1940-1949 | Backing terror operations | Palestine

MI6 ordered to sabotage ships carrying Jewish refugees to Palestine

14 January 1947

On this day in 1947, Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin ordered MI6 to sabotage ships in European ports which were taking Jewish refugees to Palestine and to deliberately contaminate their food and water supplies. Other methods to prevent their arrival in the British controlled mandate had been contemplated but the three miles of coastal waters off Palestine wasn’t considered sufficient buffer space for the British navy to prevent their arrival by legal means. Accordingly, twenty ships suspected of carrying Jewish migrants were singled out although only five were actually targeted – all in Italian ports – the damage to one from limpet mines was so severe it was rendered a ‘total loss’.  False rumours were then deliberately circulated to blame the attacks on an extremist Arab terror group.

During the initial discussions in December 1946 on what measures might be necessary, an internal memo noted that the ‘proposals for action to deter ships masters and crews from engaging in illegal Jewish immigration and traffic,’ depended on ‘intimidation and intimidation is only likely to be effective if some members of the group of people to be intimidated actually suffer unpleasant consequences.’1  If any of the Special Operations Executive agents were arrested, they were warned that His Majesty’s Government could not afford them any help. That was an understandable precaution given that even a silver-tongued lawyer might have had difficulty justifying such acts of violent intimidation against the surviving victims of the holocaust.


  1. Andrew Roberts, ‘MI6 Attacked Jewish Refugee Ships After WWII’, The Daily Beast, 19 September 2010, accessed online on 7 January 2019 at url https://www.thedailybeast.com/mi6-attacked-jewish-refugee-ships-after-wwii and James Barr, Lords of the Desert: Britain’s Struggle with America to Dominate the Middle East, Simon and Schuster, London, p84-85

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