An eyewitness account of 1956 Sinai campaign

By Dubi Hellman, April 18, 2008

1956: The Sinai campaign

In 1956, I was still a very young soldier, on the sergeants’ course of the Nahal Brigade, when they took our entire company and began preparing us for some unknown operation. We were sent to parachutist school and quickly went through the course, though in the end this was not enough and we went into battle in a convoy. In those days, they could keep secrets, and we did not even know to what front we were being sent. As a diversionary tactic, our convoy headed east towards the Jordan border, and only when we were down south were we given the order to advance to the Egyptian border. We were two battalions that were supposed to link up with the 890 battalion that had been parachuted into the Mitla Pass. At first, it seemed to us just like another operation in a long series of “retribution” raids. Only gradually did it dawn upon us that this was real war. Our first battle was at the Kuntillah police station, near the border, but that was not much of a battle, since most of the Egyptian soldiers had already fled and those who remained immediately surrendered. The first real battle was at Themed, where the Egyptians had Soviet-style defence lines; but there, too, we did not get into very heavy fighting and it was over quickly. But after the battle, four MiG fighter aircraft appeared and strafed us. We had never done any training on how to take cover from air attack, and what we did do was learnt from war movies. I was wounded in that attack and taken back to a hospital from which I unsuccessfully tried to escape and rejoin the battalion. The picture that remains engraved in my mind was of the convoy heading to the border, and there, in the narrow Paran pass, stood Ariel Sharon, for the first time in command of an entire brigade. He just waved to every vehicle. That was my image of the war. The fabled commander leading a convoy of paratroopers, always going forward. We were still young, unaware of the failures the IDF had experienced in those years. We thought we were taking part in the last successful chapter of the War of Independence. We were still far from understanding that this was just another episode in the never-ending war. Almost as if this was the last battle.
Last updated: 1:53pm, September 16 2008