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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):
No. 5 Commando:
British 17th Infantry Brigade Group (of 5th Division):
British 13th Infantry Brigade (of 5th Division):
British Naval Forces:
British air forces
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7) Vichy French (predominantly native) troops in the area were quickly withdrawn to the south and a protracted campaign ensued at a low level of intensity.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for the defense of India (and in fact had been en route there prior to the Madagascar diversion), 13th Brigade was withdrawn on 20 May and 17th Brigade on 10 June 1942.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:
South African 7th Motorized Brigade: Arrived 24 June 1942; departed 7
Northern Rhodesia 27th Infantry Brigade: Arrived 8 August 1942; departed 29
June 1944. OB as of August 1942:
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.
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
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