The Palmach (Strike Companies) was the enlisted brigade of the Haganah, constituting the military defense force of the Jewish Yishuv and Zionist movement until the establishment of the state of Israel (the army of the Jewish state in the making). The Haganah itself operated clandestinely during the British rule, and its members were volunteers who trained underground and irregularly, primarily on Saturdays and holidays. The number of Haganah volunteers totaled more than sixty thousand.
Establishment of the Palmach
The struggle against the British Mandate: immigration and settlement
In the spring-summer of 1941, six mobile strike companies (Palmach) were established within the framework of the Haganah, as the national and regional combat reserve units, ready for immediate action. They were positioned in the eastern Galilee and Yizrael valley; western Galilee and Yizrael valley and Haifa region; in Samaria and the Sharon; in Tel Aviv; in the south and in Jerusalem. Yitzhak Sade was appointed commander of the Palmach.
Palmach volunteers initially engaged in basic military training. In the spring-summer of 1942, during World War II, in light of the threat of invasion by the armies of Nazi Germany from the western desert and Egypt, the Palmach was supported by British army. The British trained its members in guerilla warfare against the German Army, in preparation for a German invasion, and in order to defend of the country's central region. Prior to this, Palmach members helped the British seize control of Syria and Lebanon from Vichi French forces; a boat with 23 fighters set out to attack the refineries in Tripoli and never returned. Training was conducted in the forests of Mishmar Ha'emek, Ben-Shemen, Hanita and other locations, and included sabotage, patrols, marksmanship, face to face combat, field training and squad commander training. Part of the training included establishment of the German Unit (platoon), the Arab Unit (Mistaarvim - fighters camouflaged as Arabs) and the Balkan Unit, and training them for operations in German occupied regions and in assisting in the rescue of Jews. Some of the fighters in the Balkan Unit were even parachuted into Europe. In 1944, three additional companies were added to the Palmach, and a framework of four battalions was created.
In the midst of the war against the German enemy, two small dissenting organizations, the Lechi and Etzel, who refused to accept the authority of the national institutions of the Jewish Yishuv and Zionist leadership, decided to attack the British who at the time was the only country fighting Nazi Germany. At the command of the elected Zionist leadership, groups of Palmach members arrested dozens of members of these secessionist organizations (a period known as the Saison). Some of them were handed over to the British and detained, while others were banished to eastern Africa until the end of the British mandate.
When the threat of invasion abated, as the front grew further away from the Palestine, collaboration with the British dwindled, and Palmach members found themselves enlisted but without a budget. The solution reached was to house the Palmach units in various Kibbutzim, where they worked to support themselves for half a month and trained for the remaining half. As World War II was nearing its end, Hachsharot - groups of young men and women from youth movements - joined the Palmach. The Palmach developed into an organized fighting force with platoon commanders, company commanders, a combat doctrine and a small amount of concealed arms. A military model composed of offensive assault and subterfuge, night operations and underground minor tactics warfare was developed and consolidated. Professional explosives units were established, as well as the Naval Company (Palyam) and Air Squadron. Veteran volunteers began to be demobilized and joined the Palmach's reserve forces. During 1945 to 1947, when the British rule strove to suffocate the Zionist enterprise, conspired against the Jewish Settlement and prevented the immigration of Holocaust survivors, the Palmach actively fought the British on several fronts: organization of overland illegal immigration from neighboring Arab countries, and throughout Europe - accompanying and commanding most of the illegal immigration ships carrying Holocaust survivors - about 60 ships with tens of thousands of immigrants from all corners of Europe - and their disembarking on the coasts of Palestine despite the British blockade; defense and assistance in the establishment of new settlements despite British opposition; participation in mass demonstrations; conducting an armed struggle against the British rule. The Palmach turned into the central military arm of the Haganah, and was operationally and financially responsible for operations executed by other Haganah units. Yigal Alon was appointed commander of the Palmach, under the command of the General Staff of the Haganah. In accordance with the instructions of the national leadership, in 1945 the Hebrew Resistance Movement was founded. As part of the movement, Palmach members participated, among others, in the following anti-British operations (not personal terror): release of illegal immigrants from the Atlit detention camp, bombing of railways on the Night of Trains, bombing of patrol boats in Jaffa harbor, attacks on the Coast Guard stations in Givat Olga and Sidney Ali, bombing of the radar station on Mount Carmel, attacks on mobile British police stations, blowing up of 11 bridges leading to the neighboring Arab countries (Night of Bridges) and more. These operations were linked to the battle for immigration and settlement, and the political struggle. In response, on Black Sabbath (the 29th of June 1946), many members of the Palmach were arrested in a widespread British operation against the Yishuv and its leadership. The battle for transportation, protection of settlements against Arab attacks and conquest of additional regions
In parallel, and under the direction of the political leadership, the Haganah and Palmach also began to prepare for future threats by local Arabs and neighboring countries upon the departure of the British. And indeed, when the UN resolution declaring the establishment of a Jewish state in parts of Palestine was passed on the 29th of November 1947, the Arabs reacted with increasing violence, attacks on Jewish transportation and sieges on Jerusalem and other settlements - the Palmach was the first enlisted military force prepared to encounter the enemy and defend the Jewish Yishuv (about 600,000 Jews). At the time, the Palmach was composed of 2,200 regular fighters and 900 reservists. Its four battalions immediately commenced operation, together with 4 new battalions formed when fighting broke out. This was the beginning of the War of Independence. Palmach units played a crucial role and enabled the Haganah and Yishuv institutions to organize and prepare for invasion by Arab armies. At the beginning of the war, from December 1947 to March 1948, Palmach battalions were deployed in the Galilee mountains and northern valleys (Battalions 1 and 3), in the Jerusalem region (Battalions 4, 5, and 6) and in the Negev region (Battalions 2 and 6). Operations focused primarily on securing communication and access, and assistance to remote and distant settlements (Yehiam, Tirat Zvi, Ramot Naftali, Safed, Negev settlements), protecting supply convoys to the Negev, to besieged and shelled Jerusalem, to Gush Ezion, as well as initiated strikes at Arab groups of fighters. In the second phase, until the 15th of May 1948 (the Proclamation of Independence), Jewish forces progressed to coordinated attacks on several fronts, aimed at opening the road to Jerusalem, gaining control of cities with mixed populations, transportation junctures, and police stations and military bases that were vacated as British forces left Israel. The most prominent operations in which Palmach units participated were, among others, the battle for Mishmar Ha'emek, reaching Jerusalem and extending its borders, the conquest of Tiberius, capture of Haifa, encircling of Jaffa, freeing of the Upper Galilee, conquest of Safed and Beit Shean, surrender of Jaffa and release of the Western Galilee. During this period, Palmach battalions were organized into three brigades: Negev Brigade, Yiftach Brigade and Harel Brigade.