Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Neri Areli, Director of the "Haganah" Historical Archives and a Ministry of Defence employee has been appointed by the Ministry of Defence (Israeli) Director General to investigate the disappearance of British Officer Major Sir Anthony Palmer and the 23 "Haganah"/"Palmah" men who were with him.
On Friday 18th. May 1941 the "Sea Lion" (in Hebrew Ari Hayam) Commando boat embarked from Haifa Port on "Operation Boatswain". Aboard the boat were the Operational Commander, SOE Officer Major Sir Anthony Palmer and 23 Jewish volunteers from Palestine. Their mission was to destroy the oil refineries near Tripoli in Lebanon. The Commandos disappeared without carrying out their mission and they are missing ever since.
According to the information which we have accumulated, we estimate that the Sea Lion and its crew never reached their destination.
Over the years, and especially since the end of World War II, various elements, as well as the SOE and Israeli Intelligence elements have made significant efforts in trying to locate their tracks, however the investigations carried out in Lebanon, France and Britain have been unsuccessful in solving this mystery.
In 2001, a researcher from the Israel MoD visited the French Army Archives where he received approval to view military intelligence files classified as secret, and a number of documents were found to have a direct or indirect connection to this affair. These documents include: -
a. A secret telegram from the Governor of the 3rd. Naval District addressed to the Navy HQ, dated 19 May 1941 at 0755 hours which reported on the interception of a transmission in English. Below is the content of the document (it should be noted that the French interceptor wrote the English version as he heard it and did not translate the transmission into French): -
INTERCEPTE DE GLD; UNKNOWN VESSALS ATTACKED 6 MLS N.W. OR "SOUTH BILHOPS"
b. A secret telegram from the Navy HQ in Marseilles dated 18th. May 1941 , 0825 hours addressed to the Governor of the 3rd. Naval District as follows: -
"AVONS INTERCEPTE - CITATION: PRIMO 1417 UNKNOWN SUBMARINE SURFACE POSITION 41,40 N 21, W 1212 DE GLD SECONDO: No. 2116 AUTOMATIC - SIGNAL HEARD TO 2050 GMT STRENGTH 3 BEARING FROM GLD 185 DEGREES 2052/5 DE GPK/.
GLD: "LANDS" END RADIO
c. A translation of a British request dated 18 August 1941 to the Alley supervision committee to locate a number of persons whom they believed were or still are in French prisons, including Anthony Palmer.
From documents found in the Central Archives it appears that the Sea Lion succeeded in transmitting twice to its coastal base before contact was lost.
According to a report transferred by a "Haganah" agent in Lebanon in 1941, a number of bodies drifted to the Tripoli shore. Amongst these bodies was one whose external description is commensurate with the information known to us as Major Palmer.
We also approached the SOE Adviser in London for the following: -
a. Files of registration of monitoring of British Navy forces or of Axis forces during 1941 and especially during the period of the disappearance of the Sea Lion between 18-19 May 1941, while focusing on monitoring stations which as far as is known to us, operated in Cyprus and the region.
b. Files of military and naval intelligence reports on naval and ground activity along the Tripoli, Beirut coasts during April, May, June and July 1941, as well as operation logs of British ships and submarines which operated in the region.
c. We are especially interested in the British submarine which operated in the Tripoli-Beirut area during this period and would be grateful to find the submarines log too.
d. Naval and Army code books to enable the location of the Bilhops.
e. After the capture of Lebanon in June 1941, various coordination committees were established between the De Gaulle Military Government and the British Military Government in the Levant (interalia, the Alley committee) and we would appreciate the intelligence documentation connected to these contacts.
This investigation is ongoing.....
If anyone has any knowledge of why 24 men were either killed immediately or captured and then probably executed, we would appreciate your help.
These brave souls will be commemorated within the Allied Special Forces Memorial Grove situated at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.