Soldier Millions

Soldier Millions

During WW1, a Portuguese soldier convinced the Germans that they were fighting against an entire unit.

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Aníbal Augusto Milhais (July 9, 1895 – June 3, 1970), nicknamed "Soldado Milhões" (Soldier Millions), was the most decorated Portuguese soldier of World War I and the only Portuguese soldier awarded the highest national honour, the Military Order of the Tower and of the Sword, of Valour, Loyalty and Merit on the battlefield instead of the usual public ceremony in Lisbon.

On April 9, 1918, Milhais took part in the battle known in Portugal as "The Battle of La Lys" – the first day of Ludendorff's Lys Offensive, otherwise known as "Operation Georgette", and as the "Battle of Estaires" in official British history. He found himself in the midst of the battle, in the field of Isberg, covering the withdrawal of Portuguese and Scots soldiers. Within a few hours, 1,938 men had been killed, 5,198 wounded and about 7,000 taken prisoner. Milhais was in charge of a Lewis gun on April 9, 1918. During Operation Georgette, when the German Army attacked his division, Milhais laid down intensive fire against assaults by two German regiments, causing many German casualties. He managed to cover the retreat of Portuguese and Scots alike, despite coming under heavy attack himself. He fired in all directions and stayed at his post until he ran out of ammunition. Finally, the Germans decided to go around his position, and Milhais found himself alone in the rear of the enemy lines for three days. On the third day, Milhais, still carrying his Lewis gun, rescued a Scottish major from a swamp, and the two reached Allied lines. Milhais was warmly welcomed, but being a modest man he did not say anything about his experiences. However, the officer he had helped reported his actions to the British headquarters and several other testimonies also made his deeds known.

A few months later, Milhais once again held back a German assault single-handed with his Lewis gun, allowing a Belgian unit to retreat safely to a secondary trench without casualties. Both the British observers present in the scene and the Belgian commander included his action in their reports. Milhais was awarded the highest Portuguese distinction - the Order of the Tower and Sword - and the French Légion d'Honneur, delivered on the battlefield before 15,000 Allied soldiers.

On July 15, 1918, the Order of Service of the Battalion published a commendation, given by Major Ferreira do Amaral, which described his action as having been worth a million men, hence the nickname by which he became known: "Soldier Millions".

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