In 1947, Great Britain decided to give up its colonial mandate to rule Palestine. The British are frankly tired of looking for any solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict, so they decided to get rid of this problem. Officially, the end of their mandate was to be 14 May 1948. On the same day, the creation of an independent state of Israel was announced, after which the second phase of the Arab-Israeli war 1947 – 49 began, which in the Jewish state itself, as in most countries of the world, is called the “War of Independence” (at that time as states that sympathized with the anti-Israeli coalition, they call it differently - “Nakba”, that is, “disaster”).
In fact, the war in Palestine began even before representatives of the British administration left it. However, at the first stage of this conflict, the fighting was exclusively positional in nature, and the parties to the conflict were mainly engaged in the extraction of weapons, the construction of fortifications and the strengthening of their positions. At the same time, by the beginning of the war, the Jews had time to create two large military organizations of a semi-underground plan - the Hagan and the Irgun. Both organizations were dissolved in 1948, joining the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) formed in May of the same year.
At the same time, the Israel Defense Forces were armed with the most diverse origins. weapons. The collection of various weapons began long before May 1948. The arsenals collected by the Jews were incredibly variegated by model, caliber, origin and age. For example, even before the start of World War II, Haganah had submachine guns that had been smuggled in, these were Finnish Suomi and American Thompsons, which were very convenient for fighting in the city and settlements. The flow of arms smuggling continued even after the end of the great war in Europe. From 1946 to 1948, more than 1300 various submachine guns were transferred to Israel, and approximately 870 submachine guns, mainly British Stan, were produced during the 1941-1947 period directly on the spot. They were abducted from British warehouses, bought from Arab smugglers, etc. Shop rifles and even light mortars were mined in the same way.
As a result, the territory of Palestine was literally packed with weapons. Lasts have been found throughout the country. So in 1946, in Tel Aviv, only in one building of the Tachemoni school, representatives of the British administration found more than 50 mortars, 50 rifles and several thousand cartridges and mines to them. And in Kibbutz Dorot two dozen sub-machine guns and light machine guns were found. Weapons were even bought from the British themselves. At the same time, it was explained quite simply: discipline among the troops, who had already counted the days before their departure from Palestine, was, to put it mildly, lame. For example, already in 1951, in the UK, an officer was convicted, who in 1948, sold a batch of weapons to Jews. Initially, he was going to sell the entire batch to the Arabs for 25 000 pounds sterling, but Hagan’s representatives offered 30 thousands for it and won. As a result of this transaction, they received an armored car, a jeep-type vehicle, Browning machine guns 180, rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition for them. At the same time, the Hagan bought weapons not only from the British, but also from the Arabs themselves on the territory of Palestine, as well as neighboring Egypt and Syria.
There was a hunt for serial armored vehicles, it was mined from the same British. In some cases, armored cars just hijacked. The Jews acted according to all the rules: they took an armored vehicle under their supervision and waited until the crew went for a swim or a snack. However, it was not about tanks. The first tanks, which became the ancestors of the Israeli tank forces, were hijacked from the British contingent by the British troops of the Hussars, located in Haifa. They were two medium Cromwell tanks armed with 75-mm cannons.
Before the cancellation of the British Mandate in Palestine, Hagan managed to get the two Cromwell tanks listed above, one Daimler armored car, two disarmed Sherman tanks (purchased) and the GMS Otter reconnaissance vehicle. Already in May, the formation of the Israeli armored service began on 1948, but on May 15 only one of all the tanks of the newly proclaimed Israeli state was on the move. In June of the same year, 10 H-39 light tanks, which at that time were hopelessly outdated, arrived in Israel and were bought in France. And in July, Hotchkies, Kromveli and Shermans already took part in fights with Arabs as part of the 82 Tank Battalion of the Israel Defense Forces. In this case, from 30 defective tanks "Sherman", which were hastily acquired in Italy, during the war managed to put into operation only two cars.
Returning to the British medium tank "Cromwell", which, in English terminology, was a cruising tank, it can be noted that during World War II this tank was rightfully considered one of the best British combat vehicles. This tank was created in the UK during the war years and, thanks to its relatively light armor and the powerful Rolls-Royce engine, it was notable for its high speed of movement. Armed with a 75-mm cannon tank found a worthy use during the Second World War, fighting against the German troops. The story of the appearance of these tanks in the IDF begins with the idea that came to mind Isaac Sade - the founder of the first tank brigade of the Jewish state. In the spring of 1948 of the year, he decided to use the evacuation of his army by the British in order to simply steal several such vehicles, attaching them to the Hagani forces.
The first attempt to steal the tanks from the British during their transfer from the collapsing military base in the Jezreel Valley to Haifa was planned for the end of May 1948. Previously, the procurement department, specially created at Hagan, was able to negotiate with several British soldiers that during the move the last tanks would be left behind the convoy and turned off to a side road where the organization’s men would wait for them. For each of the stolen tanks, the soldiers were promised to hand over thousands of pounds sterling to 3. However, this plan failed, as the convoy's security was strengthened, which scared the soldiers who took part in the deal. But Yitzhak Sadeh did not intend to give up and ordered to search for new opportunities in order to take possession of the tanks. So in the early summer of the same year, Hagan was able to reach two British sergeants - Irish mechanic Michael Flanagan and Scottish Harry Macdonald, who served as commander of one of the tanks.
An armored vehicle theft operation was scheduled for the night of 29 on 30 on June 1948 of the year, on the eve of the departure of the last units of the British army from Palestine. The four remaining Cromwell tanks were planned to be hijacked from a base located at the Haifa airfield, with the help of the two aforementioned sergeants and a pair of Jewish fighters who managed to complete an accelerated course in controlling a Cromwell tank. In the absence of other possibilities for this, British sergeants trained their partners in controlling the combat vehicle, conducting only theoretical classes in one of the cafes of Haifa - with the help of drawings and drawings.
In the evening before “Day X”, the trained Hagan fighters infiltrated a British airfield, where they hid inside a light aircraft, which belonged to one of the wealthy Jews. At the appointed night hour, all four hijackers took their places in tanks prepared in advance by the sergeants, which were loaded with spare parts and ammunition. However, the first problems started here. One of the newly minted Israeli driver mechanics was unable to start a tank and, having abandoned the combat vehicle, fled from the base. Three other tanks, having broken through the gates of the base, rushed towards the kibbutz Yaghur, located in the Jezreel Valley, a few dozen kilometers east of Haifa. It finally became clear that the theoretical training that was received in the cafe is not enough to control the tanks. Another Cromwell, driven by a Jewish driver, got off the road and was literally stuck in the sand. Trying to free the tank from the trap, an inexperienced driver only disabled the gearbox. As a result, the combat vehicle had to quit. Subsequently, it became clear that the two tanks left behind helped the others to escape. In an atmosphere of terrible confusion that arose on a British base after daring theft, the officers spent at least 30 minutes to clarify the situation and inspect two abandoned tanks, which allowed the two other Cromwells to successfully break away from the chase.
Directly in the kibbutz Yagur, tanks were supposed to meet trailers designed for their transportation, but there were no trucks in place. It was dangerous to wait for their arrival, as the British had taken to the air by that time. Aviation, which was to find and destroy the fugitives. Therefore, the "Kromveli" rushed to Tel Aviv, but under its own power. Ahead, pointing the way for the tankmen, the Hagani jeep followed. And the old trucks pre-bought in preparation for the operation, loaded with gravel and with punctured tires, blocked the intersection after the tanks past the junction, cutting them off from potential pursuers. The fighting vehicles that reached Tel Aviv were hidden directly in the courtyard of a residential building in one of the eastern suburbs of the city - Givatayim.
Tank hijacked by Mike Flanagen
Upon learning of the successful hijacking of tanks, the British command was furious. The officers refused to participate in the farewell banquet organized by the Haifa mayor and, hoping to somehow hush up this shameful history for the British army, unofficially offered to exchange, giving Hagan in exchange for two hijacked Cromwell, three tanks of another type. Apparently, the proposal was not so interesting and British officers were refused.
A week later, both of the stolen Cromwell tanks were located in the 82 Tank Battalion of the 8 Tank Brigade of Yitzhak Sade. Actually, they, together with the Sherman tank, which at that time did not have a gun, made up the first and only heavy tank company of the Israeli army at that time. In addition to them, the tank brigade had only a few light French tanks, which were repulsed from the Syrians during the fighting in May 1948.
In July of the same year, an Israeli tank unit took part in a daring and successful operation “Dani”, which resulted in the subsequent seizure of Lydda airport (today it is Ben Gurion airport) and other strategic positions located in the center of the country. In October 1948, the brigade was redeployed to the southern front, where during the operation "Joab" was able to capture the police fort Iraq-Suweidan. And during the winter operation "Horev" Israeli tanks were able to defeat parts of the Egyptians and reached the border with Sinai.
The memory of the first Israeli "Cromwell" lives to this day, the silhouette of this tank was decorated with an emblem that can be found on the berets of Israeli tank crews. The tanks themselves were able to get into the Museum of Tank Forces, located on the site of the British Fort Latrun, which was never captured during the War of Independence (the Israelis captured the fort only during the Six Day War). British sergeants Harry MacDonald and Michael Flanagan stayed in Israel, joining the Sade brigade. Over time, MacDonald left the service and left Israel, and Flanagan went through the giyur, married Ruth Levy, who served in the same unit, and settled with her in kibbutz Sha'ar Hamakim.
It is still quite difficult to judge exactly what forced the two sergeants of the British army in the summer of 1948 to desert, taking tanks with them. Over time, this story, as is often the case, is overgrown with a large number of legends — both about the girls with whom Hagana seduced the sergeants, and about the huge monetary reward, and about the fact that the soldiers of the Israeli underground threatened the sergeant with weapons. Perhaps, the role played by the fact that both hijackers by nationality were Irish and Scotsman and in the British army felt not quite comfortable.
However, Amnon Doumani, who was personally acquainted with Flangan for many years, while he lived in Kibbutz Shaar HaAkim, was convinced that the Irish were hurt by non-lyrical and commercial reasons to steal a tank. His choice was influenced by something quite different. Michael Flangan graduated from military school in 16 years, and at the age of 19 took part in the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Europe. In a concentration camp, he saw something that had shocked him and changed his life forever. At the same time, he never spoke in detail about what he had seen, trying to get away from these conversations. During his service in Palestine after the end of the Second World War, he began to openly sympathize with the Jews, having decided to stay in the country in the end in order to help the young state to stand in the struggle against the Arabs. Sergeant Harry MacDonald was his supporter, supporting his choice.