Brazilian Jihad: Suicide Attack on Copacabana Beach – Part 4

    Brazilian Marshal Hermes da Fonseca

    Brazilian Marshal Hermes da Fonseca This is the fourth part of a five part series on the Revolt of the Fifth of July, 1922, at the end of which a small group of rebelling troops made a suicidal attack on a much larger force. In the previous sections we told how Epitácio Pessoa, the President of Brazil, imprisoned Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, Head of the Army. In response a group of young Army officers, lead by Captain Euclides Hermes da Fonseca, son of the Marshal, unleashed a rebellion.

    The center of the revolt is the Fort of Copacabana, which Euclides commands. The insurgents have bombarded Rio and surrounding forts and been shelled in return. Uprisings at Vila Militar, a military base, and the Military School have collapsed. At the orders of Pandiá Calógeras, Epitácio’s Minister of War, Colonel Nepomuceno da Costa has ringed the fort with combat units. Marshal Hermes fled house arrest and is still hiding in Rio.


    JULY SIXTH: DESTROYED, NOT DEFEATED


    Twenty-Nine Stay


    In the very early morning of the 6th, Captain Euclides Hermes arose and began to consider his options. It must have been a weary task. There was no possibility of external help, from the time of the surrender of the Military School and the failure of the Vila Militar. He had counted on the Fortress of Santa Cruz garrison and received shells from them instead. Col. Nepomuceno had warned of attacks by sea and air, and Euclides knew the loyalists commanded battleships and seaplanes.


    At 4 that morning the Captain called Pandiá Calógeras, Minister of War. We do not know what was said. But Calógeras must have confirmed to Euclides the hopelessness of his position without offering surrender terms Euclides considered honorable.


    Because the Captain did not surrender. At the same time he didn’t feel justified in keeping the 300 men under his command in a hopeless and extremely dangerous position. He gathered his officers, explained the situation, and gave them all the option of leaving. Siqueira Campos and Eduardo Gomes argued, without success, for everyone remaining.


    When he saw that most of the officers would leave, Siqueira asked that the enlisted men be allowed to go, and Euclides agreed. General Bonifácio and the other government detainees were also released. By 7 AM only 29 men remained in the fort, including five officers – Euclides, Siqueira, and lieutenants Eduardo Gomes, Nilton Prado, and Mário Carpenter. All resolved not to surrender under any circumstances.


    Attacks By Sea and Air; the Fight Between Lieutenants Prado and Chaves


    It was decided that Euclides and a small crew would man the big 305 mm cannon pointed out to sea. Campos, Prado, Carpenter and 5 enlisted men went to man the 190 mm pointed landward. After taking care of a few matters, the Captain went to take his place at the 305. There he received a call from Siqueira Campos.


    A squadron, consisting of the battleships São Paulo and Minas Gerais, and the destroyer Paraná, were crossing the bar from Guanabara Bay and heading south toward the fort. When the São Paulo came alongside the island of Contunduba at the mouth of the bay it stopped, while the other ships, to its left, continued forward. While the captain of the São Paulo prepared to fire, he did an extraordinary thing: he dropped anchor, leaving his ship a fixed target for the fort’s cannons.


    Euclides had served in close contact with the battleship and knew perfectly its installations. He knew where its munitions magazine was located. A single shell there would explode the magazine and send the ship to the bottom. The vessel was less than 7 km away, within easy range of his 305. He knew the man who could hit the target: Siqueira Campos, his best marksman.


    Euclides quickly began to prepare the 305 for action. But when he tried to lower its angle of elevation, he made a devastating discovery: the hydraulic pressure needed to maneuver the cannon was zero. The diesel engine generating the pressure was not working. Someone had left the motor running without oil and it was burned out. “Who did this!” he shouted to his subordinate. “I don’t know sir!” came the frightened reply. One of the troops who had left the fort was at fault – whether by accident, in the confusion of retreat, or by design, out of loyalty to the government, we will never know.


    Meanwhile Campos and his team had started to shoot the 190 mm. They fired against Headquarters, the island of Cobras, the Palace of Catete, and a government battery near the Old Tunnel.


    They were preparing to shell the fortress of Santa Cruz when Euclides called. He asked if they were shooting against the city; Siqueira said only against government forces. The Captain insisted that the city be spared. At this moment he was summoned to the telephone by Minister of War Calógeras who asked for a cease-fire. Euclides accepted on condition that emissaries be sent to the fort to discuss peace terms. Calógeras agreed and firing ceased.


    Around 10 AM, Maj. Castro e Silva and Lt. Pacheco Chaves arrived at the fort to parley. They were met in the open space outside by a group of rebel officers, among them Lt. Nilton Prado. But hardly had the groups exchanged greetings when they heard the droning of a seaplane.


    It was coming in low over the water and headed directly toward them. When almost upon them it dropped a bomb that exploded against the wall of the fort, next to the sea. The blast left everyone dazed for a moment. Then the insurgents shouted “Betrayal!”; Prado stepped toward Lt. Chaves and spat out, “You see it remains only for us to shoot until the end!”


    Chaves answered with a curse and Prado, his back to the sea wall, reached for his pistol.


    Chaves dove against him, wrestling for the pistol, and pushed him over the wall. Prado landed with a shock on the stones below, his hand still on his pistol. The government officers, being unarmed, immediately fled.


    The Peace Mission of Euclides Hermes


    Soon Calógeras telephoned again for Euclides, who at first refused to speak with him. At the urging of his fellow officers he took the call. This time, the Captain demanded a personal understanding between Calógeras and himself; he asked the Minister of War to meet with him at the fort. But the fort was being bombarded by the Fortress of Santa Cruz and by the navy. There seemed no alternative but for Euclides to go to Calógeras. He told Minister of War he first wanted to confer with his staff.


    His officers pointed out to Euclides that he was the only one among them who had a family. They again pledged themselves to stay but urged him to go. Seeing no alternative, the Captain agreed and turned over command of the fort to Siqueira Campos. He left alone in an automobile wearing his uniform and a pistol and carrying a paper on which Campos had written the conditions of surrender: the rebels would not be shot, they would leave the Army and be given safe passage out of Brazil.


    It appears that Calógeras had agreed to meet him somewhere in neighborhood of Botafogo, just north of Copacabana, on the other side of the Old Tunnel. Since he went alone, Euclides must have had a verbal assurance from the Minister of War that he would not be arrested.


    At the Old Tunnel, the Captain encountered a government force. He told their commander he had free passage to negotiate with Calógeras and was allowed to continue to Botafogo. Evidently he did not find Calógeras at the spot agreed upon. Left rudderless, he recalled that his father’s home was in this same neighborhood, and headed there.


    The Marshal’s home was surrounded by police, but Euclides talked the family’s old gardener, who told him the Marshal was not in. Euclides made his way to a nearby phone and called Calógeras, who ordered him to stay put. This he did not intend to do, but before he could escape he was arrested by an officer who told him Calógeras was waiting for him in Catete.


    But at the President’s Palace, the Captain was met not by Calógeras, but by the commander of the Palace military, General. Hastinfilo de Moura, who greeted him with insults: “What a role you are playing! Traitor two times! First, to the government who confided to you the arms you are using against them. Then, to your companions whom you have abandoned to flee.”


    Euclides stammered an angry reply and reached for his pistol, but soldiers surrounded and disarmed him. Moments later the President himself entered the room. Only then the Minister of War arrived and tried to explain the situation. But Epitácio Pessoa remained intransigent, berating his Minister for parleying with the rebels. From the Palace General Hastinfilo telephoned the fort, advising the officers that if one more shot came from the fort, their commander would immediately be executed: a firing squad was ready.


    Calógeras arranged for Euclides to call Siqueira, now the commander of the fort. The connection was made between Catete and Mere Louise, a restaurant the rebels used to receive phone calls:


    “Hi Siqueira … I’m arrested … I’m speaking in the presence of the Minister of War and the Minister of the Navy …”


    “Where?”


    “From the Palace of the government … they nabbed me in the street … all that we counted on has failed … we are lost …”


    Then choked with emotion, the Captain repeated, word for word, what Calógeras had dictated: they would not accept the conditions the rebels proposed; the surrender would take place in 15 minutes; each would leave the fort alone and unarmed, and would go deliver themselves to the nearest troops. Euclides ended by urging that Siqueira spare the city.


    “Ask the conditions …”


    “Without conditions!” Campos heard Calógeras exclaim in the background.


    “Siqueira, listen, without conditions … ,” Euclides said.


    Campos heard the receiver click. He imagined he could hear Euclides saying, “Siqueira, Siqueira … ,” but there was no way to answer. The staff in the restaurant told him, “They attend no more.”


    Siqueira’s Desperate Alternative


    In his heart Campos had known, from the time Euclides has met with his officers that morning, that the revolt was lost. He still clung to the hope of a dignified surrender – of leaving the Army and Brazil and continuing the fight from exile. But the terms of surrender offered to the rebels were humiliating in the extreme: without conditions, leaving the fort one by one, to be searched and led away in ignominy.


    Siqueira now saw it was either that, or blow up the fort, or hunker down and keep shelling the city, hoping to force better terms. The first choice was intolerable. The second choice was no more than ordinary suicide and the concept of honorable hara-kiri was unknown to him.


    As to the third choice, continuing to shell the other forts in the area was not likely to move the government to better terms and might result in the execution of his Captain. Bombarding the civilian populace was hardly in accordance with notions of soldierly honor and Euclides has expressly asked him not to do it.


    There was no escape – he must wait passively for the end in an ever more enfeebled fort surrounded by angry enemies. Oh, for the days of the Carnaval frolics, when he could pat General Bonifácio on the belly with impunity! But there was no escape. He must die in this miserable hole.


    Together with the certainty of death, an idea began to form. But he must talk with his companions. He quickly gathered the other lieutenants, Gomes, Carpenter, and Prado, and made a proposal to them: they would go on to the end, with the cause to which they had pledged their honor and dignity. They would leave the fort, armed with rifles and pistols, and deliver their lives to the first troops they encountered.


    From the reports we have, from this point on Siqueira Campos seems to have become possessed by a serene boldness, a contempt for death and all dangers, which made opposition to his arguments seem like sacrilege. His officers quickly acquiesced. Their commander then called together the enlisted men, and worked his persuasive magic on them. All of them agreed to die.


    Siqueira brought forth the Brazilian flag and cut it into 29 parts with a barber’s razor. He gave each man one piece and kept two for himself, putting them in his breast pocket. One was for Euclides – the quixotic goal of the march was to deliver his portion of the flag to him at Catete Palace.


    Knowing they were going to die, his men evidently felt a need to survive in the minds of posterity. They agreed when Siqueira suggested writing their names in the fort. Using a bullet, each soldier wrote his name on a wall near the entrance. The 28 names would remain there until painted over weeks after the revolt.


    Each man armed himself with a rifle, some with pistols also. When everyone was ready, at a command of Siqueira, and following his lead, they jumped over the barricades before the fort. Curious civilians were crowded about the area. When they saw armed men clambering over the barriers toward them they fled in all directions.


    The nearby small hill was mined and a civilian running the wrong way could have ended himself, the fort, and the glorious march before it started. The troops shouted at the people to stop, even threatening to shoot. Order was restored.


    Then the braver among the populace approached the soldiers and asked them what was happening. But the troops first wanted know what was going on outside the fort. When they had satisfied their curiosity, the rebels told of their plans to march against government forces, with only the arms they carried. It didn’t take a military genius to predict the outcome. Some of the women wept; a group of men tried to convince the soldiers to abandon their insane offensive.


    At this point, a few newspapermen arrived and began to ask more specific questions. The officers told them that Captain Euclides had gone to petition the Minister of War for honorable surrender conditions. If by 2 PM these were not given, they would go to attack forces in the Old Tunnel, and from there fight their way to Catete Palace. They regretted the civilian deaths their rebellion had caused and said these would not be repeated.


    Siqueira Campos naturally became the spokesman for the rebels and all focused their attention on him. He told briefly how Bernardes had insulted the Army, how Epitácio had used Army troops to kill Brazilians, how Marshal Hermes had been humiliated, and his son Euclides deceitfully captured and threatened with a firing squad. He ended by stating that the traditions of honor and glory in the Brazilian Army would be defended unto death.


    “I am with you, come what may.”


    A man tall, erect, and slender to the point of emaciation, wearing coat, tie, and business hat stepped from the crowd. Siqueira, evidently touched, gave him the bit of flag destined for Euclides. Nilton Prado handed him his rifle. Without another word, the civilian stood with the soldiers.


    Someone said it was only 15 minutes until the 2 PM deadline. The troops declared they must leave. Some women cried and others waved handkerchiefs as the rebels began to walk briskly up Avenida Atlântica, not as in a military formation, but swinging along side by side, carrying their rifles in their hands. Heedless of the danger, a few men accompanied the march as spectators, shouting “Viva the Army!”, “Viva Marshal Hermes!”, “Viva the defenders of Copacabana Fort!”


    Despite the drama of the moment, four men remained behind at the fort. Was this was prearranged or the result of reflection and the survival instinct on the part of the non-marchers? We do not know.


    The little band did not move in an assault formation as taught in military textbooks. Rather, they marched in rows about five or six abreast, with about ten yards between rows. The troops on the right side of a row walked on sidewalks decorated with the wavy black and white mosaic tile that Copacabana is still famous for. Those on the left trod on the asphalt that was then Avenida Atlântica.


    Today Avenida Atlântica is bordered by a wall of high-rise apartment buildings. But in those days the neighborhood was almost bucolic, mostly elegant two story colonial-style residences, with tall and narrow shuttered windows and balconies on the second floor. There was plenty of space between homes, so the troops could see the massive green hills on their left.


    In front was the hill of Leme and behind that loomed the 400-meter brown-black rock of Sugarloaf. To its right was the island of Contunduba, with green forests on top, while the hills on the other side of Guanabara Bay appeared black in the haze. They strode along a gaily-patterned sidewalk; to their right were the white sands of the beach with milky gray waves sliding against them. A bather sat watching them open-mouthed.


    To their front, side, or behind, marched Siqueira Campos, urging them on, shouting encouragement, and being answered by cheers.


    The author cautions that the reader should not assume everything in the article is historically accurate, though most things are. He welcomes any factual corrections, additional facts, or alternative interpretations of events.


    The main source for this article was 1922 – Sangue na Areia de Copacabana (1922 – Blood on the Sands of Copacabana), by Hélio Silva, published by Editora Civilização Brasileira S.A., Rio de Janeiro, 1971.


    Dr. Addison Jump is a retired mathematician living in Rio. Of Native American descent, he worked at a college for American Indians and later for the U.S. Department of Defense. Email: oohold@yahoo.com.


    This is the fourth of five articles on the Fifth of July Revolt.

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