Timeline of Portuguese Involvement in WW1

During World War I the Portuguese fought in both France and East Africa. For the fighting in France I have restricted myself just to the events affect Portugal. My main initial source for the Portuguese involvement in France is:

Rodrigues, H. (n.d.). Portugal in the Great War. World War I: An Internet History of the Great War. [Available on-line http://www.worldwar1.com/france/portugal.htm]

Abbott (2002) is my main source for East Africa. I have included details all activities in this theatre regardless of the Nationality of the Protagonists.

1386: Anglo-Portuguese Alliance

In the Treaty of Windsor England (later Great Britain) and Portugal became allies (Rodrigues, n.d.). This was a fairly one sided affair with Britain providing funds and direct military support for their weaker ally.

Jan 1890: Britain tells Portugal “Get out of Rhodesia”

Portuguese expeditions had earlier occupied what would later become Rhodesia (Rodrigues, n.d.). In Jan 1890 Britain threatened Portugal with war unless the Portuguese immediately evacuated the area. The Portuguese King and Cabinet gave in but this caused outrage amongst the public and Republicans who didn’t appreciate an “ally” causing one of the greatest humiliations in the country’s history.

5 Oct 1910: Portugal becomes Republic

Monarchy thrown out.

1912: Secret British-German Treaty

Great Britain and German confirmed earlier secret treaties regarding the partition of Angola and Mozambique (Rodrigues, n.d.).

1914: Portuguese Republican Party Gains Power

The Partido Republicano Português (Portuguese Republican Party) gains power in Portugal (Rodrigues, n.d.). Although not keen on Britain the republicans saw entry into the Great Was the only way to save its African colonies (Angola and Mozambique). Britain wasn’t keen about Portugal joining the allied effort because they thought little of Portugal’s army and of its ability to defend itself and its colonies.

4 Aug 1914: Belgium and Britain at War with Germany

Aug 1914: Skirmishes in Africa

From Aug 1914 the Germans began operations in Africa (Rodrigues, n.d.). In the period Aug-Sep 1914 the Germans raided into BEA, Uganda, Congo, Nyasaland, N. Rhodesia, and Mozambique (Abbott, 2002). The Belgiums reinforced the British in territories adjoining German East Africa. Skirmishes occured between German and Portuguese colonial troops and the Germans instigated tribal revolts.

Aug 1914: Neutral Portugal

Under pressure from the British the Portuguese government formally declared neutrality (Rodrigues, n.d.).

2 – 5 Nov 1914: Germans repulse British at Tanga

The Germans repulsed a British landing at the port of Tanga (Abbott, 2002).

1915: Portugal begins to raise Troops for war

Despite its neutral status the Portuguese began raising and training of a military force in 1915 (Rodrigues, n.d.).

Throughout 1915 the Germans raided the Uganda Railway (Abbott, 2002).

18 Jan 1815: Combat at Jasin

Combat at Jasin in East Africa (Abbott, 2002)

28 Jun 1915: Germans attack Saisi

Germans attack Saisi in East Africa (Abbott, 2002)

11 Jul 1915: Königsberg Destroyed

The Königsberg was destroyed in the Rufiji Delta in German East Africa (Abbott, 2002)

6 Feb 1916: Smuts replaces Smith-Dorrien

General Smuts replaced Smith-Dorrien in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

9 Feb 1916: British control Lake Tanganyika

British gain control of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

24 Feb 1916: Portuguese Seize German Shipping

By 1916 France and Britain were keen to for Portugal to enter the war thus allowing them to use Portuguese man power to replace their enormous losses on the Western Front (Rodrigues, n.d.). On 24 Feb 1916, at Britain’s request, Portugal seized 36 German and Austro-Hungarian merchant ships anchored in front of Lisbon.

5 Mar 1916: British Offensive from BEA

The British launched an offensive from British East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

9 Mar 1916: German Declares War on Portugal

The German Ambassador, Van Rosen, formally declared war on Portugal claiming Portugal was an “English vassal” and the seizure of the ships was an intentional provocation (Rodrigues, n.d.). Portugal promptly reciprocated by declaring war on Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and promised to send troops to the Western Front.

12 Apr 1916: Belgian Offensive from Congo

The Belgians launched an offensive from the Congo (Abbott, 2002).

17 Apr 1916: Van Deventer captures Kondoa Irangi

Van Deventer captures Kondoa Irangi in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

20 May 1916: Rhodesia-Nyasaland Field Force Offensive

Rhodesia-Nyasaland Field Force began their offensive in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

27 May 1916: Germans repulse Portuguese on Rufiji

The Germans repulsed a Portuguese attampt to cross the Rufiji in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

22 Jul 1916: The Miracle of Tancos

In just three months the Portuguese raised a well equipped and trained force at the Tancos camp for service in abroad (Rodrigues, n.d.).

29 Jul 1916: Van Deventer captures Dodoma

Van Deventer captures Dodoma in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

26 Aug 1916: Smuts takes Morogoro

Smuts takes Morogoro in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

4 Sep 1916: Dar-es-Salaam surrenders

Dar-es-Salaam in East Africa surrenders (Abbott, 2002).

19 Sep 1916: Belgiums and Portuguese advance

Belgians took Tabora in East Africa (Abbott, 2002). Portuguese crossed the Rovuma and advanced towards Nevala. They took Nevala after a few days.

Sep 1916: British land at Kilwa and Lindi

British land at Kilwa and Lindi in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

30 Sep 1916: End of British Offensive in East Africa

28 Nov 1916: Germans drive Portuguese out

The Germans drove the Portuguese out of Nevala in East Africa and back across the Rovuma (Abbott, 2002).

17 Jan 1917: Portuguese Expeditionary Forces

By a decree of 17 January 1917, Portugal decide to organise two separate expeditionary forces
for the Western Front plus other troops for Africa (Rodrigues, n.d.):

The Corpo de Artilharia Pesada Independente (CAPI) – Independent Heavy Artillery Corps

This was to comprise three mixed groups of three heavy batteries each (one of 320mm railway guns and two of 190mm or 240mm pieces), plus a depot battery. Portugal provided the men and Great Britain supplied the guns. The CAPI would be placed under French operational command.

The Corpo Expedicionário Português (CEP) – Portuguese Expeditionary Corps

Originally the CEP was intended as a single reinforced division although it was quickly expanded. CEP would be placed under the operational command of the British First Army in the Artois/Flanders front.

From Feb to 28 Oct 1917 Portugal a total of 59,383 men to France (Rodrigues, n.d.).

Portugal also sent substantion forces to its African colonies (Rodrigues, n.d.). Some went to fight the German colonial forces under v. Lettow-Vorbeck in northern Mozambique and others to counter tribal uprisings instigated by the Germans in southern Angola.

20 Jan 1917: Hoskins replaces Smuts

Hoskins replaces General Smuts in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

12 Feb 1917: CEP Expanded

The CEP was expanded to a two division army corps (Rodrigues, n.d.).

2 Feb 1917: First Portuguese Arrive in France

The CEP begain arriving in the French port of Brest on 2 Feb 1917 (Rodrigues, n.d.). A three day train trip took them to the area of Aire-sur-la-Lys/Thérouanne. There they received British equipment (helmets, Short Magazine Lee Enfield and Lewis gun).and were trained in trench and gas warfare.

Feb – Oct 1917: Wintgen’s foray into GEA

Wintgen’s foray into northern German East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

Mar – Sep 1917: German forays into Mozambique

German forays into northern Mozambique (Abbott, 2002).

May 1917: North Americans Arive in Europe

British transports were used to bring American and Canadian troops to Europe (Rodrigues, n.d.).

May 1917: Van Deventer replaces Hoskins

Van Deventer replaced Hoskins in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

May 1917: British offensive in East Africa begins

British offensive from Kilwa in East Africa began (Abbott, 2002).

11 May – 5 Nov 1917: CEP Deploy in Frontline

The first Portuguese units moved into the frontline in France on 11 May 1917 although the entire CEP was on in place until 5 Nov (Rodrigues, n.d.). The CEP had a frontage of 40 km and had to man three successive lines of trenches and a further line of defence based around local villages to the rear.

Jul 1917: Belgian Offensive in East Africa begins

The Belgians began their offensive towards Mahenge (Abbott, 2002).

Aug 1917: Von Lettow promoted

Col. von Lettow, German commander in East Africa, was promoted to major-general (Abbott, 2002).

22 Sep 1917: Belgians take Mahenge

Belgians take Mahenge in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

Oct 1917: German victory at Mahiwa

The Germans won a costly victory at Mahiwa (Kilwa) (Abbott, 2002). The Belgians reinforced Kilwa.

25 Nov 1917: Germans defeat Portuguese at Negomano

Von Lettow crossed nito Mozambique and defeated the Portuguese at Negomano (Abbott, 2002).

Dec 1917: British land at Porto Amélia

British landed at Porto Amélia in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

11 Dec 1917: Conservatives Take Power in Portugal

A conservative government under Sidónio Pais gained power in Portugal (Rodrigues, n.d.). Sidónio Pais had been Portuguese ambassador in Berlin from 1912 to 1916 and was pro-German.

4 Apr 1918: Mutinies in the CEP

The commander of the CEP, General Fernando Tamagnini de Abreu e Silva, reported the first mutinies on 4 Apr 1918 (Rodrigues, n.d.).

Morale in the CEP had plummeted as soon as the troops entered the line (Rodrigues, n.d.). The Portuguese soldiers hated the British rations, suffered in the harsh French winter of 1917-1918 (temperatures fell to -22º C), and didn’t feel that dying in Flanders was fighting for their homeland.

But the major problem was that the CEP was denied any sort of replacements for the losses being incurred (Rodrigues, n.d.). As a result units were rarely rotated out of the frontline. Some brigades remained in the trenches for more than six consecutive months. Periods of leave were very short; deliberatelyinsufficient to allow the troops to return to Portugal. Although the men returned to the front after their short periods of leave nearly half the officers (822 of 1920) never returned. By 6 Apr 1918 CEP had lost 5,420 men including 1,044 killed. By 9 Apr 1918 the Portuguese infantry brigades were significantly understrength ahving lost 5,639 officers and me. An brigade establishment was 4,660 officers and men, but 3 Brigade had only 3,679, 4 Brigade had 3,270, 5 Brigade had 3,053, and 6 Brigade only 2,999 including only only half its officer complement.

There are two theories for why the CEP didn’t get replacements: firstly, the new conservative government in Portugal (from 11 Dec) didn’t support the war effort; secondly, British transports were fully occupied bringing north Americans to Europe (Rodrigues, n.d.).

6 Apr 1918: 1st Division CEP Withdrawn

The British decided to relieve the CEP at the front (Rodrigues, n.d.). The British 55th (West Lancashire) Division, already in line in front of La Bassée, replaced the bulk of the 1st Division in the southern half of the CEP’s line on 6 Apr 1918.

2nd Division temporarily stayed in the frontline under the operational control of the British XI Corps (General Richard Haking) (Rodrigues, n.d.). However, General Gomes da Costa replaced General Simas Machado as commander of the division. The plan was that the British 55th and 50th (Northumbrian) Divisions would replace 2nd Division on 9 Apr 1918.

This left the CEP had 4th, 5th and 6th Brigades of the 2nd Division in the frontline, with the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division in reserve (Rodrigues, n.d.). 4 (Minho) Brigade was in the north with the 8th and 20th Battalions in the frontline and the 3rd and 29th Battalions in reserve. 4 Brigade HQ was at Laventie. 1st and 2nd Battalions from Lisbon held the frontline in the centre (which Brigade??). In the south Portuguese 17th battalion and 10th battalion were in the frontline with, respectively, the 11th battalion and 4th battalion behind them in reserve. Lacouture was at the southwestern end of the CEP’s sector.

9 Apr 1918: Battle of La Lys / Operation Georgette / Battle of Estaires

The Germans didn’t wait for 2nd Division to be withdraw and a launched Operation Georgette on 9 Apr 1918 (Rodrigues, n.d.). In Portugal this is known as the Battle of La Lys and to the British it is the Battle of Estaires.

Sixth Army had 100,000 men and 1,700 guns to use in the battle (Rodrigues, n.d.). Of these eight fresh attack divisions from LV and XIX Corps had replaced the 81st Reserve Division facing the Portuguese sector.

At 0415 the massive German artillery bombardment hit the frontline trenches, the command and
control centres, and road network in the rear (Rodrigues, n.d.). The wire was pulverized and the
trenches levelled.

At 0700 hours the German infantry attacked behind a creeping barrage that advanced 50 meters every
four minutes (Rodrigues, n.d.). The attack concentrated on the boundaries between the CEP and the
neighbouring British divisions. The infantry attacked in three waves, 120 m apart. Each platoon
was led by four machine gun teams and gaps were left between platoons to make manoeuvre easier.

The Portuguese that survived the bombardment were mostly too dazed to offer any sort of effective resistance and the Germans quickly overran the first line defences (Rodrigues, n.d.). None-the-less some units did make a stand.

In the north the German 138th Infantry Regiment spearheaded the attack of 42nd Division (Rodrigues, n.d.). Despite the crumbling of the Portuguese line the Germans faced stubborn resistance from the Portuguese 8th Battalion which fought a series of valiant delaying actions and joined 29th battalion in a series of redoubts before the Brigade HQ at Laventie. However, by 1100 hours, the 42nd Division had captured Laventie and most of 4 Brigade.

In the centre, the German 141st Infantry Regiment led 35th Division (Rodrigues, n.d.). They quickly overwhelmed the Portuguese 1st and 2nd Battalions in the frontline.

At the southern sector the 8th Bavarian Reserve Regiment spearheaded the attack of 8th Bavarian Reserve Division (Rodrigues, n.d.). They easily overran the Portuguese 17th battalion in the frontline and 11th battalion behind them. The 1st Bavarian Reserve Regiment led 1st Bavarian Reserve Division. They made good progress despite some resistance from the Portuguese 10th battalion (frontline) and 4th battalion (reserve). The advance of 1st Bavarian Reserve Division slowed when they reached Lacouture. At Lacouture Captain Bento Roma led the defence of the village with the Portuguese 13th Battalion and elements of the 15th. Though encircled from 0930 hours on 9 Apr Lacouture held out until the following day.

Lacouture was the exception (Rodrigues, n.d.). The CEP was routed. The 2nd Division HQ, acting as a rallying point for the broken frontline units, had to relocate twice during 9 Apr to avoid capture.

By 1030-110 hours the Germans were overrunning the Portuguese artillery batteries to the rear (Rodrigues, n.d.).

At 1300 hours the 1st Bavarian Reserve Division captured the HQ of 5 Brigade (Rodrigues, n.d.). The brigade commander, Colonel Manuel Martins, and many others were killed and the remainder surrendered.

General Haking sent some of the of the mounted troops in XI Corps reserve to help the Portuguese 3 Brigade slow down the German advance (Rodrigues, n.d.). Tthe 1st battalion, King Edward’s Horse, and the 11th Cyclist Battalion headed for the area of Lacouture at the southwestern end of the CEP’s sector. Some British joined Captain Bento Roma’s defenders in Lacouture.

Haking committed elements of its 50th (Northumbrian) and 51st (Highland) Division to plug the large gap opened in the frontline where the CEP had been (Rodrigues, n.d.).

CEP losses of the CEP on the 9 Apr were 398 dead and 6,585 prisoner (about 1,500 of whom were thought to be wounded) (Rodrigues, n.d.).

10 Apr 1918: Germans take Lacouture

At 1145 hours the Germans finally took Lacouture (Rodrigues, n.d.). They captured 168 Portuguese and 77 British soldiers.

Subsequently, as “punishment” for what the British perceived as their “cowardice”, the survivors of the CEP were relegated to labour duty, i.e. digging trenches and road repairs (Rodrigues, n.d.). Some isolated Portuguese units and eventually the entire 1st Division eventually returned to the frontline for combat but it was impossible to rebuild the CEP.

Jul 1918: Germans defeat Anglo-Portuguese at Namacurra

The Germans menaced Quelimane and then defeated an Anglo-Portuguese force at Namacurra (Abbott, 2002).

Sep – Nov 1918: Zeppelin supplies

The Germans tried to supply the Schutztruppe in East Africa by Zeppelin (Abbott, 2002).

26 Sep 1918: Von Lettow reentered GEA

Von Lettow recrossed into German East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

Nov 1918: Von Lettow entered Northern Rhodesia

Von Lettow entered Northern Rhodesia (Abbott, 2002).

26 Nov 1918: Von Lettow Surrenders

Von Lettow surrendered near Abercorn in East Africa (Abbott, 2002).

14 Jul 1919: Victory Parade in Paris

Portuguese troops participated in the Victory Parade in Paris (Rodrigues, n.d.). The total losses of the CEP on the Western Front in 1917-1918 amounted to 2,160 dead, 5,224 wounded and 6,678 prisoners.


Abbott, P. (2002). Armies in East Africa 1914-18. Osprey. [Men-at-Arms 379]

Rodrigues, H. (n.d.). Portugal in the Great War. World War I: An Internet History of the Great War. [Available on-line http://www.worldwar1.com/france/portugal.htm]

To follow up…







(Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses) who teaches at the University of Maynooth in Ireland.
” ‘All of us are Looking Forward to Leaving’: the Censored Correspondance of the Portuguese
Expeditionary Corps in France, 1917-18″ European History Quarterly Voll 30(3) pp333-355

German Colonial Uniforms

3 thoughts on “Timeline of Portuguese Involvement in WW1”

  1. The information on the Anglo-Portuguese alliance is absolutely erroneous. This alliance occurred in two stages, between 1386-1580 Portugal pulled Englands weight, and from 1580 to the end of the Peninsular war Britain pulled Portugal’s weight. When the alliance was made the Portuguese were entering the most prosperous period in their history, and England were far from the industrious powerhouse it later became. In the 16th and 17th centuries Britain were engulfed in religious and civil war. It was after that, when Portugal were annexed by Spain that Britain grew powerful, through the British East India company which thrived off of Portuguese trade routes. It is unfair and incorrect to say that Britain pulled Portugal’s weight when the treaty was signed, it would be more fair to say that Britain benefited most from the treaty, however.

    • Choose the words carefully. Portugal was never annexed by Spain. After the Cardinal King was forced to abdicate the crown because the pope did not want to relinquish him of his cleric duties, Phillip II was tied closely to the Portuguese royalty, therefore one of the many claimants to the throne, he sent a spanish mercenary invasion (small part of the army was spanish, majority were sicillian and german), the future of the country was debated carefully with the Portuguese court and Phillip, he wasn’t a fool to annex another country, he knew better not to spark a rebellion with an already angry nation, instead turn Portugal a vassal with separate administration from the spanish kingdoms and their other possessions. Both nations continued to act on their own, under 1 king. Years later Phillip III and later was a fool and nothing like his smarter father and started to put spanish royalty in charge of Portuguese high positions in the administration and later his son Phillip IV continued to do the same. The underground independent groups had just about enough when Phillip IV was ready to attempt a full annexation by removing all the power from Portuguese nobles.

      Annexation of either nation between themselves could and can never happen, they are THAT different and not similar as most of the world perceives them to be. It’s like having England and France attempting to annex themselves.

  2. continuing on questioning relevance of “May 1917 North American Troops Arrive in Europe” In August 1914 the privately funded Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry was raised from previous service men, arriving in UK Oct 1914, arrived France Dec 1914 as part of British 80th Bde/27th Div, becoming part of Cdn 3rd Div a year later. 1st Cdn Div raised 1914, arrived in UK Oct 1914, arrived France Feb 1915, relieved Br 7th Div March 1915. It was equiped by Canada with admitedly deficient equipment. By April 1917 the Cdn Corps of 4 divisions launched the 1917 spring offensive siezing Vimy Ridge in the Battle of Arras. The subsequent disastrous offensive resulted in the mutiny of the French Army.
    Germany’s last ditch operation Georgette to break the BEF resulted in 3 of the 4 Cdn Divs being “borrowed” by other British formations to stabilize the front. In August 1918 the final offensive was launched at Amiens spearheaded by the ANZAC and Cdn Corps. After the “hundred days” march back to Mons Belgium, Haig force marched the 1st Cdn Div to occupy Cologne Germany.


Leave a Reply