Of the Latin American countries that declared war on Nazi Germany, only Brazil made a significant military contribution to the Allied war effort. Early plans called for the mobilization of an army corps of three infantry divisions for service in Europe. But even with major infusions of American aid and assistance, the challenges of training and equipping such a large force proved insurmountable. In the 1940s Brazil was still a relatively poor and predominantly rural country with a small industrial base. The Brazilian Army, totaling perhaps 100,000 men, was dispersed around the country by regiments and brigades with the primary mission of internal security. Neither its equipment nor the state of its training suited the Army for modern war. As problems multiplied, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Força Expedicionária Brasiliera or FEB) was pruned to two divisions and ultimately to one: the 1st Expeditionary Infantry Division ( Divisão de Infantaria Expedicionária or DIE). Counting various support units, the ground component of the FEB numbered 25,334 troops. The DIE was organized and equipped as a standard US Army "triangular" infantry division with three infantry regiments, three 105mm artillery battalions, one 155mm field artillery battalion, a cavalry reconnaissance troop and a combat engineer battalion. Though it was a small force in the context of a world war, the creation of the FEB represented a major achievement for Brazil.

The FEB was allotted to the US Fifth Army in Italy, arriving in mid-1944. After all the doubts on both the Brazilian and American sides as to the wisdom of committing Brazilian troops to battle, the FEB was welcomed by the Fifth Army's commander, Lieutenant General Mark Clark. He had recently been compelled to give up several formations for the invasion of France and was glad enough to receive the Brazilian division.  After a period of intensive training, the DIE entered the line  as a unit of US IV Corps, serving alongside the US 10th Mountain Division. Its baptism of fire came in the Battle of Monte Castello (25 November 1944 to 22 February 1945). In this bitter, protracted engagement, the division made several costly and unsuccessful attempts to storm the height known as Monte Castello (Mount Castle) before finally capturing it on 20 February. Despite the rugged terrain, the bad weather, fierce German resistance and their own inexperience, the troops of the DIE had fought with determination and bravery. Monte Castello was not a big battle, but it was justifiably regarded by Brazilians as a notable victory. Following Monte Castello, the DIE participated the final offensive in northern Italy in March-April 1945. Its last major action was a hard-fought four-day struggle for the town of Montese, during which the division suffered 436 casualties. On April 30, at the town of Collecchio, the DIE accepted the surrender of the German 148th Infantry Division and the Fascist Italia Division after a brief battle. On that satisfying note of victory, the FEB's wartime service came to a close.

After the war American officers judged that the Brazilian troops had acquitted themselves well in combat against the always-formidable German Army. Though it cannot be said that the "Smoking Snakes"—as Brazilian soldiers were known from the design of their shoulder insignia—played a significant strategic role in the Italian campaign, they gave good service to the Allied cause and the postwar accolades they received from the proud Brazilian people were well merited. In later years, many of the officers who had served in the FEB achieved high rank and laid the groundwork for the transformation of the Brazilian Army into today's modern force.

The Brazilian Army's command flags denoted the level of command by the number of stripes in the fly half of the flag: five stripes for an army commander, four for a corps commander, three for a division commander and two for a brigade commander. Roman numerals were used for the army-level flags and Arabic numerals for all the others. Army and corps artillery commanders were denoted by the addition of the artillery branch badge, a flaming grenade, to the flag. Flags of infantry, cavalry and artillery brigade commanders displayed the relevant branch badge over the brigade's numerical designation. A special swallowtailed flag, red and blue, was specified for the Chief Chaplain of the FEB.

The command flags of the 1st Expeditionary Infantry Division included stars in the pattern of the Southern Cross; this gave the division-level command flag a coincidental resemblance to the shoulder sleeve insignia of the US Marine Corps' 1st Marine Division. The brigade-level flags were used by the division's infantry and artillery commanders. It should be noted, however, that the DIE embodied no actual brigades. Organization for combat was typically based on the US regimental combat team model, whereby each of the division's three regiments was reinforced with divisional assets, e.g. a battalion of field artillery, a platoon from the cavalry reconnaissance troop and a company from the combat engineer battalion. Also from time to time a US Army tank or tank destroyer battalion was attached to the DIE.

Flag Proportions: Command flags of the Brazilian army had 3:4 proportions.

Historical Footnote: Much of the FEB was transported to Italy aboard the USS General M.C. Meigs (AP-116), a US Coast Guard-manned troop transport. The Meigs made three trips between Rio de Janeiro and Naples in 1944, carrying a total of 15,600 Brazilian troops. Among her crew was Gunner's Mate Third Class George W. Gregg, the father of the author of this site. Lest we forget.























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