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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Madagascar Captured

5 May to 5 November 1942

Theatre: Indian Ocean
Area: The island of Madagascar, off the south east coast of Africa.
Players: Allies: British 13th, 17th and 29th Infantry Brigades, later reinforced by 22nd East African Brigade Group; South African 7th Motorised Brigade and Northern Rhodesia 27th Infantry Brigade No. 5 Commando (Northern Rhodesia is now known as Zambia); Royal Navy forces including HMS Illustrious, HMS Indomitable, HMS Ramillies and HMS Devonshire. France: Vichy French garrison (around 8,000 troops); eight coastal batteries, two armed merchant cruisers, five submarines and a handful of aircraft.
Outcome: Allied forces gained control of the island, which had been in the hands of the French Vichy government.

Note: Operation Ironclad was the first large amphibious assault made by British forces during World War Two.

In 1940, following France's surrender to Germany, its colonies had to decide which side to take. After the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar rallied to the Vichy government, the Allies became worried that the Japanese might use it as a base for submarine operations against Allied shipping in the Indian Ocean.

Following a blockade by the Royal Navy, an amphibious assault was launched on 5 May 1942. The Allies' main landings around Courrier Bay and Ambararata Bay (across the peninsula from Diego Suarez, the main naval base on the northern tip of Madagascar) were unopposed.

Meanwhile, a diversionary 'simulated' bombardment and landing took place to the east and dummy paratroops were dropped while carrier-based aircraft bombed Vichy shipping in the harbour.

By mid-morning on 5 May, the invaders had run into French defences and progress was hampered by difficulties in finding a suitable beach to land artillery, although tanks were already ashore.

A frontal assault the next morning against the French position defending Antsirane finally succeeded and additional shelling by British warships convinced the local Vichy commander to surrender. The French defenders capitulated on 7 May, but the Vichy governor of the island retreated to the south of the island with his forces. Vichy resistance continued until November 1942.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.


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