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Operation Atlas

(October 6, 1944)

Operation Atlas was the code name for an operation carried out by a special commando unit of the Waffen-SS which took place in October 1944. It involved five soldiers: three who were previously members of the Templer religious sect in Mandatory Palestine (Kurt Wieland, Werner Frank and Friedrich Deininger) and two Palestinian Arabs who were close collaborators of the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. One was Abdul Latif, a native of Jerusalem, who had been sent into exile for involvement in the 1936-9 uprising and became the Berlin editor of the mufti's Arabic radio addresses. The other Hassan Salameh, a native of the Palestinian village Qula and veteran of guerilla warfare near Nablus during the revolt.

The mission aimed at establishing an intelligence-gathering base in Mandatory Palestine, radioing information back to Germany, and recruiting and arming anti-British Palestinians by buying their support with gold. It also aimed at fomenting tensions between Jews and Arabs, thus creating problems for the British Mandatory authorities.

One version of the incident alleges that the mission included a plan to poison the drinking water resources of the residents of Tel Aviv. British and German archives have yet to reveal any evidence for this story, and the mufti's biographers ignore it.

On the night of October 6, 1944, the five unit members parachuted from a captured B17 Flying Fortress flown by Luftwaffe KG 200 over the Jericho region in Wadi Qelt. Their equipment included submachine guns, dynamite, radio equipment, a duplicating machine, a German-Arabic dictionary, 5,000 Pound sterling in different currencies and explosives. It was the discovery of these dispersed cargo boxes on October 9 that alerted the British to the fact an operation was underway.

The unit was dropped in different locations near Jericho, and most of their equipment scattered around those locations. Hassan Salameh, who was injured during the parachuting, began heading towards Jerusalem after he landed. Abdul Latif and two Germans hid in a cave in Wadi Qelt.

The operation was a failure from the start due to intelligence gathered earlier by the local authorities about German operations in the area due to the defection of Abwehr agent Erich Vermehren earlier in February 1944, mismanagement of the parachute drop, and the cold reception their presence in the area encountered from local Palestinians.

Both local people recommended by the Mufti, Nafith and Ali Bey al-Husseini, refused to provide any support to the commando. Kurt Wieland, Werner Frank and Abdul Latif were arrested by the Transjordan Frontier Force a few days after their landing. The German commander, Frederick Deininger, was not captured until 1946 and Hassan Salameh succeeded in escaping.

Later, during his interrogation by the police, Abdul Latif claimed that Ali Bey had stated that “he was not mad enough to provide them any support.” He added that Nafith Bey had explained to him that they were not aware of the political relationship between Arabs and British and that it was a terrible mistake to participate to such an adventure with Germans.

Source: Wikipedia.