The Snake is Smokin' The Cobra is Smokin'
Force Expedicionaria Brasileira (Brazilian Expeditionary Force) in Italy, 1944 to 1945
by Ken Camel, Jonathan Forsey and Wayne Turner.

One of the lesser known contributors to the allied cause, the Brazilian Division fought in Italy in the 1944-45 period.

The Brazilian Army
Brazil sent observers to the French Army in World War I subsequently establishing a French Military Mission to assist the Brazilian Army modernize towards the French model. The mission was terminated in 1939 with the start of the war.
The between war years saw the politics of Brazil move economically towards both the United States and Germany. Getulio Vargas came to power with the backing of the Army in 1929. As a dictator, Vargas was sympathetic to the economic woes of Germany and during the thirties commerce between Brazil and the new Nazi regime quadrupled.

The war’s outbreak saw Brazil torn between its more traditional economic ties to the US and its new found friend in Nazi Germany. It was not until the Germans declared an economic blockade against the North and South American countries that Brazilian sympathies turned towards the Allies.

Right: The Brazilian Expeditionary Force patch.
Brazilian Expeditionary Force Patch
A Brazilian soldier prepares to load a 105mm howitzer Brazil Enters the War
When the Japanese attacked the US and Germany followed with its declaration of war, the Germans began to attack Brazilian merchant ships along the Brazilian coast. This together with diplomatic agreements moved Brazil towards the Allied camp.

With the early Axis victories in France and North Africa, the Brazilian bulge became a strategic concern of the US. Naval agreements with the US and Brazilian inclusion in Lend- Lease further solidified Brazilian inclusion within the Allied circle.

Left: A Brazilian soldier prepares to load a 105mm howitzer.
The Brazilian declaration of war was preceded by a political-military agreement with the US on 23 May 1942. The
agreement established the employment of Brazilian troops in war operations outside of South America. The US promised naval support for Brazilian coastline defence and provided aid for the arming and equipping of the Forca Expedicionaria Brasileira (FEB, Brazilian Expeditionary Force).

Right: Brazilian soldiers escorting prisoners.
Brazilian soldiers escorting prisoners
The Brazilian pilot's badge Forca Expedicionaria Brasileira
The FEB was organized as a standard American infantry division, complete in all aspects, down to its logistics tail, including postal and banking services. Its manoeuvre units included the 1st, 6th and 11th Regimental Combat Teams (RCT), each of about 5,000 men in three battalions plus supporting units. Each battalion consisted of four companies each.

Made up of regional regiments equipped with German small arms and French artillery, the FEB had to be totally reorganized, expanded from 66,000 to 150,000 men and reequipped and trained in the American model. Mobilisation started in early 1943 with the goal of fielding three Infantry Divisions to be deployed in three echelons.

Left: The Brazilian pilot's badge.
However, the sheer size of the task in recruiting, training, equipping, and shipping, with a lack of sea transport, ultimately resulted the FEB being one Infantry Division (Divisão de Infantaria Expedicionária, or 1st DIE for short), under General Mascarenhas de Moraes, and a fighter squadron of 25,334 men. Though small by most Allied country standards it represented a major effort for Brazil.

Right: Brazilian soldier armed with Browning .30cal machine-guns.
Brazilian soldier armed with Browning .30cal machine-guns
Brazilian troops meet and greet the locals The Division comprised the following Infantry Regiments:
  • 1st Infantry Regiment (Sampaio) from the area of Rio de Janeiro.
  • 6th Infantry Regiment (Ipiranga) from the area of São Paulo.
  • 11th Infantry Regiment (Tiradentes) from the area of Minas Gerais.
Each Regiment had 3 Battalions, numbered I to III with consecutively numbered companies for a total of 12 per Regiment with the heavy weapons companies comprising the 4th, 8th and 12th.

Left: Brazilian troops meet and greet the locals.
Each Regiment formed its own Regimental Combat Team (RCT) comprising an Infantry Regiment, a Battalion of towed 105mm Howitzers and an Engineer company from the 9th Engineer Battalion. The Sampiao Regiment had the 2nd Artillery and 3rd Engineers, the Ipiranga the 3rd Artillery and 2nd Engineers and the Tiradentes the 1st Artillery and 1st Engineers.

Right: The Brazilian Expeditionary Force relied heavily on American equipment.
The Brazilian Expeditionary Force relied heavily on American equipment
A M10 of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force In addition, the Division had at its disposal the 4th Artillery comprising towed 155mm Howitzers and the Divisional Reconnaissance Squadron. The US 751st Tank Battalion (Sherman and Stuart tanks) and 894th Tank Destroyer Battalion (M10 tank destroyers) were placed under command of the 1st DIE from time to time, creating a combined arms force.

Left: A M10 of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force.
FEB in Italy
The first echelon of Brazilian troops arrived in Italy totally unequipped on 16 July 1944. They spent the next two months equipping and training finally entering combat on 15 September. Units of the Division were initially involved in reconnaissance and clearing operations in Tuscany, Massarossa, Bozzano, Camaiore, Monte Prano and others

Right: A Brazilian M8 advances into a village.
A Brazilian M8 advances into a village
Brazilian troops take cover in the undergrowth For the next 45 days the Brazilian first echelon, which included the 6th Infantry Regiment, parts of the 11th Infantry Regiment, one company of engineers, and a platoon from the Reconnaissance Squadron, penetrated forty kilometres into the Serchio valley. The 6th Regiment then fought against German positions in the vicinity of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. There they succeeded in surprising and routing units of the German-trained Italian fascist army (elements of the ‘Monterosa’ Alpini Division of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (National Republican Army), only to be beaten back by a counterattack by nearby elements of the German 148. Infanteriedivision.

Left: Brazilian troops take cover in the undergrowth.
By the end of October the first echelon was pulled from the line and reunited with the 2nd and 3rd echelons from Brazil. By November the entire division was together and returned to the line.

Right: A P-47 Thunderbolt in Brazilian service.
A P-47 Thunderbolt in Brazilian service
The men of the BEF prepare to fire a mortar round In November 1944, the Division moved south of Bologna, in subzero temperatures (with men not used to snow) where alongside Task Force 45 and Gardiner Force of the US Army, they were pitted against German positions on Monte Castello and Monte Belvedere. Following these operations, the 1st DIE took part in the offensive operations into the Po Valley, including the bloody struggle for the town of Montese in 1945.

The Allied advances into the Po Valley saw the Brazilians taking heavy casualties when teamed with lower rated divisions, but performed quite well when paired with the highly trained 10th US Mountain Division.

Left: The men of the FEB prepare to fire a mortar round.
By April the FEB was operating independently which resulted in the surrender of the entire German 148. Infanteriedivision to the Brazilians at Collecchio, the very same division that had halted their advance in October. When hostilities ended in Italy the FEB was returned to Brazil.

Right: Brazilian troops rest during a lull in the fighting.

Brazilian troops rest during a lull in the fighting
Brazilian engineers constructing a pontoon bridge Generally, the men of the 1st DIE acquitted themselves well, gaining the trust of Italian civilians and combat experience in unfamiliar terrain, though at some cost. They were proud to represent their country and proud of their divisional patch, a snake smoking a cigar (said to stem from a reaction to German comments that the day Brazilians joined the fighting, snakes would smoke).

Left: Brazilian engineers constructing a pontoon bridge.

The Brazilian Expeditionary Force in Flames Of War
The Brazilian Army went from a regional militia force to the Forca expeditionária Brasiliera (FEB) in a little over a year. This expansion left little time for training and the few officers available were quickly promoted above their experience. Some were lucky enough to have had additional training in the US prior to being deployed to Italy.

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The Snake is Smokin'

Last Updated On Wednesday, February 13, 2013 by Wayne at Battlefront