2-493 Editorial Note on Relations with Brazil, 1941

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Editorial Note on Relations with Brazil

May-June 1941

Vichy’s May 15, 1941, collaborative agreement with Germany caused great concern among army planners for the security of northeastern Brazil. The Intelligence Division believed a German invasion of West Africa was probable. Marshall immediately sent Lieutenant Colonel Matthew B. Ridgway to Brazil to secure an agreement permitting the United States to station forces in the Natal region. Brazil rejected the proposal. (Conn and Fairchild, Framework of Hemisphere Defense, pp. 284-85.)

In response to this Atlantic crisis, President Roosevelt addressed the nation over radio on May 27. He asserted that a German occupation of any southern Atlantic islands, or Iceland or Greenland, would threaten the defense of the Western Hemisphere. Roosevelt concluded his address by proclaiming an unlimited national emergency. (The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1941 volume, ed. Samuel I. Rosenman [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950], pp. 181-95.)

The United States had not yet chosen the means to counter the German threat, however. Prior to his speech, Roosevelt had ordered the army and navy to prepare a joint plan for the occupation of the Azores. The War Plans Division disagreed with this proposal and emphasized the strategic importance of Brazil. On June 6, 1941, Roosevelt temporarily resolved the question by ordering the occupation of Iceland. (Conn and Fairchild, Framework of Hemisphere Defense, pp. 116-23.)

Although he favored the occupation of Iceland, Marshall was intent on sending troops to Brazil. Instructed by the chief of staff to prepare a memorandum for Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, Ridgway recommended that the army also send troops to other key Latin American nations. On June 7 the Joint Board modified his plan, proposing the immediate movement of troops to Brazil and the negotiation of transit rights for armed aircraft to cross Venezuelan and Colombian territory. Following Ridgway’s plan, Marshall informed Welles on June 17 that the army wanted to send a force of 9,000 men to Natal. (Ibid., pp. 285-87.)

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 547.

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