Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Madagascar

A French colony since 1896, located off the East African coast in the Indian Ocean. A thousand miles in length, Madascar is the world's fourth-largest island. In 1939, its population numbered 4 million, and 34,000 Malagasy troops participated in fighting preceding the defeat of France.

Madagascar was part of a failed scheme in 1940 to create a settlement colony there for European Jews. Actually, plans to resettle Jews there had been advanced in the late 1930s by the Polish and German governments, but only after the defeat of France in June 1940 did the plan gain wider support from Nazi leaders. The so-called Madagascar Plan involved the relocation of 4 million Jews to the island, which France would transfer to German control. However, nothing came of the plan, which other events soon superseded.

Following the British navy's attack on the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir, Madagascar's administration proclaimed its allegiance to the Vichy government headed by Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. In March 1942, acting on information that the Germans were pressing the Japanese to seize Madagascar and establish bases there in order to attack shipping around Cape Horn and gain control of the Indian Ocean, London dispatched to the island an expeditionary force of British, British East African, and South African troops under Major General Robert Sturges, supported by naval forces under the command of Rear Admiral Neville Syfret.

The invasion began on 5 May 1942 with a descent on the northern port city and naval base of Diégo-Suarez, the first major British amphibious assault of the war. Although the invasion achieved total surprise, French resistance led to fighting. In September, other landings occurred on the island, and Vichy French authorities surrendered on 5 November. The fighting had claimed some 1,200 casualties, including 600 Malagasy. In January 1943, the British handed over Madagascar to the Free French. Between 1947 and 1948, there was a major uprising on the island against French rule, resulting in the deaths of between 11,000 and 80,000 people. Madagascar became independent in June 1960.

Gary Kerley


Further Reading
Brown, Mervyn. Madagascar Rediscovered: A History from Early Times to Independence. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1979.; Jennings, Eric T. Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain's National Revolution—Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940–1944. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.
 

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