DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
Today it's time to reflect on what we've done in the past. 75 years ago, the Brazilian airmen, as part of the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), helped defeat Nazi and fascist tyrannies. Today again, we fight against a common enemy, COVID-19. There are still tyrants in the world. The bonds that have united us in the past remain in the present. The legacy of the 350th Fighter Group’s pilots cannot be forgotten. Our unity is our greatest strength for us to continue working for a free and just world. We've done it in the past, and we always do.
SENTA A PUA! (HIT `EM HARD!) is the motto of the 1st Brazilian Fighter Squadron (in substance: launch yourself at the enemy with determination, glance and will annihilate him).
In 1942, 36 Brazilian merchant ships were sunk off the Brazilian coast by Nazi’s U-Boats. Thus, the Brazilian government declared war on the axis. Working together, United States bases were built in the Brazilian coast to create an air bridge to the campaign in Africa. With the help of The U.S., Brazil created and sent to Europe the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, composed by twenty five thousand men that fought on the Italian front alongside US troops.
From mid-1942 until the end of the war, the Brazilian Air Force also patrolled the Atlantic, and sank some U-boats. What connects the Brazilian Air Force to 12th Air Force in World War II is the history of the Brazilian 1st Fighter Squadron, which saw action in Italy. The unit was formed on December 18, 1943. It had 350 men, including 43 pilots. They initially trained for combat in Panama, flying the P-40, where they flew air defense missions over the Panama Canal Zone.
In June 1944 they converted to the P-47D Thunderbolt, in order to prepare them for deployment to Europe to support the Brazilian soldiers that were already arriving in the combat zone. Brazilian Squadron left for Italy September 19, 1944, arriving at Livorno on October 6. It became the fourth squadron of the 350th Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces, which in turn was part of the 12th Air Force. The Brazilian pilots initially flew as individual elements or flights attached to 350th Fighter Group squadrons. After a series of buddy flights they progressed to taking part in more dangerous missions. On November 11th, the Brazilian squadron started its own operations flying from its base at Tarquinia, Italy, using its tactical call sign Jambock. Brazilian Air Force stars replaced the white U.S. star in the roundel of the 1st Brazilian Fighter Squadron Thunderbolts. The Jambocks started their fighting campaign as fighter-bombers, performing armed reconnaissance and interdiction, in support of the US Fifth Army, to which the Brazilian Expeditionary Force was attached.
The U.S. Fifth Army started its huge offensive along the Po Valley April 16th, 1945, which opened the way to victory in Italy.
The Brazilian formation flights took off at 5-minute intervals April 22, starting at 8:30 AM, to destroy bridges, barges, and motorized vehicles in the San Benedetto region. At 10:00 AM, a flight took off for an armed reconnaissance mission south of Mantua. They destroyed more than 80 tanks, trucks, and vehicles. By the end of the day, the Brazilians had flown 44 individual missions and destroyed hundreds of vehicles and barges. On this day, the squadron flew its most sorties during the war; consequently, Brazil commemorates April 22 as Brazilian Armed Forces Day. Additionally, as part of the 350th Fighter Group was a U.S. pilot by the name of 1st Lt Raymond L. Knight, the namesake of our 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) headquarters building. Lieutenant Knight was awarded the Medal of Honor for missions on April 24 and 25, during the offensive along the Po Valley. Voluntarily leading attacks through intense antiaircraft fire against enemy airdromes in northern Italy, Knight was responsible for eliminating more than 20 German planes intended for assaults on Allied forces. While attempting to return his battered plane to base following an attack on April 25th, he crashed in the Apennine Mountains. Knight was the only member of the entire 12th Air Force in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor for heroism in aerial combat. He faced the same threats and fought side by side with the Brazilian pilots of the 1st Fighter Squadron According to the official bulletin about the history of the 350th Fighter Group in the Mediterranean Campaign: “All of the men in the 350th who had the opportunity of helping the Brazilians at the start of their operations were happy as they realized these men were keen to combat the common enemy, fighting them with rare ability. Within one month, they were operating like veterans. The Brazilians had few replacements compared with our Squadrons, and yet their courage and energy did not falter. Despite the disadvantage, they never complained about fatigue nor did it affect their determination to fight with all their will until Victory Day.”
In all, the First Brazilian Fighter Squadron flew a total of 445 missions, 2,550 individual sorties, and 5,465 combat flight hours, from 11 November 1944 to 6 May 1945. The XXII Tactical Air Command, subordinated to 12th Air Force, acknowledged the efficiency of the Group by noting that although it flew only 5% of the total of missions carried out by all squadrons under its control, it accomplished a much higher percentage of the total destruction wrought: 85% of the ammunition depots; 36% of the fuel depots; 28% of the bridges (19% damaged); 15% of motor vehicles (13% damaged); and 10% of horse-drawn vehicles (10% damaged).