The Viriatos: Portugal Supports Franco
Repository: Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
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Centro Documental de la Memoria Histórica, Salamanca, Spain
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Along with Germany and Italy, the Portuguese dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar was one of three regimes that supported the military rebels from the beginning of the war. Salazar was motivated by antidemocratic and anti-left sympathies, but also by an authentic fear of contagion from Spain after the triumph of the Popular Front in February 1936. Portuguese support took a number of forms. The rebels were able to use Portuguese territory to connect areas where their coup had triumphed but that were separated by Republican held territory. Salazar also allowed foreign arms and supplies for the rebels to be transported through Portugal. Finally, he permitted volunteers who wanted to fight for the rebels to be recruited.
These were known in the press as Viriatos, after the Lusitanian leader of the resistance against the Roman conquest
All these actions in support of the rebel side were carried out unofficially. A signatory to the Non-Intervention Pact, the Salazar government hid its activities in Spain to avoid diplomatic problems, but these were an open secret among the main powers. There is no consensus on the number of Portuguese volunteers who fought with Franco but the most widely accepted figure is around ten thousand.
Calls for volunteers quickly appeared in the Portuguese press, and the first groups crossed the border early in the hostilities. Some would quickly desert because of the way they were treated in the Spanish units into which they were integrated, but the majority remained. Unlike the contingents sent by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the Portuguese would never form their own units. Instead, they joined the Tercio, (the Spanish Foreign Legion), the Falange militias, and the requetés of the Carlist Traditionalist Communion. Some, including military pilots, joined the regular army. A Portuguese Military Observation Mission in Spain was established in 1937 to assist them.
These volunteers were motivated primarily by ideology: Portuguese nationalism, Catholic anti-Communism, and sympathy with fascist or traditionalist ideas, although in some cases recognition or reward were factors. The treatment they received from the Salazar dictatorship when they returned from Spain would be ambivalent. On the one hand, since they were not officially ex-combatants, they would never be granted pensions of any kind, including those for being wounded. On the other hand, in 1939 they received some effusive tributes. One took place in June, when Spanish ambassador Nicolás Franco, the Undersecretary of the Portuguese Ministry of War, and numerous army and navy officers greeted the train carrying 60 Viriato officers from Salamanca to Lisbon.