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Was the outcome of WWII decided in Portugal?

a group of people standing around a plane

On this post we will try to answer this question and Portugal’s involvement in D-Day and what we know that may have shaped the course of History.

Portugal was neutral because of what happened during WWI. During that war, Portugal suffered heavy losses, not only the men sent to the battlefields but also economical and strategic losses in Africa.

So, when WWII started, Salazar kept Portugal neutral with two main purposes: first, to keep the alliance treaty with England, probably the oldest agreement between states in the world; second, to stay close to Hitler and the fascist Axis forces, aligned with his political ideology.

This double sided strategy was a dangerous game. Portugal always had a geo-strategic position, so if the Axis decided to invade Spain, the Portuguese shoreline, harbors and the Azores archipelago, located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean would make a valuable edge for the Nazis.

On the other hand, Portugal was also providing in Africa and Asia (through is colonies like Angola and Mozambique) the safe harbor needed for both sides of the war.


Portugal was also a passage way to war refugees and people who wanted to leave Europe. Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the Portuguese Consul in Bordeaux, France, issued visas to thousands of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, including Jews. For this defilement to the regime, Sousa Mendes was punished by the Salazar with one year of inactivity with the right to one half of his rank’s pay, being obliged subsequently to be retired.

Aristides de Sousa Mendes looking at the camera

Aristides de Sousa Mendes

Portugal was also a valuable location for one thing, a kind of mineral called ‘wolfram’. It was the wolfram located in the Iberian Peninsula that kept both sides and their war machines. However, the Nazis were totally dependent on Portugal and Spain for its wolfram supplies. Wolfram or tungsten was of particular value in producing war munitions. Thus, one of the allied goals was to deprive Nazi Germany of as much wolfram ore as possible. In this end, the Allies bought as much wolfram as possible from Portugal.

a close up of an animal

Wolfram was more valuable than gold!

This position adopted by Portugal was perfect for creating a ‘nest of spies’ from both sides of the war. And guess what? On our Sintra full-day tour we actually pass by the most spy-populated place in Portugal – Estoril! There you can see the Casino and the Palácio Hotel where most of the spies spent their time, spies like Popov, Josephine Baker or Ian Fleming… Yes! James Bond’s creator was here as well! Also during the Lisbon City (De)Tour we get to see where was the Nazi Germany spy HQ in Portugal, an hotel close to the Rossio train station!

So far we explained the political position of the country. But what Portugal had to do with ‘D-Day’? Well ‘D-Day’ could not have been possible without a major operation that delivered fake info to the Nazi Germany, an operation that used double sided spies, called “Operation Fortitude”.

a vintage photo of an old airplane

Dummy tanks was part of the ‘Operation Fortitude’

What most people don’t know is that “Operation Fortitude” relied on one single person that made up a network of connections and imaginary spies that were supposed to exist in England to corroborate his stories, although that double spy was based… in Lisbon! His ultimate goal was to go to England, so he made all that up.

His name was Juan (Joan) Pujol Garcia, code-named Garbo by the Allies and Arabel by the Nazi Germany. He used public information available in Lisbon’s libraries, like the British Rail time schedule or a road map of Great Britain!


The double agent Juan Pujol Garcia

This man was able to mislead the Germans, leading them to a heavy fortified area in France, the North-Eastern region (Pas-de-Calais, Dunkirk) instead of the real goal: Normandy.

The battle that took place in Normandy’s beaches: Omaha, Utah, Gold, June and Sword, were the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of Europe, opening a second battlefront in Western Europe. The ‘D-Day’ marks that occurrence, and Portugal had its share of influence.

Finally, a question for you: since Portugal was neutral and did not participate actively in the war, how come Portugal was involved in the Marshall Plan? And, how was it possible for Portugal, which had no Democratic government, to be invited as one of the founding members of NATO?

Well, these and other questions can be answered next time you visit us and tour with The Cooltours!

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