The Brazilian Expeditionary Force: The Smoking Cobras
Brazil was the only Latin American country to send troops into combat in World War II. This chapter takes the reader from the level of policy formation to the front lines north of Rome. Brazil’s war role is not well remembered today. At the outset the Brazilians talked about raising three divisions, but in the end the poor health of the population reduced the proposal to a single division and replacements. Initially it was thought that what was called an expeditionary force might be sent to North Africa, but the war moved too fast. They entered allied lines north of Rome near Pisa. For a time they fought alongside the 92nd Black Buffalo Division and then on the flank of the 10th Mountain Division. It is worth mention that the 10th had been training for three years, while the Brazilians’ preparation had been less than a year. Around 1000 Brazilians, mostly officers, were trained in the United States.
To organize the expeditionary force required some internal reorganization. In the end three regiments from Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro were selected as the core units. Negotiations between the two governments gave considerable attention to arms supply and training, but the Brazilian units were not trained to the same level as American ones. Fascist Integralistas serving in the army worked to undermine morale. Poor organization in the Ministry of War slowed preparation at every turn. The literature treats organizing the force as a victory by itself. The allied buildup for the Normandy invasion used so much shipping that the Brazilians had to wait for transport. Their arrival in Italy was important because Fifth Army, especially its Fourth Corps, had been significantly reduced to provide troops for the invasion of southern France. It was noteworthy that the Brazilian division became part of Fourth Corps under American command as it faced the well-prepared German Gothic Line that held the allies in check through the winter of 1944–1945.
The text sorts out how the division leadership was selected and gives some idea of the training. Oddly the regular army did not have enough junior officers and had to call up a sizeable number of reservists to lead the force’s platoons. Its military police were drawn from São Paulo’s state police and its nurses were composed of volunteer women. Many draftees never reported for induction. Fully 41% of those men who showed up for induction were medically unfit. The Americans spoke of reaching the bottom of the barrel. Significantly sons of both Vargas and Aranha saw service in Italy.
One key elevation, Monte Castello, held the Brazilians at bay in four assaults. They spent four out of nine months in combat under its guns. On their own the Brazilians forced the surrender of the German 148th division. The text analyzed the origins of the Smoking Cobra symbol and examined why the Brazilians did not participate in the post-war occupation of Europe. The force was demobilized quickly upon its return to Brazil.