Fairwing Brazil

Tales of the South Atlantic

By John R. Harrison PhoM2/c-USNR








This generation of young Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt – 1941


Success in the South Atlantic depended on cooperation with the Brazilians. This photo is emblematic of the excellent relationship between FDR, Getulio Vargas, and Admiral Ingram which provided the foundation for the eventual victory of combined US- Brazilian forces in their battles with Axis power submarines, surface raiders and blockade runners.

Getulio Vargas called Jonas Ingram - “My Admiral”. By 1943, FDR had a 6 year friendship with Vargas and his foreign minister (O. Aranho) - Photo from FDR Library.


FAIRWING – BRAZIL contains a collection of photographs, most of which I, as an 18 year old enlisted photographer, or my colleagues, took during our service in Brazil with Fleet Air Wing 16, the aviation component of the U.S. Fourth Fleet which was headquartered in Recife, Brazil under the command of Admiral Jonas H. Ingram. The commentary in this book focuses primarily on events during World War II in and off the coast of the northeastern Brazilian cities of Natal, Fortaleza, Recife, Salvador/Bahia, and the southeastern city of Rio de Janeiro.

The objective of the Fourth Fleet was to dominate the strategically important Atlantic Narrows between Natal, Brazil and the Freetown – Accra portion of Africa by finding and destroying Axis Power submarines and blockade runners who were funneling essential war materials from the far-eastern Japanese empire through the South Atlantic Narrows between Brazil and Africa into Europe. An additional purpose was to halt the sinking of Brazilian and other Allied merchant ships by the Axis Power’s naval units. Because the Mediterranean Sea was hazardous for Allied shipping, control of the South Atlantic Narrows was strategically critical.

Though Recife, population about 250,000 in 1943, was where both the Fourth Fleet and Fleet Air Wing 16 were eventually headquartered; Natal, then with a population of about 50,000, which is about 200 miles north of Recife, was the earliest, largest, and most important joint U.S.-Brazilian airbase facility in Brazil. Within a few days after Pearl Harbor, both a few Army Air Force personnel and a 6 plane detachment from a U.S. Navy
squadron of PBY amphibious patrol planes arrived at Natal which already had limited air base facilities previously developed by Pan Air do Brasil, a subsidiary of Pan American Airways. These facilities were for the Pan Am Clipper, a large seaplane. Since Natal was the closest point to Africa it was the obvious place to base patrol planes (which at that time had somewhat limited range) to counteract the Axis Powers naval units.

Natal also subsequently became the southernmost point for the transit of airplanes, personnel, and war material to U.S. Allies in Europe, the Mediterranean, the China-Burma-India, and Pacific theatres of war. Accordingly the U.S. Army Air Force Ferry Command, later the Air Transport Command (ATC), made Natal the “Crossroads of the World”, starting in 1942. Many thousands of Allied armed forces personnel (as well as USO celebrity entertainers and political personages) passed through Natal and the Parnamirim Air Base after it was greatly expanded in 1942-43.

Recife, which had the requisite harbor facilities, was the main base for the surface ships of the Fourth Fleet which consisted of destroyers, cruisers, service vessels and eventually (1944-45) Jeep aircraft carriers. Ibura field at Recife also became the second largest Brazilian-US air base and was used by squadrons from both countries. Ultimately, Fairwing 16 had joint air bases all the way from Belem in the north down to Florianapolis in southernmost Brazil, with some of the bases being strictly for seaplanes.

The Brazilian Air Force and Navy and the other U.S. forces worked together in the battles with the Axis Powers naval forces. Many Brazilian personnel were also involved in the construction of the jointly controlled air bases and seaport facilities and also were employed in base operations. Fairwing 16 and its Brazilian allies, in their battles with the U-Boats, lost a lot of fine men in the South Atlantic Ocean from accurate anti-aircraft fire from surfaced submarines.
These are our stories.



John R. Harrison

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