Dec 1947-April 1948
Pages in Section 11
1947 Four Executions and a Funeral
i. Dov Gruener's Trial
ii. Haifa Police Station Bombed
iii. Bombing of the Jewish Press Office
iv. The Beginning of the End
v. Op Polly
vi. Executions and Funeral
vii. Irgun Frees Acre Prisoners
Everyone regarded the Ottoman citadel in Acre with its thick stone walls as the most impregnable building in Palestine. It was the most highly-guarded fortress in the country; surrounded by walls and encircled to the east and north by a deep moat; and protected to the west by the sea. It was also located in the heart of an Arab town with no Jewish inhabitants except in the prison. For those reasons, the British decided to keep all top level Irgun prisoners there, rather than in the Central prison in Jerusalem. By the spring of 1947 there were 60 Irgun, 22 LEHI and 5 Haganah members incarcerated in Acre. There were also 76 Jewish and 400 Arab felons. The Irgun General Headquarters decided that only 41 could be freed (30 Irgun members and 11 LEHI members) because it was technically impossible to find hiding places for a larger number of fugitives.
The Irgun, tried to find a way to rescue their members but failed to create a viable plan until an Arab prisoner in Acre expressed astonishment at hearing female voices while he was working in the oil storeroom located in the south wall of the fortress.
Eitan Livni, the chief Irgun member in prison,heard the story and deduced that the south wall of the prison was not as thick as it seemed and must border on a street or alley. The Irgun had developed a system for passing information to and from prison so he was able to pass on the story to Irgun General Headquarters, along with a proposal that the exterior wall of the oil storehouse be exploited for a break-in.
Irgun's chief of operations, Gidi (real name Amichai), disguised himself as an Arab, and explored the citadel environ. He found an arch joining the south wall of the prison to a bath house. Beneath the arch a busy alley led to the suq. Above the arch, there were two windows in the prison wall. He concluded that a break-in was possible and concocted a plan which the executive committees of Irgun and Lehi approved.
Gidi then sent Livni a message that it was possible to breach the wall from outside, but, since the Irgun could only find hiding places for 30 Irgun members and Lehi had only 11, the rest of their imprisoned members would have to remain behind. The proposed breakout would require the escapees to reach the south wall on their own. To facilitate this, visiting parents, who were permitted to bring their sons food parcels, would smuggle in explosives.
One pair of parents smuggled explosives in a can, under a thick layer of jam. Imagine their horror when a British sergeant opened the can, poked his finger inside and felt lumps. The mother, however, kept her wits about her and explained that the jam had not gelled properly!
Another parent brought in detonators and fuses concealed in the false bottom of a container of oil. A police sergeant examined the tin thoroughly and poked in a long stick to examine the oil level, but since the fuses and detonators were less than one centimeter thick, he did not notice the false bottom.
The day before the men chosen for the task Gidi and the man in charge of this particular operation, Shimshon (real name David Cohen), at a diamond factory in Nathanya.
The next afternoon, May 4th 1947, the mortar team took up position, the diversionists laid the mines and the attackers, led by Shimshon, in a command jeep set off from their hideout in a convoy that included a 3-ton military truck, two military vans with British camouflage, and two civilian vans. The jeep left the convoy at the petrol station outside town but the rest of the vehicles drove on. Left on their own Shimshon and the driver laid mines on the road and set the petrol station on fire.
When the convoy reached the city gates, the truck and civilian vans stopped while the two military vans entered the market place. A small working party of 'Royal Engineers' removed ladders from the vans and entered the Turkish bath-house in order to 'mend' the telephone lines. They climbed the ladders to the arch adjacent to the fortress wall, hauled up explosive charges and hooked them to the prison windows. The rest of 'the Royal Engineers' wandered round strategic areas of the town.
Meanwhile inside the prison, the Irgun and Lehi prisoners not selected to escape went down to the exercise yard prepared to create a diversion, while the escapees remained in the cells in three groups. The first group had the explosives, detonators and fuses, the second had a can of kerosene mixed with oil and the third was armed with hand grenades
At 4.20 the explosives hooked to the prison window exploded blasting open the fortress wall, the mortar gun fired at a nearby army camp and the 'Royal Engineers' roaming town lit fires. Inside the prison, the first group of escapees left their cell and ran down the corridor towards the breach in the wall, pushing through a crowd of panicking Arab prisoners blocking their path. The leading escapee, attached explosive charges to locks on the corridor gate and lit the fuse. There was an explosion, and the gate blew open. The next gate was opened in the same way, and the group escaped outside. The second group of escapees then ran out of their cell, blocked off the escape route from the rest of the prison by igniting their kerosene, so guards could not reach it. The third group threw grenades into the criminal lunatic section of the prison, wounding several inmates, but causing the guards on the roof to flee. The Irgun rescuers outside directed small arms fire at the prison from various points. Inside the citadel, one prison officer was slightly injured and a British constable seriously wounded. About 200 hundred Arab prisoners pushed their way out of prison alongside the planned escapees.
Stolen British transport, driven by Jewish girls dressed in A.T.S. uniform, rushed up to carry away the Irgun escapees. Machine-guns from the prison walls opened up and paratroopers from the barracks began firing, hitting at least two of the Jewish trucks and killing one escaping Arab prisoner. The first group of escapees however, drove off without casualties. The driver, however, missed the planned route to Mt Napoleon and took the coastal road towards Haifa. While the van was passing a cemetery close to the shore, a group of British soldiers, who had been enjoying a swim, opened fire. The driver tried to turn, but the van hit the cemetery wall and overturned. The escapees ran towards a petrol station,with the soldiers in pursuit. Shimshon turned to fire his Bren gun, but a volley of 17 bullets mowed him down. By the time the firing stopped, five of the first group of 13 escapees were dead, and six injured. The soldiers returned the survivors to jail. Back in Acre, police and paratroopers were soon in action, setting up road blocks and fighting Irgun men left in Acre.
In the end six escapees and three members of the Fighting Force died in clashes with the army. Eight escapees, some injured, were caught and returned to jail. Five Irgun attackers were arrested. However, 20 Irgun prisoners and 7 Lehi ones succeeded in escaping as did 182 Arab felons.
This attack on Acre citadel caught the imagination of the public worldwide. The foreign press was full of admiration for what they described as a bold venture. The example of British loss of control prodded the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine into action.
The Acre debacle persuaded the military court to impose death sentences on three of the five Irgun members arrested after the attack. In retaliation for the death sentences, the Irgun kidnapped two British PMF sergeants and threatened to hang them if the British carried out the executions..
Text - Copyright British Palestine Police Association