Palestine 1946-49 End Game

Even as the war in Europe ended, the pre-war violence between Arab and Jew returned. The wartime ceasefire was broken early and 1946 saw new active terrorism by Jewish activists against the British.

Map of Palestine

The goal of establishing an independent Jewish homeland in the mandated territory of Palestine had become a fixation with the indigenous Jewish population. The terrorist cause was boosted with the addition of many resistance fighters who had fought the Nazis in occupied Europe. The British Government’s failure to meet the aspirations of either the Jewish or the Arab people in the area was a direct cause of the upsurge in violence. As a consequence, goodwill to the British amongst Jewish or Arab communities was non-existent. Attacks on the RAF commenced in February 1946 with the destruction of a radar station on Mount Carmel. This was followed within a week by simultaneous raids on three RAF bases in which 20 aircraft were destroyed. From then on attacks on Royal Air Force installations and assets continued unabated until the moment the British announced their withdrawal. For the Regiment, this could not have happened at a worse time. The six field squadrons stationed in Palestine were having their most experienced men demobilised and returned to the United Kingdom and replaced by younger conscripts. These conscripts were no match for the Jewish terrorist organisations like the Stern Gang and Irgun, and the ex-members of the European Underground movements who were largely responsible for the attacks on RAF stations.

Additionally, low manning levels meant that by mid 1947 there was only enough resource to man four of the six squadrons. The other two squadrons were merely nameplates. 2 Armoured Car Squadron were fully employed protecting RAF convoys between stations. As political indecision reigned in London, by mid 1947 most RAF aircraft were concentrated on one airfield protected by 58 and 66 squadrons with a flight of 1 Armoured Car Squadron, all commanded by 20 Wing. The other squadrons protected a variety of air force assets including  Air Headquarters Levant in Jerusalem itself. Eventually the remaining RAF units withdrew to Ramat David in the Haifa enclave. In May 1948 the surprise attack on this airfield by Egyptian Spitfires destroyed 2 RAF aircraft. The second raid resulted in the shooting down of all the Egyptian aircraft, one falling to the light machine guns of 52 Rifle Squadron. The British evacuation in June 1948 ended almost 30 years of thanklessly fulfilling a League of Nations mandate. The five surviving squadrons with their 2 Wing Headquarters were transferred to the Canal Zone, Aden and Transjordan. The armoured squadrons undertook enormous amounts of escort duties in the run-up to the final withdrawal.

Many British units were escorted to the Haifa enclave to be evacuated by ship. The remainder went south across the Negev into Egypt. The last British unit to leave, C Flight, 2 Armoured Car Squadron, escorted its final convoy south before breaking off to the east to Amman sending its famous signal as they, the last, left Palestine after 46 years – “Palestine clear”.