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There’s been a fair amount of criticism of Admiral Halsey’s decisions to send small groups of ships to contest Japanese attack formations. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, PC, DL, FRS, RA (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) and his naval staff had rejected a request by US Fleet Admiral Ernest Joseph King (23 November 1878 – 25 June 1956) who was both Commander in Chief, United States Fleet (COMINCH) and Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The British wished to focus their Indian Ocean aircraft carrier task forces on the island of Madagascar, then under Vichy French control. Madagascar has an area of 587,041 sq km. which is about twice the size of Arizona or about halfway between California and Texas in size. A reasonable population estimate for 1940 would be four million people. Fleet Admiral King felt that any purported Japanese invasion of Madagascar would fall victim to impossible logistics and that there was no military purpose for Japan or Britain to bother with Madagascar while the critical supply routes from the US to Australia past the Solomon Islands were being fought over. Fleet Admiral King appreciated that Axis collaborators could signal Japanese and German submarines about Allied ship traffic in the southern African areas, but he was highly suspicious that Britain was more intent on advancing her postwar claims to additional imperial territories.

The British assembled a fleet of two WWI-era battleships, HMS Warspite and HMS Ramilles (with 15 inch guns) , two precious aircraft carriers, HMS Illustrious and HMS Indomitable (sisters), six cruisers (including one Dutch vessel), 23 destroyers (including two Dutch vessels), eight corvettes, and 24 other ships. They were opposed by five French ships: a merchant cruiser, a sloop and three submarines. There were also four Japanese submarines and two midget submarines.

Operation Ironclad to seize the northern tip of Madagascar commenced in May of 1942. The entire island was under British control by November 6. After burning enormous amounts of fuel and ammunition, Allied casualties were 620 (107 killed in action; 280 wounded; 108 died from disease), the Ramilies was damaged by a torpedo and a small (6,993 tons) oil tanker  British Loyalty  was sunk (but later refloated). French losses were 150 killed in action and 500 wounded. Both Japanese midget submarines were sunk.

Neither Fleet Admiral King, the Australian government nor General Douglas MacArthur were impressed. There is no evidence to suggest that the German and Japanese navies were dismayed.

 

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