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Unless otherwise indicated, all material researched, written, and copyrighted by Bill Stone for publication in various venues online and elsewhere. Feel free to point links at these pages, but reproduction of this material, electronic or otherwise, is prohibited without prior permission in writing from Stone & Stone.

Operation Ironclad: Invasion of Madagascar

On 5 May 1942 British Force 121 conducted Operation Ironclad, an amphibious invasion of the Vichy French colony of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

British ground forces:

British 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)
   one MG company
   six medium tanks
   six light tanks

No. 5 Commando:
Amphibious landing near Diego Suarez on 5 May 1942.

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

British Naval Forces:

Battleships:
   Ramillies
Aircraft Carriers:
   Illustrious
   Indomitable
Cruisers:
   Devonshire
Destroyers:
   Active
   Anthony
   Duncan
   Inconstant
   Javelin
   Laforey
   Lightning
   Lookout
   Pakenham
   Paladin
   Panther
Corvettes:
   Freesia
   Auricula
   Nigella
   Fritillary
   Genista
   Cyclamen
   Thyme
   Jasmine
Minesweepers:
   Cromer
   Poole
   Romney
   Cromarty
Assault transports:
   Winchester Castle
   Royal Ulsterman
   Keren
   Karanja
   Sobieksi
"Special" ships:
   Derwentdale (for motor landing craft and tanks)
   Bachaquero (tank landing ship) (one of the Maracaibo freighters)
Troop ships:
   Oronsay
   Duchess of Atholl
   Franconia
Stores and MT ships:
   Empire Kingsley
   Thalatta
   Mahout
   City of Hong Kong
   Mairnbank
   Martand

British air forces

Aboard Illustrious:
   881 Sqdn -- 12 Grumman Martlett IIIs
   882 Sqdn -- 8 Grumman Martletts, 1 Fairey Fulmar NFI
   810 and 829 Sqdn -- together, 20 Fairey Swordfish

Aboard Indomitable:
   800 Sqdn -- 8 Fairey Fulmars
   806 Sqdn -- 4 Fairey Fulmars
   880 Sqdn -- 6 Hawker Sea Hurricanes
   827 and 831 Sqdn -- together 24 Fairey Albacores

French Forces

Courtesy of Nowfel Leulliot

Notes:

1) The main landings went in on landing craft around Courrier Bay and Ambararata Bay (across the peninsula from Diego Suarez) on 5 May 1942. These landings were unopposed.

2) Meanwhile, a diversionary "simulated" bombardment and landing took place to the east, and dummy paratroops were dropped. Carrier-based aircraft bombed Vichy shipping in the harbor.

3) By mid-morning the invaders had run into French defenses. Advance was hampered by difficulty in finding a suitable beach for Bachaquero to land artillery (although tanks were already ashore). A frontal assault next morning against the French position defending Antsirane finally succeeded, and additional shelling by British warships convinced the local Vichy commander to hoist the white flag. Surrender documents signed on 7 May.

4) French defenses consisted of eight coastal batteries, "forts", trench system, two armed merchant cruisers, two sloops, five submarines, 17 Morane 406 fighters, 10 Potez 63 bombers, 1500-3000 troops in the Diego Suarez area, about 8000 troops on the island as a whole (approx 75% native).

5) British losses in the Diego Suarez operations amounted to 105 killed and 283 wounded. Vichy lost about 150 killed and 500 wounded.

6) To quote the British official history: "Ironclad was the first large amphibious assault made by British forces since the attempt to storm the Dardanelles in the First World War."

7) Vichy French (predominantly native) troops in the area were quickly withdrawn to the south and a protracted campaign ensued at a low level of intensity.

Further units involved:

As 5th Division was required for the defense of India (and in fact had been en route there prior to the Madagascar diversion), 13th Brigade was withdrawn on 20 May and 17th Brigade on 10 June 1942. This left, however, only the northern end of the island occupied by the Allies and a state of hostilities still in effect.

British 29th Brigade remained behind and reinforcements arrived for further operations:

22nd East African Brigade Group: Arrived 8 June 1943; departed 23 January 1944. OB as of June 1942:
   1/1st Kings African Rifles
   5th (Kenya) Kings African Rifles
   1/6th Kings African Rifles
   56th (Uganda) Field Battery
   9th Field Regiment (Royal Artillery)

South African 7th Motorized Brigade: Arrived 24 June 1942; departed 7 December 1942:
   1st City Regiment
   The Pretoria Regiment
   Pretoria Highlanders

Northern Rhodesia 27th Infantry Brigade: Arrived 8 August 1942; departed 29 June 1944. OB as of August 1942:
   2nd Northern Rhodesia Regiment
   3rd Northern Rhodesia Regiment
   4th Northern Rhodesia Regiment
   55th (Tanganyika) Light Battery
   57th (East African) Field Battery

The 29th and 22nd Brigades conducted another amphibious landing at Majunga on 10 September 1942, with the latter taking the lead in advancing toward Tananarive and then Ambalavao before the island finally surrendered on 6 November 1942. British 29th Brigade, meanwhile, had departed Madagascar on 16 October.

Sources:

Kirby, S. Woodburn. HISTORY OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR. THE WAR AGAINST JAPAN, Volume II. London: HMSO, 1958.

Buckley, Christopher. FIVE VENTURES. London: HMSO, 1954.

Joslen, H. F. ORDERS OF BATTLE. London: HMSO, 1960.

Martin, H. J. and Neil D. Orpen. SOUTH AFRICAN FORCES WORLD WAR II, volume VII: SOUTH AFRICA AT WAR. Cape Town: Purnell, 1979.

Rohwer, J. and G. Hummelchen. CHRONOLOGY OF THE WAR AT SEA, 1939-1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1992

Shores, Christopher. DUST CLOUDS IN THE MIDDLE EAST. London: Grub Street, 1996.

Copyright © 1998 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone

 

 

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