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IDF Negev Beasts -  Operation Horev

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This excerpt from the Book "Eyes of the Beholder" by David Teperson, tells of the part of the Negev Beasts commando in operation Horev, the Israeli advance into Sinai in December and January of 1949, during the Israel War of Independence. The IDF, having rid the Negev of the Egyptian invader, now turned to the offensive and struck deep into Sinai. The Egyptians became alarmed, and the British sent RAF Spitfires to reinforce diplomatic warnings to Israel. The Israelis shot down several of the British aircraft, whereupon diplomatic pressure forced them to leave Sinai. For general background on Operation Horev see Operation Horev


Operation “Horev”

22nd December 1948 – 8th January 1949

 

The above map shows how the Jeep Company operated and where their raids took place. Details to follow. All arrows are Palmach Negev Brigade.

French Commando, and 7th & 9th Battalions.
7th and 9th Battalions’ attacks with Jeep Company.
9th Battalion, Jeep Company’s raids.

  operation Horev - Haim Bar Lev and Micha Perry

 Top: The 9th Battalion preparing to leave Beersheba on the way south to take part in Operation “Horev”. Bottom: Haim Bar-Lev, 9th Battalion Commander (front, left), Micha Perry, Number 2 Battalion Commander (behind him) and two other officers talking to the 9th Battalion soldiers at Halutza before embarking on the attack south.

Having gathered sufficient intelligence on the Egyptian positions, we were ready to lead the Battalion and Brigade south to start the Horev battle. On 25th of December, from a position near Revivim, the Company of the French Commando attacked the hill of Bir E-Tamile, the main Egyptian fortification blocking the road southwards towards the Egyptian border. The French Commando managed to capture the hill, but the Egyptians counter-attacked and retook it, capturing some of the French Commando soldiers, who were tortured and killed. The 7th Infantry Battalion of the Negev Brigade, and the half-track company of the 9th Battalion, Negev Brigade, attacked again, with our jeeps giving the attacking infantry covering fire from the east. Four jeeps firing all our eight machine-guns during the attack on the east side helped keep the Egyptians down, while the 7th Infantry recaptured the hill and took many Egyptian prisoners. The jeeps kept moving around the hill to see that the Egyptians didn’t try another counter-attack. The armored cars with the 20 mm anti-tank gun, manned by Machal crew from South Africa, England and USA, opened fire on three Egyptian armored cars advancing towards the hill. They retreated and were later captured in an ambush by part of the Jeep Company near Mishrefe.

 The Egyptian prisoners of war were being taken back by Peppo’s [ed - Peppo Ashkenazy is described below - he was a Bulgarian volunteer, and father of IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazy] half-track platoon of Bulgarian overseas volunteers (Machal) to the prison camp in Beersheba. The French Commando soldiers tried to stop Peppo with the prisoners of war. They wanted to kill the Egyptian prisoners of war that we had taken on the hill in revenge for what they had done to the Commando soldiers’ comrades when they retook the hill. Peppo had to fight his way through to get to Beersheba with the prisoners intact. Later in the prison compound in Beersheba, the French Commandos tried to break in to the prison compound. They even threw grenades because they could not get in. 

 operation Horev - captured gun

A 6-pound anti-tank gun captured from the Egyptians in the counter-attack of the 7th Battalion. One of our jeeps in the background. Soldiers of the 7th Battalion on top of the hill.

We continued southeast, firing at the retreating Egyptian armored cars and vehicles. One of our armored half-tracks with a 20-mm gun opened rapid fire on the Egyptian armored cars, and they retreated rapidly down the road. These armored cars and other vehicles retreated towards Mishrefe, where we had four jeeps in ambush and another four nearby, coming up from Uvda. They managed to ambush the Egyptian convoy.

Our half-track from the Armored Car Platoon, armed with a 20-mm anti-tank gun which stopped the Egyptian armored cars with their 37-mm cannons and made them retreat. We later captured them at Mishrefe.

The Egyptian soldiers ran away, leaving us the armored cars – all in all about 30 vehicles. The Jeep Company, sitting at the top of the Mishrefe hill, opened fire on a convoy of Egyptians coming from Egypt to help. They turned around and retreated towards the Egyptian lines at Auja.

 Top: Migdal Teperson (SA) sitting on one of the captured Egyptian armored cars. Note the Egyptian marking on the turret. This car was manned by Israelis, continued leading our attack into Egypt, and was later knocked out by an Egyptian anti-tank gun. Bottom: Another captured armored scout car with Egyptian markings. I’m (Migdal Teperson) standing next to my jeep.

The next day, we started rounding up all the Egyptian prisoners of war. I saw a group running up a hill, took my 52-inch mortar and fired two shells in front of them, shouting at them to come down. They didn’t, and so I shot two more shells. They finally came down the hill. We captured them and kept them on the road until the Military Police arrived. Now our whole Battalion started moving south towards Auja, which was taken that morning by the 89th Battalion of the 8th Brigade.

After the capture of Bir E-Tamile following the counter-attack, the Egyptians were fleeing towards Egypt, and the main road from Beersheba through Bir Aslouj was now open. After Mishrefe was taken by the jeeps of the 9th Battalion and then Auja (on the Egyptian border) taken by the 8th Brigade, the whole road from Beersheba to the Egyptian border was open.

 Jeep refueling before continuing south. Left to right: Migdal Teperson, Irwin Cohen (both SA), Sheffer (Israeli).

 

We moved south and crossed into Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. Our twelve jeeps were leading the convoy. The armored cars that we had captured were put back to use with part of our boys from the 9th Battalion. One of these cars with a two-pound gun was leading the convoy into Egypt. There were other captured vehicles in our convoy which still had Egyptian markings on them. Behind the jeeps, we had two pick-ups where we kept some supplies which we had captured in the Egyptian vehicles – tins of beans (called Ful) and other goodies, such as Halva. As we crossed into Egypt, a lot of the young Israelis were very excited, and shouted out that this is the first time they’ve been overseas without a passport. We hadn’t had much sleep up until now, but the shooting and cracking of bullets going over your head kept us wide awake. Whenever we stopped, most of us tried to sleep but would wake up immediately with one crack of a bullet. We continued moving south with the 7th and 9th Battalions following us.  

 Our convoy was moving towards Abu Ageila, a crossroads between El-Arish, Beersheba and the road to Cairo, about 40 kilometers from the border. All of a sudden, we saw two Spitfires passing over us and we were very happy as we noticed they had Israeli markings, but then, as mentioned in the text below the picture, the two Spitfires attacked us because of the Egyptian vehicles with Egyptian markings in our convoy. Two people were wounded.

 In Sinai, on the way to Abu Ageila. After this picture was taken, our own planes attacked us because some of the vehicles in our convoy had Egyptian markings. They realized their mistake and stopped attacking us. Both pilots were South African Machal volunteers, and in our convoy we had 12 more Machal volunteers from South Africa.

 

  Stopping for a break before crossing into Sinai. Our guns are covered because we didn’t go into action and didn’t want the dust to destroy them.

 We continued towards Abu Ageila, and about 3 kilometers before the city, the Egyptians were dug in on both sides of the road, with anti-tank guns covering the road. One of these shells knocked out the captured Egyptian armored car leading our convoy, killing one of the crewmen and wounding another. The ambulance in our convoy took them back to Israel. We continued to advance, and the Egyptians, after knocking out our armored car, retreated towards Abu Ageila. It should be noted that because of the heavy mist, the armored car had not spotted the Egyptian position on the road, and nor could we see them retreating.

 We continued to Abu Ageila, where we spread out. On the 28-29th of December, Abu Ageila was taken by us. We also captured Egyptian truck drivers who came from Egypt to welcome us, thinking we were Egyptians. Our jeep rounded up all the Egyptian soldiers who had already ran away to the surrounding hills and wadis. As we captured them in groups, we brought them back to Abu Ageila. In one case, I was given the job to take ten prisoners to Abu Ageila. They refused to go with me, as they thought I was going to kill them. I must have been a hell of a sight to those Egyptians: Red-eyed, carrying a Bren gun as a machine-gun, hand grenades in my belt. In the end, one of the jeeps escorted them back. My friend, Irwin Cohen, explains why they refused to go with me:

 

“I still laugh at what happened in Abu Ageila, when the prisoners we had captured were to be sent to the collection point. Migdal was told to escort them, but one look at his size, and the huge knives hanging at his sides, the grenades at his belt, was too much for them. They all pointed at me, insisting that I take them instead. Migdal was not insulted.” 

Prisoners of war taken around Abu Ageila being escorted by the Jeep Company. Migdal Teperson (SA) is on the first jeep from the right, at the back. These were the prisoners that refused to go on foot with me escorting them because of the way I looked.

 

First thing we did when we got to Abu Ageila was to patrol the area towards El Arish to see how far we could go. When we came back, we saw that the 7th Infantry Battalion of our brigade was dug in, facing El Arish. We had already put up anti-aircraft ammunition. Our heavy machine-guns and a 20-mm anti-aircraft gun kept the Egyptian Spitfires high up in the air, making it difficult for them to strafe us on the ground. As we had air raids three to four times a day, we parked our jeeps on the cliff walls of the wadi and camouflaged them with nets to make it difficult for the planes to hit them. Most of the time, the jeeps were out patrolling in no-man’s-land (details to follow). Our base was on the dry bed of the Abu Ageila wadi, which had a small mountain about 4 meters high in the middle of it. This is where we slept, ate and lived when we were not on patrol. We used to run around the sharp cliffs of the mountain for protection from the spitfires attacking us and trying to strafe our positions. Depending on where the Spitfires struck, we ran to the opposite side of the mountain for protection. By the time we left, we had run a path around the small mountain in the middle of the wadi.

 Top: 20 mm anti-aircraft gun. Bottom: Bezer heavy anti-aircraft machinegun.

These two guns had kept the Egyptian Spitfires high in the air so they could not strafe us.

 After the 82nd Battalion together with our 7th Infantry made an unsuccessful attack towards El-Arish, we returned to our lines at Abu Ageila. They had brought up one Sherman tank of the 8th Brigade to use in this attack, but its track broke and came off. The Sherman tank was left in the no-man’s land area which our jeeps patrolled at daytime, but where there were no jeep patrols at night. Only small groups went out at night for special operations, usually with the half-tracks and armored cars. The following story will explain about the operation at night to try and save the Sherman tank. The 9th Battalion halftracks and the flame thrower took part in this operation. The following story, written by Yehuda Ben-Tzur, is about that operation. Yehuda was my corporal until they moved him to be the sergeant of the new flame thrower half-track of the 9th Battalion.

 By late December 1948, the 9th Battalion had captured the Abu Ageila army compound. The Company of Avraham Adan (Bren) of the 7th Battalion, Palmach Brigade, had taken control over the external posts which defended the access to the compound.

At dusk, which was packed with action (attack of the compound by Spitfires, counter-attack from El-Arish, takeover attempt on an Egyptian Airfield en route to Suez, capture of a plane at El-Arish Airfield), the Battalion was gathered around the campfire and Haim Bar-Lev, Battalion Commander, informed them that the 7th Battalion was ordered to hold on at the compound until an Infantry Battalion swaps them. Due to accumulated tiredness, I retired to the Scout's tent before the meeting was over and shortly fell asleep. Not more than 30 minutes later I was brutally awakened. I was ordered to post a road block on the road leading to El-Arish, about ten kilometers west of Abu Ageila.

 Yehuda Ben-Tzur, second from left, on his flamethrower half-track with his crew.

 

 Peppo with his Bulgarian Machal platoon (overseas volunteers) on a half-track. Yosef (Peppo) Ashkenazi, was the father of Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Chief-of-Staff of the Israeli Army in 2007.

The force which I commanded included a flamethrower half-track with seven soldiers (as I recall, among them were Lahish and Eli Oren) and a Hermesh half-track platoon composed of new Machal volunteers from Bulgaria, communicating mostly in Ladino, under the command of Peppo (Israel). The driver of the Commandcar was Eitan, 16.5 years old. The son of Yosef Ashkenazi (also called Peppo), who was one of the Bulgarian volunteers, became the Chief-of-Staff of the Israeli Army in 2007, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi (see pictures below).

Yosef (Peppo) Ashkenazi, 9th Palmach, 1948, father Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff, 2007 son

The information given to me was that except for a small force of the 8th Brigade that tried to salvage a Sherman tank which lost his track, there were no Israeli forces between Abu Ageila and El-Arish. After the 8th Brigade force finished its mission, around 22:00, and passed us eastward to Abu Ageila – we should consider anyone coming from the west as enemy.

 

In about 30 minutes we arrived at the area destined for the road block. We parked the vehicles at the side of the road, with the half-track up front and the Commandcar at the back. Peppo deployed the squad to the sides of the vehicles and ordered them (in a mixture of languages, mainly Ladino) to dig-in in personal foxholes. He placed himself on the vehicle's seat while the driver lay back behind him in the Commandcar and covered himself with canvas.

 I decided the lookout duty (as usual in ambushes, one is awake and the rest asleep) would be our responsibility, the seven soldiers in the half-track. I was on the first shift, and took place on the driver’s seat.

 All the men quickly fell asleep. My friends’ snoring helped me somewhat to stay awake. Suddenly I saw car headlights coming at me. I activated the routine "light code" – 4 blinks means it’s Wednesday, the fourth day of the week – and got response accordingly. Apparently it was a truck from the 8th Brigade, I asked the driver how the salvage work is progressing and he replied work might not be over until the early hours of morning. This information - which meant our road block was unnecessary – took some of the anxiety from me. Since that moment I was battling my tiredness and was waking up from time to time after banging my head at the half-track's wheel.

 Time moved slowly. Customary to the procedures back then, I didn't set lookout shift hours and we agreed everyone will try to stay awake as long as they could and then wake up the next guy for his shift.

 I decided to "hold on" awake for an hour and a half, when suddenly I heard a terrible cry by Peppo shouting "Nimrod, Nimrod!", accompanied by unknown grunting which definitely pointed out danger. After getting off the vehicle to check things out (our force didn't include anyone called Nimrod), I saw a figure in the middle of the road, a few meters from me.

 I asked who is this ("Mi Ze") and was asked "Min Hada?" (Who is this in Arabic) at the same time. A shot that was fired immediately after that passed right by my head. I had to turn to the half-track in order to take my rifle which was on the driver’s seat and ordered Eli Oren, the only who woke up due to the shooting, to check what Peppo was screaming about. Peppo's screaming was continuing all that time and I opened fire at the dark figure which started to escape westward, swallowed by the darkness.

 Eli discovered Peppo sitting on the Commandcar's hood, literally fighting for his life, against a tall Sudanese soldier which tried to choke him with his rifle. Eli hit the Sudanese with his rifle butt and with the help of Peppo, who broke free of the Sudanese, subdued him with their rifle butts.

 We figured the Sudanese belonged to the Egyptian force which was defeated in the morning at Abu-Ageila. They escaped through the desert, going on the road to El-Arish when darkness fell, with the intention of meeting their own forces.

 

When they discovered our vehicles they assumed/hoped these were Egyptian vehicles and got closer to check. The first Sudani got close to the Commandcar. Peppo was sleeping in the driver’s seat, head wrapped with Kafia. The Sudanese woke Peppo up while mumbling a few Arab words.

 When it came clear to both of them who the other one was, the Sudanese placed his rifle on Peppo's neck in order to choke him. Peppo grabbed the Sudanese's gun and tried to remove it while screaming "Nimrod!". The other Sudanese, whom I ran into, fled.

In retrospect, I asked Peppo why he shouted "Nimrod". Apparently he got confused (understandably) and called out to Nimrod Eshel (Nimrod and I belonged to a group of Palyam which had recently joined the 9th Battalion, and were also previously with the jeep platoon). I never asked him, and until this day it's unclear to me why he didn't call his soldiers who were in their foxholes not far away from the Command car.

 The armored Car Company of the 9th battalion moving towards south to join the Battalion. The Company was made up of 12 armored cars, and about 40% of the crew were overseas volunteers (Machal) from South Africa, USA, England, so the orders also went out in a mixture of English and Hebrew.

....

"Negev Beasts" (Hayot Hanegev) was the original and informal name of the 9th battalion Jeep company motorized commando of the Palmach Negev Brigade (Hativat Hanegev), a unique military force that played a key role in liberating the Negev in the Israel War of Independencee.

Eyes of the Beholder relates some of the exploits of this little jeep unit, composed of Machal (overseas) volunteers from all over the world, as well as young Israeli Palmachniks like Avraham Adan (Bren), later General Bren, Mordechai (Motta) Gur and Haim Bar Lev. These are the men who conquered Beersheva and who raised the famous ink flag in Eilat. The book includes priceless photos and maps. It is a valuable first person account of what really happened, as well as a memorial to the Machal volunteers and Israeli soldiers who fought to defend Israel in 1948.

Colonel David (Migdal) Teperson, author of Eyes of the Beholder, grew up in the South African veldt, lived in the Kalahari desert, and learned the ways of the wild from age 13. His learned survival skills were aided by his 6' 6" frame and restless iron-clad constitution. He volunteered to defend the new state of Israel, serving first in the Alexandroni Brigade and later in the Negev Beasts in 1948, and fighting in every war of Israel.

These excerpts from the book are presented to honor the Machal volunteers and others who served in the Israel war of Independence and to give a close-up look at the history of that war and at the young men and women who made the state of Israel possible. The patch at right is the symbol of the Motorized Commando Unit.


Copyright

Eyes of the Beholder is copyright © by David Teperson, 2008. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission. Material appearing in these Web pages is reproduced by permission. To obtain printed copies of the entire book, contact Colonel David Teperson, P.O. BOX 9590, KFAR SHMARYAHU ISRAEL. 46910  TEL: 972-9-9582718 FAX: 972-9-9560673 E-MAIL: DAVE_TEP(at)NETVISION.NET.IL

Negev Beasts Insignia - IDF/Palmach 1948

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See also:Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948 , Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?
Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence 
1948 Israel War of Independence (First Arab-Israeli war) Timeline (Chronology) MACHAL In Israel's Wars MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine and Israel War of Independence

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