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IDF Negev Beasts -  Operation Lot - Rescuing the Potash Works

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This excerpt from the Book "Eyes of the Beholder" by David Teperson, tells of opening the road to Sodom and the isolated Potash works there in the Israel War of Independence, by the Palmach Negev Beasts, 9th motorized Commando. This operation was known as "Operation Lot" and the main action took place on 23 - 25 November. Operation Lot was carried out wholly by the Negev brigade. A summary of the action is given in Operation Lot.


Operation “Lot”
Trucks overturned in the Ma'aleh Akrabim (Scorpions rise) pass, followed by jeeps. This shows how we first worked on the road before making the descent. The road twists and turns all the way down. It's a drop of between 400 and 500 meters to the valley of the dead sea.
 

Dead Sea potash works. Workers were cut-off from Israel and could get supplies by air only, until we opened the road.

The red dots represent the capture of the Egyptian Station at Tel Elmilkh and the capture of the police station at Kurnub before that. The Brigade then moved south to Ein Husub (Ein Chatseba). From there, we opened the road through the Dead Sea wadi to the Dead Sea potash factory, which was cut-off and could be reached by air only. By opening the road, they now had direct convoy supplies coming in. At the same time, the dashed lines show our jeep patrols for gathering intelligence and for finding ways to travel through the different wadis if they were passable for vehicles.

The Jordanian Legion had a battle team called “The Southern Command” under the command of a British officer, which operated in the Arava Valley and captured, among other strongholds, Um-Rashrash (today Eilat) and Ras-A-Nakb. Meanwhile, they reconnoitered the area, reaching Ein Husub. After the capture of the Kurnub police station in November, the Negev Brigade moved east into the Arava Valley, through the Ma’aleh Akrabim pass going down from the mountains to below sea level. Ma’aleh Akrabim was a dirt track that we had to repair before going down. As usual, the jeeps led the way for the brigade. We captured Ein Husub, a former British police station, without a fight as the enemy had run away!

Top: Jeeps being refueled at Ein Husub ex British police station, as seen coming from the Jordanian side of the Arava Valley. Bottom: Our 7th Battalion army tents.

There were natural hot springs, trees and buildings there, and it became our base of operations. The 7th Palmach Infantry Battalion also came down to hold a position not far from the Jordanian border. Our Jeep platoon was sent across the border towards the Amman-Aqaba road to survey the area. Returning from our investigation, we crossed the Arava Valley and were amazed to see buildings at Ein Husub, as well as trucks and artillery which hadn’t been there when we had left.  On closer inspection, however, we discovered that the houses, trucks and artillery which we had seen, were not real but made out of cardboard and plywood to deter the Jordanians from attacking us. The fake trucks were actually tied to moving jeeps to make it look as if they were moving. From here the jeeps continued through the Arava-Sodom wadi that runs into the Dead Sea. At the same time, the 7th Battalion made a patrol from Beersheba, on foot, bypassing Mount Sodom and linking up with the trapped force in Sodom.

 Top and bottom: On the way to the Dead Sea Valley from the Arava Valley. Jeep Company leading the supplies convoy to Sodom and opening the road for future convoys. 

 

South African volunteers, engineers at the Sodom Camp, meeting with some of the 7th Battalion Infantry soldiers who walked down to Sodom through the waids and reached it a while before our jeeps did. First and second on left – Dov Golanty and Zvi Sikoler (Israelis), third on left – Hymie Kurgan (SA), extreme right – Sydney Bellon.

The Dead Sea potash works were completely cut off from Israel so that access was by air only. Our twelve jeeps, therefore, had been sent to open the road carrying supplies for the Sodom area, by driving the Jordanians out and thus allowing us to link the area to Israel. When we entered the phosphate works we noticed that the Jordanians had dug out caves in the mountains to build a hospital and dining room which would be protected from the Jordanian shelling across the narrow part of the Dead Sea. In addition, the area had been mined by our army.

I met two South African overseas volunteers (Machal), one of whom was my friend Hymie (Slim) Kurgan. Slim had fought in WWII with the engineering corps. He had now come to Israel to fight. He was responsible for laying mines and putting up a fence surrounding the mine fields. On the Jordanian side was one of the several British fortified police stations that could be found all over Palestine. To get to Jordan, we used the old Roman road that crossed the Dead Sea. Four of our jeeps were sent across to gather intelligence information on Jordanian positions and to find out which units were stationed there. Before returning to base the engineers were able to clear the path through the Roman road. On arriving back to base, one of the scouts, Rafi, was badly wounded when, getting off the jeep, he stepped on a mine. He was treated at the make-shift hospital in the cave and later was escorted by additional jeeps (Gingi, whom I mentioned earlier in my story, was driving one of them) to be treated at a hospital further north where, I was told, he later died from his wounds. He was most definitely one of the best scouts of the 9th Battalion.

A couple of days prior to this incident, a company of the 7th Infantry Battalion had come down from the Negev to join us at Sodom.  We were amazed to see their equipment and uniforms showing their ranks, as compared to that of the “Beasts of the 9th Battalion”. Our Jeep Commando Company had succeeded in opening the road to Sodom and supplies and equipment could now be reached by road.

 Jeeps going down Ma’aleh Akrabim to Ein Husub.

We returned to Ein Husub, where we heard that the renewed 8th Palmach Battalion of the Negev Brigade had taken over positions around Ein Husub.  The jeeps of the 9th continued their reconnaissance of the south following the dry wadis, including Wadi Giraffe along which we traveled for about 20 kilometers, investigating how far the vehicles could travel from Sodom to the middle of the Negev. The hills were covered with wild Negev goats and gazelles.

We scouted the area and then drove back to our home base in Beersheba driving through Ma’aleh Akrabim. The 8th Battalion and part of the 7th were left behind to secure the area. This brought Operation Lot to an end. In Beersheba we cleaned up, re-supplied and resumed our normal operations in the area, this time going further south, in preparation for the big push in December.

Jeeps leading the convoys towards Ma’aleh Akrabim, before descending to the Arava Valley. Front jeep: Harvey Sirulnikoff (Canada), driver, Albert Mantour (France), Rusty Kirsch (South Africa) at the back. Second jeep: Irwin Cohen (South Africa), Zvi Zipper. David “Migdal” Teperson (South Africa), sticking out at the back.

We began our operations from Beersheba, moving south towards Egyptian lines in Bir Asluj. From there, the whole way leading to Auja (Nitzana today) which was occupied by the Egyptian forces. With four to five jeeps at a time, we began patrolling with scouts to find and mark Egyptian positions. We did this by drawing their fire and in this way discovering their exact location. We found roads to bypass their front lines. We went through sand dunes in search of the old Roman road which we found and cleared. By bypassing the Egyptian positions and attacking the Auja fortress, a stronghold on the Palestinian-Sinai border, we were able to control the road from Bir Asiuj through the Sinai all the way to Cairo. The attack and capture was accomplished by the 8th Armored Brigade, 89th Battalion.

 

Before leaving for Horev, in Beersheba

Group of Machal (overseas volunteers). The three arrows on the side of the half-track with the flame-thrower are the sign of the vehicles taking part in Horev. On the halftrack, left to right: My sergeant, Yehuda Ben-Zur (moved from the jeeps to be in charge of the new flame-thrower we received for Horev), Elli (Israeli), Yankel (Israeli), Haim Sacks, Clive Centner, David Centner (all SA). Bottom row, left to right: Al Wank (USA), Max Rosengarten (SA), Alec (UK), Phillip Navon, Jack Lipschitz, Reuben Metz, Blacky Mayerson, Ariyeh (Lionel) Englebrech (all SA).

 

 

At the back – Yehuda (left) and his crew on the flame-thrower, preparing to leave for Horev. Front, left to right – Irwin Cohen (SA), Boxer (USA).

 


 

We patrolled further east and discovered the ruins of the old Byzantine city of Uvda. From there, we swung towards the west, where we could survey the main road running from Bir Asluj through Auja to Egypt. This was the Egyptian main supply route to their troops in Bir Asluj. We stood on the small hills counting the vehicles going back and forth. As the Egyptians had very few positions facing east, this gave us the opportunity to sit and watch their movements on the road. We even got close enough at night to tap their telephone lines.

The Chizbatron, the Israeli Palmach entertainment group, led by Shaike Ofir (standing on the back of a truck) and Naomi Polani, entertaining and singing (the Jeepniks’ favorite song was “Hey, Ha’jeep, Hey Ha’jeep”) near Kibbutz Revivim. The crowd was made up of the 9th Battalion’s different units, including the jeeps, French Commando, Armored Cars and half-tracks, before going into Operation Horev. Twenty-four hours after this, we started moving south. I am standing at the back on the right-hand side (the tallest man there), behind Shaike Ofir.


"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

Negev Beasts - Main Page


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 Independencee

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