Mike Flanagan, a former British soldier who smuggled two Cromwell tanks to the Haganah in 1948, passed away on Friday at the age of 85. Flanagan was buried in the Sha’ar HaAmakim cemetery alongside his wife and son on Sunday, and will be honored by the IDF for his contribution to fledgling Israel’s war efforts during the War of Independence.
“We owe Flanagan a debt of honor,” said Lt. Col. Michael Mass, the vice president of the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum. “The two Cromwells helped us greatly in the battles of the War of Independence and he himself fought bravely in our ranks. Today we will take our leave of him and salute his memory.”
Flanagan, an Irishman, fought in the British army during World War II and participated in the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. After the war, he was stationed in British Mandate Palestine as a technician in the armored forces. On June 29, 1948, Flanagan, alongside his friend and tank commander Harry McDonald, broke into a military base near the Haifa airport, stole the two tanks and drove them to Tel Aviv where Hagana operatives were waiting.
The tanks were hidden in Givatayim and later formed the basis of the Israeli Armored Corps. McDonald and Flanagan joined the Israeli troops and fought in the Mahal volunteer unit during the War of Independence.
“Grandfather said he wanted to stay in Israel and help the weak, the Jewish Yishuv, fight against the Arabs,” his grandson, Lior Hertz said Saturday. “He had sympathy for the Jews.”
During his service, Flanagan met fellow soldier Ruth Levy, and subsequently converted to Judaism to marry her. Flanagan lived in Israel with his wife until her death, and later relocated to Canada.
The Cromwell tanks are currently on display at the Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum in Latrun.