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The Palyam – the most famous and large naval organization in Israel’s pre-independence era - was by no means the first naval endeavor involving young people of the “Yishuv” (the Jewish community in Eretz Israel/Palestine). Naval experience had been gained, starting years before the Palyam was established, in various ways including the pre-WW-II Aliya Bet (iilegal immigration) operations, work in fishing and merchant marine, service in the British Navy, joint Hagana-British military naval training (during WW-II), as well as the activities of maritime education/sport organizations, most notably Ha’Plugut Ha’Yamiyot (“maritime  companies”) of HaPoel - the workers’ sports organization (HaPoel's countrywide association was founded in 1926).

The Hagana’s Aliya Bet activities prior to WW-II, which started in 1934, involved about two dozens seamen and radio operators (Gideonim) who escorted the vessels & the ma’apilim (illegal immigrants) onboard. The Zionist Beytar organization was also active in pre-WW-II Aliya Bet, and trained young European Jews in seamanship (the training took place in Chivitavekia, Italy) so that they could both escort ma’apilim and make Aliya via its Aliya Bet vessels.

During WW-II, the “Yishuv” was shocked by the fate of the “Kaf-Gimel Yordey Ha’Sira” – 23 Hagana seamen who disappeared without a trace on their way by boat to sabotage oil installations in Tripoli, Lebanon (under the Vichy regime at that time). This was a joint Hagana-British operation in the war against Germany, and a British officer that was on the boat as an observer disappeared as well (the name “Kaf Dalet Yordey Ha’Sira” is therefore more appropriate; Kaf Dalet means 24). In spite of its failure, the operation provided yet another example to why naval experience was important for the Hagana, and later on gave inspiration to the Palyamniks, who viewed themselves as carrying on the Kaf Gimels' legacy.

Another WW-II tragedy involved the 1st death at sea of a veteran of the Palmach’s 1st ‘boat commanders’ course. Another Hagana member – an engine mechanic – also died in the same incident. Both – Gershon Marcus and Benjamin Hermoni – escorted the Aliya Bet vessel ‘Lili’ which was sunk by an Italian submarine on Aug. 21, 1943 off the Israeli coast (fortunately without ma'apilim onboard). We recognize them as the first fallen Palyamniks.

HaPoel's Ha’Plugut Ha’Yamiyot (“the maritime companies”) deserve a special note.  Veterans of these maritime education/sport clubs took active part, as Hagana members, in the pre-WW-II Aliya Bet operations. They also established the sea-related kibbutzim of Sdot Yam, Nachsholim, Palmachim and Neve Yam. Several of them were among the Kaf Gimels. Many Palyamniks were veterans of Ha’Plugut Ha’Yamiyot, including the Palyam’s two chief instructors Dov (“Berchick”) Magen and Shmuel (“Shmulik”) Tankus.

The naval experience gained by members of the various organizations mentioned above facilitated the establishment of an effective Israeli Navy after the State of Israel was born.

Palyam Training

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