World War II

(1939-1945)
   In the European phase of the war, neutral Portugal contributed more to the Allied victory than historians have acknowledged. Portugal experienced severe pressures to compromise her neutrality from both the Axis and Allied powers and, on several occasions, there were efforts to force Portugal to enter the war as a belligerent. Several factors lent Portugal importance as a neutral. This was especially the case during the period from the fall of France in June 1940 to the Allied invasion and reconquest of France from June to August 1944.
   In four respects, Portugal became briefly a modest strategic asset for the Allies and a war materiel supplier for both sides: the country's location in the southwesternmost corner of the largely German-occupied European continent; being a transport and communication terminus, observation post for spies, and crossroads between Europe, the Atlantic, the Americas, and Africa; Portugal's strategically located Atlantic islands, the Azores, Madeira, and Cape Verde archipelagos; and having important mines of wolfram or tungsten ore, crucial for the war industry for hardening steel.
   To maintain strict neutrality, the Estado Novo regime dominated by Antônio de Oliveira Salazar performed a delicate balancing act. Lisbon attempted to please and cater to the interests of both sets of belligerents, but only to the extent that the concessions granted would not threaten Portugal's security or its status as a neutral. On at least two occasions, Portugal's neutrality status was threatened. First, Germany briefly considered invading Portugal and Spain during 1940-41. A second occasion came in 1943 and 1944 as Great Britain, backed by the United States, pressured Portugal to grant war-related concessions that threatened Portugal's status of strict neutrality and would possibly bring Portugal into the war on the Allied side. Nazi Germany's plan ("Operation Felix") to invade the Iberian Peninsula from late 1940 into 1941 was never executed, but the Allies occupied and used several air and naval bases in Portugal's Azores Islands.
   The second major crisis for Portugal's neutrality came with increasing Allied pressures for concessions from the summer of 1943 to the summer of 1944. Led by Britain, Portugal's oldest ally, Portugal was pressured to grant access to air and naval bases in the Azores Islands. Such bases were necessary to assist the Allies in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, the naval war in which German U-boats continued to destroy Allied shipping. In October 1943, following tedious negotiations, British forces began to operate such bases and, in November 1944, American forces were allowed to enter the islands. Germany protested and made threats, but there was no German attack.
   Tensions rose again in the spring of 1944, when the Allies demanded that Lisbon cease exporting wolfram to Germany. Salazar grew agitated, considered resigning, and argued that Portugal had made a solemn promise to Germany that wolfram exports would be continued and that Portugal could not break its pledge. The Portuguese ambassador in London concluded that the shipping of wolfram to Germany was "the price of neutrality." Fearing that a still-dangerous Germany could still attack Portugal, Salazar ordered the banning of the mining, sale, and exports of wolfram not only to Germany but to the Allies as of 6 June 1944.
   Portugal did not enter the war as a belligerent, and its forces did not engage in combat, but some Portuguese experienced directly or indirectly the impact of fighting. Off Portugal or near her Atlantic islands, Portuguese naval personnel or commercial fishermen rescued at sea hundreds of victims of U-boat sinkings of Allied shipping in the Atlantic. German U-boats sank four or five Portuguese merchant vessels as well and, in 1944, a U-boat stopped, boarded, searched, and forced the evacuation of a Portuguese ocean liner, the Serpa Pinto, in mid-Atlantic. Filled with refugees, the liner was not sunk but several passengers lost their lives and the U-boat kidnapped two of the ship's passengers, Portuguese Americans of military age, and interned them in a prison camp. As for involvement in a theater of war, hundreds of inhabitants were killed and wounded in remote East Timor, a Portuguese colony near Indonesia, which was invaded, annexed, and ruled by Japanese forces between February 1942 and August 1945. In other incidents, scores of Allied military planes, out of fuel or damaged in air combat, crashed or were forced to land in neutral Portugal. Air personnel who did not survive such crashes were buried in Portuguese cemeteries or in the English Cemetery, Lisbon.
   Portugal's peripheral involvement in largely nonbelligerent aspects of the war accelerated social, economic, and political change in Portugal's urban society. It strengthened political opposition to the dictatorship among intellectual and working classes, and it obliged the regime to bolster political repression. The general economic and financial status of Portugal, too, underwent improvements since creditor Britain, in order to purchase wolfram, foods, and other materials needed during the war, became indebted to Portugal. When Britain repaid this debt after the war, Portugal was able to restore and expand its merchant fleet. Unlike most of Europe, ravaged by the worst war in human history, Portugal did not suffer heavy losses of human life, infrastructure, and property. Unlike even her neighbor Spain, badly shaken by its terrible Civil War (1936-39), Portugal's immediate postwar condition was more favorable, especially in urban areas, although deep-seated poverty remained.
   Portugal experienced other effects, especially during 1939-42, as there was an influx of about a million war refugees, an infestation of foreign spies and other secret agents from 60 secret intelligence services, and the residence of scores of international journalists who came to report the war from Lisbon. There was also the growth of war-related mining (especially wolfram and tin). Portugal's media eagerly reported the war and, by and large, despite government censorship, the Portuguese print media favored the Allied cause. Portugal's standard of living underwent some improvement, although price increases were unpopular.
   The silent invasion of several thousand foreign spies, in addition to the hiring of many Portuguese as informants and spies, had fascinating outcomes. "Spyland" Portugal, especially when Portugal was a key point for communicating with occupied Europe (1940-44), witnessed some unusual events, and spying for foreigners at least briefly became a national industry. Until mid-1944, when Allied forces invaded France, Portugal was the only secure entry point from across the Atlantic to Europe or to the British Isles, as well as the escape hatch for refugees, spies, defectors, and others fleeing occupied Europe or Vichy-controlled Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Through Portugal by car, ship, train, or scheduled civil airliner one could travel to and from Spain or to Britain, or one could leave through Portugal, the westernmost continental country of Europe, to seek refuge across the Atlantic in the Americas.
   The wartime Portuguese scene was a colorful melange of illegal activities, including espionage, the black market, war propaganda, gambling, speculation, currency counterfeiting, diamond and wolfram smuggling, prostitution, and the drug and arms trade, and they were conducted by an unusual cast of characters. These included refugees, some of whom were spies, smugglers, diplomats, and business people, many from foreign countries seeking things they could find only in Portugal: information, affordable food, shelter, and security. German agents who contacted Allied sailors in the port of Lisbon sought to corrupt and neutralize these men and, if possible, recruit them as spies, and British intelligence countered this effort. Britain's MI-6 established a new kind of "safe house" to protect such Allied crews from German espionage and venereal disease infection, an approved and controlled house of prostitution in Lisbon's bairro alto district.
   Foreign observers and writers were impressed with the exotic, spy-ridden scene in Lisbon, as well as in Estoril on the Sun Coast (Costa do Sol), west of Lisbon harbor. What they observed appeared in noted autobiographical works and novels, some written during and some after the war. Among notable writers and journalists who visited or resided in wartime Portugal were Hungarian writer and former communist Arthur Koestler, on the run from the Nazi's Gestapo; American radio broadcaster-journalist Eric Sevareid; novelist and Hollywood script-writer Frederick Prokosch; American diplomat George Kennan; Rumanian cultural attache and later scholar of mythology Mircea Eliade; and British naval intelligence officer and novelist-to-be Ian Fleming. Other notable visiting British intelligence officers included novelist Graham Greene; secret Soviet agent in MI-6 and future defector to the Soviet Union Harold "Kim" Philby; and writer Malcolm Muggeridge. French letters were represented by French writer and airman, Antoine Saint-Exupery and French playwright, Jean Giroudoux. Finally, Aquilino Ribeiro, one of Portugal's premier contemporary novelists, wrote about wartime Portugal, including one sensational novel, Volframio, which portrayed the profound impact of the exploitation of the mineral wolfram on Portugal's poor, still backward society.
   In Estoril, Portugal, the idea for the world's most celebrated fictitious spy, James Bond, was probably first conceived by Ian Fleming. Fleming visited Portugal several times after 1939 on Naval Intelligence missions, and later he dreamed up the James Bond character and stories. Background for the early novels in the James Bond series was based in part on people and places Fleming observed in Portugal. A key location in Fleming's first James Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953) is the gambling Casino of Estoril. In addition, one aspect of the main plot, the notion that a spy could invent "secret" intelligence for personal profit, was observed as well by the British novelist and former MI-6 officer, while engaged in operations in wartime Portugal. Greene later used this information in his 1958 spy novel, Our Man in Havana, as he observed enemy agents who fabricated "secrets" for money.
   Thus, Portugal's World War II experiences introduced the country and her people to a host of new peoples, ideas, products, and influences that altered attitudes and quickened the pace of change in this quiet, largely tradition-bound, isolated country. The 1943-45 connections established during the Allied use of air and naval bases in Portugal's Azores Islands were a prelude to Portugal's postwar membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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