Portugal 1974

International Operation Name: N/A

International Operation Dates:  N/A

Mandating Organization: Government of Canada

Region Name:  Europe

Location:  Portugal

Canadian Operation Name: (Portugal 1974)

Canadian Operation Dates: 1974/04/25 – 1974/04/25

Mission Mandate:

Potential non-combatant evacuation operation if the coup of 25 April 1974 had become prolonged or violent

Mission Notes:

For 48 years, Portugal had been ruled by a dictatorship, first by Antonio Salazar and then by Marcello Caetano. On 25 April 1974, members of the Movimento das Forcas Armadas (MFA - Armed Forces Movement), composed primarily of military personnel at the captain and major ranks, staged an almost bloodless coup d’état. Known as the “Carnation Revolution”, the revolution converted Portugal from a fascist state into a liberal democracy in two years. The MFA was led and organized by Major Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho.

Although the MFA did not have the support of senior officers, many of whom were loyal to the regime, they faced little opposition from the rank and file of the Portuguese armed forces and it took only one day for them to bring down the government.

Canada’s relationship to the coup was purely by chance. NATO naval Exercise Dawn Patrol was scheduled to start on the morning of 25 April. On 16 April, HMC Ships Preserver, Huron, Iroquois, Assiniboine, and Annapolis departed Halifax for Lisbon. They and other NATO vessels rendezvoused in Lisbon on 23 April for pre-exercise briefings and a two-day port visit. HMCS Yukon was the flagship for the Standing Naval Force Atlantic, meeting up with the other NATO ships in Lisbon, where she turned over flagship duties to HMCS Annapolis. While events unfolded ashore, the NATO ships were moved from berths alongside Lisbon harbour to anchorages in the harbour – this was part of the normal schedule and not related to the coup. Later that morning, around 11:00 AM, they departed, following the script of the exercise.

The only Canadian ship to remain in Lisbon was HMCS Assiniboine. Enroute to Lisbon, she had been detached from the Canadian Task Group on 22 April to assist the MV Trade Mariner, which had suffered an engine failure. Assiniboine towed the ship into Lisbon, arriving on 24 April. As a result, she received permission to stay in Lisbon an extra day, to 26 April. At 7:00 AM on 25 April, Assiniboine was moved to an anchorage so the rest of the NATO fleet could sail later in the morning. Shortly after 9:00 AM, the Almirante Gago Countinho, guns at the ready, was observed circling the harbour and the Assiniboine. Assiniboine moved to a higher state of watertight readiness; however, by mid morning the tension was defused when the Coutinho elevated its guns skywards, indicating its neutrality in the coup attempt.

About 10:25 AM, the commanding officer of Assiniboine took a small party ashore to meet the Canadian ambassador and seek guidance. Unfortunately, lack of knowledge about what was happening prevented the Ambassador from providing any specific instructions. What was known was that there appeared to be no direct threat to Canadians. The Commanding Officer was later approached by the American Assistant Naval Attaché who could provide some details, which were then passed on to the Canadian Embassy. By 3:00 PM Assiniboine slipped her anchorage and sailed down the Tagus River.

An Argus maritime patrol aircraft detachment, from 405 Squadron, happened to be at Montijo, on the other side of the harbour from Lisbon, preparing for Exercise Dawn Patrol as well. With the airport shut down, they could neither depart, nor take part in the exercise.

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