South African Military History Society


The meeting of the Society held on 12th March 1992 dispensed with the usual curtain-raiser in favour of a display of unusually high quality military art reproductions arranged by Mr Hamish Paterson.

Members wishing to order copies of the prints are requested to write to Mr Paterson at the Museum, P0 Box 52090, Saxonwold, 2132.

The principal speaker of the evening, Colonel Jack Clayton, addressed the members present on the South African Airforce in Madagascar.

The Madagascar campaign was a rather obscure one, and therefore all the more interesting. Colonel Clayton set the scene with an explanation of the campaign's significance. At the stage of the war when the Japanese were becoming increasingly active in the Indian Ocean, it was vital to ensure that the port of Diego Suarez did not fall into their hands. There was evidence that Japanese submarines were being replenished at the Port, as Madagascar was under the control of the Vichy Government in France.

The planning for "Operation Iron-Clad" as the invasion was designated, began as early as November 1941. The idea was to deliver a swift and heavy blow, thus necessitating the use of a large and highly mobile force.

Colonel Clayton described the force's composition. Five army brigades were used, 3 British, 1 South African and 1 from East Africa. The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm was involved, together with the South African Airforce in which Colonel Clayton served.

The South African Airforce component's part in the invasion formed the basis for the rest of Colonel Clayton's fascinating and amusing talk.

The amphibious attack, commencing on 5th May 1942, was launched against 5 beaches simultaneously, and took the French forces by surprise. Operation Iron Clad was the first large scale amphibious assault since the Dardanelles attack in World War I.

The SAAF Component, under Colonel Melville, was involved in a variety of activities ranging from anti-submarine patrols to attacks on enemy held airfields to the south, as well as numerous reconnaissance flights.

The army made slow progress southward and the airforce occupied and flew from bases at Majunga, Tamatave and Ivato at various stages.

Malaria proved to be almost as efficient an enemy as the Japanese submarines, and one entire brigade had to return to Durban to recuperate.

The campaign became bogged down due to bad weather and the French Governor's refusal to surrender. The 3 SAAF flights were amalgamated into 1 squadron with Colonel Clayton as Officer Commanding.

On 31st October, a South African Armoured Car regiment spearheaded the final attack on Fianarantsoa, which led to the surrender of the French on 5 November, exactly 6 months after the start of the campaign.

The campaign' s objective had been achieved with success and denying the Japanese the use of the island undoubtedly contributed to the Allies success in the Middle Eastern theatre of war.

Colonel Clayton was thanked for his immensely interesting talk by Mr Paul Melville, brother, of Colonel Melville, under whose command the SAAF Component had served on Madagascar.

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- The Natal branch of the Society has informed us of a tour to the Anglo-Zulu War sites on the N Coast and inland (including Eshowe, Ulundi, Isandhlwana, Rorke's Drift, Kambula, Utrecht and Intombi River). The tour will take place from 28 May to 1 June 1992 and will be organised by Mrs Pam Brink of "Wild Adventure Expeditions" from whom further details are available at (031) 82-1409.

- Members of the Society who would be willing to serve on the Committee are asked to contact the Chairman before or on the evening of the A.G.M.

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Future Meetings

4 April: AGM: Mr Lionel Bussin; My Escapes as a POW WWII.

14th May: Mr John Keene. Manufacture of War Gas in SA.

Cape Town:
Commander Dan O'Hanlon. Experience as a POW after the fall of Hong Kong.

Further details from Maj Antony Gordon Tel 021 614 500.

Details from Mrs Tania van der Watt: Tel 031 764-2970

Jennifer Copley
(01211) 30447

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