The Portuguese Soldiers in World War I
Initially Portugal was not directly involved in the conflict, although in 1914 troops were sent to Angola and Mozambique to defend these colonies against the German threats in Africa. It was also feared a secret agreement between England and Germany to partage the Portuguese colonies after the war.
On February 1916, England invoked the Treaty of Windsor, the oldest military alliance in the world, to ask the Portuguese government to capture German ships.
A detachment of the Portuguese navy seized several dozen German ships, stationed on the Portuguese coast, raising the Portuguese flag.
This incident would eventually lead Germany to declare war on Portugal on March 9, 1916.
Our treaties with Portugal have been respected and adhered to for over five-hundred years… it caused a thrill of pleasure and pride to know that at that moment our oldest ally was fighting side by side with us.— Lord Mayor
Portugal entered the war in 1917, sending troops to Flanders (Belgium) and France.
The CEP, Portuguese Expeditionary Corps , under the command of General Tamagnini, landed in the Breton port of Brest in February 1917 and the Portuguese troops, comprising nearly 56,500 men, were from then on, attached to the British Army under General Henry Horne.
The CEP was sent to defend a very damp and muddy area, near the river Lys where they also had to deal with a rigorous winter.
The troops moral went down for all these reasons and because of being ignored by the Portuguese government that just changed after a revolution in December 1917.
On April 9, 1918, the Portuguese forces (about 20,000 men) were attacked by 100,000 Germans, during the called Operation Georgette and were heavily defeated.
Portuguese forces were slaughtered, but resisted long enough to allow the Allies to sustain the offensive.
Portuguese victims - Battle of the Lys
The Portuguese units were then sent to Lillers and Steenbecque to reinforce the British Divisions. They were grouped together in a single division and took part in the Allied offensive of 1918. By the time of the ceasefire on 11 November 1918 the Portuguese division had reached Belgium.
In addition to human and material losses, Portuguese participation also had an enormous economic and social impact in the country.
The Christ of the Trenches
On April 9, 1918, during the German spring offensive, the village of Neuve-Chapelle almost disappeared from the map, becoming a rubble. In the end only the Christ stood, but mutilated. The battle cut his legs and right arm and a bullet pierced his chest.
The image was taken from the battlefield by the surviving soldiers, desiring that this monument of faith and hope be venerated in a dignified place. Years later she was taken to Portugal, thus giving birth to the devotion of the Christ of the Trenches.
The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CEP) had 6,678 prisoners, of which 6,585 were made in 9 and 10 April, 1918, during the Battle of La Lys (68 prisoners before 9 April, 6,585 on 9 and 10 April and 25 after 10 April until the armistice on 11 November 1918
Anibal Augusto Milhais (1895-1970), the most decorated Portuguese soldier of World War I and the only Portuguese soldier awarded the highest national honour, the Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit on the battle.
Anibal Milhais and the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps
Milhais was a farmer, born in the small vilage of Valongo in a remote area of Portugal and was drafted in 1917, arriving to France in the same year, as a member of the Trás os Montes brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division from the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps.
In the article, "Corpo Expedicionário Português - Aníbal Milhais", we can read some pages from the book "Sniping in France", writen by a British author, H. Hesketh-Prichard, mentioning the rather strange vocation of Portuguese soldiers who volunteered too often to infiltrate enemy lines and raid trenches even if the casualties on both sides start to rise.
Did you know about the Portuguese participation in WWI?
- Civil-Military Relations during the war
Portugal went to war in March 1916 with a government and an army that did not sit comfortably with each other. The young republican regime’s relationship with its armed forces was difficult despite its popularity among a small number of officers and
- Timeline of Portuguese Involvement in WW1 - Steven's Balagan
During World War I the Portuguese fought in both France and East Africa.
- Germany declares war on Portugal - Mar 09, 1916 - HISTORY.com
Germany declares war on Portugal on Mar 09, 1916 after Portugal seized their ships anchored in Lisbon.