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Brazilian Expeditionary Force

From Academic Kids

The Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Portuguese: Força Expedicionária Brasileira, or FEB) was the 25,300-man force formed by the Brazilian Navy, Army and Air Force who fought alongside the Allied forces in the Italian Campaign of World War II.

Contents

Overview

It was not at all obvious that Brazil would join the Allied powers in World War II. Initially Brazil maintained neutrality, trading with both the Allies and the Axis, while Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas's quasi-Fascist policies indicated a leaning toward the Axis powers. However, with the increasing trade with and diplomatic efforts by the United States and Britain, Brazil permited in 1941 the US to set up air bases in the states of Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Norte, where the city of Natal received part of the US VP-52 naval squad. Also, the US Task Force 3 stablished itself in Brazil, including a squad equipped to attack submarines and merchant vessels which tried to exchange goods with Japan.

Besides being technically neutral, the increasing cooperation with the Allies led the Brazilian government to announce in 28 January 1942 the decision to severe diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan and Italy.

In July of 1942, around 13 Brazilian vessels were sunk by the German fleet. Around 100 people died as a result of these attacks, most being crew members. At the time, Getulio Vargas decided not to take further measures against the Axis in an attempt to avoid an escalation of the conflict involving Brazil.

However, August 1942, one single German submarine, the U-507, sunk 5 Brazilian vessels in two days, provoking more than 600 deaths:

  • On August 15, the Baependy travelling from Salvador to Recife was torpedoed by the German U-507 submarine at 19:12. 215 passengers and 55 crew members were lost.
  • At 21:03 the U-507 torpedoed the Araraquara, also going from Salvador towards the north of the country. Of the 142 people on board, 131 died.
  • Seven hours after the second attack, the U-507 attacked the Aníbal Benévolo. All 83 passengers died; of a crew of 71, only 4 survived.
  • On August 17, close to the city of Vitória the Itagiba was hit at 10:45. Another Brazilian ship named Arará that was travelling from Salvador to the city of Santos, stopped to help the crippled Itagiba (with a death toll of 36), but end up being the 5th Brazilian victim of the German fleet (with a death toll of 20).

In total, the Brazilian casualties reached almost 600, and the Brazilian population was restless. In the capital Rio de Janeiro, the population started to retaliate against German businesses, such as restaurants. The passive position of the Getúlio Vargas government was not enough to calm Brazilian public opinion. Ultimately, Getúlio Vargas found himself with no other choice but to declare war on the Axis on August 22nd, 1942.

Command

The Brazilian 1st Division of the FEB was under the command of 15th Army Group of Field Marshal Harold Alexander (later General Mark Clark), via the US Fifth Army of Lieutenant General Mark Clark (later Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott) and the US IV Corps of Major General Crittenberger. The Brazilian Air Force component was under the command of XXII Tactical Air Command, which was itself under the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force. The FEB headquarters functioned as an administrative headquarters and link to the Brazilian high command of Generals Eurico Gaspar Dutra, Mascarenhas de Moraes, Zenóbio da Costa and Cordeiro de Farias.

The FEB was organized as a standard American infantry division, complete in all aspects, down to its logistical tail, including postal and banking services. It comprised the 1st, 6th and 11th Infantry Regiments of the Brazilian Army. Each regiment had three battalions, each of four companies.

The campaign

Soon after Brazil declared war it began the mobilization to create an Expeditionary Force to fight in Europe. This was a giant US-sponsored effort to convert an obsolete army into a modern fighting force. It took two years to properly train the 25,300 troops to join the Allied war effort.

In early July 1944, the first five thousand FEB soldiers left Brazil to Europe aboard the USNS General Mann, and disembarked in Naples, where they waited for the US Task Force 45, which they later joined. On late July, two more transports with Brazilian troops reached Italy, with two more following in November and February 1945.

The first weeks of the Brazilians in Italy were dedicated to acquiring and training with the new American uniforms, since the Brazilian ones would not suit the Italian climate. The troops moved to Tarquinia, 350km north of Naples, where Clark's army was based. The FEB was later integrated into General Crittenberger's IV Corps. The first missions of the Brazilians involved reconnaissance operations.

The Brazilian troops helped to fill the gap left by several divisions of the Fifth Army and French Expeditionary Force that left Italy for the invasion of southern France. On November 16, the FEB occupied Massarosa. Two days later it also occupied Camaiore and other small towns on the way north.

By then the FEB had already conquered Monte Prano, controlled the Serchio valley and the region of Castelnuovo, without any major casualties. The Brazilian soldiers, after that, were directed to the base of the Apennines, where they would spend the next months, facing the harsh winter and the resistance of the Bernhard and Gustav lines.

It was in that region that the Brazilian soldiers, together with men of many other nationalities, made one of their main contributions to the war: the Battle of Monte Castello. The combined forces of the FEB and the American 10th Mountain Division were assigned the task of clearing Monte Belvedere of Germans and minefields. The Brazilians suffered from ambushes, machine gun nests, and heavy barrages of mortar fire.

On late February, while the battle for Monte Castello was still taking place, parts of the FEB conquered the city of Castelnuovo and, on March 5, Montese. The German mass retreat had started. In just a few days, Parma and Bologna were taken. After that, the main concern of the Allied forces in Italy was pursuing the enemy. After capturing a large number of Germans on Collechio, the Brazilian forces were preparing to face fierce resistance at the Taro region from what was left of the retreating German army. The German troops were surrounded near Fornovo and forced to surrender. More than sixteen thousand men, including the entire 148th Wehrmacht Infantry Division, parts of the 80th Panzer division, several Italian units and more than a thousand vehicles, surrendered to the Brazilian Forces on April 28.

On May 2, the Brazilians reached Turin and met French troops at the border. Meanwhile, on the Alps, the FEB was on the heels of German forces still on the run. On that very day, the astounding news that Hitler was dead put an end to the fighting in Italy. All German troops finally surrendered to the Allies in the following hours.

The Air Force

The Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira or FAB) had its first fighter group trained by the Americans in Panama and United States. This group was sent to Italy as well, being integrated to the 350th Fighter Group and forming one of the twenty squadrons of the XXII Tactical Air Command, flying P-47s. Their role was very important to the actions of all Allied forces in Italy and the Brazilian pilots were also highly praised for their important air-to-ground operations.

The Brazilian Air Force motto in the World War II was Senta a pua! -- which roughly translates as Kick ass! or can be interpreted as Feel the drill!

The outcome

During eight months of the campaign, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force managed to take 20,573 Axis prisoners (two generals, 892 officers and 19,679 other ranks) and had 443 of its men killed in action.

The soldiers buried in the FEB cemetery in Pistoia were later removed to a mausoleum built in Rio de Janeiro. The mausoleum was idealised by Mascarenhas de Moraes (then a Marshal). It was inaugurated on July 24th, 1960 and covers an area of 6,850 square meters.

References

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