Coup in Portugal


Sidónio Pais (1872-1918), the new President and PM of Portugal.

December 5 1917, Lisbon–The war years had proven quite difficult for Portugal.  Dependent on foreign trade, the U-boat threat and increasing prices caused hardship at home.  Labor strife, even among unions that were traditionally supporters of the revolutionary government, were on the rise.  After Portugal entered the war, the cost of maintaining expeditionary forces both in France and in Mozambique proved a burden, as well, one not aided by the repeated defeats of the latter, most recently at Ngomano when Lettow-Vorbeck’s forces easily defeated the Portuguese and took most of their supplies.  

On December 5, Major Sidónio Pais, formerly Portgual’s ambassador to Germany until the outbreak of hostilities, launched a coup with a small group of men, perhaps numbering around 250.  The Portuguese Prime Minister had been out of the country for several weeks for a conference in Paris, and few forces in Lisbon actively defended the government.  After several days of fighting, Pais was victorious and seized power.  Although firmly against the war, there was little Pais could do, given Portgual’s reliance on trade with Britain.  However, he did extend more generous leave policies to Portuguese troops in France, and made sure no further expeditionary forces would be sent.

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