery batteries.


  • January 3 Convention with Great Britain to regulate Portuguese participation in the Western Front. Portuguese troops of the CEP would be integrated in the BEF (British Expeditionary Force).
  • January 7 The Independent Heavy Artillery Corps (Corpo de Artilharia Pesada Independente, CAPI) was created to respond to the French request for artillery crews. Under a Portuguese Superior Command, this unit would operate 25 heavy artillery batteries.
  • February 2 The first Portuguese troops arrived at the port of Brest, in Brittany, France.
  • February 23 The second contingent of the CEP left for France.
  • April 4 The Portuguese troops arrived at the front. First Portuguese casualty: Private António Gonçalves Curado (killed in action).
  • May 30 The 1st Infantry Brigade of the CEP 1st Division occupied a sector in the battle front.
  • June 4 German attack on the sector defended by the 1st Brigade.
  • June 16 2nd Infantry Brigade occupied another sector on the battle front.
  • July 10 CEP 1st Division assumed responsibility of its part of the Portuguese sector on the battle front. It was subordinated to the XI Corps of the British Army, under the command of General Richard Haking. CEP 3rd Infantry Brigade occupied a sector on the battle front.
  • September 23 The 4th Brigade, known as the Brigade of Minho (Brigada do Minho), part of the 2nd Division, reached the front.
  • October 17 The first Portuguese artillery soldiers, representing Portugal’s direct support to the French war effort, arrived in France. They were designated as Corps d’Artillerie Lourde Portugais (CALP).
  • November 5 Portuguese command assumed the responsibility for its sector in the front. Until this date it had been under the command of General Henry Horne’s British First Army.
  • Late 1917 In Portuguese East Africa, German officer Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, after a series of long running battles with numerically superior British forces, entered the colony from nearby German East Africa. In July 1918, he captured Namakura/Nhamacurra and seized important arms and supplies for his force after similar smaller successes against Portuguese outposts had already helped reprovision his force.[1]


Portuguese troops loading the Stokes Mortar
  • March 16 The Portuguese artillery batteries enter in action.
  • March 27 A German offensive restrains the Portuguese soldiers from being released. As a third Portuguese Division was never sent to France, the Portuguese army did not receive reinforcements at all. Portuguese soldiers had to serve in the battle front for long periods and, as a consequence, they were amongst the most exhausted men in the front.
  • April 6 The condition of the Portuguese soldiers become so difficult that, finally, the British decided to release the Portuguese. The CEP was supposed to be reorganized, the 1st Division going to the rear as a reserve force and the 2nd Division becoming part of the 11th Corps of the British Army, under General Haking’s command. Haking visits the Portuguese troops and decides to send the 2nd Division to the rear from April 9, which would never happen. The Germans attacked the British lines, forcing them to retreat about 60 km. Instead of being released the Portuguese troops had to fight off the German offensive on its sector.
Portuguese prisoners-of-war in 1918.
  • April 9 The Battle of La Lys, as it became known in Portugal, or Operation Georgette, or Battle of Estaires to the British, started with a heavy artillery barrage from the Germans, followed by a German offensive with intensive use of lethal gas. The German Sixth Army deployed eight divisions (about 100,000 men), supported by intensive artillery fire. Against this force the Portuguese had 20,000 soldiers and 88 guns. As a result the 2nd Division was annihilated during the battle. The Portuguese CEP lost 327 officers and 7098 soldiers, about 35% of its effective fighting capacity. The survivors were sent to the rear, some of the units being integrated in the British Army later on. During this battle one of the most courageous acts in Portuguese history was perpetrated, as private Aníbal Milhais (a.k.a. "Soldado Milhões" (A Soldier as good as a million others)) defended all alone the retreating allied forces with nothing but his machine gun, allowing them to fall back and regroup. Once he ran out of bullets he escaped the battlefield, after killing a regiment of German soldiers on motorcycles, yet, he got lost along the way, having to eat nothing but sweet-almonds his family had sent him from Portugal for four days. And as if he hadn't been brave enough, this exhausted soldier was able to rescue a Scottish doctor from drowning in a swamp. This doctor led him to the Allied camp and told everyone Milhais' deeds.
  • July General Tomás António Garcia Rosado is appointed as the new commanding chief of the remaining CEP.
  • July 4 CEP 1st Division was subordinated to the British 5th Army, commanded by General William Birdwood.
  • August 25 General Garcia Rosado assumes command of the CEP in France.
  • November 11 Germany accepts the armistice proposed by the Allies. The war ends.

Portugal had 8,145 dead 13,751 wounded and 12,318 prisoners or missing. German submarines destroyed 80 Portuguese ships.

After the Armistice


  • January 18 The Portuguese delegation at the Peace Conference in Versailles, France, was led by Prof. Egas Moniz. In the Peace Treaty, Germany had to cede the port of Kionga, hitherto associated with German East Africa (the mainland of modern Tanzania), to Portugal.

See also


  1. ^ First World War - Willmott, H.P. Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 93


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