Argentina during World War II

Argentina during World War II

A newspaper announcing Argentina's severing of diplomatic relations with the Axis powers on January 26, 1944.
Location Argentina
Date 19391945
Events Battle of the River Plate
December 13, 1939
Operation Bolivar begins
May 1940
Revolution of '43
June 4, 1943
Hellmuth Incident
November 4, 1943
Severing of relations
January 26, 1944
Declaration of war
March 27, 1945
U-530 Incident
July 10, 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 influence in Argentina was strong, mainly due to the presence of a large number of German immigrants, and Argentina's traditional rivalry with Great Britain furthered the belief that the Argentine government was sympathetic to the German cause.[1] 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.[2] However, Argentina eventually gave in to the Allies' pressure, broke relations with the Axis powers on January 26, 1944,[3] and declared war on March 27, 1945.[4]


First years

Roberto María Ortiz was the president of Argentina at the beginning of the war, in 1939. 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.[5]

The Argentine army was highly Germanophile; this influence had grown since 1904 and predated both world wars. It did not involve a rejection of democracy but rather an admiration of German military history. This admiration, combined with an intense Argentine nationalism, influenced the main stance of the army towards the war: to stay neutral. The arguments in favor ranged from Argentine military tradition (Argentina was neutral during World War I and the War of the Pacific), to the perception of the war as a conflict between foreign countries with no Argentine interests at stake, to Anglophobia, to rejection of foreign attempts to force Argentina into joining the war. Only a handful of military leaders actually supported Adolf Hitler.[6] The war resulted in a small boost to the Argentine economy, as trade with Britain was reduced. Thus began a process of import substitution industrialization, which had some antecedents during the Great Depression. This industrialization began a process of internal migration as well, with people living in the countryside or in small villages moving to urban centers.[7]

Growing divisions

Reactions and stances towards the war became more complex as the conflict advanced. The main political parties, newspapers and intellectuals supported the Allies, but Vice-President Ramón Castillo maintained neutrality. Ortiz, who was ill of diabetes, was unable to serve as president, but he did not resign. The position of Argentina vis-à-vis the war generated disputes between them, with Castillo prevailing.[8] The FORJA supported neutrality and considered the position a chance to get rid of what it saw as British meddling with the Argentine economy. Some Trotskyists promoted the fight against Nazism 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 not put into operation.[9] Finally, the newspaper El Pampero, financed by the German embassy, supported Hitler.[10]

As for the reasons of Castillo in staying neutral, there are several interpretations. One interpretation 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 perspective 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 interpretation considers that only the United States wanted Argentina to declare war, whereas the United Kingdom was benefited by Argentine neutrality because the country was able to supply the British with livestock. This interpretation, however, fails to acknowledge the constant requests to declare war from Anglophile factions.[11] Most likely, it was a combination of the desires of the British diplomacy and the Argentine army, which prevailed over the pro-war factions.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

Pearl Harbor
The Argentine merchant ship Uruguay, sunk by the German submarine U-37,[15]
...and Victoria, damaged by the U-201.[16]

The situation changed dramatically after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent United States 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.[17] Argentine resistance to do so motivated an embargo and blockade against Argentina.[18] Castillo did, however, declare a state of emergency in Argentina after the attack on Pearl Harbor.[19]

Military plots

Castillo's term was due to end in 1944. Initially, it was arranged that Agustín Pedro Justo would run for the presidency a second time, but after his unexpected death in 1943 Castillo had to seek another candidate to propose. As a result, he supported Robustiano Patrón Costas.[19] The army was not willing to support the electoral fraud that would be necessary to secure Costas' victory, nor to continue conservative policies. They also feared that Costas might attempt to break the neutrality kept to then. A group of generals thus created a secret organization, the United Officers' Group (GOU), in order to oust Castillo from power. Juan Perón was part of this group, but did not support an early coup, asking instead to overthrow the government once the plotters had developed a plan to make necessary reforms. The coup was to have been made close to the elections, if the electoral fraud had been confirmed, but it was instead carried off earlier, upon rumors of the possible sacking of the minister of war, Pedro Pablo Ramírez.[20]

It is unknown whether Costas would have maintained neutrality or not. As he was proposed by Castillo, who stayed neutral, Costas may have been neutral as well. Some weak declarations of support to Britain and his ties with pro-allied factions may suggest instead that he would have declared war if he had become president.[21]

The military coup that deposed Castillo took place on June 4, 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 thought it was a pro-Allied coup and burned their documentation, while the United States embassy thought it was a pro-Nazi coup.[22][23]

Rawson met a delegate from the British embassy on June 5 and promised that in three days he would break relations with the Axis powers and declare war. This turn of events enraged the GOU, as did Rawson's choices for his cabinet. A new coup took place, replacing Rawson with Pedro Pablo Ramírez.[24] Thus Rawson ruled for just three days, the shortest period for a non-interim president in Argentine history.[25]

Revolution of 1943

A newspaper announcing the beginning of the Revolution of '43.

The new government proceeded with both progressive and reactionary policies. It set maximum prices for popular products, reduced rents, annulled the privileges of the Chadopyff factory and made hospitals free, but it also intervened in unions, closed the Communist newspaper La Hora, and imposed religious education at schools. Juan Perón and Edelmiro Julián Farrell, from the ministry of war, fostered better relations with the unions.[26]

The Communist Party managed local politics in line with the diplomatic alignments 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 the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the consequent Soviet entry in the war changed that attitude. The Communists became pro-war and did not support further labour strikes against British factories located in Argentina. This switch reduced workers' support for the Communist Party, and they began to support Perón and the new government instead.[27]

As a result, the Communist Party opposed the government, rejecting it as pro-Nazi. Perón countered the Communist complaints, saying that "The excuses they seek are very well known. They say that 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".[28]

The government had diplomatic discussions with the United States, and Argentina requested planes, fuel, ship, and military hardware. Segundo Storni, the Argentine chancellor, argued that, although Argentina did not join the war, it was 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 not to 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.[29]

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 the supply of newsprint was limited to pro-allied newspapers. There were also boycotts. 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 way, 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.[30]

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 either 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 January 26, 1944.[3]

The break in relations generated unrest within the military, and Ramírez considered removing 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 February 24.[31]

The United States denied recognition to Farrell, as he would keep the neutralist policy. Farrell confirmed it on March 2, 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, and that by removing their diplomatic presence from the country they would even force Argentina to seek German 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, cessation of foreign trade with her, avoidance of any of US ships landing at Argentine ports, and he denounced Argentina as the "nazi headquarters in the occidental hemisphere".[32]

By this time, the United States considered the option of 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.[33]

End of the war

The German submarine U-977 moored at Mar del Plata, after being surrendered to the Argentine Navy in August 1945.

The liberation of Paris in August 1944, which would lead to the complete liberation of France, gave new hopes to the pro-allies factions in Argentina, who saw it as an omen of the possible fall of the Argentine government, and calls for new elections. The demonstrations in support of Paris soon turned into demonstrations against the government, leading to incidents with the police.[34]

It was rumored that some Argentine politicians in Uruguay would create a government in exile, but the project never worked. Franklin D. Roosevelt supported Hull's claims about Argentina, saying similar things against the country. He also cited Churchill when he stated that history would judge all nations for their role in the war, both belligerents and neutrals.[35]

By early 1945, World War II was nearing its end. The Soviets had liberated Warsaw, and they were closing on the German border. Berlin itself was under attack; allied victory was inevitable. Perón, the strong man of the Argentine government, foresaw that the Allies would dominate international politics for decades, and although Argentina had successfully resisted the pressure to force her to join the war, remaining neutral until the war's end would force the country into isolationism at best or, worse, face military attack. Negotiations were eased by the departure of Hull as Secretary of State, replaced by Edward Stettinius, Jr.. The demands to Argentina were: the calling of elections, declaration of war to the Axis powers, eradication of any Nazi presence in the country, and complete cooperation with international organizations. Perón agreed: 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.[36]

Those measures eased relations with the United States. When the Allies advanced into Frankfurt, Argentina finally formalized the negotiations. On March 27, with the decree 6945, Argentina declared war on Japan, and on Germany as an ally of Japan. FORJA distanced itself from the government because of this, but Arturo Jauretche would understand the reasons year later. Jauretche reasoned that the United States opposed Argentina because of its perceived nazism by refusing to declare war, while neutrality was based instead in the Argentine interests; interests that were no longer at stake with a declaration of war at a point 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.[4]

A few days later, on April 10, the United Kingdom, France, the United States and the other Latin American countries restored diplomatic relations with Argentina. Still, the diplomatic hostility against Argentina from the United States resurfaced after the unexpected death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was succeeded by Harry S. Truman. The ambassador Spruille Braden would organize opposition to the government of Farrell and Perón.[37]

The final Nazi defeat in the European Theatre of World War II took place a month later, greeted with demonstrations of joy in Buenos Aires.[38] Similar demonstrations took place in August, after the surrender of Japan, bringing World War II to its final end.[39] Farrell lifted the state of emergency, declared by Castillo after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.[40]

Argentines in World War II

First Officer Maureen Dunlop exits her Fairey Barracuda, Picture Post cover, 16 September 1942.

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.[41][42] Over 600 Argentine volunteers served with both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, mostly in No. 164 (Argentine) squadron,[43] whose shield bore the sun from the Flag of Argentina and the motto, "Determined We Fly (Firmes Volamos)".[41]

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".[44][45][46]

Nearly 500 Argentines served in the Royal Navy around the world, from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific.[47] Many were part of the special forces, as John Godwin (Royal Navy officer).

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.[42]

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, at Buenos Aires. Charney was born in Quilmes, Argentina, in 1920, and died in Andorra in 1982.[48]

Nazi presence

Before the war Argentina hosted a strong, very-well-organized pro-Nazi element that was controlled by the German ambassador. In 1945-46, under Peron's leadership the government quietly allowed entry of a number of Nazi leaders fleeing Europe after Germany's collapse. The number of Nazi fugitives that fled to Argentina surpassed 300. In May 1960, Holocaust administrator Adolf Eichmann was captured in Argentina by the Israeli Mossad and brought to trial, and execution, in Israel. [49]


See also



  1. Leonard, Thomas M; John F. Bratzel (2007). Latin America During World War II. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0742537412.
  2. Galasso, 117–252
  3. 1 2 Galasso, pp. 194–196
  4. 1 2 Galasso, pp. 248–251
  5. Galasso, p. 117
  6. Galasso, p. 118
  7. Galasso, pp. 118–119
  8. Mendelevich, pp. 138-139
  9. Falklands: the Argentine military planned invasion during World War II, Merco Press 14 November 2013
  10. Galasso, p. 133
  11. Galasso, p. 135
  12. Galasso, p. 137
  13. Galasso, pp. 133–134
  14. Galasso, p. 134
  15. Helgason, Guðmundur. "Uruguay (Steam merchant)". Ships hit by U-boats. Archived from the original on 2013-03-10. Retrieved 21 March 2010.
  16. Victoria — Historia y Arqueología Marítima Archived October 23, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. (Spanish)
  17. Mendelevich, p. 31
  18. Galasso, pp. 137–138
  19. 1 2 Mendelevich, p. 142
  20. Galasso, pp. 153–154
  21. Galasso, pp. 151–152
  22. Galasso, pp. 155–158
  23. Mendelevich, p. 146
  24. Galasso, pp. 159-161
  25. Mendelevich, pp. 144-145
  26. Galasso, pp. 162–166
  27. Galasso, pp. 167–169
  28. Galasso, p. 174
  29. Galasso, p. 178
  30. Galasso, pp. 193–194
  31. Galasso, pp. 196–197
  32. Galasso, pp. 198–200
  33. Galasso, pp. 215–216
  34. Galasso, pp. 230–231
  35. Galasso, pp. 237–238
  36. Galasso, pp. 247–248
  37. Galasso, pp. 251–252
  38. Galasso, p. 252
  39. Galasso, p. 274
  40. Mendelevich, p. 152
  41. 1 2 "Wings of Thunder - Wartime RAF Veterans Flying in From Argentina". PR Newswire. 6 April 2005. Retrieved 8 January 2008.
  42. 1 2 Buckley, Martha (9 April 2005). "How Argentines helped British win war". BBC News. Archived from the original on 8 March 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2008.
  43. Argentine pilots break silence over World War Two - Reuters
  44. "Maureen Dunlop de Popp". Daily Telegraph. 15 June 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  45. Anne Keleny (11 June 2012). "Maureen Dunlop: Pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary who made the cover of Picture Post". The Independent. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  46. Lucy Waterlow (18 June 2012). "Pioneering female pilot who flew Spitfires during Second World War and became magazine cover girl dies aged 91". Daily Mail. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
  47. Maffeo, Aníbal José - Proa a la Victoria (2014) ISBN 978-987-45062-3-8
  48. Graham-Yooll, Andrew, Chacarita marks end of WWII, 70 years on, Buenos Aires Herald, retrieved 2 August 2015
  49. Rohter, Larry. "Argentina, a Haven for Nazis, Balks at Opening Its Files". New York Times. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
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