Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

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Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 04 Apr 2021 01:45

Historically, Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba were all engaged in active operations against the Axis in the Western Hemisphere beginning in 1942, and Brazil deployed an infantry division and a fighter squadron to the Mediterranean in the summer of 1944, roughly two years after Brazil declared war on Germany and Italy. Overall, the expeditionary force numbered some 25,000, with operational forces that included an infantry division and a fighter squadron, organized on US lines, plus support and service units and a replacement pool. Brazil's Air Force was created an an independent service in 1941, so the parallels with the US are not exact, but the Brazilian infantry division was organized and equipped via Lend-Lease on a straight US Army TO&E, so call it 14,000+, with the remainder in the air and corps-level units.

The above was drawn from an overall active Brazilian Army strength that rose from roughly 80,000 when was was declared to (approximately) 120,000 (according to Adrian English's Armed Forces of Latin America) although I've seen figures that suggest including some 80,000 mobilized reservists, it was probably closer to 200,000.

Being conservative, unless there are better figures available, call it 200,000 yielding a field force of 14,000, or roughly 7 percent of the total.

Going back to English, we find the following in terms of army personnel strengths in Latin America, and - using the Brazilian example - "potential" deployable forces (rounded to nearest 1,000):
  • Argentina - 100,000 (1945); includes air force = 7,000
    Bolivia - 15,000 (1943) = 1,000
    Chlle - 22,000 ("postwar"; 23,000 in 1920s) = 2,000
    Colombia - 16,000 (1942) = 1,000
    Cuba - 8,0000 (Army, 1942; after 1942; add 6,000 Guardia, 7,000 mobilized reservists, total of 21,000) = 1,000 (historically, the Cubans were quite active in the Allied ASW effort in the Caribbean in WW II, including credit for sinking U-176.)
    Mexico - 56,000 (1941) = 4,000 (historically, Mexico sent a US-equipped and sustained fighter squadron to the Western Pacific in 1944-45, but no ground forces)
    Peru - 32,000 (1941) = 2,000
    Uruguay - 8,000 (1941) to 12,000 (1945) = 1,000
    Venezuela - 8.000 (1941 to 10,000 (1945) = 1,000
These are all rough estimates, and I didn't include Ecuador or Paraguay, which had active establishments of 6,000 or less in 1941... much less any of the smaller republics.

If the Brazilians - with, of course, full US support - could deploy an infantry division to Europe, the Argentines presumably could have managed an infantry RCT/brigade group equivalent (and then some); Mexico, an infantry RCT/brigade group equivalent; and at least six other Latin American nations, probably a battalion+ each...

Granted, none of these nations - other than Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba - got involved to the extent of active operations once they entered the war on the Allied side, but it's kind of an interesting thought experiment.

Thoughts?

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by Sid Guttridge » 04 Apr 2021 08:07

Hi daveshoup2MD,

The USA was reluctant to encourage Latin American participation due to the extra complications. It didn't even get its own Puerto Rican regiments onto an active battlefront, apart from one battalion that spent two months on the passive Alpine Front over December 1943 to February 1944. Its one Cajun battalion with French speakers also never saw action, either.

Brazil entered the war with 95,654 men in its army. This had grown to 165,118 by November 1943.

Brazil treated its north-east, the nearest point to the Old World, as a potential battlefront and initially heavily reinforced its army there.

The Brazilians offered to send forces to occupy Portuguese Atlantic islands, French West Africa and North Africa before being accepted for Italy.

It was originally intended to form three expeditionary divisions on US equipment. 2nd and 3rd were ordered formed on 7 January 1944 and their commanders were allocated. However there was only just enough US equipment in country to train 1st Division, so their formation was suspended on 4 July, just after 1st Division sailed.

Argentina's Army was initially probably best adaptable for expeditionary use, but the country's determined pursuit of neutrality disrupted the hemispheric solidarity the US was trying to create, so it was put under US sanctions. It therefore got no US equipment and its armed forces relatively stagnated during the war. Because of the arrival of US armour and other equipment in Brazil, it deployed more units against that country. Brazil therefore upped its own deployments opposite Argentina. Early in the war Argentine liberals did suggest creating a volunteer Argentine expeditionary division for the Allies but nobody was interested. The hundreds of combat-experienced Anglo-Argentine aircrew who served in the RAF and RCAF in WWII found no place in the Argentine air force when they got home.

Politicized older Mexican generals were reluctant to send an expeditionary force because they still did not trust the USA. Younger officers keen on modernization and professional advancement were more enthusiastic. However, the Mexican Army was essentially an internal security force and originally had no divisional structure. At best it had enough artillery and engineers to form a single weak infantry division. The Mexican Constitution also precluded deploying Mexican forces outside Mexico itself. For these reasons it was decided to send a smaller air unit instead. A Mexican army mission was belatedly sent to Europe in 1945, but was too late even to observe operations.

Thousands of Mexicans did serve in the US armed forces. In April 1943 the US authorities calculated that there were already 9,565 Mexican citizens enrolled and by mid 1944 press reports indicated that the total had risen to 15,000.

Around the rest of Central and South America the USA concentrated on integrating local naval and air forces into hemispheric anti-submarine operations and Lend-Lease to them particularly emphasised this. All were involved in combat operations, but only those around the Circum-Caribbean had any direct impact by forcing U-boats to dive. This disrupted their battery charging in the era before the schnorkel and so constricted their operations.

The USA did manage to get the Colombians to send a battalion to Korea a few years later.

Cheers

Sid.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 05 Apr 2021 02:26

Sid Guttridge wrote:
04 Apr 2021 08:07
Hi daveshoup2MD,

The USA was reluctant to encourage Latin American participation due to the extra complications. It didn't even get its own Puerto Rican regiments onto an active battlefront, apart from one battalion that spent two months on the passive Alpine Front over December 1943 to February 1944. Its one Cajun battalion with French speakers also never saw action, either.

Brazil entered the war with 95,654 men in its army. This had grown to 165,118 by November 1943.

Brazil treated its north-east, the nearest point to the Old World, as a potential battlefront and initially heavily reinforced its army there.

The Brazilians offered to send forces to occupy Portuguese Atlantic islands, French West Africa and North Africa before being accepted for Italy.

It was originally intended to form three expeditionary divisions on US equipment. 2nd and 3rd were ordered formed on 7 January 1944 and their commanders were allocated. However there was only just enough US equipment in country to train 1st Division, so their formation was suspended on 4 July, just after 1st Division sailed.

Argentina's Army was initially probably best adaptable for expeditionary use, but the country's determined pursuit of neutrality disrupted the hemispheric solidarity the US was trying to create, so it was put under US sanctions. It therefore got no US equipment and its armed forces relatively stagnated during the war. Because of the arrival of US armour and other equipment in Brazil, it deployed more units against that country. Brazil therefore upped its own deployments opposite Argentina. Early in the war Argentine liberals did suggest creating a volunteer Argentine expeditionary division for the Allies but nobody was interested. The hundreds of combat-experienced Anglo-Argentine aircrew who served in the RAF and RCAF in WWII found no place in the Argentine air force when they got home.

Politicized older Mexican generals were reluctant to send an expeditionary force because they still did not trust the USA. Younger officers keen on modernization and professional advancement were more enthusiastic. However, the Mexican Army was essentially an internal security force and originally had no divisional structure. At best it had enough artillery and engineers to form a single weak infantry division. The Mexican Constitution also precluded deploying Mexican forces outside Mexico itself. For these reasons it was decided to send a smaller air unit instead. A Mexican army mission was belatedly sent to Europe in 1945, but was too late even to observe operations.

Thousands of Mexicans did serve in the US armed forces. In April 1943 the US authorities calculated that there were already 9,565 Mexican citizens enrolled and by mid 1944 press reports indicated that the total had risen to 15,000.

Around the rest of Central and South America the USA concentrated on integrating local naval and air forces into hemispheric anti-submarine operations and Lend-Lease to them particularly emphasised this. All were involved in combat operations, but only those around the Circum-Caribbean had any direct impact by forcing U-boats to dive. This disrupted their battery charging in the era before the schnorkel and so constricted their operations.

The USA did manage to get the Colombians to send a battalion to Korea a few years later.

Cheers

Sid.
Sid - Thanks for the background; much of it gibes with my understanding and sources. The Louisiana units you're referring to ended up as MPs in North Africa and then the ETO, which certainly makes sense; the three infantry regiments (one RA and two federalized NG) that were recruited in Puerto Rico saw active service in the CDC, MTO, and the PTO, albeit on secondary tasks; in neither case, however, does that suggest anything other than expediency - plenty of Americans of Latin American ancestry saw action throughout the US forces, and in quite senior positions.

Having said that, my thought here was more to suggest what "could" have happened, in terms of the Brazilians' example, with the other Latin American republics. Any disagreement with the numbers and concept in the original post?

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by Loïc » 05 Apr 2021 02:31

The calculation of the expeditionary forces ratio is based/biased by the size of the Armies taken in WWII
but it didn't reflect the demographic potential of the countries nor a peacetime military strenght who could have been more larger than in WWII and some of these armies had known larger regular permanent armies and/or in wartime in periods before 1941

actually Brazil with 44 millions of inhabitants is almost United Kingdom (or France/Italy and a litte more)
and México (16 500 000) had 150 to 250 000 men under arms throughout a decade 20 years before
La Argentina (11 millions) in third place but I don't see her sending any force given the strongs links with both mother countries Italy and Spain
Colombia (~9 millions)
El Perù (7 300 000)
all the others were under 4 500 000 inhabitants

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 05 Apr 2021 03:56

Loïc wrote:
05 Apr 2021 02:31
The calculation of the expeditionary forces ratio is based/biased by the size of the Armies taken in WWII
but it didn't reflect the demographic potential of the countries nor a peacetime military strenght who could have been more larger than in WWII and some of these armies had known larger regular permanent armies and/or in wartime in periods before 1941

actually Brazil with 44 millions of inhabitants is almost United Kingdom (or France/Italy and a litte more)
and México (16 500 000) had 150 to 250 000 men under arms throughout a decade 20 years before
La Argentina (11 millions) in third place but I don't see her sending any force given the strongs links with both mother countries Italy and Spain
Colombia (~9 millions)
El Perù (7 300 000)
all the others were under 4 500 000 inhabitants
All very true, but I was trying to keep it simple using the Brazilian historical experience, essentially as a model. It's very over-simplified, but my expectation is any Latin American unit deployed to Europe or the Pacific would be pretty close to "volunteers" in a similar sense to the Brazilians (and Australians, Canadians, South Africans etc.) as opposed to a mass-mobilization force, as the US, British, and French essentially were.

Different situation in the Western Hemisphere, of course.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by Sid Guttridge » 05 Apr 2021 08:49

Hi daveshoup2MD

The Latin Americans had no war aims outside their own continent. By joining the winning side, they were able to confiscate Axis-owned properties and shipping and gain entry to the United Nations. None of this required them to leave their own hemisphere.

Volunteers could be drawn from Latin America, but for specific circumstances unrelated to national self interest.

Ideology and Hispanidad had led to over 2,500 volunteers for the Republican International Brigades and perhaps a couple of hundred for the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Both sides also conscripted Latin Americans already resident. In the Nationalist case they conscripted twice as many Argentines as they got volunteers from the whole of Latin America.

National minorities also could contribute to their "mother country's" war efforts overseas. The Italians raised over a thousand volunteers for their campaign in Ethiopia from the Italian populations of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The British and Canadians recruited about 1,000 airmen and women from expatriate communities in Latin America, about 65% of them from Argentina. The Free French also recruited among their expatriate communities.

However, Hispanic and Luso Latin Americans had no vested interest in WWII. Of the 25,000 Brazilians who eventually served in Italy, less than a thousand were war volunteers and there was reportedly little enthusiasm for the proposed 2nd and 3rd Divisions even among regular officers. Brazil was interested in becoming the major player in South America and saw active participation in WWII as a means of getting one over on its only real rival for that spot - Argentina.

Argentina pursued a resolutely neutralist line until 1945, at which point it declared token war on Germany in order not to be left out of the new United Nations. It was never going to be a participant in a US-led hemispheric war effort.

Mexico was constitutionally bound not to send troops aboard, which severely limited its options.

There was really no interest or advantage to any other Latin American nations sending even token army forces of volunteers in their national names. The US didn't want them anyway. Self motivated volunteers could make their own way - I know of Mexican and Colombian pilots in the RCAF and RAF.

Raising a small Latin American volunteer unit was probably technically feasible. However, it could have no guaranteed flow of replacements and the political downside of heavy casualties might prove counterproductive. The British sent the 1st Battalion of the Caribbean Regiment to Italy, but didn't use it in combat for some of these same reasons.

Basically, the Hispanic and Luso Latin Americans weren't needed and didn't much want to go anyway. WWII was an overseas fight in which they didn't really have a dog! Even Canada had a problem convincing its French speakers to enlist for overseas service.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 05 Apr 2021 21:59

Sid Guttridge wrote:
05 Apr 2021 08:49
Hi daveshoup2MD

The Latin Americans had no war aims outside their own continent. By joining the winning side, they were able to confiscate Axis-owned properties and shipping and gain entry to the United Nations. None of this required them to leave their own hemisphere.

Volunteers could be drawn from Latin America, but for specific circumstances unrelated to national self interest.

Ideology and Hispanidad had led to over 2,500 volunteers for the Republican International Brigades and perhaps a couple of hundred for the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. Both sides also conscripted Latin Americans already resident. In the Nationalist case they conscripted twice as many Argentines as they got volunteers from the whole of Latin America.

National minorities also could contribute to their "mother country's" war efforts overseas. The Italians raised over a thousand volunteers for their campaign in Ethiopia from the Italian populations of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. The British and Canadians recruited about 1,000 airmen and women from expatriate communities in Latin America, about 65% of them from Argentina. The Free French also recruited among their expatriate communities.

However, Hispanic and Luso Latin Americans had no vested interest in WWII. Of the 25,000 Brazilians who eventually served in Italy, less than a thousand were war volunteers and there was reportedly little enthusiasm for the proposed 2nd and 3rd Divisions even among regular officers. Brazil was interested in becoming the major player in South America and saw active participation in WWII as a means of getting one over on its only real rival for that spot - Argentina.

Argentina pursued a resolutely neutralist line until 1945, at which point it declared token war on Germany in order not to be left out of the new United Nations. It was never going to be a participant in a US-led hemispheric war effort.

Mexico was constitutionally bound not to send troops aboard, which severely limited its options.

There was really no interest or advantage to any other Latin American nations sending even token army forces of volunteers in their national names. The US didn't want them anyway. Self motivated volunteers could make their own way - I know of Mexican and Colombian pilots in the RCAF and RAF.

Raising a small Latin American volunteer unit was probably technically feasible. However, it could have no guaranteed flow of replacements and the political downside of heavy casualties might prove counterproductive. The British sent the 1st Battalion of the Caribbean Regiment to Italy, but didn't use it in combat for some of these same reasons.

Basically, the Hispanic and Luso Latin Americans weren't needed and didn't much want to go anyway. WWII was an overseas fight in which they didn't really have a dog! Even Canada had a problem convincing its French speakers to enlist for overseas service.

Cheers,

Sid.
Understood; I was looking more at the "potential" numbers than the politics. The British Caribbean-raised WW II units, however, are an interesting contrast, given the difference between the WW II mobilization there versus what the same population was drawn upon to field in WW I.

Fascinating, really.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by Sid Guttridge » 06 Apr 2021 09:35

Hi daveshoup2MD,

I have just lost a long reply due to the AHF site timing out on me!

To summarise: The British West Indies contributed at least as much in WWII as in WWI. It was just more diverse, more defensive and less easily quantifiable. At least 16,000 men served in British uniform in all three services, at least half overseas. This does not include a couple of thousand merchant seamen, or the tens of thousands building US bases in the Caribbean, or the 40,000 who went to do war work in the USA.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 07 Apr 2021 02:21

Sid Guttridge wrote:
06 Apr 2021 09:35
Hi daveshoup2MD,

I have just lost a long reply due to the AHF site timing out on me!

To summarise: The British West Indies contributed at least as much in WWII as in WWI. It was just more diverse, more defensive and less easily quantifiable. At least 16,000 men served in British uniform in all three services, at least half overseas. This does not include a couple of thousand merchant seamen, or the tens of thousands building US bases in the Caribbean, or the 40,000 who went to do war work in the USA.

Cheers,

Sid.
Well, okay, but the point is - not as infantry.

By my count, between the two infantry regiments the British recruited from the BWI during WW I, there were 14 numbered battalions; many of which left the Caribbean and served in the eastern hemisphere, including seeing combat in Africa and SW Asia. Pretty significant difference from one battalion of infantry in WW II.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by Sid Guttridge » 07 Apr 2021 03:27

Hi daveshoup2MD,

That was rather my point. In WWI the West Indian contribution was one dimensional - it was the British West India Regiment only. It suffered 185 combat deaths.

In WWII West Indians served in a much wider variety of roles in all three services and suffered 236 dead.

Most of the British West India Regiment battalions in WWI seem to have served as labourers, a bit like the British Honduran forestry unit or the labours on US bases in WWII.

The big difference was in non-combat deaths, of which there were four or five times as many in WWI as in WWII.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 07 Apr 2021 05:01

Sid Guttridge wrote:
07 Apr 2021 03:27
Hi daveshoup2MD,

That was rather my point. In WWI the West Indian contribution was one dimensional - it was the British West India Regiment only. It suffered 185 combat deaths.

In WWII West Indians served in a much wider variety of roles in all three services and suffered 236 dead.

Most of the British West India Regiment battalions in WWI seem to have served as labourers, a bit like the British Honduran forestry unit or the labours on US bases in WWII.

The big difference was in non-combat deaths, of which there were four or five times as many in WWI as in WWII.

Cheers,

Sid.
Nope, two regiments - the pre-war regular West India Regiment (1st and 2nd battalions) and the wartime British West India Regiment (1st-12th battalions, I believe). Still amounts to 16,000 or more officers and men in uniform and (mostly) deployed across the Atlantic in 1914-18, as opposed to one battalion, perhaps 1,000 officers and men, deployed across the Atlantic in 1943-45.

Pretty large differential, actually. About 14-1...

The equivalent in manpower would have kept the British 1st Armoured and 50th and 59th infantry divisions in the Allied order of battle in 1944-45, presumably. Given the British took ~9,000 physically fit British men, 18+, out of the conscripted manpower in 1944-45 to work in the coal mines, seems like they could have found useful work for as many West Indians in the UK, and would not have had to short the 21st Army Group's replacement pool by as many.

The Canadian and Newfoundland forestry units are obvious analogues; military or paramilitary organizations, recruited in the Western Hemisphere, and deployed to the UK for labor duties. A "West Indian Mining Unit" instead of the Bevin's Boys would have made better use of scarce manpower.
Last edited by daveshoup2MD on 07 Apr 2021 22:21, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by Sid Guttridge » 07 Apr 2021 14:21

Hi daveshoup2MD,

We are talking at cross purposes. You are talking narrowly about men overseas in khaki uniform. I am talking about the war effort of the British West Indies.

In WWI some 14 battalions of West Indians were raised. Of these, only four saw combat on secondary fronts in Africa and the Middle East. The rest were effectively used like the Labour Corps. Their total battle casualties were apparently 185 dead and 697 wounded. For comparison, the 800 men of the only battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment lost 732 casualties on the first day of the Somme alone.

In WWI the Caribbean was not a theatre of operations. In WWII it was.

The British withdrew their one regular battalion at the outbreak of war. (There is an anecdote about the officers being given a tour of Washington D.C. on the way back to the UK. When asked if this was their first visit, one subaltern is meant to have replied, "No. Last time we were here we burnt it down". The regiment was last there in the War of 1812.)

All regular West Indian army units were disbanded in the 1920s, so they had to be rebuilt from scratch in 1939. They were formed into two mixed brigades with seven infantry battalions, half a dozen coastal artillery batteries, a field artillery battery, an engineer unit, signals and the usual range of ancillary services. They totalled around 7,000 men. They were performing duties that might otherwise have had to be done by British (as in the Falklands) or Canadian (as in Jamaica) battalions. This does not include the Home Guard in each colony. They may not have gone overseas, but (except for one territorial infantry battalion in Trinidad) they were standing units in an operational area.

Once the U-boat threat was defeated in the first half of 1943 defensive demands eased, so volunteers were called for from the existing units to form the new Caribbean Regiment for expeditionary service. The first battalion was formed over the winter of 1943-44 and was sent overseas with 1,200 men. They were in addition to the 7,000 men in the existing units because more men were recruited to replace them. A second battalion was planned, but never formed.

British Honduras sent about 850 foresters to the UK over 1941-44. They were civilians but were issued uniforms and lived on barracks. They were skilled men and were at least equivalent to the Pioneers Corps. Their service was not much different from, and more skilled than, that of over two-thirds of the BWIR battalions in WWI.

In WWI there were no West Indian naval units. In WWII there was the Trinidad Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, which, despite its title, actually recruited across the Caribbean. It had 1,300 men manning a couple of dozen vessels and, because of the U-boat threat, had a very active war. From 1942-45 it was the largest naval force in the Commonwealth outside the Dominions. In the latter year its minesweeping flotilla of whalers was on its way to the Far East to take part in the invasion of Malaya, but was recalled from South Africa when Japan surrendered.

Nor was there any West Indian contribution to the RFC or RNAS in WWI. In WWII some 300-400 West Indians served as aircrew. In 1944 the RAF decided to recruit technicians in the Caribbean and by the end of the war there were some 7,000 West Indians in RAF uniform in the UK. It was largely them returning to work in the UK in the late 1940s on the ex-troopship Empire Windrush who gave rise to the term "Windrush Generation" (which in my opinion should properly only be applied to these ex-servicemen). The Empire Windrush was herself an ex-German vessel captured in the Caribbean by the Royal Navy early in the war.

This does not include the Fourth Service, the Merchant Navy. At least a couple of thousand West Indians served as sailors aboard British ships. It is almost unknown that most of the first ten or so Liberty ships built in the USA were initially largely crewed by West Indian sailors because they were already available in the Western Hemisphere.

Nor does this include the tens of thousands of West Indians who built US bases acquired in the Destroyers-for-Bases deal with the USA. 80%-90% of the labour used was West Indian. So many thousands of others went to build military installations on the Panama Canal Zone that the government there became suspicious that they were part of a surreptitious English-speaking colonization effort and asked for them to be withdrawn. 40,000 West Indians worked in the USA, replacing US men called up to the services. Their good wages severely limited the number of men who could be recruited for military service in the British West Indies.

I think focusing on just those wearing khaki overseas under appreciates the war effort of the West Indies in WWII. In WWI the West Indian contribution was very one dimensional. In WWII it was much more varied and skilled. The number of men on active service in uniform was at least as large and the large numbers of West Indians used as labour in the Caribbean and USA in WWII had no direct equivalent in WWI.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 07 Apr 2021 22:29

Sid Guttridge wrote:
07 Apr 2021 14:21
Hi daveshoup2MD,

We are talking at cross purposes. You are talking narrowly about men overseas in khaki uniform. I am talking about the war effort of the British West Indies.

In WWI some 14 battalions of West Indians were raised. Of these, only four saw combat on secondary fronts in Africa and the Middle East. The rest were effectively used like the Labour Corps. Their total battle casualties were apparently 185 dead and 697 wounded. For comparison, the 800 men of the only battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment lost 732 casualties on the first day of the Somme alone.

In WWI the Caribbean was not a theatre of operations. In WWII it was.

The British withdrew their one regular battalion at the outbreak of war. (There is an anecdote about the officers being given a tour of Washington D.C. on the way back to the UK. When asked if this was their first visit, one subaltern is meant to have replied, "No. Last time we were here we burnt it down". The regiment was last there in the War of 1812.)

All regular West Indian army units were disbanded in the 1920s, so they had to be rebuilt from scratch in 1939. They were formed into two mixed brigades with seven infantry battalions, half a dozen coastal artillery batteries, a field artillery battery, an engineer unit, signals and the usual range of ancillary services. They totalled around 7,000 men. They were performing duties that might otherwise have had to be done by British (as in the Falklands) or Canadian (as in Jamaica) battalions. This does not include the Home Guard in each colony. They may not have gone overseas, but (except for one territorial infantry battalion in Trinidad) they were standing units in an operational area.

Once the U-boat threat was defeated in the first half of 1943 defensive demands eased, so volunteers were called for from the existing units to form the new Caribbean Regiment for expeditionary service. The first battalion was formed over the winter of 1943-44 and was sent overseas with 1,200 men. They were in addition to the 7,000 men in the existing units because more men were recruited to replace them. A second battalion was planned, but never formed.

British Honduras sent about 850 foresters to the UK over 1941-44. They were civilians but were issued uniforms and lived on barracks. They were skilled men and were at least equivalent to the Pioneers Corps. Their service was not much different from, and more skilled than, that of over two-thirds of the BWIR battalions in WWI.

In WWI there were no West Indian naval units. In WWII there was the Trinidad Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, which, despite its title, actually recruited across the Caribbean. It had 1,300 men manning a couple of dozen vessels and, because of the U-boat threat, had a very active war. From 1942-45 it was the largest naval force in the Commonwealth outside the Dominions. In the latter year its minesweeping flotilla of whalers was on its way to the Far East to take part in the invasion of Malaya, but was recalled from South Africa when Japan surrendered.

Nor was there any West Indian contribution to the RFC or RNAS in WWI. In WWII some 300-400 West Indians served as aircrew. In 1944 the RAF decided to recruit technicians in the Caribbean and by the end of the war there were some 7,000 West Indians in RAF uniform in the UK. It was largely them returning to work in the UK in the late 1940s on the ex-troopship Empire Windrush who gave rise to the term "Windrush Generation" (which in my opinion should properly only be applied to these ex-servicemen). The Empire Windrush was herself an ex-German vessel captured in the Caribbean by the Royal Navy early in the war.

This does not include the Fourth Service, the Merchant Navy. At least a couple of thousand West Indians served as sailors aboard British ships. It is almost unknown that most of the first ten or so Liberty ships built in the USA were initially largely crewed by West Indian sailors because they were already available in the Western Hemisphere.

Nor does this include the tens of thousands of West Indians who built US bases acquired in the Destroyers-for-Bases deal with the USA. 80%-90% of the labour used was West Indian. So many thousands of others went to build military installations on the Panama Canal Zone that the government there became suspicious that they were part of a surreptitious English-speaking colonization effort and asked for them to be withdrawn. 40,000 West Indians worked in the USA, replacing US men called up to the services. Their good wages severely limited the number of men who could be recruited for military service in the British West Indies.

I think focusing on just those wearing khaki overseas under appreciates the war effort of the West Indies in WWII. In WWI the West Indian contribution was very one dimensional. In WWII it was much more varied and skilled. The number of men on active service in uniform was at least as large and the large numbers of West Indians used as labour in the Caribbean and USA in WWII had no direct equivalent in WWI.

Cheers,

Sid.
All the combatants mobilized manpower for the aviation and naval/merchant marines at a larger percentage in WW II than in WW I; there's a reason the British elements of the BEF had the equivalent of four field armies in 1914-18 and (maybe) two equivalents in 1939-45 (in the ETO).

The drop from 14 battalions, even if 10 were deployed as labor troops, to one (or perhaps two) is quite remarkable.

And again, once the KM withdrew from the Caribbean, seems like a more useful role for the now available West Indian manpower could have been found in the ETO, presumably as non-combatant labor forces who could have replaced the British conscripts who went into the mines in 1944-45; those same conscripts could have gone to the field forces, and helped keep the 1st Armoured and 50th and 59th infantry divisions in the field.

Sid Guttridge
Member
Posts: 8906
Joined: 12 Jun 2008 11:19

Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by Sid Guttridge » 08 Apr 2021 10:45

Hi daveshoup2MD

You post, "The drop from 14 battalions, even if 10 were deployed as labor troops, to one (or perhaps two) is quite remarkable". However, not, I would suggest, so remarkable if one considers all the other obligations the British West Indies undertook in WWII that they didn't have in WWI.

You post, ".....once the KM withdrew from the Caribbean, seems like a more useful role for the now available West Indian manpower could have been found in the ETO, presumably as non-combatant labor forces who could have replaced the British conscripts who went into the mines in 1944-45; those same conscripts could have gone to the field forces, and helped keep the 1st Armoured and 50th and 59th infantry divisions in the field."

The British Empire wasn't monolithic. Its manpower was not interchangeable, or at London's dictatorial beck and call. Britain wasn't able, for instance, even to introduce conscription in Northern Ireland. The colonies, like the British West Indies, were also not subject to conscription. During the Great Depression there was unrest throughout the West Indies and a British Government Commission in the late 1930s had recommended self government. The outbreak of war interrupted this but, if I remember correctly, Jamaica got self government in 1944. Thus there were political constraints not present in WWI.

So only volunteers were available. However, this meant, as I mention above, that from late 1940 all British recruitment was in competition with better paid and more convenient American jobs on the US bases round the Caribbean and, later, jobs in the USA. Given that these jobs were similar to any non-combat work likely to be performed in the ETO, the net loss to the Allied war effort was nil. Indeed, as there was less travel time and shipping involved and fewer climatic problems, it was probably advantageous to keep them in the Americas.

Any Army expeditionary element had to use volunteers from the existing defence forces. As these amounted to some 7,000 men, the available pool, having been non-existent in 1939, was still small by 1944.

The skilled, volunteer British Honduran Forestry Unit was not directly equatable with the unskilled, conscripted Bevin Boys. The British Hondurans were all experienced loggers already. Furthermore, their experience was not altogether a happy one. Some from the first contingent of 500 had their their ship torpedoed en route. When they arrived they found the climate extremely cold. As a result the second contingent did not recruit its full 500 and no more followed. The BHFU was dissolved at the end of 1943. Most went home and many quickly enlisted on US bases in Panama or the USA.

There were almost no miners in the British West Indies at the time so it was completely outside local tradition. Besides, even if there had been, they would quite likely have been better used in their existing work.

In fact, as detailed above, West Indian manpower was found for service in the ETO after the U-boat threat was contained. 7,000 West Indian volunteers were in the UK in RAF uniform by the end of the war. Indeed, the larger vessels of the TRNVR were on their way to the Far East. They just weren't wearing khaki.

In all this, we have skirted round the racial and associated propaganda issues. The British were reluctant to use black troops against white enemies on the continent of Europe (something that infuriated the Germans about the French). They deliberately liberated the city of San Marino with a British regiment even though Indian troops were better positioned to do so. They used British troops debilitated by several years in the siege of Malta in the Aegean in late 1943 because the Greeks didn't want their territory first liberated by fresh, non-European, Indian troops who were already in Cyprus.

The BHFU found its reception in the UK decidedly mixed. In Bermuda white Bermudans were sent to a British regiment for service in north-west Europe, whereas black Bermudans were sent to the Caribbean Regiment. One reason why the Caribbean Regiment wasn't used in combat in Italy was because it was technically a British unit serving on the same conditions as white British units and would have to be brigaded in a white British division. Some Britons thought this might be awkward, so this contributed to it being sent to Egypt, releasing an Indian battalion for an Indian division in Italy. However, as a British unit, it was considered a cut above the African units also in Egypt, so it wasn't brigaded with them, either. British racial assumptions of the times produced all sorts of convolutions.

It may seem surprising now, but British trades unions were also a problem at the time. They didn't object to the occasional black seaman among the crews, but they were very much opposed to entire crews of black seamen. This was not simply to protect British jobs but also due to some crude racism amongst some British seamen. (I will spare the details here, but they are freely available in the National Archives at Kew).

British manpower problems were to a great degree the consequence of their own differential decision making. It beggars belief that, after four years preparing for the reinvasion of France, they had so run out of trained infantry reserves after just six weeks of combat that they had to begin dissolving some divisions to give others replacements. They fought in north-west Europe in 1944-45 with a similar number of divisions to those they had had there in 1940!

The decision seems to have been made to shore up the impression of Britain as a worldwide superpower by committing everywhere else at the expense of creating a large and sustainable army for the reinvasion of north-west Europe - something that could only be attempted with the USA anyway. Britain was able to pretend to be one of the Big Three up until the day of the D-Day landings, when all three service commanders were Britons, most of the aircraft and ships and half the troops landed were British or Canadian. However, from D+1 the reconquest of north-west Europe became increasingly a US show.

Cheers,

Sid.

daveshoup2MD
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Joined: 01 Feb 2020 18:10
Location: Coral and brass

Re: Latin American expeditionary forces, 1941-45

Post by daveshoup2MD » 09 Apr 2021 04:30

Sid Guttridge wrote:
08 Apr 2021 10:45
Hi daveshoup2MD

You post, "The drop from 14 battalions, even if 10 were deployed as labor troops, to one (or perhaps two) is quite remarkable". However, not, I would suggest, so remarkable if one considers all the other obligations the British West Indies undertook in WWII that they didn't have in WWI.

You post, ".....once the KM withdrew from the Caribbean, seems like a more useful role for the now available West Indian manpower could have been found in the ETO, presumably as non-combatant labor forces who could have replaced the British conscripts who went into the mines in 1944-45; those same conscripts could have gone to the field forces, and helped keep the 1st Armoured and 50th and 59th infantry divisions in the field."

The British Empire wasn't monolithic. Its manpower was not interchangeable, or at London's dictatorial beck and call. Britain wasn't able, for instance, even to introduce conscription in Northern Ireland. The colonies, like the British West Indies, were also not subject to conscription. During the Great Depression there was unrest throughout the West Indies and a British Government Commission in the late 1930s had recommended self government. The outbreak of war interrupted this but, if I remember correctly, Jamaica got self government in 1944. Thus there were political constraints not present in WWI.

So only volunteers were available. However, this meant, as I mention above, that from late 1940 all British recruitment was in competition with better paid and more convenient American jobs on the US bases round the Caribbean and, later, jobs in the USA. Given that these jobs were similar to any non-combat work likely to be performed in the ETO, the net loss to the Allied war effort was nil. Indeed, as there was less travel time and shipping involved and fewer climatic problems, it was probably advantageous to keep them in the Americas.

Any Army expeditionary element had to use volunteers from the existing defence forces. As these amounted to some 7,000 men, the available pool, having been non-existent in 1939, was still small by 1944.

The skilled, volunteer British Honduran Forestry Unit was not directly equatable with the unskilled, conscripted Bevin Boys. The British Hondurans were all experienced loggers already. Furthermore, their experience was not altogether a happy one. Some from the first contingent of 500 had their their ship torpedoed en route. When they arrived they found the climate extremely cold. As a result the second contingent did not recruit its full 500 and no more followed. The BHFU was dissolved at the end of 1943. Most went home and many quickly enlisted on US bases in Panama or the USA.

There were almost no miners in the British West Indies at the time so it was completely outside local tradition. Besides, even if there had been, they would quite likely have been better used in their existing work.

In fact, as detailed above, West Indian manpower was found for service in the ETO after the U-boat threat was contained. 7,000 West Indian volunteers were in the UK in RAF uniform by the end of the war. Indeed, the larger vessels of the TRNVR were on their way to the Far East. They just weren't wearing khaki.

In all this, we have skirted round the racial and associated propaganda issues. The British were reluctant to use black troops against white enemies on the continent of Europe (something that infuriated the Germans about the French). They deliberately liberated the city of San Marino with a British regiment even though Indian troops were better positioned to do so. They used British troops debilitated by several years in the siege of Malta in the Aegean in late 1943 because the Greeks didn't want their territory first liberated by fresh, non-European, Indian troops who were already in Cyprus.

The BHFU found its reception in the UK decidedly mixed. In Bermuda white Bermudans were sent to a British regiment for service in north-west Europe, whereas black Bermudans were sent to the Caribbean Regiment. One reason why the Caribbean Regiment wasn't used in combat in Italy was because it was technically a British unit serving on the same conditions as white British units and would have to be brigaded in a white British division. Some Britons thought this might be awkward, so this contributed to it being sent to Egypt, releasing an Indian battalion for an Indian division in Italy. However, as a British unit, it was considered a cut above the African units also in Egypt, so it wasn't brigaded with them, either. British racial assumptions of the times produced all sorts of convolutions.

It may seem surprising now, but British trades unions were also a problem at the time. They didn't object to the occasional black seaman among the crews, but they were very much opposed to entire crews of black seamen. This was not simply to protect British jobs but also due to some crude racism amongst some British seamen. (I will spare the details here, but they are freely available in the National Archives at Kew).

British manpower problems were to a great degree the consequence of their own differential decision making. It beggars belief that, after four years preparing for the reinvasion of France, they had so run out of trained infantry reserves after just six weeks of combat that they had to begin dissolving some divisions to give others replacements. They fought in north-west Europe in 1944-45 with a similar number of divisions to those they had had there in 1940!

The decision seems to have been made to shore up the impression of Britain as a worldwide superpower by committing everywhere else at the expense of creating a large and sustainable army for the reinvasion of north-west Europe - something that could only be attempted with the USA anyway. Britain was able to pretend to be one of the Big Three up until the day of the D-Day landings, when all three service commanders were Britons, most of the aircraft and ships and half the troops landed were British or Canadian. However, from D+1 the reconquest of north-west Europe became increasingly a US show.

Cheers,

Sid.
Appreciate the post; I think we understand much the same and agree, generally. My interest in these issues is simply that of how different Allied powers approached mobilization, both within the "metropole" and the (various) peripheries.

And the back and forth on the BWI is an example of that, of course, but doesn't really address the potential availability of Latin American expeditionary forces, if organized on the same basis of deployments drawn from available manpower as the Brazilian historical example.

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