Brazilian Forces During World War I - Brazil, during World War I (1914-1918), initially adopted a neutral position, in accordance with the Hague Convention, in an attempt to maintain the markets for its export products, mainly coffee, latex and industrial manufactured items.
However, following repeated sinking of Brazilian merchant ships by German submarines, in 1917 the Brazilian President Venceslau Brás declared war against the Central Powers, and was the only country of Latin America to be directly involved in the war. The major participation was the Navy's patrol of areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
Brazilian participation in land operations was limited to a preparatory military mission of sergeants and officers, and medical units which were sent to Europe in mid-1918, and whose members were attached to allied units, mainly in the French Army, to gain awareness of modern techniques employed in organizing and fighting in Western Front.
The Navy also sent to the Western Front, as another preparatory military mission, a group of military aviators who served with the RAF.
Brazil's main military involvement in the war took place at sea. To fulfil this mission, the Secretary of Navy ordered the use of part of its naval power in the anti-submarine campaign, with Admiral Alexandre Faria de Alencar organising a task force that would allow the effective participation of the Brazilian Navy in World War I.
This force was initially tasked to patrol the Atlantic maritime area covered by the triangle between the city of Dakar on the African coast, the island of São Vicente, Cape Verde and Gibraltar at the entrance to the Mediterranean. The Division would remain under the orders of the British Admiralty, represented by Admiral Hischcot Grant. The war at sea fought by Brazil's navy began on August 1, 1918 following the departure of the force from the port of Rio de Janeiro. On August 3, 1918, the Brazilian ship Maceió was torpedoed by the German submarine U-43. On August 9, 1918, the mission reached Freetown in Sierra Leone, staying 14 days, where the crew began falling ill with Spanish flu during a pandemic.
On the night of August 25, while sailing from Freetown to Dakar, the division suffered a torpedo attack made by German submarines, but no casualties or damage were suffered by the Brazilian vessels, the torpedoes passing harmlessly between the Brazilian ships. A successful counter-attack using depth charges was launched, the Royal Navy crediting the Brazilians with the destruction of a U-boat.
Subsequently, after anchoring in the port of Dakar, the crews were again severely hit by Spanish flu, which claimed the lives of over a hundred sailors and kept the Division restricted to port for almost two months.
Among the Allied naval command, there was debate about how the forces of the Brazilian fleet should be used. This indecision amongst the Allied command, combined with operational problems and the Spanish flu pandemic led to extended delays.
In the event, the fleet did not arrive at Gibraltar until the beginning of November 1918, only to see the armistice signed within days, ending to World War I.
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