Attacks by the Irgun and Stern Gang
Kidnappings, Beatings, Murders and Hangings
Jewish resistance to the British mandate had begun before the Second World War when Jews extremists set up an organization called, “Irgun Zvia Leumi” (IZL) or simply, “The Irgun”. Their aim was to campaign for the establishment of the state of Israel.
At the outbreak of the Second World War most of the Irgun selected to support the Allies and fight the common enemy, “Nazism. “A splinter group led by a Abraham Stern decided to continue the fight against the British. This group, better known as the “Stern” gang, was responsible for many terrorist atrocities and murders in the following decade, though Stern himself was killed in a gunfight with the Palestine Police in the early 1942.
In 1944, with the end the war in sight, Irgun, now under the leadership of Menachem Begin , the future Prime Minister of Israel 1977-83, began to attack the British administration in Palestine, starting with bomb attacks on the immigration offices, tax offices and police stations. Because the war was not yet over these activities met with condemnation even from the Jewish Agency and Haganah, the main Jewish Defense Force, and the forerunner of the Israeli Army. This disapproval did not deter Irgun or the Stern Gang, and in 1944 the Stern gang murdered Lord Moyne the British Minister of state for the Middle East in Cairo, and started a series of bomb attacks on British installations.
In November and 1945 there were some serious Arab Jewish riots in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. These riots were put down by the 3rd Parachute Brigade part of the newly arrived 6th Airborne division. These riots lasted seven days resulting in some loss of life.
During December 1945, the focus of the Jewish attacks shifted to RAF airfields, police stations and armories. There was frequent exchanges of fire and some loss of life on both sides. The High commissioner, Lord Gort , left Palestine in November 1945 and was replaced by another British general Sir Allan Cunningham. Cunningham decided to mount a major blow against the IZL and on the 28 to June 1946, 17,000 British troops flooded into Jerusalem to carry out Operation Agatha. The Jewish Agency offices were raided, arms found and the agency shut down, with a large number of Jews suspected of terrorism being arrested. Jewish terrorists soon started planning the a reprisal for Operation Agatha and made plans for the bombing attack on the King David hotel.
The British response to the King David bombing was another 48 hour cordon and search, code named Operation Shark. This operation was mounted by the men and 6th Airborne division. The aim of Operation shark was to remove the few remaining hard core terrorists left on the scene. British and American press agencies were quick to take the opportunity to sell more newspapers but the result was to place the British Army in a bad light, as in Aden years later, propaganda pictures of British soldiers seemingly being brutal to women and children were splashed in the world newspapers.
On January the 27th 1945 the first kidnapping took place. Judge Windham was kidnapped from his own courtroom in Tel Aviv . Windham was released when the British government gave in to his kidnappers demands, which was the release of Jewish detainees. On the 18th of June 1946 the kidnappers struck again. This time they held up the British Officers Club in Tel Aviv and took five British officers and one one RAF service man and dragged them to get away cars out side. One of the officers had to be clubbed to subdue him. The object of this raid was to obtain hostages to hold against the two Jews who had been captured in a arms raid at Sarafand in March. Four days later two of the kidnapped officer were released. They said that their captors had not been violent towards them, but they had been kept shackled in chains on their hands and feet. The remaining three officers were held captive for another 12 days. They were released after the two condemned Jews had their sentences commuted. Before releasing them the Jews first chloroformed the three officers. The three officers were then unceremoniously dumped still unconscious, on a street corner in Tel Aviv, where passers by took no notice of their predicament.
The American media were strongly pro Jewish and very anti British. One Hollywood motion picture Mogul declared in the British press that he had a holiday in his heart every time a British soldier was killed in Palestine. and large sections of the American media echoed this sentiment. At one point early in 1945 Winston Churchill became so irritated with continual American shouting about Palestine that he suggested that since the Americans were so unhappy about the way Britain was handling Palestine, “the best solution would be for them to take the job over themselves, I’m not aware that Britain has to vaunt about this painful and thankless task, he said, and someone else should have their turn and the sooner the better”.
Not all of violence took place on land. Royal marines and paratroopers were regularly sent a board the illegal immigrant ships as they tried to enter Palestine. Some boarding parties were met with scolding steam hoses, firebombs, pistol shots and attacks from men wielding axes. A number of sailors soldiers and immigrants were killed in these sea counters.
On the 25th of April 1945 the Stern Gang carried out their most cold blooded attacks to date. A large car park in Tel Aviv was being used by the 6th Airborne Division as a transport deport. The car park was surrounded only by barbed wire and guarded by a section of 8 men and from the 5th Parachute brigade who were billeted in tents near to entrance of the car park. At 20:30 hours, three trucks pulled up un-observed outside a house opposite the car park entrance. From these trucks 25 armed members of the Stern gang got out. The Jewish terrorists entered the house and held to occupants at gun point as they set up firing postions towards the car park entrance. About 15 minutes later a bomb was thrown at the main gate of the car park and the the terrorists opened fire on the British Paratroops.
Those not killed in this initial hail of fire took cover in the tents. About 20 terrorists then left the house and entered the car park. They entered the first tent and found two British soldiers and a NCO who had been off duty and were now trying to take cover from the fire from the house. All three were shot at close range with machine guns. The NCO was somehow not hit and pretended to be dead. The terrorists then moved on to the next tent were they murdered another two unarmed Paratroopers. In all 7 british soldiers were killed, most were unarmed. This attack had a serious effect on the British Army, which had previously been very sympathe
tic to the Jewish cause. The 6th Airborne Division had seen a lot of fighting in northwest Europe towards the end of the war and had first hand experience of liberating the Nazi concentration camps in. As a result the airborne soldiers had arrived in Palestine prepared to help and support the Jewish community. But the Stern gangs attack and the murders of the August 25, 1946 changed all that.
In December 1946, a new twist was added to the story of terror in Palestine. A court sentenced two Irgun youths to a long term in prison and 18 strokes of the birch for taking part in bank robberies. In reprisal the Irgun kidnapped four British soldiers and a Major of the 6th Airborne Division and flogged them.
British courts now started sentencing Jewish prisoners to death for murder or terrorist acts, such as the terrorist bombing of the British Officers club in Haifa where over 30 people were killed and injured. These men were sentenced for murder and bombings and not for the religious or political beliefs, but the Jews refused to accept this, in their eyes these men were martyrs and the hatred of the British and the bloodshed continued.
A typical episode occurred on the evening of the 28 to June 1947 in Haifa when the Astoria restaurant in which a number of officers of the 6th Airborne Division were dining was attacked. Two Jewish terrorists in a taxi in drew up opposite the restaurant and fired Thompson sub machine guns through the windows at the Offices inside. Captain Kissane of the 9th parachute battalion was killed and two other officers were wounded. The remaining Officers who escaped injury took up the fight and forced the terrorists to withdraw. The taxi was hit repeatedly as it sped off and was abandoned by the two Jews who ran down a side street. One of them sustained wounds from the barrage that struck the taxi. On March the 1st 1947 the IZL blew up Goldsmith Officers club in Jerusalem, killing 13 and wounding another 18
One incident that stands out most is the hangings of Sergeants Martin and Paice.
On the 16th of June 1947, a sentence of death had been passed by the British courts on three Jews who had participated in the attack on Acre prison in which many Jewish prisoners had regained their freedom. Almost a month later in the early hours of the 12th of July, two British field security NCOs Sergeants Paice and Martin were on duty in Nathanya in the company of the Jewish Clerk. They were held up by five armed Jews and driven off to a secret hiding place. For the next two weeks and British security forces diligently searched for the kidnapped sergeants but no trace of them was ever found.
On the July 29th British authorities, unable to bow to the blackmail of the Irgun, even though British lives were at stake had no alternative but to allow the sentence of death on the three Jews to take it’s course. Two days later, on the 31st to July, the bodies of the two British NCOs were found hanging from a eucalyptus tree one and a half miles from where they had been kidnapped. They had been dead for about two days. The area around the bodies was mined. The bodies had also been booby trapped. As the bodies were being cut down a hidden device on one body exploded. In this explosion a British officer was severely wounded. A few days later the Irgun posted notices in Hebrew on the walls around Haifa which read :
There are many more recorded incidents like these. It has to be said that the measure of restraint show by the British forces in Palestine, who were faced by these acts of terrorism, was of the highest standards. There were however a some members of the British forces who took matters of revenge into their own hands. The night after the Tel Aviv car park attack, troops of the 6th Airborne Division stationed at Qastina took the law into their own hands for a short time and damaged several Jewish houses. The ringleaders of this revenge attack were caught and punished. On the 31st of July 1947 just after the bodies of Martin and Paice were discovered, 5 Jews were killed and 15 wounded in Tel Aviv in reprisals be members of the Security forces for the murder of the two sergeants. ( Authors note : Information on this last incident is scant to date.)