Decision to Fight
Even in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, the two governments were able to craft a political-military agreement that would be the basis of their alliance. Marshall noted that he had relieved and transferred officers who grew overly concerned about the Brazilians. He deplored that it was “increasingly apparent that the Brazilians are not seriously cooperating with us to secure that vital area, sea and land, against Axis aggression.” He told Brazilian Chief of Staff Góes Monteiro that in return for Brazil’s offered cooperation he would provide arms, but was certain that Góes understood that he had to meet the minimum requirements of our own forces as well as of other forces in actual combat with the Axis. Marshall replaced General Miller as military attaché in Rio with his close friend Claude M. Adams.
Minister of War Dutra did not believe that the Americans could get Brazilian forces ready for a combat role. The sinking of the Baependy (on August 15, 1942) carrying the officers and men of an artillery unit heightened the desire for an armed response. The chapter follows the story of the German U-boat 507 as its, seemingly unauthorized, attacks took Brazil into the war. Even before Brazil officially declared war, its air force was hunting and sinking Axis submarines. When the supply route to Russia via the Arctic closed, the only available route was via the South Atlantic, around Africa to Iran and overland to the Soviet Union. Tens of thousands of disassembled aircraft made that journey. Brazil was literally the keystone in the edifice of the logistical war. In 1942 the war could be won or lost in the South Atlantic.
Vargas was still not well and initially was uncertain how to respond to the sinkings. The Brazilian navy in the northeast functioned under the command of the American admiral. Opinion in the military moved toward an active role in the war abroad which eventually led to the Brazilian Expeditionary Force. They talked about a two-corps force, which would prove beyond their capability. Vargas would soon be preparing for a “secret” Conference at Natal with Roosevelt who would be flying back from the Casablanca Conference. Foreign Minister Aranha laid out Brazil’s wartime goals in a memo for the president. Roosevelt told Vargas that he wanted him at his side at the peace table. Aranha strongly favored an expeditionary force, because it would convince the Americans that Brazil was committed to an alliance “materially, morally, and militarily.” The alliance was his strategy for gaining United States assistance in Brazilian industrialization, which he saw as “the first defense against external and internal danger.” The force would be the start of a wider collaboration, involving Brazil’s total military reorganization. The force was a Brazilian idea, not an American policy to draw Brazil into the fighting.