- An anonymous friend who served with the Royal (British) Navy in the eastern Mediterranean in 1947-48 sent me some notes about how the Royal Navy set about the mission of boarding blockade-running ships that were heading for the coast of Palestine in the tense period between late 1946 and the implementation of U.N.’s Partition Plan for Palestine in May 1948.
During those months, the whole of Palestine was still under the control of Britain under the system of ‘mandates’ that the infant U.N. had inherited from the League of Nations. In the eastern Mediterranean, the R.N. was acting to enforce a ruling from the League of Nations/U.N. that restricted Jewish immigration to Palestine. As the author of the following recollection writes, these U.N. restrictions “were being flouted with the tacit support of America, and Britain’s war on ‘terrorism’ in those days was focused on U.S.-funded Jewish terrorism in Palestine.”
Of greatest note in the account that follows is the sharp contrast between the rules of engagement that the R.N. detachments had (and the training they were given, to enable them to act within them) back in 1947-48, and the ROEs the Israeli naval commandos used during their assault on the Mavi Marmara on May 31.
In both cases, the boats had many civilian passengers who were determined to repel the boarding-parties. The difference lies in the way the naval units sent to board the boats dealt with that resistance.
So now, read on…
Regarding the bruhaha about the brutal Israeli boarding of a blocade-runner to Gaza, you might be interested in how we (Royal Navy) dealt with (US-funded) illegal immigration to Israel in 1947-48. Every ship on the “Palestine Patrol” (frigates, destroyers) had two designated ‘boarding parties’ (1 officer and 14 men) drawn from the existing ship’s-company, all of whom received two weeks ‘training’ in “boarding” – i.e. jumping from the deck of one’s own ship onto the deck of another ship, while underway in all kinds of weather (we had make-shift hinged boarding ramps) and then (if necessary) engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The only kind of weapon carried by the sailors was a two-foot, weighted ‘crowd-control’ truncheon, which they were trained to use as a ‘prod’ (and not as baton – which could do serious harm), and we were taught how to proceed as a ‘phalanx’. The officer (and he alone) carried a service revolver for use if a life was at risk (e.g. decapitation – a real case) The ships were crammed full (over-full) with Jewish refugees who (understandably) did their best to ‘repel borders’, including lying on the deck and thrusting upwards with knitting needles, or just throwing boarders over the side. There was usually a third ship astern, picking up such castaways.
Once aboard the ‘illegal’, the aim was not to beat up on the migrants but to gain control of the wheelhouse and the tiller flat (hence the ‘phalanx’) and thus gain ‘navigational’ control. One then had effective control of the ship, if not its occupants. Control of the engine room would come later. Depending on the circumstances, several boarding parties might have to be put aboard. I had been the boarding officer of our ship (one of four frigates redeployed from the Pacific for this mission), but I was recalled to UK for courses in August ’47, so I have no direct knowledge of the Exodus foray. which involved five RN ships or more. It was, however, said that of the many sailors who attempted to board (jumped), a significant number were thrown overboard by the migrants, and the 50 or so who did manage to retain a foothold, had to fight for five hours to finally gain navigational control of the ship.