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Portuguese Navy

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Title: Portuguese Navy  
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Portuguese Navy

Portuguese Navy
Marinha Portuguesa
Portuguese Navy Heraldry
Country Portugal
Branch Navy

Military: 8900 [1]
Paramilitary: 1000
Civilian: 2700
Frigates and corvettes: 11
Submarines: 2
Patrol vessels: 21
Landing craft: 1
Support ships: 2
Research vessels: 4
Training ships: 3
Navy auxiliary units: 50

Helicopters: 5
Part of Portuguese Armed Forces
Garrison/HQ Lisbon Naval Base
Patron Henry the Navigator
Motto Honrai a Pátria que a Pátria vos contempla (Honor the Fatherland for the Fatherland beholds you)
Anniversaries 20 May (Discovery of the sea route to India by Vasco da Gama)
Luís Manuel Fourneaux Macieira Fragoso
Naval Ensign
Naval pennant
Naval Jack

The Portuguese Navy (Portuguese: Marinha Portuguesa, also known as Marinha de Guerra Portuguesa or as Armada Portuguesa) is the naval branch of the Portuguese Armed Forces which, in cooperation and integrated with the other branches of the Portuguese military, is charged with the military defence of Portugal. The Portuguese Navy also participates in missions related with international commitments assumed by Portugal (mainly within NATO), as well as missions of civil interest.

Today, the Portuguese Navy assumes a dual role capacity: Naval combat missions to assure Portugal's sovereignty and international commitments, and coast guard operations in its territorial waters and areas of influence.

The Portuguese Navy, tracing back to the 12th century, is the oldest continuously serving navy in the world.


  • History 1
    • Creation of the Portuguese Navy 1.1
    • Conquests and Discoveries 1.2
    • The 15th and 16th centuries 1.3
    • Habsburg Dynasty 1.4
    • Portuguese Restoration War 1.5
    • The 18th century 1.6
    • Napoleonic Wars and the early 19th century 1.7
    • Late 19th century to World War I 1.8
    • World War I 1.9
    • Interwar period 1.10
    • World War II 1.11
    • Early Cold War 1.12
    • The Overseas wars 1.13
    • Decolonization and late Cold War 1.14
    • Activity since 1990 1.15
  • Organization 2
  • Ships and aircraft 3
    • Ships 3.1
    • Aircraft 3.2
  • Ranks and insignia 4
    • Officers 4.1
    • Ratings 4.2
  • See also 5
  • External links 6
  • References 7


Creation of the Portuguese Navy

The first known battle of the Portuguese Navy was in 1180, during the reign of Portugal's first king, Afonso I of Portugal. The battle occurred when a Portuguese fleet commanded by the knight Fuas Roupinho defeated a Muslim fleet near Cape Espichel. He also made two incursions at Ceuta, in 1181 and 1182, and died during the last of these attempts to conquer Ceuta.

During the 13th century, in the Portuguese Reconquista, the Portuguese Navy helped in the conquest of several littoral moorish towns, like Alcácer do Sal, Silves and Faro. It was also used in the battles against Castile through incursions in Galicia and Andalucia, and also in joint actions with other Christian fleets against the Muslims.

In 1317 King Manuel Pessanha of Genoa to be the first Admiral of the Kingdom. In 1321 the navy successfully attacked Muslim ports in North Africa.

Maritime insurance began in 1323 in Portugal, and between 1336 and 1341 the first attempts at maritime expansion are made, with the expedition to Canary Islands, sponsored by King Afonso IV.

In the context of the 1383–85 Crisis, the Portuguese Navy took an active participation in the war against Castile. A Portuguese naval campaign conducted in Galicia let to the conquest of the costal towns of Baiona, A Coruña and Neda, as well as the destruction of the naval base of Ferrol and of several ships that were on the way to reinforce the Castilian forces that were besieging Lisbon. In July 1384, the Portuguese Navy was able to break the Castilian siege of Lisbon and to supply the city, defeating the Castilian Navy in the naval battle of the Tagus.

At the end of the 14th century, more Portuguese discoveries were made, with the Navy playing a main role in the exploration of the oceans and the defense of the Portuguese Empire. Portugal became the first oceanic naval power.

Conquests and Discoveries

Replica of a Portuguese caravel of the 15th century.

In the beginning of the 15th century, the country entered a period of peace and stability. Europe was still involved in wars and feudal conflicts which allowed Portugal to be the only capable country to methodically and successfully start the exploration of the Atlantic.

Portuguese expansion during the 15th century can be divided in:

  • Territorial expansion to North Africa
  • Hydrographic survey of the African coast and Canary Islands
  • Oceanographic and meteorologic survey of the Atlantic Ocean
  • Development of navigation techniques and methods

Territorial expansion began in Morocco with the conquest of Ceuta in 1415. Exploration in the west African coast started in 1412 and ended with the crossing of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.

The 15th and 16th centuries

Depiction of the Expedition to Suez led by João de Castro in 1541, showing the main types of Portuguese ships that operated in the Indian Ocean in the 16th century, including two carracks, a galleon, two galleys and a round square caravel.

After his return from Ceuta, Henry the navigator founded a school of navigation in Sagres, which was a place to discuss the art of navigation. The vessel employed in the beginning of the Discoveries was the caravel, varying from 50 to 160 tons. The first results came soon and Gonçalves Zarco discovers the Porto Santo Island in 1419 and the Madeira Island in 1420, Diogo de Silves discovers the azorean island of Santa Maria in 1427.

In 1424, Diogo de Azambuja, becoming one of the most important Portuguese naval bases.

In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias becomes the first European to sail around the southernmost tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope.

João Vaz Corte-Real arrives to Newfoundland in 1473. Part of the coast of Newfoundland would be charted by the Corte-Real brothers, sons of João Vaz Corte-Real, in a failed attempt to find the Northwest Passage in 1501. In 1499, João Fernandes Lavrador and Pêro de Barcelos arrive to Labrador (named after the previous one) and map its coast.

The greatest achievement of these exploration voyages was attained by Vasco da Gama, who in 1498 becomes the European discoverer of the sea route to India.

In 1500, when leading a second Portuguese Armada of 13 ships to India, Pedro Álvares Cabral discovers and explores Brazil, claiming it for Portugal. In the same year, Diogo Dias, as one of the Captains of the fleet to India of Pedro Álvares Cabral, is separated from the main fleet by a storm while crossing the Cape of Good Hope, and becomes the first European to reach Madagascar.

Besides the already existing role of Admiral of Portugal, the Crown creates the role of Admiral of India, whose first holder becomes Vasco da Gama in 1500.

With the first established sea route to the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese started to use the carrack ship (nau in Portuguese). Nevertheless, the Portuguese penetration in the Indian Ocean was not peaceful due to the opposition of the Muslims. However, in 1509 Francisco de Almeida had a tremendous victory over the Muslims in the naval Battle of Diu, and the Portuguese presence in the area is definitely attained.

In Morocco the Portuguese conquests continue and they take over the cities of Safim, Azamor, Mazagão and Mogador.

In the Far East, Portuguese navigators continue their progress visiting the southeast of Asia, China in 1517 and Australia in 1522. In the same period they reach Taiwan (baptizing it Formosa) and Japan where they become the first Europeans to arrive.

They enter the Red Sea in 1542 to destroy the Ottoman armada in Suez.

The carrack Santa Catarina do Monte Sinai and other Portuguese Navy' ships in the 16th century.

In the West the Portuguese visited the coast of New England in 1520, California in 1542 and Hudson Bay in 1588.

All these actions were only possible with the naval capability, the navigation knowledge of these navigators, an enormous courage and determination.

In 1520, King India armadas, dispatched to India on an annual basis.

To aid the Christian forces to conquest Tunis in 1535, King John III sends the Portuguese galleon Botafogo, the world most powerful warship of the time, armed with 366 cannons and under the command of the own brother of the King, Louis, Duke of Beja.

In 1567, a Portuguese naval squadron, under the command of Mem de Sá, took Fort Coligny and expeled the French from the Guanabara Bay.

Habsburg Dynasty

Following the Portuguese succession crisis of 1580 and having defeated António, Prior of Crato in the War of the Portuguese Succession, the Habsburg Philip II of Spain became King of Portugal as Philip I. Under the Iberian Union, Portugal continued to be formally an independent kingdom with its own Navy, but its foreign and naval policies became increasingly subordinated and oriented through the Spanish interests.

The Portuguese galleon São Martinho, flagship of the Spanish Armada, in the battle of Gravelines.

The Portuguese Navy was soon ordered by King Philip to contribute to the Spanish Armada intended to invade England, this being an old Portuguese ally that started to be considered enemy by the alignment with the Spanish policies. Portugal provided the most powerful squadron of ships of the Armada, including its flagship, the galleon São Martinho. The Portuguese participation included a squadron of galleons and another of galleys, with a total of 16 ships and more than 5,800 men. This expedition culminated in the naval battle of Gravelines.

Linked to Spain by a dual monarchy, Portugal saw its large Empire being attacked by the English, the French and the Dutch, all enemies of Spain. The reduced Portuguese population (around one million) wasn't enough to resist to so many enemies, and the Empire started to fall apart.

The Portuguese Navy was still involved in several other conflicts and maintained an important role in the fight against pirates. António Saldanha commanding a fleet of 30 carracks defeated an Ottoman fleet in the Mediterranean and conquered Tunis.

Meanwhile, João Queirós accomplishes a double crossing of the Pacific Ocean leaving from California.

In 1618, the first naval infantry regiment is founded (Portuguese: Terço da Armada da Coroa de Portugal), origin of both of the modern marine corps of Portugal and of Brazil.

During 14 days of fight in February 1625, the Portuguese Navy obtain a strategic victory when a squadron of galleons, commanded by Rui Freire de Andrade, and another of galleys, commanded Álvaro Botelho, expel a combined English and Dutch naval force from the Strait of Hormuz, with Portugal regaining the control of the Persian Gulf.

A major joint Portuguese-Spanish naval and military expedition was organized in April 1625 to retake Salvador da Bahia in Brazil from the Dutch that had captured the city one year before. The Portuguese fleet was headed by Manuel de Menezes and composed by 22 ships and about 4,000 men, including the Terço da Armada da Coroa de Portugal.

Portuguese Restoration War

On the December 1, 1640, the Portuguese revolted and restored the full independence of Portugal after 60 years of Spanish domination. To defend its independence, the Portuguese Restoration War had to be fought against Spain. Although the threat of from the powerful Spanish Navy existed, no major naval engagements occurred, the War being fight mainly on land. At the same time, Portugal made peace agreements with England, France and the Netherlands.

In the period of the Restoration War, the major engagements of the Portuguese Navy were not against the Spanish but against the Dutch, that - despite having signed a peace agreement with the Portuguese - decided to took advantage from the difficult conditions caused by the war effort of Portugal in Europe and to capture some of its colonies in America, Africa and Asia. Despite some important initial setbacks, the Portuguese were finally able to react, repulsing the Dutch assaults on Mozambique, Goa and Macau and recapturing Northeast Brazil, Angola, São Tomé and Ano Bom, in several naval and military campaigns.

In 1660, the Portuguese naval captain David Melgueiro makes the first supposed crossing of the Northeast Passage, sailing from Japan to Portugal through the Arctic Ocean.

The 18th century

During the reign of King John V of Portugal the Navy suffers a large transformation, during which the warship starts to differentiate from the merchant ship.

Portuguese two decker ship of the line in the late 18th century.

In 1705, a squadron of eight ships of the line was sent to help England against the Franco-Spanish forces that were besieging Gibraltar, this expedition culminating in the naval battle of Cabrita Point.

At the request of the Republic of Venice and the Pope, in 1716, the Portuguese Navy sends a fleet to the deter the Ottoman advance in the Mediterranean. This expedition would culminate in the battle of Matapan on the July 19, 1717, in which the Portuguese fleet, supported by Venetian and Maltese ships, under the command of the Portuguese Admiral Count of Rio Grande, defeats the Ottoman Navy.

From 1762 to 1777, the Portuguese naval forces based in Brazil participate in the several conflicts that occurred with the Spanish in South America, but with limited success.

From 1770, under the leadership of Martinho de Melo, secretary of State of the Navy, the Portuguese Navy suffers a large reform and modernization. Incidentally, as part of these reformations, the old procedure of baptizing the Portuguese ships with names of Saints is replaced by their baptism with names of mythical, historical or Royal persons.

The Royal Academy of the Midshipmen (Academia Real dos Guardas-Marinhas) was created in 1792, as a university-level naval academy. This Academy is the origin of the present Naval schools of Portugal and of Brazil.

In 1792, the three naval regiments (two of infantry and one of artillery) are reorganized and merged as the Royal Brigade of the Navy (Portuguese: Brigada Real de Marinha). This Brigade was commanded by a flag officer and included divisions of naval artillery, naval infantry and naval artificers, with a total of more than 5000 men.

Follow the execution of Louis XVI of France, by the French revolutionaries, Portugal enters the anti-revolutionary Coalition. In 1793, the Portuguese Navy is tasked with transporting by sea and escorting the Portuguese Expeditionary Army sent to help Spain in the War of the Pyrenees against France. This is done by the Transport Squadron organized with four ships of the line, one frigate, four transport ships and 10 merchant ships.

To aid United Kingdom to defend itself from a possible French invasion, the Portuguese Navy organizes and sends the Channel Squadron, with five ships of the line, two frigates, two brigantines and a hospital-ship. From July 1774 to March 1775, under the command of António Januário do Valle, the Portuguese Channel Squadron patrols the English Channel in cooperation with the Royal Navy.

The Portuguese Navy ends the 18th century with a fleet that included 13 ships of the line, 16 frigates, three corvettes, 17 brigs and eight support ships. In addition, the Portuguese naval forces also included the Navy of India, based in the Indian Ocean, with a ship of the line and six frigates.

Napoleonic Wars and the early 19th century

In the late 18th century, under the command of the Marquis of Nisa, the Portuguese Navy took part in the Mediterranean Campaign of 1798 against the French Republic in Egypt and in the Siege of Malta.

In November 1807, General Jean-Andoche Junot invaded Portugal in an attempt to expand Napoleon's continental empire.

Prince Regent John and the Royal Court of Portugal prepare to embark in the Portuguese fleet seen on the Tagus, that would take them to Brazil.

With insufficient forces to deter the invasion, in order not to be captured and keep the independence of the Kingdom, the Prince Regent John of Portugal activates an ancient strategic plan that the foresee the transference of the head of the Portuguese Crown to Brazil. The Prince Regent called upon his Navy to execute this mission and, on the November 29, 1807, the Royal Family, the Government and 15,000 state and military officials and their families leave Lisbon and sail to Brazil, carried by a Portuguese fleet that included eight ships of the line, three frigates and five other smaller ships. The 84 gun ship Príncipe Real served as flagship, carrying on board the Prince Regent and his family. The fleet arrived at Bahia on the December 22, and, finally, at Rio de Janeiro on the March 8, 1808. The new Portuguese capital is established in Rio. Carried in the fleet, the Royal Academy of Midshipmen also arrives and is installed in Rio, as well as a part of the Royal Brigade of the Navy.

In retaliation for the French invasion of Portugal, the Portuguese forces in Brazil conquer the French Guiana in January 1809. The amphibious invasion is done by a Portuguese naval flotilla supported by a British frigate, a force of 550 marines of the Royal Brigade of the Navy and 700 Brazilian regulars.

While participating in the Napoleonic Wars in the Western hemisphere, the Portuguese Navy was also engaged in operations in the waters of Southeast Asia. Between November 1809 and February 1810, the Portuguese naval forces based in Macau conduct a campaign against the Chinese pirates, defeating them in a series of naval actions in Bocca Tigris.

Political instability dominated Portugal during the 19th century after the Napoleonic invasions. In 1820, after a Revolution in the city of Oporto, the Constitutional regime is established in Portugal. The Parliament in Lisbon requires the return of the King from Brazil to Europe. King John VI returns in 1821, leaving his heir, Prince Peter, as regent of Brazil.

After a period of political dispute with the Parliament in Lisbon, Prince Peter finally breaks with it and declares the independence of Brazil in 1822, becoming its first Emperor, as Peter I. Peter I is supported by many of the Portuguese naval personnel stationed in Brazil, whose members became citizens of the new country. The new Brazilian Navy is constituted mainly with the Portuguese ships based in Brazil at that time and their respective crews. In the brief War of Independence of Brazil, some small naval engagements occur, between the Brazilian Navy and the Portuguese naval forces in Brazil that kept loyal to the Government of Lisbon. However, the engagements are limited by the fact that the Portuguese that constituted the majority of the crews of the Brazilian ships - although loyal to Peter I - refused to fight against other Portuguese. The conflict would end in 1824, with Portugal recognizing the independence of Brazil in 1825. In the same year, the Royal Academy of Midshipmen in Rio de Janeiro is divided in two, one for Brazil and the other for Portugal, with the students and faculty members that opted for Portuguese nationality returning to Lisbon.

The Battle of Cape St. Vincent, between the Miguelite and the Liberal navies.

The death of King John IV in 1826, together with the disputes between the Absolutists and the Liberals, created a succession and political crisis. Being the heir of the Portuguese Crown, Emperor Peter I of Brazil briefly becomes also King of Portugal, as Peter IV, then abdicating in favor of his youngest daughter, who became Queen Mindelo, from where they advance to the city of Oporto, taking it on the next day. Under siege by the Miguelite army inside the Oporto, the Liberals decide to open another front in the rearguard of the enemy forces. A naval fleet sails Oporto on 20 June 1833, with half of the Liberal army on board and disembarks it in the Algarve. On return voyage, the Liberal fleet under the command of Charles Napier encounters and defeats the Miguelite fleet under the command of Manuel António Marreiros in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent on 5 July 1833. The Civil War finally ended on the 24 May 1834, when Michael I signed the Concession of Evoramonte, renouncing all claims to the Portuguese throne.

The long period of conflict that goes from the Napoleonic Wars to the end of the Civil War weakened the country and caused a sharp decadence of its Navy. In this period, the Portuguese Navy lost most of its capacity as a global blue-water navy, becoming a small naval force limited of having merely the capacity to patrol of the littoral zone of Portugal and do the naval policing of the Portuguese colonies.

Late 19th century to World War I

The mixed propulsion corvette Bartolomeu Dias and other Portuguese warships arriving at the Tagus with Queen Stephanie on board, in 1859

In the 1830s, the Portuguese Navy incorporates its first steamships. The last Portuguese ship of the line, the 80-gun Vasco da Gama is built in Lisbon in 1841 and the last sailing frigate, the 60-gun Dom Fernando II e Glória is built in Daman (Portuguese India) in 1845. From the late 1850s, the Navy will gradually replace its sailing ships by steam or mixed propulsion ships, its principal warships becoming the mixed propulsion corvettes for the high seas operations and the gunships mainly for coastal and colonial patrols. In 1880, the Portuguese fleet includes one armored corvette, six corvettes, 13 gunships, three training ships and four support ships.

In the end of the 19th century and, specially, following the Berlin Conference called for by Portugal, the Navy actively participated in the Portuguese exploration and mapping of the interior of Africa. From the Portuguese explorers of the African hinterland, stood out the naval officers Hermenegildo Capelo, Brito Capelo and Roberto Ivens that made several expeditions since the late 1870s. Hermenegildo Capelo and Roberto Ivens made the first land connection between Angola and Mozambique, crossing the interior of Africa by unexplored territory, leaving the west cost in January 1884 and arriving the at east cost in September 1885.

In this period, the Navy also focused in the mission of the naval defense of Lisbon, complementing its ground defense. This was part of the national strategy which considered that the defense of Portugal would be assured by the defense of its capital and most important city. As part of this mission, in 1876, the Portuguese Navy acquires the ironclad Vasco da Gama, its first armored vessel, intended to operate as a floating coastal defense battery. The plans for the naval defense of Lisbon would also include the use of torpedo boats and submarines, that are later also acquired.

In 1889, Naval Lieutenant João Augusto Fontes Pereira de Melo presents the project of a "submarine station". A model of the so-called submarine Fontes is tested in the Naval Arsenal of Lisbon.

In the end of the 19th century, the Portuguese Navy had the conscience that it did not had a capable force to defend the Portuguese European waters and ports against a possible enemy aggression. The Portuguese naval theorists started to defend the use of the submarine as the only weapon capable to face a more powerful enemy navy.

The Rainha Dona Amélia, one of the cruisers of the 1896 naval program, built in the Lisbon Naval Arsenal.
Expeditionary force of naval infantry preparing to embark to Angola in 1907.

In 1896, an emergency naval program proposed by the Navy Minister Jacinto Cândido da Silva was approved. This included the construction of four cruisers. A fifth cruiser was also ordered in the scope of a public subscription organized as a response to the 1890 British Ultimatum. In 1901, the old ironclad Vasco da Gama suffered a major refurbish, being transformed in an armored cruiser and, in 1907, the first submarine was ordered.

From the end of the 19th century and until the beginning of the 20th century, the Portuguese Navy participated in a series of colonial pacification campaigns, aimed to neutralize local uprisings and to enforce Portuguese sovereignty in Angola, in Mozambique, in the Portuguese Guinea and in other overseas territories. Most of the campaigns were in charge of the Army, but the Navy actively supported them, including leading some of the operations. For these campaigns, the Portuguese Navy organized a brown-water navy constituted mainly by river gunboats that operated in the African rivers in support of the ground forces. The Navy also organized expeditionary naval infantry units that operated in Africa as landing forces in support of the Army units.

The Báruè Campaign, in 1902, stood out as an example of a colonial campaign led by the Navy and where important naval assets were employed. The campaign was aimed to pacify the Báruè, a hinterland region of central Mozambique, crossed by the Pungwe River. The operations were under the overall command of Lieutenant-Commander João Coutinho. They included the initial maritime movement of troops by the cruisers São Gabriel and São Rafael and the gunships Chaimite and Liberal, from several areas in Mozambique and its concentration in the area of operations. The operations in the Pungwe River were conducted by the gunboats of the Zambezi Flotilla, reinforced with chartered merchant vessels. The landing forces included Army artillery and infantry troops, Colonial native units and naval infantry forces constituted by sailors detached from the crews of the ships of the Mozambique Naval Station.

In the beginning of the 20th century, the Portuguese Naval League started to study a program of reforms and equipment to apply to the Portuguese Navy. These studies were mainly led by young naval officers from which stood out Lieutenant Álvaro Nunes Ribeiro and Lieutenant Fernando Pereira da Silva.

The modernization of the Portuguese Navy in the last years of the Monarchy meant that in 1910, it had sophisticated ships, already equipped with electric energy, wireless communications, torpedoes and modern artillery. The fleet included six cruisers, four torpedo boats, a torpedo gunboat, 13 gunships and other auxiliary and minor vessels, with a submarine under construction.

On the October 10, 1910, the Monarchy is deposed and replaced by the Portuguese First Republic. The new political regime presents an ambitious naval program, that foresees the building of three powerful Dreadnought battleships, three cruisers, 12 destroyers and six submarines. Although approved by the Parliament in 1912, the program comes to almost nothing, mostly due to the lack of funding. On the contrary, during the First Republic, the Navy enters in a period of neglect, gradually losing part of its capabilities, in a process that will culminate in a situation that would be referred in the late 1920s as an almost "naval zero".

World War I

Armoured cruiser Vasco da Gama, in the early 20th century.

The conflict between Portugal and Germany started still before the formal declaration of war between the two countries, when several military clashes occurred in the borders between Angola and German West Africa and between Mozambique and German East Africa, in the middle of 1914. In August 1914, a German surprise attack against the isolated border post of Mazúia in the Rovuma riverbank in Northern Mozambique, resulted in the massacre of the small garrison, including its commander, the Navy sergeant Eduardo Rodrigues da Costa, who become the first Portuguese killed in action during the World War I. Another of these surprise attacks occurred against the post of Cuangar in southern Angola in October, also resulting in the massacre of most of the Portuguese garrison, machine-gunned by the attacking German forces. As part of the Portuguese military reinforcements sent to respond to the German aggressions, a naval infantry expeditionary battalion is sent to Angola in November 1914, participating in the South-West Africa Campaign land fighting, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Afonso Cerqueira.

On the February 23, 1916, in an operation led by Commander Leote do Rego from the cruiser Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese Navy captures 38 German ships anchored in the Lisbon harbor. Other ships are captured in the Portuguese harbors of Mainland Portugal (Porto and Setubal), the Azores (Horta and Ponta Delgada), Madeira (Funchal), Cape Verde (São Vicente), Angola (Luanda), Mozambique (Mozambique Island, Beira and Lourenço Marques) and Portuguese India (Mormugão), in a total of 72 German and Austro-Hungarian vessels. This is followed by the German declaration of war to Portugal on the March 9, marking the formal Portuguese entrance in World War I.

In the beginning of the World War I, the Portuguese fleet included five cruisers, one sloop, one destroyer, one submarine, 12 gunships, seven river gunboats, four torpedo boats, two training ships and other seven armed vessels. During the war, two additional destroyers, three submarines and three gunships would be received. A number of liners, cargo ships, trawlers and tugs would be mobilized and fitted for naval service, these including three auxiliary cruisers, one hospital ship, four transport ships and more than 20 naval trawlers (patrol boats and minehunters). The Portuguese Naval Aviation as well as its Lisbon Naval Air Station would be created in 1917, receiving more than 25 seaplanes during the wartime.

The Portuguese cruiser Adamastor.
The naval trawler NRP Augusto Castilho, leading figure of the Action of 14 October 1918 in the North Atlantic.

From February 1916, the Portuguese naval forces operating in Mozambique included the cruiser NRP Adamastor and the gunship NRP Chaimite, besides several river gunboats and other small vessels of the Zambezi Flotilla. During May 1916, the Adamastor and the Chaimite led an operation against the German forces in the mouth of the Rovuma River, bombarding the enemy positions and launching landing parties that took the German fortifications of the Namaca island. An amphibious assault against the northern bank of the river was however repulsed by well entrenched German forces, with intense machine-gun fire that caused a high number of casualties in the Portuguese landing parties. The northern bank of the Rovuma would finally be occupied by the Portuguese forces three months later. The cruiser NRP São Gabriel was also sent to Mozambique in April 1918, incidentally detecting and engaging a U-boat, while on route. When it was anchored in Cape Town, South Africa, the São Gabriel was requested to collaborate in the security of the city, that was under the threat of an uprising and only guarded by 50 police officers, disembarking 116 of the members of its crew, that assumed the defense of the port for four days, until the return of the British naval forces that had left for the sea.

One of the main roles of the Portuguese Navy was to defend the ports of Mainland Portugal and of the Portuguese North Atlantic isles (the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde), specially against naval mines and U-boat attacks. The main effort was made on the defense of the Lisbon harbor, the principal Portuguese seaport and naval base, with intense naval patrolling done by surface vessels, submarines and naval aircraft, naval surveillance from land stations and the launching of antisubmarine mines and net barrages. The Navy also manned some of the coastal defense artillery batteries. In the defense operations of the Lisbon harbor, the Navy lost the minehunter NRP Roberto Ivens, that hit an enemy mine, sinking with the death of all its crew, and a FBA seaplane, that disappeared with is crew while patrolling off the bar of the Tagus estuary.

Another port that received much attention from the Portuguese Navy, was that of São Vicente, in the Cape Verde isles. São Vicente was the interface of the telegraph submarine cables that connected America, Europe and Africa, as well being a major coaling station for the Allied warships and merchant vessels that navigated in the Atlantic. In 1914, the Navy dispatched a naval infantry force and the gunships NRP Beira and NRP Ibo for the islands. Later, these forces were reinforced with the gunship NRP Bengo, with antisubmarine barrages and with coastal batteries operated by the Navy. From 1916 to 1918, the Portuguese naval forces in Cape Verde were able to successfully repulse several U-boat attacks against ships anchored in the São Vicente harbor.

Important efforts were also made in the defense of the harbors of Leixões, Horta, Ponta Delgada, Funchal and coast of the Algarve, with engagements occurring when Ponta Delgada and Funchal were attacked and bombarded by U-boats. The Portuguese Navy also supported the naval base and air station operated by the United States Navy in Ponta Delgada and the naval air station operated by the French Naval Aviation in São Jacinto, Aveiro. A Portuguese naval air detachment was deployed to Horta, Azores and a naval air station was built in the Culatra Island, Algarve, but not activated because the end of the War.

The NRP Guadiana, a Douro-class destroyer employed in the defense of the Lisbon harbor.

The Portuguese Navy operated in the North Atlantic, escorting merchant vessels and protecting the maritime communication lines between the Mainland and the Portuguese Atlantic isles. In one of these missions, occurred the famous Action of 14 October 1918, between the naval trawler NRP Augusto de Castilho, under the command of Lieutenant Carvalho Araújo, and the German U-boat cruiser U-139. The U-139 attacked the Portuguese liner SS San Miguel, that was navigating from Funchal to Ponta Delgada, with 209 passengers on board, under the escort of the Augusto de Castilho. Despite being a small boat only armed with a 65 mm and a 47 mm guns, the Augusto de Castilho engaged the powerful U-139 (armed with torpedoes and two 150 mm deck guns), successfully covering the escape of the San Miguel. After being able to sustain a disproportionate combat for several hours, the Augusto de Castilho was destroyed and sunk, with the death of its captain and several other crew members.

Another wartime mission for the Navy was the transportation and the convoying of the Portuguese troops that went to fight in the European Western Front and in the Southern African campaigns. To France, more than 56 000 men of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps and of the Portuguese Independent Heavy Artillery Corps were transported, to Angola more than 15 000 men and to Mozambique more than 17 000. Smaller military contingents were also transported to other Portuguese island and overseas territories.

The Portuguese Merchant Marine also made a major contribution for the war effort of Portugal, either with their vessels and personnel mobilized to serve as part of the Portuguese Navy, either by their own, transporting troops and supplies under the constant danger of U-boat, naval mine and merchant raider attacks. From 1916 to 1918, 115 Portuguese merchant ships were sunk by U-boats, with the loss of 120 members of their crews.

Interwar period

Lieutenant-Commander Sacadura Cabral and Captain Gago Coutinho in the cockpit of the Fairey III seaplane Lusitânia, at the departure for the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic.

After the end of World War I, Portugal continued the Douro-class destroyer and the Beira-class gunship programs, building two additional units of the previous and three units of the latter. As a war compensation, the Portuguese Navy received six Austrian-Hungarian Tb 82 F-class torpedo boats, with only four of these being commissioned. The Navy also acquired two British Arabis-class sloops, that were commissioned as cruisers.

In 1922, the Portuguese naval officers Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic. They left the Lisbon Naval Air Station in Bom Sucesso, on March 30, in a Fairey III-D MkII seaplane of the Navy, specifically outfitted for the journey. The aircraft was equipped with an artificial horizon for aeronautical use, a revolutionary own invention of Gago Coutinho. They arrived on the Brazilian Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago on the April 17 and ended the journey in Rio de Janeiro on the June, 17.

The Interwar period sees the start of the construction of a new naval base and a large arsenal at the Alfeite, in the southern bank of the Tagus estuary. The facilities at the Alfeite were intended replace the Lisbon Navy Arsenal and the several small stations dispersed throughout Lisbon and the Tagus estuary, that together constituted the Lisbon Naval Base, concentrating them in a single place. The plans for the new Naval Base facilities also foresee the transference of the Lisbon Naval Air Station, from the Bom Sucesso docks to a new air base to be built at Montijo. The first naval facilities at the Alfeite were finished in 1924, with the Naval School being transferred to there in 1936 and the Alfeite Arsenal being finished in 1937. The construction of the new facilities would continue gradually until the 1950s.

Due to the frequent piracy attacks and the civil conflicts affecting China, in 1927 the Portuguese Navy reinforced its station at Macau, with the cruisers República and Adamastor, that joined the gunships Macau and Pátria already based there. As part of the Portuguese naval forces in Macau, a naval air station was created at Taipa island, operating Fairey III seaplanes. In 1937, the Chinese Civil War and the Japanese invasion, would led the Portuguese Navy to reinforce again the naval forces in Macau, this time with sloops in rotation. The Macau Naval Air Station would be reactivated with Hawker Osprey seaplanes.

NRP Afonso de Albuquerque, one of the ships of the Portuguese Naval Program of the 1930s.

On the early morning of 4 April 1931, several officers of the CAMS 37 flying boats and an Army landing force. The naval expedition leaves Lisbon on 24 April, with the landing operations starting on 26 April. The air support, provided by the Naval Aviation flying boats operating from the Cubango, was crucial for the success of the landings and the advance of the Government forces inside the island. After several days of combat, on 2 May 1931, the rebels cease the resistance.

The rebellion in Madeira made it more clear that an Atlantic country like Portugal, with islands and overseas territories, could not survive without a capable and adequately equipped Navy. An important investment in the Portuguese Navy was authorized by the Government, with Minister Magalhães Correia launching a new naval program, partially based in early plans conceived by Admiral Pereira da Silva. The naval program foresee the existence of a European naval force for Atlantic control centered in destroyers and an overseas naval force for colonial service centered in avisos (sloops). These forces would be supported by a surface strike force of two cruisers, a seaplane carrier, naval aircraft, submarines and support vessels. Although only half of the program was executed, from 1933 to 1939, the Portuguese Navy acquired a total of 22 new warships, including state of the art Vouga-class destroyers, Delfim-class submarines and Afonso de Albuquerque-class, Gonçalo Velho-class and Pedro Nunes-class avisos. The cruisers ended by not to be built and the seaplane carrier started to be built, but was later canceled and replaced by other additional ships.[2]

World War II

Portugal remained a neutral country during World War II, but its Government would later assume a neutral collaborating attitude toward the Allied powers. The Navy contributed for the defense of the Portuguese neutrality at sea and air.

NRP Vouga, leading ship of the Vouga-class destroyers employed in the defense of the Portuguese sea lines of communications during World War II.

In the beginning of the War, the Portuguese Navy included six destroyers, seven avisos, three submarines, three torpedo boats, five gunships, two river gunboats, three patrol boats, two mine warfare vessels, four survey vessels, two support vessels and two training ships. The Naval Aviation included around 40 aircraft, mainly seaplanes operating from the naval air stations of Lisbon, Aveiro and Macau and from the avisos of the Afonso de Albuquerque-class.

To avoid being confused with ships from belligerent countries, the Portuguese merchant vessels started to navigate with large flags of Portugal and their names painted on the sides of the hull. However, this did not completely prevent some submarine attacks against Portuguese ships. The most serious attack would occur in 1942, when the three-masted lugger sailing ship Maria da Glória, navigating en route to Greenland, was attacked and sunk by the German U-boat U-94, with the death of 36 of her 44 crew.

A particular concern was the defense of the strategic Atlantic islands of the Azores against a possible invasion. In 1941, the garrison of the islands began to be strongly reinforced with ground and air forces, achieving 32 500 troops and more than 60 aircraft. The Portuguese Navy focused in the defense of the waters and ports of the Azores with patrol boats and destroyers deployed on rotation. These surface forces were supported by Fleet 10, Avro 626, Grumman G-21 and Grumman G-44 seaplanes that patrolled the waters from the reactivated Azores Naval Air Station at Ponta Delgada. In a smaller scale, similar reinforcements were also sent to Madeira and to Cape Verde islands. Although both the Axis and the Allied powers had plans to invade the islands and use them to control the Atlantic (including the planned British operations Alloy, Shrapnell, Brisk, Thruster, Springboard and Lifebelt, the US Operation Grey and the German operations Felix, Ilona and Isabella), the Portuguese military reinforcements were able to support Portuguese diplomacy in successfully deterring any attempt at performing that invasion.

The Navy also had to plan a possible strategic evacuation of the Portuguese Government to the Azores. This evacuation was planned to occur in the case of an enemy invasion and successfully occupation of Continental Portugal. A potential invasion of Portugal was included in the German preparations for the planned operations Isabella and Felix.

An effort was also made to defend the Portuguese overseas territories in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Although the naval and military assets were always few for such large number of territories, it was still possible to maintain the integrity of the great majority of them. The major exception being Portuguese Timor, which was occupied by Australian and Dutch forces in December 1941, allegedly to defend it against a possible Japanese invasion. After protests from the Portuguese Government, an agreement was reached in which the Allied forces would withdraw from the Portuguese territory after the arriving of the Portuguese military reinforcements that were sent from Mozambique on board the aviso NRP Gonçalves Zarco and the transport ship João Belo. In February 1942, when the Portuguese reinforcements were still in route, the Japanese used the pretext of the Allied invasion to invade themselves Portuguese Timor, catching the Allied forces by surprise and forcing them to withdrawal to the mountains. This evolved to Battle of Timor, fought from 1942 to 1945.

The aviso NRP Gonçalves Zarco, one of the ships that took part in the reoccupation of Portuguese Timor, invaded by the Japanese.

In 1943, following an evocation of the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1373 by the British Government, Portugal cede air facilities to the Royal Air Force in the Terceira Island, Azores. Latter, similar facilities were also ceded to the USA in Santa Maria Island. The facilities in the Azores would be crucial for the Allied victory in the Battle of the Atlantic and its global Victory in Europe. However, this Portuguese collaboration with the Allies increased the threat of a possible aggression from the Axis, forcing the Portuguese Navy to increase its efforts to deter any possible naval attack against Continental Portugal, the Azores and the other Portuguese islands in the North Atlantic.

To address the need to defend the coast and the harbors of the Atlantic islands and Continental Portugal, the Portuguese fleet was reinforced with about 30 patrol boats and mine hunters, including newly built vessels and naval trawlers adapted from fishing vessels. Additionally, a number of naval trawlers were built in Portugal and transferred to the Royal Navy to aid the British war effort. The Navy built and commissioned a survey ship and the tanker Sam Brás, with this one being critical to ensure the wartime supply of fuel to Portugal. The Naval Aviation was greatly reinforced, receiving more than 100 new aircraft and activating a naval strike unit equipped with land based Bristol Blenheim torpedo bombers, later replaced by Bristol Beaufighters.

Besides the purely military missions, during the conflict, the Portuguese Navy performed a number of humanitarian missions, that included many maritime search and rescue operations. In this operations, it was able to save thousands of lives of survivors from vessels and aircraft sunk near the Portuguese waters. These included both warships and merchant vessels, from the Allies, the Axis and the Neutral countries. In one of these operations in January 1943, when returning to Ponta Delgada, after rescuing 119 survivors of the US merchant ships City of Fint and Julia Ward Howe sunk by German U-boats, the destroyer Lima, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Sarmento Rodrigues, suffered a failure of her engines for 45 minutes. In a middle of a heavy storm, without engines and suffering the strong impact of the huge waves of the North Atlantic, the ship tilted 67°, the highest slope of a ship without sinking ever registered in the history of navigation.

In January 1945, aircraft from the carrier USS Enterprise bombarded the Macau Naval Air Station, destroying its facilities and aircraft. This never well explained attack was done, allegedly, because United States forces were mistakenly thinking that Macau had been occupied by the Japanese.

After the cession of hostilities in 1945, the Portuguese Navy organized an expedition to Timor to perform the reoccupation of the territory and to fully restore Portuguese sovereignty. The naval component of the expedition included the avisos Bartolomeu Dias, Gonçalves Zarco and Afonso de Albuquerque and the transport ships Angola, Sofala and Quanza, carrying supplies and about 2000 troops.

Early Cold War

After World War II, Portugal was one of the founding nations of NATO. In the scope of the Cold War, the Portuguese fleet actively participated in the defense of the North Atlantic against the Soviet naval threat. Inside NATO, the Portuguese Navy stands out by the development of a high proficiency in the mine and anti-submarine warfares.

Besides the already existing ships that suffer modernization programs, the Portuguese Navy starts to receive a series of new ships from the late 1940s, including nine frigates, three submarines, 14 patrol ships and 15 mine warfare ships. The Naval Aviation also receives new aircraft, including 12 Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bombers that form an anti-submarine squadron, considered a case study of efficiency among NATO, initially based at the Aveiro Naval Air Station and then transferred to the new Montijo Naval Air Base.

The roles of Minister of National Defence and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces are created in 1950, uniting the Navy and the Army under a joint command and marking the creation of the Portuguese Armed Forces as an integrated force.

After an intense debate and the fierce opposition from the naval aviators, in 1952, the Government takes the controversial decision to place the Naval Aviation under the control of the then created independent Portuguese Air Force, as the semi-autonomous Naval Air Forces. The Naval Air Forces would be fully integrated in the Air Force in 1958, definitely ceasing to exist as a separate branch, with many of the naval aviators and other personnel opting to return to the Portuguese Navy.

In the early 1960s, the Portuguese fleet includes 16 ocean escorts (including destroyers, frigates and sloops), three submarines, 23 patrol vessels, 19 mine warfare vessels (including ocean mine-sweepers, coastal mine-sweepers and mine-hunters), four survey vessels, one tanker, one buoy tender and one training ship.

From the late 1950s, the Portuguese Government and Military begin to concern about the increasing external and internal threats against the overseas territories of Portugal and the consequent need to defend them, including with adequate naval forces. Besides, the "European" navy equipped mainly with anti-submarine frigates, submarines and mine warfare vessels to operate in the North Atlantic in the scope of NATO, a new "Overseas" navy starts to be planned. Initially, the planned Overseas navy is conceived as mobile intervention force, centered in light aircraft carriers carrying Marine assault forces. However, this concept is not considered the most adequate and soon evolves to a concept of force centered in frigates and corvettes capable of carrying and supporting small landing forces, as well as in patrol ships. The beginning of the separatist guerrillas in the early 1960s and the consequent need of operating in the rivers and lakes of the Portuguese Africa would force the evolution of the Overseas navy concept, with the creation of brown-water forces, equipped with a high number of small patrol and landing craft.

In parallel to developing its fleet, the Portuguese Navy starts to expand its worldwide capacity of command, control and logistics in order to cover all Portuguese Overseas territories and respective waters. From 1957, naval commands are created in Cape Verde, in Angola, in Mozambique and in Goa (Portuguese India), besides those established in the Continent and in the Azores. Each naval command is responsible for an oceanic area of operations, in a way that most of the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean are contiguously covered by Portuguese oceanic areas. Subordinated to the naval commands, a number of local maritime defense commands and naval support facilities are also created. The Portuguese Navy also develops a worldwide communications network, with naval radio stations being established in all Portuguese Overseas territories. This network takes the Navy to be given the fully responsibility for providing the long range inter-territorial radio communications service to all branches of the Portuguese Armed Forces.

The Overseas wars

After half a century, the Portuguese Navy was in combat again during the second half of the 20th century. These combats took place in the Indian Ocean against the Indian Union and in Africa against the independence movements of the Portuguese territories.

On the morning of December 17, 1961, the Indian Armed Forces launched a massive attack against Portuguese India, invading the territories of Goa, Daman and Diu with vast land, air and naval forces. The Indian naval forces attacking Goa included an aircraft carrier, two cruisers, eight frigates and five other ships. The Portuguese naval forces comprised only three small patrol boats, one each in Goa, Daman and Diu, and the old sloop NRP Afonso de Albuquerque, based in Goa. Besides its mission of facing the enemy naval units, the Afonso de Albuquerque was also tasked with serving as coastal battery for the defense of the Mormugao harbor, as well as providing vital radio communications with Lisbon after on-shore radio facilities had been destroyed in Indian air-strikes.

The Afonso de Albuquerque engaged in the last conventional battle fought by the Portuguese Navy to the present day, when, at the 12h00 of December 18, several Indian frigates entered Mormugao harbor and opened fire. In response, the Afonso lifted anchor, headed out towards the enemy and returned fire with its 120 mm guns. For about an hour, the Afonso was able to sustain a disadvantageous battle with the Indian ships, firing nearly 400 rounds and hitting two of the enemy vessels. Finally, after having suffered severe damage from the enemy fire, with five of the crew killed and 13 injured (including its captain), the ship was stranded and latter evacuated by the crew under heavy bombardment.[3]

The patrol boat NRP Vega - led by 2nd Lieutenant Oliveira e Carmo - also engaged in combat, first defying the attacking Indian cruiser Delhi and then opening fire with its 20 mm gun against the enemy aircraft that were striking Diu, hitting and forcing the landing of an Indian Toofani jet fighter-bomber. In retaliation, the enemy aircraft focused the attack on the Vega, which was finally destroyed and sunk, with two members of the crew (including its captain) killed and other three injured.[4]

During the Overseas wars fought in Africa (1961–1975), the Portuguese Navy played a fundamental role in combat, patrol and amphibious missions in the ocean and inland waters of Angola, Portuguese Guinea and Mozambique. In amphibious missions the action of the Portuguese Marines was fundamental. Two types of Marine units were created, the Special Marines (fuzileiros especiais) specialized in offensive operations and the Marines (fuzileiros) for the defense of naval assets. The Portuguese Navy had to equip itself with a large fleet of small units including patrol boats and landing craft, many of them designed and built in Portugal.

In the Angolan theater, the main focus of the Portuguese Navy effort was the protection of the Zaire River, to avoid the infiltration of UPA/FNLA and MPLA guerrillas from the bordering Republic of Zaire. This mission was done by the patrol and landing crafts of the Zaire Flotilla, occasionally supported by frigates, and by units of Marines using rubber boats. The interdiction of the Zaire River was so successful that was able to stop the infiltration of the guerrillas, allowing the Portuguese Forces to defeat and almost totality eliminate them from Northern Angola, virtually terminating the war in the region in the early 1970s. The defeat and elimination of the guerrillas in Northern Angola, led the independence movements to re-orientate their activity to the vast, remote and almost desert areas of Eastern Angola in the late 1960s, benefiting from support and bases in the neighboring Zambia. To respond to this move, the Navy also started to focus in Eastern Angola, establishing naval and Marine units at more than 1000 km from the coast. These operated in the Zambezi, Cuando, Cuanza and other local rivers, against the MPLA and UNITA guerrillas that were active in the area. In the end of 1968, the Command of the Navy Forces in the East was established in a base located in a region known as the Terras do Fim do Mundo (the Lands of the End of the World), that gave origin to a small town named Vila Nova da Armada (New Town of the Navy).

From 1970, the Portuguese naval presence in Angola stabilized, including one frigate in rotation, four patrol ships, 11 patrol motor launches, 15 landing crafts, two Special Marine detachments, four Marine companies and five detachments of the Navy Forces in the East.

The landing craft NRP Alfange (LDG101) supplying the garrison of Babadinca, Portuguese Guinea, in the early 1970s.

Due to the geographical and hydrological characteristics of the Portuguese Guinea, it was in Eastern Bloc and Chinese naval assets, including modern P 6-class torpedo boats that constituted an additional threat to be faced by the Portuguese naval forces. Besides this, the PAIGC benefited from the support of the neighbors countries of Senegal and specially, of the Republic of Guinea, which, given the relatively small land area of the Portuguese Guinea, allowed its forces to be able to launch direct attacks against the Portuguese garrisons from their bases in those countries. In this theater, the Portuguese Navy played the most varied missions, including most of the logistical support to the Portuguese military units scattered throughout the territory, fire support to the land forces, amphibious assaults with Marine units and the interdiction of the water supply lines used by the PAIGC.

NRP António Enes (F471), a Portuguese-designed Overseas War era João Coutinho-class corvette.

The Portuguese naval presence in Guinea, from 1964, included a frigate, seven patrol boats, 15 landing craft, four Special Marine detachments and two Marine companies. Latter, additional landing craft and a Sapper Divers unit would be added, this latter to face the use of naval mines by the PAIGC forces. In 1971, in the scope of the "Africanization" policy of General Spínola, two African Special Marines detachments were created, staffed with personnel recruited locally in the Portuguese Guinea.

To expel the PAIGC forces that were occupying the Como and other near islands in the southern region of the Portuguese Guinea, in January 1964, the Portuguese Armed Forces launch the Operation Trident (Operação Tridente), a major conventional type joint operation, on which, for the first time ship based helicopters were used and large scale amphibious assaults were made. The assaults against the several islands were supported by naval bombardments and air strikes. For the Operation, the Navy employed the frigate Nuno Tristão - that served as the command post for the Operation -, the destroyer Vouga, seven patrol boats, eight landing craft and three detachments of Special Marines - that, together with a reinforced Army battalion, formed the landing forces.

In 1970, the Naval Forces in the Portuguese Guinea perform the secret Operation Green Sea (Operação Mar Verde), a major amphibious raid on Conakry, the capital of the neighboring Republic of Guinea, an open supporter and a sanctuary for the PAIGC. The Operation was led by Lieutenant-Commander Alpoim Calvão, heading task force TG 27-2, composed of the patrol boats Cassiopeia, Dragão, Hidra and Orion and the landing craft Bombarda and Montante, carrying a landing force that included 250 Portuguese Commandos and Special Marines and 150 political opponents of the Guinean dictatorship. During the night of 21–22 November, the Portuguese forces were able to take the control of the city, neutralizing the Guinean Army and the locally based PAIGC forces, destroying several naval and military assets of the PAIGC and rescuing 26 Portuguese POWs that were being held in a local prison.

In the Lourenço Marques and Beira. With the beginning of the construction of the Cahora Bassa Dam and the spread of the FRELIMO guerrillas to the Tete region, in the early 1970s, the Navy oriented part of its effort to the Zambezi River.

In addition to its commitment in the Mozambican theatre of operations against the independence forces, from 1966, the Portuguese Navy had to maintain an oceanic task force in the Mozambique Channel, composed of frigates on rotation, to deter any possible hostile action from the British naval forces that kept stationed off the port of Beira to try to force the embargo of oil to Rhodesia, following its unilateral declaration of independence.

From 1971, the Portuguese naval presence in Mozambique included three frigates or corvettes, one logistical support ship, three patrol boats and one landing craft in the Indian Ocean, five patrol boats and seven landing craft in Lake Nyassa, three Special Marines detachments and three Marine companies.

Besides combat operations, the Portuguese Navy continued to provide long-range and coastal logistics to the Portuguese Armed Forces stationed in the several overseas territories of Portugal in the Atlantic (Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Portuguese Guinea and Angola), the Indian Ocean (Mozambique) and the Pacific (Portuguese Timor and Macau).

NRP Almirante Magalhães Correia (F474), one of the anti-submarine frigates built in the 1960s to assure the Portuguese commitments towards NATO in the North Atlantic.

The needs to give priority for the acquisition of a large number of small units to operate in the African rivers delayed the plans for the ocean overseas force foresee in the late 1950s. However these plans go forward in the late 1960s, with the building of ships capable of operating both as anti-submarine ocean escorts as to perform overseas patrol and landing operations. These ships are foresee as a modern version of the avisos of the 1930s. For this role, four Comandante João Belo-class frigates are ordered from French yards. In parallel, the Portuguese Navy's engineer Rogério d'Oliveira designs a revolutionary type of ship for the role, that would be the João Coutinho-class corvettes. These corvettes are the first modular ships of the world, capable of being adapted for several types of missions, including anti-submarine warfare and amphibious operations, at the same time being cheap to operate. Its design would soon be copied, giving origin to a series of frigates and corvettes classes that served several navies. For the operations in Africa, the João Coutinho-class corvettes were designed with small draft to be able to navigate near the coast and in large rivers and had accommodations on board for a force of Marines, being capable of supporting it in landing operations. Six ships of the João Coutinho-class are built, these being be followed by four of the improved Baptista de Andrade-class corvettes.

Besides the efforts made in the Overseas wars, during this period the Navy was able to continue to guarantee the Portuguese naval commitments to the NATO missions in the North Atlantic. To be able to continue to support these missions, the Portuguese Navy built three new Almirante Pereira da Silva-class anti-submarine frigates and acquired four new Albacora-class submarines. As part of the commitments to NATO, the Portuguese Navy supports the installation of the COMIBERLANT in Lisbon and deploy the Pereira da Silva-class frigates to regularly participate in the STANAVFORLANT since its creation.

Decolonization and late Cold War

On the early morning of 25 April 1974, young officers of the Portuguese Armed Forces triggered the almost bloodless Carnation Revolution, which overthrown the Government and the regime. Incidentally, the STANAVFORTLAND was in the Tagus and leaving it on the day of the Revolution, integrating the Portuguese frigate Almirante Gago Coutinho. When was already leaving the Tagus with the other NATO ships, the Gago Coutinho was ordered by the Portuguese Navy Staff to leave the international formation, to turn back and to place itself in front of the Terreiro do Paço riverside square, where most of the revolutionary forces were concentrated. When already positioned in front of the square, the frigate was ordered to open fire against the armored vehicles of the revolutionary forces, but its crew refused.

The new regime quickly negotiates ceasefires with the independent forces in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea, ending the Overseas wars. This is followed by the independence of the Portuguese African territories, the first one being Guinea-Bissau (ex-Portuguese Guinea) on 10 September 1974 and the last one being Angola on 11 November 1975. Most of the Portuguese small naval units based in those territories were transferred for the new countries. The Navy supported the withdrawal of many thousands of Portuguese troops and civilians from Africa, transporting them back to Portugal. On the day of the independence of Angola, the task force FO 15 - that included the frigates Hermenegildo Capelo and Roberto Ivens, the corvette General Pereira d'Eça and the tanker São Gabriel, together with the hospital-ship Gil Eannes and the troop transport ships Niassa and Uige - execute the last of these operations in the bay of Luanda, embarking on board Vice-Admiral Leonel Cardoso, the last Portuguese governor, and a military detachment and then sailing to Lisbon.

The NRP Afonso Cerqueira (F488), a Portuguese designed Baptista de Andrade-class corvette.

Follow the Carnation Revolution, the Portuguese authorities also start the preparations for the independence of East Timor (ex-Portuguese Timor), until then a peacefully territory. The disputes between the several Timorese political parties involves in to an armed conflict, forcing the Portuguese governor Lemos Pires to withdraw to the Atauro Island, 25 km off Dili, in late August 1975. After a request from Lemos Pires, the Portuguese Navy sends the newly built corvette NRP Afonso Cerqueira that arrives the waters of Timor in the early October 1975. In the early December, the corvette NRP João Roby also arrives the area. On 7 December 1975, the Indonesian Armed Forces start the invasion of East Timor. At 03h00, the two Portuguese corvettes, anchored near Atauro Island, detect on the radar a high number of unidentified air and naval targets approaching. They soon identify the targets as Indonesian military aircraft and warships that initiate an assault against Dili. With their crews occupying battle stations, the ships embark the Portuguese authorities and the small military detachment that were in Atauro, lift anchor and transport them to Darwin, Australia. Meanwhile, the two corvettes constitute the Portuguese naval force UO 20.1.2, with the mission to continue to patrol the waters around Timor, for a preparation of possible military action to respond the Indonesian invasion. Latter, the UO 20.1.2 becomes the FORNAVTIMOR, with the corvette NRP Oliveira e Carmo replacing the NRP Afonso Cerqueira on 31 January 1976. The FORNAVTIMOR is dissolved in March, with the leaving of the corvette João Roby to Lisbon. The Oliveira e Carmo however continued in the area, only leaving in May 1976.

In the end of 1975, for the first time in 500 years, Portugal was again a merely European country and its Navy a merely North Atlantic navy. The Portuguese Navy had to refocus again its main efforts to the defense of the Atlantic against the naval threat from the Warsaw Pact in the context of the late Cold War. The Navy also focused in its responsibility for the patrol and control of the newly created Exclusive economic zone of Portugal, the 10th largest in the world.

In the beginning of 1976, the Portuguese fleet included four Comandante João Belo-class frigates, three Almirante Pereira da Silva-class frigates, six João Coutinho-class corvettes, four Baptista de Andrade-class corvettes, three Albacora-class submarines, 10 Cacine-class patrol ships, four support ships and one training ship, together with a number of remaining patrol boats, mine sweepers and landing craft. Although most of these ships were recent and modern, they had been mostly equipped to operate in the support of low intensity conflicts in Africa, with limited installed capability for the anti-submarine and anti-ship roles. A planned fleet retrofit program, that included the installation of anti-ship and SAM missiles in the frigates and corvettes, could not proceed due to lack of funds. Without modernization, the Almirante Pereira da Silva-class frigates would soon be considered obsolete, being taken out of service in the early 1980s, but remaining moored at the Lisbon Naval Base until finally decommissioned in the early 1990s.

With no significant new ships received for many years, the Portuguese Navy spent most of the 1980s, with four frigates, 10 corvettes, three submarine and 10 patrol ships, besides the support ships and minor units. The lack of specialized offshore patrol vessels, meant that the corvettes and even the frigates were intensively used for fishery protection and maritime search and rescue missions, besides their original military roles.

Activity since 1990

A Portuguese Marine (fuzileiros) team conducts a boarding exercise, under the coverage of a Navy's Super Lynx helicopter, in 1998.
NRP Comandante João Belo (F480), leading ship of the João Belo-class frigates, in the Mediterranean in 2005.

From the 1990, the Portuguese Navy participated in various long-range missions where it has effectively conducted Portugal's foreign policy, using its units solely or integrated in vaster campaigns articulated with the Portuguese Army and the Portuguese Air Force. The Portuguese Navy has been especially active in peace-enforcement campaigns using combat ships, helicopter missions and special force marine detachments in amphibious and air evacuation of Portuguese nationals and other foreign civilians from dangerous war zones in Sub-Saharan Africa. The most notable missions performed were in Bolama (Guinea-Bissau, 1990), Luanda (Angola, 1992), and Bissau (Guinea-Bissau, 1998 and again in 1999). In these theatres the Portuguese Armed Forces set up secure zones amidst the combat areas, and evacuation units, sometimes operated by Portuguese Army special forces or Portuguese Marines Special Actions Detachment (DAE) to retrieve civilians from hot-spots and evacuate them onto frigates stationed off-shore or onto Portuguese Air Force C-130 Hercules transports, as in Angola in 1992. [8].

The Portuguese Navy has also actively participated in several international peace-keeping and peace-enforcing efforts in conjunction with other NATO, United Nations or European Union forces in numerous theatres, distant from Portuguese territory.

NRP Corte Real (F332), a Vasco da Gama-class frigate, in the North Atlantic in 2009.

In the 1990s, the Portuguese Navy is modernized with new vessels that include the Vasco da Gama-class frigates and the Portuguese designed and built Argos-class patrol boats. The Navy's aviation is reborn with the reception of Westland Lynx helicopters. This new systems greatly increase the Navy's capacity to intervene in the high seas and the shores.

During the liberation of Kuwait in 1990–91, the Portuguese Navy logistics ship NRP São Gabriel supported allied forces in the Persian Gulf. In the various Balkan wars which resulted from the dismembering of Yugoslavia, the Portuguese Navy was an active player in Portugal's UN and NATO commitment, maintaining a frigate with DAE special forces in the Adriatic Sea continuously between 1991 and 2000, and commanding the NATO Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea in December 2001 and January 2002. Closer to home, the Portuguese Navy has consistently contributed patrol boats and corvettes to joint-nation EU exercises designed to aid Spain in dealing with its problem of illegal immigration and drug-trafficking off the Southern coast and the Canary Islands. During the Prestige oil-spill incident, off the coast of Northern Spain, Portugal dispatched various frigates and surveillance aircraft to the area, which were fundamental in providing independent information regarding the events.

On 7 June 1998, a military coup occurring in Guinea-Bissau, would trigger a major naval rescue operation that would demonstrate the capacity of the Portuguese Navy to intervene at thousands of kilometers away from Portugal. The coup quickly evolved into a civil conflict opposing the rebel forces to the forces loyal to the Government (with military support from the neighbors Senegal and Republic of Guinea), with thousands of Portuguese and other foreign residents being caught in the middle of the fights. The Portuguese Armed Forces immediately prepared a rescue operation, codenamed Crocodile (Operação Crocodilo). An initial evacuation of civilians was made by the Portuguese merchant ship MS Ponta de Sagres, that was navigating in the region. On 11 June, under the command of Captain Hélder Costa Almeida, the Ponta de Sagres bravely entered in the Port of Bissau, under artillery fire, rescuing more than 2 200 civilians, including 500 Portuguese nationals. An air evacuation, planned to be conducted by Portuguese Air Force C-130 aircraft and Special Operations forces deployed to Senegal, had to be cancelled, due the occupation of the Bissau International Airport by belligerent forces. The Portuguese Navy sends a naval force, under the command of Captain Melo Gomes, constituted by the frigate Vasco da Gama, the corvettes Honório Barreto and João Coutinho and the support ship Bérrio. The Bérrio carried on board a Marine force that included the Special Actions Detachment (DAE), the 22nd Marine Company and support elements (command, liaison, boat, divers and medical teams). The Portuguese naval force arrives at Guinea-Bissau on 15 June and on the next day it enters Geba River. Its Marine force - led by the DAE operatives - lands and occupies the Port of Bissau, starting the evacuation of Portuguese citizens and foreign nationals to the ships. Later, additional people would be collected from other parts of the coast of Guinea-Bissau, using rubber boats and helicopters, in a total of more than 1200 rescued citizens. On 28 June, under the mediation of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, the negotiations that would take to the cease fire between the belligerents start on board the frigate NRP Vasco da Gama. Operation Crocodile is terminated on 21 July 1998, with the Portuguese naval force leaving the waters of Guinea-Bissau and being rendered by the frigate NRP Corte Real.

Portuguese Navy Marine contingents have also participated in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Kinshasa (Zaire, 1997) and Congo (1998), East Timor (1999–2004), the European Union Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006, and the NATO fleet off the coast of Somalia, where Portugal's Navy has played a prominent role. During the flooding of the Save River, in Mozambique (2000) a detachment of Portuguese Marines conducted flood rescue operations as part of the humanitarian relief effort. [9]

NRP Álvares Cabral (F331) in military training.

During the onset of East Timor's independence from Indonesia in 1999, Portugal sent two frigates and various troops to aid its former colony in the Pacific Ocean. The NRP Vasco da Gama and the NRP Hermenegildo Capelo remained in the area until mid-2001 [10]. A company of 155 Marines was also sent to the territory as part of Portugal's UN peacekeeping role while the situation was volatile. Since 2004 a smaller detachment of Portuguese Marines is integrated in the Timor Military Liaison Group [11] closely coordinated with the Portuguese National Republican Guard (GNR) contingent stationed in the capital, Dili, and the Armed Forces of Timor.

The 2000s sees reception of the Bartolomeu Dias-class frigates (replacing the old Comandante João Belo-class), of the Tridente-class submarines (replacing the old Albacora-class) and of the Portuguese designed and built Viana do Castelo-class ocean patrol vessels (intended to gradually replace the João Coutinho-class and Baptista de Andrade-class corvettes).

The Vasco da Gama-class frigates Álvares Cabral and Corte Real have regularly contributed to long-range International Maritime Organization for its successful attacks on pirate activity, conducted by the Corte Real frigate during the peak of pirate activity. [13] [14].

In parallel with its military roles, the Portuguese Navy continued to assume an important scientific role, mainly in the scope of the oceanographic and hidrographic research. The scientific missions of the Navy are led by the Hydrographic Institute, with the support of the Hydrographic Ships Group. One important role in this area is the support to the Mission for the Extension of the Continental Shelf of Portugal, that has been given since 2004. For this mission, the hydrographic surveys carried away by the Dom Carlos I-class research ships have been crucial. The success of this mission, allowed Portugal to be able to substantiate and present its Extended continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles claim to the United Nations in 2009. If the claim is accepted, the Portuguese Continental Shelf will become one of the largest in the World.

In the 2010s, the Portuguese Armed Forces created the Immediate Reaction Force (FRI, Força de Reação Imediata), with the main mission conducting operations of evacuation of Portuguese citizens from regions under crisis or tension. The initial core of its naval component - with an operational readiness of 48 hours - has permanently assigned a frigate, a corvette, a Marine company, a sappers divers detachment, a mine warfare detachment and, when available, a submarine and a fleet tanker. The Navy' Special Actions Detachment is assigned to the special operations component of the force. The FRI - including its naval component - was activated and pre-positioned in Cape Verde in April 2012, prepared to intervene in Guinea-Bissau if needed, following a military coup that occurred in that country.

The Navy is also developing the Portuguese Task Group (PO TG), a naval force aimed to guarantee a naval warfare national autonomous capacity. This force is intended to act as a naval element of power projection, able to intervene in any place of the national interest strategic space of Portugal. The PO TG is planned to include submarines, ocean escorts, amphibious and logistical support ships, Marine and special operations forces, divers units and hydrographic ships. An important element will be a landing platform dock ship, whose planned acquisition has been however delayed. The readiness of the PO TG has being regularly trained and evaluated in the INSTREX series naval exercises.


Distinctive flag of the Chief of Staff of the Portuguese Navy.

The Portuguese Navy is under the command of the Chief of Staff of the Navy (CEMA, Chefe do Estado-Maior da Armada). He is the only full Admiral in active service in the Navy and is proposed by the Government and vested by the President of Portugal. The CEMA is also the head of the National Maritime Authority, which structure became separated from the Navy in 2014.

Besides the CEMA and under his command, the Portuguese Navy includes:

  • the Naval Staff (EMA, Estado-Maior da Armada);
  • central bodies of administration and management:
  1. Superintendence of Personnel,
  2. Superintendence of Material,
  3. Superintendence of Finance,
  4. Superintendence of Information Technologies;
  • naval component command:
  1. the Naval Command,
  2. subordinate maritime zones commands (North, Center, South, Azores and Madeira);
  • advising bodies:
  1. the Admiralty Council,
  2. the Superior Council of Discipline of the Navy,
  3. the Medical Revision Board of the Navy;
  • inspection body: the Inspection-General of the Navy;
  • base bodies:
  1. bases (Lisbon Naval Base and Navy Central Facilities Support Unit),
  2. the Naval School,
  3. Navy Vocational Training System schools and centers (Marines School, Hydrography and Oceanography School, Diving School, Naval Technologies School, Naval Integrated Training and Evaluation Center and training centers),
  4. flotillas and groups of operational units,
  5. service execution bodies (Underwater and Hyperbaric and Naval medical centers, laboratories and depots, Hydrographic Base, naval support points and other bodies);
  • cultural bodies:
  1. the Academy of the Navy,
  2. the Vasco da Gama Aquarium,
  3. the Navy Band,
  4. the Central Library of the Navy,
  5. the Navy Museum,
  6. the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium,
  7. the Navy Magazine;
  • elements of the operational component of the system of forces:
  1. the Marine Corps Command,
  2. forces (naval forces and Marine forces),
  3. operational units and assets (naval, Marine and divers units),
  4. centers of the operational component of the system of forces (command centers and posts and operations support centers);
  • bodies regulated by specific legislation:
  1. the Hydrographic Institute,
  2. the Maritime Search and Rescue Service.

Ships and aircraft


Class and type Image Units Built Displacement Length Speed Range Complement
Ocean escorts
Bartolomeu Dias-class frigate 2 1994 3320 t 122,5 m 29 kn 5000 NM 176
Vasco da Gama-class frigate 3 1992 3200 t 115.90 m 32 kn 4000 NM 180
Baptista de Andrade-class corvette 3 1974 1401 t 81 m 24 kn 5000 NM 113
João Coutinho-class corvette 3 1970 1401 t 81 m 24 kn 5000 NM 93
Tridente-class submarine 2 2010 2020 t 68 m 20 kn 12 000 NM 33
Patrol vessels
Viana do Castelo-class offshore patrol vessel 2 2010 1750 t 83,1 m 23 kn 4859 NM 35
Centauro-class patrol boat 4 2000 94 t 27 m 24 kn 1350 NM 8
Douro-class coastal patrol vessel 4 1992 320 t 54 m 30 kn 3860 NM 19
Argos-class patrol boat 5 1991 97 t 27 m 24 kn 1350 NM 8
Rio Minho-class river patrol boat 1 1991 70 t 22,5 m 9,5 kn 800 NM 8
Albatroz-class patrol boat 2 1975 45 t 18,4 m 20 kn 2500 NM 8
Cacine-class patrol ship 3 1969 292 t 44 m 20 kn 4500 NM 33
Landing craft
Bombarda-class landing craft 1 1985 650 t 56,2 m 9,5 kn 2600 NM 26
Auxiliary ships
Bérrio-class fleet tanker 1 1970 11 522 t 140,6 m 19 kn 15 000 NM 71[5]
Schultz Xavier-class buoy tender 1 1972 900 t 56 m 14,5 kn 3000 NM 39
Dom Carlos I-class offshore research vessel 2 1985 2300 t 68,7 m 10,5 kn 6400 NM 49
Andrómeda-class coastal research vessel 2 1988 245 t 31,4 m 12 kn 1980 NM 19
Sagres-class training ship 1 1937 1940 t 70,4 m 10,5 kn 5450 NM 139
Creoula-class training vessel 1 1937 1300 t 67,4 m - - 38
Polar-class sail training vessel 1 1977 70 t 22,9 m - - 5


Aircraft Image Type Versions In service
Westland Lynx Shipborne helicopter Super Lynx Mk.95 5

Ranks and insignia


NATO Code OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) Student Officer
4 gold stars on shoulder)

4 silver stars on shoulder)

3 silver stars on shoulder)

2 silver stars on shoulder)

1 silver star on shoulder)

(Sleeve and shoulder)

(Sleeve and shoulder)

(Sleeve and shoulder)

(Sleeve and shoulder)

(Sleeve and shoulder)

(Sleeve and shoulder)

(Naval School)

(Sleeve and shoulder)
Rank Almirante da Armada Almirante Vice-almirante Contra-almirante Comodoro Capitão de mar e guerra Capitão de fragata Capitão-tenente Primeiro-tenente Segundo-tenente Guarda-marinha or Subtenente Aspirante Cadete


NATO Code OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
Insignia No rank insignia
Rank Sargento-mor Sargento-chefe Sargento-ajudante Primeiro sargento Segundo sargento Primeiro subsargento Segundo subsargento Cabo Primeiro marinheiro Segundo marinheiro Grumete

See also

External links

  • Marinha Portuguesa, official website.


  1. ^
  2. ^ , May 2010Revista MilitarRIBEIRO, António Silva, "Mahan e as marinhas como instrumento politico",
  3. ^
  4. ^ "The fall of the Portuguese India" by Carlos Alexandre de Morais, ISBN 972-33-1134-8
  5. ^ "O "BÉRRIO", UM NAVIO SINGULAR (II- Conclusão)" (in Portuguese). Operacional. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2013. 
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