1. In the first days of August 1914, the European powers became involved in a military conflict of vast dimensions, known later as the Great War. Right at the start of hostilities the British Government asked the Portuguese Government to abstain “for the time being from publishing any declaration of neutrality”, which became Portugal’s official position – neither neutral nor belligerent. This situation continued until 9 March 1916; then, when Portugal seized German ships anchored in Portuguese ports at England’s request, Germany declared war on Portugal.
These were two years of profound internal disputes and extensive conflicts involving not only the political forces but all society. They went beyond the actual declaration of war and continued until and even beyond the signing of the armistice.
The republicans were divided as to Portugal’s military intervention in Europe. Some argued the political and moral need to come in on the side of the Allies, whilst others advocated that Portuguese troops should be deployed exclusively to defend the colonies. Radical minorities were opposed in general to participation in the war, displaying extremely aggressive attitudes which greatly influenced national public opinion.
Within the armed forces most officers were against the war, particularly against sending troops to the European theatre.

2. On 7 August, the Portuguese government, under Bernardino Machado, presented a declaration to Parliament, which reflected the contradiction in which Portugal was involved, in which it could neither declare belligerence or neutrality.
However, from an early stage Portugal faced difficulties in Angola and Mozambique, territories with common borders with the German colonies. The situation led the Portuguese government to prepare military expeditions to the two colonies. These expeditions left Lisbon on 11 September, under the command of Alves Roçadas for Angola and Massano de Amorim for Mozambique.
The first incident of war occurred in Mozambique when the small Portuguese garrison in Maziúa was attacked by a German force.
In Angola, the first incident occurred on 19 October, with the German attack on Naulila, followed by action against Cuangar on the 30th of that month. The first expedition having been reinforced and enemy action against Naulila being repeated on 18 December, the fact that the German troops surrendered in face of the advance of South African troops brought an end to the Portuguese army’s conflict in Angola, although the local populations continued to rebel.
In Mozambique, the situation evolved differently. In 1914 a new expedition was organised, this time accompanied by the new Governor General of the colony, Álvaro de Castro. As had been the case with the previous expedition, however, it so happened that the Portuguese Expeditionary troops were seriously deficient: poorly trained, poorly armed and poorly commanded, a situation that endured to the end.

3. As regards the European theatre of war, the Portuguese government’s action mainly aimed to prepare the Portuguese intervention, both in order to define forms of Allied support, in particular from England, and also to prepare military contingents and mobilise public opinion. Following a first experience carried out in 1914, with the mustering of an Auxiliary Division in Tancos, which was later demobilised, a Training Division was formed at the same military base, under the command of General Tamagnini de Abreu e Silva, stimulated by a group of young officers who had worked with Norton de Matos, in the meantime appointed Minister of War.

4. Whilst preparations continued for the departure of the troops to the European front, a new contingent had to be sent to Mozambique. This was the largest expedition of all, with about 4000 men under General Ferreira Gil. In this colony, where immediately after the declaration of war the Portuguese troops reoccupied the triangle of Quionga abandoned by the German troops, this third expedition carried out more extensive operations, marked by the crossing of the River Rovuma and penetration into German territory with the capture of Nevala. However, the situation created by the advance of the Portuguese troops failed to resist the German counterattack under General Von Lettow-Vorbeck.
In the face of this situation, in early 1917 a fourth expedition was organised to Mozambique under Colonel Sousa Rosa. In the meantime, the action of the German troops inside Mozambique continued until September 1918, when they actually reached the outskirts of Quelimane.
In cooperation with English forces the Portuguese troops withstood enemy movements as much as possible and engaged in a few battles of some importance, such as Negomano, Serra Mecula and Nhamacurra. Von Lettow, who conducted the war in accordance with what was most advisable under the circumstances, with his declared intention of fixing enemy soldiers in the region, ended by abandoning Mozambique, ridding the Portuguese territory of the presence of enemy troops.

5. At the same time preparations continued for the Portuguese troops’ departure to the European front, the Training Division having been transformed into a Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (P.E.C.). This was initially composed of one division and then, following Portuguese insistence and English acceptance, two divisions, organised into army corps. The English, in whose army the P.E.C. would be integrated, signalled that they should occupy a calm sector in Flanders along the long Allied front, between the La Bassée Canal and the river Lys. The troops began embarking in early 1917, and the first phase ended in late July, by which time there were more than 50.000 Portuguese soldiers on the European front.
On 5 November 1917, the P.E.C. commander was entrusted with operational responsibility for the Portuguese sector on the front line.
In the meantime, the internal situation had worsened with the problem of subsistence, directly linked to the difficulties caused by the war. It was the immediate reason for social unrest, the people’s unrest (especially in the cities) and the action of enemies of the government, the situation and the regime.
There was no let up on the opposition to the war. Economic hardships worsened, the scarcity of goods continued, and all contributed to create a social climate conducive to the development of conspirational and violent projects.

6. It was in such an environment that on 5 December there was a military revolt headed by Sidónio Pais, artillery major and Portuguese minister in Berlin until Germany declared war. In less than three days the rebels grabbed power and took over the running of the country.
This new situation, which its leaders called the New Republic, did not actually jeopardise the continued military commitment to the Allies, either in Europe or in Mozambique, but symptomatic of the new attitude of the Portuguese leaders was the fact that they failed to relieve any of the ordinary soldiers and that a significant number of mobilised personnel, temporarily back in Portugal for treatment or on leave, did not return to the front despite the continued appeals from the P.E.C. military commanders.

7. Shortly after their arrival at the front the Portuguese troops showed obvious signs of fatigue. Without reinforcements from Portugal and with no rest, the troops’ capacities very quickly weakened, as did morale and discipline. In March 1918 the Portuguese troops were exhausted, which led the English command to replace them with British troops. Somewhat strangely, however, the order for rendition was given on 8 April to be executed on the 9th. That was precisely the day when a vast German offensive was due to start which covered the P.E.C. area and was achieved through long artillery preparation followed by the attack of eight divisions on the front line.
In one single day (9 April) and one single battle (La Lys) the P.E.C. was completely destroyed despite individual acts of bravery and the resistance of some of the units. A large number of casualties and several thousand prisoners were the most dramatic result of 9 April. Along the front the Allied forces had to retreat and the defensive line was broken, a situation which was only stabilised at the end of that month.

8. Following the La Lys debacle it was still possible to constitute three battalions which went to the front, despite the wishes of the English who wanted to distribute the remnants of the Portuguese troops in English units, to engage them in obviously less important tasks. These three battalions remained until the armistice was signed on 11 November 1918. It was the energetic reaction of the Portuguese commanders that enabled Portugal to be present at the Victory Parade in Paris and to participate beside the other Allied powers in the Peace Conference.

Aniceto Afonso