World War II’s Secret Unit of Jewish Warriors

In 1942, Winston Churchill and his generals decided to create a secret commando squad, known as X Troop, made up of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. Leah Garrett tells the story of one member, Peter Masters, and his participation in the invasion of Normandy, in this excerpt from her new book on the unit:

Peter Masters was the nom de guerre of Petar Arany, a Jewish Austrian refugee who had escaped to Britain as a teenager and had been interned as an enemy alien before being selected as a member of . . . X Troop. The X Troopers . . . were German speakers who were trained in counterintelligence and advanced combat techniques. To protect themselves from execution if captured, they took on fake British names and personas. The X Troop had proved itself so valuable to the British military that the men had been parsed out in small groups to assist existing commando units. Masters has been chosen for the Bicycle Troop.

Soon after landing in France, the Bicycle Troop found itself dismounted outside a village in which a German unit was guarding passage to a bridge the Jewish commandos had been ordered to take. At this point, Captain Robinson, Masters’s commanding officer, ordered him to “go down to that village and see what’s going on.”

Masters understood. They were going to send the funny-talking stranger to draw the Germans’ machine-gun fire. During their training back in the British Isles they had been warned that some of the Brits might see them as an expendable suicide squad, and now it seemed this warning was coming true.

Peter walked alone down the middle of the road, like a hero in one of the Westerns he had watched in the Welsh cinemas. He was terrified but reminded himself that this was for the greater good. It was just a pity, he thought, that all his years of training were going to go to waste.

Then he remembered a different movie, one he had seen in 1939 called Gunga Din, starring Cary Grant as Sergeant Archibald Cutter, a British Army warrant officer in colonial India. To disarm an angry mob in one scene, Cutter had yelled that they were all under arrest. Perhaps that could work here.

Masters cleared his throat and bellowed in German: “All right! Surrender, all of you! Come out! You are completely surrounded and don’t have a chance! Throw away your weapons and come out with your hands up if you want to go on living. The war is over for all of you.” There was an eerie and unnerving silence, but no one fired at him.

Read more at Military Times

More about: Jews in the military, Winston Churchill, World War II

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad