East, West and South Africa 1930 - 1947:
Madagascar is a large island off the south-eastern coast of Africa. It is about 1,000 miles in length from north to south, and at its widest point, is about 360 miles across. It was a French colony, and after the fall of France in 1940, it aligned itself with the new Vichy government. With the entry of Japan into the Second World War in December 1941, concern grew in the British government that the Japanese Navy may use Madagascar as a base, in particular for submarines.
There was a large anchorage and naval base at Diego Suarez, on the northern tip of the island. With the closure of the Mediterranaen Sea to British shipping, the route around South Africa, and up the east coast of Africa, was vital in order to reinforce the Middle East, and for oil supplies to the U.K.
An expeditionary force had been formed in the U.K. comprising the Royal Marine Division and the 29 Independent Infantry Brigade. This force had trained in combined operations in preparation for an amphibious landing. When the order was given for the force to sail from the U.K., the 29 Brigade was already loaded on the landing ships, so it sailed to South Africa instead of the Royal Marine Division. The operation was given the codename ‘Operation Ironclad’, and was ordered to be undertaken on 14 March 1942.
Force 121 called at Freetown in the Gambia, and then onto Durban. The Royal Navy element was under the command of Rear Admiral E. N. SYFRET, C.B., R.N. with a Royal Marine, Major General R. G. STURGES, in command of the Army element. This was the only occasion during the Second World War when a Royal Marine officer commanded Army units on active service. Brigadier F. W. FESTING was appointed the Assault Commander, and Captain G. A. GARNON-WILLIAMS, R.N. as the Senior Naval Officer for the landings.
The 29 Brigade commenced landing at Deigo Suarez together with 5 (Army) Commando on 5 May 1942, with the 17 Infantry Brigade landing later the same day, and the 13 Infantry Brigade on the next day. The French forces (comprising French, Foreign Legion and Senegalese troops) put up some fierce resistance, but surrendered on 7 May 1942. The 13 and 17 Infantry Brigades continued their journey onto India to rejoin the 5 Infantry Division, with the 22 (East Africa) Infantry Brigade being sent to Madagascar to replace them.
Efforts were made to encourage the French Governor to surrender the rest of the island, but he refused to do so. As a result, the 7 South African Motorised Brigade was offered by the South African government to garrison Diego Suarez. This allowed the 29 Brigade to land at Majunga on 10 September 1942, and the 22 (East Africa) Brigade passed through and advanced into the centre of the island. The 29 Brigade was re-embarked and landed at Tamatave on 18 September, and then also advanced towards the capital.
The capital Tananarive (now called Antananarivo) was occupied on 29 September, but the final surrender did not take place until 5 November 1942. British forces garrisoned Madagascar until late 1944, when Free French forces assumed responsibility for the island.