Portugal was in WWI?

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Although Great Britain, France, and the United States are often cited as the Allied Forces in WWI, there were other players. Russia, Italy and even Japan were part of the Allies. Many colonies and territories connected to these countries also played key roles. Portugal arrived late in the conflict, but the Portuguese soldiers fought and sacrificed for the cause despite significant hardship from their home country.

Portugal’s participating in WWI involved strained alliances, economic hardship, and political upheaval. This was not a country “all in” on the war effort. The result meant that the men who had been deployed to the Western Front, a place of incomprehensible violence and atrocities, arrived home not to a hero’s welcome, but to hostility, unemployment and instability.

Portugal became a Republic after a coup in 1910. The country entered a period of heavy reform and dire economic circumstances.

While Portugal remained neutral at the start of WWI, its reliance on Great Britain as military support to protect their sprawling empire and Germany’s push into their territories in Africa made them favor the Allied side of the war. By early 1916, German forces blocked Portugal from exporting to Great Britain while Portugal seized German vessels at the behest of Britain. At that point, Germany declared war on Portugal, bringing them into the fighting in Europe.

Although the country had been training troops since 1915, they first sent two expeditionary forces to the Western Front in early 1917. The Portuguese Expeditionary Corps was large enough (over 55,000 troops) to protect an entire sector of the Front. This was approximately the same amount of land the Americans were assigned to protect but the Americans had three times the soldiers and capabilities.

At the same time, Portugal had a change of power and the new leadership was openly hostile to the war effort. The soldiers in the field received no new assistance and morale fell. They held the sector for six straight months with no relief. The morning they were supposed to be relieved by British troops, the Germans attacked. The Portuguese held them off as best they could and prevented the Germans from falling back to the rear sector. In the process, 1,300 died, 4,000 were injured, and 7,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans. The force never recovered.

At the end of the war, the government leader had been assassinated and the old power returned with more interventionalist ideals. The damage, however, had been done. The military leaders maintained their rift with the politicians and between 1920 and 1926, 23 governments fell and were formed in Lisbon.

The men who fought and died for the Allies should be more than a footnote in history.