Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Diégo-Suarez (5–7 March 1942)

Main French sea and air base on Madagascar captured by the British. In early 1942, the British government feared the Japanese might occupy Vichy French–administered Madagascar as they had occupied Indochina. Sea and air forces on that island would be in a position to cut the only available shipping routes to Egypt and India. At the urging of Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill, the British Chiefs of Staff decided on 7 March to proceed with Operation ironclad.

Major General R. C. Sturges of the Royal Marines commanded the land force of three infantry brigades and No. 5 Marine Commando. The British refused Free French assistance. The escorting naval force was drawn largely from Force H at Gibraltar. Ships there were replaced by others from the Home Fleet, which in turn received a loan of U.S. Navy warships. Convoys carrying the invasion force sailed on 13 and 23 March from Great Britain. Rear Admiral E. N. Syfret of Force H had overall naval command of a force that included aircraft carriers Illustrious and Indomitable, battleship Ramillies, and cruisers Devonshire and Hermione.

The invasion force staged out of Durban, East Africa. The center of French strength was Diégo-Suarez at the northern tip of Madagascar. To avoid French defenses there, the British planned to land on the west coast of the Andrakaka Peninsula, 10 to 12 miles from their objective of Diégo-Suarez. The approach occurred in the predawn darkness of 5 May. The large liners carrying the assault troops safely anchored, having managed to avoid both the reefs and mines in the channels. Several mines were detonated by sweepers, but the defenders failed to notice the explosions. At 4:30 a.m. on 5 May, elements of the 29th Independent Brigade and No. 5 Marine Commando went ashore, quickly overcoming light resistance. To distract the French, the Hermione mounted a noisy but harmless display east of Diégo-Suarez. At dawn on 6 May, aircraft from the British carriers attacked French aircraft on the ground. They also sank a French submarine in the harbor and disabled other warships.

Most of the invading troops and their supplies were unloaded by the end of 5 May, although a rising wind hampered efforts. By the afternoon of 6 May, the advance was stopped just short of Antsirane. The destroyer Anthony landed 50 marines on the quay at Antsirane at 8:00 p.m., and the Vichy defenders quickly surrendered, ending resistance at Diégo-Suarez early on 7 May. Further operations on Madagascar continued until November, but the occupation of Diégo-Suarez effectively ended the threat to Allied supply lines.

Tim J. Watts


Further Reading
Barnett, Correlli. Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991.; Roskill, Stephen W. The War at Sea, 1939–1945. Vol. 2, The Period of Balance. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1957.; Shores, Christopher. Dust Clouds in the Middle East: The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940–42. London: Grub Street, 1996.
 

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