Terrorist Attacks, Palestine

Oral Answers to Questions — British Army – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th April 1948.

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Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes 12:00 am, 20th April 1948

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will describe the steps taken by the anti-tank unit, whose camp was raided by Jewish terrorists at Pardus Hanna recently, and by other units, to recover the arms stolen from them, to capture the vehicles used by these terrorists and to kill or capture those responsible for the attack; and what success has attended these efforts.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

asked the Secretary of State for War how many sentries were on duty at the Pardus Hanna Camp of the 12th Anti-Tank Regiment when it was attacked by Jewish terrorists on 6th April; whether they had anti-tank weapons immediately available; and what anti-tank obstacles there were to prevent the camp gates being rushed.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

The unit had four sentries on duty at the gate. The obstacles were perimeter wire and a drop-bar entrance. It must be realised that entry to the camp was effected by subterfuge. The terrorists arrived in Army and police vehicles dressed as officers and other ranks in correct British R.A.S.C., R.E.M.E. and Palestine Police uniforms. The unit was preparing to move and was expecting R.A.S.C. transport to arrive. Officers and soldiers made for the spot instantly the alarm was raised. Although no anti-tank weapons were immediately available covering the gate, on hearing the shooting officers in the car park ordered self-propelled anti-tank guns to be set up, and move inwards. This caused the terrorists to abandon the attack, and withdraw. As they withdrew they were engaged by small arms, and subsequently by 17-pounder high explosives, which killed one terrorist and wounded an unknown number. The military and civil authorities were at once notified and the whole area surrounding the camp was systematically searched, but this was hindered for about an hour by fire from nearby orange groves. A curfew was imposed in the neighbourhood. It seems clear that the unit concerned and other available units took all conceivable steps open to them.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

The Secretary of State has not answered the part of my Question which asked him what success has attended the efforts to recover the arms captured? Can he answer that?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I am afraid I have no present information about that, but inquiries are still proceeding into the details of this incident.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

In view of the fact that it had been known for some time that Jewish terrorists were in possession of British vehicles, both fighting vehicles and transport vehicles, were not steps taken in all camps to check vehicles as they approached to see whether they were hostile or friendly vehicles?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I have no doubt that appropriate measures are taken, but it is quite impossible in every case to detect persons who are dressed in British Army uniforms or in Palestine Police uniforms when effecting an entry to these camps?

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say, in view of the difficulties presented by the methods of warfare adopted, why no system of passwords is in force at camps in Palestine?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I cannot answer that offhand, but I imagine that these matters are well within the knowledge of experienced military advisers in my Department.

Photo of Mr Woodrow Wyatt Mr Woodrow Wyatt , Birmingham Aston

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there is any system by which officers and other ranks carry identity documents which are examined?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I am unable to answer that question, but I will take note of it.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that this sort of thing may happen again, or is there now some system of recognition, whether by password or otherwise, which might prevent this sort of thing from happening again?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

While every precaution will be taken to prevent a recurrence of this incident, I can give no assurance that it could not happen again.

Photo of Major Donald Bruce Major Donald Bruce , Portsmouth North

Can my right hon. Friend say whether it is possible to introduce a system of changing daily recognition signs, which could be of use in these cases?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

We will look into that.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that it is perfectly obvious to any trained soldier that the merest elementary precautions, Which should be taken in a case like this, were not taken, and as to his statement that the camp was in process of being packed up, is he not aware that to any trained soldier that is the most dangerous time of all? Why was not something done in accordance with ordinary military training?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Experienced soldiers are in command in Palestine and are just as competent as their critics to undertake these things.

Photo of Mr Thomas Scollan Mr Thomas Scollan , Renfrewshire Western

In view of the increasing uneasiness amongst people here, is the right hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that the people in charge are competent, because people here do not think they are?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Whatever my hon. Friend may think, I am satisfied of the competence of the people in control.

Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Woodbridge

Would the Minister make it quite clear that if, in his opinion, this matter was handled efficiently, the commanding officer of this unit, who was killed, was, in his opinion, entirely blameless so far as the responsibilities of a commanding officer are concerned?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

So far as I know, no blame has been attached to the commanding officer.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

asked the Secretary of State for War what instructions are in force in Palestine regarding the carrying of arms by military personnel, by night and day, whether on or off duty.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

asked the Secretary of State for War what instructions have been issued to strengthen the security of camps, arms, ammunition and individual soldiers in Palestine since the attack on the Pardus Hanna Camp on 6th April.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

All officers and other ranks in Palestine carry arms when outside defended areas, whether they are on or off duty. They go about outside camps in parties of not less than two by day and four by night. If circumstances necessitate it, further precautions are taken by increasing these numbers or restricting movement after dark1altogether. Since the attack on 6th April all units have been ordered to mount an inlying picquet in addition to the normal guards on gates and perimeters and to cover all road exits with anti-tank weapons tactically sited as well as light machine guns.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

While recognising the importance of these belated precautions, ought not these things to have been done before? Is it not outrageous that they have not been done before?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Every soldier gains by experience.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

While appreciating what the right hon. Gentleman said about every soldier gaining by experience, which soldiers recognise, may I ask him whether there is not perfectly clear proof that, although the people in charge may know their job, on this occasion they fell down badly on it; and what is he going to do about it?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I am not called upon to take disciplinary action in a case of this sort.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the directive to which he referred in answer to a supplementary question of mine the other day, in which he said that the military authorities had been given full power to take every possible precaution, includes a directive to the troops that they are to treat these terrorist gangs exactly as they would an enemy in war time and to inflict the maximum of casualties upon them?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

Directions to the troops are in the hands of the Commanding Officers.

Photo of Viscount  Hinchingbrooke Viscount Hinchingbrooke , Dorset Southern

Is it not clear, from the right hon. Gentleman's replies to this and previous questions, that the British Army in Palestine is operating under a general restraint exercised by the War Office?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

In the circumstances in Palestine, it is desirable occasionally to exercise restraint.

Hon. Members:

Now we know.

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

Is it permissible for arms to be carried loaded?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I imagine that if arms are carried they are loaded.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

In so far as security of camps is concerned, can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that no administrative units are stationed alone in these camps and that there are always fighting units there for the purposes of protection?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I can give no assurance on that.

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

Is the Secretary of State aware that it appears he is not entirely versed in what is going on regarding instructions to troops? Next time he comes to the House can he be a little better acquainted with his subject?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

No Secretary of State for War can be fully versed in all the details and the precise instructions given to every soldier by commanding officers, but we are well aware of the general position.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

asked the Secretary of State for War if he will describe the attack made a few miles south of Tel Aviv on a British troop train on 12th April; what steps were taken by those travelling in the train and by other units to kill or capture those who carried out the attack and to recover stolen ammunition; and what success has attended these efforts.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a full statement about an attack on a British troop train near Rehoveth in Palestine on r2th April.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

There was no attack on a British troop train on the date mentioned. There was, however, an incident in which armed Jewish terrorists held up the crew of a rail car and stole four berets and battle-dress blouses and two automatic weapons.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he had acquainted himself with the facts last week, when he failed to deny the fact that it had been reported, these Questions would not have been put down?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I agree that if the hon. and gallant Member had acquainted himself with the facts, this Question certainly would not have been put down.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

Are we to take it that the attack was made on an unguarded truck, or was the truck guarded and no steps taken to ward off the attack?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

All I know is that it was an attack on a rail car.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

Is it not clear that the right hon. Gentleman again knows nothing about this?

Photo of Sir Allan Noble Sir Allan Noble , Chelsea

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I asked a question on this particular incident last week and he replied, rather sarcastically I thought: Hon. Members do no seem to be aware that there are military operations in Palestine."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 773.] From his answers to previous questions and to this, does it not seem more fair to apply that to the right hon. Gentleman himself?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

In view of some of the questions, I have not been quite as sarcastic as the occasion justified.

Photo of Mr Woodrow Wyatt Mr Woodrow Wyatt , Birmingham Aston

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on this matter, and on others in which there has been criticism, all these things are well within the competence of the military authorities in Palestine and are in no way the fault of the War Office?

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

In view of the obvious anxiety on both sides of the House about this matter, would the right hon. Gentleman consider issuing a White Paper explaining what exactly is the authority possessed by the Commander-in-Chief in Palestine to take all possible hostile action against those who murder our soldiers?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

The Government and hon. Members on this side are as much concerned about the position of our officers and men in Palestine as hon. Members on the other side. I can hardly imagine that a White Paper would be of any value. Instructions have been issued from time to time to those in command in Palestine and we have every reason to believe that, in the very difficult circumstances, those instructions have been fully implemented.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that our withdrawal in Palestine is being, and will be, conducted as a military operation, unhampered by back seat drivers on the Government Front Bench?