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Marinha Portuguesa
Portuguese Navy
NRP Bartolomeu Dias.jpg
Portuguese Navy Karel Doorman class frigate NRP Bartolomeu Dias (F333) entering Portsmouth Naval Base, UK, on a misty day, 20th February 2009.
Country Portugal
Type Navy
Part of Portuguese Armed Forces
Patron Saint George
Motto Talent de bien faire
Admiral Fernando Melo Gomes

The Portuguese Navy (Portuguese: Marinha Portuguesa, also known as Marinha de Guerra Portuguesa or as Armada Portuguesa) is the naval branch of the Portuguese Armed Forces which, in cooperation and integrated with the other branches of the Portuguese military, is charged with the military defence of Portugal. The Portuguese Navy also participates in missions related with international compromises assumed by Portugal (mainly with NATO), as well missions of civil interest. Today, the Portuguese Navy assumes a dual role capacity: Naval combat missions to assure Portugal's sovereignty and international commitments, and coast guard operations in its territorial waters and areas of influence.



Creation of the Portuguese Navy

The Portuguese Republic Naval Jack
Naval Ensign of the Portuguese Republic

Portuguese naval history is closely connected to the history of Portugal, and one can say that the Naval history is Portuguese History seen from the sea. The first known battle of the Portuguese Navy was in 1180, during the reign of Portugal's first king, Afonso I of Portugal. The battle occurred when a Portuguese fleet commanded by the knight Fuas Roupinho defeated a Muslim fleet near Cape Espichel. He also made two incursions at Ceuta, in 1181 and 1182, and died during the last of these attempts to conquer Ceuta.

During the 13th century, the Portuguese Navy helped in the conquest of several littoral towns, like Alcácer do Sal, Silves and Faro, in the battles against Castile through incursions in Galicia and Andalucia, and also in joint actions with Christian fleets against the Muslims.

In 1312 the naval fleet was created with the goal of defending the country against the Muslim pirates. In 1317 King Denis of Portugal decided to give, for the first time, a permanent organization to the Royal Navy, contracting Manuel Pessanha of Genoa to be the first Admiral of the Kingdom. In 1321 the navy successfully attacked Muslim ports in North Africa.

Maritime insurance began in 1323 in Portugal, and between 1336 and 1341 the first attempts at maritime expansion are made, with the expedition to Canary Islands, sponsored by King Afonso IV.

At the end of the 14th century, more Portuguese discoveries were made, with the Navy playing a main role in the exploration of the oceans and the defense of the Portuguese Empire. Portugal became the first oceanic navy power.

Conquests and Discoveries

In the beginning of the 15th century, the country entered a period of peace and stability. Europe was still involved in wars and feudal conflicts which allows Portugal to be the only capable country to methodically and successfully start the exploration of the Atlantic.

Portuguese expansion during the 15th century can be divided in:

  • Territorial expansion to North Africa
  • Hydrographic survey of the African coast and Canary Islands
  • Oceanographic and meteorologic survey of the Atlantic Ocean
  • Development of navigation techniques and methods

Territorial expansion began in Morocco with the conquest of Ceuta in 1415. Exploration in the west African coast started in 1412 and ended with the crossing of the Cape of Good Hope in 1487.

The school of navigation in Sagres

After his return from Ceuta, Henry the navigator founded a school of navigation in Sagres, which was a place to discuss the art of navigation. The vessel employed in the beginning of the Discoveries was the caravel, varying from 50 to 160 tons. The first results came soon and Gonçalves Zarco discovers Porto Santo Island in 1419 and Madeira Island in 1420, Diogo de Silves discovers the azorean island of Santa Maria in 1427. In 1424 Gil Eanes crosses the Cape Bojador. Diogo Cão and Bartolomeu Dias arrived to the mouth of Zaire River in 1482 and the second crosses the Cape of Good Hope in 1487. The greatest achievement of these exploration voyages was attained by Vasco da Gama, whom between 1497 and 1499 discovers the sea route to India.

The 16th century

With the first established sea route to the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese started to use the carrack ship (nau in Portuguese). Nevertheless, the Portuguese penetration in the Indian Ocean was not peaceful due to the opposition of the Muslims. However, in 1509 Francisco de Almeida had a tremendous victory over the Muslims in the naval Battle of Diu, and the Portuguese presence in the area is definitely attained.

In Morocco the Portuguese conquests continue and they take over the cities of Safim, Azamor, Mazagão and Mogador.

In the east, Portuguese navigators continue their progress visiting the southeast of Asia, China in 1517 and Australia in 1522. They reach Taiwan and Japan in the same period.

They enter the Red Sea in 1542 to destroy the Turkish armada in Suez.

In the west the Portuguese visited the coast of New England in 1520, California in 1542 and Hudson Bay in 1588.

All these actions were only possible with the naval capability, the navigation knowledge of these navigators, an enormous courage and determination.

Iberian Union

In 1580 King Philip of Spain becomes also King of Portugal, but the Portuguese navy was still involved in several conflicts, and especially it maintained an important role in the fight against pirates. António Saldanha commanding a fleet of 30 carracks defeated a Turkish fleet in the Mediterranean and conquered Tunis. Meanwhile, João Queirós accomplishes a double crossing of the Pacific Ocean leaving from California.

Linked to Spain by a dual monarchy, Portugal saw its large empire being attacked by the English, the French and the Dutch, all enemies of Spain. The reduced Portuguese population (around one million) wasn't enough to resist to so many enemies, and the empire started to fall apart.

In 1618 the first naval infantry regiment is founded (Terço da Armada Real da Coroa de Portugal, in Portuguese).

Restoration of Independence

In 1640 Portugal regained independence from neighbouring Spain, being forced to fight against its powerful navy in difficult conditions. This led to the loss of several regions of the empire and to peace agreements with England, France and The Netherlands.

In 1641 the Portuguese navy was able to defend the national interests in the European continent and reconquer Angola and the Northeast of Brazil from the Dutch during the Dutch-Portuguese War.

The 18th century

During the reign of King John V of Portugal the navy suffers a large transformation, during which the warship starts to differentiate from the merchant ship.

In 1705 a squadron of 8 carracks went to Gibraltar to help England against Spain.

In 1717 the Portuguese Navy faces the Ottoman Navy in the Battle of Matapan.

In the late 18th century the Portuguese Navy participates in the Mediterranean Campaign of 1798 against the French Republic in Egypt and in the Siege of Malta.

19th century to World War I

In November 1807 General Jean-Andoche Junot invaded Portugal in an attempt to expand Napoleon's continental empire. Prince Regent João VI, with his country in disarray, called upon Portugal's Navy to save the crown. On November 29th João VI sailed for Brazil with some 15,000 members of the government and their families. The Portuguese fleet succeeded in preserving the government until it could return later. The fleet that sailed for Brazil had one 84 gun ship of the line, the Príncipe Real. In addition there were three 74 gun ships, the Rainha de Portugal, Príncipe do Brasil and the Conde D. Henrique and four ships of 64 guns each along with four British warships.

Political instability dominated Portugal during the 19th century after the Napoleonic invasions. The navy entered a period of crisis which only ended on the turn to the 20th century.

In the beginning of World War I the Portuguese navy was modernized and received a submarine and 3 frigates, amongst other warships.

World War I

During the first World War, the main role of the Portuguese navy was to patrol Portuguese waters, search for submarines, escort merchant vessels and transport troops to France and Africa. The most important events were the combat between the mine-hunter Augusto de Castilho with the German submarine U-139 and the sinking of the mine-sweeper Roberto Ivens due to a collision with a sea mine, outside Lisbon harbour. After the war Portugal acquired two ships from the United Kingdom and 6 torpedo-boats from Austria. In 1922 the naval officers Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho do the first South Atlantic aerial cross. From 1933 to 1936 the navy acquired a total of 22 ships and underwent a profound reorganization.

World War II

During the second World War the Portuguese navy defended at sea and air the Portuguese neutrality. Due to the vast empire the assets were not enough, but still it was possible to maintain the integrity of the different parcels of the empire, with the exception of Portuguese Timor, which was invaded and occupied by Imperial Japan from 1942 through to 1945.

After the war Portugal joined NATO and acquired 3 submarines, 7 frigates, 4 patrol boats, 16 mine-sweepers, 4 mine-hunters and 3 survey vessels.

The Overseas Wars in Asia and Africa

After half a century the Portuguese navy was in combat again during the second half of the 20th century. These combats took place in the Indian Ocean against India and in the African colonies during the Colonial War.

The Portuguese-Indian War of 1961, was an outbreak of hostilities between India and Portugal, after Portugal refused to relinquish it's colonies in India. One Portuguese sloop - the NRP Afonso de Albuquerquehad been deployed to patrol the waters off Goa, along with three patrol boats (Lancha de Fiscalização), one for each of the enclaves: Goa, Diu and Damão. The obsolete Afonso de Albuquerque saw action against four new Indian Navy frigates, having hit two of them and being beached after suffering heavy damage and running out of munitions. The 6-man fibre-glass patrol boat Vega, armed with one 20mm gun confronted the Indian battle cruiser New Delhi (crew of 1200) and various sorties from the Indian Air Force before being sunk. Parts of the Afonso de Albuquerque were recovered and are on display at the Naval Museum in Mumbai.

During the Colonial wars fought in Africa (1961-1975), Portugal's Navy played a fundamental role in combat, patrol and amphibious missions in the ocean and inland waters of Angola, Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique as well as providing long-range and coastal logistics to the Portuguese Armed forces in its overseas territories in the Atlantic (Cape Verde, São Tomé, Angola), Indian (Mozambique) and Pacific Oceans (Timor and Macau).

Post-Imperial Activity (1975 Until Now)

The Portuguese Navy participated in various long-range missions where it has effectively conducted Portugal's foreign policy, using its units solely or integrated in vaster campaigns articulated with the Portuguese Army and the Portuguese Air Force. The Portuguese Navy has been especially active in peace-enforcement campaigns using combat ships, helicopter missions and special force marine detachments in amphibious and air evacuation of Portuguese nationals and other foreign civilians from dangerous war zones in Sub-Saharan Africa. The most notable missions performed were in Bolama (Guinea-Bissau, 1990), Luanda (Angola, 1992), and Bissau (Guinea-Bissau, 1998 and again in 1999). In these theatres the Portuguese Armed Forces set up secure zones amidst the combat areas, and evacuation units, sometimes operated by Portuguese Army commandos (Comandos), special forces units (GOE) or Portuguese Marine special force units (DAE) to retrieve civilians from hot-spots and evacuate them onto frigates stationed off-shore or onto Portuguese Air Force C-130 Hercules transports, as in Angola in 1992. [1].

The Portuguese Navy has also actively participated in several international peace-keeping and peace-enforcing efforts in conjunction with other NATO,UN or EU forces in numerous theatres, distant from Portuguese territory.

During the liberation of Kuwait in 1990-91, the Portuguese Navy logistics ship NRP São Gabriel supported allied forces in the Persian Gulf. In the various Balkan wars which resulted from the dismembering of Yugoslavia, the Portuguese Navy was an active player in Portugal's UN and NATO commitment, maintaining a frigate with special forces units (DAE) in the Adriatic Sea continuously between 1991 and 2000, and commanding the NATO Mediterranean Sea operation "Active Endeavour" in December, 2001 and January, 2002. Closer to home, the Portuguese Navy has consistently contributed patrol boats and corvettes to joint-nation EU exercises designed to aid Spain in dealing with its problem of illegal immigration and drug-trafficking off its the Southern coast and the Canary Islands.

Portuguese Navy Marine contingents have also participated in peace-enforcing UN missions in Kinshasa (Zaire, 1997) and Congo (1998), East Timor (1999-2004), the European Union Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006, and the NATO fleet off the coast of Somalia, where Portugal's Navy has played a prominent role. During the flooding of the Save River, in Mozambique (2000) a detachment of Portuguese Marines conducted flood rescue operations as part of the humanitarian relief effort. [2]

During the onset of East Timor's independence from Indonesia in 1999, Portugal sent two frigates and various troops to aid its former colony in the Pacific Ocean, the NRP Vasco da Gama (F330) and the NRP Hermegildo Capelo (F481) remained in the area until mid 2001 [[3]]. A company of 155 Portuguese Navy Marines was also sent to the territory as part of Portugal's UN peacekeeping role while the situation was volatile. Since 2004 a smaller detachment of Portuguese Marines is integrated in the Timor Military Liaison Group [4] closely coordinated with the Portuguese National Guard (GNR) contingent stationed in the capital, Dili, and the Armed Forces of Timor.

TheVasco da Gama class frigates NRP Álvares Cabral (F331) and NRP Corte Real (F332) have regularly contributed to long-range NATO exercises in the Indian Ocean, and both have served as NATO task-force flagships in the mission against Piracy in Somalia. During 2009 and January 2010 the NATO fleet in the Gulf of Aden was commanded by the Portuguese Navy [5], who received the award of "exceptional bravery at sea" from the International Maritime Organization for its successful attacks on pirate activity, conducted by the NRP Corte Real (F332) during the peak of pirate activity. [6] [7].

Ships and weapon systems

The main ship classes of the Portuguese Navy are:

Surface Vessels

The Vasco da Gama class frigate NRP Álvares Cabral (F-331) participates in an exercise with USS Enterprise (CVN 65). The ship is participating in Majestic Eagle, a multinational exercise being conducted off the coast of Morocco.
  • Patrol Boats
NRP Bérrio
NRP Schultz Xavier
  • Auxiliary vessels
    • NRP Bérrio (former-Royal Fleet Auxiliary Blue Rover) fleet oiler
    • NRP Schultz Xavier oil recovery ship
    • NRP Sagres sail training ship
    • UAM Creoula sail training ship
    • UAM Polar sail training ship
    • UAM Vega sail training ship
  • Survey vessels
    • 2 D. Carlos I class, ocean survey vessel
    • 2 Andrómeda class, coastal survey vessel


Portuguese submarine service insignia


A Portuguese Portuguese Navy Lynx Mk-95 helicopter takes off from the flight deck of the Vasco da Gama class frigate, NRP Vasco da Gama (F330)

Future Developments

See also

External links

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