The Secret WW2 Learning Network is an educational charity registered in the UK - a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) No. 1156796

Unveiling at Kibbutz Gesher HaZiv, Israel, 8th June 2023

8th June 2023 brought the unveiling of a Secret WW2 plaque/information board, funded by the Gerry Holdsworth Special Forces Charitable Trust, at the site of Paddy Mayne’s former SAS (Special Raiding Squadron) camp at Gesher HaZiv, a kibbutz in northern Israel.

The initiative was a joint partnership project by SECRET WW2 in the UK and the Haganah Heritage Association in Israel with the support of kibbutz Gesher HaZiv and Matte Asher Regional Council.

The plaque provides photos and text, in both English and Hebrew, commemorating the fact that in March 1943, two special forces units of the British 1st Special Air Service Regiment (1st SAS) arrived in Mandatory Palestine (now Israel) from Egypt: the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS) and the Special Boat Squadron (SBS).

The SBS (not be be confused with today’s SBS – the Special Boat Service) set up its training and depot base at ‘Atlit (then Athlit) and began sea-borne operations against the Axis enemy in the eastern Mediterranean. The SRS’s tented camp, with access to British Army buildings for stores etc, was at Gesher HaZiv (then Azzib) a kibbutz community that still retains some of the British Army buildings in everyday use. It was on this hilltop site that the SRS commenced training for the invasion of Sicily and southern mainland Italy. Raiding Forces Headquarters (Camp 260, by the village of Azzib), to which both the SRS and SBS reported, is believed to have been close to the railway line that ran parallel to the coast, below the SRS camp. It included Raiding Forces Signals, the Greek Sacred Squadron and the Light Repair Section.

The SRS of 1st SAS Regiment was commanded by Major R.B. ‘Paddy’ Mayne, one of the most aggressive and highly decorated officers of the British Army during the war. The Squadron was organised into three Troops, totalling some 240 men. Visited by C-in-C Middle East, General H.M Wilson, the squadron’s  training consisted of marches from Lake Tiberias and evasion exercises back to Azzib; mountain climbing near Rosh HaNiqra; ski instruction in the Lebanese mountains; parachute training at RAF Ramat David and an assault exercise against a British gun battery in Cyprus. Prior to departing, via Suez, for the invasion of Sicily (Operation HUSKY, July 1943), the SRS took part in a final exercise (Exercise BROMYARD, June 1943) using landing craft, in the Gulf of Aqaba.

The SRS successfully assaulted an Italian coastal battery (Capo Murro di Porco, Sicily, 10-11 July 1943), going on to successive operations in Sicily and on mainland Italy during 1943. Returning to Britain (January 1944) it became the nucleus of the re-established 1st SAS Regiment. As such, it fought throughout the north-west Europe campaign, often behind enemy lines, and today remains an elite special forces unit within the British Army. The SAS’s historical example has inspired other special forces units across the globe, including Israel’s own special operations unit, Sayeret Matkal, who adopted the SAS motto: WHO DARES WINS.

This plaque is the second phase of the Joint Heritage Friends programme, strengthening UK-Israel WW2 heritage, by  SECRET WW2 (via Paul McCue, Executive Trustee) and the Haganah Heritage Association (via Brig-Gen (R) Erez David Maisel). The Network was represented by Ambassador Gershon Gan, a dedicated Friend and donor of SECRET WW2 who gave a short address. Master of Ceremonies on the day was Erez Maisel who was the local driving force in expertly agreeing the location, plaque production and invitations. Erez also gave a comprehensive powerpoint presentation on the history of the site and the SRS and an interview with one of our two Veteran Life Friends, Jack Mann, was shown. Jack, who was at Gesher HaZiv in 1943, also tuned in to the ceremony from England. During the speeches, Gershon revealed that the kibbutz had decided to name their new restaurant, opening shortly in one of the renovated British Army buildings, “Zack” – “Jack”.

Total attendance – on site and via Zoom – was around 100 and included British and Israeli special forces representative speakers at the ceremony. The British representative presented the community with an SAS shield.

Other participants and attendees included: Lt-Col Richard Hecht of the IDF Spokesperson Unit; Maj Tal Maneshe of the IDF International Cooperation Division (northern liaison office); Aviram Levi of the Sayeret Matkal Heritage Association; and representatives from Israel’s  Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Centre and its Council for the Conservation of Heritage Sites.

Special thanks go to Eitan Shariff of kibbutz Gesher HaZiv for his support.

Top row photos (left to right): Ambassador Gershon Gan speaking as representative of SECRET WW2; Brig-Gen. Erez Maisel (right) and Col. Richard Hecht, international spokesperson for the IDF, with the SAS shield and the plaque in the background; Erez Maisel making the presentation.