Monday, 10 April 2017

The Madeiran Revolt of 1931

During my recent visit to the Military Museum in Funchal, Madeira, I became aware of an event that I had never previously heard about, the revolt that took place on Madeira in 1931.

On my return home I did some research, and I think that this small conflict would appeal to anyone with an interest in the period of history between the First and Second World Wars, and particularly those who like wargame the Spanish Civil War and the imaginary Very British Civil War.

The revolt has several names. It is referred to as the Revolt of Madeira, the Island Revolt or the Revolt of the Deported, and it came about as a reaction against the military dictatorship that had taken control in Portugal. It began with the so-called Flour Revolt, which resulted from measures taken by the National Dictatorship to cope with the impact of the Great Depression. On 26th January, 1931, the state took control over the import of foreign grain – which it suspended – and almost immediately the price of flour – and thus bread – rose.

Unemployment was already high on Madeira, and the increase in bread prices made a bad situation worse. There were a number of strikes and riots, and several mills were attacked. The situation eventually calmed down, and things seemed to return to normal, but in response to the unrest the National Dictatorship sent a Special Delegate of the Government of the Republic – Colonel Feliciano António da Silva Leal – and a small military force to the island.

Since coming to power the National Dictatorship had been exiling some of its main military and civilian opponents to Madeira, including General Sousa Dias, Colonels Fernando Freiria and José Mendes dos Reis, and former government minister Manuel Gregório Pestana Júnior. Early on the morning of 4th April, 1931, junior officers of the newly arrived force, headed by Lieutenant Doctor Manuel Ferreira Camões, began arresting senior leaders loyal to the Lisbon Government and occupying public buildings in Funchal. Within a very short time a Revolutionary Board – presided over by General Sousa Dias – was set up with the declared aim of restoring the constitution that had been suspended following the Revolution of May 28th, 1926. This revolt had a great deal of popular support, and even spread to the Azores, Portuguese Guinea, Mozambique and São Tomé, although it was quickly suppressed in the latter two colonies.

The revolt was supported by members of the Paris League, which was made up of First Republic politicians, most of whom had been exiled to Paris. They hoped that these revolts would be the precursors of a general revolt throughout Portugal that would lead to the overthrow of the National Dictatorship and their return to power.

This was not to be, and when the revolt did not spread as expected the National Dictatorship acted to put down the revolt on Madeira. In taking this action they were supported by countries such as the United Kingdom, whose government felt that the undemocratic National Dictatorship was more representative of the feelings of the Portuguese population in general than the supposedly democratic former government of the First Republic.

Although the Portuguese Navy was almost non-existent, the Minister of the Navy – Commander Magalhães Correia – quickly organised an invasion fleet of requisitioned merchant ships. Accompanied by such units of the Portuguese Navy that were available, this fleet embarked some of the better trained and equipped units of the Portuguese Armed Forces (including a number of seaplanes, which were carried aboard the extemporised seaplane carrier, SS Cubango) and set sail on 24th April, 1931.

Two days later the invasion force arrived off Madeira, and after an unsuccessful attempt to land at Caniçal, troops went ashore at the tip of São Lourenço on 27th April. After seven days of fighting the Loyalist troops – led by Colonel Fernando Broges – had captured Machico and – despite the destruction of several major bridges by the rebels – had advance on Funchal. This was is no small part due to local supporters of the government, who provided transport and guides to the invaders.


By 2nd May it was obvious that the revolt on Madeira had failed, and many of the rebels sought sanctuary aboard the British cruiser HMS London, which had been sent to the island to protect British nationals living there. Not wishing to antagonise the National Dictatorship government, the British handed over General Sousa Dias and more than a hundred rebel soldiers to the Portuguese authorities, who punished them be sending them to Cape Verde. Four days later the revolt in Portuguese Guinea collapsed.

The invasion fleet sent by the National Dictatorship to invade Madeira included:
  • The seaplane carrier Cubango (a cargo ship transformed into a seaplane carrier)
  • Two auxiliary cruisers/armed merchantmen
  • Two transport ships
  • Four naval trawlers
  • The coastal defence ship/cruiser Vasco da Gama
Vasco da Gama.
  • Vouga, a Guadiana-class destroyer
A Guadiana-class destroyer.
  • Three gunboats
Of the warships, only the destroyer was relatively modern (its design dated back to the First World War), the Vasco da Gama being an obsolete, re-built ironclad corvette. (She had been built by Thames Iron Works on the River Thames in 1887 and re-built in 1901-03 in Livorno, Italy, to be a coastal defence ship or cruiser. She served as the flagship of the Portuguese Navy until she was scrapped in 1935.) It is also worth noting that the Vouga sank as a result of a collision with the one of the transport ships, the Pedro Gomes.

Pedro Gomes.

During the interwar period the Portugese Army wore the uniforms it had worn during the First World War. These were styled after the uniform worn by the British Army, but made from material that was Horizon Blue in colour.

A First World War Portuguese Infantryman with bicycle.
(Photograph taken in the Lisbon Military Museum.)
Portuguese troops marching towards the front during the First World War.
(Photograph taken in the Lisbon Military Museum.)

10 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Jim Duncan,

      I'd never heard of this revolt until I visited the Military Museum in Funchal. They have a small display about it with captions in Portuguese and English, and it includes a number of interesting photographs.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Bob
    Never heard of that one. Very interesting. Portuguese troops for that era a bit tricky to find I expect. They had a sort of fluted Brodie helmet as I recall.

    Cheers

    Andrew

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rumblestrip (Andrew),

      They wore a fluted Brodie helmet, but from the few examples I have seen, it is difficult to see the fluting unless you are quite close. It would be quite acceptable to use British First World War figures in French Horizon Blue uniforms. The webbing and equipment would be khaki.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Bob,

    Did the rebel troops wear the same uniform?

    Best regards,

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris,

      As far as I could tell from the black and white photographs I saw, both sides wore the same uniform.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. Bob,
    An interesting Theatre of operations - perhaps we will see a small Portable game of this- with Airfix 1/72n WW1 British painted up? Cheers. KEV.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kev Robertson,

      Funnily enough I am thinking about using this conflict as the basis of the mini-campaign that I intend to include in my forthcoming book.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Bob,
      That sounds an excellent idea- just the ticket! Cheers. KEV.

      Delete
    3. Kev Robertson,

      I have already begun to make notes for that section of the book, although the mini-campaign will be set on an imaginary island.

      All the best,

      Bob

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