The Palyam - The Palmach's Naval Company

Back to the home page


powered by FreeFind

The naval operations of the Hagana (the military arm of the Yishuv the Jewish community in British-ruled Eretz Israel - Palestine) revolved around Aliya Bet (a.k.a. the 'Ha'apala') the large scale clandestine enterprise of the Yishuv to bring ma'apilim (the Hebrew word for the immigrants participating in Aliya Bet)  to Eretz Israel during the British Mandate, in defiance of British policies that severely limited Jewish immigration. As early as 1939, training of seamen for commanding Aliya Bet ships started under the auspices of Ha'Mossad Le'aliya Bet an offshoot of the Hagana established in 1939 to organize all Aliya Bet operations. During WW-II most of the trainees were assigned to special sabotage units of the British army. Among the first ones to join the British army were twenty three seamen (known in Israeli history as Kaf-Gimel Yordei Ha'sira) who tragically disappeared without a trace in May 1941, together with a British officer, on their way by boat to a sabotage operation on the Lebanese-Syrian coast.

Even before the end of WW-II in Europe, arrangements were made for a full-scale resumption of  Aliya Bet once the war is over.  At the end of 1943, the Naval Palton of the Palmach (Hagana's elite forces) was established. In anticipation of future demand related to Aliya Bet, the group grew and, towards the end of WW-II, became the Palmach's 10th Company, named Palyam. When the Palmach was organized into battalions, the Palyam was attached to the Palmach's Staff Battalion (The 4th Battalion).

The Palyamniks, graduates of speacial seamanship courses, were assigned to Aliya Bet  operations, subordinated to Ha'Mossad Le'aliya Bet. Their tasks were to prepare the Aliya Bet ships for their special role (it took weeks, and even months in the case of the bigger ships, to install bunk beds, toilets, showers, ventilation & lighting systems in the cargo halls, etc.), prepare the ma'apilim for their journey in special transition camps, supervise the embarkation of the ma'apilim in the ports/beaches of origin, escort (read: command) the ships during their voyage, organize the resistance to British interceptions, assist the immigrants disembark on the Israeli costs (in case of successfully running the British blockade) or continue with them to the detention camps where they trained and organized them for their eventual return to Israel.

From Aug. 1945 to May 1948, about seventy Palyamniks supported Aliya Bet in the role of me'lavim - the ones who commanded Aliya Bet ships on behalf of Ha'Mossad Le'aliya Bet. In this capacity they escorted close to 70,000 immigrants in  65 sea voyages, from Sweden in the North to Algeria in the South, France in the West to Romania in the East.  The me'lavim supervised both the ma'apilim and the ship's crew to make sure the overall goal of the voyage is achieved (a note about the ship's crews: on the ten "American ships" of Aliyah Bet  the crews comprised primarily Jewish volunteers from North America;  on the other ships, most of them small and old Mediterranean cargo ships/schooners, the crew comprised foreigners - Italians, Greeks, Turks, etc.). The senior of the me'lavim was the commander of the ship, having the highest authority (even over the ship's captain). Many more Palyamniks supported Aliya Bet operations on land, both in Israel and in Europe. 

 

Only thirteen ships managed to break the British blockade, while most of the immigrants - 52,260 of them - were caught by the British Navy and forced into detention camps in Cyprus (with the exception of the Exodus' ma'apilim who were forced back to detention camps in Germany; also, ma'apilim from the early ships were detained in the camp near Atlit, Israel). Some of the Palyamniks joined the exiled and established the Volunteers' Line - a Hagana's underground unit in the camps for the paramilitary training of the immigrants, who many of them later on took part in Israel's Independence War.

In Oct. 1945, the Palyam joined the armed struggle against the British, and continued in these activities in both Israel and abroad, even after The Resistance Movement ("Tnuat Hameri") - a framework for coordinating the operations of the three underground Jewish organizations against the British - was dismantled. The Palyam members took part in the following thirteen operations against the British, all related to Aliya Bet:

  • Freeing 208 Jewish immigrants from the detention camp in Atlit (Oct. 10, 1945)

  • Sabotaging three patrol boats in the ports of Haifa and Jaffa (Nov. 1, 1945)

  • Attacking the coastal police posts in Giv'at-Olga and Sidni-Ali (Nov. 25, 1945)

  • Attacking the coastal police post in Giv'at-Olga (Jan. 20, 1946)

  • Attacking the radar installation in Haifa (Feb. 21, 1946)

  • Attacking the mobile police in K'far Vitkin (Feb. 22, 1946)

  • Sabotaging the deportation ship Empire Haywood in the port of Haifa (Aug. 18, 1946)

  • Sabotaging the deportation ship Empire Rival in the port of Haifa (Aug. 22, 1946)

  • Sabotaging two landing crafts and a patrol boat in the port of Haifa (Feb. 13, 1947)

  • Sabotaging the deportation ship Ocean Vigor in the port of Famagusta, Cyprus (Apr. 3, 1947)

  • Sabotaging (again) the deportation ship Empire Rival on her way to Egypt (Apr. 4, 1947)

  • Attacking two radar installations in Haifa (Jul. 21, 1947)

  • Sabotaging the deportation ship Empire Life Guard in the port of Haifa (Jul. 23, 1947)

The massive Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlements and their transportation routes following the historic U.N. resolution of Nov. 29, 1947, led to a change in the approach towards naval operations. The Palmach, viewing itself  responsible for the coastal front defense as well, started - with the blessing of the Hagana's top level command - a mass recruitment of seamen and members of aqua sport associations. The Palmach also negotiated the charting of the civilian ships South Africa and Hanna Senesh in order to turn them into "combat" units. After the massacre of Jewish workers in the Haifa refineries by their Palestinian co-workers, another group, called Plogat Hanamal ("the port group"), was established to protect Jews in the Haifa port and also to prepare to seize the port once the British were gone. The goal of the recruitment was to enlarge the Palyam into an amphibious battalion, but Ben-Gurion, holding the defense portfolio in the Jewish Agency Executive, insisted upon disengaging the Palmach from naval operations and moving the Palyam to a naval force subordinated to the General Staff.

On Mar. 17, 1948 the Naval Service (the precursor of the Israeli Navy) was established and the Palyam members were ordered to join it. The transfer of the people didn't go smoothly because at that time the 4th battalion of the Palmach was preparing for the Nah'shon Operation - the drive towards Jerusalem - and over half of the Palyam strength was diverted to that operation (eighty Palyam members died in this operation). In addition, about seventy Palyam seamen and "Gid'onim" [the nickname for the Hagana's radio operators who operated the Mossad Le'Aliya Bet radio network, called Reshet  Gid'on (Gid'on Network)] continued with their role as ship escorts of immigration ships, and, starting in Apr. 1948, as escorts of ships carrying arms to Israel. Nevertheless, many of the Palyam member did end up joining the Naval Service which later on became the Israeli Navy. Their contribution to the Navy is well noted. Most ship commanders during the first years of the Navy (including the author of this summary) and, up to 1975, most of the Navy's commander-in-chiefs, were Palyam veterans.

Written by Yehuda Ben-tzur & Tzvi Ben-tzur

Aliya Bet







האתר מפרסם סיפורים אישיים רבים כפי שנכתבו ע"י האנשים עצמם; אין למערכת האתר אפשרות לאמת את כל פרטיהם ולכן כל הנכתב באחריות בלעדית של הכותבים.

Copyright© 2006 - 2016: Articles/stories/presentations/pictures - respective authors and/or copyright holders; Website design & code (html/php/xml/javascript) - Tzvi Ben-tzur; All rights reserved.