1921 – 1942

Translated from the Portuguese by Lúcia Campos Lima


          In the 1st World War the Brazilian Army sent to France Capitain José Pessoa Cavalcanti de Albuquerque, who began his mechanization and mechanization studies at of Versalhes School, of Combat Cars afterwards serving in the 503rd Artillery Regiment of Assault Cars, in 1919, where he had the opportunity of knowing the Renault FT-17 combat cars.

          After his return to Brazil, he influenced the Army for the acquisition of combat cars. The model Renault FT-17, was chosen though he, himself, thought it wasn't the ideal model of combat car to equip our armoured force. He published his first detailed work on the weapon development and the use of armoured in the scenery of European operations during First World War, entitled “TANKS NA GUERRA EUROPÉIA”( Tanks in the European War), published in 1921 in Rio de Janeiro – DF, this was the first work published in Latin America. Later on he established AMAN's (Military Academy of Agulhas Negras in Resende – RJ) and was also the founder of the Center of Instruction of the Coast Artillery, transformed in school in 1942.

The first book work published in Latin America. Rio de Janeiro - DF, 1921. photo credit: Autor`s collection.

          The purchase of combat cars will happen before the contract of a Military Instruction Mission because only after the First World War, the Brazilian Army will contract a French Military Mission to assist in the modernization and restructuring of our Army.

          In 1921, 12 new combat cars Renault FT-17 arrive in Brazil from the factory DELAUNAY-BELLEVILLE, in France, being 6 with molten tower (Berliet) armed with cannon Puteaux of 37mm, 5 with riveted octagonal tower (Renault), armed with machine guns Hotchkiss caliber 7mm (this was the caliber used in Brazil, while in France the caliber was 8mm) and one model TSF ( wireless telegraph) with no rotative tower as in the other ones for communication with the superior echelons.

Renault FT-17 "FORTE DE COIMBRA" with molten tower (Berliet) armed with cannon Puteaux of 37mm in 1924 Revolution. photo credit: Autor`s collection

Renault FT-17 with molten tower (Berliet) armed with Hotchkiss caliber 7mmm. photo credit: AHEx
Renault FT-17 with riveted octogonal tower (Renault) in Rio de Janeiro -1932. photo credit: Eduardo Coelho
Four FT-17 in Center of Meechanization and Mechanization Instruction Combat Car Platoon in Rio de Janeiro - 1940. photo credit: Autor`s collection

          They are going to form the COMPANY OF ASSAULT CARS created by Decree l5.235, on December 31st, 1921, in Vila Militar, Rio de Janeiro – DF. Thus, Brazil becomes the pioneer of armoured weapons in South America.

         On November 3rd, 1921 the first exercise of combat cars occurred along with the military aviation in Rio de Janeiro, then in Federal District on the grassy hill in Vila Militar.

The first exercise of combat car occurred along with the military aviation in Rio de Janeiro, November 3rd, 1921. photo credit: Autor`s collection
The first public appearance will be on August 25th, 1922, in Rio de Janeiro. photo credit: Paulo Fellows Archives.

          The first public appearance will be on August 25th, 1922, when all the Company was formed in Campo de São Cristóvão, Rio de Janeiro where the National Pavillion was introduced and then received by the Company and the Combat Cars, a novelty, were shown to the public. The Combat Cars are also going to parade on September 7th, 1921, during the commemorations of our Independence Day.

Tank crew uniform in 1921. photo credit: Autor`s collection The first public appearance will be on August 25th, 1922, in Rio de Janeiro. photo credit: Autor`s collection.

          It should be emphasized that on this date, Duque de Caxias, was chosen the patron of the Company of Combat Cars. A year later, the date of August 25th, became the Soldiers Day (Warning 443 of August 25th, 1923). Forty years later he became the Brazilian Army patron (Decree 51429 of March 13th, 1962). The tank crew uniforms were peculiar indeed.

          The first official public appearance will take place in the military parade before King Alberto from Belgium during his official visit. (September 1922).

          The first operational task in the country occurs during the Revolution of 1924, when the Company is sent to occupy the city of São Paulo after the rebellious forces retreat. The time photos, show a parade of the six (6) operational Renault FT-17 because the model T.S.F. was never totally operational, as far as we know and was set aside in 1925. In 1925, the warning n.º 254, May, 18th designates the Company as the COMPANY OF COMBAT CARS.

          The revolution of 1930, an important mark in the Brazilian history, brings the country into the XX century. The military units involved in carry Getúlio Vargas into power, accomplished the Army scope, which we consider as being the birth of our industry of assault cars. In Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, the first three armoured caterpillars, a Brazilian project and conception, are built by Shipbuilding Alcaraz & Cia. By seizing wheels and caterpillars of agricultural tractors, they transformed them in combat cars.

          These vehicles were operational within their limitations, brought to Rio de Janeiro, DF, they were exposed to the public in Campo de Santana and participated in the victorious force parades in that revolution.

The first three armoured vehicles, a Brazilian project and conception. Built by Shipbuilding Alcaraz & Cia, in Revolution of 1930, in Porto Alegre, RS. photo credit: Autor`s collection.

          The production of these vehicles was an isolated attempt, not the only our; others occurred in 1924, 1930 and 1932, but they were not a government military force attempts. In fact they came from the rebellions forces and no doubt they were the first attempts to have the defense material industry in Brazil, which become true in the, 70`s and 80`s but this again is another story.

          The Decree n.º 20.986, of January 21st 1932, extinguishes the Company of Combat Cars; they hadn't managed to motivate our body of officers and due to their precarious state, they are transferred to the Infantry Battalion School. Months, later the remainders of the Company of Combat Cars will be used operationally due to arise of the Constitutionalist Revolution in São Paulo, on July 9th of that year.

          These vehicles, at least half a dozem, will be used separately or in pairs, in some sectors where combats ocurred between rebellious troops and legalists, being used to keep bridges, and to attack machine gun nests. They were used in mountainous locations, as at the border of Minas Gerais and São Paulo, therefore their appropriate use wasn`t decisive as the instrument to define the superiority and even to guarantee victory of the legalist forces in that conflict.

          In 1935, by the warning n.º 248, of April 22nd, the Section of Combat Cars in the Guard Battalion, is created and they use the existing combat cars in the Infantry Battalion School. The Section of Motomechanization was created in the General Staff of the Army thanks to the direct influence of the French Military Mission, under the command of General Paul Noel. No doubt, it was am important step ahead.

          The Company of Assault Cars establishment was an isolated attempt of Capitain José Pessoa, which fails, having no continuity, but the initiative was a pioneer one. The opposite motivations to its survival, served as am alert and would be given a new opportunity. In 1938, General Waldomiro Castilho de Lima, after observing the development war operations by the Italians in Abissínia, decides to replace the old combat cars Renault FT-17, already obsolete, for 23 combat modern cars FIAT-ANSALDO CV3-35 II (18 armed with two Madsen caliber 7mm and 5 armed with one Breda caliber 13,2mm) that were in operation, with relative success, in the mountainous grounds of the Spanish Civil War and in Ethiopia's arid lands.

Fiat-Ansaldo CV 3-35 II in Military Parade. Rio de Janeiro, September, 7th, 1942. photo credit: AHEx/DAC

          The ideas of Capitão José Pessoa will be resumed by another captain who is going to manage to implant definitively the weapon armoured in Brazil; he is Capitain Carlos Flores de Paiva Chaves and, on May 25th 1938, by the warning n.º 400 the Center of Mechanization and Mechanization Instruction for Auto Machine guns Squadron was established in Rio de Janeiro where, besides the new cars acquired in Italy, they also aggregated to these the last five Renault FT-17 of the Section of Battalion Guards of Combat Cars, that proceeds as the Center of Mechanization and Mechanization Instruction Combat Car Platoon. During the Second World War, Brazil received from the United States modern combat cars to modernize the recently created, units. The decree Reserved n.º 4.130, of February 26th 1942, transforms the Center of Mechanization and Mechanization Instruction Combat Car Platoon in the School Company of Combat Cars, extinguishing for the time being the use of Renault FT-17 and replacing them for medium combat cars Sherman M-4 and M-4A1.

          From 1942 on the whole Brazilian armoured material is of North American origin, due to our entrance in the Second World War along with the allied forces of Brazil.

          The vision of Capitain José Pessoa on the combat cars was, no doubt a very advanced one for his time. In his work “The Tanks in the European War”, he ends up by affirming: “It was true, the new weapon, was of decisive effect, and without it, there is a general belief that the Allied would have lost the bloody game that was played in Europe's vast board, between the sea and Switzerland western borders”.



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Origem da Arma Blindada no Exército Brasileiro. Cap. José Pessoa Cavalcanti de Albuquerque. CPDOC - FGV-RJ;

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Carro de Combate Renault FT-17. Peça 1. Museu Histórico do Exército. Elaborado por Adler Homero Fonseca de Castro, Rio de Janeiro, 16 de dezembro de 1996.