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Cowboys v Nazis

7 April 2022

One of several incidents that convinced me to start writing Mexican history (and, once being labeled “Mexican Pravda” for my trouble) was talking to a British teacher one day on the bus when I was still new to the City, who … in all honesty… told me the Mexicans had always hated the British, and that’s the reason they backed the Germans in WWII. Uh….

Yes, there were Nazi sympathizers in Mexico… quite a few, though outside of some urban intellectuals, support was more for a Francoist type of Fascism — upholding traditional religion and a reaction against the Revolution — than any ideological formulation based on some mythical “pure” bloodline (and… in one of the weirder attempts to justify Nazi ideology, José Vasconcellos made the “Cosmic Race” … the mixture of the then prevalent racial groups (white, black, red, yellow) … the “master race” over the Nazi sub-category of Aryan. But, as it was, with the Mexican state having been openly opposed to the Fascist states throughout the 1930s, the last gasp of the Cristeros (Saturnino Cedillo’s German-financed attempt at a coup in 1939) and the influx of often technically or intellectually gifted refugees from Nazi regimes, and the election of a more pro-western president in 1940 did not bode well for the likelihood of Mexico siding with the Germans, and putting its declared neutrality in doubt. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, it was only a matter of time until Mexico … among other things, the main foreign source for oil for both the United States and Great Britain… would be forced to openly take a side.

That oil was also a matter of great interest to Berlin. Either obtaining it, or at least keeping it from their enemy. And, with attacks on Mexican oil shipments in May 1942, Mexico had a constitutional mandate to declare war (the Mexican Constitution limits war powers to defensive actions).

However, although the post-Revolutionary state had been run by military men, going back to Alvaro Obregon, who openly mused that the with Juarez having overthown the Church, and the Revolution overthrowing the old elites, someone would nee to overthrow the military. Since Calles, the military’s power had been scaled back year by year (his Secretary of War, Jesus Amaro, famous for being one of the few cabinet officers in history– anywhere — to continually complain his department’s budget was too large, and needed more cuts!), and whether Mexico was prepared for war was a genuine concern.
Uncovering a Nazi spy network, and a few incidents of sabotage, gave credence to the sense that Mexico, might indeed, be a target for attack and attempted occupation.

Even the remaining Cristeros, although politically Fascist, changed their tune… where their leader, Carlos Abascal, had been trying to sell the Cristero colony on the Baja Peninsula as a potential auxillary force against gringo invaders, he was quick to suggest his “holy warriors” could fend off a potential Japanese landing.

Enter the cowboys

Anatolin Jimenez Gamas, never felt he had particularly received the rewards he was due for his service to the revolution as a lieutenant colonel in Pancho Villa’s cavalry from 1910 to 1915. He’d managed to get himself elected to the Chamber of Deputies a couple times, but other than that, his political role was reduced to being the president of the Association of Charros… a trade group and social club for horse fanciers.

But… perhaps each according to his ability… were the Nazis to attempt an occupation, somebody would need to be ready to fight them. The Army would probably be beaten but, given his own experience with Villa (having been wounded three times, and blown up a few railways back in the day), and that horse mounted cavalry was still a thing at the time (especially in the less mechanized armies like that in the Soviet Union and Poland), AND… nobody knew the back of the beyond better than cowboys, why not organize a cowboy guerilla unit?

Which, while a little dubious, President Avila Camacho authorized. 150,000 horsemen signed up, received training in sabotage and guerilla fighting, issued pistols and machetes… and sent home. By the time they were prepared for possible battle, organized into 250 resistance units throughout the entire republic, the prospect of a German or Japanese invasion was over, if there had ever been a threat to begin with.
That, and ironically, Jimenez had a heart attack in 1944, and was ordered by his doctor to stay off his horse. He retired, honorably as anyone who did their part, taking up the more sedate role of a book publisher.

Mexico City contingent… the Nazis didn’t stand a chance

The short lived Legiòn de Guerrilleros Mexicanos may not have had the same impact on the war as Escuadron 281 .. the Mexican air unit that saw action in the Pacific, nor the importance to later history of the Braceros who kept the farms, factories and railroads in the United States functioning as their native workers went off to the front, or the Women Workers’ Corp that manned… or rather womaned… the overworked factories during the war, and formed the nucleus of the push for women’s suffrage and labor rights, the Legión has an honorable mention in Mexican military history… having stepped up … or, perhaps we should say saddled up… to do their part to defend the nation against outside aggression, and did it with style.

Revolution Day Parade… not the veterans (alas, all gone) but a historic unit and a popular favorite

Najar, Alberto, “El olviadado ejército charro creado para defender a México de los nazis” (BBC)

La historia del ejército charro que se preparó para combatir a Hitler” México Disconocido

Matria (film). Fernando Llanos, director and producer. 2016.

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