Battle of Latrun

The Battle of Latrun was a series of battles between Israeli IDF and Jordanian Arab Legion forces on the outskirts of Latrun between 25 May and 18 July 1948 during the First Arab-Israeli War.

In May 1948, the locale of Latrun was situated in Arab League controlled territory within the area set aside for the Arab partition of Palestine and commanded the only road linking the Yishuv controlled area of Jerusalem to Israel. This gave Latrun major strategic importance in the context of the battle for the city of Jerusalem.

None of the five assaults launched by Israeli forces enabled them to take the position. Latrun remained under Jordanian control until the Six Day War. The besieged Jewish population of Jerusalem could nevertheless be supplied by the development of a passable road, dubbed the "Burma Road," avoiding Latrun and suitable for convoy traffic.

The Battle of Latrun left its imprint on the Israeli collective imagination and constitutes part of the "founding myth [Anita Shapira (2005), p.91.] " of the Jewish State. Historiography introduced diametrically opposed assessments: as a "strategic victory illustrating the prescience" of David Ben Gurion and otherwise as "the worst failure of the whole history of the IDF".Fact|date=August 2008 Historians today regard the attacks as having cost the lives of 168 Israeli soldiers, but "inflation" of the number of fallen has grown to 2,000. The combat at Latrun carries a symbolic significance due to the participation of and casualties among Holocaust survivors, newly arrived immigrants sent directly into battle as raw recruits. Jordanians, for their part, maintain its image as a "great victory", the only one achieved by the Arab forces during the 1948 War.Fact|date=September 2008

Today, the battleground site has an Israeli military museum dedicated to the Israeli Armored Corps and a memorial to the Israeli War of Independence. [ [ site internet du musée de Latroun] ]


1948 War

Following the vote of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in November 1947, a civil war erupted in Palestine. At that time, the situation of the Jewish community of Jerusalem constituted one of the weak points of the Yishuv and a main cause for concern of its leaders. With nearly 100,000 inhabitants, constituting one-sixth of the total Jewish population of Mandate Palestine, the city was isolated in the heart of territory under Arab control.See War of the roads and blockade of Jerusalem and Operation Nachshon]

In January, in the context of the "War of the Roads", the "Jaysh al-Jihad al-Muqaddas" of Abd al-Kader al-Husseini besieged the Jewish part of the city and prevented the passage of the supply convoys between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. By the end of March, the tactic proved its efficiency and the city was effectively cut off. The Haganah then launched Operation Nachshon that on April 4 and April 20 reprovisioned the city for a period of 2 months. Following the death of Abd al-Kader al-Husseini, the Arab League's military committee ordered the other Arab force in Palestine, the Arab Liberation Army, to move its forces from Samaria (the northern part of today's West Bank) to the road of Jerusalem and the areas of Latrun, al-Ramla (Ramle) and Lydda (Lod). [Yoav Gelber (2006), p.95.]

In mid-May, the situation for the 50,000 Arab inhabitants of the city and the 30-40,000 in the outlying neighbourhoods was no better. [Benny Morris, "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited", 2003, p.116.] After the massacre of Deir Yassin and the Jewish offensive of April that triggered the large-scale exodus of the Palestinian Arabs in other mixed cities, the Arab population of Jerusalem was frightened and feared for its fate. [Yoav Gelber (2006), p.109.] With the departure of the British on 14 May, the Haganah launched several operations to take the control of the city and the Arab leaders sent the alarm to King Abdullah I of Jordan for his army to come to their rescue. [Yoav Gelber (2006), p.140.]

Beyond its strategic importance, the city of Jerusalem also held an important symbolic value for all protagonists, being a holy place for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. [See eg, Maurice Konopnicki, "Jérusalem", Que sais-je ?, 1987.]

Around 15 May, with the British leaving, the situation in the newly declared State of Israel and the remnants of Palestine was chaotic. The Jewish forces had gained the advantage over the Arab forces, but they feared the intervention of the Arab armies that had been announced for 15 May.Yoav Gelber (2006), pp.138-145.]


Latrun was located at the crossroad between the Tel-Aviv - Ramle - Jerusalem and Ramallah - Ashdod roads in the area allocated to the Arab state by the Partition Plan. At that site, the Jerusalem road entered the foothills of Judea at Bab al-Wad (in Arabic; Sha'ar HaGai in Hebrew). It dominated the Valley of Ayalon, and the force that occupied it commanded the road to JerusalemSee [ picture of the valley taken from the hills of Latrun] .] .

In 1948, Latrun comprised a detention camp and a fortified police station occupied by the BritishBenny Morris (2008), p.132.] , a Trappist monastery, and several Arab villages: Latrun, Imwas, Dayr Ayyub and Bayt Nuba.

During the civil war, after the death of Abd al-Qader al-Husseini, the forces of the Arab Liberation Army positioned themselves around the police fort and the surrounding villages, to the indifference of the British [Yoav Gelber (2006), p.92.] . They regularly attacked supply convoys heading for Jerusalem.

At that time, the Israeli and Jordanian military staffs had not yet understood the strategic importance of the place.


Military movements before the battle

Operation Maccabi (8 - 16 May)

On 8 May, Haganah launched Operation Maccabi against the Arab Liberation Army and the Palestinian irregulars who occupied several villages along the Jerusalem road and prevented the resupplying of Jerusalem's Jewish community. The Givati 5th brigade (on the west side) and Harel 10th brigade (on the eastside) were engaged in fights, notably in the Latrun area.Efraïm Karsh (2002), pp.60-62.] .

Between 9 and 11 May, a battalion of the Harel brigade attacked and took the village of Bayt Mahsir, used by Palestinians as a base for the control of Bab al-Wad. The "Sha'ar HaGai" battalion of the Harel brigade also took a position on the hills north and south of the road. It had to withstand the fire of the Arab Liberation Army artillery and the "unusual" It is Benny Morris who points out.] one of British armoured vehicles, but succeeded in holding the position and entrenched there [ [ Story of the Battle of Bayt Mahsir] on the website of the Palmach (retrieved on 9 August 2008).]

To the west, on 12 May, Givati brigade troops took the British detention camp on the road leading to Latrun, but abandoned it the next day.Ytzhak Levi (1986), detailed chronology of the battle of Jerusalem given at the end of the book.] . Between 14 and 15 May, its 52nd battalion took the villages of Abu Shusha, al-Na'ani and al-Qubab north of Latrun, thus cutting off the zone from al-Ramla, the main Arab town in the area [Benny Morris (2008), p.162.] . Lapierre and Collins report also that a platoon of the Givati brigade fired on and then penetrated the fort without encountering any resistance on the morning of 15 May..

Again to the east, on 15 May, the troops of the Harel brigade took Dayr Ayyub, which they abandoned the next day.

It is at that moment that the Israeli officers in the field understood the strategic importance of Latrun. A report was sent from OC Harel brigade to OC Palmach that concluded that "The Latrun junction becomes the main point in the battle [of Jerusalem] " [exact words must be taken from the source] , but "that appreciation was not shared by the staff one week previously"Benny Morris (2008), p.463 nn196] . Meanwhile, due to the advance of the Egyptian army, Givati brigade received the order to redeploy more on the southern front, and the Harel brigade to remain in the Jerusalem sector

This decision to leave the area, and the fact of not perceiving its strategic importance, would later be a source of controversy between Haganah chief of operations Yigael Yadin and Yitzhak Rabin, commander of the Harel brigade.

The Arab Legion takes control

During the confusionYoav Gelber (2006), pp.138-145.] of the last days of the British Mandate and with the "entry in war" of the Arab armies, the position of Latrun changed hands without combat.

First, around 14 May (or 15 MayBenny Morris (2002), p.152.] ), an order was given to Fawzi al-Qawuqji and his Arab Liberation Army to withdraw and to leave the place to the Arab Legion. According to Yoav Gelber, this departure occurred before the arrival of the Jordanian troops at Latrun and the position was just kept by 200 irregulars.Lapierre et Collins (1971), p.611] Benny Morris nevertheless points out that a platoon of legionnaires of the 11th company along with irregulars was there and took the fort. [Benny Morris, (2008), pp.207-208.] [Pierre Razoux, "Tsahal, nouvelle histoire de l'armée israélienne", Perrin, 2006, p.73.] Indeed, as auxiliary force of the British in Mandatory Palestine, several elements of the Arab Legion served in Palestine during the Mandate. The British had promised that these units would have withdrawn before the end of April, but for "technical reasons", several companies didn't leave the country. [Benny Morris, (2008), pp.207-208.]

On 15 May, the Arab States entered the war, and Syrian, Iraqi, Jordanian and Egyptian contingents invaded Palestine. Among these, the Jordanian expeditionary corps was mainly constituted by an elite mechanised force "encadrée" by British officeers and named Arab Legion. It comprised [Steven Thomas, sur le site donne une description assez complète des forces en présence.] :
* the 1st brigadeIn the Jordanian expeditionary corps, each brigade is composed of 2 regiments each of them likely composed of 3 or 4 companies. This information is nevertheless "dubious" (sujette à caution ?). The sources are contradictory at that level. The divergences are likely to be due to the fact that the "battalion", which is generally the unit that subdivides the brigade is named "regiment" in the Arab Legion.] comprising the 1st and 3rd regiments that lead to Naplouse;
* the 3rd brigade under the orders of colonel Ashton comprising the 2nd regiment under the orders of Major Geoffrey Lockett et the 4th regiment under the orders of lieutenant colonel Habes al-Majali that took position at Ramallah;
* the 5th et 6th regiments acting independently.

John Bagot Glubb, the commander of the Arab Legion, first understood ("pris conscience") of the strategical importance of Latrun in the battle for Jerusalem. His objective was double. He wanted to prevent the Israelis to strengthen Jerusalem and to supply the city, and he wanted to "make diversion" to keep the strengths of the Haganah far from the city, warranting to the Arabs the control of East-Jerusalem [Benny Morris (2002), p.169.]

In more of the 11th company already there, he sent to Latrun the whole 4th regiment.Benny Morris (2008), p.219.] During the night between 15 to 16 May, a first contingent of 40 legionnaires secunded by a undetermined number of Bedouins strengthened the position. and the remaining of the regiment reached the are on 17 May., Benny Morris, "Histoire revisitée du conflit arabo-sioniste", Editions complexe, 2003, map p.241 et pp.247-255.]

On 18 May, the strengths of the Arab Legion deployed aroudn Latrun and Bab al-Wed and the road was blocked again. The Israeli general staff needs several days to realize the actual location of the Jordanian forces around Latrun and Jerusalem because these latter, particularly feared (redoutées ?) have been announced at several places of the country.

Situation at Jerusalem

At Jerusalem, after the successful offensives that enabled the Jewish forces to take control of the buildings and the strongholds that had been abandoned by the British [see Operation Kilshon] , Glubb Pacha sent the 3rd regiment of the Arab Legion to strengthen the Arab irregulars and fight the Jewish forces. After "violent" fighting, the Jewish positions in the Old City of Jerusalem were threatened (this felt indeed on 28 May). "L'étau se resserre autour de la ville" (?) : on 22 and 23 May, the second Egyptian brigade, composed mainly of several battalions of irregulars and several units of the regular army, reached the southern outskirts of Jerusalem and participated to the attack of Ramat Rachel.

Glubb nevertheless knew that the Israeli army would at one moment or the other stronger than his and that he had to prevent the strengthening of the Harel and Etzioni brigades to secure East-Jerusalem. He redeploys his strengths on 23 May to reinforce the blockadeBenny Morris (2008), Description of the Operation Ben Nun, pp.221-224.] . The Iraqi army, at that time secunded by tanks, "relève" the units of the Legion in northern Samaria and these lattests were redeployed towards the Jerusalem sector. The 2nd regiment of the Legion moved to Latrun. That was a full Jordanian brigade that positioned in the area.

In the Israeli side, several leaders of the Jewish city sent alarmed cables to David Ben Gurion where they described the situation as desperate et where they consider not to be able to hold more than two weeks.Anita Shapira (2005), "Latroun : la mémoire de la bataille", Chap.III.1 l'événement, pp.91-96.] . Fearing that without supply, the city would end by collapsing, Ben Gurion ordered to take Latrun. This decision seemed strategically needed but was politically delicate, because Latrun was in the area allocated to the Arab State according to the term of the Partition Plan and this attacked was contrary (?) to the non-agression agreements concluded with the Kind AbdullahUntil the last days preceding the war, the Zionist authorities and the King Abdullah of Jordan maintained a dialogue. Some historians, such as Avi Shlaim, consider that this dialogue went up to a tacit non-aggession agreement but this thesis is controversial.] This decision was also opposed by the Chief of Operations, Yigael Yadin who considered that there were other military priorities at that moment, in particular on the south front, where the Egyptian army risked to threaten Tel Aviv is Yad Merdechai would come to fall. But that was David Ben Gurion who fixed the Israeli military policy.Lapierre & Collins (1971), events related to the battle of Latrun, pp.700-706; pp.720-723; pp.726-732; pp.740-741.] This "divergence" (différend?) influenced the historiography of the battle and was debated in Israel during numerous years [See section #Israeli historiography and collective memory.]

Operation Ben Nun Alef (24-25 May)

The task to lead the Operation "Ben Nun" ("Nun's son", in reference to Joshua, Nun's son, conqueror of Canaan according to the Book of Joshua) was given to Shlomo Shamir, a former officer of the British army.

He "disposed" 450 men of the 3rd brigade "Alexandroni" and 1,650 men of the 7th brigade "Sheva", under formation. Among these, about 140 to 145 immigrants have just arrived in Israel [Collins and Lapierre talk about 450 new immigrants recently debarked (Lapierre & Collins (1971), p.712). Ami Isseroff (2003) on the website www.mideastweb talks about 145 and Anita Shapira (2005) pp.94-95 talks about 65 to 70 immigrants for company B.] , about 7% of the total "effectifs". Their heavy weaponry was limited to two French "canon de montagne" of 1906, named « Napoleonchiks », one canon of 88 with 15 rounds of munition, one « Davidka », 10 3-inch mortars and 12 armoured vehicles. 300 soldiers of the 10th brigade Harel would have participated to the fights but by odd learning the assault during radio transmissions.Ami Isseroff, site www.mideastweb refering to Yitzhak Levi (1986), "Nine measures", p.266.] .

The Jordanian forces were under the order of lieutenant colonel Habel al-Majali.. He "disposed" of the 4th regiment and 600 Jordanian volunteers secunded by 600 local volunteers. The 2nd regiment of the brigade, commanded by Major Geoffrey Lockett, had just left Jerusalem and arrived Latrun during the battle.. The brigade totals 2300 men secunded by 800 auxiliaries. It disposes 35 armoured vehicles among which 17 Marmon-Herrington Armoured Cars each armed with an anti-tank 2 pounder gun. At the artillery level, it could rely on 8 25 pounder Howitzers/Field guns, 8 6 pounder anti-tank guns, 10 2 pounder anti-tank guns also 16 3-inch mortars.

H Hour was initially fixed at midnight on 23 May. But it was delayed 24 hours because it had not been possible to gather troops and weapons in time. Because, no reconnaissance patrol was made, the Israelis didn't know the exact composition of enemy forces.. Intelligence reports just talked about "local irregular forces"..

On 24 May at 19:30, Shlomo Shamir was warned that an enemy force of around 120 vehicles, comprising armoured vehicles and artillery lead probably to Latrun. Attacking urges. Hour H was advanced by 2 hours and fixed at 22:00.

The attack was planned on two axes :
* the battalion of the Alexandroni brigade had to take the village of Latroun, the police fort and then Imwas in order to block any new Arab reinforcement, and also to protect the passage of supply convoys ;
* the 72nd battalion would "contourn" the position by the south to join the Jerusalem road at the level of Bab al-Wad ; it would then cross the road and climb the ridges to take Dayr Ayyub, Yalu and Bayt Nuba, and would ambush there to cover the passage of convoys. It would be supported by three "automitrailleuses" and two half-tracks of the 73rd battalion..

During the night, an unexpected event occurred : a "barricade" on the road that must be "empruntée" by the brigade for the attack had to be dismantled. Hour H is once more modified to be fixed at midnight. Finally, the troops "se mirent en mouvement" between 2 and 5 in the morning and could not benefit of the obscurity of the attack.

Reorganisation of the central front

Operation Ben Nun Bet

* On 30 May, with the 71th, 72th, 73th battalions and 53th battalion of the Givati brigade;

"Burma Road"

Operation Yoram

* On 8 June, with battalions of the Yiftach and Harel brigades;

Attacks organised during Operation Dani

Offensive of 16 July

* On 16 July, with 2 battalions of the Harel brigade;

Frontal attack of 18 July

* On 18 July, with 1 battalion of the Yiftach brigade supported by 2 Cromwell tanks.

A last attempt ?



Israeli historiography and collective memory

The "prescience" of the Commander-in-Chief

The criminal negligence

The dram of the alienation

The myth of guilt

Qirbet Quriqur


Jordanian historiography

Palestinian historiography and collective memory

Confrontation of the historiographies in the context of the 1948 War





"Works about the 1948 Palestine War and the military operations that occurred at Latrun"
* Abu Nowar, Ma'n, "The Jordanian-Israeli War 1948-1951: A History of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan", Ithaca, 1999, ISBN 0863722865.
* Gelber, Yoav, "Palestine 1948", Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2006, ISBN 1845190750.
* Karsh, Efraïm, "The Arab-Israeli Conflit - The Palestine War 1948", Osprey Publishing, 2002, ISBN 1841763721.
* Khalidi, Walid, "All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948", Institute For Palestine Studies, 1992.
* Itzchaki, Ariè, "Latrun. The Battle for the road of Jerusalem", Jerusalem, 1982.
* Lapierre, Dominique and Collins, Lapierre, "O Jerusalem", Robert Laffont, 1971, ISBN 2266106988 and ISBN 0671785893
* Levi, Ytzhak, "Nine Measures: The Battles for Jerusalem in the War of Independence", Ma'arachot, 1986.
* Morris, Benny, "1948", Yale University Press, 2008, ISBN 0300126964.
* Tal, David, "War and Palestine 1948. Strategy and Diplomacy.", Frank Cass & Co, 2003, ISBN 071465275X.

"Protagonist biographies"
* Morris, Benny, "The road to Jerusalem", I.B. Tauris, 2002 ISBN 1860648126.
* Shapira, Anita, "Igal Allon, Native Son. A Biography", University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007 ISBN 9780812240283.
* Silberman, Neil, "A Prophet from Amongst You: The Life of Yigael Yadin, Soldier, Scholar, and Mythmaker of Modern Israel", Addison Wesley, 1994. ISBN 9780201570632

"Works concerning the « myth » of Latrun and its impact on the Israeli identity"
* Abramson, Glenda (editor), "Modern Jewish Mythologies", Hebrew Union College Press, 1993, ISBN 0878202161 . In particular, the article of Anita Shapira, "Myth and Identity : the case of Latrun 1948", pp.37-56.
* Shapira, Anita, "L'imaginaire d'Israël : histoire d'une culture politique", Calmann-Lévy, 2005, ISBN 978-2702136331.

"Articles related to Jordanian historiography"
* Rogan, Eugène et Shlaim, Avi (editors), "The War for Palestine 1948", chap.4, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 2746702401.

* [ Detailled map of Palestine made in 1946] and compressing all the roads, towns, villages and settlements. It is signed by Moshe Dayan and A. Sudki El-jundi.
* [ map of the Jerusalem road] .

"Official documents"
* Bernadotte, Folke, " [!OpenDocument Progress Report of the United Nations Mediator On Palestine Submitted to the Secretary-General for Transmission to the Members of the United Nations] ", Report A/648, 16 September 1948.

* Abu Nuwar, Ma'n, "Fi sabil al-quds" ("« On the Road to Jerusalem »"), Amman, 1968.
* al-Ghussan, Mahmoud, "Ma'arik Bal al-Wad" ("« The Battles of Bad el-Wed »"), Amman, non dated.
* Glubb, John Bagot, "Solier with the Arabs", Harper, 1957.
* al-Majali, Habes, "Moudhakkirati" ("« My Memories »"), Amman, 1960.
* Rabin, Yitzhak "Memories", 1980, ISBN 0-520-20766-1.
* Shamir, Shlomo "The Battle for Jerusalem", Posner, 2001, ISBN 9652190209.
* Sharon, Ariel, "Warrior. An Autobiography", Simon & Schuster, 1989, pp.47-61, ISBN 0671605550.

* "Cast a Giant Shadow", by Melville Shavelson, 1966.
* [ "Is Jerusalem Burning ? Myth, Memory and the Battle of Latrun"] .

* Oren, Ram, "Latrun", 2002, ISBN 965-7130-10-7.

"External links"
* [ Historical perspectives and testimonies of the Battle of Latrun] with Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé and Anita Shapira.
* " [ al-Latrun] " : The Battle of Latrun based on Walid Khalidi, "All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948", Institute For Palestine Studies, 1992.
* [ Battles of Latrun on the official Palmach website] .
* [ Battles of Latrun on the official Haganah website] .
* Anonymous, [ "The Arab Legion and the Defense of Jerusalem"] on the website of the Jordanian Embassy in the Unites States.
* [ Latrun on the website of the Jewish Agency] .
* Isseroff, Ami, [ "The battles of Latrun"] .
* Thomas, Steven, [ "1948-49 Independence and Catastrophe"] .

ee also

* Battle of Jerusalem (1948)
* 1948 Arab-Israeli War
* David Ben Gurion - Abdullah I of Jordan
* Yigael Yadin - Yigal Allon - David Marcus - John Bagot Glubb - Habes al-Majali

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