In 1945 the 6th Airborne Division designated the Imperial Strategic Reserve was based in Palestine, administered by Britain under the terms of the 1923 League of Nations Mandate. It was immediately engulfed by the ‘Palestinian Question’, holding the ring against Jewish and Arab inter-communal strife over immigration.
Arab intransigence over the surge of Jewish immigration that followed the Holocaust in Europe led to the forming of extreme dissident Zionist groups such as IZL (Irgun Zwai Leumi) and the Stern Gang, all seeking to promote their aims through violence.
As tensions mounted the 3rd Parachute Brigade moved to Lydda District, incorporating Tel Aviv and the 6th Air Landing to Samaria; while the 2nd Parachute Brigade remained in Gaza. Terrorist outrages, including assassinations and the murder of airborne soldiers were exacerbated by the failure of the British White Paper in November 1945 to offer a political solution to the Palestine problem.
The Division responded with aggressive cordon and search operations, road blocks, convoy protection and guarding key points, which became the daily routine between 1946 and early 1947. Curfews imposed during strikes and rioting in Tel Aviv earned airborne troops the Jewish ‘Kalanyot’ nick-name, which associated the maroon beret with a red poppy, that has a black heart. Jewish civilians obstructed troops by all means.
In mid 1947 a UN Special Committee recommended a Partition of Palestine between Arab and Jew. Violence intensified as each side sought advantage before its planned introduction on 15 May 1948. Bus loads of Jews were rescued by airborne soldiers from Arab ambushes and one parachute battalion in Haifa regularly held the line between inter communal violence.
The bulk of the division departed Palestine in April and the remainder followed prior to Partition in May 1948, ending Britain’s role. On return to the UK the 6th Airborne Division was disbanded in line with peace-time reductions.
'Cordon and Search' by Maj Gen Dare Wilson
Considered by many as the definitive account of 6th Airborne Division's activities in Palestine from 1945 to 1948.
Republished in 2008 by Pen and Sword Books (ISBN 9781844157716)
American edition published in 1984 by Battery Press (ISBN 0898390834)
First published by Gale and Polden 1949