• Si Biggs

40 Cdo RM - Palestine Mandate and the withdrawal of British troops

Unit/ Formation: 40 Cdo RM

Location: Palastine

Period/ Conflict: Palestine Mandate

Year: 1948

Date/s: 30th June 1948

40 Commando was sent to Haifa to cover the end of the Palestine Mandate and the withdrawal of British troops. Animosity towards the British from both Arabs and Jews was high, and there was looting and violence by extremists.

40 Cdo's task was to keep the port open, and to mount searches to prevent arms being smuggled in from visiting ships. In April a series of vicious skirmishes took place between Jewish paramilitaries of the Haganah and Arab forces, and the unit had to keep the peace while some 37,000 Arabs were evacuated from Haifa, and also had to house and feed large numbers of refugees who sought sanctuary in the dockyard.

The final evacuation took place on June 30, smoothly and without incident, 40 Commando being the last to leave. For his outstanding leadership and distinguished service the CO 'Titch' Houghton was appointed OBE. 'Y' Troop 40 Commando RM led the way, with their attached 3-inch mortar group. The mortar group prepared for action immediately. They embarked on the Striker and mortars were set up on the forecastle to give covering fire if required.

As 'X' and 'Y' Troops withdrew they made a quick sweep of the area to make sure no stragglers had been left behind by other units. 'A' and 'B' Troops followed 'Y' into the LST. 'X' Troop withdrew and embarked, leaving the C.O. and a small tactical H.Q. to report to the G.O.C.

At 1234 hrs (local time) the C.O. reported to the G.O.C. Lt. General G.H.A. MacMillan: "Withdrawal of British Troops in Palestine com unit to leave, is now embarked." With a word of thanks from the G.O.C., the C.O. stepped onto the ramp of HMS Striker and 40 Commando's tour of duty in Palestine was completed.

As Striker pulled away from the wharf small Royal Marine detachment from HMS Phoebe, who provided the personal bodyguard to the G.O.C., the Union Jack was lowered from the Port Office while a Royal Marine bugler sounded "Still", General Salute" an the last British soldier to leave the Holy Land, stepped into a pinnace and sped across the harbour towards HMS Phoebe. As the pinnace drew abreast the Striker, three cheers, led by the C.O., echoed over the still harbour.

Read about Major General Titch Houghton (1912 - 2011) here


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