East, West and South Africa 1930 - 1947

West Africa 1930 - 1947

The United Kingdom had four colonies in West Africa, namely: Nigeria (by far the largest in terms of both population and area); The Gold Coast (now known as Ghana); Sierra Leone (with the large natural port of Freetown), and the smallest being The Gambia.

The Armed Forces in the British West African colonies were under the control of the individual colonies following the First World War.  The regiments of the four colonies were all under the umbrella of the Royal West African Frontier Force. An Inspector General of African Colonial Forces was appointed to oversee their training and act as military adviser to the colonial governments.  H.Q. Military Forces West Africa was formed on the 7 July 1940 with the arrival of Lieutenant General GIFFARD and one staff officer.  The headquarters were established on the 15 July near Accra.  His task was the defence of all West African territories and coordination of all Military resources in these colonies.

G.H.Q. West Africa Command was formed in Nigeria with effect from the 10 December 1941. It had under command the:

  • Nigeria Area;
  • Gold Coast Area;
  • Gambia Area;
  • Sierra Leone Area.

The command remained little changed during the war, and continued in existence afterwards. During the war, the main role was to defend the British colonies against possible incursion from the neighbouring Vichy French states, and to raise two infantry divisions to be deployed in Burma.

The 81 (West Africa) Infantry Division was raised on the 1 March 1943, leaving for India on the 9 July.  The 82 (West Africa) Infantry Division was raised on the 1 August 1943 and left for India on the 27 May 1944.  Both fought with distinction in the Arakan under command of XV Indian Corps, confirming General GIFFARD’s belief in the value of West African soldiers in combat.

With the cessation of hostilities in the Far East, neither division was deployed in Malaya or the Netherland East Indies, with the 81 Division remaining in India and the 82 Division in Burma.  A shortage of shipping delayed their return home, so it was not until May 1946 that the 81 (W.A.) Division returned to West Africa.  It was disbanded formally soon afterwards.  The 82 (W.A.) Division followed shortly afterwards also disbanding on its arrival back home.

The Gold Coast was the first West African colony to gain independence on the 6 March 1957, when it was renamed Ghana.  Nigeria gained independence on the 1 October 1960, Sierra Leone on the 27 April 1961 and Gambia on the 18 February 1965.

West Africa 1930 - 1947