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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 (R.W.A.F.F.). An Inspector General of African Colonial Forces was appointed to oversee their training and act as military adviser to the colonial governments.

The main role of the armed forces in the four colonies was internal security, and they had few artillery, engineer, signals and support services. Officers and non-commissioned officers were seconded from British Army service to the R.W.A.F.F. for periods of usually four years.

H.Q. Military Forces West Africa was formed on 7 July 1940 with the arrival of Lieutenant General GIFFARD and one staff officer. The headquarters were established on 15 July near Accra. His task was the defence of all West African territories, and the coordination of all Military resources in these colonies. The main threat to the British colonies in West Africa came from the French. When the French agreed an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940, the French colony of West Africa aligned itself with the Vichy Government. The Gambia was surrounded by French West Africa, and the northern borders of Sierra Leone also were against French West Africa. Freetown was a major British port on the coast of Sierra Leone, and vulnerable to French action. Tension increased after the British action against the French fleet at Dakar, in what is now Senegal, in Operation Menace.

G.H.Q. West Africa Command was formed in Nigeria with effect from 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 Royal West Africa Frontier Force, the British Army regiment that comprised all the four colonies, expanded greatly during the Second World War.

The 81 (West Africa) Infantry Division was raised on 1 March 1943, leaving for India on 9 July. The 82 (West Africa) Infantry Division was raised on 1 August 1943 and left for India on 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 6 March 1957, when it was renamed Ghana. Nigeria gained independence on 1 October 1960, Sierra Leone on 27 April 1961 and Gambia on 18 February 1965.

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