Mexico's Involvement in World War II
Mexico's Impressive Aztec Heritage
Mexico, an Allied Nation during WWII?
When people comment or read about the Allies in World War II, they are generally referring to Britain, the US, Canada, Holland, Belgium, 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 armed forces in action during this world-wide conflagration: Mexico and Brazil, both of which joined the Allied forces during 1942. This article refers to the participation of Mexico.
Mexico's Heritage, the Avenue of the Dead
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, an area as yet relatively free from the effects of the War.
As a result, a Conference of Foreign Ministers of the countries belonging to the Western Hemisphere was convened and took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 15-28 January, 1942. The participants unanimously agreed to break off diplomatic relations with Germany, Italy and Japan.
As a participant of the Conference, Mexico broke off relations and proceeded to strengthen her bonds with the US, a complex issue due to the not always felicitous relations between these two important States of the Northern Hemisphere.
The agreements of the Rio Conference also considered that preference be given to the Allies in relation to the commercialization of strategic raw materials. Some statistics state that Mexico contributed as much as 40% of these raw materials to the US war industries.
Acapulco, of International Fame
Gulf of Mexico and US Coast
U-boats Attack 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 during the month of 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 14 of May.
SS Faja de Oro was sailing in ballast from Pennsylvania back to Tampico when she was sighted and sunk by U-106 on the 21 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.
Santa Lucia Bay and Condesa Beach, Acapulco
Noteworthy Result of Mexico's Entry to WWII
- Many Mexicans volunteered and joined the US armed forces, acquitting themselves well in different battle fields. These participants can be numbered in the thousands; some estimates go as high as 400,000.
- Mexican troops fought valiantly in Europe and in the Pacific and can show the medals that 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 US vital 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 the provision of food for the general population of the US.
- The most significant contribution was the arming and training of Flight Squadron 201.
Escuadron 201, Known as the "Aztec Eagles"
Some time would pass before this Squadron could participate more actively, due to the initial lack of development of Mexico’s 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 of which 30 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.
The Aztec Eagles, ready to go!
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 a dive bombing attack over Formosa (Taiwan). The bombing attack was against the port of Karenko, in August 1945.
It is on record that the Aztec Eagles were commended by General Douglas MacArthur.
Luzon, on the northern tip of the Philippines
The Battle of Luzon, Baleta Pass
Why is This Participation Generally Overlooked?
It is unfortunate that Mexico’s significant contributions are often ignored. There are numerous stories of heroism and interviews of combat survivors to be found on the web. The following is but a sample list, there are many more:
- Silvestre Herrera, European battlegrounds, recipient of the Medal of Honor
- Carlos Faustino, pilot from Squadron 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 and posthumously received six medals, including the bronze star, the Purple Heart and the combat infantry badge
- 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 Silver Star Medal
The Cathedral of Mexico
Writers of historic articles have placed great value on the participation of Mexico and of both Mexican nationals and Mexican-Americans as a contribution to the final victorious outcome of the Allied forces in World War II.
One particular statement that provided food for thought was a projection of the difficulties that would have resulted without the participation of Mexico and her nationals: more coastline to guard against the destruction of ships carrying Allied cargoes, less harvesting of indispensable food for American citizens, more difficulties in obtaining very necessary raw materials for the wartime industries, and so on.
Teotihuacan, Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun)
It is sad that this contribution is hardly ever recognized as such; in fact it is mostly unknown to public opinion in general. As a Chilean national and fellow Latin American, I would hope that something could be done to remedy this omission.
By writing this article, I am offering my personal tribute to the Mexican war effort during WWII.
© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)
The Plaza Bellas Artes, Mexico City
Present Day Mexico City
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