Madagascar: The British vs Japan & the Vichy French

Newspaper illustration of Madagascar campaign

When most people think of World War II and the wide array of geographical spots the war reached, they don’t generally think of Madagascar. However, this island off of the coast of Africa saw military action too.

The Battle of Madagascar took place there in 1942, and was led by the British, as they tried to capture the area from the French.  The battle heavily revolved around Antsiranana Bay. This important port lies around the northern tip of Madagascar and opens to the east with a pass.

During World War II, as Japan moved west through Asia, they sent out their submarines through the Indian Ocean. This caused British ships to move toward the eastern shore of Africa, out of Southeast Asia. However, being in Africa made the British worry that they would be subject to Japanese attacks based out of Madagascar.

At the time, the Japanese had submarines with a huge range, longer than any other Axis power. They boasted a range of up to 10,000 miles, which could affect Allies all over the Pacific, and into the South Atlantic and the Middle East.

In 1941, the Germans attempted to persuade the Japanese to increase their force in the area, using these submarines to combat Indian Ocean sea routes. They also wanted the Japanese to focus on the Seychelles and Madagascar, rather than Australia. So, the Japanese told the Germans they would send several submarines and two cruisers that way, but wouldn’t release much information regarding their plans for Madagascar.

Meanwhile, the Allies had heard word of these goings on, and the British were worried that perhaps the French government may just give Madagascar to Japan or allow the Japanese to establish navy bases on the island, which would have been very bad news for the British in eastern Africa, as well as any British forces moving through the area to get to Asia. So, the British thought it may be useful to go ahead and occupy Madagascar, just in case.

The leader of the Free French movement, the famous General Charles de Gaulle, sent a letter to Winston Churchill. He wanted to launch a joint Free French-British movement against Madagascar. Churchill did understand that if Japan controlled Madagascar, British shipping would be interrupted and it would give Japan great influence in the Indian Ocean.

Churchill, reading the letter, didn’t really think that the British had the right resources for such an endeavor. He also wasn’t terribly keen to plan a joint operation with Free French forces.

However, after the course of about three months, Churchill was convinced the operation was important. Despite this, the Free French forces weren’t going to be allowed to participate. He wanted it to commence in April; he wanted to move ships from the Mediterranean southward and he wanted 4,000 men to participate.

The British begin their landing.

The forces left Scotland in March and met up with other ships in Sierra Leone, then moved to South Africa, where they were joined by an array of three infantry brigades, a battleship, two carriers, two cruisers, 11 destroyers, six minesweepers and more.

It was hoped the large grouping would be able to succeed with their plan without too much (or any) fighting. This would be the first water assault planned by the British since Dardanelles.

It was planned to take Diego Suarez, the island’s most strategic port. Some thought that alone would not be enough, as other ports on Madagascar may become occupied by the Japanese as well, but Diego Suarez was kept as the only goal, as that’s what the British thought their manpower could handle.

British continue to disembark on Madagascar

The first amphibious landing would take place in May 1942, with troops landing just west of Diego Suarez (also called Antsiranana).  Meanwhile, another attack took place to the east, as a diversion. Air cover attacked the French ships. The French troops that were in French-controlled Madagascar at the time were made up of about 8,000 men, with up to 3,000 there in Diego Suarez.

Apart from this, the French naval and air forces there were pretty light. After some fighting, the French surrendered the port and went to the south.  At one point, the British gave the French an ultimatum to surrender or be bombarded – there was no reply.  Three minutes after the bombardment began – the white flag was spotted.

However, the Japanese arrived later, at the end of May. They sent out torpedoes, critically damaging a British battleship and also sinking an oil tanker. Japanese troops beached a submarine and began to move inward, but the British received word of their arrival and the Japanese troops were killed.

Kings African Rifles’ 25 pdr battery in action against Vichy positions near Ambositra

On a small level, fighting continued. Small clashes occurred, but Allied forces moved slowly on land, as they chased the retreating French. However, after several months, the Allies captured the capital and several important towns. It wasn’t until November that an armistice was signed. In total, the Allies experienced a little over 600 casualties.

Initially, after the British and Allies managed to take the island, a Free French general was the high commissioner over the country. However, Madagascar wanted to become independent following World War II. A revolution occurred in 1947, but was a failure. Then, in 1960, Madagascar received its independence from France.

For detailed information on this battle: http://ww2today.com/5th-may-1942-the-invasion-of-madagascar

WWII History magazine, WWII online.

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

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Military Humor –

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Farewell Salutes – 

Idamay Arsenault – Worchester, MA; Civilian, WWII, Red Cross & ship welder

Charles Dilbert – Deerfield Beach, FL; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 187/11th Airborne Division, Bronze Star

Michael Gurr – Elmswell, ENG; RAF officer

Billie Joe Hash – USA; US Army, WWII, ETO, Pfc., Co. L/3/110/28th Infantry Division, KIA (Hürtgen Forest, Germany)

Francis Hayter – North Wooton, ENG; Royal Navy, Chief Petty Officer (Ret.)

Sam Johnson – Plano, TX; US Air Force, Korea & Vietnam, Pilot, POW / 30-year Congressman

Warren Miller – Hitchcock, SD; US Army, WWII, PTO, Bronze Star

Clive Naylor – ENG; RAF, Commander (Ret.)

John J. Sitarz – WV; US Army, WWII, ETO, Pfc., Co. L/3/110/28th Infantry Division, KIA (Hürtgen Forest, Germany)

Frederick Zalaznik – Waukegan, IL; US Army, WWII, ETO, Engineers

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 1, 2020, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 127 Comments.

  1. I was recently working in Northern Madagascar, near Diego Saurez on the island of Nosy Be. I was speaking to a local about the history of the area and they told me about the Second World War and how the French had to essentially recapture the island after the War. This, he told me, led to the Malagasy uprising and the brutal put down by the French forces. It is a somber episode that they still nationally remember to this day. I have written about the culture and environmental situation in Madagascar if you are interested.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Always something to learn in your posts mate, I never realised the role Madagascar played, maybe I am too observant with reading as I see words that make the post intriguing, such as you state….The forces left Scotland…. now how did Scotland end up being the departure site for the forces, either way gp, always a pleasure to read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The military has its motives. Perhaps here, who would think they would be going all the way to Madagascar? Churchill did want to keep it hush-hush (probably in case it was as big a disaster as Dunkirk or Norway.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I knew a little about the Madagascar campaign and various fights with the Vichy French, but until I read this I hadn’t a clue that the Japanese were involved! It just goes to show how much there is to learn. I just read the Wiki page and had to smile when I saw this –

    “Julian Jackson, in his biography of de Gaulle, observed that the French had held out longer against the Allies in Madagascar in 1942 than they had against the Germans in France in 1940.”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I didn’t know this piece of history. Thanks, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. An interesting part of WW2 I knew very little about until now. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Few people knew that WW2 came to Madagascar. Also that the British fought the French in the same war (the Vichy French that is).The most controversial clash was a British naval operation that sank a French battleship and damaged others off the coast in French Algeria over Churchill’s fears that the Germans would take over that French fleet and use it against the British.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Sorry, GP, for got to get back to you about the French fleet thing. It was WWII, 1942 (Ithink). Churchill asked the French admiralty to hand over the fleet (based in Algiers) to stop it falling into German hands. The fleet was part of the Vichy government. French admiralty refused but assured Churchill they would scuttle fleet before letting it fall into German hands. Churchill ignored this and attacked the fleet from the air, killing 1,300 French sailors. Later in the war, when there was a risk of the rest of the fleet falling into German hands, the French did scuttle their ships in Toulon. So, if Churchill had have taken their word for it, I guess it would have saved 1,300 French lives. That said, easy for me to say that now, when I’m not it a time of war with extremely difficult decisions to make and thousands of lives to consider. Hindsight and all that. Wishing you and yours peace and health.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I had to pull out my big map and my history book for this one, GP! I realized I didn’t know a thing about Madagascar except that it exports good vanilla and cloves. I had no idea about this British/French conflict, or that Madagascar was a site of military operations, too.

    I do have a sort-of-personal connection to this post. I’ve stay at the City Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where the novelist Graham Greene spent some time during WWII. This is from the Wiki about him:

    “Throughout his life, Greene travelled far from England, to what he called the world’s wild and remote places. The travels led to his being recruited into MI6 by his sister, Elisabeth, who worked for the agency. Accordingly, he was posted to Sierra Leone during the Second World War. Kim Philby, who would later be revealed as a Soviet agent, was Greene’s supervisor and friend at MI6. Greene later wrote an introduction to Philby’s 1968 memoir, My Silent War.

    It’s amazing to think that one of my favorite novelists, in a place I’ve visited, might have been aware of the naval operations you wrote about here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m sure as a part of MI6, he was aware of the operation. As far as my readers are concerned, only one was aware of it – Mike, who happens to live on Mauritius.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The more I read your posts, the more aware I become of just how limited my knowledge of WWII has been. I always look forward to your new posts, because I know there will be something new there — not to mention a welcome bit of humor!

        Liked by 2 people

        • It’s not your fault. Our schools pretty much centered our education on the European Theater. Then mentioning a few USMC battles in the Pacific. I never even learned about the American Theater (ATO, mostly in Alaska), dad told me about that one!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. It was a fascinating campaign. Thanks for sharing this as it is little known.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. What a journey. I never had thoughts on Madagaskar, involved into the WWII. Thank you GP! Another very interesting posting. Be well and stay save. Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I had no idea that so many countries were involved in operations in WWII. I’m getting quite an education!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. GP, you’ve done it again. Another theater of operations overlooked, another battle largely unknown, and (once again) the surprising technology capabilities of the Japanese, despite their limited industrial base. Wow!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I certainly hadn’t known of this, GP. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. A very interesting post about a little known aspect of the war. I’m not surprised that Churchill did not want De Gaulle involved. On another occasion. he famously said “We all have our cross to bear, and mine is the Cross of Lorraine”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • haha. I always found de Gaulle to be rather arrogant. Like the time (after the war) he told our Secretary of State, Dean Rusk that he wanted ALL Americans off French soil. Rusk asked him if he also meant those that were buried there……..

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Hilarious toon! Xbox or playstation! My kinda world! But it is a crying shame that the young of today do not see the historical value of the past. I hope that they will understand and see the difficulties and monstrosity of war and how it ravages the world. And as the future generation, learn to mediate and not go to war if they are in positions of power. Then perhaps we can have better and more understanding leaders who really understand the meaning of Peace, prosperity and progress for all. Just my 2 cents worth of jibber jabber GP. I have said it many times and will say it again – your sharing of the history of wars, teaches me what happened in the past and how it has hurt. I appreciate each lesson you share with me. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. A new look at the war for me! Liked the cartoon with the youngster not really understanding the horrors of war that their elders experienced. Let’s hope they don’t have to face that kind of terror in today’s world.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I learned something new. Thank you for sharing this with us

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Very interesting, G, and a first for me even though I studied African history at Berkeley as part of my international relations focus. Thanks. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have never been impressed with the History curriculum in our schools. I think they could do much to improve the quality and quantity of material.
      Thanks for visiting, Curt.

      Like

  19. That Madagascar saw fighting is new to me. Thank you for the education, as always, GP!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Great post.Thank you a lot

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Interesting history, so early in the war, when Germany really felt strong. The Panzers were in Africa then, too, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I never knew all this before. Thanks, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. It’s a little surprising that the Japanese sent ships and submarines so far away, given how much longer it would take to send additional resources if they were needed. Since they weren’t over there for very long, it wasn’t an issue.

    Liked by 2 people

    • No it wasn’t an issue, but they didn’t seem all that concerned with keeping a lot of their men amply supplied. Once an area appeared to be losing, that island was left to starve.

      Like

  24. Another great post on a piece of the war easily forgotten and interesting to read about.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Interesting post GP (when are they not!? 🙂 )

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Thanks for sharing this piece of history GP. I had no idea Madagascar was involved.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. As always, I really appreciate these off the beaten track stories. They best illustrate how WWII was a truly world war.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Thank you for the post…yet another example of the tangled relations between de Gaulle and Churchill.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. It is truly astounding about the Japanese being able to reach the faraway island of Madagascar! But even more astounding was the fact that the French forces on the island remained loyal to the German-controlled Vichy government.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Pierre Lagacé

    That’s the first time I have heard of this GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. I’ve always wanted to visit that island, with all sorts of unique creatures, and a really fascinating blend of ethnic groups, but I had no idea there was military action there during the war, great post, GP, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Wow! I had no idea. If someone had said the British fought the French in WWII, I would have laughed and thought them crazy. Thanks for this good explanation of a battle (and the very good reasons behind it) I never knew about.

    I love the cartoons today, especially the second one.

    I hope you have a great week, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

    • De Gaulle thought he should have a say in all the ETO and Vichy holdings, so Churchill was fighting the French in more ways than one!! haha
      Glad you had a chuckle or two with the humor, Dan.
      Stay safe again this week and Good Luck on your book case! (though I know luck isn’t needed).

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Hadn’t realized there was action at Madagascar. Thanks for an informative and interesting post.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. You are right. I’ve never thought of the role Madagascar played in WW2. That would not be a fun island at all to fight in –all those snakes and creepy critters! As if fighting for your life wasn’t hard enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. This is a piece of the war that few know of. Thank you for posting this, GP!

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Fascinating post. I loved the Toon about which game platform did you use to defeat the Nazis?

    Liked by 2 people

  37. The events here are similar to those in Vietnam. Vietnam and Madagasca both later became independent but through vastly different routes.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Your research work is amazing, GP. Very well put across. Thanks.

    Do read my latest article:

    https://insightful.co.in/2020/05/28/india-china-eyeball-to-eyeball

    Warm regards.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. One of those ‘sideshows’ of a larger war that was overlooked by many. Except by those who had to fight there of course. Excellent article, GP, and amusing cartoons too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  40. Interesting read and good that you have spotlighted the war effort in our region. In that period the Indian Ocean had an important shipping lane and the British had setup lookout posts with radio communications from Mauritius and outer islands. You can read a brief article on my Mauritius Amateur Radio Society (MARS) website about some of these famous radio operators (hams or amateur radio operators). See: https://mars3b8.wordpress.com/history/

    Liked by 3 people

    • Radio operators did an outstanding job during the war and in today’s natural and man-made disasters. I learned a lot doing research for my own article on the subject. I will go right now to read yours. Thanks, Mike!

      Like

  41. Great article GP. I urge everybody who has not read it yet to check out the Pulitzer Prize winning novel (and first in the Liberation trilogy) by Rick Atkinson, Armies at Dawn about Operation TORCH and the North Africa Campaign. The issue of American and the Vichy French is covered extensively as are the early challenges of working with the British.

    Liked by 4 people

  42. It is impressive that once again you have found an item that I’ll bet most of your readers did not know about. i certainly am one of that crowd. Thanks.

    Liked by 4 people

  43. Fascinating stuff as always. I can understand its strategic significance. Must have been odd fighting against the French even though they were Vichy. Then again, didn’t the Royal Navy scuttle the French fleet at the cost of thousands of French lives rather than let it fall in the hands of the Germans?

    Liked by 3 people

  44. Madagascar, I had no idea. Great read. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

  1. Pingback: Madagascar: The British vs Japan & the Vichy French — Pacific Paratrooper – Truth Troubles

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