The commercial bombers of Zion — I

Stern Gang leaflet, 1947

Or, that time the Stern Gang tried to bomb London from the air.

In early September 1947, the Parisian police arrested ten people connected with the Stern Gang, nine of them Jews including Baruch Korff, an American rabbi who was head of the Political Action Committee for Palestine.1 Press reports claimed that the group's aim was 'to carry out reprisals for the return to Europe of the 4,500 intending emigrants on board the President Warfield'.2 The President Warfield is better known today as the Exodus, which in July had attempted to land Jewish refugees from Europe in what was still the British Mandate of Palestine, only to be forcibly and bloodily intercepted by the Royal Navy. By the time of the arrests in Paris the refugees were about to land in Hamburg, there to be (again, as it turned out, forcibly and bloodily) interned in displaced persons camps. Korff was outraged at all this, and seems to have been drawn to spectacular, and aerial, forms of protest and resistance: earlier in 1947 he had made the news with his plan to subvert British immigration controls in an 'Exodus by Air', which involved landing refugees at secret Palestinian airfields, or even parachuting them in.3

In Paris, Korff made contact with members of the Stern Gang, and, apparently radicalised by the Exodus affair, had decided that more violent methods were justified, and required.4 Namely, hiring a private aeroplane to fly from Paris 'to drop homemade bombs on London from the air':

A first flight was to have been made over London on Thursday last [4 September 1947] to drop warning tracts. For some reason still unknown the flight was put off to Saturday. A police squad waited at the aerodrome on that day, disguised, according to some reports, as mechanics, and soon after 6 o'clock saw three persons step out of a car and walk towards and aeroplane, bearing a French number, with several heavy packages. The party were arrested, the aeroplane was seized, and the parcels were found to contain some 10,000 tracts.

The leaflets, couched in violent language, professed to be 'a warning to the British people,' and threatened 'to carry the war to the very heart of the British Empire.' They were signed: 'Fighters for the Freedom of Israel.' 5

Above is one of the leaflets; the text reads:

To the People of England!
TO THE PEOPLE WHOSE GOVERNMENT PROCLAIMED 'PEACE IN OUR TIME'
This is a Warning!
YOUR GOVERNMENT HAS DIPPED his Majesty’s Crown in Jewish blood and polished it with
Arab oil 'Out damned spot -- out I say...'
YOUR GOVERNMENT HAS VIOLATED every article of the Eretz-Israel Mandate, flouted
international law and invaded our country.
Oswiecim, Dachau and Treblinka made way for the 'Exodus'
To the Hitler-Bevin Alliance -- To the murder of the
survivors whom Hitler’s wrath could not reach
We are resolute
that it shall not come to pass again!
We will carry the war
to the very heart of the Empire!
We will strike
with all the bitterness and fury of our servitude and bondage.
We are prepared to fight
a war of liberation now to avoid a war of enslavement tomorrow.
PEOPLE OF ENGLAND!
Press your government to quit Eretz-Israel NOW!
Demand that your sons and your daughters return home
or you may not see them again.

FIGHTERS FOR FREEDOM OF ISRAEL6

And after the warning would have come the reprisal:

According to unofficial information, a second flight was to have been made on Monday, when bombs were to have been dropped. These bombs are said to have been found and to be made from fire extinguishers, filled with gelignite, and fitted with fins and a detonator cap.7

According to a later report, however, actual bombs might not have been found, just the plans.8 Apparently the initial target was the Houses of Parliament, but this was switched to the Foreign Office due to its refusal to grant Korff a visa for Palestine. This information came from Korff's pilot, a USAAF veteran named Reginald Gilbert. Gilbert was the only non-Jew arrested and he was quickly released, because he had been cooperating with the police almost from the start. The British were also kept fully informed, and took appropriate precautions -- oddly, the day before the planned leaflet rad, if this report is accurate:

Last Friday afternoon the south-east England air defences, which include the Royal Observer Corps, radar stations, and night fighters, were tested, and by dark the system was in operation. On Friday night every aircraft crossing the south-east coast was picked up, reported, intercepted by night fighters, and identified. There were no incidents.9

After a couple of months (and a hunger strike and, it is claimed, the intervention of the US State Department), Korff was released without charge and returned home to Boston.

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to determine what kind of aeroplane was to be used to bomb London, only that it was a civil machine converted to military use. That makes it a commercial bomber, albeit one at the lower end of the scale. Commercial bombers are a weapon of the weak (Germany, Ethiopia, New Zealand...) and a terrorist group certainly qualifies. But what exactly did the Stern Gang plan to do with their single commercial bomber? What did they hope to achieve? I'll discuss this in another post.


  1. In the 1970s he became known as a staunch supporter of Nixon, even after Watergate. 

  2. The Times, 8 September 1947, 4. 

  3. Canberra Times, 13 March 1947, 1; Pittsburgh Press, 16 August 1947, 10

  4. An extract from his 1953 autobiography, Flight from Fear, claims that 'As the three British prison ships prepared to leave for the last leg of the bitter journey to Hamburg, anger and vengeance homogenized the furtive and the stealthy. Everyone of us [his affiliates in the Stern Gang] clamored for a... reprisal that would sound our rancor. It was then I suggested, as part of the "war on nerves," that warning leaflets be dropped on London and half a dozen bombs be unloaded on its beachheads, with care taken to prevent human casualties'; but I haven't been able to consult the book myself. 

  5. The Times, 8 September 1947, 4. 

  6. J. Bowyer Bell, Terror Out of Zion: The Fight for Israeli Independence (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1996), 112. 

  7. The Times, 8 September 1947, 4. 

  8. The Times, 9 September 1947, 3. 

  9. Ibid., 3. 

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4 thoughts on “The commercial bombers of Zion — I

  1. Erik Lund

    That's a little nuts. Probably literally, since the leaflet reads like borderline word salad.

  2. Jeanine

    Hi Brett,

    Thank you for this interesting article. Did you ever write the follow-up article you mention? I would be very interested in reading it.

  3. Post author

    Sorry; unfortunately I haven't written it. On a few occasions I've done this, promised a follow-up and never getting around to it, usually because I can't find the time and then other things take priority. I still may get back to it one day, but I wouldn't hold your breath!
    Brett

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