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The Army had launched its Brazil theater organization in preliminary form six months earlier, in May and June 1942. After Colonels Walsh and Barber returned to Washington at the end of April, they recommended the assignment of a general officer to coordinate all Army activities in northern Brazil. "It is high time," advised Colonel Walsh, "that we had a definite organization there to tie together the Ferry Command bases, the airport development work, intelligence activities, Pan American Ferries, Panair do Brazil, and innumerable lesser projects, as well as to afford assistance to the Brazilians in defense matters."

An Army headquarters in Northeast Brazil could also handle relationships with the Navy, with the several United States civilian agencies operating in the area, and with the local Brazilian authorities.

The Army's acceptance of the idea that Brazilian forces would provide the ground and air defense for the area made closer liaison with Brazilian commanders highly desirable. As Colonel Walsh also pointed out, these commanders exercised a good deal of autonomous authority, and many matters could be settled much more readily if presented directly to them instead of through the diplomatic channel at Rio de Janeiro.

General Marshall and his staff advisers agreed that a general coordinating headquarters in Northeast Brazil ought to be established, but at first they could not see how it could be done without the consent of the Department of State and of Brazil itself. Ambassador Caffery or Mr. Welles might object to the idea, or at least insist on superior control by the embassy at Rio.

The proper channel for obtaining Brazilian consent would be the joint commission that was to be established in Washington, but that commission might not be organized and in a position to act for many weeks to come. The need was immediate. The Operations Division therefore proposed to establish the new headquarters in British Guiana at the outset and then move it to Brazil when the consent of the joint commission could be obtained.

General Marshall approved this plan on 20 May, and chose Colonel Walsh to be the Army's South Atlantic and Northeast Brazil commander. The Operations Division arranged for him to be promoted and designated as the commanding general of the Air Forces' newly organized South Atlantic Wing, with jurisdiction over airway operations from Florida and Puerto Rico to the shores of Africa.

This position would require him to make frequent trips to Northeast Brazil from his British Guiana headquarters, so that in practice he could act as the Army commander in the Brazil area.On the basis of formal instructions issued by the Ferrying Command, General Walsh established his headquarters at Atkinson Field, British Guiana, on 26 June 1942. He also had detailed informal instructions from the Operations Division explaining his duties as Army coordinator in Brazil.

In this capacity he represented the Army in its conduct of business with Brazilian authorities, the United States Navy, and civilian agencies. When General Walsh made his first trip to Natal at the beginning of July, he found its air base the most important of the Brazilian airfields--virtually defenseless against any sort of attack

Brazilian forces in the Northeast numbered about eighteen thousand men, but they were too widely dispersed and poorly equipped to provide much protection for the air bases. Aside from its fifty United States marines, the Natal base had a Brazilian guard of ninety men equipped with fifteen pistols. It had no antiaircraft guns in place, no radar or aircraft warning system, no protective measures in force such as the dispersion of aircraft and of gasoline, and the nearest defensive aircraft were an hour's flying distance away at Recife.

Two months earlier General Marshall had been distressed to learn that none of the twenty-four tactical aircraft (eight bombers and sixteen pursuit planes) that had been supplied by the United States in March and April had flown for a week, not only because of the lack of 100-octane gasoline but also because of the lack of Brazilian pilots qualified to fly them.

His vigorous protest had good effect. General Gomes was supplied with more pilots, and he was presently able to set up fairly effective training programs with American instructor personnel for pursuit planes at Recife and for the medium bombers at Fortaleza. Under United States Navy auspices the bombers while jointly manned by Brazilian and United States crews engaged in a good deal of offshore patrolling during the summer of 1942, but lack of spare parts and of adequate engineering facilities, as well as a rapid turnover personnel, made the pursuit group at Recife of little value in air defense. It was mid-1943 before the Brazilian Air Force obtained enough planes and trained pilots to provide the major air bases with more than a modicum of interceptor protection.

On several occasions during July and August General Walsh and the Brazilian commanders discussed measures for improving the ground defenses of the air bases. As a matter of policy the War Department had decided by August that any weapons for this purpose sent to Brazil should be "initially manned and operated by U.S. Army personnel and turned over to the Brazilians after a sufficient period of training."

In accordance with the policy, and also with a September recommendation of the joint Brazil-United States Defense Commission, the Army arranged to ship 135 machine guns with ammunition from the United States, and to send three detachments (one officer and fifteen enlisted men each) from the 66th Coast Artillery (Antiaircraft) Regiment in Puerto Rico to each of the three major Brazilian air bases. After the completion of the sixty-day training period at the end of the year, these detachments were returned to Puerto Rico. Thereafter, Brazilian soldiers continued to man the guns, but the United States Army kept title to them.

The defense of the Brazilian bulge against external attack during 1942 was mainly provided far afield by the Soviet forces resisting the sweep of Nazi arms, by the British forces checking the Axis drive into Egypt, and by the United States Navy's success in stopping the tide of Japanese advance in the Pacific. Nearer at hand, the United States Army had ground and air forces in the Caribbean area and in the continental United States that could have been deployed to Brazil in the event of a real emergency.

The most effective combat element close at hand was the United States Navy's South Atlantic Force, with which Brazilian naval and air forces began to operate in informal association in the spring of 1942.

The South Atlantic Force (redesignated Fourth Fleet in March 1943), commanded by Vice Adm. Jonas H. Ingram, was a relatively small light cruiser and destroyer force with a very wide field of operations and a variety of duties. It ranged the western South Atlantic, escorting convoys, intercepting blockade runners that were operating from the Far East around Cape Horn to Axis Europe, and searching for Axis submarines and surface raiders.

It also gave protection of a sort to the long coast line of Brazil from Bahia northward, as well as to the mid-ocean garrison of American forces established on Ascension Island in 1942. Navy seaplanes had begun their operations from Brazilian bases in December 1941, and in April 1942 the Navy brought in land-based amphibian planes to operate in patrols from the air bases at Natal and Recife.

In the same month President Vargas directed his Minister of Marine to put Brazilian naval vessels under Admiral Ingram's informal operational control. Also, Admiral Ingram worked out an arrangement with General Gomes under which Brazilian Air Force operations in the bulge area were integrated with operations plans of the United States Navy. The Army Air Forces in Washington looked askance at the Navy's plans for expanding its Brazil-based air operations, the Air Forces preferring if possible to keep the Navy out of the land air bases on the Brazilian airway altogether.

In April 1942 the Air Forces proposed that its technician detachments being sent to Belém, Natal, and Recife replace the small Marine garrisons. The Ferrying Command needed their housing and the full use of the other facilities that the Navy wanted to share. The Navy agreed to withdraw the marines from Belém, but it insisted on keeping them at Natal and Recife to guard its amphibian operations from those bases.

The Navy also insisted on a new joint agreement to cover the use of Brazilian air bases. On 27 April the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved an agreement that accorded the Navy "the use of Army facilities as necessary for the operation and maintenance of land-based, carrier-based, or amphibian type aircraft, subject to determination by the Army as to time and duration of such use, in order not to interfere with the primary purpose of these facilities."Thereafter, the Navy conducted or controlled all over-ocean patrol operations from Brazilian bases. These operations started in earnest in the same month that German submarines moved into the western South Atlantic.

Brazil's formal entry into the war followed a German decision in June to launch a concentrated submarine attack against shipping off the Northeast coast. When a pack of ten submarines sank five Brazilian vessels between 14 and 17 August, including a troopship with heavy loss of life, Brazil countered by declaring war on Germany and Italy, on 22 August 1942. As General Marshall remarked two days later, the Brazilian declaration of war did not materially change the situation.

Brazilian forces merely shifted from covert to overt cooperation with United States forces, and Brazil asked for a more rapid delivery of lend-lease supplies so that it could take a larger part in the military-effort of the United Nations. Brazil entered the war with enthusiasm, though with some fears at first that the German submarine attack in the north might be part of a concerted plan that would involve an internal uprising among the foreign minorities in southern Brazil.

Actually, German submarines soon found it healthier to operate at a much greater distance from the Brazilian coast, and the Brazilian people united behind the Vargas administration in a manner that ended the threat of internal subversion. This was Brazil's own war brought on by the sinking of thirteen Brazilian ships in the months preceding, and Brazil joined with earnestness and purpose in the common effort to defeat the Axis nations.

Eight days after the Brazilian declaration of war, Admiral Ingram met with his staff and with General Walsh and other Army representatives, and announced that as senior United States commander in the area he was assuming operational command as "Chief of the Allied Forces in the South Atlantic." A few days later the British West African naval commander visited Admiral Ingram's headquarters at Recife, and in consequence the United States Navy and British Royal Navy arranged a geographical division of the South Atlantic that made its western half, to and including Ascension Island, an American defense responsibility.

Since the only South Atlantic combat operations then under way were strictly naval in character, the Army did not challenge Admiral Ingram's unilateral assumption of operational responsibility, but his action probably helped influence the Army's decision to establish a command headquarters on Brazilian soil. In conferences with General Walsh during July and August, General Gomes had suggested that the Army move its headquarters from British Guiana to Brazil.

During July the South Atlantic Wing commander had set up an "advance echelon" headquarters at the Natal air base to supervise air operations, and, at Atkinson Field, he had divided his small staff into two groups, one handling Air Transport Command affairs and the other defense and supply matters. Following the Brazilian declaration of war, General Walsh asked the War Department for authority to move his "sector and SOS" staff to Recife, so that he could work more closely with Brazilian commanders as well as with the Navy in the planning and execution of defense measures.

Since the Brazilians themselves had suggested this move, Ambassador Caffery had also requested that the Army move its headquarters to Brazil. General Walsh's recommendation resulted in the establishment (officially on 24 November, actually in early December) of the Army theater headquarters at Recife known as the United States Army Forces South Atlantic. A separate South Atlantic Wing headquarters had been established in the meantime at Natal on 10 November. General Walsh commanded both.

The wing headquarters continued to control airway operations from Trinidad to the shores of Africa until mid-1943, whereas the territorial jurisdiction of the theater headquarters extended only from Brazil's northern border to Ascension Island. Since Army airway and intelligence operations and personnel were exempted from its control, the new theater organization had virtually no troops to command at the outset except the two-thousand-man defense garrison on Ascension.

Its real task was that visualized the preceding May: a coordinating headquarters to handle Army problems and relationships in Brazil. Recife was the logical place for this headquarters, even though Army air operations were concentrated at Natal, because Recife was the headquarters of the Brazilian commanders in the area, of the Navy, and of the other agencies with which the Army command had to deal. Furthermore, Recife had good docking facilities and was therefore the best site for a theater supply base.

Furnishing supplies and services to the airway establishment was to be the new theater's chief operating function. The establishment of Army headquarters at Natal and Recife coincided with the launching of the Anglo-American North African offensive. On the one hand, this first major offensive of United States Army forces in the Atlantic war put an end to apprehensions of a Nazi move toward the South Atlantic; on the other, it emphasized more than ever the vital significance of the South Atlantic airway.

With the North Atlantic air route again closed down for the winter, for a period of six months the Brazilian route handled virtually all air traffic to Europe and Africa, a large part of the planes and emergency supplies for India and China, and some of the lend-lease materials for the Soviet Union. This traffic included about twenty-five hundred combat planes moving to overseas air forces. By May 1943 the Natal air base was handling more plane movements each day than it had handled in a month a year earlier.

The airway to Brazil, planned for hemisphere defense, became in 1943 the air funnel to the battlefields of the world After the Army command moved to Brazil, it continued to defer to Admiral Ingram's operational control of defense forces in the South Atlantic area. General Walsh and Admiral Ingram appear to have gotten along very well together from the outset, and State, War, and Navy Department spokesmen united in testifying to the success of Army and Navy commanders in dealing with the Brazilian and South Atlantic situation under the informal working arrangements in effect.

Nevertheless, at the Navy's insistence, the Army agreed to the issuance of a joint directive that formally vested unity of command in the Navy over all antisubmarine and other combat operations at sea in the South Atlantic area. Brazil and the United States in December 1942 proceeded to organize the second of the two mixed commissions provided for in the defense agreement of May. On 28 October the Joint Brazil-United States Defense Commission had recommended the establishment of a joint Brazil-United States Military Commission at Rio de Janeiro, with the general mission of making "arrangements for the implementation locally of approved recommendations and plans prepared by the Commission in Washington." 

The Rio commission began its work before the end of the year. Col. Francis B. Kane, Chief of the Military Mission, was its senior United States Army member. In effect, this commission absorbed the work and personnel of the existing Military and Military Air Missions. With the increased flow of military equipment to Brazil under lend-lease in 1943, and with Brazilian preparations for sending troops to the fighting front overseas, the work of the Rio commission rapidly increased in volume and variety, and the Brazilians enthusiastically availed themselves of its services. General Walsh, as Army commander in Brazil, had no authority over the Rio commission and, initially, relatively little connection with its work.

By 1944 this latter condition had changed, the United States Army Forces South Atlantic having become more and more concerned with the training and equipment of Brazilian forces. The consequence was that by the summer and fall of 1944 the Army had two headquarters in Brazil engaging in essentially the same functions. The War Department did not correct this situation until early 1945, when it put the United States Army section of the Rio commission under the supervision and administrative control of the United States Army Forces South Atlantic.

Transcribed by Patrick Clancey – Hyper War Foundation



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