Battle of Madagascar: Wikis


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For the naval battle of 1811, see Battle of Tamatave.
Battle of Madagascar
Part of World War II
Débarquement à Tamatave.jpg
British soldiers landing at Tamatave in May 1942.
Date May 5 – November 6, 1942
Location Madagascar
Result Allied victory
Allied takeover of Madagascar
 United Kingdom

South Africa South Africa
 Australia (naval only)

France Vichy France
 Japan (naval only)
United Kingdom Robert Sturges France Armand Léon Annet
10,000-15,000 (land forces) 8,000 (land forces)[1]
Casualties and losses
107 killed in action; 280 wounded;[2]
620 casualties in total (including deaths from disease)
150 killed in action; 500 wounded[2]

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



In early 1942, Allied leaders believed that ports on Madagascar might be used by Japan, an idea shared by the German Navy. 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. Submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy were moving freely throughout the Indian Ocean. In March 1942, Japanese aircraft carriers conducted the Indian Ocean raid. This raid drove the British Eastern Fleet out of the north-east Indian Ocean and the British were forced to relocate to a new base at Kilindini (at Mombasa), in Kenya.

The move laid the British 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 particularly 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 (16,000 km) in some cases. Were these submarines able to utilise bases on Madagascar, Allied lines of communications would be affected across a region stretching from the Pacific and Australia, to the Middle East and South Atlantic.

Operation Ironclad

Assault Map

Allied commanders decided to launch an amphibious assault on Madagascar. The plan was known as Operation Ironclad and Allied forces, anchored initially on the British Army and the Royal Navy, were commanded by Major-General Robert Sturges of the Royal Marines. 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 aging battleship HMS Ramillies to cover the landings.

The landings

Following many reconnaissance missions by the South African Air Force (SAAF), the British 5th Infantry Division, as well as the British 29th Infantry Brigade, No. 5 Commando and 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.)

The defending Vichy forces, led by Governor General Armand Léon Annet, included about 8,000 troops, of whom about 6,000 were Malagasy. A large proportion of the rest 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 7 May, although substantial Vichy forces withdrew to the south.

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

The crew of one of the submarines, 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 of its crew was found washed ashore a day later.

The land campaign

Hostilities continued at a low level for several months. During the summer of 1942, the two brigades of the British 5th Infantry Division were transferred to India. On 22 June, the East African Brigade Group (King's African Rifles) arrived on Madagascar. The South African 7th Motorized Brigade and the Rhodesian 27th Infantry Brigade (including forces from East Africa) were landed in the weeks following the arrival of the East Africans.

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).

On 10 September the 29th Brigade and 22nd Brigade Group made an amphibious landing at Majunga, in the northwest, to re-launch Allied offensive operations ahead of the rainy season. Progress was slow for the Allied forces though. 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 18 October. Annet surrendered near Ilhosy, in the south of the island on 8 November.[3]

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

Naval order of battle


Vichy France

Japanese submarine I-10
  • Two armed merchant cruisers "Bougainville 2"
  • Two sloops "D'entrecasteaux"
  • Five submarines including Béveziers, Héros, and Monge


  • 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


Free French General Paul Legentilhomme was appointed High Commissioner for Madagascar. French control of the island was not to last much longer though as, like many colonies, Madagascar sought its independence following the war. In 1947, the island experienced the Malagasy Uprising, a costly revolution that was crushed in 1948. It was not until 14 October 1958, about ten years later, that the Malagasy Republic successfully proclaimed its independence from France.

See also

External links


  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: 9 March 2007.
  2. ^ a b Wessels, Ibid.
  3. ^ Time Magazine, Madagascar Surrenders


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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