The Marines in Palestine
In January 1948, No.40 Commando landed to protect the docks at Haifa, assuming their duties on 3rd February. From this first day, the Commando was engaged in security operations. Bomb attacks, the murder of two British policemen, fake alarms, seizure of illegal arms and confrontations with Arab confrontations. Throughout the next few months they engaged on similar activities, patrols, reducing pilferage, clearing underwater 'mines' and destroying sniper positions.
The Port of Haifa's security had become the responsibility of 40 CDO RM, who's task included the security of ships off loading supplies and stores, upon checking the manifest of one cargo ship the SS Flying Arrow it was found that the cargo of agricultural tractors destined for the Jewish settlements 'materialized' as armoured half tracks. An attempt had been made to paint these to resemble tractors. The half tracks were impounded and sent to an Army Ordnance Depot.
There was an increase in sniping between Arab and Jewish factions, Jewish snipers intensified their activities against the Arab workers. On the 21st April 40 Commando moved out to take up positions from where the approaches to the dockyard could be protected, road blocks were set up between Nos 3 and 10 gates and about 0515 hrs the re-deployment was complete and the town awakened to find the Commandos firmly established among them The Haganah made it's move that morning, also at 1000hrs mini battles were being fought between Jews and Arabs in the Arab village.
Near No 1 gate a request was received from one of the troop Commanders to deal with a troublesome sniper. A Marine Cpl. i/c the Staghound armoured vehicle went to the area where two British Policemen had been shot. The sniper was firing from behind a metal shuttered window in a house a short distance away. The Cpl. stopped the staghound and fired three 37mm shells which removed the shutter, window and fittings, and followed up with 37mm HE shell for good measure which also removed the sniper.
Short bursts of Bren gun fire from a window sent civilians in the area scattering for cover. The gunner who was protected by a thick glass window could have been a Jew or Arab and was eventually silenced by a PIAT anti-tank missile fired by a Sgt R.R. Dodds. A Jewish Bren Gunner on the roof of a building nearby deliberately fired on the B Troop roof top position. A Lt A.H.W.Seed was hit twice but fortunately received only minor flesh wounds. Cpl. D.R. Earp and two Marines retaliated quickly making their way through a maze of streets with the snap buzz and ping of bullets whipping overhead they located the building and disposed of the two Jews manning the Bren-gun position. Rifle and machine gun fire and the explosion of grenades intensified as night approached.
The next morning the Arab population broke and ran. Most of the many thousands of people came begging to be let into the dockyard at N0 3 gate. The Jews who had won this struggle between Arab and Jew could not resist the opportunity of firing into the mass of humanity. The gate was opened and the Arabs were escorted to the cargo jetty where they were out of the line of fire. Marines in one of the Commando positions on the roof of the Sailors Rest near N0 3 gate silenced three of the snipers.
The mortar group Commander provided fire support and covering fire from the Staghounds. Lt Col Thomas looked through the scope on the 37mm gun which was so accurate the gun was trained on the buildings overlooking No 3 gate where the crew of the Staghound could see rows of binoculars looking over a sandbagged wall and directing fire the 37mm went into action knocking the sandbags off one by one and the people stopped the sniping in the direction of No 3 gate and too cover. The difficult task of trying to control the thousands of Arabs seeking safety in the dockyard and administering to the large numbers already in the dockyard was to continue for days. Schooners were brought in to ferry them across the bay to Acre, and trucks carried others to the Lebanon border. Blankets, food and medical attention were provided by 40 Commando, these actions earned the official gratitude of the Arabs.
At the end of April there was a round of bomb outrages, searches in the town for illegal arms and action to prevent illegal war stores being unloaded. Although the Jews made sophisticated attempts and deceptions to obtain these stores. The Commando acquired two Staghound armoured cars from a military dump for use as armoured static posts, but when one engine started' accidentally' as one staghound was being towed, both vehicles were used as mobile bases by the marines from the mortar Group of the Commando. Early in April, 42 and 45 Commando with substantial army reinforcements, including Comet tanks, the Arabs were disorganized by internal squabbles. On 20th April, in a well organised operations 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards withdrew, with 40 Commando covering them, before the Commando redeployed around Haifa by daylight the next morning without coming under fire. However, hostile Bren gun teams fired into the traffic before being eliminated.
At about 0522 hours on 22nd April, Jews began mortaring the Arab quarter and mobs of Arabs rushed to and begun milling around No.3 Gate. These were the opening moves of the seconds Battle of Haifa. Jewish gunners raked the Arabs and the Marines trying to get the women and children into the base, a Staghound armoured car was called to the gate and quickly suppressed the Jewish snipers. The thousands of Arabs had to be evacuated to Acre and several hundred had to be fed and given a blanket for the night. As the Jews now occupied Haifa with only some twenty-five hundred Arabs remaining, this deprived the British forces of dockyard labour and strict pass regulations had to be enforced, 40 Commando was the issuing authority. The British mandate had ended on 24th May, but the peacekeeping force stayed on.
On 1st to 2nd May, 45 Commando flew from Benghazi, Libya to Haifa to reinforce 40 commando. 45 Commando policed and protected the radio station in the Mount Carmel area until they were withdrawn on 12th May. 42 Commando had arrived by sea on 2nd May, and guarded the Sheika Jarrah area of Jerusalem until withdrawn to Haifa 11 days later and final evacuation, which occurred on 27th June.
H.M.S. Phoebe, Dieppe and Mauritius evacuated the port, with H.M.S. Striker remaining on station to evacuate the perimeter guards as they withdrew in a cordon back to the ship, covered by the mortar group, before leaving the shores of Palestine aboard the Tank Landing Ship Striker. Visit the Last to leave section for further reading.
For their part in the Palestine peace-keeping operations, Colonel Houghton was awarded an OBE, Captain D.L.S. Aldrige the MBE and two NCOs (Sergeant R.R. Dodds and Corporal D.R. Earr) received the MM. Other awards included a BEAM for SBA A. McGlen, a medical orderly, and ten mention-in-despatches.
Honours and awards for Palestine
Lt. Col. R.D. Houghton MC OBE
Capt. D.L.St M. Aldridge MBE
SBA A. McGlen BEM
Sgt. R. Dodds MM
Cpl. D.R. Earp MM