South Africa at war against … the French!

Many people don’t know it, but South Africans also fought against the French in World War 2.

A key part of the East African and Asian campaigns in WW2 was the Allied occupation of the former French colony of Madagascar and South African units took part in the operation.

The purpose was to prevent the strategically important island from being used by Axis Pact powers – Japan, Germany and Italy primarily .

Problem was, at the onset of the war many French colonies and troops did not join the ‘Free French’ and remained loyal to the French government who where now under occupation and in control of the Germans. This newly defined French Vichy government was sympathetic to the fascist cause and signed on with the Axis pact – in effect they changed sides and fought on the side of Germany.  Madagascar was just such a French colony.

The Allies had heard the rumours of Japanese plans for the Indian Ocean and on 27 November 1941, the British Chiefs of Staff discussed the possibility that the French Vichy government might cede the whole of Madagascar to Japan, or alternatively permit the Japanese navy to establish bases on the island. British naval advisors urged the occupation of the island as a precautionary measure.

The Battle of Madagascar  began with Operation Ironclad, the seizure of the port of Diego Suarez from the French near the northern tip of the island, on 5 May 1942 by British and Commonwealth forces.  A subsequent campaign to secure the entire island, “Operation Streamline Jane”.  Ground operations where supported by the 7th South African Motorized Brigade which arrived on 24 June 1942 and the South African Air Force which had been involved at the onset in reconnaissance roles.

After capturing Majunga, Tamatave and other key towns and points, British and Commonwealth troops took the capital, Altananarivo and pursued French Vichy troops defending Madagascar deep into the heart of the island. Fighting ceased and an armistice was granted on 6 November 1942.

Feature picture shows: A South African armoured car crew snatching a quick meal during their rapid drive on Tananarive during the Battle of Madagascar – while radio contact is kept up all the time.  Note the armoured car is a South African manufactured Marmon-Herrington Armoured Car.

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Insert Image: British amphibious craft landings on Madagascar

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British troops talking to French inhabitants of Madagascar after the surrender.

Image copyright IWM Collection, source Wikipedia

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