Battle of Madagascar

Battle of Madagascar
Battle of Madagascar
Part of World War II
Débarquement à Tamatave.jpg
Allied soldiers landing at Tamatave in May 1942.
Date 5 May 1942 – 6 November 1942
Location Madagascar
12°16′S 49°17′E / 12.267°S 49.283°E / -12.267; 49.283Coordinates: 12°16′S 49°17′E / 12.267°S 49.283°E / -12.267; 49.283
Result Allied victory
Allied takeover of Madagascar
 United Kingdom
 Southern Rhodesia
 South Africa
 Australia (naval only)
France Vichy France
 Empire of Japan (naval only)
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Robert Sturges France Armand Léon Annet
Empire of Japan Ishizaki Noboru
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)

1 battleship heavily damaged,
1 oil tanker sunk

150 killed in action; 500 wounded[2]

2 midget submarines lost

Battle of Madagascar is located in Madagascar
Location of Diego Suarez Bay

The Battle of Madagascar (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.




Diego Suarez is a large bay and fine harbour on the northern tip of the island of Madagascar and has an opening to the east through a narrow channel called Oronjia Pass. The naval base of Antsirane, lies on a peninsula between two of the four small bays enclosed within the Diego Suarez bay. Diego Suarez Bay cuts deeply into the northern tip of Madagascar (Cape Amber), almost severing it from the rest of the island.[3]

In the 1880s, the bay was coveted by France, which claimed it as a coaling station for steamships travelling to French possessions in the east; the colonisation was formalised after the first Franco-Hova War when Queen Ranavalona III signed a treaty on 17 December 1885 giving France a protectorate over the bay and surrounding territory, as well as the islands of Nossi-Be and St. Marie de Madagascar. The colony's administration was subsumed into that of Madagascar in 1897.[4]

In 1941, Antsiranana town, the bay and the channel were well protected by naval shore batteries.[3]


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 into the Indian Ocean. Submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy were moving freely throughout the north and eastern 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.

On 17 December 1941, Admiral Fricke, Chief of Staff OKM met Vice Admiral Nomura the Japanese Naval Attaché, in Berlin to discuss the delimitation of respective operational areas of the German and Japanese navies. At another meeting on 27 March 1942, Fricke stressed the importance of the Indian Ocean to the Axis powers and expressed the desire that the Japanese begin operations against the northern Indian Ocean sea routes. Fricke further emphasized that Ceylon, Seychelles and Madagascar should have a higher priority for the Axis navies than operations against Australia.[5] By 8 April, the Japanese announced to Fricke that they intended to commit four or five submarines and two auxiliary cruisers for operations in the western Indian Ocean between Aden and the Cape, but they refused to disclose their plans for operations against Madagascar and Ceylon, only reiterating their commitment to operations in the area.[6]


The Allies had heard the rumours of Japanese plans for the Indian Ocean and on 27 November 1941, the British Chiefs of Staff discussed the possibility that the Vichy government was preparing to either cede the whole of Madagascar to Japan, or to assign bases to the Japanese; Naval experts urged the occupation of the island as a precautionary measure.[7] On 16 December, General de Gaulle in a letter to Churchill, also urged for a Free French operation against Madagascar.[8] Churchill recognised the risk of a Japanese-controlled Madagascar to Indian Ocean shipping, particularly the sea route to India and Ceylon, and considered the port of Diego Suarez as the strategic key to Japanese influence in the Indian Ocean. However, Churchill also made it clear to planners that he did not feel Britain had the resources to mount such an operation and that he did not wish to see a joint operation which would combine British and Free French forces (the failure of the Free French at the Battle of Dakar prompted this point of view) in securing the island.[8] By 12 March, Churchill was convinced of the importance of such an operation and the decision was reached that the planning of the invasion of Madagascar would continue in earnest and that it would specifically exclude the Free French. As a preliminary battle outline, Churchill gave the following guidelines to the planners[9] and the operation was designated as Operation Bonus:[10]

  • Force H, the squadron guarding the Western Mediterranean should move south from Gibraltar and should be replaced by an American Task Force;
  • The 4,000 men and ships proposed by Lord Mountbatten for the operation, should be retained as the nucleus around which the plan should be built;
  • The operation should commence around 30 April 1942;
  • In the event of success, the commandos recommended by Mountbatten should be replaced by Garrison Troops as soon as possible.[9]

On 14 March, "Force 121" was constituted under command of Major-General R.G. Sturges R.M. with Read-Admiral E.N. Syfret being placed in command of Naval Force H and the supporting shipping.[11]

Allied preparations

Force 121 left England on 23 March and joined up with Admiral Syfret's ships at Freetown, proceeding from there in two convoys to their assembly point at Durban on the South African east coast. Here they were joined by the 13th Brigade Group of the 5th Division – General Sturges' force consisting of three infantry brigades, while Admiral Syfret's squadron consisted of the flag battleship Ramilles, aircraft carriers Illustrious and Indomitable, the cruisers Devonshire and Hermione, eleven destroyers, six minesweepers, six corvettes and auxiliaries. It was a formidable force to bring against the 8,000 men (mostly Malagasy) at Diego Suarez, but the Chiefs of Staff were adamant that the operation was to succeed, preferably without any fighting.[11] This was to be the first British amphibious assault since the disastrous landings in the Dardanelles twenty-seven years before.[12]

During the assembly in Durban, Field-Marshal Smuts pointed out that the mere seizure of Diego Suarez would be no guarantee against continuing Japanese aggression and urged that the ports of Majunga and Tamatave be occupied as well. This was evaluated by the Chiefs of Staff, but it was decided to retain Diego Suarez as the only objective due to lack of manpower.[11] Churchill remarked that the only way to permanently secure Madagascar was by means of a strong fleet and adequate air support operating from Ceylon and sent General Wavell (India Command) a note stating that as soon as the initial objectives had been met, all responsibility for safeguarding Madagascar would be passed on to Wavell. He added that when the Commandos were withdrawn, the garrison duties would be performed by two African brigades and one brigade from the Belgian Congo or west coast of Africa.[13]

In March and April, the South African Air Force (SAAF) had conducted reconnaissance flights over Diego Suarez and No. 32, 36 and 37 Coastal Flights were withdrawn from maritime patrol operations and sent to Lindi on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania, with an additional eleven Beauforts and six Marylands to provide close air support during the planned operations.[3]

Operation Ironclad

Assault Map

Allied commanders decided to launch an amphibious assault on Madagascar. The task was Operation Ironclad and executed by Force 121 comprising allied naval, land and air forces commanded by Major-General Robert Sturges of the Royal Marines. The British Army landing force comprised 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group, No 5 (Army) Commando and two brigades of the 5th Infantry Division, the latter en-route to India with the remainder of their division. 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 first wave of the British 29th Infantry Brigade and No. 5 Commando landed in assault craft on 5 May 1942, follow-up waves were by two brigades of the British 5th Infantry Division and Royal Marines. All 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, 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 6,993 ton 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.[14]

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.


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.

Order of battle

Allied Forces

Naval Forces[15]
Battleships HMS Ramillies
Aircraft Carriers HMS Illustrious HMS Indomitable
Cruisers HMS Hermione HMS Devonshire
Destroyers HMS Active HMS Anthony HMS Duncan HMS Inconstant HMS Javelin
HMS Laforey HMS Lightning HMS Lookout HMS Nizam HMS Norman
Ground Forces[15]
29th Infantry Brigade (independent) Amphibious landing near Diego Suarez on 5 May 1942: 2nd South Lancashire Regiment 2nd East Lancashire Regiment
1st Royal Scots Fusiliers 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers
455th Light Battery (Royal Artillery) MG company
Commandos Amphibious landing near Diego Suarez on 5 May 1942. No. 5 Commando
British 17th Infantry Brigade Group (of 5th Division): Landed near Diego Suarez as second wave on 5 May 1942: 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment
6th Seaforth Highlanders 9th Field Regiment (Royal Artillery)
British 13th Infantry Brigade (of 5th Division): Landed near Diego Suarez as third wave on 6 May 1942: 2nd Cameronians 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
2nd Wiltshire Regiment
East African Brigade Group Arrived 22 June to replace 13 and 17 Brigades
South African 7th Motorised Brigade
Rhodesian 27th Infantry Brigade Arrived 8 August 1942; departed 29 June 1944 2nd Northern Rhodesia Regiment 3rd Northern Rhodesia Regiment
4th Northern Rhodesia Regiment 55th (Tanganyika) Light Battery
57th (East African) Field Battery

Air Forces[15]
Aboard HMS Illustrious 881 Squadron 12 Grumman Martlett III's
882 Squadron 8 Grumman Martlett's, 1 Fairey Fulmar
810 Squadron 10 Fairey Swordfish
829 Squadron 10 Fairey Swordfish
Aboard HMS Indomitable 800 Squadron 8 Fairey Fulmar
806 Squadron 4 Fairey Fulmar
880 Squadron 6 Hawker Sea Hurricane
827 Squadron 12 Fairey Albacore
831 Squadron 12 Fairey Albacore

Vichy France

Naval Forces[15]
Merchant Cruisers Bougainville 2 XXXX
Sloops D'entrecasteaux XXXX
Submarines Béveziers Héros Monge xxxx xxxx
Japanese submarine I-10

Land Forces

The following order of battle represents the Malagasy and Vichy French forces on the island directly after the initial Ironclad landings.[16]

West Coast
  • 2 platoons of reservists and volunteers at Nossi-Bé
  • 2 companies of the Régiment Mixte Malgache (RMM - Mixed Madagascar Regiment) at Ambanja
  • 1 battalion of the 1er RMM at Majunga
East Coast
  • 1 battalion of the 1er RMM at Tamatave
  • 1 artillery section (65mm) at Tamatave
  • 1 company of the 1er RMM at Brickaville
Centre of the island
  • 3 battalions of the 1er RMM at Tananarive
  • 1 motorised reconnaissance detachment at Tananarive
  • Emyrne battery at Tananarive
  • 1 artillery section (65mm) at Tananarive
  • 1 engineer company at Tananarive
  • 1 company of the 1er RMM at Mevatanana
  • 1 company of the BTM at Fianarantsoa
  • South of the island
  • 1 company of the BTM at Fort Dauphin
  • 1 company of the BTM at Tuléar


Naval Forces

  • Submarines I-10 (with reconnaissance aircraft), edit] 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. ^ a b c Turner (1961) p. 133
    4. ^ "History World". History of Madagascar. Retrieved 2 November 2010. 
    5. ^ Turner (1961) p. 116
    6. ^ Turner (1961) p. 117
    7. ^ Turner (1961) p. 131
    8. ^ a b Churchill (1950) p. 223
    9. ^ a b Churchill (1950) p. 225
    10. ^ Churchill (1950) p. 229
    11. ^ a b c Turner (1961) p. 132
    12. ^ Churchill (1950) p. 230
    13. ^ Churchill (1950) p. 231
    14. ^ Time Magazine, Madagascar Surrenders
    15. ^ a b c d "Operation Ironclad: Invasion of Madagascar". Retrieved 2 November 2010. 
    16. ^ "France 1940" (in French: Reproduced from "La "guérilla" des troupes vichystes à Madasgar en 1942"). Madagascar Orders of Battle. Retrieved 2 November 2010. 


    • Harrison, E.D.R. "British Subversion in French East Africa, 1941–42: SOE's Todd Mission." English Historical Review, April 1999.
    • Churchill, Winston (1950). The Hinge of Fate. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. OCLC 396148. 
    • Turner, Leonard Charles Frederick; Gordon-Cummings, H.R, Betzler, J.E. (1961). Turner L.C.F.. ed. War in the Southern Oceans: 1939-1945. Oxford University Press, Cape Town. OCLC 42990496. 

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