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Why did the British invade Madagascar?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: January 01, 2013 
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Why did the British invade Madagascar in 1942, in spite of it being a French colony and stronghold? Why did they attack their own ally?

? ? ?

Because, as of July 1940, Vichy France was not Britain's ally. During the Iraqi army revolt in April 1941, handfuls of German and Italian aircraft staged through Palmyra, Syria, while the nominally "neutral" Vichy French authorities looked the other way. After the Iraqis were subdued, the British invaded Vichy French-held Lebanon and Syria, then handed them over to the Free French in June. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Japanese forces invaded Vichy French Indochina between September 22 and 26, 1940, and subsequently used it as a base from which to invade British-held Burma. In early April 1942, the Japanese Combined Fleet struck twice at Ceylon, sank the aircraft carrier Hermes and heavy cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire, and drove the Royal Navy from the northeastern Indian Ocean. With that, and the fact that Japanese submarines were capable of operating up to 10,000 miles, the prospect of their having access to ports in Madagascar—or even a Japanese seizure of the island—was real enough a threat for the British to land at Diego Suarez on May 6, 1942, starting a campaign that eventually secured Madagascar for the Free French in November.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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