Portuguese Americans in the Armed Services: Portugal in World War II

Portugal in WWII

Lajes Field on Terceira Island in the Azores played a pivotal role in the war effort

Years:  1939 — 1945

During World War II, Portugal was ruled by António Salazar, a fascist dictator whose actions before mid-1943 seemed to favor the Axis until he finally allowed the British to establish a base in the Azores. Before the Allies began operations in the Azores, German U-boats, spies, and sympathizers roamed freely in the Portuguese territories. Salazar was not alone in showing favor to the Nazis, top-level military officers and elites in Portugal also thought likewise, while the common people, especially in the Azores, sided with the Allies. 

Again, as in previous wars, the Azores played a pivotal role. This time they were caught in the middle of the Battle of the Atlantic. During the war, the Germans operated over 800 U-boats, many doing their damage in the North Atlantic in the area known as the Azorean Gap.  Approximately 85 ships were destroyed by the Axis in or near the Azorean Gap. The Germans continued their destruction in the area until mid-1943 when the U.S. Navy went on the offensive and, by December, had sunk 22 U-boats in the vicinity of the Azores. By May of 1944, with the help of the base at Lajes, Terceira, the last German submarine was sunk in the vicinity of the Azores and the risk to Allied shipping lanes to Europe was drastically reduced.  The role of the base cannot be underestimated. In just the period from November, 1943, to June, 1945, a total of 8,889 aircraft took off from Lajes Field, and on one day alone in 1945, a total of 600 aircraft landed at the base.

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