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Brazilian president Venceslau Brás declares war on the Central Powers.

Despite the then internal political conditions, Brazil entered into World War I in 1917, alongside with the Triple Entente, after initially adopting neutrality. Brazil's contribution was modest, essentially little more than symbolic from a military perspective. Still, Brazil was the only South American country to actually participate in the war beyond a formal declaration of war[1]. Its primary contribution was in the naval war in the Atlantic, though it also sent a unit to the Western front.

Contents

Overview

Brazil officially declared neutrality on 4 August 1914. Despite its neutral position and the relative distance maintained since the opening years of the First World War, the crushing effects on Brazil's economy and the German U-boat warfare led the emergence of the conflict. In the Brazilian economy, prices for both rubber and coffee plummeted. Britain allowed no coffee into Europe with its import policy (the space occupied by coffee could be used for more "essential items") and its blockade of the mainland.

Despite this, Brazil was pro-Allied for all of this time because of its sizable merchantmen fleet. As the Germans sank merchantmen from Allied countries, Brazilian ships took over their routes. However, this led the Brazilian vessels into waters patrolled by U-boats. When coupled with Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, the result was that Brazilian ships were soon lost, which drove the country closer to declaring war on the Central Powers.[2]

Brazil revoked its neutrality in the war between the United States and Germany on 1 June 1917, though it did not declare war. At the same time, the Brazilians boarded and seized all merchant ships from Central Powers countries interned in Brazilian harbors, 45 in all. However, most were entirely unusable due either to neglect or to sabotage by their crews. On 28 June, Brazil revoked all neutrality between all of the Allied and all of the Central Powers. Although Brazil did not declare war, this move allowed Brazilian merchantmen to travel in Allied convoys.[3]

Even though it had not declared war, Brazil sent its Navy to patrol the South Atlantic in cooperation with French, British and American naval units. However, not one of Brazil's naval vessels had anti-submarine capabilities and, not being at war with the Central Powers, its ships were not supposed to engage any threat outside of territorial waters. Finally, after the Germans sank another Brazilian ship (the Macau), off Spain on 18 October, Brazil declared war on the 24th.[4]

Brazil's contributions

Brazilian Cavalry Soldiers, First World War.

The Brazilian Navy accounted for Brazil's primary contribution to the conflict. Brazil created the “Divisão Naval de Operações de Guerra” or “Naval Division for War Operations”, under the command of Admiral Pedro Max Fernando Frontin. The Division consisted of six combat vessels: the cruisers Rio Grande do Sul and Bahia, and the torpedo boat destroyers Parahyba, Santa Catarina, Piahuy and Rio Grande do Norte. An auxiliary ship, the Belmonte, supported the operation. The Naval Division was responsible for patrolling the Atlantic in a triangular sector between Dakar, the island of São Vicente, Cape Verde and the Strait of Gibraltar.

Although Brazil had quite a few warships, most of them acquired in the large 1904 program (like two dreadnoughts, Minas Gerais and São Paulo, or two scout cruisers, Bahia and Rio Grande do Sul), almost every ship in the fleet was in bad condition, none were equipped with a modern fire-control system and none had submarine-detection equipment. With the exception of three submarines and a submarine tender, every ship in the navy "was run down or hopelessly obsolete."[5]

On 9 August, the Brazilian Naval Division arrived at Freetown to operate with the Royal Navy under the command of Admiral Sheppard. On the night of 25 August, while the Brazilian vessels were approaching the harbor at Dakar, German U-Boats launched a torpedo attack. Fortunately, the torpedoes passed harmlessly between the Brazilian ships, which launched a successful counter-attack using depth charges. The Royal Navy credited the Brazilians with the destruction of a U-boat. [6]

Brazil also contributed two more military contingents that fought alongside the Allies on the Western Front. A group of pilots served with the Royal Air Force. And a force equivalent in size to an Army Regiment served with the French Army. A Brazilian Army officer, lieutenant João Pessoa Cavalcanti Albuquerque, served with distinction in the French 4th Regiment of Dragoons, a tank unit, receiving promotion to Captain for bravery during the war.

Medical Mission

First World War, Brazilian Medical Mission.

On 18 August 1918, Brazil sent a medical mission to Europe under the command of General Napoleão Aché. However, the Spanish flu epidemic struck down members of the Brazilian Frontin and Nabuco Gouveia military-medical missions after they had docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in Dakar, Senegal, before they could even participate in support of combat operations in France.[7] The team of 82 medical personnel arrived in September in Marseilles and was disbanded in February 1919.

End of the conflict

After the end of the conflict, Brazil disbanded the Naval Division for War Operations and all other units it had organized for the war.

In retrospect, the Brazilian Armed Forces viewed Brazilian participation in the conflict as an important predecessor for the Brazilian participation in the World War II. It allowed the Navy to modernize its fleet and to improve its arsenal. More importantly, Captain João Pessoa Cavalcanti Albuquerque and his experience with Renault and Whippet tanks was essential to the development of the Brazilian Army's military doctrine for the use of armored units.

See also

References

  1. ^ Timetable and War Declaration. Retrieved 5 2, 2009
  2. ^ Scheina (2003), pp. 35–36
  3. ^ Scheina (2003), p. 36–37
  4. ^ Scheina (2003), pp. 37–38
  5. ^ Schenia (2003), p. 37
  6. ^ Maia, Prado (1961). D.N.O.G. (Divisão Naval em Operações de Guerra), 1914-1918: uma página esquecida da história da Marinha Brasileira. Serviço de Documentação Geral da Marinha.
  7. ^ Diario de Noticias, 23 September 1918, p.1.

Bibliography

  • FROTA, Guilherme de Andrea. 500 Anos de História do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Bibloteca do Exército Editora, 2000.
  • Maia, Prado (1961). D.N.O.G. (Divisão Naval em Operações de Guerra), 1914-1918: uma página esquecida da história da Marinha Brasileira. Serviço de Documentação Geral da Marinha.
  • Records of the Great War, Vol. V, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
  • Scheina, Robert L. (2003). Latin America's Wars. Washington D.C.: Brassey's. ISBN 1574884522. http://books.google.com/books?id=8aWQ_7oKJfkC. 

External links

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