Brazil’s Forgotten WWII Contribution

Fun history fact: Brazil actively participated in the Second World War, and in some respects played a relatively significant role. Joining the Allied cause in 1943 — one of the few independent states outside of Europe or the European sphere of influence to do so — Brazil assembled a force of over 25,000 men and women to fight in the Mediterranean Theater under U.S. command: the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (BEF).

Consisting of both land and aerial forces, the BEF performed with distinction in the Italian Campaign: in less than a year, the Brazilian Army manage to capture over 20,500 enemy troops, including two generals and 892 officers. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Air Force successfully completed 445 missions and 2,550 individual sorties, an impressive achievement for a country with little combat experience.

The BEF’s patch and nickname is quite interesting. Due to the initial unwillingness of the government to get too deeply involved in the war, many Brazilians remarked that a snake would be likelier to smoke than for Brazil to get more involved. (This is equivalent to expression “when pigs fly”.) In a great display of humor, this would become the symbol of the forces that were never supposed to exist.13102604_10156855439190472_1749128611284612800_n

The Brazilian Navy took part in the Battle of the Atlantic, defending thousands of merchant marine convoys, engaging Axis naval forces at least sixty-six times, and accounting for the loss of twelve German submarines.

Aside from its military contribution, Brazil’s abundance of natural resources, from rubber to agricultural products, proved crucial to the Allied war machine. It also hosted America’s largest foreign airbase and one of its biggest naval fleets.

By the end of the war, Brazil had lost 1,889 soldiers and sailors, thirty-one merchant vessels, three warships, and twenty-two fighter aircraft.

Brazilian forces were perceived to be enough of a threat that the Axis devised Portuguese language propaganda leaflets and radio broadcasts specifically targeting them. The U.S. for its part produced propaganda informing its citizens of Brazil’s contributions. Indeed, the U.S. had even wanted Brazil to maintain an occupation force in Europe, but the nation was reluctant to get too involved.

While Brazil’s involvement was hardly decisive, it served as an understandable point of pride for its people and an indication of the country’s growing global prominence.

For more an extensive and more in-depth understanding of Brazil’s relationship to the Second World War, click here.


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