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Purity of Arms

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Hativa Sheva  E-mail

1948 – The 7TH BRIGADE

Hativat Sheva was established during the hell of Latrun.  From the very beginning Machal volunteers fought in its ranks. Six Machalniks were killed in the battles in and around the Latrun fortress in that chaotic period.  It is not known exactly how many of these fallen might have been in the 7th Brigade, but at least two were – Albert Albrecht and Yehuda Cohen, both from France, were killed serving in the 72nd Battalion.

After it was almost annihilated, Hativat Sheva was re-formed in the north under the command of Ben Dunkelman, an overseas volunteer from Canada. Dunkelman had been active in the Burma Road operations and had organized the mortar support for the Harel Palmach units fighting in the hills around Jerusalem.

The first action in which the re-organized brigade participated was the capture of Nazareth, Operation Dekel, on 16th July, 1948.   The main force was its 79th armored battalion commanded by Baruch Erez, (a post-WW II chalutz from Kenya), and Canadian Joe Weiner.

It is not known how many Canadians and other Machalniks participated in Operation Dekel, but in the 79th there were eventually 11 Canadians, 31 South Africans, 11 British, 13 Americans, 6 Belgians and 7 North Africans. Like the 72nd, there were also a number of volunteers from other countries; in all, close to 400 volunteers served in the 7th Brigade.

The 72nd Infantry Battalion, which was almost annihilated at Latrun and was still being re-organized, was held in reserve during this operation and many English-speaking Machalniks were being recruited into its ranks.

Eventually, the 72nd would have 270 English-speaking volunteers, including one complete company of English speakers.  The 72nd included 101 British, 58 South Africans, 40 Americans, 36 Canadians, 7 French, as well as a number of volunteers from other countries.  Of the British, more than half were European-born Holocaust survivors or pre-WW II Kindertransport boys.

Both the 79th and the 72nd had South African medical officers, and overseas volunteers were well represented in the transport, demolition and sniper/reconnaissance squads of the 72nd.

The 71st was the other Infantry Battalion of the 7th Brigade.  It is known that a few Machal volunteers were in its ranks - an American company commander, a South African physical training instructor and one British volunteer.

The two Infantry Battalions, particularly the 72nd, were continuously involved in night patrols, deep penetration raids and skirmishes in preparation for Operation Hiram, twice postponed and finally carried out from the 29th-31st October, 1948.  Operation Hiram's objective was to clear the entire Galilee of Kaujki’s Arab Liberation Army up to the international Lebanese border; and all the volunteers of the 7th Brigade were involved.

The most difficult part of it was the battle to occupy Kabul Mountain, overlooking the Arab village of Tamra, on 7th-8th September, 1948.  It was carried out by two platoons of the English-speaking “B” Company.  Three South Africans distinguished themselves in this action – Sergeants David Susman, Jeff Perlman, and medic “Locky” Fainman, who was officially cited for bravery.  

In this engagement, three volunteers were killed and more than 10 wounded, some seriously. Those killed were:  Sydney Leizer of the Canadian Machal; Polish-born Shlomo Bornstein of the British Machal; and Belgian-born Benjamin Ze’ev Hirschberg of the British Machal.  Hirschberg had escaped to England in the early months of WW II and had served in the British Forces.  He transferred to the Palestinian Jewish Brigade when it was formed in 1944.

Later on, in a deep penetration raid carried out by the same two platoons of the English-speaking “B” Company, South African Louis Hack was killed on the night of October 23rd 1948.

Shortly before the raid, the new English-speaking “D” Company was formed, but it was never more than one platoon and eventually was absorbed into “B” Company.  This platoon was also involved in the above raid, but in a supporting role.

The majority of the soldiers in the “Besa” medium machine-gun platoon of the support company in the 72nd Battalion were overseas volunteers.

Capture of Meron (Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), early morning 29th October, 1948. Involved were the entire “B” and “D” Companies of the 72nd, supported by its demolition squad and some armored cars of the 79th.

Capture of Jish (Gush Halav) and Sifsufa, 29th October, 1948
The 79th Armored Car and Half-Track companies, supported by the 71st and remainder of the 72nd Battalions.

Capture of Sasa, 29th October 1948.The 79th Armored Battalion, supported by the 71st and 72nd Infantry Battalions who had occupied the surrounding hills.

Capture of Sasa. No. 2 Platoon of the English-speaking “B” Company of the 72nd, in the early morning of the 30th October, ambushed a convoy of Kaujki’s reinforcements, capturing some trucks, a 25-pounder cannon with an unlimited number of shells.

Capture of Malkiya, 31st October, the 79th supported by the 71st and a portion of the 72nd Infantry Battalions.

Divisionary attack of Hiram Operation and capture of Tarshiha, 30th October. The 9th (Oded Brigade) and a platoon of armored cars from the 79th, most of the crews were Machal.

During a preparatory skirmish prior to the capture of Tarshiha, Dr. Solomon Morley-Dahan, a Machal volunteer from Spanish Morocco, was killed while attending to the wounded.  During the operation, the ”B” Company of the 72nd lost two men – a Sabra officer, Zachariah Feldman, and Shmuel Daks¸ a British Machal  volunteer born in Vienna and a Kindertransport survivor.

After another period of re-organization and training, the entire 7th Brigade was deployed in the Upper Galilee facing the Syrians, while all other northern units were sent to the southern front to prepare for the December Horev Offensive. During this period, two British Machal men were killed.  On Christmas day 1948, Jonathan Balter died when he stepped on a mine during a regular inter-platoon patrol, and the next day Wilfred Sheppard, born in Vienna and a  Kindertransport child, was killed in a shooting accident.

In the move to the Syrian front, the 72nd took over positions from the Carmeli Brigade. At least one Machal volunteer served in the 22nd Battalion of the Carmeli Brigade, its medical officer Dr. Issy Schweppe from South Africa.  He was a brother-in-law of Dr. Harry Bank, medical officer of the 72nd Battalion of the 7th Brigade.  Dr. David Kidron (Rosenberg), another South African, was medical officer of the 79th Armored Battalion, 7th Brigade.

In the period February/March many Machalniks were discharged, including a number of South Africans who returned to South Africa to carry on with their university studies.The remainder of “B” Company of the 72nd, now reduced to one platoon, was amalgamated into “A” Company, who were mainly Holocaust survivors, members of Etzel and a platoon of Altalena boys, including Dov Shilansky, former speaker of the Knesset.  In March 1949, attached to the Givati Brigade, they were sent to Kfar Saba to prepare for an attack against the Jordanian and Iraqi armies, the objective the Jordan River.  This operation was cancelled when Ben-Gurion failed to get cabinet approval for the attack.

In about April 1949, the decision was made to form one large armored brigade by uniting the 7th and 8th Brigades; it was to be called the 7th, and those remaining in the 72nd Infantry were dispersed amongst other units: the 71st and 72nd ceased to exist.

Author: Joe Woolf