Battle of Réunion

Last updated
Battle of Réunion
Part of the Indian Ocean theatre of World War II
Re-map.png
Map of La Réunion. The invasion forces landed at Saint-Denis; action also took place at Le Port and Pointe des Galets.
Date28 November 1942
Location
Result Free French victory
Belligerents
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg  Free France Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Vichy France
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg Jules Evenou
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg André Capagorry
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Pierre Aubert
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Émile Hugot  (WIA)
Strength
1 destroyer (Léopard)
1 company of Fusiliers Marins
Local resistance
260 men
Casualties and losses
1+ killed 2+ killed
1+ wounded

The Battle of Réunion or Liberation of Réunion (French : Bataille de La Réunion, Libération de La Réunion) was an amphibious landing and uprising which brought the island of Réunion onto the Allied side during the Second World War. The invasion was performed by the Free French Naval Forces (FNFL) destroyer Léopard on 28 November 1942, which toppled the administration loyal to the Vichy French regime and replaced it with a Free French administration.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Réunion Overseas region and department in France

Réunion is an overseas department and region of France and an island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and 175 km (109 mi) southwest of Mauritius. As of January 2019, it had a population of 866,506.

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the "United Nations" from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Contents

Background

Vichy and Réunion

Since the Battle of France in May–June 1940, the island of La Réunion had had little strategic importance and little defences as a consequence. The Compiègne Armistice had reduced the military on the island to three officers, one doctor, eleven non-commissioned officers and about 270 men, of which only 23 were professionals. The coastal artillery was out of order.

Battle of France Successful German invasion of France in 1940

The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries during the Second World War. In the six weeks from 10 May 1940, German forces defeated Allied forces by mobile operations and conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, bringing land operations on the Western Front to an end until the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940 and invaded France over the Alps.

On 23 June 1940, Raoul Nativel, president of the conseil général , denounced the Armistice on Radio Saint-Denis. The next day, British consul Maurice Gaud met with the governor of the island, Pierre Aubert, proposing to pay the French administration on British treasure if La Réunion would fight on. The proposal became public when Radio Mauritius broadcast it. Aubert consulted with local notabilities, but faced with the choice of illegally surrendering the island to a foreign government, he decided to stay loyal to Marshal Philippe Pétain's Vichy France government. Supporters of the French exile government of Charles De Gaulle, General secretary Angelini and captain Plat were transferred, and the president of the colonial commission Adrien Lagourgue was discharged, as well as Nativel.

British Mauritius British crown colony

British Mauritius was a British crown colony off the Southeast coast of Africa. Formerly part of the French colonial empire, the crown colony of Mauritius was established after a British invasion in 1810 and the subsequent Treaty of Paris that followed. British rule ended on 12 March 1968, when Mauritius became independent.

Philippe Pétain French military and political leader

Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain, generally known as Philippe Pétain, Marshal Pétain and The Old Marshal, was a French general officer who attained the position of Marshal of France at the end of World War I, during which he became known as The Lion of Verdun, and in World War II served as the Chief of State of Vichy France from 1940 to 1944. Pétain, who was 84 years old in 1940, ranks as France's oldest head of state.

Vichy France officially the French State, was France during the regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain, during World War II

Vichy France is the common name of the French State headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain during World War II. Evacuated from Paris to Vichy in the unoccupied "Free Zone" in the southern part of metropolitan France which included French Algeria, it remained responsible for the civil administration of France as well as the French colonial empire.

Governor Aubert, although loyal to the Vichy Regime, was relatively moderate in his support of Pétain's policies. He had, however, the supreme authority on the island. On the other hand, his cabinet director, Jean-Jacques Pillet, was enthusiastic in his support of the Vichy Révolution nationale , organising censorship, propaganda, a special criminal court, and a pro-Vichy militia.

The Révolution nationale was the official ideological program promoted by the Vichy regime which had been established in July 1940 and led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. Pétain's regime was characterized by anti-parliamentarism, rejection of the constitutional separation of powers, personality cultism, xenophobia, state-sponsored anti-Semitism, promotion of traditional values, rejection of modernity, corporatism and opposition to the theory of class conflict. Despite its name, the ideological project was more reactionary than revolutionary as it opposed most changes introduced to French society by the French Revolution.

A local resistance movement soon emerged. On 11 November 1941, for Remembrance Day, about 20 women put flowers on the 1918 memorial at Saint-Denis; they were consequently fined. Communist cells operated under Léon de Lepervanche though kept a low profile. La Réunion also harboured Duy Tân, exiled Emperor of Vietnam, who was a keen radio amateur and managed to communicate with Mauritius; he was detained shortly thereafter and had his equipment confiscated.

Remembrance Day memorial day on 11 November

Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed in Commonwealth member states since the end of the First World War to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. Following a tradition inaugurated by King George V in 1919, the day is also marked by war remembrances in many non-Commonwealth countries. Remembrance Day is observed on 11 November in most countries to recall the end of hostilities of First World War on that date in 1918. Hostilities formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month", in accordance with the armistice signed by representatives of Germany and the Entente between 5:12 and 5:20 that morning. The First World War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.

Duy Tân Vietnamese emperor

Emperor Duy Tân, born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh San, was a boy emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty and reigned for 9 years between 1907 and 1916.

Strategic situation

After the Battle of Singapore, in February 1942, the British Eastern Fleet retreated to Addu Atoll in the Maldives. Then, following Chuichi Nagumo's Indian Ocean raid in early 1942, the Fleet moved its operational base to Kilindini near Mombasa in Kenya, increasing the British presence on the Eastern African coasts. Soon afterwards, the British struck the French possessions of Madagascar, under Vichy Regime control, with Operation Ironclad, on 5 May 1942. La Réunion lost her shipping communications with mainland Africa, and the attack further encouraged anti-British sentiments among the Vichy loyalists. On the other hand, De Gaulle, who had not been involved in Ironclad, felt hard-pressed to re-claim La Réunion from Vichy before the British or Americans would.

Battle of Singapore World War II battle

The Battle of Singapore, also known as the Fall of Singapore, was fought in the South-East Asian theatre of World War II when the Empire of Japan invaded the British stronghold of Singapore—nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the East". Singapore was the major British military base in South-East Asia and was the key to British imperial interwar defence planning for South-East Asia and the South-West Pacific. The fighting in Singapore lasted from 8 to 15 February 1942, after the two months during which Japanese forces had advanced down the Malayan Peninsula.

Addu Atoll atoll of the Maldives

Addu Atoll, also known as Seenu Atoll, is the southernmost atoll of the Maldives. Addu Atoll, together with Fuvahmulah, located 40 km north of Addu Atoll, extend the Maldives into the Southern Hemisphere. Addu Atoll is located 540 km south of Malé, the country's capital. Administratively, Addu Atoll is the location of Addu City, one of the two cities of the Maldives. Addu City consists of the inhabited areas of Addu Atoll, namely the natural islands of Hulhudhoo, Meedhoo, Maradhoo, Feydhoo, and Hithadhoo.. In addition to the areas that are included as a part of Addu City, Addu Atoll has a number of other inhabited and uninhabited islands, including the island of Gan, where Gan International Airport is located.

Maldives South Asian country in the Indian Ocean

The Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is a country in South Asia, located in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from the Asian continent. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to Addu Atoll in the south. Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres (115 sq mi), the Maldives is one of the world's most geographically dispersed sovereign states as well as the smallest Asian country by land area and population, with around 427,756 inhabitants. Malé is the capital and the most populated city, traditionally called the "King's Island" for its central location.

On 8 May, Vichy elements in Madagascar signaled that a British cruiser had left South Africa with 600 men aboard to seize the island. Aubert then decided to obstruct the harbour of Le Port by scuttling a ship in the entrance. He also ordered evacuation of the capital of Saint-Denis, so as to avoid a bloody bombing like that at Diego Soares; in the evening, about 9,000 people had moved to La Montagne, Le Brûlé, Saint-François, and Sainte Marie. No bombing materialised, however, and the population gradually returned to its homes.

The incident had highlighted the fact that the island was helpless against any invasion; on 18 September, it was decided that resistance to a landing would be limited to a mere token fight. Some elements of the military were however determined to fiercely resist a British invasion. On 27 September, Saint-Denis was declared open city, while authorities moved to Hell-Bourg, mocked by De Gaulle's supporters.

On 8 November, Operation Torch triggered Case Anton, the German invasion of the so-called "Free Zone", resulting in the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon. François Darlan emerged as a rival to De Gaulle, negotiating with General Mark Clark.

Invasion

The Leopard, pictured in 1942 Free French destroyer Leopard on 6 June 1942.jpg
The Léopard, pictured in 1942

On the night of 26 to 27 November 1942, the FNFL large destroyer Léopard sailed with 74 troops from Mauritius, arriving off Saint-Denis on 27 at 23:00. She was captained by commander Jules Evenou, who went by the nom de guerre of "Jacques Richard". [1]

Two launches were sent with a 5-man party to search for a favourable landing spot. At 2:30, Léopard was sighted by lookouts, as the invasion troops were boarding boats. About 60 men landed and, led by Lieutenant Moreau, took control of the government palace, and the rest of Saint-Denis was under Free France control by the evening. Barraquin, chief of the invasion troops, made contact with friendly elements in the population, notably Communist leader Léon de Lépervanche, and General secretary Rivière, who started arranging the hand-over of the island. Hard-core Vichyist Pillet then fled to Hell-Bourg to organise a resistance. The new governor designated by De Gaulle, André Capagorry, arrived around 6 o'clock, cheered by the population, and gave a speech calling for calm on Radio Saint-Denis.

Charles de Gaulle inspecting sailors on the Leopard in June 1942 General De Gaulle inspecting sailors on the Free French ship LEOPARD at Greenock, 24 June 1942. A10354.jpg
Charles de Gaulle inspecting sailors on the Léopard in June 1942

The next day, on 28 November, Communist cells under Lépervanche activated, seizing the city hall, arresting the mayor and electing Lépervanche as leader of a "Committee of Public Safety"; they next failed in an attempt to capture the 95-mm coastal battery of Le Port, commanded by Lieutenant Émile Hugot, considered a hard-core Pétainist. In retaliation, the battery opened fire on Léopard, which retreated to the open sea and started firing back, killing two. Engineer Raymond Decugis attempted to have the battery cease-fire but was killed by small arms fire. [2] A sortie by the Vichyists was thwarted by small arms fire from the Resistants, severely wounding Hugot. Fearing an assault of their positions by regular troops, the gunners retreated, silencing the battery, and Léopard approached Le Port.

Upon learning that the invasion force was French rather than British, and without any response from his government in spite of repeated requests for instructions, Aubert renounced the idea of even a symbolic fight. However, Captain Evenou, growing increasingly nervous at the thought of enemy submarines and fearing for his ship, clumsily attempted to force the issue by threatening to destroy factories on the island. After lengthy negotiations involving Capagorry, Aubert eventually agreed to surrender on the condition that the ultimatum on the factories be made again as a way for him to save face. The surrender was formalised on 30 at 8:45.

Capagorry broadcast the statements:

Aftermath

Banknote issued by Free French Reunion in 1943 2 francs croix de Lorraine de la Reunion, 1943.jpg
Banknote issued by Free French Réunion in 1943

On 2 December, Pillet, local army commander Artignan, and their wives were discreetly brought aboard Léopard as to avoid any popular retaliation. Aubert boarded the next day after lunch with Capagorry, Evenou and Barraquin, and the destroyer departed for Mauritius.

Léopard made several trips between Mauritius and La Réunion to provide rice, which had been lacking, contributing greatly to Capagorry's popularity. He gained the nickname papa de riz or the "rice daddy".

From 20 April 1943, a special court cancelled all sanctions and discharges imposed under the Vichy Regime. Officials of the Vichy administration suffered at most light penalties, except for Jean-Jacques Pillet, who was discharged. In recognition of his role in the battle, Raymond Decugis was later declared a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and a Companion of the Liberation.

See also

Sources and references

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Free France Government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle during the Second World War

Free France and its Free French Forces were the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle during the Second World War and its military forces, that continued to fight against the Axis powers as one of the Allies after the fall of France. Set up in London in June 1940, it organised and supported the Resistance in occupied France.

Saint-Denis, Réunion Prefecture and commune in Réunion, France

Saint-Denis is the préfecture of the French overseas region and department of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. It is located at the island's northernmost point, close to the mouth of the Rivière Saint-Denis.

Michel Debré Prime Minister of France (1959–1962)

Michel Jean-Pierre Debré was the first Prime Minister of the French Fifth Republic. He is considered the "father" of the current Constitution of France. He served under President Charles de Gaulle from 1959 to 1962. In terms of political personality, he was intense and immovable, with a tendency to rhetorical extremism.

French West Africa in World War II French colonial territories in West Africa during the Second World War

In World War II, French West Africa was not the scene of major fighting. Only one large-scale action took place there: the Battle of Dakar. The region remained under the control of Vichy France after the fall of France and until the Allied invasion of North Africa. French Gabon, the only colony of French Equatorial Africa not to join Free France after the armistice, fell to invading Free French Forces from the neighbouring colonies after the Battle of Gabon, further isolating West Africa.

Gabriel Auphan French Admiral

Counter-admiral Gabriel Paul Auphan was a French naval officer who became the State Secretary of the Navy(secrétaire d'État à la Marine) of the Vichy government from April to November 1942.

Henri Michel (historian) French historian (1907-1986)

Henri Michel was a French historian, who studied the Second World War. He created the Comité d'Histoire de la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale and the Revue d'Histoire de la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale.

Battle of Gabon battle

The Battle of Gabon, also called the Gabon Campaign, occurred in November 1940 during World War II. The battle resulted in the Free French Forces taking the colony of Gabon and its capital, Libreville, from Vichy French forces. It was the only significant engagement in Central Africa during the war.

Free French Naval Forces naval arm of the Free French Forces during the Second World War

The Free French Naval Forces were the naval arm of the Free French Forces during the Second World War. They were commanded by Admiral Émile Muselier.

Germain Jousse, was a member of the French Resistance during the Second World War.

Bernard Karsenty, was a member of the French Resistance during World War II. He was a leader of the Algiers putsch of 1942.

The French State, known as Vichy France, proclaimed by Marshal Philippe Pétain after the Fall of France in 1940 before Nazi Germany, was quickly recognized by the Allies, as well as by the Soviet Union, until 30 June 1941 and Operation Barbarossa. However France broke with the United Kingdom after the destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir. Canada maintained diplomatic relations until the occupation of Southern France by Germany and Italy in November 1942.

French Committee of National Liberation

The French Committee of National Liberation was a provisional government of Free France formed by the French generals Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle to provide united leadership, organize and coordinate the campaign to liberate France from Nazi Germany during World War II. The committee was formed on 3 June 1943 and after a period of joint leadership, on November 9 it came under the chairmanship of Gen. de Gaulle. The committee directly challenged the legitimacy of the Vichy regime and unified all the French forces that fought against the Nazis and collaborators. The committee functioned as a provisional government for Algeria and the liberated parts of the colonial empire. Later it evolved into the Provisional Government of the French Republic, under the premiership of Charles de Gaulle.

French destroyer <i>Léopard</i>

The French destroyer Léopard was a Chacal-class destroyer built for the French Navy during the 1920s. She became a training ship in the mid-1930s before serving as a convoy escort during World War II before the Germans invaded France in May 1940. After that time, she bombarded advancing German forces near the northern French coast and took part in the Dunkirk evacuation. After the surrender of France, she was seized by the British in July and turned over to the Free French.

René Jacques Adolphe Prioux was a general of the French Army who served in both world wars. A cavalry officer of great talent, Prioux rapidly rose through the officer ranks and commanded the Cavalry Corps of the First Army during the Battle of Belgium in May 1940. He was captured by the Germans and spent two years as a prisoner of war. Repatriated in 1942, Prioux came to be seen as a strong supporter of the Vichy regime and was consequently removed from a position of authority in the French Army by Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French, after the landings in French north Africa by U.S. and British forces in November 1942.

<i>Élan</i>-class sloop

The Élan class was a class of French minesweeping sloops. Originally designed as minesweepers, they were never used in that role, instead being used mostly as escort vessels. Built between 1936 and 1940, the first came into service just before the outbreak of World War II.

Led first by Philippe Pétain, the Vichy regime that replaced the French Third Republic in 1940 chose the path of collaboration with the Nazi occupiers. This policy included the Bousquet-Oberg accords of July 1942 that formalized the collaboration of the French police with the German police. This collaboration was manifested in particular by anti-Semitic measures taken by the Vichy government, and by its active participation in the genocide.

Géo Gras Group

The Géo Gras Group was a French resistance movement that played a decisive role during Operation Torch, the British-American invasion of French North Africa during WWII.