62th year of Glory

When, at the end of 1943, our Government decided to send Brazilian troops to the Italian Campaign, the Air Minister saw that, however difficult this stage of its development may be, and however great its responsabilities in the air operations of South Atlantic, the Brazilian Air Force could not fail to send a contigent to the battle in Europe, together with the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Brazilian Army).

The first thing was to organise and train a fighter unit. Other combat units would also be sent to the Mediterranean, as soon as there was enough staff to allow it. As a matter of fact, when the hostilities in Europe came to an end, the "key-staff" of a Brazilian Medium Bomber Group was training in the United States.

It was also decided that BAF would provide the Army's Expeditionary Force with the necessary staff for the organization of the Liaison and Observation Squadrons (1ª ELO), attached to the Divisional Artillery, with the exception of the air observers who would be army officers of the Artillery Reserve.

Once it was decided to send a fighter unit to the Mediterranean, all the necessary arrangements were made very quickly.

On the 18th December 1943, the Government established the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group; by decree of the 27th December, Major NERO MOURA was appointed its commander; on the 3rd January 1944, the "key-staff" of the unit, made up of the commander, the Operations Officer, the Intelligence Officer, and four Squadron Commanders, left Brazil to be trained in the United States; from January to March, those officers underwent a complete training programme, amounting to 60 flight hours on Curtiss P-40 fighters.

On February 1944, the other officers of the unit, about 350 men, were sent, by groups, to the "Agua Dulce" Air Base in Panama. When the "key-staff" finished their training in Florida, they joined the rest of the unit in Panama, on 18th March 1944.

During the last training weeks in "Agua Dulce", the Brazilian Fighter Group took part in the air defence of the Panama Canal, having one squadron on duty every day.

At the end of June 1944, the Brazilian Unit was moved to the USA - to Suffolk Air Base, on Long Island, New York. And there they stayed just over two months on a new training programme, this time with the most modern of the US Army Air Force fighters, the P-47 "Thunderbolt", which they were to fly in Italy; each officer carried out 80 hours of flight and the ground staff got used to the new equipment.

When the Fighter Unit finished its training with the P-47, it was then at the same level, with regard to training, as any similar unit of the US Army Air Force; besides, at least one third of the Brazilian pilots were officers with more than 2,000 hours of flight; and all the officers of the unit had volunteered to flight in Europe, which was a garantee of the pilot's high morale, as was proved many times later on, in face of the enemy.

On the 10th September 1944, the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group embarked, near Newport, in the state of Virginia, on the French ship "Colombie" which joined one of the convoys crossing the North Atlantic and bound for the Mediterranean. On the 6th October 1944, the unit arrived at the theatre of war, at the port of Livorno, on the West coast of Italy; from there they travelled by train to Tarquinia, their first airfield; here they pitched their tents and started operations. I was in this camp that they received their P-47 "Thunderbolts", completely new and already painted with the brazilians colours; it was also in this camp that they joined the 350th Fighter Group, which had three other Fighter Units with American staff; and here they carried out the first test flights of their planes and the first air reconnaissance of the region.

The 350th Fighter Group was part of the Tactical Air Force of the Mediterranean which was supporting the US Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army.

On the 14th October 1944, for the first time, the flag of the BAF was carried into action over enemy territory; on that same day, the Brazilian Flag was hoisted in the camp of the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group with a solemm ceremony; on the Order of the Day, of that day, Maj Nero Moura, wrote the following words:

"Thus, in the history of nations, has come to us the honour of being the first South American Force to cross the ocean and to raise our wings over European battlefields.

Before going into action here, in the Old World, the 1st Brazilian Flighter Group fulfils its sacred duty by plating the Brazilian Flag in enemy territory.

My fellow soldiers: let us go to the front, into action, with the image of the Mother Country always in our thoughts, whose honours and integrity we swore to keep safe and sound.

It is our duty to face everything, with courage, in order to keep untouched that treasure which has never been violated: the honour of the Brazilian soldier! And we will do it, no matter how hard it proves to be."

On the 31st October 1944, Brazilian pilots started taking part in war missions, flying their own aircraft, but operating together with American squadrons, in order to familiarize themselves with the realities of war.

On the 6th November we had our first loss in action: 2nd Lieutenant Cordeiro e Silva was killed by anti-aircraft fire in the region of Bologna.

On the 11th November, the Fighter Unit started operating in squadrons formed by Brazilian pilots only and taking their own objectives for attack.

A month later, on the 4th December 1944, without interrupting the air operations for a single day, the unit, together with 350th Fighter Group, moved to Pisa airfield which was 124 miles to the North and very near the front, allowing the unit to take better advantage of the range of their aircraft.

Immediately to the North of Pisa were the Appenine mountains, covered with snow; a rough winter imposed more sacrifices upon pilots and ground staff.

Trained for Interception and Escort missions, the unit operated in Italy in the role of fighter-bombers. Diving towards their targets, they attacked rail and road bridges, railway stations and tracks, enemy airfields, artillery positions, barracks equipment, and troop concentrations, ammunition and petrol depots, and so on.

The pilots had orders to fly low on their return from bombing raid and try to attack with machine-guns any vehicles found on the roads, railway engines and waggons, grounded aircraft, etc.

The mission for which the Brazilian and other Fighter Units were responsible, were part of a bombardment plan in which the Tactical Air Command had three main objectives:

a) direct support of the land forces (Close Air Support);

b) isolation of the battle-field, by systematically cutting the means of communication, raiways and roads which connected the German front with the Valley of the River Po and with the rest of the territory occupied by the Germans (Interdiction);

c) destruction of military and industrial plant in the North of Italy.

It was during the hard winter months of 1944/45 that the Brazilian Fighter Unit rapidly strengthened its war experience in a way that no training could ever replace. Regarding this we can quote from the report of Lt. Col. Ariel W. Nielsen, Commander of the American 350th Fighter Group, a veteran unit which had already gone through the campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy:

"Everybody in the 350th Fighter Group who helped the Brazilians wanted to fight the enemy and fight skilfully. In a month they were operating like veterans. They had only a few rotation pilots compared with our squadrons, but, nevertheless, their courage and energy were too strong to be defeated."

On rare occasion the Brazilian Fighter Group had the opportunity of supporting the Brazilian Expeditionary Force directly; on the day before the BEF took Monte Castelo, on the 20th February 1945, Brazilian squadrons had broken down the enemy's resistance on a hill at the flank of the Brazilian troops; Field Marshal Mascarenhas de Moraes refers to this incident in his book The BEF by its Commander:

"BAF planes had destroyed the German resistance on Mazzancana with their daring participation in the land combat, giving an unforgettable example of unity between the air and land expeditionary forces."

During the air operations in the winter months, the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group suffered several losses; three officers died in air accidents in the initial stage at Tarquinia; on 23rd December, 1st Lieutenant Ismael da Motta Paes, had his plane damaged by anti-aircraft fire to the North of Ostiglia; he baled out and was captured by the Germans; on the 2nd January 1941, 1st Lieutenant João Maurício de Medeiros had to bale out over enemy territory, fell onto high tension wires and was killed; on the 22nd January, 1st Lieutenant Aurelio Vieira Sampaio was killed attacking railway engines to the North of Milan; on the 29th January, 1st Lieutenant Josino Maia de Assis's plane caught fire, he was forced to bale out and was captured by the Germans.

On the 4th February 1945, one of the Squadron Commander, Captain Joel Miranda and 2nd Lieutenant Danilo Moura were shot down in flames at the same time while they were attacking train engines together to the Southwest of Treviso. They both baled out. Captain Joel, in spite of a broken arm and a seriously wounded foot, walked for many hours until he was sheltered by a group of partisans who lodged him in the neighbourhood of Padua until the end of the war. Lieutenant Danilo walked for twenty four days, covered one hundred and sixty one miles and crossed the entire enemy territory; after joining the partisans in the Apenines, Lieutenant Danilo succeded in getting through the front lines and finally suceeded in rejoining his comrades of the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group, in Pisa.

On the 10th February, 1st Lieutenant Roberto Brandini, seriously wounded in the head by shrapnel from anti-aircraft fire, baled out and was captured by the Germans; on 7th March, Captain Theobaldo Kopp, shot down in an attack on ammunition depots to the Northeastof Parma, baled out and took refuge among the partisans; on the 26th March, 1st Lieutenant Othon Correa Neto in a rocket attack on anti-aircraft positions on Casarsa bridge, West of Udine, was shot down and taken prisoner until the end of the war.

In April 1945 the Allies unleashed a great Spring offensive in order to overcome German resistance in Italy once and for all. This offensive was launched by the American XV Army Corps on the 9th of April Under Officer Frederico Gustavo dos Santos died in the explosion of a German ammunition depot which he was machine-gunning, in the neighbourhood of Udine.

Between the 14th and 20th of April, the total allied Air Force in Italy concentrated all its power in an attack on the German defensive positions along the entire front; the fighter crews began flying an average of two missions per day.

From the 20th April the Germans withdrew along the whole lenght to the front, and the opportunities for the 1st BFG to attack everywhere increased - though particulary along the roads.

The 22nd of April is commemorated by the Brazilian Air Force because it was the day when the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group , at the height of its activity, attained maximum results and covered itself with glory; its attacks, on the day, in the region of San Benedetto, were a decisive factor in the establishment of allied bridge-head on the following day.

Of course, even on the triumphant 22nd of April victory could only won a price: 2nd Lieutenant Marcos Coelho de Magalhães was captured and broke both his ankles when he baled out over enemy territory.

On the 26th April, 1st Lieutenant Luis Lopes Dornelles died when was in command of the same squadron that had formerly been led by Captain Kopp, shot down the previous month. Leutenant Dornelles ran into anti-aircraft fire when he was attacking a train in the city of Alessandria; he had no chance of baling out.

The 30th April, saw the end of German resistance in the valley of the river Po; on the 2nd May, the war ceased in Italy.

The fantastic results achieved by the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group in the last month of the war can be judged by the following passage from the official report of the 350th Fighter Group:

"Between the 6th and 29th April 1945, the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group took part in 5% of the flights accomplished by the 22nd Airtactical Command and, neverthless, of the results attained by this Command, 15% of the destroyed vehicles, 28% of the destroyed bridges, 36% of the damaged fuel depots and 85% of the damaged ammunition depots were oficially ascribed to the Brazilians."

The statistics showed that, in the first four months of 1945 alone, the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group aircraft carried out 1,728 flights and were damage by anti-aircraft fire 103 times; in most cases the planes, even when damaged, succeeded in returning to their bases, and the P-47 "Thumderbolt" became famous for its endurance and capacity to bring back the pilots.

During the Spring offensive, in the last month of the war, the 1st Brazilian Figther Group achieved the following results:




Railway engines



Motorized transport



Railway and tanks cars



Armoured cars



Animal drawn vehicles



Railway and highway bridges



Railway and highway cuttings



Buildings occupied by the enemy



Camps occupied by the enemy



Command posts



Artillery positions






Miscellaneous buildings



Fuel depots






Radar stations



Among the 48 pilots of the Brazilian Unit who carried out war missions, there was a total of 22 losses; five of the pilots were killed by anti-aircraft fire, eight had their planes shot down and baled out over enemy territory, six had to give up flying operations on medical orders, after suffering nervous breakdowns, and three died in flying accidents.

The remains of the brave Brazilian airmen who lost their lives in Italy were buried in the Brazilian Cemetery at Pistoia. Subsequently they were taken to Brazil and they are now in the crypt of the Monument of Dead of the Second World War, in Avenida Beira Mar, in Rio de Janeiro.

That is the story of the Brazilian Air Force activity in the Italian Campaign. The 1st Brazilian Fighter Group accomplished 445 missions, with a total of 2,546 flights and 5,465 hours of flight on active service. It destroyed 1,304 motor-vehicles, 13 railway waggons, 8 armoured cars, 25 railway and highway bridges and 31fuel tanks and munition depots.

The Brazilian Air Force, in its first experience of war outside Brazilian territory, sent to Italy an air unit, the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group, who staff came up to the highest expectations with respect to courage, sense of duty, spirit of sacrifice and professional skill.

Total of the operations of the First Brazilian Fighter Group in the Italy Campaign:

Missions accomplished.................................................. 445

Offensive missions...................................................... 2,546

Defensive missions............................................................. 4

Hours of flight in war operations.................................. 5,465

Total hours of flight accomplished................................ 6,144

Total Bombs dropped................................................. 4,442

Incendiary Bombs (F.T.I)............................................... 166

Fragmentation Bombs (260 lbs)........................................ 16

Fragmentation Bombs (90 lbs).......................................... 72

Demolition Bombs (1.000 lbs)............................................ 8

Demolition Bombs (500 lbs)........................................ 4,180

Approximate total tonnage of bombs............................ 1,010

Rounds of .50 calibre ammunition fired.................. 1,180,200

Total rockets fired........................................................... 850

Liters of petrol consumed....................................... 4,058,651

Since its creation the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group flew the following fighters: P-40, P-47 "Thunderbolt", T-6 North American, F-8 "Gloster Meteor" (first jet plane to fly in Brazil), T-33/F-80 "Shooting Star", and AT-26 "Xavante". At this moment the unit is flying supersonic F-5E "Tiger II" from Northrop.

The legacy left by the heroes of the 1st Brazilian Fighter Group was the base for the future generations of fighter pilots at the Brazilian Air Force, and it was the responsible for the new warrior mentality of the Brazilian Air Force. We owe them for everything.


Note: This material was compiled from the following books: "Senta a Pua!" by Maj Brig Rui Moreira Lima, and "História da Força Aérea Brasileira" by Ten Brig Nelson Freire Lavenère- Wanderley.

Copyright @ Dau, 1997.

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