The 23 Who Went Down with The Ship


The story of Operation Boatswain is well known in Israel but not in the UK.  In fact I only learned about it through the Secret WW2 Learning Network while researching some of the work of the SOE.

On May 18, 1941, a Palmach boat with 23 Israeli men accompanied by SOE officer Major Sir Anthony Palmer left Haifa.  Their mission was  to sabotage an oil refinery in Tripoli, Lebanon. This was the first mission in which the British cooperated with a local Jewish militia in an effort to fight a common enemy, Nazi Germany.

The plan was to arrive secretly, blow up the  refinery and return. The refinery was not blown up and the men never returned. To this day, no one knows what happened to the men  and there are many theories.  The most likely seems that the boat capsized in bad conditions or there may have been an explosion caused by the materials the boat was carrying for their mission.

Today I was a guest at the ceremony to mark the inclusion of the names of the 23 men on the 1939-1945 Memorial to the Missing at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey. Due to the work and determination by historian and archivist of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women, Martin Sugarman, the names have been added 75 years after their sacrifice. Major Palmer had his own memorial inscription but Martin had always felt that the men deserved to be recognised too.  He approached the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with his research showing that these men had volunteered to take part in a mission that was in aid of the British Armed Forces.

The CWGC agreed to the inclusion of the 23 names on the Memorial and today marked the commemoration of this.  Various people addressed the guests at the memorial including Martin Sugarman.  The Ambassador of the Israeli Embassy Mark Regev read a letter from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu marking the commemoration and prayers were conducted by Rabbi, Major Reuben Livingstone CF, a senior Jewish Chaplain to HM Armed forces.  Among the other speakers, perhaps the most touching words were from Gershon Gan who is relative of Amiram Shohat who took part in the mission. Clearly emotional he gave an address on behalf of the families of The 23. The personal involvement in these occasions are always the highlight for me and how wonderful that a photograph of every man had been found, one inserted into the programme of the event and one beneath the memorial itself.   We will remember them.

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