Argentina during World War II
|Argentina during World War II|
A newspaper announcing Argentina's severing of diplomatic relations with the Axis powers on 26 January 1944.
|Events||Battle of the River Plate|
– 13 December 1939
Operation Bolivar begins
– May 1940
Revolution of '43
– 4 June 1943
– 4 November 1943
Severing of relations
– 26 January 1944
Declaration of war
– 27 March 1945
– 10 July 1945
The history of Argentina during World War II is a complex period of time beginning in 1939, following the outbreak of war in Europe, and ending in 1945 with the surrender of Japan. German and Italian influence in Argentina was strong mainly due to the presence of numerous immigrants from both countries, and Argentina's traditional rivalry with Great Britain furthered the belief that the Argentine government was sympathetic to the German cause. Because of the close ties between Germany and Argentina, the latter stayed neutral for most of World War II, despite internal disputes and pressure from the United States to join the Allies. However, Argentina eventually gave in to the Allies' pressure, broke relations with the Axis powers on January 26, 1944, and declared war on March 27, 1945.
At the beginning of World War Two, in 1939, Roberto María Ortiz was the president of Argentina. The country was in a period of political conservatism and economic crisis known as the Infamous Decade. The Concordancia was accused of electoral fraud and corruption. The Radical Civic Union was divided between FORJA, a line supporting the deposed radical president Hipólito Yrigoyen, and the official leadership of Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, close to the Concordancia. The Socialist Party and the Progressist Democracy were conservative as well. The Communist Party was initially close to the trade unions but gave priority to advancing the interests of the Soviet Union.
The Argentine army was highly Germanophile, an influence that predated both world wars, having been steadily growing since 1904. It did not involve a rejection of democracy but rather an admiration of German military history, which combined with an intense Argentine nationalism influenced the main stance of the army towards the war: maintaining neutrality. The arguments in favor ranged from Argentine military tradition (as the country had been neutral during both World War I and the War of the Pacific), to Anglophobia, and to a rejection of foreign attempts to coerce Argentina into joining a war perceived as a conflict between foreign countries with no Argentine interests at stake. Only a handful of military leaders were actually supporters of Adolf Hitler. The war resulted in a small boost to the Argentine economy, as imports from Britain was reduced. Thus began a process of import substitution industrialization, which had some antecedents during the Great Depression. This led to a process of internal migration as well, with people living in the countryside or in small villages moving to urban centers.
Reactions and stances towards the war became more complex as the conflict developed. The main political parties, newspapers and intellectuals supported the Allies, yet Vice-President Ramón Castillo maintained neutrality. Ortiz, who was ill of diabetes, was unable to serve as president, but did not resign. The position of Argentina vis-à-vis the war generated disputes between them, with Castillo prevailing. The FORJA supported neutrality and saw it as an opportunity to get rid of what it considered British meddling with the Argentine economy. Some Trotskyists promoted the fight against the Third Reich as an early step of an international class struggle. The army and some nationalists supported industrialization and promoted neutrality as a way to oppose the United Kingdom. Plans were made to invade the British-held Falkland Islands, but were never put into operation. On the other hand, the newspaper El Pampero, financed by the German embassy, supported Hitler.
There is a number of interpretations of Castillo's reasons for staying neutral. One such perspective focuses on the Argentine tradition of neutrality. Others see Castillo as a nationalist, not being influenced by the power structure in Buenos Aires (since he was from Catamarca), so, with the support of the army, he could simply defy the pressure to join the Allies. A similar interpretation considers instead that Castillo simply had no power to go against the wishes of the army, and if he declared war he would be deposed in a military coup. A third point of view considers that the United States was the sole promoter of Argentina's entry into the war, whereas the United Kingdom benefited from Argentine neutrality as it was a major supplier of livestock. This, however, fails to acknowledge the constant requests to declare war from Anglophile factions. Most likely, it was a combination of the desires of the British diplomacy and the Argentine army, which prevailed over the pro-war factions.
Socialist deputy Enrique Dickmann created a commission in the National Congress to investigate a rumored German attempt to seize Patagonia and then conquer the rest of the country. The conservative deputy Videla Dorna claimed that the real risk was a similar Communist invasion, and FORJA believed that a German invasion was only a potential risk, whereas British dominance of the Argentine economy was a reality.
A diplomatic mission by the British Lord Willingdon arranged commercial treaties whereby Argentina sent thousands of cattle to Britain at no charge, decorated with the Argentine colours and with the phrase "good luck" written on them. Alvear, El Pampero and FORJA criticised this arrangement, and Arturo Jauretche said that there were Argentine provinces suffering from malnutrition.
- Pearl Harbor
The situation changed dramatically after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Washington's subsequent declaration of war upon Japan. The United States wanted every Latin American country to join the Allies in order to generate a continent-wide resistance. The Argentine refusal to comply motivated an embargo and blockade against Argentina. Castillo did, however, declare a state of emergency after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Castillo's term was due to end in 1944. Initially, it was arranged that Agustín Pedro Justo would run for president for a second time, but after his unexpected death in 1943 Castillo was forced to seek another candidate to propose, finally settling on Robustiano Patrón Costas. The army was neither willing to support the electoral fraud that would be necessary to secure Costas's victory, nor to continue conservative policies, nor to risk Costas breaking the neutrality. A number of generals reacted by creating a secret organization called the United Officers' Group (GOU) in order to oust Castillo from power. Future president Juan Perón was a member of this group but did not support an early coup, recommending instead to postpone the overthrowing of the government until the plotters had developed a plan to make necessary reforms. The coup was to take place close to the elections, should the electoral fraud have been confirmed, but it was instead carried out earlier in response rumors of the possible sacking of the minister of war, Pedro Pablo Ramírez.
It is unknown whether Costas would have maintained neutrality or not. Some weak declarations of support to Britain and his ties with pro-allied factions may suggest instead that had he become president he would have declared war.
The military coup that deposed Castillo took place on 4 June 1943. It is considered the end of the Infamous Decade and the starting point of the Revolution of '43. Arturo Rawson took power as de facto president. The nature of the coup was confusing during its first days: German embassy officials burned their documentation fearing a pro-Allied coup, while the United States embassy considered it a pro-Axis coup.
Rawson met with a delegate from the British embassy on 5 June and promised that he would break relations with the Axis powers and declare war within 72 hours. This turn of events enraged the GOU,[clarification needed] as did Rawson's choices for his cabinet. A new coup took place, replacing Rawson with Pedro Pablo Ramírez. Thus, Rawson became the shortest non-interim president in Argentine history.
Revolution of 1943
The new government proceeded with both progressive and reactionary policies. Maximum prices were established for popular products, rents were reduced, the privileges of the Chadopyff factory were annulled and hospital fees were abolished. On the other hand the authorities intervened trade unions, closed the Communist newspaper La Hora and imposed religious education at schools. Juan Perón and Edelmiro Julián Farrell, hailing from the Ministry of War, fostered better relations between the state and the unions.
The Communist Party aligned itself with the diplomatic policies of the Soviet Union. As a result, it supported neutrality and opposed the British influence in Argentina during the early stages of the war, in line with the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union. The launching of Operation Barbarossa and the consequent Soviet entry in the war changed that attitude. The Communists became pro-war and halted its support for further labour strikes against British factories located in Argentina. This switch redirected workers' support from the Communist Party to Perón and the new government.
As a result, the Communist Party turned against the government, which it viewed as pro-Nazi. Perón countered Communist complaints by declaring that "The excuses they seek are very well known. They say we are 'nazis', I declare we are as far from Nazism as from any other foreign ideology. We are only Argentines and want, above all, the common good for Argentines. We do not want any more [electoral] fraud, nor more lies. We do not want that those who do not work live from those who do".
The government held diplomatic discussions with the United States, with Argentina requesting aircraft, fuel, ships and military hardware. The Argentine chancellor Segundo Storni argued that, although Argentina refrained from participating in the war, it remained closer to the Allies, sending them food, and that up to then the Axis powers had not taken action against the country to justify a declaration of war. Secretary of State Cordell Hull replied that Argentina was the only Latin American country to not have broken relations with the Axis, that Argentine food was sold at lucrative return, and that United States military hardware was intended for countries already at war, some of which were facing more severe fuel shortages than was Argentina. Storni resigned after this rejection. The United States took further measures to increase pressure on Argentina. All Argentine companies suspected of having ties with the Axis powers were blacklisted and boycotted, and the supply of newsprint was limited to pro-Allied newspapers. American exports of electronic appliances, chemical substances and oil production infrastructure were halted. The properties of forty-four Argentine companies were seized, and scheduled loans were halted. Hull wanted to weaken the Argentine government or force its resignation. Torn between diplomatic and economic pressure as opposed to an open declaration of war against Argentina, he opted for the former in order to avoid disrupting the supply of food to Britain. Nevertheless, he also saw the situation as a chance for the United States to have a greater influence over Argentina than Britain.
The United States also threatened to accuse Argentina of being involved with the coup of Gualberto Villarroel in Bolivia, and a plot to receive weapons from Germany after the allied refusal, to face the possible threat of invasion either by the United States itself or Brazil acting on their behalf. However, it would be unlikely that Germany would provide such weapons, given their fragile situation in 1944. Ramírez called a new meeting of the GOU, and it was agreed to break diplomatic relations with the Axis powers (albeit without yet a declaration of war) on 26 January 1944.
The break in relations generated unrest within the military, and Ramírez considered removing both the influential Farrell and Perón from the government. However, their faction discovered Ramírez's plan. They broke up the GOU, to avoid letting the military loyal to Ramírez know they were aware of his plot, and then initiated a coup against him. Edelmiro Julián Farrell became then the new president of Argentina on 24 February.
The United States refused to recognise Farrell as long as he maintained the neutralist policy, which was ratified by Farrell on 2 March, and the United States broke relations with Argentina two days later. Winston Churchill complained about the harsh policy of the United States against Argentina, pointing out that Argentine supplies were vital to the British war effort and that removing their diplomatic presence from the country would even force Argentina to seek Axis protection. British diplomacy sought to guarantee the supply of Argentine food by signing a treaty covering it, while US diplomatic policy sought to prevent such a treaty. Hull ordered the confiscation of Argentine goods in the United States, suspension of foreign trade with her, prohibited US ships from mooring at Argentine ports, and denounced Argentina as the "nazi headquarters in the Western hemisphere".
At this point, the Washington was considering supporting Brazil in an attack against Argentina, rather than attacking Argentina themselves. The Brazilian ambassador in Washington pointed out that Buenos Aires could be completely destroyed by the Brazilian air force. This would have allowed Argentina to be dominated without the open intervention of the United States, who would support Brazil by providing ships and bombs.
End of the war
The Liberation of Paris in August 1944 gave new hopes to the pro-Allied factions in Argentina, who saw it as an omen of the possible fall of the Argentine government and called for new elections. The demonstrations in support of Paris soon turned into protests against the government, leading to incidents with the police. It was rumored that some Argentine politicians in Uruguay would create a government in exile, but the project never came to fruition. President Franklin Roosevelt supported Hull's claims about Argentina with similar statements. He also cited Churchill when he stated that history would judge all nations for their role in the war, both belligerents and neutrals.
By early 1945, World War II was nearing its end. The Red Army had captured Warsaw and was closing in on East Prussia, and Berlin itself was under attack. Allied victory was imminent. Perón, the strong man of the Argentine government, foresaw that the Allies would dominate international politics for decades and concluded that although Argentina had successfully resisted the pressure to force it to join the war, remaining neutral until the end of the war would force the country into isolationism at best or bring about a military attack from the soon to be victorious powers.
Negotiations were eased by the departure of Hull as Secretary of State, replaced by Edward Stettinius, Jr., who demanded that Argentina hold free elections, declare of war to the Axis powers, eradicate all Nazi presence in the country and give its complete cooperation to international organizations. Perón agreed, and German organizations were curtailed, pro-Nazi manifestations were banned, and German goods were seized. The Argentine merchant navy was instructed to ignore the German blockade. These measures eased relations with the United States. When the Allies advanced into Frankfurt, Argentina finally formalized the negotiations. On 27 March, per Decree 6945, Argentina declared war on Japan and, by extension, on Germany, an ally of Japan. Then, FORJA distanced itself from the government, but Arturo Jauretche would understand the reasons a year later. Jauretche reasoned that the United States opposed Argentina because of its perceived Nazism by refusing to declare war although neutrality was based instead on Argentine interests; which were no longer at stake with a declaration of war when the country would not actually join the conflict. Jauretche admitted that Perón's pragmatism was better for the country than his own idealistic perspective of keeping a neutral stance to the end of the war.
A few days later, on 10 April, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and the other Latin American countries restored diplomatic relations with Argentina. Still, diplomatic hostility against Argentina from the United States resurfaced after the unexpected death of Roosevelt, who was succeeded by Harry S. Truman. Ambassador Spruille Braden would organize opposition to the government of Farrell and Perón.
The final Axis defeat in the European Theatre of World War II took place a month later and was greeted with demonstrations of joy in Buenos Aires. Similar demonstrations took place in August, after the surrender of Japan, bringing World War II to its final end. Farrell lifted the state of emergency declared by Castillo after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Argentines in World War II
During World War II, 4,000 Argentines served with all three British armed services, even though Argentina was officially a neutral country during the war. Over 600 Argentine volunteers served with both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, mostly in No. 164 (Argentine) squadron, whose shield bore the sun from the Flag of Argentina and the motto, "Determined We Fly (Firmes Volamos)".
Maureen Dunlop, born in Quilmes, left her Australian/English parents to join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). She recorded over 800hrs service, ferrying Spitfires, Mosquitos P-51 Mustangs, Typhoons, and bomber types including the Wellington and Lancaster to the frontline RAF stations. After being photographed exiting her Fairey Barracuda, she featured on the cover of Picture Post on September 16, 1942 and became a wartime pin-up. Dunlop returned to Argentina after the war, and continued work as a commercial pilot who also flew for and trained pilots of the Argentine Air Force. She later raised pure-blood Arab horses with her husband on their stud farm, "Milla Lauquen Stud".
Many members of the Anglo-Argentine community also volunteered in non-combat roles, or worked to raise money and supplies for British troops. In April 2005, a special remembrance service was held at the RAF church of St Clement Danes in London.
On May 9, 2015, the remains of the Argentine volunteer Group Captain Kenneth Langley Charney DFC & Bar, were repatriated and buried in the British Cemetery in Buenos Aires. Charney was born in Quilmes, Argentina, in 1920, and died in Andorra in 1982.
Before the war Argentina hosted a strong, well-organized pro-Nazi element that was controlled by the German ambassador. In the late 1940s, under Peron's leadership the government quietly allowed entry of a number of war criminals fleeing Europe after Nazi Germany's collapse. The number of Nazi fugitives that fled to Argentina surpassed 300. In May 1960, Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped in Argentina by the Israeli Mossad and brought to trial in Israel. He was executed in 1962. 
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