Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Latrun: Battles for the Hilltop

Today, the hilltop of Latrun, just 15 kilometers west of Jerusalem, is a popular commemorative site that features an armored corp museum. This landmark, which was once the location of a Templar castle and later a monastery, before becoming a British controlled police base and detention center, represents the not-always-victorious battles during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

According to the United Nations partition plan, the area of Latrun was to be in Arab territory. However, from Latrun, Arab irregular forces were constantly attacking convoys and blockading access to Jerusalem. In an effort to eliminate this blockade, Operation Maccabi was launched just days before the official British withdrawal. The Jewish soldiers made significant headway, but were unprepared to hold the territory. When they retreated, unbeknownst to the Israelies, the Arab Legion, a British trained force with British commanders, joined the Arab forces and reclaimed the location.

When Independence was declared, Arab armies invaded and the new government had to quickly organize and prioritize. Knowing how important it was to break the Jerusalem blockade, David Ben-Gurion ordered another attempt to capture Latrun. The resulting Operation Bin Nun Alef was a disaster, with a planned midnight assault delayed until near dawn and the failure of reconnaissance to learn of the presence of the Arab Legion. (Among the many injured on May 25, 1948, was future Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was shot in the stomach.) Four days later, Operation Bin Nun Bet tried again, and they were again repelled.

Jerusalem was starving. While Yigal Allon led Operation Yoran against Latrun on June 9th, American Colonal “Aluf” Mickey Marcus, secretly directed the creation of the “Burma Road” to serve as an alternate supply route for the city.

Operation Danny, in mid-July, was the last unsuccessful attempt to take Latrun. The strategic hill remained in Jordanian hands until the 1967 Six Day War.


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