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Bombing of the King David Hotel, 12.37, 22nd July 1946

"The centre of the hotel and the south-east corner of the Secretariat remained standing. The six storeys and twenty-eight offices in the south-west corner of the hotel had become a three-storey pile of twisted iron, cracked cement, red stone blocks and corpses." By Blood and Fire, Thurston Clarke

The King David Hotel, Jerusalem, was an important social centre for those who could afford it. One wing was used by the Government Secretariat and the British Army and in addition to troops and Civil Servants, many Palestinian civilians worked there. The rest of the hotel operated normally with bar, restaurant, lobby, and visitors coming and going. A bomb in the street, which turned out to be only diversionary, caused some alarm but then everyone just went back to what they had been doing. Such events were commonplace. The main explosion was caused by explosives packed into milk churns brought into the basement of the hotel by terrorists dressed as Palestinian Arabs. A British officer (Capt Alexander D Mackintosh who later died) and a policeman who became suspicious were immediately shot. The alarm was raised and some of the terrorists were shot and wounded but managed to get away and were hidden by the local Jewish population — voluntarily or by 'persuasion'.

The TNT exploded 6 minutes early and was devastating: the Secretariat wing collapsed as one floor fell on another. Many people were killed immediately but a great many more were trapped and injured.

"The suction ripped off clothes, tore rings from fingers and watches from wrists. It sucked the windowpanes out of nearby buildings, spewing shards of glass into the street. Automobiles rolled over, small trees were uprooted, and cypresses and palms bent backward as if battered by hurricane winds. Ivan Phillips's driver was blown onto the metal spears of the YMCA's ornamental gate."   By Blood and Fire, Thurston Clarke.

The reporter, Barbara Board, had a lucky escape and wrote in the Daily Mirror:

"I owe my life and the fact that I am able to write the story of the bloodiest terrorist outrage, to the cool courage of a British military policeman. When a great charge of dynamite blew up the Palestine Government Secretariat in the King David Hotel a few moments ago, I was walking through the hotel entrance.

As the thunderous boom roared out, the five-storey building collapsed like a pack of cards with 200 British, Arabs and Jews inside, one military policeman on guard at the entrance threw me on to the ground and shielded me with his body.

The black mushroom of smoke and dust rolled away over our heads and, tumbling out of the building came a macabre, ghostly procession of British officers, wives and waiters, streaming with blood, their hair and clothes covered in white dust. I went to the top floor of the building and I saw Sir John Shaw, officer administering the Palestine Government, covered in blast and dust, and General Officer Commanding Lieutenant General Sir Evelyn Barker together breaking down a doorway in an effort to rescue trapped people."

Many others were also fortunate, Capt Colin Mitchell and his friend John Penman, his company commander in the Argylls were within 300 yards, on their way to the bar when:

"With the most shattering explosion I have ever heard, the King David Hotel vanished in a colossal billow of smoke and dust. John and I exchanged glances, knew that we must get back to the Battalion, turned and ran through the streets now filling with running troops and police, racing fire engines, ambulances and police cars: a scene of utter turmoil." 'Having Been a Soldier', Lt Col Colin Mitchell

The bombers claim that warnings were given but terrorist warnings are worthless and hoaxes were common occurrences. Terrorists often want a building to be evacuated so that people are killed by another bomb planted outside. Many were killed in Julian's Way which is where even more people would have been in an evacuation and so making the death toll much higher.

Troops at Qastina, 40 miles away, rushed to assist in the rescue and had to force their way through Jewish roadblocks and under a hail of stones and abuse.

Maj Gen Dare Wilson describes the difficult rescue and recovery:

"By 1600 hours they were hard at work in the rubble. The task was a race against time, and not until all hope of saving further lives had been abandoned, days later, did they relax their efforts. Day and night the rescue operations went on with the Sappers working like men possessed, for deep in the wreckage could occasionally be heard sounds which encouraged them to fresh exertions. At 2200 that night the Squadron was formed into three shifts, and for the next three days each shift worked 16 hours on and 8 hours off. Even so, some men refused to rest until, on the point of exhaustion, they were ordered to fall out. It is recorded that one Sapper drove his bulldozer for thirty hours without leaving the wheel, which is remarkable." Cordon and Search

The last survivor was under the debris for 71 hours before rescue.

Casualties: 91 dead (28 British, 41 Arabs, 17 Jews, 2 Armenians, 1 Russian, 1 Greek and 1 Egyptian) and 45 wounded.

There were many acts of bravery at the scene including that of Police Sergeant 'Blackie' Smith who was awarded the George Cross:

"...heard shouts from a pile of concrete slabs near the remains of the canteen. Smith was in his forties but he had boxed professionally and his arms were strong. He jumped into an opening and began burrowing. Within a few minutes he had dug a tunnel that almost reached the victims. Suddenly, the tunnel collapsed. He crawled out unharmed. A rescue worked rubbed his back with liniment and he re-entered the tunnel... Half an hour later Smith emerged again. Two wounded men crawled after him."   By Blood and Fire, Thurston Clarke.

Photo: Edwina Payton, courtesy of her sister, Margaret.

And that of Sgt Edwina Payton (later Mailey), Chief Clerk, ATS, who though uninjured after the explosion instead of leaving the burning building went upstairs to search for her Palestinian Arab secretary. Finding her badly injured, Edwina put her service jacket around her and went for help, not finding any she returned to find her friend dead.

For rescuing two ATS girls from the collapsed building, Bob Edwards, RAF Police, was awarded the BEM. There were a number of others.

The horror of the aftermath was grim. July in Jerusalem is very hot so the bodies soon began to decompose and Reg Baker, a despatch rider, vividly remembers the smell two miles away. It took three weeks to recover all the dead; at night vultures would arrive.

LiveLeak short clip: King David Hotel bombing.

Colonial Film of aftermath (with commentary)

Brief Pathé film of the burial of victims.

The 2004 BBC programme Empire Warriors, The Jewish War focuses mostly on the King David Hotel bombing and gives a surprising amount of time to the bombers and their excuses. The King David was described as the 'Fort Knox of the Brits' but it was just a hotel, open to everyone, but with increased security in certain areas. On the LiveLeak site the programme is advertised as being about Jewish 'guerillas' rather than British soldiers.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In February 2012, as part of the BBC series, Empire, Jeremy Paxman talked to one of the King David Hotel bombers and Reg Baker, RAOC, who was in Palestine at the time was incensed by the nature and tone of the interview and wrote to the BBC and Paxman. No replies to date (April) but some interesting and revealing comments since.

In July 2006 Netanyahu and former Irgun gang members attended a 60th anniversary celebration of this outrage and continue to claim that it was all the fault of the British and not the fault of the bombers.