Thursday, June 28, 2018

The King David Hotel Operation, Again

The Daily Mirror took advantage of Britain's Prince William's stay at the King David Hotel to cover the Irgun operation in 1946 when the southern wing was severely damaged and nearly 100 persons were killed.

The story by Steve Myall, the paper's Deputy Features editor, 

highlights the paper's correspondent in Mandate Palestine at the time, Barbara Broad, who was at the entrance of the hotel when the blast occurred.

The story does have its problems.  For example, we read that

The militia viewed the King David Hotel as a strategic target because it housed the British administrative headquarters

First of all, what was targeted was the southern wing, not the entire hotel. The northern wing was the "civilian" section where tourists stayed and was not harmed.  In constantly writing "the King David Hotel", the reader receives the impression that the entire hotel was intended to be damaged.

Even when the distinction is made, as here:

The entire southern wing of the hotel – all seven floors – was totally destroyed.

the accompanying photographs

obviously show that the main damage, while considerate, for sure, was to the front section of the wing and that the eastern part, to the rear, remained standing.

Moreover, only a careful reader would catch reading the story that the southern wing also housed the HQ of the British Army in the country, quite a legitimate military target.

But what is really diabolical in Ms. Broad's account, faithfully and uncritically copied by Myall, is here:

the diabolical thoroughness with which Jewish terrorists planned this brutal and bloody attack was made clear to me by a senior Air Force and Army officer.  Half an hour before the main explosion, a jeep, full of Jewish terrorists armed with tommy guns, drove up the curving entrance way to the King David Hotel, the right wing of which houses the Secretariat, with British Military HQ on the top floor.

One lone shot rang out as they penetrated past the ring of sentries.  There was a pause and then a volley of machine gun fire. A few moments later a diversionary mine was exploded on tire pavement opposite the Secretariat, and a warning was rushed to headquarters that all troops, ATS and officers must move up to the top of the building.

The warning was in time for most of headquarters staff, but the Secretariat employees rushed to the windows to see the military and police activity in the street below.  The terrorists had reckoned on this, for at that moment the main explosion took place while they made off in a taxi.

No jeep drove up to the entrance. There was no exchange of fire.  

Some 25 minutes before the explosion (more about this 25 minutes below), the Irgun fighters retreated from the basement after placing the explosives around the central pillar of the Cafe RĂ©gence. Spotted by the paras on the roof (the building then was only five stories high), having been alerted by a telephone operator in the basement, they were fired on. One Irgunist eventually bled to death in an Old City hideout overnight.. The entrance to the hotel was facilitated by the adoption of a disguise in that the penetration team dressed as Arab porters who were to deliver the daily dairy supplies of milk, cheese, cream and labaniya. No frontal assault was conducted.

But there is a contradiction to the normative version that no warning was given.  There was. Not only should a fire-fight be enough of a warning and not only does the above section read explicitly that a warning was given to evacuate by someone British, but we then read:

For reasons that have never been clarified, the staff of the government secretariat and military command remained in their rooms despite the warning calls.

Whose fault and responsibility was that?  The Irgun's? Or the British? The French staff at their Consulate just down the road did open their windows. Shaw always denied receiving a warning.

One last point in that connection: that 25 minutes vs. the planned 30, actually 45, minutes.

Despite Thurston Clarke's excellent retelling, almost minute-by-minute, 

Joseph Evron's book, Gidi: One Chasing a Thousand, is a must.  (And see from p.96 here)

On page 179, referencing documents HHA 1049/112 (42)  and (43) and (52) in the Hagana Archives, one discovers that a bomb-disposal unit had been alerted (!) and sent to the hotel. The Davar newspaper reported this openly the day following the explosion. 

On p. 176, the Irgunist who fixed the timing mechanism, which had been set for 45 minutes and not 30, intimates that someone had attempted to defuse the explosives.

Given that he had set a mercury initiator anti-defusing device to prevent just such an attempt, the fact that the bombs ignited prematurely meant to him that (a) the British knew the bombs where in the building; (b) where they were; (c) what potential damage existed;  and (d) that they gave no proper advance order to orderly evacuate.

Moreover, the fact that the British had an agent in the Irgun, who just happened to be second-in-command, is the real story here. Expecting to be forewarned by him, they perhaps were semi-hesitant when no message came through from him.

One last point: the operation was granted preliminary approval by the joint X Committee of the United Resistance Movement on May 15 that year and the go-ahead operational order was issued to Menachem Begin on July 1 by Moshe Sneh, Head of the Hagana Command and Yitzhak Sadeh, operations officer of the Palmach, approved the plans.

The mirror need be held up to the British officials and officers in the hotel at the time.

Thanks to MP for alerting me.


1 comment:

mrzee said...

In early May of 2011, you had a post that linked to Times of London story, now behind a paywall, that mentioned five boxes of files from the Mandate era were discovered in a storage facility. Among the files they contained was a memo confirming the British had received a warning in advance and, if I recall correctly, a note about disciplinary action against the British soldier who ignored the warning.

There was also mention that the files would eventually be available online through the British Museum site. I'm not sure what became of that plan.