Sunday, September 4, 2011

Brazil in World War II

It's not well-known, but Brazilian troops saw ground combat in Europe in World War II. As a matter of fact, the Italian campaign was the first in history to include troops from every inhabited continent -- with North American, South American, African, Asian and ANZAC troops as well as Europeans taking part.

Back in the 1980s my first contribution to Strategy & Tactics magaizne was an article about "The Other BEF," referring to the Brazilian Expeditionary Force that fought in Italy. Now, it wasn't exactly a secret to wargamers that Brazil fought in Italy -- there's a counter for the Brazilian Division in Anzio -- but I think my article was the first one in a wargaming publication to go into any detail about it.

My main source was the account of the division's operation written by its commander, a copy of which was in the library of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill where I was student at the time. I supplemented the account with some American sources as well, especially the IV Corps report. These were what I had available at the time, which was, naturally, less than satisfying.

So I was intrigued when I saw that Osprey was publishing a book on the topic by Brazilian authors which could take advantage of Brazilian accounts. I was relieved to find that my account was correct in general, although I naturally didn't have much of the unit-level detail and battle accounts that the Osprey book features.

The Brazilian's biggest contribution to the war effort was making it's geographical position available to the Allies for air ferry missions to Africa and anti-submarine work against U-boats. It took a lot of time to ready the Brazilian Division for ground combat given the lack of domestic military equipment and experience. Still, the Brazilains arrived at an opportune time for the Italian front, as troop shortages had become acute in that secondary theater. (To the point that a neighboring unit was Task Force 45, a brigade-sized group of anti-aircraft artillerymen pressed into service as infantry!)

The Brazilians had hard-won experience against German troops over the winter but played major role in the final breakout and pursuit across Northern Italy that resulted in the first mass capitulation of Axis troops in Europe. In addition to the Brazilian Division, that country also contributed a squadron of fighter pilots that also served in Italy as well as some support formations.

It's an interesting story and I'm glad it's been told.

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