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Brazil World War II

Having watched the film with Mel Gibson in “The Patriot” again at the weekend, his intrepid effort supported the US Independence from Britain on 4th July, 1776. However, France also sent reinforcement by sending some 12,000 soldiers and 32,000 sailors in its war efforts.

Brazil did not have its troops engaged in active combat against the Germans, Japanese and Italians (the Axis Powers) during World War II until well after the infamous attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. However, this should not be interpreted to mean the South American country did not help in the Allied effort nor converse with the United States until its troops hit the ground.

For example, Natal, located in the northeastern part of South America, was approximately 1,600 miles from Dakar, Africa. This location made it a strategic place for aircraft from the United States military to use Natal as a stopover when sending war supplies to its troops in Africa during World War II. (By comparison, Rio de Janeiro, about 1,600 miles south of Natal, is approximately 3,100 miles from Dakar.) 

In addition, on October 1, 1941, Brazilian leaders signed a lend-lease agreement with the United States. This allowed the North American country to send about $100 million to the South American country in military equipment and military personnel with the assurance that the funds would be used to help defend the United States if asked. Even so, Brazil tried its best to keep its army and navy out of active combat.

However, after Germany’s navy damaged at least one Brazilian ship and sunk four others, Brazil ended diplomatic relations with the country, Japan and Italy on January 22, 1942. On March 3, 1942, the United States and Brazil agreed to several mutual aid principles regarding the war. Ultimately, Brazil declared war on the Axis Powers on August 22, 1942.

From then onwards, the Brazilian troops (often referred to as the Brazilian Expeditionary Force or BEF) “was not a colonial force, as were the British Indian units, or a Commonwealth military, such as Canada, New Zealand, or South Africa, nor a Free ‘this or that,’ such as the Polish or French contingents … [The BEF] was drawn from the army of an independent, sovereign state that voluntarily placed its men under United States command,” an author wrote in Military History.

Nearly 2 years passed from Brazil’s declaration of war until the country’s troops saw military engagement overseas. About 25,000 members of a woefully underprepared-for-battle BEF arrived in several droves in Italy during the latter half of 1944.

Their acclimatization to their new surroundings could have been smoother. For example, their encampment was not complete upon their arrival. In addition, contrary to what the BEF was told before leaving for Italy, the BEF was not allowed to make any military decisions. These factors were among those that significantly reduced the BEF’s morale.

Regardless, the BEF (sometimes called the Smoking Cobras or Smoking Snakes as a homage to a patch on their uniforms) helped other Allied troops engage with the German Army in multiple unsuccessful attempts to capture Bologna, Italy, before Christmas 1944. At this point, the BEF took a break from active combat.

Down but not out, a series of battles during the first five months of 1945 elsewhere in Italy improved the BEF’s fortunes and morale. It helped take the municipalities of Monte Castello, Castelnuovo, Montese, Parma, Collecchio, and Fornovo, with the last battle forcing the German commander in charge to surrender on April 30, 1945. By then, the BEF had forced two generals, 800 officers and 14,700 Axis Powers troops to surrender. Two days later, the last German soldiers in Italy surrendered, and the BEF’s work was done. The entire war would be declared over later that year.

While in Italy, the BEF lost 1,889 soldiers, 31 merchant ships, 22 fighter planes, and three warships. In addition, an estimated $21 million cruzeiros (the Brazilian currency of the time) of Brazil’s own money was spent on the war.

Perhaps some comparisons of Brazil’s efforts during World War II can be made to the financial and supply support the U.S. has provided Ukraine in its war against Russia over the past 12 months. Although the U.S. has not yet sent members of their respective military to fight on the frontlines, Ukraine’s president has called the U.S. an ally in their military effort. Moreover, other comments made by Ukraine’s president suggest that the U.S. funds, just as the monies the U.S. provided Brazil due to the 1941 lend-lease agreement, have greatly assisted Ukraine.

Other parts of Brazil’s effort during World War II may draw comparisons to those France made during the American Revolutionary War. If not for the involvement of the French, an author wrote in Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, "it was entirely possible that the [colonies'] struggle begun in 1775 should have ended in disaster, the history and development of the United States would have been different.” Similarly, had the BEF not gone to Italy, it is entirely plausible that some of the battles in that country – and perhaps all of World War II – would have had a much different outcome.

Take care!

Prof. Carl Boniface

Source: History is now magazine


Vocabulary builder:

Intrepid (adj) = brave, courageous, heroic, fearless, noble, gallant, bold, valiant, audacious, plucky, dauntless 

The Axis powers = originally called the Rome–Berlin Axis and also Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis, was a military coalition that initiated World War II and fought against the Allies. Its principal members were Nazi Germany, the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan.

Infamous (adj) = notorious, disreputable, ill-famed, ill-reputed, dishonorable, scandalous, shameful

Stopover (n) = stop, halt, pause, stop-off, layover, break in your journey

lend-lease agreement = Passed on March 11, 1941, this act set up a system that would allow the United States to lend or lease war supplies to any nation deemed “vital to the defense of the United States.”

Surroundings (n) = environs, surrounds, settings, environments, backgrounds, backdrops, atmospheres, ambiances

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