Oral Answers to Questions — Madagascar (Operations)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 29th September 1942.

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Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

The success of the initial landings and the fact that they were accomplished with only the lightest casualties to both sides were due in great measure to the efficiency of the Royal Navy and the speed with which they ferried the troops on to the beaches at the right time.

After British troops had secured the port of Majunga, motorised units of the King's African Rifles disembarked for their advance on the capital 300 miles to the south. Their first objective was the 1,600 feet long suspension bridge over the Betsiboka river, 140 miles from Majunga. They reached this point at 9.30 a.m. on the second day and found that the Vichy French had cut the suspension cables. Although the centre span had collapsed into the water, the infantry crossed and secured a bridgehead against slight opposition. Very shortly afterwards, the advance on the capital was resumed.

On 16th September Monsieur Annet, the Vichy French Governor of the island, broadcast an appeal for an armistice. One of our planes was sent to Tananarive to bring his plenipotentiaries to Majunga, where Lieut.-General Sir William Piatt received them on the 17th. The French were unable to accept our terms, however, and the delegates left the next morning. Earlier on that same morning, our seaborne forces appeared off the east coast port of Tamatave and called upon the town to surrender. The commandant refused and fired on our envoys, but after a brief bombardment by His Majesty's ships, the white flag was hoisted over the town at 8 a.m. Our troops landed without incident and pursued the retiring French forces to Brickaville, the principal town on the railway from Tamatave and the capital, which they captured on the 19th.

At this time, our column from Majunga had reached a point some 40 miles north of Tananarive and here they met their first serious opposition. This was overcome in two sharp engagements on the 21st and 22nd, and our Forces entered the capital at midday on the 23rd. They were received with strong demonstrations of good will and even enthusiasm. Operations against the remaining Vichy French forces south of the capital are proceeding. Resistance in the northern part of the island between Diego Suarez and Majunga has collapsed, and all is now quiet in this area.

I should mention that I received news this morning that Tulear, an important port in the southern portion of the island, surrendered to an ultimatum without any bombardment being necessary.