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Assault on Kerguelen (Great White South)

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This article is about the assault on Kerguelen during World War II. For the Napoleonic-era conflict on Kerguelen, see Battle of Kerguelen.
Concurrent:

World War II

Assault on Kerguelen
KerguelenAssault Movements of Allied (red) and Axis (blue) troops during the assault. Port-aux-Français is shown in blue.
Beginning:

April 16th, 1941

End:

April 23rd, 1941

Place:

Kerguelen; Indian Ocean

Outcome:

Allied victory; Free French Forces take control of Kerguelen.

Combatants
Allied Powers

Flag of Free France 1940-1944 Free French
Flag of Australia Australia

Axis Powers

Flag of France Vichy French
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Nazi Germany

Commanders

Flag of Free France 1940-1944 Henri Le Pennec
Flag of Free France 1940-1944 Apollinaire Fournier
Flag of Australia Felix van der Zee

Flag of France Maurice Omnès
Flag of German Reich (1935–1945) Wilhelm von Hippel

Strength

Free French:
Australian:

Vichy French:
German: ~200 men

Casualties and Losses

Free French: 2
Australian: 0
Civilian: estimated 15-200[1]

Vichy French: 4
German: 2
Civilian:

The Assault on Kerguelen (French: Assaut sur Kerguelen; German: Anschlag von Kerguelen) was an attack by Free French and Australian forces on the Vichy-controlled Kerguelen Islands during World War II.

Events

In July 1940, after the German victory in the Battle of France, the islands' Council President, Maurice Omnès, pledged his support for the Vichy regime, bringing Kerguelen under Axis control. This was a controversial decision which starkly divided the Kerguelaine people, and soon provoked a civilian opposition movement to his government, led by former Council President Henri Le Pennec.

Omnès' dedication to the Révolution nationale eventually resulted in a more violent confrontation between his supporters (including much of the police force, gendarmerie and local military) and his opposers. It is thought that up to 200 people may have been killed during his tenure.

After almost a year, in April 1941, Germany deployed around 200 troops to Kerguelen, hoping to establish a significant military presence which could be used to aid in naval warfare in the Indian Ocean; as well as launching attacks on Africa, Antarctica, Asia, and even Australia. Wilhelm von Hippel, the commander of Germany's forces in New Swabia, flew to Kerguelen to oversee this operation.

However, the German presence on the islands alarmed the local resistance movement, prompting them to smuggle details of the German plans to Cookstown, Eduarda; where Free French General Apollinaire Fournier had his headquarters. Fournier used the plans to convince other Allied military commanders in Antarctica to authorize an assault on Kerguelen; and hurriedly planned an attack in coordination with Australian General Felix van der Zee.

On April 16th, Australian and Free French forces reached Kerguelen by sea, and disembarked on the southern coast of the main island. The Australian troops, accompanied by a handful of French interpreters, moved west through small fishing villages, where they encountered little resistance from supporters of Omnès' government; while the Free French troops moved east, towards Kerguelen's capital, Port-aux-Français, where support for the Axis government was at its strongest.

As Fournier's men approached the capital, the Vichy and German forces were alerted to their presence. However, the Free French forces vastly outnumbered the Axis forces, and following a short firefight around Port-aux-Français, the Vichy government surrendered, Omnès resigned as Council President, and Henri Le Pennec took his place.

Aftermath

For a few weeks following the battle, Free French forces sailed between the various islands of Kerguelen to deliver the news of the Vichy forces' defeat. Allegedly, the inhabitants of the Îles Occidentales were unaware that Kerguelen had ever been under Vichy control.

After the liberation of Kerguelen, General Fournier established his headquarters there, making it the high command of the Free French forces in Antarctica. Omnès and his most loyal supporters were placed in military prison until a trial could be arranged after the end of the war. The German troops on Kerguelen were transported to New Vestfold, where they were interned in POW camps.

Limited pro-Vichy activity continued after the liberation, but was inconsequential. The Kriegsmarine continued to harass Kerguelaine naval activities until the end of the war, but there were no more land attacks on the islands.

This assault also marked the last time General Felix van der Zee took part in a field operation. The following year, he was made Commander of the Commonwealth Forces in Antarctica.

  1. This figure covers all civilian deaths caused by the Vichy government of Kerguelen throughout its existence.

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