The Argyll and Sutherland
Palestine 1945 - 1946
All photographs are the property of RHQ Argylls and may not be reproduced or copied without permission from RHQ Argylls.
PALESTINE - INTERNAL SECURITY DUTIES
Osgodby Camp, Lincolnshire, England. The end of the war with Japan cancelled the move of the Battalion to India to rejoin the 8th (Indian) Division, and its future destination remained uncertain until 1st October 1945, when it was warned for service in the Middle East and two days later it was ordered to reorganise on an Air Landing Battalion War Establishment. This entailed the abolition of the Administrative Company and the reconstitution of 'S' Company.
By 9th October it was known that the Battalion was to join the 6th Airborne Division in Palestine and that it would move on or about the 22nd, preceded by an advance party which was to sail on the 11th. It was on the 26th that the Battalion embarked at Liverpool in S.S. Ascania, which sailed at 1 p.m. the following day. The ship was comfortable, but conditions were unpleasant at first on account of bad weather. After Gibraltar the weather was fair, and on 6th November 1945 S.S. Ascania berthed at Haifa, the port to which H.M.T. Somersetshire had brought the pre-war 1st Battalion in May 1939, but in other respects there was no similarity between the two occasions. The Battalion bore no resemblance to its predecessor of 1939. Whereas in 1939 the Battalion was composed entirely of Regular officers and soldiers, now only a few of its officers and N.C.Os. were regulars and many had been posted from other Highland and Lowland units. The great majority were short-service officers and men, and although the date of their release must have been uppermost in the minds of many, their loyalty to the Regiment in which they found themselves to be serving, their discipline and their morale remained unshaken throughout their service in the Middle East. The Battalion disembarked immediately, and as each Company filed down the gangway the pipe band, already on the quayside, struck up the Company march past. The Battalion was accommodated in Camp 21, some 35 miles from Haifa and 6 from Tulkarm; it was a tented camp, except for offices and messes, which were in brick buildings. The strictest precautions had to be taken to guard the whole perimeter of the camp, and this involved the use of a whole company each night on guard duty, in section posts, distributed round the perimeter. The total strength of the Battalion in Palestine was 56 officers and 938 other ranks, a total of 994 all ranks against a war establishment of 1012.
The position that confronted the Battalion now was very different to that with which the old Battalion had to deal. It was then an Arab rebellion that had to be crushed and Jewish life and property that had to be defended. By 1940 the Arab rebellion had been successfully overcome, leaving the Arab population fairly badly shaken but not without certain gains.
In 1939 the Government published a white paper, and the three main points it dealt with were:
(a) Future Constitution of Palestine.
(b) Limitation of Jewish Immigration.
(c) Restriction of land sales by indicating
(i) a zone in which Jews could buy land,
(ii) a zone in which Jews could buy land with the consent of Government.
(iii) a zone in which Jews could not buy land.
Despite the fact that both Arabs and Jews rejected the white paper, and the Arabs protested violently at the time, there can be little doubt that the limitation of Jewish immigration, coupled with the restriction of the sale of land, was a serious blow to the aims of the Jews and a starting-point for the open rebellion that followed later, the first shot of which was fired at Tel Aviv in 1940.
The Jewish defence organisation was centred in the Haganah (defence force). From the first establishment of Jewish colonies in Palestine there was a defence organisation of watchmen who were responsible for the defence of the settlements. As these settlements grew, so did this organisation, and in 1936-39
there was open collaboration with the security forces, and they received sound training from both the police and military. After the publication of the white paper co-operation ceased, but even so, during the war, a Palestine Brigade Group was formed and 26,000 Palestine Jews were enrolled.
In 1940 the two extremist groups, Irgun Tzvai Leumi (National Military Organisation) and the Stern Group (Fighters for the Freedom of Israel), broke away from Haganah. These two groups considered that the Arab policy of rebellion had paid good dividends, and they set out to achieve their own ends by sabotage and assassination. To begin with, Haganah made some attempt to control these groups, but after the war both their inclination and ability to do so became less and less.
Click on picture to enlarge
After the end of the war in the Desert there was constant trafficking in arms from the scene of operations to Palestine, and it was in this way that the terrorist organisations built up their strength and perfected their methods and training. From 1940 onwards, therefore, the security forces had to make a complete change of front, and in November 1945, when the Battalion arrived in Palestine, it found itself confronted by well-armed and well-trained organisations whose avowed policy was to further the Jewish cause by the destruction of all who opposed it.
The duties the security forces were required to perform were many and varied, and there was always the strain and tension of living in wired-in compounds and keeping a continual vigil in a hostile land where there were constant and brazen attempts on life and property and where military arms and stores were always in danger from well-planned attacks. At first the novelty of the work in which they were engaged kept all ranks very much on the alert, but as time went on and the situation deteriorated and freedom of movement was restricted, the chief enemy was not the Irgun or Stern gang, but boredom, brought about by the monotony of constantly guarding wire perimeters, and by the necessity of moving in armed parties of not less than four when outside these perimeters.
The Battalion soon settled down in Camp 21, where it joined the 6th Air Landing Brigade commanded by Brigadier R. H. Bellamy, D.S.O. The other two Battalions were 2 Oxford and Bucks L.I. and 1 R.U.R. On 12th November Major-General E. L. Bols, C.B., D.S.O., visited Camp 21 and welcomed the Battalion to the Airborne Division.
Trouble was not long in coming; it had been anticipated in one or more of the danger spots, Tel Aviv, Petah Tiqva, Benei Berao, Ramatyim and Rehovot, and precautions to meet it were taken on the 13th, when all ranks were confined to camp between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. Extra road-blocks were set up and jeep road patrols carried out every morning. On the 14th it came in Tel Aviv, in the shape of processions of Jewish youths shouting anti-British slogans. British troops were called in to assist the Police, who had eventually to open fire. The Battalion was not involved, but the Intelligence sergeant, Sgt. Hall, who had been on duty in the town, had witnessed and reported the demonstrations. He was stoned in his jeep when leaving the town.
Trouble started again on the 25th, when the coastguard stations of Givat Olga and Sidna Alt were attacked, and in an effort to arrest the culprits the Battalion was given the task, in collaboration with the police, of clearing and checking the village of Givat Hayim. This was done on the 26th, but not without some difficulty on account of resistance within the village and threats of attack from outside. The troops employed had done well and kept their tempers in spite of great provocation. The result of the round up was
(i) The arrest of 10 of the 13 Settlement Police who had been responsible for the attack on the coastguard stations.
(ii) 50-odd weapons confiscated from Settlement Police.
(iii) 1 Jew killed, 15 wounded and 137 arrested.
On 29th November Brigadier R. H. Bower, CBE., who had assumed command of 6th Air Landing Brigade, visited the Battalion. It is interesting to note that a call for volunteers to undergo a parachute-jumping course was answered in the affirmative by 22 officers and 158 other ranks.
There was nothing to disturb the normal routine during December. Training exercises were carried out and the Battalion football teams (rugger and soccer) were able to arrange and play a number of matches. The end of the year found the Battalion still in Camp 21, and nothing intervened to prevent the traditional celebration of Hogmanay.
For the first three months of 1946 the Battalion remained in Camp 21 and the period was again devoted mainly to training. During this period the mortar platoon won the Brigade mortar competition. The only interruption occurred on l0th February, when the Battalion was allotted a sector of the cordon thrown
round Hadera while a search was carried out. Another small break to the growing monotony occurred on 26th February, when the terrorists staged attacks on a number of aerodromes. In reply, a curfew was imposed on all civilian vehicles from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. On 19th March the Battalion was warned to be ready to relieve 2 Royal Warwicks in Jerusalem. 'C' Company moved in on the 28th to take over the guard duties, and the remainder of the Battalion followed on 30th March.
Here the Battalion was accommodated in two localities with Headquarters, 'B' and 'D' and half 'S' Company in the Hospice de Notre Dame de France, opposite the new gate of the old city, while 'A' and 'C' and half 'S' were in the Syrian orphanage in the west of the city. The Battalion was now in 31st Independent Brigade under command of Brigadier R. H. Bower, C.B.E.
Many thanks to Mike McGeorge who sent me Sandy Ward's collection of photograph's of his time in Palestine. This selection is of Jerusalem.
Commitments in Jerusalem were very heavy. Guards on Government buildings and police stations, constant patrolling and periodical searches of Jewish quarters made it almost impossible to carry out any regular programme of training, but a training wing was formed for young N.C.Os., specialists and small unit training, as individuals and units could be made available.
On 1st May the Allied Commission on Palestine published its report, but it caused no trouble on account of its pro-Jewish nature. On 3rd May the Arabs started a small demonstration round the Damascus Gate; rocks were thrown from the Old City Wall into the car park, and several vehicles were damaged. Two other ranks were injured and three Arabs arrested.
On 14th May an attempt was made to capture a jeep in which Lt. McRae and Cpl. Brown were travelling. The jeep, which had been immobilised during a halt at Petah Tiqva, was surrounded by armed terrorists, who tried to get Cpl. Brown to start it up. On his refusal, they saturated the seats with petrol and set it alight. Cpl. Brown was able to extinguish the flames before much damage had been done.
On the 17th the G.O.C. Palestine, Lt.-General Sir Evelyn Barker, KBE, CB, DSO, MC, visited the Battalion and inspected training. On 25th May, 'S' and Headquarter Companies changed over from Airborne to Infantry Establishment. The Pioneer platoon went to 'S' Company, while the Carrier platoon was formed and commanded by Lt. D. M. McRae.In the middle of June terrorist outrages increased all over Palestine. On the night of the 16th, several bridges, including Allenby Bridge, were blown up between Palestine and Trans-Jordan. The following night Haifa railway yards were fired and five officers were kidnapped from Tel Aviv Officers' Club, while two others were wounded outside an Officers' Club in Jerusalem. As a result of these outrages, officers were ordered to go about in pairs and armed, or with an armed escort. On the 19th one of the kidnapped officers, Major Chadwick, escaped, and the next few days were spent in searching the house and area in which he had been confined, but no trace of the others could be found. Exercise 'Agatha' was staged on 28th and 29th June, an internal security operation, the object of which was to cordon and search the Jewish Agency. The operation took place simultaneously at other centres in Palestine. It started with a swoop on the residences of important members of the Agency, nine of whom were earmarked for arrest by the Battalion. Road-blocks were established and curfew imposed. The operation was successful and many arrests were made.
On 14th July Lt.-Colonel R. H. L. Webb, M.C., left Jerusalem en route for U.K., where, after a short course at Warminster, he was to be granted end of war leave. Major A. D. R. G. Wilson, M.B.E., assumed command of the Battalion.
A week later there occurred the most serious incident of the terrorist campaign in Palestine, when on 22nd July a wing of the King David Hotel was blown up. The King David Hotel housed both G.H.Q. Palestine and the Civil Government Secretariat, the latter being in the end block. The basement, ground floor and first floor were open to the public, who could enter with no security check at all. In the basement, and directly under the secretariat block, was the military telephone exchange, switchboard and the Regence restaurant. Just before midday on the 21st a party of four men, dressed as Arabs, drove to the service entrance and began to unload six large churns, which they trundled down the corridor to the Regence restaurant, which was then empty. Any of the hotel staff found on duty were held up and made to keep quiet. By chance, an officer from G.H.Q. happened to go into the restaurant, and when he saw what was occurring opened fire with his revolver. He was badly wounded, but managed to crawl upstairs, where he collapsed from loss of blood without being able to speak. The civil and military exchange operators had been warned by an unknown caller to evacuate the Hotel, which was to be blown up. The warning was disregarded, and when the explosion occurred the office staffs were still at their desks. It smashed the main steel foundation that supported the secretarial block, and that part of the hotel collapsed like a house of cards, crushing or imprisoning Briton, Arab and Jew alike. The switchboard was wrecked and it was some time before police and military help could be summoned. About 12.30 p.m. the Brigade Major was able to contact the Battalion and call for help. All available officers and men were collected and sent to the Hotel, some by truck and some marching, and on arrival they immediately started rescue work, often at great personal risk. There was, however, little that could be done until the Royal Engineers arrived with their lifting tackle. The Battalion was withdrawn from the scene later in the afternoon in order to impose a curfew on the whole of Jerusalem. There had been heavy casualties, many were dead and many more had shattered limbs. It had been a severe ordeal for many of the younger soldiers, and after the shambles they had just witnessed it was a stern test of discipline when ordered to clear the streets of Jerusalem and impose a curfew. It was done quietly but methodically, many of the elder civilians were helped to their homes. There had been no shooting, no fuss and no violence. After this outrage, snap checks and searches of Jewish areas increased; many road-blocks and check points were established and identity cards were often demanded and examined. Guard and escort duties, already heavy, became even more onerous. The curfew was raised on 7th August.
September saw an increase in tension and an even more vigorous application of internal security measures. The Battalion was involved in numerous small-scale operations, but only on one occasion did it come in contact with the terrorists. On 9th September a portion of the Jerusalem-Lydda railway was blown up five miles from Jerusalem. 'D' Company was sent to try and intercept the terrorists on their return. Contact was made at 1.15 a.m. on the l0th with a party of about 20. Shots were exchanged in the dark, but the suspects, who were in Arab dress, escaped into the woods.
During this period training was almost at a standstill, except for cadre courses for N.C.Os. and specialists, in an effort to make up the wastage due to demobilisation. On 14th September Lt.-Colonel R. H. L. Webb, M.C., returned from leave and reassumed command
Terrorist outrages continued to increase, and in consequence it was decided to impose another curfew on 19th October, and a few days later the Battalion suffered its first operational casualties. On the 24th explosions occurred close to three of the curfew road-blocks; mines had been cunningly hidden
near each road-block, set to explode by a time fuse. One of these was found concealed in a municipal dust-bin but was made harmless by Lt. Masson. These explosions killed 2 other ranks (Cpl. Alcorn and Pte. Buchanan) and wounded 2/Lt. McKendrick and 6 other ranks. One of those wounded was Pte. TL Barnes who was on one of the Road Blocks near King George Avenue and Jaffa Road. He was in 'Support Company' and was the Driver of a Bren Gun Carrier on that night. The other Soldiers on the Road Block were from D-Company. He received a number of Shrapnel Wounds to his 'Head, Neck and Body, quite a few were removed in Surgery, but he still carries quite a number of Shrapnel pieces, that weren't able to be removed 60 years later. Mines were also exploded in places where troops had been sleeping the previous night.
October followed the same pattern as September and culminated on the 30th in an attempt to blow up Jerusalem railway station. Two companies under Major Wilson were searching one of the suburbs on the Jaffa road when the news was picked up on the police wireless net that bombs had been deposited in the station. Lt. Masson asked and obtained permission to go and investigate. He took with him Cpl. Smith and the police sergeant who was accompanying the troops
searching the suburb. It appeared that at 2 p.m. a taxi had driven up to the station and out of it got a girl and two men, carrying a suitcase each, covered with an I.Z.L. flag, which they deposited in the left-luggage office. The Arab Legion guard on the roof had heard a warning being given and in consequence fired on the taxi as it moved off and wounded the occupants. Later the car encountered one of the Battalion patrol trucks, which also opened fire, and this caused the occupants to disembark and make for one of the suburbs near the King David Hotel, which was soon cordoned by the Battalion 'stand by' party. On arrival at the station, Masson, Smith and the police sergeant examined the suitcases and carried one to a round-about some fifteen yards from the station entrance. Here they tried but failed to open it. They then cut the fibre and found inside a metal container with no sign of a fuse or igniter. The police sergeant thereupon insisted on returning to the station alone to remove the other suitcases. He and Masson had worked together on the 24th in making safe the mines found near the road-blocks and, to use his own words, he said, 'Look here, there is no point in us all going back into the station and getting blown up, you did it all last time so I'll take a chance now.' He was quite determined, and after seeing Masson and Smith safely under cover, he went into the station, where he was immediately killed by an explosion. At the same time the suitcase on the roundabout also exploded. For this great act of gallantry the police sergeant was awarded the King's Police Medal (posthumously).
On 28th October Lt.-Colonel R. H. L. Webb, M.C., handed over command of the Battalion to Major A. D. R. G. Wilson, M.B.E.
The 31st Brigade was due to be broken up. The K.O.S.B. were to relieve the Oxford and Bucks L.I., the Lincolns the R.U.R., while 1 A. & S.H. was to come under 9th Brigade until replaced in December, after which it was to join 8th Brigade in Egypt.
Only minor incidents disturbed the peace during the few weeks before the move to Egypt. One of these, an attack on Mustapha police station on 30th November as the Battalion was preparing to celebrate St. Andrew's Day, might have become serious but for the swift action taken by the Battalion. A second attack on the same police station which took place on 5th December, the day before the Battalion was due to move to Egypt, might have delayed it, but 1 K.O.S.B. managed to relieve the cordoning companies in time to enable the Battalion to get away next day.
History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1st Battalion 1939 -1954
Thin Red Line Magazines
Palestine 1947 - 1948
Colchester 1948 - 1949
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Updated : 11 October 2014