Battle of Madagascar

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Battle of Madagascar
Part of World War II

British soldiers landing at Tamatave in May 1942.
Date 5 May 1942 - 6 November 1942
Location Madagascar
Result Allied victory
Risk of Japanese submarine base threatening supply routes
Allied takeover of Madagascar
United Kingdom
South Africa
Vichy France
Empire of Japan
Robert Sturges Armand Léon Annet
10,000-15,000 (land forces) 8,000 (land forces)[1]
107 killed in action; 280 wounded;[2]
620 casualties in total (including deaths from disease)
150 killed in action; 500 wounded[3]

The Battle of Madagascar was the Allied campaign to capture Vichy French-controlled Madagascar during World War II. It began on May 5, 1942. Fighting did not cease until November 6.


[edit] Background

In early 1942, Allied leaders believed that ports on the island might be used by Japan, an idea shared by the German Kriegsmarine. Following their conquest of South East Asia, east of Burma by the end of February 1942, the Japanese high command was able to contemplate moves westward. Imperial Japanese Navy submarines were moving freely throughout the Indian Ocean, and in March aircraft carriers conducted the Indian Ocean raid, which drove the British Eastern Fleet out of the north-east Indian Ocean, to a new base at Kilindini (at Mombasa), in Kenya.

The move laid the fleet open to a new angle of attack: the possibility of Japanese naval forces using forward bases in Madagascar had to be addressed. The potential use of these facilities threatened Allied merchant shipping, the supply route to the British Eighth Army and also the Eastern Fleet.

Japanese submarines had the longest ranges of any at the time — more than 10,000 miles (16,000km) in some cases. Had they been able to utilise the bases, it would have affected Allied lines of communications in a region stretching from the Pacific and Australia, to the Middle East and South Atlantic.

[edit] Operation Ironclad

Allied commanders decided to launch an amphibious assault on Madagascar. The plan was known as Operation Ironclad and Allied forces, centred initially on the British Army and the Royal Navy were commanded by Major-General Robert Sturges. The Allied naval contingent consisted of over 50 vessels, drawn from Force H, the British Home Fleet and the British Eastern Fleet, commanded by Rear Admiral Edward Neville Syfret. The fleet included HMS Illustrious, her sister ship HMS Indomitable and the ageing battleship HMS Ramillies to cover the landings.

[edit] The landings

Following many reconnaissance missions by the South African Air Force, the British 5th Infantry Division's 17th Infantry Brigade Group and 13th Infantry Brigade, as well as the British 29th Infantry Brigade, and 5 Commando, Royal Marines were carried ashore by landing craft to Courrier Bay and Ambararata Bay, just west of the major port of Diego Suarez (later known as Antsiranana), at the northern tip of Madagascar. A diversionary attack was staged to the east. Air cover was provided mainly by Fairey Albacores, Grumman Martlets and Fairey Swordfish from the Fleet Air Arm, which attacked Vichy shipping. A small number of SAAF planes assisted.

September 19, 1942. Allied troops disembarking from LCA-164 in Tamatave harbour. (Photographer: Lt D.C. Oulds.)
September 19, 1942. Allied troops disembarking from LCA-164 in Tamatave harbour. (Photographer: Lt D.C. Oulds.)

The Vichy forces, led by Governor General Armand Léon Annet, included about 8,000 troops, of whom about 6,000 were Madagascan. A large proportion of the others were Senegalese. Between 1,500 and 3,000 Vichy troops were concentrated around Diego Suarez. However, naval and air defences were relatively light and/or obsolete: eight coastal batteries, two armed merchant cruisers, two sloops, five submarines, 17 Morane-Saulnier 406 fighters and 10 Potez 63 bombers.

Following fierce fighting, Diego Suarez was surrendered on May 7, although substantial Vichy forces withdrew to the south.

The Japanese submarines I-10, I-16 and I-20 arrived on May 29. I-10's reconnaissance plane spotted the Ramillies at anchor in Diego Suarez harbour but, the plane was seen and Ramillies changed her berth. I-20 and I-16 launched two midget submarines, one of which managed to enter the harbour and fired two torpedoes, while under depth charge attack from two corvettes. One torpedo seriously damaged Ramillies, while the second sank an oil tanker (British Loyalty, later refloated). Ramillies was later repaired in Durban and Plymouth.

Lieutenant Saburo Akieda and Petty Officer Masami Takemoto beached their submarine (M-20b) at Nosy Antalikely and moved inland towards their pick-up point near Cape Amber. They were informed upon when they bought food at a village and both were killed in a firefight with Royal Marines three days later. The second midget submarine was lost at sea and the body of one its crew was washed ashore a day later.

[edit] The land campaign

Hostilities continued at a low level for several months. The British 5th Division was transferred to India, and in June the 22nd East African Brigade Group arrived. The South African 7th Motorized Brigade and the Rhodesian 27th Infantry Brigade (including forces from East Africa) were landed in the following weeks.

December 1942. Four Westland Lysander Mark IIIA reconnaissance planes of No. 1433 Flight RAF, based at Ivato, over typical Madagascar countryside, following the end of the campaign. (Photographer: Sgt J.D. Morris).
December 1942. Four Westland Lysander Mark IIIA reconnaissance planes of No. 1433 Flight RAF, based at Ivato, over typical Madagascar countryside, following the end of the campaign. (Photographer: Sgt J.D. Morris).

The 29th Brigade and 22nd Brigade Group carried out an amphibious landing on September 10 at Majunga, in the north-west, to re-launch Allied offensive operations ahead of the rainy season. Progress was slow for the Allied forces; in addition to occasional small scale clashes with enemy forces, they also encountered scores of obstacles erected on the main roads by Vichy soldiers. The Allies eventually captured the capital, Tananarive without much opposition, and then the town of Ambalavao. The last major action was at Andriamanalina on October 18. Annet surrendered near Ilhosy, in the south of the island on November 5.

The Allies suffered about 500 casualties in the landing at Diego Suarez, and 30 killed and 90 wounded in the operations which followed September 10.

[edit] Naval order of battle

[edit] Allied (Royal Navy)

[edit] Vichy France

  • Two armed merchant cruisers
  • Two sloops
  • Five submarines including Beveziers, Le Heros, Monge

[edit] Japan

  • Submarines I-10 (with reconnaissance aircraft), I-16, I-18 (damaged by heavy seas and arrived late), I-20
  • Midget submarines M-16b, M-20b

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ Andre Wessels, "South Africa and the War against Japan 1941-1945", in Military History Journal (South African Military History Society) v.10, no.3 (June 1996). Access date: March 9, 2007.
  2. ^ Wessels, Ibid.
  3. ^ Wessels, Ibid.

[edit] References

E.D.R. Harrison, "British Subversion in French East Africa, 1941-42: SOE's Todd Mission." English Historical Review, April 1999.

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