World War II, as its name suggests, was a global conflict. Europe, Asia, North America, Australia, and Africa were famously involved. But what about South America?
Germany’s Graf Spee was trapped by British warships in Uruguay’s river and scuttled when neutral Uruguay refused the Germans to remain longer than three days to make necessary repairs. Naval action along the South American coast was common as Allied ships battled German submarines. But did any Latin American nations take an active role?
Yes. Many countries contributed raw materials, and some soldiers joined the Free French Forces. Brazil played the biggest role. As war in Europe loomed, Brazil sought to balance close ties with both the United States and the Axis powers. Brazil exported much of its cotton to Germany, who supplied Brazil with weapons.
To prevent Brazil from getting to close to the Axis, the U.S. promoted its “Good Neighbor” policy, offering cultural and economic assistance rather than the direct intervention of an earlier policy.
|Brazilian fighter pilots before taking off for combat in Italy.|
Both countries were neutral at the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939. If Britain fell to the Germans, however, the United States feared Germany might launch at attack in the Western Hemisphere, most likely going from North Africa to northeastern Brazil. With Brazilian approval, American air bases were constructed and enlarged in northeastern Brazil. From there, supplies could be flown to the states, the Mediterranean, Africa, and elsewhere. The U.S. Navy also used Brazilian ports.
Brazil’s assistance to the Allied powers prompted German and Italian submarines to attack Brazilian ships. Thirty-six Brazilian merchant ships were sunk, and in August, 1942, Brazil declared war.
Sending men to fight was seen as a means of garnering special status after the war. Beginning in 1902, Brazil had sought close ties with the U.S., believing the United States would champion Brazil’s leadership in Latin America. Now, in the war, they would be a special ally of the U.S.
|Italians captured by Brazilians in October, 1944.|
Over 25,000 troops in the Brazil Expeditionary Force deployed to Italy. The British opposed their deployment because of suspected Axis sympathies and in concern of having too many nationalities involved in the Mediterranean theater. The Brazilians came under the command of the U.S. Fifth Army, and 948 died in service during the war. After the war, Brazil declined Allied offers to stay as part of the occupying powers in postwar Europe. The BEF returned to Brazil and disbanded in late 1945.