Irgun Blasts Prisoners out of Acre Irgun fighters pictured in 1948. Photo: Public Domain

May 4, 1948

The Irgun sets off explosives at 4:22 p.m. to blast open a hole in the wall of the Acre (Akko) fortress, used as a prison by the British Mandatory authorities, in an attempt to free 41 Jewish underground fighters (30 Irgun and 11 Lehi).

The Ottoman-era fortress prison holds 400 Arabs and 163 Jews: 60 Irgun members, 22 Lehi members, five Haganah members and 76 general criminals. The Irgun decides that it can break out only 41 because it can’t hide any more from British searches.

The preparations for the breakout include a tour of Acre by the Irgun’s operations chief, Amichai Paglin, in an Arab disguise; the identification of the southern wall as the vulnerable point of the fortress by Eitan Livni, the most senior Irgun prisoner; the selection of the 41 escapees; the smuggling of explosives into the prison inside food packages; and the collection of British Engineering Corps military uniforms to disguise the attackers in a convoy that uses a 3-ton military truck, two military vans and two civilian vans.

While the main force attacks the wall, a three-man team and a two-man squad lay mines and prepare to repel British forces chasing the prisoners, and three men disguised as Arabs fire a mortar on the nearby army camp. Inside the prison, the smuggled explosives blow open the locked gates blocking the path to the southern wall, and the escapees set a fire to cover their path and throw grenades at guards on the roof. Prisoners not involved in the escape create confusion.

All 41 escapees make it outside the wall, but the operation does not go smoothly from there. The driver of the van carrying the first 13 escapees makes a wrong turn and faces fire from British soldiers relaxing by the sea, then flips the van trying to evade them. Five of the 13 escapees are killed, and the other eight, six of whom are wounded, are recaptured.

One of the remaining 28 escapees is wounded and dies in a getaway van. Three members of the attack force, including its commander, Dov Cohen, are killed, and the five men in the two teams blocking the escape are captured. Three of those five are hanged July 29, 1947. The other two, who are minors, are sentenced to life imprisonment.

The operation frees 20 Irgun soldiers and seven Lehi fighters and enables the escape of 182 Arabs.