Test of friendship. World War II, 1939–1945 (part 4)

After the fall of France, it was Portugal which took over the evacuation route of Polish (in most of the cases) and allied soldiers (to a lesser extent), who did not manage to make their way from a falling France into the UK. Among them, there were also pilots and crew of planes shot down either in Germany or in the occupied countries. The Polish Armed Forces were now beginning to regain shape as they were boosted by 5,500 military who passed through the Portuguese territory. Polish military authorities in London organised secret evacuation posts: the central one in Lisbon and another, subordinate, in Madrid. Essential for the whole operation was the support lent by the evacuation aid points, led by the English or by Poles. The military were redeployed across the Pyrenees and Spain. In the beginning, soldiers who had just arrived to Portugal, remained in hiding until all departure formalities were settled. Few were apprehended by the Portuguese police, which sent them off to the Caxias fort nearby Lisbon, and further ‘expelled’ on board British ships. Importantly, already in 1942, the Polish military post concluded with the Portuguese authorities a confidential agreement. According to it, soldiers who entered from France illegally would be transferred to a special-purpose shelter in Oeiras by Lisbon, and afterwards – escorted to be able to board the ships destined to Britain.

Lisbon became a hub of intelligence rivalry between the warring parties. One Polish officer wrote: ‘I don’t know whether (…) anyone in Warsaw imagined before 1939, that Lisbon would become the main centre of our intelligence work during this war.’[1] In autumn 1940, Agency ‘P’ of the Second Bureau of the Commander-in-Chief’s Staff was established there. It conducted intelligence on Germany, Italy and France.

In turn, from 1941, the civilian intelligence outpost, which reported to the Polish Ministry of the Internal Affairs Continental Action, was headed by Lt. Col. Jan Kowalewski, one of the most outstanding Polish intelligence officers who, during the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1920, broke Russian ciphers, which contributed to defeating the Bolsheviks near Warsaw and stopping their march on Western Europe. During World War II, he was making manoeuvres on behalf of the Polish government with aim to make Romania, Hungary and Italy join the allied camp. They consisted in clever presentation before representatives of these three countries what may be their ways out and how to pass to the other side. The impact he was hoping to make was supposed to be amplified by instilling scepticism as to whether the Third Reich can actually prevail. The operation was dubbed ‘Tripod’ and was carried out in collaboration with an unofficial representative of the Polish MFA, Jan Szembek, former deputy foreign minister. It must have turned into a fiasco, however, as Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt adopted the rule of ‘unconditional surrender’ of the Axis powers in January 1943. Another factor was the outcomes of the Tehran conference, which determined, the whole Central and Eastern Europe was now part of the Soviet sphere of influence. After the war, Edward Raczyński, at the time of the conflict Polish ambassador in London and head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recalled that this was one of the ‘missed opportunities of the Second World War’. The head of the Lisbon post of the American intelligence service believed that the two Polish intelligence outposts were ‘probably the best offensive intelligence system in Lisbon’. A base for military foreign communications with the country, ‘Liza’ (later ‘Migdał’ [‘Almond’]), also operated in Portugal.

The Portuguese press – within the censorship constraints – would write on Poland in positive terms. A figure to acknowledge here is Pedro Correia Marques, director of ‘A Voz’, a catholic paper. The government in Lisbon was concerned about the Soviet threat to the Central and Eastern Europe since it feared a spillover effect versus the Western part of the continent. In early 1945, António de Faria was nominated the Portuguese envoy to the president of Poland in London, yet the appointment decision had to be suspended; the Portuguese waited until the status of Polish authorities in exile, now deteriorated, would stabilise again. Instead, the Western Allies withdrew their recognition for Poland’s government on 5th July 1945, and Portugal followed suit. However, diplomats in service to the independent Republic of Poland were granted consent to close their outposts when they saw fit, and, in practice, to continue their stay in Portugal, which many took advantage of.


  • Audience of Florian Piskorski (1st from left), delegate for Europe of the Polish-American Council, with the president of Portugal, General Óscar Carmona (4th from left), at the Belém National Palace in Lisbon. 1944. © ZCTM
  • Lt. Col. Stanisław Kara. Lille, 1932. © NAC
  • António Augusto Braga Leite de Faria, counsellor at the Embassy of the Portuguese Republic in London. Post-war photo. © AHD
  • Wanda Tozer née Morbitzer, secretary of the Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Barcelona, organiser of the evacuation of Polish soldiers through Catalonia. In November 1943, she was transferred to Portugal, where she took up residence in a shelter for soldiers in Oeiras. Between December 1943 and early 1945. © ZCTM
  • Lt. Col. Jan Kowalewski with his daughter Teresa near the Rossio railway station in Lisbon between 1940 and 1944. © ZTKF
  • Jan Szembek, a Polish diplomat, settled in Estoril in 1940, where he died in August 1945; he was buried in the Prazeres Cemetery in Lisbon. Warsaw, November 1932. © NAC

[1]    Here we have used the translation by Antoni Bohdanowicz in Jan Stanisław Ciechanowski (2015), Portugalio, dziękujemy! Polscy uchodźcy cywilni i wojskowi na zachodnim krańcu Europy w latach 1940–1945. Portugal, obrigado! Os refugiados polacos, civis e militares, nos confins da Europa Ocidental nos anos de 1940-1945. Thank You, Portugal! Polish civilian and military refugees at the western extremity of Europe in the years 1940-1945. Warszawa: Urząd do Spraw Kombatantów i Osób Represjonowanych, Oficyna Wydawnicza RYTM: 37. (Translator’s Note)