1° Grupo De Aviação De Caça (1st Brazilian Fighter Group)
Part One: Introduction
| | The Third Flight revving engines for the next mission. (Museu Aeroespacial, via Cap Borges)
Many nations were engaged in the Allied side during World War Two, and some effectively contributed with troops in a way or another. Those who aligned themselves with the victors made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom in the form of the lives of their sons. Speaking in terms of the Americas, only the United States, Canada, Mexico and Brazil sent troops into combat against the Axis powers, and succeeded.
Soon after the declaration of the state of belligerence between Brazil and the Axis nations, it was decided that, besides sending a whole army to fight alongside Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth North American army in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) in Italy, it would also be very important to send an aviation group. This way, on December 18, 1943, the First Brazilian Fighter Group was created (squadron-sized by USAAF standards of the time).
A Third Flight P-47D starts its diving attack (note the 'bazooka' type rockets).
As the Brazilians would fight alongside the North Americans, the standardization of the military personnel and of the war material was essential, as to maximize overall efficiency of the combat forces as a whole. The South Americans were then sent to US stateside bases to be properly retrained, as the Brazilian training methods, while good enough, were distinct from the ones adopted by the US forces.
As the Brazilians graduated, they were declared a fighting force, and named 1o Grupo de Caça (1o GAC), and were then subordinated to the 350th FG, 12th Army AF, Italy, in 1944. Our Group was the 350th FG’s fourth squadron, for all administrative and operational ends. As this FG used the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt for its missions, this was the aircraft the Brazilians adopted as well as a matter of standardization.
The 1o GAC arrived at Livorno, on Italy’s western shores, on October 6, 1944. It established its first operational base at Tarquinia and entered combat, as soon as the planes were distributed to the flights, on October 12, 1944. First flying with the more experienced USAAF pilots, the Brazilian pilots soon found themselves flying their own missions. The Group was divided into four esquadrilhas (flights): A-Red, B-Yellow, C-Blue, and D-Green, each with six planes (numbered from 1 to 6) on the roster plus two in reserve. The way the P-47s were marked denoted the flight and number (A-1...A-6, B-1...B-6, C-1...C-6, and D-1...D-6). There were two more planes, number 1 and number 2 (Operations Officer), both with no letters attached, for the 1o GAC Commander and Operations Officer, respectively.
The unit badge was a fighting ostrich (inspired in the famous figure of Ten Lima Mendes, “Limatão” for his squadron mates), and “Senta a Pua” was adopted as its motto (in English, “Let’s go to it!” more or less translated). Their radio callsign was “Jambock”, and they were soon to become famous in theater with this name.
The Brazilians set an impressive record of operations, launching its first all-Brazilian strike mission on November 11,1944.Losses were equally increasing, and personnel replacements were never at the desired pace up to the end of the war. The main enemy was the infamous Flugabwehrkannonen, or Flak, for at this point in the war the Germans were totally defensive and mainly concerned with defending their own country. Unfortunately for the eager pilotos de caça (fighter pilots), no air combat existed during the whole campaign between Brazilian and German fighters, but many German aircraft were destroyed in the ground. Indeed, even for the whole 350th FG things were pretty harsh, for between October 31, 1944 and the end of the war, the period of combat shared with the Brazilians, they scored just 18 kills, eleven of them in the same day, April 2, 1945!
The most outstanding day of operations in which the best results of the entire campaign against the Germans was obtained was April 22, 1945, and this date is officially commemorated in Brazil as the “Dia da Aviação de Caça” (Fighter Aviation Day).
The actions of the Brazilian fighter squadron were so intense in this last month of war (for the war ended in May 8) that the intelligence of the 350th FG evaluated the South Americans operations as such:
“During the period of 6 to 29 of April, 1945, the 1o GAC flew 5 % of all tactical sorties executed by the XXII Air Tactical Command and, from all the results obtained by this Command, to the Brazilians were attributed 15% of the armored vehicles destroyed, 28% of the bridges, 36% of the damaged fuel dumps, and 85% of the damaged ammunition dumps.”
A Thunderbolt blasts a locomotive out of its tracks, depleting Axis supplies.
The Brazilian outfit initiated its operations with 48 pilots and finished the war with only 23, with 5 killed by flak, 8 shot down over enemy territory, 9 taken off operations for exhaustion, and 3 dead in flight accidents.
As soon as the war ended, the Brazilians returned to their country, and passed along all the lessons the war taught them to the next generation of Brazilian fighter pilots.
In April 22, 1986, the US Congress awarded to the 1o GAC, by a proposal from President Ronald Reagan, the Presidential Unit Citation, received only by one other non-North American unit during the war. This decoration was instituted on December 7, 1941, and to be earned the unit had to demonstrate “extraordinary heroism in action against enemy forces” and “determination, heroism and ‘esprit de corps’ when accomplishing its mission, under extreme difficulties and dangerous conditions, raising itself above other units participating in the same campaign”, the nomination being done by the 350th FG commander, Col. Ariel Nielsen, during the war.
The Jambock’s tradition lasts to this day, and will be forever within the Brazilian Air Force’s very heart, to inspire future generations of Brazilian fighter pilots.