The WWII West Africa Campaign began shortly after France fell to Germany in June of 1940 and signed the armistice.  As a result, the loyalty of many of the French colonies was in question.  Some of the colonies chose to remain with the free French such as the French Cameroun and the French Equatorial Africa, but others maintained allegiance to the Vichy French including French North Africa, French West Africa, Syria and French Indonesia.

During this time, the British began to fear the French fleet could fall under the control of the Germans.  This led to the British attacking the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kebir in early July of 1940.  While their action eliminated the threat, it further discouraged a number of additional units from wanting to unite with the Free French and the Allies.

Peaceful Attempt

Free French commander and leader, Charles De Gaulle felt he could use persuasion to convince the Vichy French forces located in Dakar to team up with the Allies.  The Allies stood to gain quite a bit should this occur:

  • Political impact of a Vichy French colony shifting allegiance
  • Gold stockpiles from both Banque de France and the Polish (exiled) government were kept in Dakar
  • The port located in Dakar was superior to the only other naval base located within this area

With so much at stake, the Allies proceeded by sending a task force along with an aircraft carrier, battleships and cruisers, destroyers and a number of transport carriers (transporting some 8,000 troops) to Dakar.  Orders were given to first negotiate a peaceful settlement for occupation of Dakar.  If the Vichy French governor refused, they were instructed next to forcibly take control of Dakar.  Negotiations failed.

Battle of Dakar

On September 23rd, the Allies began their attempt to secure the port of Dakar (known today as Senegal).  They first began by dropping propaganda pamphlets throughout Dakar.  Afterwards, the aircrafts landed at a nearby airport, but the crews were immediately apprehended and taken prisoner.   That afternoon, the two forces began firing upon each other and for the next two days, the Allies continued to attack the Vichy forces coastal defenses.   The Vichy French Air Force spent those two days bombing the harbor and dockyards.  Though damage was minimal and casualties were few, the Allies eventually withdrew.

The overall result was a far greater political loss – especially for DeGaulle, whose unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Vichy French to join the Allies, left the Allies skeptical.  Despite his success just two months later at the Battle of Gabon, DeGaulle was unable to repair all the previous damage.

Battle of Gabon

The Battle of Gabon took place in November of 1940 in an attempt to gain control of the French Equatorial Africa region.  General Charles de Gaulle wished to gain control of this region to set up a base for launching attacks on Libya, who remained under Axis control.   The Allies first took control of the town of Mitzic on October 27th.  Next, they set their sights on taking control of Librevile, Gabon.

The Battle of Gabon began on November 8, 1940 when the Allies sunk a French Vichy submarine.  Forces landed and began their assault on Libreville, capturing their aerodrome.  On November 12th, just three days after the battle began, the Vichy French forces surrendered unconditionally.   Soldiers unwilling to join the Allies were held captive as prisoners of war for the remainder of the war.

In Conclusion

Though the Allies failed to be successful in both battles of the WWII West Africa Campaign, the Vichy French, would only manage to hold the Dakar region until November of 1942 when Allies would land and successfully gain control over this region.