Jerusalem Day: Remembering the Critical Ammunition Hill Battle
Yaki Haimovitch, a simple private who received a medal in the Six Day War, tells how he ended up in the front of the line, leading his comrades to victory.
One of the bloodiest and most important battles of the 1967 war was fought just across the street from the modern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol, on what is now known as Ammunition Hill (Givat HaTachmoshet).
A very large Jordanian position, chock-full of enemy troops, ammunition, fortified bunkers and winding trenches, stood on the hill northwest of the Old City, blocking the IDF's way. It also prevented access to Mount Scopus and the Jerusalem-Ramallah road. The task of capturing the position was assigned to the Paratroopers Brigade, and the battle took place on the night of June 6, 1967.
Speaking with Arutz-7's Shimon Cohen, Yaki recounts yet again the details of the battle:
"I was just a simple soldier, 21 years old, in Platoon 2 of Company C in Regiment 66 - just a soldier who did what they told me, nothing more, and suddenly I find myself in the thick of the fire... At 10 PM, we received our first briefing, and we saw that there was no intelligence, nothing was known about this bunker. They showed us a tiny aerial photo in which we saw two tunnels or trenches, but we were warned that there were others. That was the whole thing. We also saw three tiny structures - but it turned out that these were very large buildings, and one of them was the Jordanians' living quarters... That's how we set out for the battle.
"For almost an hour, our tanks and mortars fired at the Police School nearby, but it turned out that the Jordanian soldiers had run away before we even got there. But on the hill, we found two units facing us - one of professional soldiers, and the other of younger reinforcements."
The Ammunition Hill website states that the Israeli paratroopers had expected a Jordanian platoon (some 50 soldiers) to be defending the site, but that the number had actually swelled to company proportions (some 120 troops).
"During the course of the night," Yaki continued, "Regiment 66 hid out in the old buildings of the Pagi neighborhood in Jerusalem [located between today's Ramat Eshkol and Sanhedria]. We waited during the night while our sappers cleared the way for us... Company D broke through the fence, and snipers started shooting at us. We returned fire, and they were quieted. But they kept on firing at us - though not yet with any accuracy."
Yaki's company was assigned to circle around from the west - a decision that proved to be strategically correct. A Jordanian officer with whom the Israelis met several years later told them that the fact that the Israelis attacked from the west was what confused the Jordanians holding out on the hill. Yeki's platoon walked in single-file towards the target, with the sounds of non-stop shooting and explosions in the background.
"I was at the end of the line," he said. "Yoram Elyashiv, the platoon commander, led us coolly and carefully, without automatic fire. We shot only when we identified an enemy, and I even thought for a moment that I might end up not firing the whole day.
"But at this point everything changed. Yoram asked for a bazooka. I ran from the back of the line with the bazooka, and gave it to him - and I then remained with him as we walked the next few meters - until he was hit by Jordanian fire. We yelled out, 'He was hit, he was hit!' and within a moment, all the confidence that Yoram had given us dissipated. Until then we had followed him with confidence and trust in his every move, and suddenly I find myself at the head of the line.
"I was afraid that the Jordanians, running from one side to the other, might split us in two, identify us and shoot at us like sitting ducks. I said to myself that we had no choice but to go on. The guys told me later that I yelled out 'After me!' but [smiling] I don't remember doing that."
Yaki then continued leading the platoon, when Jordanian reinforcements then arrived: "They shot without a break. I was sure I would be able to advance no more than 50 meters [55 yards] before I would get hit as well. But miraculously, I was able to advance. I'm not defined as religious, but I have no other explanation as to how I remained alive. I felt that someone was protecting me from above. Afterwards, I had a dream that it was my grandfather, who was a big rabbi..."
"The Jordanians - very professional, well-trained and brave - were shooting at us from every direction. To restore my confidence, I shot two bullets that brought me back to reality. But from then on, I shot very sparingly, afraid that my bullets would run out... We advanced slowly, shooting into every corner and every bunker in the trench, to see if there was any response; if not, we continued... Don't forget that I was walking without knowing the area, with no map, just intuition. At one point, there was a fork where I was supposed to turn left, but for some reason, maybe because of the direction of the shooting, I turned right - and it turned out to be the correct move...
"Another move that turned out to be right was when I chose the better-lit tunnels, instead of the darker ones... In one of the encounters, I wounded a Jordanian who turned out to be the company commander... We kept on going, with them shooting at us; at one point I called a machine-gunner and he fired a shell so that we could go on...
"Suddenly I see a black opening in front of me. I fired one bullet, and that was my last one. As per our training for such situations, the soldiers in back of me passed me and advanced in the tunnel. I went into a side bunker to find bullets or Jordanian grenades. I found a box of ammunition, and while I was opening it, a wounded soldier came to me. I started treating him, while outside I hear yells and shooting the whole time. The wounded soldier is yelling, 'They're killing us all there. We can't go on.' I found a machine gun, but it didn't fire, even though the barrel was hot. I realized that the Jordanian machine-gunner acted professionally and made sure to take out one of the parts of the gun before leaving so that we wouldn't be able to use it..."
"I was sure I was left alone. I saw two Jordanians who looked dead. I approached them, and one of them got up towards me with his gun cocked; I shot him and he fell dead. At that second, they started shooting at me from the black opening near me, grenades and bullets non-stop. I was afraid it might be our own guys shooting at me, and I was afraid to shoot at them. I yelled out the password - and then suddenly the picture became clear: It was the large bunker that we were looking for, covered with concrete. The thick dust coming out of it hid the opening, but five Jordanian soldiers were shooting at me non-stop, apparently feeling they had nothing to lose. I couldn’t get close.
"At that second, the company commander Dudik saw me. He sent over a soldier so that I could explain to him what was going on. I tried to yell that this was the large bunker we were looking for, but he couldn't hear me because of the noise of the shooting. Yehuda Kandel also got there. I went inside to get grenades and suddenly I see a Jordanian soldier standing over me. We aimed our guns at each other, but he missed; I shot and he fell.
"On the other side of the entrance to the bunker I saw David Shalom... and then a few seconds later a bazooka-shooter from another company joined us. He fired, but the bazooka just scratched the wall. Another few seconds passed, and another soldier came - he looked like a private, but it turned out later he was an officer. He asked me what to do. I asked him if he had explosives. He said no, but if we needed, he would get some. He went back, with me covering him, ready to fire. He returned with sacks of explosives. I threw them to Yehuda, and [whenever there was a break in the shooting] he placed them near the entrance to the bunker. All this with non-stop shooting going on around us. I also asked him for explosive bricks, and he found me three and a half bricks. I threw these to Yehuda as well, using the same method and yelling the instructions at him, and then we activated the explosives - and we blew up the bunker."
When the smoke cleared, it became clear that the bunker had collapsed atop the Jordanian soldiers inside it. This was the sign to many that the battle was over, and Yaki and his comrades joined up with the soldiers of Company B arriving from the other side.
Yaki received the medal of valor for the calm manner in which he ran the operation to blow up the bunker, but he himself is not convinced that that was the most dramatic part of the battle. "In briefings afterwards, they never really questioned me as to all the details - maybe because I wasn't an officer. I also disappeared afterwards for a year of recovering... But I would have told them that the most dramatic part of the whole story was not necessarily the bunker, but the fact that an inexperienced and unsure private soldier actually led the platoon through the trenches."
Seventy-one Jordanian soldiers and 36 Israelis were killed in the Battle for Ammunition Hill. Today, the site serves as a memorial to all those who fell in battle for Jerusalem in the Six Day War.