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COMMANDER SOUTH ATLANTIC FORCE AT RECIFE - COMMANDER SOUTH ATLANTIC

11)BRAZIL DECLARES WAR


August was the month that saw Brazil’s entry into World War II. The country had been drifted toward it for months. Ever increasing cooperation with the Admiral’s Force, exchange of supplies and vital information, as well as the Vargas’ government’s willingness to cooperate in every plan of Western Hemisphere solidarity sponsored by Washington, had virtually but Brazil into the Allied camp long before the actual declaration came.   


But just as it took Pearl harbor to make the American people realize the difference between armed neutrality and a shooting war, it required a somewhat comparable episode to cause Brazil to make the final step. The attack on the comandante Lyra some months earlier had not sufficed, partly because the crew had been saved. But on August 15, German submarines began a promiscuous torpedoing of Brazilian ships off Bahia. 


The attacks went on several days during which five ships were sunk. These were sunk These were the Baependi, Araraquara, Itagiba, Arara and Anibal Benevolo.


The estimated loss of life in these sinkings was five hundred. As a result Brazilian popular resentment broke loose in the main cities of the country, and took the form of rioting, looting, and demonstrations against Axis subjects. German Italian and Japanese business establishments were raided, some were destroyed, and there was constant parading through the streets of large cities, with excited crowds listening to inflammable speeches. 


The only thoughts in the minds of hot tempered Brazilians seemed to be to wipe their country clean of all Axis personnel and to destroy every trace of their business influence. To offer some examples in the case of Recife, the following instances are representative. On the morning of August 18, a noisy crowd of from 500 to 1000 people walked along the Rua do Bom Jesus, tearing down sign on several stores that were, or were believed to be, of Axis ownership. 


At first this seemed to satisfy the crowd, but as the morning progressed the people grew more violent and began breaking open and tearing up practically all stores with Axis names. The crowd collected around Herm Stoltz, a German business house, and threatened to destroy it. Police had by this time been called, but they did little. They lined up before the place with drawn revolvers and promised to fire if the rioters advanced. This did not stop the crowd, which merely pushed the officers aside, and the latter did not use their weapons.


The windows of the stores were smashed and the place was systematically wrecked. Of the furniture and machinery on exhibition, some was broken up, some taken to the scrap metal drive heap, and some removed to the nearby Apprentice Seaman School for safe keeping. By a little past noon herm Stoltz was dismantled, completely ransacked, and even the grillwork in front of the window had been removed. A crowd assembled in front of the Grande Hotel and demanded the manager, who was German. 


Two Brazilians officers stood in the doorway, and though they made no move their presence seemed to awe the crowd, which eventually went away. All over Recife and other cities in Brazil similar things went on. Germany had at last aroused the Country. The newspapers stirred public sentiment to the boiling point; not that much stirring was needed. The following quotation from the August 18 issue of the Journal Pequeno, a Recife afternoon paper, illustrates how the Brazilian press reacted to the provocation given by Germany:  


 “Truly monstrous are the acts which the Axis submarines have just perpetrated against helpless Brazilians. The torpedoing and sinking of five of our ships between Bahia and Sergipe , with the attendant loss of life, caused profound indignation throughout the country. And this wave of revolt shaking the Nation from North to South, is already reflected in all the American continent – each government seeking to manifest its solidarity with Brazil. “At this moment in many Brazilian homes, there is sorrow and tears.  


But there is also with all of them, as throughout the country, absolute confidence in the government of the Republic. If Rome, Berlin and Tokyo think that they can intimidate us by such savage acts, they are completely mistaken. “Our pride will never beaten down. We will now know how to confront the enemy – when and exactly how, with all the bravery that has always characterized this nation when its honor was affected.”  


Brazilian official action soon followed. On August 22, the Government of President Vargas recognized a state of belligerency with both Germany and Italy. Because of the remoteness of Japan, and the failure of any submarines of that power to appear in Brazilian waters, no formal declarations of war were exchanged with her. Japanese subjects were nevertheless interned, and Brazil for all practical purposes went to war with the entire Axis.   


While this went on, the Commander Task Force Twenty Three began a course of action dictated by the new circumstances. On receiving word of the Brazilian ships sinkings, he sent the Jouett immediately from Base Fox, the code name for Recife, to commence anti submarine operations, in which she was joined by the Auxiliary Seaplane Tender Humboldt, from natal. Together they made up Task Group 23.8, coordinating their anti submarine efforts closely with those of VP-83, which lost no time in swinging into action. It was a plane that made the first sub contact.


On August 18, the Commander of VP 83 reported that plane 83-P6 of his Command had encountered a German submarine on the surface, underway on its engines. The plane, piloted by Lieutenant (jg) John M. Lacey USNR. Sighted the sub dead ahead, about 20 miles away, on a north-westerly course. Weather conditions and visibility were perfect, with occasional white caps on the water. When about 15 miles distant the plane crew felt sure the object was a submarine and at eight miles they made certain. Fearing the sub would crash dive before he could get in attacking position, the pilot did not alter his course until the last minute.  


 Then he maneuvered the plane violently and made his attack from about 100 feet. The starboard waist gunner commenced firing, and, as the plane came out of its turn, the port waist gunner put in short burst. The pilot dropped four depth bombs through the intervalometer, and one exploded within fifteen feet of the enemy. The sub appeared to stop immediately after the blasts. Several men on board the plane distinctly saw it sink slowly, stern first, and rolled over 90 degrees as it went under. Evidently the starboard gunner’s firing produced some results, as one man in the sub’s conning tower was seen to fall.  


The plane’s attack evidently surprised the Germans, as they had no time to get their deck gun, forward of the conning tower, into operation. There was some machine gun firing from the submarine and tracers were seen going under the after part of the plane. For three hours after the enemy’s disappearance, Lieutenant (jg) Lacey continued to circle the vicinity, and during this time his crew saw a lot of thick oil on the surface, and many air bubbles.Among Captain  Braine’s strong points was his ability to get along with the Brazilians, a characteristic then indispensable in those holding high command in the South Atlantic.  Commander South Atlantic Force. US Naval Administration in World War II.


From what little had been seen of the sub no real attempt at identification could be made, but those in the plane believed it to be small, probably of the 517 ton class. This submarine, which with reasonable certainty, could be marked off as a kill, had probably, on the previous day, accounted for two of the Brazilian ships mentioned above. At least their torpedoings had taken place within fifty miles of the point were the sub went down, which was in Latitude 13º 52”S, Longitude 38º 00”W., just off Bahia.  


The destruction of this undersea raider received wide publicity in the newspapers of the United States as an accomplishment of the Força Aerea Brasileira. The mistake evidently sprang from ignorance at home of the widespread activity of Task Force Twenty Three in the South Atlantic, amounting in many cases to ignorance of the Force’s very existence. The Admiral was a very busy man at this time. On August 19, he with staff personnel, shifted his flag and administration from the Memphis to the Patoka. The change, though regretted in some respects by the Admiral, had to be made. 


Now that Brazil had entered the war, the South Atlantic Campaign would present new problems. An administration that did not have to impose radio silence necessitated the Admiral’s presence in port most of the time. Headquarters on shore would be ultimately necessary, but pending their completion, the Patoka, which could be kept in harbor, would serve the purpose, thus releasing the Memphis for sea duty. Actually, the Patoka did not leave the port of Recife between August 5,1942 and April 26, 1943. For the next few months, then, the Patoka, in addition to her original functions, served as flagship, administration center, and communications center for the Force, as well as the shore establishments. 


At the time the Admiral changed ships, he was accompanied by Captain, later Commodore, Clinton E. Braine, former Commanding Officer of the Memphis. Captain Braine now became Chief of Staff, having previously been Flag Captain when in the Memphis. “This brilliant officer was a tower of strength to me,” reports the Admiral, “in the organization of my new command.” Among Captain  Braine’s strong points was his ability to get along with the Brazilians, a characteristic then indispensable in those holding high command in the South Atlantic. 


HyperWar - Commander South Atlantic Force. U.S. Naval Administration in WW II


 

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