Face of the day

Shlomo Erell

Shlomo Erell, who has died on his 98th birthday, was a Major General in the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces), and the seventh Commander of the Israeli navy.

In November 1948, Israeli intelligence found out that the Grille, a vessel that had served as Hitler’s personal yacht, was docking in Lebanon; the boat had been purchased by a Lebanese Christian and brought to Beirut.

The Israelis wanted to destroy the ship. First, because they suspected that the Lebanese might install guns and dispatch it to attack the Haifa port in Northern Israel. Secondly, just a few years after the Holocaust it was tempting for the Israelis – and symbolic too – to destroy a former Nazi ship.

A plan was set up (“Operation David”) whereby Shlomo Erell, captain of the Israeli vessel Palmach, would sail to Beirut, approach the Nazi boat, which was docking near a popular swimming beach, and land an explosives expert, who would attach bombs and sink it.

Erell sailed at night, dropping off the man in a mask and snorkel with two mines strapped to his body, and waited for him to return. After attaching the mines just below the yacht’s waterline, the man returned to the Palmach and they sailed back to Israel.

Success, however, was limited, as the explosives only blew a hole in the hull, which was then repaired […]

Shlomo Erell was born on November 20 1920 in Lodz, Poland. When he was six, the family emigrated to Palestine, then under British Mandate, and they settled in Petah Tikva.

Soon after their arrival in Palestine, Shlomo’s father, Haim, a rich businessman, was killed in a car crash and Shlomo and his mother, Frida, moved to nearby Tel Aviv. Young Shlomo attended the Geula High school and he joined the Right-wing Betar youth movement.

Aged 16, he gathered a few school friends and set up a tiny organisation which was aimed at putting pressure on the British in Palestine to leave the country. He said in a later interview: “We believed that we should do something [against the British Mandate]. So, we stole some pistols… we threw a few bombs… it was all very childish.”

Around this time, Erell also travelled to the Betar Naval Academy, a Jewish naval training school in Civitavecchia, Italy. Upon his return to Palestine in 1938, the British arrested Erell for his previous anti-British activities and put him in the Acre Prison for six months.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Erell volunteered for the British Merchant Navy, which kept the United Kingdom supplied with food, fuel, raw materials and ammunition.

In 1941 the ship he was serving in was hit and sunk by a torpedo launched from a German U-boat. Erell managed to jump into a small rescue craft and spent nine days at sea before he was found and rescued.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Erell joined the tiny Israeli navy and as captain of Palmach he participated in operations in the Sinai and Lebanon; he distinguished himself when on one occasion he led a naval attack that captured Ein Gedi on the Dead Sea coast.

After the war Erell was appointed the IDF military attaché in the embassy in Italy, and on his return to Israel he rejoined the navy, where he was quickly promoted.

On August 12 1953, a naval flotilla commanded by Erell was on its way back to Israel from four weeks of training in the Aegean. On that day a massive earthquake had struck the region of the Greek islands Kefalonia, Zante and Ithaca. Erell’s fleet, located 15 hours from the site of the disaster, rushed to the area and was among the first to arrive on the scene.

He played a key role, along with the Royal Navy, in the rescue operation. For three days and nights his 450 men provided relief to the residents of the Greek islands.

Later, the king of Greece came personally to greet Erell’s soldiers and he awarded the Israeli a badge of merit. In the Greek press Erell’s force was referred to as “the fleet of love and hope”.

In 1956 he was sent to the UK to attend a course at the British Army’s Staff College at Camberley, and on his return he set up a similar course for naval officers in Israel.

On January 4 1966 he was promoted to the rank of major general and appointed chief of the Israeli Navy, leading it during the 1967 Six-Day War.

He was quite aggressive in sending Sayeret 13, a unit of the Israeli navy, specialising in sea-to-land incursions, to attack Egyptian and Syrian ports.

Erell was appointed Chief of the Israeli navy in 1966
But Erell’s tenure as Commander of the Israeli navy was overshadowed by the disappearance of the submarine Dakar, an episode that caused him great pain.

The boat, which was a modified Second World War British T-class submarine, was purchased from the UK as part of a three-submarine deal in 1965.

However, Dakar and her entire 69-man crew were lost en route from Britain to Israel on January 25 1968. Despite conspiracy theories about the cause of the loss, nothing was ever proved. […]

After retiring in September 1968, Erell studied for a Master’s degree in administration at Columbia University.

In the 1970s he became a member of the Right-wing Likud party, and was often summoned by Israeli leaders to advise them on naval matters.[…]

Shlomo Erell, born November 20 1920, died November 20 2018

-telegraph.co.uk


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