British Empire Books

The British Army and Jewish Insurgency in Palestine (1945 - 1947)

AuthorDavid A. Charters
PublisherMacMillan Press
ISBN No.0333422783

"The Jews had the highest quality of terrorists the British Army faced in the post-war period, so the army probably set its standards by them, and it did them good... What was learned was applied much better elsewhere. Palestine put the army in the right frame of mind, so they responded much better and much faster later."

This is a specialized book looking at a specific problem at a specific time. Why did the British army fail to control the Jewish insurgents in Palestine. David Charters rightly points out that there are many publications and reports detailing the British success in Malaya but relatively few on the failure in Palestine. This book represents his attempts to address that imbalance.

It is the dithering diplomats and bureaucrats who are primarily blamed for British failure here. Not knowing themselves what they wanted to achieve, they could hardly be expected to tell the army what to do next. Wildly jumping from appeasement of Arabs to Jews and back again left the army in a tenuous and ambiguous position. They lost a lot of credibility with both communities and lost the British as a whole a great deal of legitimacy in the mandate.

The next major problem was also somewhat out of the army's hands even if it did effect them directly. The demobilisation of the army after the Second World War led to a constant state of flux and confusion in all of the regular British Army units stationed there. This obviously meant that experienced men were leaving the service at an alarmlingly fast rate, meaning that they could not pass on their valuable skills and techniques to the newer arrivals. Many of the most innovative and successful practices were lost the army because of the speed of repatriation.

Of course, failure cannot be laid completely at the door of the British, it could always be argued that it wasn't the fact that the British failed so much as the Jews succeeded in their endeavours. There is no doubt that they were an extremely dedicated, skillful practitioners of guerilla warfare. The fact that all of the competing terrorist and political groupings managed to come together also helped them to project their power beyond their physical size.

The book itself comes from a dissertation conducted by the author some years before. Fortunately, the book does not overly suffer from such an academic pedigree. It is a coherent and well thought out book. Although, it is in no way a narrative. If you are looking for individual testimonies or accounts of battles then you are looking at the wrong book. No, this book is aimed at explaining the organizational and political reasons for success or failure. If that is what you are interested in, then this is a good place to start.

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