The Portuguese neutrality during World War II seems to have been made possible through two essential factors: the above mentioned Salazar’s pragmatism that led him as Foreign Minister into a game of sensible equilibrium in the diplomatic field and on the other side the fact that none of the countries asked for the direct intervention of Portugal. It doesn’t mean that those countries didn’t press for any bigger involvement or that neutrality was never endangered. It was and the problem of Timor’s invasion proves it. The memoirs of the disastrous participation in the First World War may also have contributed to the unwillingness to participate in the 1939/45 conflict.
One of Salazar’s fist problems may have been Spain, ruled by the dictator Franco. His proximity to Hitler’s Germany predicted the participation of our neighboring country in the War. Salazar will of course direct all his diplomatic efforts on what concerns Spain to assure it remained neutral. His more or less decisive role near Franco is not consensual among historians. Where some declare that the Spanish Government always acted according to the State’s interest and Salazar’s influence was an illusion², others assure that this same influence may have given Franco an alternative to a proximity to the Axis, fact that granted the Portuguese dictator the Allies gratitude³. Anyway, the question that matters, having succeeded or not, is that this was Salazar’s greatest concern. If Spanish neutrality was granted, Portugal would also be freer to any military movements in the Atlantic which couldn’t be possible if it’s strategic concern’s were centred in the Iberian Peninsula.
The Portuguese Government’s position regarding England has always been of reasserting the existing Alliance between the two countries since the XIV Century. In spite of its desire of a bigger autonomy facing the U.K. diplomacy — Portugal declares its neutrality without consulting its English partners — Salazar always wished to relate with the Allies in the context of the Alliance. It was the only way to keep conversations, however secret, with them without breaking the official neutrality. The U.K. still was Portugal’s biggest commercial partner, not only through import and export businesses but also through their important investments in the country.
Short before the World War II began, the relations with Germany were of little importance. Salazar tried then to enlarge commercial bonds with this country and in 1938 Germany already was our second best commercial partner. During the War Portugal and Spain became essential to Germany since it was in the Iberian Peninsula that they supplied themselves with the wolfram they needed to make their weapons. Although the allied nations had other sources to obtain this raw material, they came to buy here all the wolfram they could in order to prevent its selling to the Axis. Portugal took great benefits from this competition and if when the War started the State was financially deficit, in 1943 the country already presented an important surplus.To our country, Germany sent products like coal, steel and fertilizers, products which the Allies weren’t able to provide. Finally in 1944, with the conflict almost solved for the Allied side, Portugal is obliged to interrupt wolfram supplies to Germany.
By the time of the Timor reoccupation, Portugal, with the aim of assuring full sovereignty on the territory, asked the Allies to take part in the military operations. Negotiations were held with that purpose but that never happened. As mentioned before, military bases in the Azores were negotiated with both the U.K. and U.S.A and that was considered by the Allies as sufficient participation in the effort to retake the island.
¹ – The Portuguese Parliament.
¹ – TELO, António José, A neutralidade portuguesa na Segunda Guerra Mundial, Janus 1999-2000
² – MENESES, Filipe Ribeiro de, Salazar – Uma biografia política, Ed. D. Quixote
Transl. by Maria Manuel C. da Silva