HC Deb 13 April 1948 vol 449 cc771-3
12. Mr. A. R. W. Low

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement about the attack on the camp of the 12th Anti-Tank Regiment near Pardess Hanna in Palestine; and if he will explain how it was that the Irgun force was able to enter the camp.

17. Sir G. Jeffreys

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can give any explanation as to how the military vehicles used in the recent raid on a British scamp in Palestine came into the possession of the Jewish terrorists; and to what extent their acquisition by the terrorists was due to any fault or negligence on the part of British troops.

Mr. Shinwell

An inquiry is being conducted into the circumstances of this outrage. It is clear, however, that it will be difficult to establish the facts, as the commanding officer and most other witnesses of the beginning of the attack were killed. The precise manner in which the Jewish terrorists, who were dressed in British Army and police uniforms, overpowered and shot the sentries is not known. The attack had obviously been very carefully planned and the murderers chose a time when the troops were dispersed in the camp for morning maintenance duties. The terrorists immediately occupied the key positions in the camp from which they directed fire at all and sundry. The regimental sergeant-major raised the alarm and troops opened fire with machine guns. The police carriers and military vehicles used by the terrorists were not identified, and so it is not possible to say how they came into their possession.

Mr. Low

Pending the results of the inquiry, in view of the fact that, as has been indicated, our troops in Palestine are on a war-time footing, will the right hon. Gentleman give us some indication as to why arms were not with the men in the camp; and how it was possible for fighting vehicles, which we have long known to be in the possession of Jews and some Arabs, were able to approach the camp without any precautions being taken to defend the camp against them; and can he say whether there is any satisfactory system for the recognition of fighting vehicles in operations in Palestine at the moment?

Mr. Shinwell

It is quite impossible to answer all those questions offhand, but these points are the subject of an inquiry. Even in war time it is possible for a camp to be overpowered.

Mr. Low

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the terms in which the Question was asked? He was asked for a statement about the attack on the camp. Surely that covers all the points which have been raised? If he is not in possession of the facts at the moment, will he tell us when he will be able to make a further statement?

Mr. Shinwell

The hon. Member is apparently unaware of the first part of my reply which I repeat: an inquiry is being conducted into the circumstances of this outrage.

Mr. Grimston

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the directive was issued before or after the outrage which is the subject of this Question?

Mr. Shinwell

It had no direct relation to this outrage. It was issued because it was regarded as necessary in the circumstances.

Earl Winterton

As the result of this, will the right hon. Gentleman now give the fullest discretion to the G.O.C., Palestine, and, through him, to the unit commanders, to take whatever steps they think necessary to protect camps without reference to the Palestine Government, which is now in dissolution?

Mr. Shinwell

A directive to that effect was issued the other day.

Mr. Sharp

Is it not a fact that this camp, which is surrounded on three sides by Jewish settlements, is so sited that it can be kept under observation from those Jewish settlements, and that it is bounded by the usual wire and pillar fencing? In such circumstances, can the right hon. Gentleman say, first, why such a camp was chosen for use by men who were known to be in a relatively unarmed state, and, secondly, why the camp was not properly defended?

Mr. Shinwell

I have not with me precise information about the geographical situation of the camp—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not"?]—because I was not asked for it.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Since those atrocities took place, has the right hon. Gentleman satisfied himself that other camps are adequately defended both with sentries and guards in order to prevent a similar occurrence taking place?

Mr. Shinwell

The directive issued to the General Officer Commanding will take care of all that.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up an apparent disparity in this matter? When a Private Notice Question was put to the Colonial Secretary last week, the right hon. Gentleman said "the sentry was overpowered." The Secretary of State for War has referred to the sentries being overpowered. How many sentries were there at the time?

Mr. Shinwell

I am afraid I cannot say. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I can only reply to Questions on the Paper and I have no intention of doing more than that, beyond furnishing hon. Members, in reply to supplementary questions, with all the information I have. However, all these points will be noted, and if hon. Members want further information, I can assure them that that information will be given.

Commander Galbraith

What was the date on which the directive to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred was issued?

Mr. Shinwell

I think it was probably four or five days ago. I cannot give the exact date.

Commander Noble

Will the right hon. Gentleman also inquire into an incident reported in this morning's papers when a troop and ammunition train was looted 12 miles south of Tel Aviv? How was it that such a train could be looted?

Mr. Shinwell

Hon. Members do not seem to be aware that there are military operations in Palestine.