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IDF Negev Beasts -  Operation UVDA

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This excerpt from the Book "Eyes of the Beholder" by David Teperson, tells of the part of the Negev beast commando in operation Uvda, the Israeli capture of Eilat - Um Rash-Rash - in March of 1949, during the Israel War of Independence. This was the final operation of the war.  For general background on Operation Uvda, see Operation Uvda. It was also known as operation 'Ayin.


Operation Uvda

  map - operation Uvda

 

The broken arrows on the left show the Negev Brigade going to Um-Rashrash, led by the Jeep Company, with scouts. The arrows on the right show the Golani Brigade. We prepared a landing strip (called Sdeh Avraham) for the Air Force Dakotas to land and bring in the infantry 7th Palmach Battalion.


On the 7th of January we moved back to Beersheba for a rest after a long period of action. We fixed and cleaned our vehicles, did our washing, had hot showers and caught up on our missing hours of sleep. After a while, we were sent out on patrols and sometimes escorts. In Beersheba, a South African overseas volunteer called Basil Herman was appointed as the temporary town mayor. He supplied us English speaking boys with the Jerusalem Post (newspaper in English) and some news from South Africa.

Towards the end of January and the beginning of February, we moved from Beersheba to Tel Nof, a big ex-British base in the airport (today, between Rehovot and Gedera). The Air Force was in charge of the whole airport, and we were given the huts where the British soldiers used to live. We got new uniforms, new equipment and now started our patrols into the West Bank area of Beit Gubrin, opposite the Bethlehem-Hebron and Gush Etzyon areas. We patrolled and checked the trans-Jordanian army which was part of the British army, and whose officers were British. Gush Etzyon was a collection of about 3-4 Kibbutzim that had fallen to the Jordanian army, just before the state was declared. The Kibbutz founders were taken prisoners of war, some were killed. Among them were South African volunteers. Thirty-five Israeli Palmach boys were ambushed and killed on their way from Jerusalem to reinforce the Kibbutz defenders, just before the State of Israel was declared. Among them were American Machal volunteers.

We now patrolled this area, checking the Jordanian positions and trying to get as much intelligence information about the area as we could. The Egyptians opened fire with everything they had whenever we showed up next to their positions, thus giving us information of their fire power. The Jordanians, with their British officers, would shoot one or two warning shots at us or over our heads, but never displayed what weapons they had. These patrols continued until March.

Now we prepared our Jeep Company to move south and find the road through the middle of the Negev to capture Um-Rashrash (today the city of Eilat), which was still held by the Jordanian army. Although there was still a ceasefire, we patrolled the area and checked to find the right tracks to get to Um-Rashrash, as well as to see where the Jordanian army was.

After scouting the area and looking for the best roads down, we started preparing the Negev Brigade for the big push to occupy Um-Rashrash. The Jeep Company and the scouts prepared the intelligence reports. The general idea was that the Negev Brigade would go through the middle of the Negev desert to look for a landing space for the airplanes to bring in the 7th Infantry Battalion of the Negev Brigade. The Mobile 9th Battalion all went down in small convoys following the jeeps, which led the way. At the same time, the Golani 19th Mobile Battalion came down through Ma’aleh Akrabim and continued through the Arava Valley, running parallel to the Jordanian border and all the way down to Um Rashrash. This action of the two battalions started on the 6th of March 1949, and continued till the 10th of March.

 We left Tel Nof on the night of the 5th of March and started traveling towards Beersheba. We traveled about 20 kilometers south of Beersheba and made camp. At daybreak we continued moving south, more or less on the same route that our jeeps and the scouts had prepared for us a month earlier. We were operating together with headquarters. Our Jeep Company was broken up into groups, and mine was one of the groups leading the convoy to a flat area called Sdeh Avraham. We had to clean stones away from this area in order to make a landing strip for the C-47 Dakota aircrafts to land and bring in the 7th Palmach Infantry Battalion. Then we had to find a way to get to Um-Rashrash (Eilat) from the top of the mountains where we were. The Infantry could go down, but the vehicles had to find tracks to get there.

The Jeep Company crossed the Palestine-Egypt border into the Egyptian side, swinging around to an Egyptian border post called Taba. The Egyptians had a small police station there.

We then got on to a dirt track road that the British Army, traveling form the Suez Canal area, had used to go through Um-Rashrash and to their bases in Akaba and Amman in Trans-Jordan.

* On the track down to Um-Rashrash (Eilat): jeeps being repaired, refueled, and helping vehicles stuck in the sand.
Eytan Jacobson of the Jeep Company checking Bedouins on the way down to Um-Rashrash (Eilat).

 Jeep on the way down to Um-Rashrash (Eilat). Note the sleeping bags and kitbags on the jeep.

 

 The Palmach 7th Battalion after arriving on C-47 Dakotas and C-45 Commandos at the Sdeh Avraham runway. We brought the Command-cars seen in the picture to follow our jeeps down from Beersheba so that the infantry would have transport.

 

C-45 Commando and Piper-Cub on the runway.

 

 

After the capture of Eilat, Sdeh Avraham became the airfield for supplies and manpower for Eilat. There were tents on this temporary airfield. They also brought in small Piper-Cubs which could be used for gathering intelligence from the air and also for quick evacuation of wounded soldiers, as they could land almost anywhere.

  

 On the way down to Um-Rashrash (Eilat), convoy of jeeps escorting Command-cars meant for the 7th Battalion Infantry soldiers at the runway.

Left: Egyptian police station at Taba with visiting Israeli army jeeps.  Right: The famous palm trees on the Taba beach, next to the police station.

Migdal Teperson on guard duty in the hills above Eilat, on the British convoy road, at the Egyptian border..
 

 Migdal Teperson and Benny Miller on the jeep, with one wheel in the Red Sea. The water was too cold for swimming.

Jeeps arriving in front of the buildings at Um-Rashrash. Phillip Navon (SA) standing next to my jeep at the front.

Jeep Company in Eilat, after the capture of the city. About 70% of the soldiers in this picture are Machalnikim (overseas volunteers).

Migdal Teperson (SA), left, and Benny Miller (SA).

 The signs which you can see in the pictures were British army convoy signs. They had distances in miles, on the dirt track road from Egypt through Um-Rashrash, to Akaba and Amman. The Israeli Army, by occupying Um-Rashrash (Eilat), had cut the only connection the Jordanian army had. 

By taking Um-Rashrash, we cut off the connecting road between Trans-Jordan and Egypt that the British had used. That is why they were so mad at us. Our Brigade headquarters stopped at the Egyptian police station, and the jeeps continued on to Um-Rashrash and found out that the Jordanian army had retreated back to Akaba in Jordan. Before we took Um-Rashrash, part of our infantry went down from the mountains to the Arava valley on the Jordan border, about 20 kilometers north of Um-Rashrash. They put up a defense position with barbed wire across the road and signs indicating there were mines there. The idea was that if any Jordanians came down the road, they would see our position and the “minefield” and this would deter them from continuing to Um-Rashrash. After this, our troops left, but the Jordanians didn’t know that.

Palmachnikim: From left – Nahum Sarig, Negev Brigade Commander, General Yigal Alon, Commander of the Southern front, Yohanan Zariz, 7th Battalion Commander.

When we reached Um-Rashrash, the Brigade Commander, together with all the Battalion Commanders who had joined the advance group, decided to hoist a flag. As we didn’t have one with us, one of the girls took a sheet from the ambulance and with ink made an Israeli flag which later became the famous “ink flag”. [Avraham (Bren) Adan, later General Adan, is seen hoisting the flag in this famous photo.]

Later, they brought down a proper flag and made a guard of honor. Um-Rashrash had three mud buildings and a beautiful beach. Our Jeep Company took refuge in one of the small wadis coming down from the mountains. The idea was not to be seen from Akaba in Jordan. A couple of hours after the Negev Brigade captured Um-Rashrash, the 19th Mobile Battalion of the Golani Brigade arrived. They were held up on the road on two incidents: One of their vehicles landed on a mine, and then they came across the artificial barrier that we had put up to deter the Jordanians. They would have reached Eilat shortly after us if not for these two incidents. There is still an argument going on about who reached Eilat first!

 

Top - The police station and buildings at Um-Rashrash. Bottom: Picture of Um-Rashrash building complex, taken from the hill behind the city.

As soon as it got dark, we took all of our company’s vehicles and some others, and traveled without lights on the dirt road leading north from Eilat, to about 20-30 north of it. Then we turned around, facing south, put all the lights on and traveled back to Eilat. We did this twice to three times a night for the first couple of days. Afterwards, we heard on the radio that the Israelis had brought huge amounts of reinforcements into the Um-Rashrash occupied area. Our trick seemed to have had the right effect on the British, and the Jordanian Army was scared to counter-attack. The Israeli Army brought down engineers with scrapers and tractors to improve the dirt road going north from Eilat to Ein Hussub and then on to Ma’akeh Akrabim and Beersheba. This now became the main road to Um-Rashrash. As protection, some of our jeeps escorted the engineers doing the road work.


"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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