Brazilian Expeditionary Force

Brazilian Expeditionary Force
Brazilian Expeditionary Force
Distintivo da FEB.PNG
Brazilian Expeditionary Force shoulder sleeve insignia (Army component)
Active 1943–1945
Country Brazil
Branch Brazilian Army
Brazilian Air Force
Type Expeditionary force
Size 25,700
Engagements World War II
Mascarenhas de Moraes

The Brazilian Expeditionary Force or BEF (Portuguese: Força Expedicionária Brasileira, or FEB) was a force about 25,700 men and women arranged by the Army and Air Force to fight alongside the Allied forces in the Mediterranean Theatre of World War II. Brazil was the only South American country to send troops to fight in the Second World War.[a]

This air-land force fought in Italy from September of 1944 to May 1945, while the Brazilian Navy as well as the Air Force also acted in the Atlantic Ocean from the middle of 1942 until the end of war. During the eight months of the Italian campaign, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force managed to take 20,573 Axis prisoners, including two generals, 892 officers and 19,679 other ranks. During the War, Brazil lost 948 of its own men killed in action across all three services.



Brazil's participation alongside the Allied powers in World War II was by no means a foregone conclusion, even though Brazil had come to participate with them in World War I. Then Brazilian participation was primarily naval, although it did send a regiment to the Western Front. The navy and air force played a role in the Battle of the Atlantic after mid-1942, but more importantly, Brazil also contributed with an infantry division that entered combat on the Italian Front in 1944.

As in World War I, Brazil initially maintained a position of neutrality, trading with both the Allies and the Axis Powers, while Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas's quasi-Fascist policies indicated a leaning toward the Axis powers. However, as the war progressed, trade with the Axis countries became almost impossible and the US began forceful diplomatic and economic efforts to bring Brazil onto the Allied side.

At the beginning of 1942, Brazil permitted the US to set up air bases in return for the offer by the United States to encourage the formation of an iron industry Companhia Siderurgica Nacional in Brazil. The US bases were located in the states of Bahia, Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Norte, where the city of Natal hosted part of the U.S. Navy's VP-52 patrol squadron. In addition, US Task Force 3 established itself in Brazil; this included a squadron equipped to attack submarines and merchant vessels attempting to trade with Japan.

Although Brazil was technically neutral, this increasing cooperation with the Allies led the Brazilian government to announce at the Pan American States Conference in Rio on 28 January 1942 its decision to sever diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan, and Italy.

As a result, from the end of January to July 1942, German U-Boats sank 13 Brazilian merchant vessels. In August 1942, U-507 sank five Brazilian vessels in two days, causing more than 600 deaths:

  • On August 15, the Baependy, traveling from Salvador to Recife, was torpedoed at 19:12. Its 215 passengers and 55 crew members were lost.
  • At 21:03, U-507 torpedoed the Araraquara, also traveling 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 four survived.
  • On August 17, close to the city of Vitória, the Itagiba was hit at 10:45, with a death toll of 36.
  • Another Brazilian ship, the Arará , traveling from Salvador to Santos, stopped to help the crippled Itagiba, but ended up being the fifth Brazilian victim of the German submarine, with a death toll of 20.

In all, 21 German and two Italian submarines were responsible for the sinking of 36 Brazilian merchant ships, causing 1,691 drownings and 1,079 other casualties. The sinkings were the main reason that led the Brazilian government to declare war against the Axis.

Berlin Radio pronouncements led to increasing nervousness among the Brazilian population. So unlike 1917, in 1942 it seemed that the Brazilian government did not want war. However, in the then capital, Rio de Janeiro, the people started to attack German businesses, such as restaurants.[1] The passive position of the Vargas government was untenable in the face of public opinion. Ultimately, the government found itself with no alternative but to declare war on Germany and Italy on August 22, 1942.


The Brazilian 1st Division of the BEF fought with the 15th Army Group under Field Marshal Harold Alexander (later succeeded by General Mark Clark), via the U.S. Fifth Army of Lieutenant General Mark Clark (later succeeded by Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott) and the U.S. IV Corps of Major General Willis D. Crittenberger. The entry for the Gothic Line order of battle provides the overall order of battle for the Allied and German armies in Italy.

The Brazilian Air Force component was itself under the Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force.

The BEF headquarters functioned as an administrative headquarters and link to the Brazilian high command and War Minister General Eurico Gaspar Dutra in Rio de Janeiro. General Mascarenhas de Moraes (later Marshal) was the commander of the BEF with General Zenóbio da Costa as commander of the division's three regimental Combat Teams ("RCT") and General Cordeiro de Farias as commander of the Artillery.

The BEF was (theoretically) organized as a standard American infantry division, complete in all aspects, down to its logistical tail, including postal and banking services. The maneuver units were the 1st, 6th and 11th Regimental Combat Teams, each of about 5,000 men in three battalions plus supporting units, with each battalion consisting of four companies each.

The campaign


Soon after Brazil declared war, it began to mobilize an expeditionary force to fight in Europe.[2][3] At that time, Brazil was a country with a traditionally isolationist foreign policy, a population largely rural and illiterate, an economy focused in the export of commodities, and lacking an infrastructure in industry, health and educational systems that could serve as material and human support to the war effort that a conflict of that dimension required. Brazil was thus precluded from pursuing a line of autonomous action in the conflict, and found it difficult to take even a modest role in it. It took almost two years to gather a force of one Army Division with 25,000 men (replacements included), compared with an initial goal of a whole Army Corps of 100,000, to join the Allies in the Italian Campaign.

Arrival in Italy

On July 2, 1944 the first five thousand BEF soldiers, the 6th Regimental Combat team, left Brazil for Europe aboard the USNS General Mann, and arrived in Italy on July 16. They disembarked in Naples, where they waited to join the US Task Force 45. They disembarked without weapons, and as no one had arranged barracks, the troops stood around on the docks. At the time this caused controversy in the Brazilian media.[4] In late July, two more transports with Brazilian troops reached Italy, with three more following in September, November, and February 1945.

The BEF dedicated its first weeks in Italy to acquiring the proper equipment to fight on Italian terrain, and to training under American command inasmuch as the preparation in Brazil, despite the 2 years interval since the declaration of war, had proved obsolete. Although, among the veterans of that campaign there is a consensus that only the combat is able to adequately prepare the soldier, regardless of the quality of training received earlier.[5][6] In August, the troops moved to Tarquinia, 350 km north of Naples, where Clark's army was based.

The Brazilians joined what was a multinational hodgepodge of forces. The American forces included the segregated African-American 92nd Infantry Division and the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment. British Empire forces included New Zealanders, Canadians, Indians, Gurkhas, Black Africans, Jews and Arabs from the British Mandate in Palestine, South Africans, units of exiles — Poles, Greeks, Czechs, Slovakians, as well as anti-fascist Italians, also served under British command. The French forces included Senegalese, Moroccans and Algerians.[7] In November 1944, the BEF joined General Crittenberger's U.S. IV Corps.

The Germans made much of the political aspect of the presence of the Brazilian force in Italy. They targeted propaganda specifically at the Brazilians.[8] In addition to leaflets, the Germans provided an hour-long daily radio broadcast in Portuguese from Berlin Radio called "Hora AuriVerde" (GoldenGreen Hour).

The campaign

The BEF achieved battlefield successes at Massarosa, Camaiore, Monte Prano, Monte Acuto, San Quirico, Gallicano, Barga, Monte Castello, La Serra, Castelnuovo, Soprassasso, Montese, Paravento, Zocca, Marano su Panaro, Collecchio and Fornovo.

The first missions the Brazilians undertook were reconnaissance operations to the end of August. Brazilian troops helped to fill the gap left by divisions of the Fifth Army and French Expeditionary Corps that left Italy for Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France.

On September 16, the 6th RCT took Massarosa. Two days later it also took Camaiore and other small towns on the way north. By then, the BEF had already conquered Monte Prano, and taken control of the Serchio valley without any major casualties. After having suffered its first reverses around Barga city, and after the arrival of the 1st RCT at the end of October, the BEF was directed to the base of the Apennines where it would spend the next months facing the harsh winter and the resistance of the Gothic Line.[9] Allied forces were unable to break through the mountains over the winter and an offensive by German and Italian divisions to the left of the BEF sector, against the US 92nd Infantry Division, required the assistance of the 8th Indian Infantry Division to be refrained.

Between the end of February and beginning of March 1945, in preparation for the Spring offensive, the Brazilian Division and the U.S. 10th Mountain Division were able to capture important positions on the Apennines, which deprived the Germans of key artillery positions on the mountains, whose gunnery fire since the fall of 1944 blocked the allied path to Bologna.

In the US 5th Army's sector, the final offensive on the Italian Front began on April 14, after a bombardment of 2,000 artillery pieces; an attack carried out by the troops of US IV Corps, commenced by the Brazilian Division took Montese. After on the 1st day of allied offensive without much effort had stopped the main attack of the IV Corps did by US 10th Mountain Division, causing significant casualties among the troops of that US division, the germans mislead thought that the BEF's raid over Montese using M8 armoured cars and Sherman Tanks could be the real main allied objective on that sector, which lead them to bombed the Brazilians with 1,800 rounds of artillery gunning from the total of 2,800 used against the all 4 allies divisions of that sector during the days of the combat for Montese [10] when they tried unsuccessful took Montese back from brazilians. After that, the breaking of the Germans' lines to the North by forces of IV Corps became unavoidable.[11] On the right, the Polish Division, from the British 8th Army, and the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, from the US 5th Army, entered Bologna on 21 April.

On 25 April the Italian resistance movement started a general partisan insurrection at the same time as the Brazilians troops arrived at Parma and the Americans at Modena and Genoa. The British VIII Army advanced towards Venice and Trieste.

German General Otto Fretter-Pico, Commander of the 148th Infantry Division, and General Mario Carloni surrendering to Brazilian FEB – Italy, 1945.

At Collecchio, the Brazilian forces were preparing to face fierce resistance at the Taro river region from the retreating German-Italian forces of the region of Genoa/La Spezia that had been set free by troops of the 92nd US Division. These Axis troops were surrounded near Fornovo and after some fighting surrendered. On April 28, the Brazilians captured more than 13,000 men, including the entire 148th Infantry Division, elements of the 90th Panzergrenadier and the last former Division of the Italian Fascist Army.

This took the German Command by surprise as it had planned for these troops to join forces with the German-Italian Army of Liguria to counterattack against the US 5th Army. The US 5th army had advanced, as is inevitable in these situations, in a fast but diffuse and disarranged way uncoordinated with air support, and had left some gaps on its left flank and to the rear. The Axis forces had left intact many bridges throughout the Po River to facilitate a counter-attack. The German Army Command was already negotiating a truce in Caserta, and hoped that a counterattack would improve the conditions for surrender. The events in Fornovo disrupted the German plan, as much by the disarray of their troops as by the delay it caused.[12] This, added to the news of Hitler's death and the fall of Berlin to the Red Army, left the German Command in Italy with no option but to accept the unconditional surrender of its troops.

In their final advance, the Brazilians reached Turin and then on 2 May they joined up with French troops at the border in Susa. That same day brought the announcement of the end of hostilities in Italy.

The Air Force

Badge of Brazilian Fighter Squadron.

The 1oGAVCA (1st Fighter Group/1º Grupo de Aviação de Caça) was formed on December 18, 1943. Its commanding Officer was Ten.-Cel.-Av. (Aviation Lieutenant Colonel) Nero Moura.

The group had 350 men, including 43 pilots. The group was divided into four flights: Red ("A"), Yellow ("B"), Blue ("C"), and Green ("D"). The CO of the group and some officers were not attached to any specific flight. Unlike the BEF's Army component, the 1oGAVCA had personnel who were experienced Brazilian Air Force (Portuguese: Força Aérea Brasileira, or FAB) pilots. One of them was Alberto M. Torres, who had piloted a PBY-5A Catalina that had sunk U-199, which was operating off the Brazilian coast.

The group trained for combat in Panama, where 2o Ten.-Av. (Aviation Second Lieutenant) Dante Isidoro Gastaldoni was killed in a training accident. On May 11, 1944, the group was declared operational and became active in the air defense of the Panama Canal Zone. On June 22, the 1oGAVCA traveled to the U.S. to convert to the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt.

On September 19, 1944 the 1oGAVCA left for Italy, arriving at Livorno on October 6. It became part of the 350th Fighter Group of the USAAF, which in turn was part of the 62nd Fighter Wing, XXII Tactical Air Command, of the 12th Air Force.

The Brazilian pilots initially flew from 31 October 1944, as individual elements of flights attached to 350th FG squadrons, at first in affiliation flights and progressively taking part in more dangerous missions. Less than two weeks later, on November 11, the group started its own operations flying from its base at Tarquinia, using its tactical callsign Jambock. Brazilian Air Force stars replaced the white U.S. star in the roundel on the FAB Thunderbolts. The 1oGAVCA started its fighting career as a fighter-bomber unit, its missions being armed reconnaissance and interdiction, in support of the US Fifth Army, to which the FEB was attached.

P-47 of the Expeditionary Museum in Curitiba, Brazil.

On April 16, 1945, the U.S. Fifth Army started its offensive along the Po Valley. By then, the strength of the Group had fallen to 25 pilots, some having been killed and others shot down and captured. Some others had been relieved from operations on medical grounds due to combat fatigue. The Group disbanded the Yellow flight and distributed the surviving pilots among the other flights. Each pilot flew on average two missions a day.[citation needed]

On 22 April 1945, the three remaining flights took off at 5-minute intervals, starting at 8:30 AM, to destroy bridges, barges, and motorized vehicles in the San Benedetto region. At 10:00 AM, a flight took off for an armed reconnaissance mission south of Mantua. They destroyed more than 80 tanks, trucks, and vehicles. By the end of the day, the group had flown 44 individual missions and destroyed hundreds of vehicles and barges. On this day the group flew the most sorties of the war; consequently, Brazil commemorates April 22 Brazilian Fighter Arm Day.

In all, the 1oGAVCA flew a total of 445 missions, 2,550 individual sorties, and 5,465 combat flight hours, from 11 November 1944 to 6 May 1945. The XXII Tactical Air Command acknowledged the efficiency of the Group by noting that although it flew only 5% of the total of missions carried out by all squadrons under its control, it accomplished a much higher percentage of the total destruction wreaked:

  • 85% of the ammunition depots
  • 36% of the fuel depots
  • 28% of the bridges (19% damaged)
  • 15% of motor vehicles (13% damaged)
  • 10% of horse-drawn vehicles (10% damaged)[13]

The Navy

Brazilian Navy using depth charges aimed at U-boats

Having the Suez Canal blocked and the necessity to go beyond to the far east, Germany used the Atlantic Ocean to maintain its supply of material necessities.

The Axis tried to block the transport of material logistics to the United States and the supply of Great Britain, initiating a policy of sinking commercial ships in the Atlantic.

As a result of the Axis attacks Brazil suffered nearly 1600 dead, including nearly 500 civilians and more than 1000 of Brazil's 7,000 sailors involved in the conflict. The navy losses included 470 sailors of the merchant navy and 570 sailors of the military navy, a total of 36 ships sunk by the Germans, and more than 350 dead in 3 accidental sinkings. [14][15].

The main task of the Brazilian Navy was, together with the Allies, to ensure the safety of ships sailing between the Center and South Atlantic to Gibraltar. The Brazilian navy conducted 574 operations that protected 3,164 merchant ships; German submarines U-boats were only able to sink three ships. In the fight against German submarines, Brazilian frigates and submarines used sea mines and depth charges. According to German documents, the Brazilian Navy attacked German submarines U-boats a total of 66 times.

A total of 9 U-boats known German submarines were destroyed along the Brazilian coast. Those were: U-164, U-128, U-590, U-513, U-662, U-598, U-199, U-591, and U-161.[16]


The bodies of the soldiers buried in the BEF cemetery in Pistoia were later transferred to a mausoleum in Rio de Janeiro. Marshall Mascarenhas de Moraes had proposed and promoted the construction of the mausoleum and it was inaugurated on July 24, 1960. It covers an area of 6,850 square meters.

Brazil's participation in World War II was more extensive than its participation in World War I. During World War II, Brazil provided a meaningful tactical and strategic contribution. Still, the FEB/BEF was just one of the 20 Allied divisions in Italy. Furthermore, although the division played an important part in the sectors in which it operated, none of these sectors were the main one on the Italian Front, and the Italian Front became secondary for both sides after D-Day.


  • Due to the Brazilian dictatorship's unwillingness to get more deeply involved in the Allied war effort, by 1942 a popular saying was said at a session by Getulio Vargas: "it's more likely for snakes to start to smoke now than for the BEF to set out." ("Mais fácil uma cobra fumar do que a FEB embarcar")[17] Until the BEF entered combat, the expression "a cobra vai fumar" ("snakes will smoke") was often used in Brazil in a context similar to "when pigs fly." As a result, the soldiers of the BEF called themselves Cobras Fumantes (literally, Smoking Snakes) and wore a divisional shoulder patch that showed a snake smoking a pipe. Moreover, also was common for Brazilian soldiers write in their mortars, "The Snake is smoking ..." ("A cobra está fumando...")

After the war the meaning was reversed, signifying that something will definitively happen and in a furious and aggressive way. With that second meaning the use of the expression "a cobra vai fumar" has been retained in Brazilian Portuguese until the present times, although few in the younger generations realize the origin of the expression.

See also

  • Brazil at War – American propaganda film about Brazilian contribution
  • Battle of Monte Castello
  • Brazil during World War I
  • Elza Medeiros – Brazilian major, highest-ranking female officer in the Brazilian Army
  • Max Wolff – Brazilian sergeant, an iconic figure of Brazilian army in World War II


a. ^ A squadron from the Mexican Air Force did see combat in the Philippines.


  1. ^ Hélio Silva, "1942 Guerra no Continente"
  2. ^ Fernando Morais, "Chatô, o Rei do Brasil"
  3. ^ Silva, Hélio, "1944 o Brasil na Guerra"
  4. ^ Command Magazine issue 51, page 34
  5. ^ Maximiano, Cesar Campiani. "Barbudos, Sujos & Fatigados; Soldados Brasileiros na II Guerra Mundial (Bearded, Dirty & Tired; Brazilian soldiers in World War II)" (in Portuguese) Grua Livros, 2010 – ISBN 8561578130; Chapter 5, pg 222 to 1st paragraph of page 223
  6. ^ About the same subject see also Grossman, Dave. "On Killing" & On Combat
  7. ^ Ready, J.Lee, "Forgotten Allies: The Military Contribution of the Colonies, Exiled Governments and Lesser Powers to the Allied Victory in World War II"
  8. ^ Propaganda leaflets of World War 2: Italian theatre of operations / Po Valley Campaign
  9. ^ R.Brooks, The War North of Rome, p.220 to 224
  10. ^ Dennison de Oliveira, "Os soldados alemães de Vargas" Portuguese [ Germans against Hitler; "The german soldiers of Vargas" ] 1st Chapter, Jurua print. 2008 ISBN 8536220767
  11. ^ Willis D. Crittenberger "The final campaign across Italy"; 1952 ISBN 857011219x
  12. ^ Bohmler, Rudolf, Monte Cassino, Cap.XI
  14. ^ Relação de navios brasileiros afundados
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ Revista Marítima Brasileira – Ano LXX1 – out.-dezembro de 1951. Rio de Janeiro, Imprensa Naval, Ministério da Marinha, 1952.
  17. ^ (Portuguese)BEF's participation in World War II. Brazilian Army Retrieved July 31, 2007


  • Bohmler, Rudolf (1964). Monte Cassino: a German View. Cassell. ASIN B000MMKAYM. 
  • Brooks, Thomas R. The War North of Rome (June 1944 – May 1945). Da Capo Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-306-81256-9.
  • Buyers, John. História dos 350th fighter group da Força Aérea Americana (in Portuguese). UFAL-Universidade Federal de Alagoas, 2007. ISBN 978-85-7177-322-6.
  • Castro, Celso with Vitor Izecksohn and Hendrik Kraay. Nova História Militar Brasileira Chapters 13 & 14 (in Portuguese). FGV-Fundação Getúlio Vargas, 2004. ISBN 85-225-0496-2.
  • Giannasi, Andrea. Il Brasile in guerra. La partecipazione della Força Expedicionaria Brasileira alla Campagna d'Italia (1944–1945). Prospettiva editrice (Civitavecchia-Roma) 2004. ISBN 88-7418-284-8
  • Clark, Mark Wayne. Calculated Risk. New York: Enigma Books, 1950, republished 2007. ISBN 978-1-929631-59-9.
  • Mascarenhas de Moraes, The Brazilian Expeditionary Force, By Its Commander US Government Printing Office, 1966. ASIN B000PIBXCG.
  • Willis D. Crittenberger, "The final campaign across Italy"; year of edition 1952 ISBN 857011219x
  • Maximiano, Cesar Campiani. "Barbudos, Sujos & Fatigados; Soldados Brasileiros na II Guerra Mundial (Bearded, Dirty & Tired; Brazilian soldiers in World War II)" (in Portuguese); Grua Livros, 2010. ISBN 8561578130.
  • Morais, Fernando. Chatô, o Rei do Brasil (in Portuguese). Cia das Letras, 1994. ISBN 85-7164-396-2.
  • Ready, J. Lee. Forgotten Allies: The European Theatre, Volume I. McFarland & Company, 1985. ISBN 978-0-89950-129-1.
  • Ready, J. Lee. Forgotten Allies: The Military Contribution of the Colonies, Exiled Governments and Lesser Powers to the Allied Victory in World War II. McFarland & Company, 1985. ISBN 978-0-89950-117-8.
  • Silva, Hélio. 1942 Guerra no Continente (in Portuguese). Civilização Brasileira, 1972.
  • Silva, Hélio. 1944 o Brasil na Guerra (in Portuguese). Civilização Brasileira, 1974.
  • The 350th Fighter Group in the Mediterranean Campaign, 2 November 1942 to 2 May 1945. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, . ISBN 0-7643-0220-5.

External links

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