There remained one final French thorn, Madagascar. It sat right on the main British shipping routes between Africa and the India. Part of the force that had disposed of the Golden Square in Iraq had sailed past its shores. The French had a handful of submarines based on the island, but there was a larger threat, what if the Japanese were to station some of their formidable ocean going submarines on the island? Transport between the Middle East, South Africa and India would become vastly harder, if not impossible.
This was no idle threat either. In April 1942 the Japanese deployed a detachment of submarines and support vessels to travel to Madagascar. But due to the distances involved it would take several weeks to reach the area.
By sheer coincidence the British were also moving to Madagascar, the old warship HMS Ramillies lead a force of ships, including two carriers, to the island to conduct Operation Ironclad. This was the invasion of the island. The initial plan was for a landing at the north of the island to capture the main city and port. On the 5th of May 1942 the flotilla arrived at the island. One of the first actions was when a flight of Swordfish from HMS Illustrious attacked and sank one of the French submarines. The allies landed and began an 18 mile march to the capital city, facing fierce resistance from the French Foreign Legion.
|One of the French Submarines|
At 2230 on the 29th of May an unknown plane was spotted above the harbour. HMS Ramillies immediately weighed anchor and began to steam about the harbour, but when no attack was forthcoming she re-anchored.
The plane was a reconnaissance plane from the Japanese submarines. Only two had made it, the other had suffered damage from bad weather. The Japanese had missed their window, if they had left a month earlier the British fleet might not have even made it to the island whilst being under attack by the Japanese submarines.
The tale of the other Midget Submarine can be found here.
Wikipedia.org, www.warshipsww2.eu, freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com and 3.bp.blogspot.com