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Operation Menace - Battle of Dakar

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines

Location: Dakar

Period/ Conflict: World War II

Year: 1940

Date/s: 23–25 September 1940

Operation Menace, was an unsuccessful attempt in September 1940 by the Allies to capture the strategic port of Dakar in French West Africa (modern-day Senegal).

The Free French began planning a descent on Dakar with 2,700 men drawn from de Gaulle’s small army, embarked in two Dutch liners, Pennland and Westernland. De Gaulle himself made his headquarters on the Westernland.

On August 8, the day after the Germans began the Battle of Britain, the British agreed to support the invasion with the Royal Navy and 4,000 Royal Marines in four battalions. The Marines were preparing for a possible assault on the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands and the Azores to gain bases to use against U-boats, but the British War Committee was unsure about the idea of invading territory held by “Britain’s oldest ally.” So the British would back Operation Menace, the code-name for the attack on Dakar.

The Royal Marines were packed into four mechanical transport ships, and Maj. Gen. Noel Irwin was appointed boss of the land force. Admiral John Cunningham was chosen to head the naval force, which consisted of the tough aircraft carrier Ark Royal, the old battleship Resolution, the slightly faster battleship Barham, the cruisers Devonshire and Fiji, 16 destroyers, and two sloops. Free France provided three sloops, a patrol vessel, and two Luciole touring aircraft for Ark Royal.

The Allied plan was to sail to Dakar and launch the Luciole touring planes, loaded with emissaries from de Gaulle. They would bring a message urging the Vichy leadership to join with de Gaulle. If all went well, Dakar could be taken without firing a shot.

In August 1940 the RM Division, though still only at the strength of 2 light brigades, undertook formal embarkation, on-ship, and debarkation exercises on transports before departing for Freetown, Sierra Leone for Operation Menace:

  • 101st RM Brigade

    • 1st RM Battalion from the Clyde on the SS Ettrick

    • 5th RM Battalion on the SS Karanja

  • 102nd RM Brigade

    • 2nd RM Battalion on the SS Kenya

    • 3rd RM Battalion on the MS Sobieski (though A Company were on the Ettrick)

Though deployed off Dakar, the Free French coup failed and the RM Division troops returned to Freetown.

101st Brigade were withdrawn back to the Clyde in October 1940, but 102nd Brigade remained on standby in Freetown, not rejoining the 101st in West Scotland until February 1941.

By this time the Commandos had become established under Combined Operations HQ as the British amphibious raiding force, and operational opportunities for the RM Division proved elusive.

Despite extensive training in beach assault landings, proposals for use of the RM Division in the Lofoten Islands Raid in December 1941 were rebuffed in favour of the Commandos.

More here:

Debacle at Dakar - Warfare History

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My dad was on the Karanja and had many stories about the journey down there. He ended up in 45 Commando.

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