With tribute to:

Martin Spirit

James Paul

Co-written by:

David Carter

Britain's Small Wars

The preservation of British Military History

Palestine 1945-1948

"Exodus & Outrage"

Bombing of the King David Hotel

Picture of King David Hotel

On the morning of the 22nd of July 1946 a party of between 15 and 20 Jews, dressed as an Arabs entered the King David Hotel. The hotel housed the Secretariat of the Government of Palestine and Headquarters of the British Forces in Palestine and Transjordan. The terrorists were able to enter the building without arousing too much attention because part of the building was still being used as a hotel and other people frequented it. The Jews pretended to be an Arab working party. Having unloading from their lorry several milk churns filled with 225 kilogram's of explosive, they placed them in the basement of the wing of the hotel occupied by the Secretariat.

The bomb goes off

A British officer standing nearby, one Major Mackintosh, became suspicious of this group of Arabs and began to ask questions, but was suddenly gunned down by a member of the Jewish gang and subsequently died. A policeman stationed at the tradesman's entrance suffered a similar fate when he challenged the Jewish terrorists. Both victims were unarmed. A gun battle soon began between the terrorist and guards during which time the Jews ignited the fuse and bolted from the building as the alarm was given. As they ran several were shot and wounded by guards, but most managed to make good their escape. There was no time to evacuate the building and the charge exploded with devastating effect. Many were killed instantly as the whole wing of the building collapsed about them, others were trapped and many more injured.

Recue workers

Rescue work started straight way as soldiers and police began to pull away the rubble in the hope of finding survivors. Members of the Royal Engineers were hurried to the scene with heavy lifting equipment, but they had difficulty reaching the King David Hotel because of Jewish road blocks. The Royal Engineers were stoned and booed as they tried to make their way to the scene of the bombing.

Rescue workers

By 1600 hours the sappers were hard at work in the rubble. The task was a race against time, and not until all hope of saving further lives had been abandoned days later, did they relax their efforts. Day and night the rescue operations went on with sappers working like men possessed, for deep in the wreckage could occasionally be heard sounds which urged them on with fresh hope.

Royal Engineers

At 22:00 hours of that night the sappers were formed into three shifts, and for the next 3 days each shift worked 16 hours on and eight hours off. Even so, some men refused to rest until completely exhausted. It is recorded that one sapper drove his bulldozer for 30 hours with out leaving the wheel until he eventually collapsed exhausted. From the wreckage and rubble the rescuers managed to extract six survivors, The last to be found was D. C. Thompson, 24 hours after the building had collapsed. He appeared to be more or less unhurt. But died the next day due to shock.

Picture of some rubble

Owing to the danger of falling masonry and further subsidence the use of mechanical equipment had to be very limited, until it was considered that no one remained alive beneath the debris. Soon all hope of finding anyone alive faded and the operation to recover the bodies began. 91 bodies were recovered in the following week and 2000 lorry loads of rubble had been removed. The stench which accompanied the work which was carried out in the sweltering heat of midsummer was most unpleasant.

Picture of the damage

Not all the 91 one people killed were members of the British Security Forces. There were 15 Jews among the dead, including women who had been working as secretaries in the building. The Irgun claimed that the British had been warned about the attack by telephone, but the warning was ignored.