Jul 21, 2014
A couple weeks ago, Germany thoroughly trounced Brazil in their World Cup match. A reader who follows Two-Fisted History on Facebook sent in this request:
'With the focus surrounding the 7-1 defeat of Brazil by Germany, I heard Brazilians were in WWII and fought against the Nazis, maybe there's a possibility you could find more information about it.'
Never one to turn down an opportunity to discover History, I did some digging.
Most people forget about the campaign in Italy after the Allies liberated Rome on 5 June 1944. They don’t realize that the fighting in Italy last right up until the end of the European War. Brazil was right there on the front lines battling the Nazis.
Brazil hadn’t intended to enter the war at all. Like most countries in the Western Hemisphere, they had stayed neutral when war broke out. This all changed after the United States entered the war at the end of 1941.
Although officially retaining their neutrality, Brazil closed off diplomatic relations with the Axis Powers following the Pan-American Conference at the end of January 1942 and began allowing the Americans to construct air bases and operate anti-submarine patrols from the Brazilian mainland. The Germans retaliated by immediately beginning unrestricted submarine warfare on Brazilian merchant ships. Over the next eight months, almost two dozen Brazilian ships were torpedoed.
The Brazilian government really didn’t want a war, but in the face of overwhelming public support for entering, Brazil declared war on 22 August 1942.
Although they had declared war, the government still wasn’t all that enthused about joining the fight. Brazilian troops didn’t join combat until Mid-1944. In Brazil, the common wisdom was that it was more likely for a snake to smoke a pipe than for the Brazilian Expeditionary Force to fight.
It wasn’t until July 1944 that the first Brazilian troops arrived in Naples, Italy where they joined the American IV Corps which had been depleted in numbers. The bulk of its strength had been shifted to France to fight on the Western Front.
One of the Brazilians’ first battles was at Monte Castello on the Gothic Line near Bologna. It took two days of hard fighting to dislodge German troops who were using the mountain as an artillery site. The Germans launched a massive counterattack three days later on 29 November. The lines did not shift much throughout the Winter of 1944-45 until 21 February when the Brazilians began another attack. With an American unit scaling a neighbouring mountain, relentless Brazilian artillery cleared the way for infantry to remove the Germans before five o’clock in the evening – well before the Americans secured their target.
The final major Brazilian battle occurred during the end of April 1945. The Brazilians were in Fornova – about 8 miles from Parma – when they got word that a retreating force of Germans was nearby. The Brazilians turned South and met the oncoming Germans at the town of Collecchio.
During the first day, two opposing armoured reconnaissance units slugged it out, with the Germans outnumbering the Brazilians 3 to 1. The Brazilians held firm and dug in. They blocked the main highway and repelled the German forces attempting to punch their way North. When fresh Brazilian troops arrived, the Germans tried one last attack. The attack was a failure and German resistance began to crumble. The Brazilians controlled Collecchio by noon of the second day. The Wehrmacht held on tenaciously for two more day before finally surrendering.
The final action of the ‘Cobras Fumantes’ was on 2 May 1945. The Brazilian Expeditionary Force arrived at the outskirts of Turin, and soon linked up with French troops at the Italian-French border. The war in Italy had ended.
Resources for Social Studies Students & Teachers