(Jan. 27, 2023) This week, 80 years ago, the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, met the President of Brazil, Getúlio Vargas, aboard the USS Humboldt.
The Humboldt was a small seaplane tender, which had been commissioned on Oct. 7, 1941.
For the Conference, the Humboldt was docked at the Potenji River harbor in Natal, the capital of, and the largest city in, the state of Rio Grande do Norte, which currently has a population of 890,000.
The city lies at the mouth of the Potenji River on the Atlantic Ocean and is the closest South American city to Europe and Africa.
Following the conclusion of the Casablanca Conference in Casablanca, Morocco, the president began his return to the U.S. in the same Boeing 314 Clipper Flying Boat, named “The Dixie Clipper,” that had transported him to Morocco.
On the return, he flew first to Liberia on Jan. 27, 1943. From there, “The Dixie Clipper” flew him to Natal, on Jan. 28, where he met with President Vargas of the República dos Estados Unidos do Brazil.
He was accompanied by Gen. George C. Marshall and trusted advisor Harry Hopkins.
The Dixie Clipper departed Natal the next day, and stopped in Trinidad for the evening, before flying to Miami. There, he boarded his special train, the Ferdinand Magellan, for the trip back to Washington and the White House.
At the outbreak of war in Europe, Brazil had declared its neutrality.
Even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Brazil, although cooperating with the United States, resisted active participation in the war.
The Germans did not believe that it would. Hitler went so far as to say, “A snake will sit up and smoke a pipe before Brazil enters the war.”
But then, in August 1942, U-507, commanded by Harro Schacht, torpedoed, and sank, in less than 10 days, seven Brazilian ships, including four passenger ships, resulting in more than 600 Brazilian deaths, prompting demonstrations all over the country advocating war.
On Aug. 22, 1942, “The snake sat up and smoked a pipe,” as Brazil declared war.
At the Natal Conference, President Vargas told President Roosevelt that Brazil wished to send a corps and fighter squadron to fight alongside the Allies in Europe, but would have to be equipped and trained by the Americans.
On July 31, 1943, the Brazilian Minister of War, Gen. Eurico Gaspar Dutra, announced to the Brazilian public that Brazil would be sending troops to fight with the Allies.
Many of the other South American countries, especially Argentina, were opposed to this since they knew that the soldiers would return well equipped, highly trained, and battle-hardened after fighting with, and against, the best soldiers in the world. It would be the most powerful force on the South American continent.
Ultimately, the total strength of the Fora Expedicionária Brasileira was 25,345. President Vargas’ desire to send a corps proved unrealistic, so it was scaled back to a division.
The Divisáo de Infantaria Expedicionária contained three regiments: Sampaio, from Rio de Janerio; Ipiranga, from Sáo Paulo; and Tiradentes from Minas Gerais, the second most populous state located in southeastern Brazil.
The first Brazilian soldiers, from Sampaio, departed Rio de Janeiro and arrived at Naples on July 16, 1944. It was commanded by Gen. Zenóbio da Costa.
Upon arrival in Italy, the Sampaio infantry regiment would be a part of the U.S. Fifth Army, commanded by Gen. Mark Clark.
The Fighter Squadron, known as the Senta á Pua Squadron, would be a part of the U.S. Twelfth Air Force, commanded by John K. Cannon.
The remaining two regiments, commanded by Gens. Osvaldo Corderio de Farias and Falconiere da Kunha, arrived in Naples on Oct. 6. Eleven days later, the troops received a visit from Gen. Dutra, who ordered the issuance of the “smoking snake” shoulder patch.
On Nov. 1, 1944, all of the Brazilian forces were united in line under the command of Gen. João Baptista Mascarenhas de Morais.
Later that month, in an attempt to capture Bologna before Christmas, Gen. Clark ordered the IV Corps, commanded by Baltimore-born Gen. Willis D. Crittenberger, to assault the Gothic Line three times —Nov. 24, Nov. 29 and Dec. 12.
The Brazilians went forward three times and each time they were repulsed. Gen. Mascarenhas de Morais ordered a rest and refit rotation, for his men, in Florence.
In the meantime, Gen. Crittenberger, on Feb. 19, 1945, ordered the Encore Plan initiated.
The responsibility of the Brazilians, together with the green U.S. 10th Mountain Division, in that plan, was to conquer Monte Castello, which was defended by a battalion from the Wehrmacht’s 232nd Infantry Division, commanded by Baron Eccard von Gablenz.
On Feb. 21, 1945, they did just that. The 3200-foot high Monte Castello is located 30 miles north of the 2000-year-old city of Pistoia, in Tuscany.
Three days later the Division captured La Serra. On March 5, the Brazilians captured Castelnuovo.
The Allies launched their spring offensive on April 14. The objective for the Brazilians was the capture of the town of Montesse in the province of Modina, which today has a population of 3,500.
Today there is a neighborhood in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, named Montesse, in honor of the soldiers who died in taking Montesse.
On April 22, 1945, the Brazilians occupied Vignola, which today has a population of 25,000.
Four days later, the towns of Collecchio and Fornovo, were captured, which resulted in the surrender to the Brazilians on April 30, 1945 of the 148th Infantry Division, commanded by Otto Fretter-Pico.
The Brazilians met the French in Turin, on May 2, and learned that the Germans, in Italy, had surrendered.
Now it was time to go home.
The first Brazilian soldiers left Italy on July 12, 1945, with the last leaving on Oct. 13, 1945, having lost 451 killed in action (who are buried at the WWII Memorial in Río de Janeiro), 58 missing in action.
Força Expedicionária Brasileira also suffered 1,577 wounded.
On July 18, 1945, the first returning Brazilian troops paraded in Río de Janeiro. Shortly after addressing the troops, President Vargas ordered them disbanded, because he was concerned they were a threat to his power. Gen. Mascarenhas de Morais became a marshal, the highest rank in the Brazilian military, in 1946.
NEXT WEEK: Chindits
Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. He can be contacted at: email@example.com.
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