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40 Commando in Haifa

January to June 1948
Compiled by the Intelligence Section 40 Commando Royal Marines

I am very grateful to Ex Royal Marine Frank Wayt, Ply/x5416 of 'B' Troop,
40 Commando, Palestine, who helped me put this article together. James Robinson

The booklet was issued with the intention of providing each one of us in the Commando with a souvenir of our short, but extremely, valuable stay in Palestine.

40 Commando was called upon to take over the internal security duties of the Port of Haifa at an extremely tense period in Jewish-Arab relationship.

40 Commando was to be made responsible for the internal security of the evacuation port, through which all British forces in Palestine, evacuated by sea, would pass and therefore become the rear-guard in the final withdrawal. As it happened, the evacuation was completed without incident but when it was decided that 40 Commando would be the last British unit to leave Palestine, the situation was tense and a peaceful withdrawal seemed very uncertain. 40 Commando had the distinction and responsibility of providing the Guard of Honour for the High Commissioner (Gen. Sir Alan Cunningham) and ensuring his personal security when he entered the Port of Haifa on completion of the Mandate.

The Commando took over duties in the port on 3rd of February 1948 having established Tac H.Q. in the port & Marine Police Station at 0800 hrs. The Marines living under canvas in the newly pitched east and west camps in the dockyard and taking their place alongside the Palestine Police on the six gates of the port, Jews and Arabs alike stared with interest at the Green Beret, new in the Holy Land. The advance party of the unit had arrived just nine days previously disembarking from HMS Cheviot on Sunday, 29th January, the other two drafts coming a couple of days later on HMS Phoebe and the LST Striker.

HMS Striker
HMS Striker 1948

A main H.Q. had been established about a mile from the port and two others in the port itself. The first day was rather hectic. At 1415hrs a heavy explosion shook the town; it was the first of a series of bomb attacks that continued for many weeks. Investigated by a patrol from 40, it introduced the unit to Wadi Rushmiya, a district that was to prove a major trouble centre due to its position- a 'no mans land' on the border of Arab and Jewish areas.

Arab refuges encamped outside No. 3 gate
Arab refuges encamped 
outside No. 3 gate

The bomb had destroyed the frontage of a large Arab house, a strong point, and was the signal for a general exchange of fire. Order was restored by a patrol of 8/9th Parachute Bn., at the cost of one wounded Para and several Arabs died in this attack.

An hour later two Palestinian policemen were shot down by dissident Arabs outside No. 3 Gate. Their bodies were recovered and the gate closed by 40 Commando guards in the face of a great crowd of irate Arabs. The situation soon cleared, but the policemen, both ex-Marines, lost their lives.

Anti Pilfering Activities

Pilfering, both small and large scale, was reaching astounding proportions when 40 Commando assumed control of the dockyard; the figure for theft and damage for the period of three months was at LP 2,000,OOO. Gate sentries had double responsibility of searching people entering and leaving the port for weapons and stolen goods. Vehicles were extremely difficult to check effectively without causing serious hold up of work in the port. Anti-pilfering patrols were formed and were active throughout the day and night. A night never passed without a crowd of thieves ('clefti wallahs') being ejected from the port, but it was the large scale 'rackets' that the Commando was out to break. In this respect we attained a large measure of success and our grip on the port grew much stronger.

Pilfering By Sea

One anti-pilfering measure was a night water patrol, which was used to enforce the night water curfew, and an anti-pilfering role. This was a police launch that carried Commandos.

Attempted Theft of Military Stores

Another case of well-organised theft was foiled on 17th February. A W.D ship was loading steel sheets from lighters in midstream. During a period of bad weather the lighters were towed to shore for safety. Shortly afterwards a gang of workmen arrived on the scene with a steam crane, and began to load the sheets on to a 10-ton truck. Fortunately, one of our patrols became suspicious and arrested the gang.

Illegal Jewish Immigrants

One of the numerous duties allocated to the Commando was that of escort of illegal Jewish immigrants from Haifa to Famagusta (Cyprus). The customary procedure adopted with an illegal Jewish immigrant ship was to bring it alongside a cruiser, usually secured stern to main breakwater. Passengers were taken aboard the cruiser, where they were screened and questioned. If they were found to have clear records, they were transhipped to a W.D. ship tied up on the other side of the cruiser. They were taken below to their various messes, or to the Sick Bay if their condition warranted it, as often it did. It was then the duty of the Cdo to guard these would-be immigrants until they were handed over to the appropriate authority in Cyprus. Duties were carried out efficiently. Once or twice a show of force had to be used to quiet the more unruly elements.

Jewish Emigrants

The Jews also had an emigrant problem, which involved the Commando on one occasion. On 27th February the emergency section was turned out to restore order when fighting broke out on the main wharf between Jewish emigrants, defying Haganah's ban on Jews of military age leaving the country, and a zealous band of Haganah members. Having restored order, the section was stood down, but was turned out again later in the afternoon. Thwarted on the wharf, Haganah men were now molesting the emigrant Jews on board a Russian vessel at the breakwater. Commandos boarded the ship and order was restored. However, some difficulty was experienced with two Jewish passengers, whose tickets had been torn up by the Haganah, and Commando protection was given to the ship until she sailed in the evening.

Commando Search

To carry out attacks on each other, Jews and Arabs needed military vehicles, which were stolen at a alarming rate. However, during the whole course of the Commando's duty in Palestine we did not lose one single vehicle. These events caused general offensive activity throughout the town, which necessitated a number of searches for arms and ammunition in areas where British lives were in danger, or where life had already been lost. Our first search was conducted with 2/3 Parachute Bn, and by reserve troops from our main H.Q. camp in Allenby Road. Roads leading into the area scheduled to be searched, an Arab quarter on either side of the Jaffa Road, and our allocated area, Adresee Street, were cordoned off and a house-to-house search followed with some rather interesting results. After searching the houses, the searching party turned its attention to a plot of land where it was noticed that the soil in a small corner had been newly overturned. A little scraping revealed three loaded Sten guns and, in another area, French grenades were found with the use of a mine detector.

Evacuation Activities

The evacuation of troops, civilians and equipment was being stepped up inside the port, and the Commando had added responsibilities. Personal effects and baggage of civilians began to arrive in the port, coincident with considerable troop movement. The port was also filling up with W.D. stores and equipment, all of which had to be guarded. On the evening of 10th March an urgent message was received at East Camp, where by that time TAC H.Q. had been established and the two fighting troops had moved from their tents into No. 10 shed. The message requested a guard for the 'City of Glasgow', a W.D. ship loading ammo. Several Arabs were arrested when the guard arrived, one of who had in his possession 1,018 rounds of assorted ammunition that had been stolen from boxes actually in the hold. After this incident Commando guards were provided for all ships loading ammunition until hatches were battened down.

The Half Track Episode

Trouble of a different nature was encountered with another ship, the SS Flying Arrow, in late March this time involving Jews. The ship's cargo included some International half-track vehicles, which were of a war-like nature. The captain was, therefore, forbidden to unload them for despatch to their various Jewish settlements. A couple of days later a message from H.Q. 6 A.B. Div. stating that the Flying Arrow had sent lighters to unload in the vicinity of the Cooling Basin to the east of the port. The emergency section was turned out at 2040 hrs and proceeded to the area with an armoured car. An intensive search of the whole area was made, but no trace of the lighters or cargo was found.

Half Track Vehicles from SS Flying Arrow
Half Track Vehicles from 
SS Flying Arrow

Following this incident an O.P. was set up on the port Office to watch the ships' activities. In the afternoon of 26th of March the O.P. reported two lighters leaving the ship and proceeding in the direction of the west end of the harbour, where it appeared five lorries were waiting for them. The tug towing the lighters was intercepted by a Commando patrol and the lighters, which both contained half-tracks, were moored in midstream and in view of the sentries on No. 10 Gate. The captain of the Flying Arrow refused to reload the half-tracks and sailed that evening leaving them behind. Guards were posted on the lighters until they were unloaded, and the half-tracks were escorted by a 40 Commando Staghound armoured car and scout car to 614 A.O.D. on 1st April.

Operation "Cockpit"

The situation in the town was critical by 20th April. Early forenoon, the 1st Coldstream Guards withdrew from their positions in the centre of town, thus leaving only the evacuation routes and areas under British control. In the afternoon the whole Commando stood by in fighting order ready to move. At 2000 hrs. Operation 'Cockpit' started, The Commando fighting troops moved out of Kingsway Camp and left it deserted except for a small guard and Tac H.Q. Before first light the following morning, the Commando began to leave the port in fighting formations; their destinations strong points in Kingsway and Harbour street, the town awoke to find the Green Beret installed in new positions without a shot being fired. Strategic buildings guarding the approach to the port, and including a hotel, Barclay's Bank, and the Central Railway Station, were occupied, and the positions further strengthened by the establishment of roadblocks throughout the length of Kingsway from No. 10 to No.3 gates. At 0517 hrs, 21st April, a sitrep from the Commando to 1st Guards Brigade, under whose operational command we came, read, " Kingsway positions occupied." The operation was complete and we were in full control of the situation.

Staghound in Action

Staghound

Shortly before 1000 hrs, the Jews opened fire on the Arab village outside No. 1 Gate, and battles commenced in various areas. An hour later one of our Staghounds became involved in an exchange of fire in Bank Street. Two British policemen had been shot and the Staghound gave covering fire while they were being evacuated. The sniper was located and three direct hits with 37mm shells from the Staghound silenced him forever. The picture left shows a Staghound crew, one of which may be Marine Joe Broadhurst..

Another Sniper Eliminated

In the afternoon a Jewish Bren gun sniper was causing considerable confusion firing at traffic along Kingsway. His position behind an armoured plated window was impervious to Bren fire, which was returned from one of our positions. Three PIAT bombs, however, effectively silenced the offending sniper. A little later a Jewish Bren gunner wounded Lt. A.H.W. Seed, RM, in the back of the head with a deliberate burst of fire at one of our forward positions. Lt. Seed was evacuated to the British Military Hospital. A patrol of one corporal and two Marines immediately went out, located the sniper, and eliminated him. At approximately the same time, our position on the British Sailors' Society's club by No. 3 Gate silenced three snipers firing on the Gate.

Battle of Haifa

The battle in the town grew in intensity as the evening and night drew on. At 0522hrs, on 22nd April, mortar bombs began to land in and near the port area and the suk (market) once again came under heavy fire. It was then confusion broke out in the Arab ranks. Masses of men, women and children rushed from the suk and milled around No. 3 Gate, imploring to be let into the port to escape the murderous fire. They presented an excellent target for the battle-crazed snipers, who sent down a continuous hail of fire into the struggling mass or picked them off one by one as they dashed across the open ground to the gate. Fire was returned from our positions and prevented a massacre, but none the less many casualties were caused among the Arabs. Women and children were allowed to enter the port first, being sent immediately to the cargo jetty out of the trouble centre. Covering fire was given to one of our roadblock parties, which was coming under mortar fire, and it was successfully withdrawn through the gate.

More Unit Casualties

The indiscriminate Jewish fire on No. 3 Gate also claimed two unit casualties, the only two other casualties suffered during 40 Commandos tour of duty. Lt. P.J. Pitman, RM, while holding back men to make way for the women and children, was hit in the thigh and leg by snipers' bullets and another bullet hit Surg. Lt. M.I. Cox, RNVR, in the thigh while he was tending the wounded Arabs. The situation was critical, and the unit Staghound was brought up to the gate. After several accurate rounds of 37mm had been fired at them, the Jewish snipers lost all interest in this target.

Arrival of 45 Commando RM

45 Cdo's arrival by air from training in Benghazi on 1 and 2nd May was welcomed by this unit, but their stay was quite short. They relieved our positions in Kingsway and our troops returned to the port, making more men available for anti-theft and anti-sabotage patrols, and for static guards as and when they became necessary.

Ceremonial Duties

This was the ceremonial highlight of our tour of duty. Having withdrawn from Jerusalem under the protection of 42 RM Cdo, (who had passed through Haifa in early May), His Excellency, General Sir Allan Cunningham, High Commissioner of Palestine, arrived in Haifa on 14th May, from where he was to declare the termination of the British Mandate. In the port he inspected a combined Guard of Honour of the King's Company, Grenadier Guards and 40 Commando, RM. The personal security of His Excellency was also entrusted to 40 Cdo, and while the Guard of Honour was upholding the ceremonial honour of the Royal Corps, other members of the unit, in fighting rig, were guarding all approaches to the area, having previously carried out a 'sweep' and cleared it of Jews.

H.E. General Sir Allan Cunningham Inspecting 40 Commando Guard
of Honour
H.E. General Sir Allan Cunningham
Inspecting 40 Commando Guard of Honour

All gates to the port were locked until General Cunningham was safely aboard HMS Euryalus. The Mandate came to an end at midnight 14th May and with it's ending the Jewish State of Israel came into being.

The last week in Palestine

>WD LST's Loading Haifa Port
>WD LST's Loading Haifa Port

The unit was in the last week of the evacuation on 23rd June. H.Q. Palestine and Commodore, Palestine moved their headquarters afloat to HM ships Phoebe and Dieppe respectively. These two ships secured alongside each other on the Lee Breakwater. This move left Stella Maris Camp and buildings vacant, and the H.Q. of the U.N. Observers was moved there. The evacuation day had now become known as Z Day. On Z+4, 26th June, night water patrols were stepped up, and 1 and a quarter pound charges were dropped at the rate of three every hour during the water curfew hours, as a measure against possible under water sabotage. The military area had been constructed by 'B' Troop.

It was a cordoned area around the lighter wharf and cargo jetty, where most W.D. ships were berthed, the object to have a security zone inside a security zone (the port) to eliminate any possibility of sabotage. Over a dozen W.D. cargo and troop ships were now in the port.

Z-1

From 1900hrs on Z-1, until we embarked in HMS Striker, the port was closed to all Jews. Various troops had been passing through the port during the few days proceeding Z Day with the result that few troops were left in the town to be withdrawn on the last day.

Z Day

Troops began to pass through our lines at 0550 hrs, the 2nd. Coy, 1 Coldstream Guards, entering No.10 gate, and the 2nd. Coy, Grenadier Guards, entering through No. 1 Gate. Four tanks were provided by 4/7 Dragoon Guards to bolster our positions at Nos. 3 and 5 gates. At 0710 hrs the first troops of 42 Cdo RM began to pass through No. 10 gate, and the remainder of the Commando fell back to positions near the port area. They had all passed through our lines by 0800 hrs.

40 Commando Withdrawal

3 LST's Loading in Haifa
3 LST's Loading in Haifa

It was now time for Tac H.Q. to withdraw from Kingsway Camp to the military zone, which by that time had shrunk to a small area around the Striker. On arrival at the zone, defensive positions were taken up around the port office. At 1115 hrs the Brigade Commander of 1 Guards Brigade turned over the command of British troops ashore to the C.O., Lt. Col. R.D. Houghton, M.C., Royal Marines. After a short wait the C.O. passed the simple R.T. message: "F3, F4, F5 withdraw." All ships other than the Striker were then in motion; all was ready for the tactical withdraw from the port gates. 'X' Troop fell back to the port and Marine Police Station to cover the troops as they came in.

'Y' Troop led the way, with their attached 3-inch mortar group. The mortar group prepared for action immediately. They embarked on the Striker and mortars were set up on the forecastle to give covering fire if required. As 'X' and 'Y' Troops withdrew they made a quick sweep of the area to make sure no stragglers had been left behind by other units. 'A' and 'B' Troops followed 'Y' Troop into the LST. 'X' Troop withdrew and embarked, leaving the C.O. and a small tactical H.Q. to report to the G.O.C. at 1234 hrs (local time) the C.O. reported to the G.O.C. Lt. General G.H.A. MacMillan: "Withdrawal of British Troops in Palestine completed. 40 Commando, Royal Marines, last unit to leave, is now embarked." With a word of thanks from the G.O.C., the C.O. stepped onto the ramp of HMS Striker and 40 Commando's tour of duty in Palestine was completed.

Last Ceremony

As Striker pulled away from the wharf we watched the final ceremony conducted by the small Royal Marine detachment from HMS Phoebe, who provided the personal bodyguard to the G.O.C., the Union Jack was lowered from the Port Office while a Royal Marine bugler sounded "Still", General Salute" and "Carry On". From an almost deserted quay, the G.O.C., the last British soldier to leave the Holy Land, stepped into a pinnace and sped across the harbour towards HMS Phoebe. As the pinnace drew abreast the Striker, three cheers, led by the C.O., echoed over the still harbour.

Final ceremony and lowering
of the flag
Final ceremony and lowering of the flag
40 Commando Awards
40 Commando Awards
click in enlarge

James Robinson

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