Mexico's Involvement in World War II
Was Mexico an Allied Nation during WWII?
When people comment or read about the Allies in World War II, they generally referr to Britain, the US, Canada, Holland, Belgium, and possibly Russia. Mentioning Britain usually conjures images of the “Battle of Britain,” and the US is immediately associated with “Pearl Harbor." Very few will remember (if they ever knew!) that two Latin American countries had active armed forces during this worldwide conflagration: Mexico and Brazil, both of which joined the Allied forces during 1942. This article discusses Mexico's participation.
Why Mexico Joined the War Effort
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the immediate entry of the United States as an active belligerent in WWII produced multiple repercussions in the Western Hemisphere. Prior to that, it had been relatively free from the effects of the War.
As a result, a Conference of Foreign Ministers of countries in the Western Hemisphere convened and took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 15-18, 1942. The participants unanimously agreed to break off diplomatic relations with Germany, Italy, and Japan.
A participant of the Conference, Mexico broke off relations and proceeded to strengthen her bonds with the US, a complex issue—relations between these two North American countries had not always been felicitous.
The agreements of the Rio Conference also determined that preference be given to the Allies in regards to the commercialization of strategic raw materials. Some statistics state that Mexico contributed as much as 40% of these raw materials to US war industries.
German U-boats Attacked Mexican Tankers
Mexican tankers intensified their runs between Tampico, the home port for Pemex (Petroleos Mexicanos), and various locations on the US east coast. These tankers normally traveled unescorted, as the Allied war effort at that time was concentrating on providing escorts for the North Atlantic convoys.
In what has been considered a misguided action on the part of German U-boats prowling in the area, two tankers flying under the flag of Mexico—then a neutral country—were attacked and sunk in May 1942.
SS Potrero del Llano was sailing from Tampico to New York with 6,132 tons of petroleum when she was sunk by U-564 on the 14th of May, while SS Faja de Oro was sailing in ballast from Pennsylvania back to Tampico when she was sighted and sunk by U-106 on the 21st of May.
These two events resulted in Mexico’s declaration of war on Germany, Italy, and Japan in the first days of June 1942, following Congressional approval.
Noteworthy Results of Mexico's Participation in WWII
- Many Mexicans volunteered and joined the US armed forces, acquitting themselves well in different battlefields. These participants numbered in the thousands; some estimates go as high as 400,000.
- Mexican troops fought valiantly in Europe and in the Pacific, and they have the medals to attest their valor. These medals include numerous Congressional Medals of Honor.
- Many of these volunteers acquired US citizenship at the end of the war, although some of them did not stay in the US in spite of this gesture.
- Counterintelligence information was freely shared by officials from the US and Mexico.
- As a result, the spy rings that had been working from Mexico with the intent of sabotaging vital US installations were rounded up and put in prison.
- There was more control over the ports that faced the Gulf of Mexico, thus liberating US support to concentrate on other geographical areas.
- The US war effort was reinforced by the contribution of thousands of Mexican agricultural workers called braceros, thus freeing indispensable American men and women from these tasks.
- Mexican braceros were fundamental in providing food for the general population of the US.
- The most significant contribution was the arming and training of Flight Squadron 201.
Escuadron 201, Also Known as the Aztec Eagles
Some time would pass before this squadron could participate more actively, due to Mexico's initial lack of development in equipment and trained fighters.
After the initial preparation period, the squadron left Mexico for final training in the US in July 1944, with a total of 300 volunteers, 30 of which were pilots and the rest were ground crews. Their training included communications, armament, combat air tactics, formation flying, and gunnery.
The men graduated from training in February 1945 and embarked for the Philippines in March, arriving in Manila at the end of April. They were then attached to US 58th Fighter Group based at Luzon.
Combat Operations of the Aztec Eagles
The squadron flew over 90 combat missions, totaling more than 1,800 hours of flight time, principally over Luzon and Formosa (present-day Taiwan).
Their most important achievement was their participation in the last phases of the Battle of Luzon, providing air support to the US and Philippine Infantry. They also flew fighter missions and performed a dive-bombing attack over Formosa. The bombing occurred at the port of Karenko in August 1945.
The Aztec Eagles were later commended by General Douglas MacArthur.
How Important Was Mexico's Contribution?
History writers have placed great value on the participation of Mexico and on both Mexican and Mexican-American contributions to the final Allied victory in WWII.
Without the participation of Mexico, the US would have had many more difficulties to deal with: more coastline to guard against the destruction of ships carrying Allied cargoes, less harvesting of food for American citizens, more difficulties obtaining necessary raw materials for wartime industries, and so on.
Who Were the Soldiers?
It is unfortunate that Mexico’s significant contributions to the WWII effort are often ignored. There are numerous stories of heroism from interviews of combat survivors to be found on the web. The following is just a sample:
- Carlos Faustino, pilot from Esquadron 201, received commendation
- Louie Dominguez, a Mexican-American who, at the age of 18, died fighting against German troops in the last weeks of the war. He posthumously received six medals, including the bronze star, the Purple Heart, and the combat infantry badge
- Silvestre Herrera, European battlegrounds, recipient of the Medal of Honor
- José Valdes, US Army, recipient of the Medal of Honor
- Joe Martinez, US Army, recipient of the Medal of Honor
- Alejandro Renteria, US Army, recipient of the Medal of Honor.
- Agustin Ramos Calero, Sgt.1st class, fought in France after D-Day, awarded the Silver Star Medal
It is sad that this contribution is hardly ever recognized as such; in fact, it is mostly unknown to the public. As a Chilean national and fellow Latin American, I would hope that something could be done to remedy this omission.
© 2012 Joan Veronica Robertson