Operation Seal

This was the Free French seizure of the Vichy French island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean (27/30 November 1942).

In June 1940 the island’s governor, Pierre Emile Aubert, declared his adherence to the new Vichy French state, but on 30 November 1942 a 74-man commando of the Free French forces, landed from the destroyer Léopard, took control of the island.

The destroyer had departed Mauritius on the night of 26/27 November, and arrived off St Denis, the capital of La Réunion, at 23.00 on 27 November. Two launches were sent to search for a suitable landing spot for the designated 60-man party. At 02.30 on 28 November Léopard was sighted by Vichy French look-outs, but the landing party was quickly in control of St Denis, the local troops offering only token resistance, and the new governor, André Capagorry, was landed.

Some confusion then arose as both governors, Aubert and Capagorry, made conflicting statements. Lieutenant Hugot’s coastal battery, defending the harbour of St Denis with 95-mm (3.74-in) guns, opened fire on Léopard, and on the island the communist party activated its local cells to seize control of the city hall, arrest major opponents and elect Léon de Lépervanche as the leader of a ‘Committee of Public Safety’. As neither the local communists nor the Free French force could storm the coastal battery, Léopard pulled back under fire. The destroyer then started to hit the Pointe des Galets with its 130-mm (5.1-in) guns, while a sortie by Vichy French loyalists was thwarted by small arm fire by the resistance elements, in the process severely wounding Hugot.

The Vichy French then retreated to Hell-Bourg, abandoning the battery, and Léopard could now enter the harbour. When the ship was revealed as a Free French vessel, the other Vichy French forces refused to fight their fellow countrymen, began negotiations and surrendered on 30 November. Léopard then evacuated officials of the former regime to Mauritius to save them from popular ‘justice’.