On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approves the Partition Plan for Palestine. The Jewish population in Israel celebrates, but soon the joy is replaced by a growing tension in anticipation for the end of the British Mandate on Israel.
Sharon is assigned to command a squad of guards, with the task of ambushing Bedouins who try to infiltrate into the Jewish communities in order to steal and hurt Jews.
When the Independence War breaks out, Sharon’s squad becomes a platoon within IDF’s Alexandroni Brigade. Sharon is a daring and self-controlled platoon commander, who can quickly read the situation in the battlefield and does not hesitate to attack enemy troops. His soldiers admire him for his qualities, and his superiors appreciate his capabilities and assign Sharon a growing number of missions.
Once the Arab armies invade the newborn state of Israel, Ariel Sharon takes part in operations to block the Iraqi forces.
May 24, 1948 – Operation Bin Nun: IDF tries to capture the Latrun Police compound which is held by the Jordanian Arab Legion. Sharon’s platoon is at the vanguard. Arik goes to the battle with one hand in a cast, due to a road accident in which he was involved a few days earlier. Hundreds of soldiers are gathering in Kibutz Hulda along with armored vehicles and mortar units – all are to participate in the big battle.
Sharon leads his platoon to the battlefield but the plan of attack goes wrong from its very early stages. The force is moving under cover of the dark when suddenly a flare is shot and lightens the sky. The troops stay low and after a while go on. They cross the road that leads to Jerusalem and begin to take positions in the bottom of the hill. A fierce and accurate fire is then opened. Sharon’s platoon takes most of the hits. A chaos is taking over. The troops are running for cover. And then the dawn rises.
Sharon’s company commander, Asher Levi, decides to move to a nearby hill and orders Sharon to cover the company’s other two platoons. Sharon lies on a rocky slope with his soldiers – some are wounded – and sees only a narrow section of the battlefield. On 07:00 the death toll comes to eight men in Sharon’s platoon only. His radio is hit and out of order. He tries to communicate with the company commander by sending messengers but the Jordanian fire is too fierce. Company commander Asher Levi deploys his troops on the nearby hill, but some of his soldiers are left in the battlefield, wounded. When it is Sharon’s turn to move out of the battlefield, he realizes that what’s left of his platoon is surrounded by enemy soldiers and that no assistance is available. Sharon and his soldiers stay low in the valley and do their best to survive. The surrounding fields catch fire and the flames increase the intense heat of the hot summer day. Water and ammunition are running low. Wounded soldiers cry out for water and out of pain and gradually become apathetic. Sharon remains optimistic and tries to encourage his soldiers, though he himself is bleeding after a bullet hit him in the stomach.
At noon the Jordanian fire is stopped. Sharon looks around him, in hope that this is the chance to get out of the battlefield. To his horror he sees that the nearby fields are rapidly getting swarmed by Arabs. Sharon gives his soldiers the order to escape the valley. Within minutes the fields are filled with Arab Legion soldiers, preying for loot. The remaining soldiers of Sharon’s platoon try to crawl west in an attempt to flee from the burning fields. Some collapse and ask to be left behind. Sharon makes a tough call – he orders his soldiers to leave the wounded behind so that at least some will survive. His soldiers run away in different directions, each to his own.
After a while, Sharon himself collapses. He’s lying on his back, bleeding, moaning and about to faint. Yaakov Bugin, one of his soldiers, finds him this way. Sharon asks him to leave him alone and run for his life. Bugin ignores the order and helps Sharon up, while hundreds of Legion soldiers are close behind. Bugin and Sharon make a slow and painful progress towards Hulda, and on their way they see Moshe Lanzet, who is second-in-command to Asher Levi. Lanzet takes Sharon on his shoulders but after a few minutes fatigue nocks him down. Few minutes later an IDF armored vehicle passes close by and finally they are saved.
Ariel Sharon is hospitalized in Hadassa hospital in Tel Aviv. During his recovery he’s overcome by guilt for abandoning wounded soldiers in the battlefield. He’s also furious about the lack of planning and organization on the part of the high command and for knowing so little about the enemy they’ve attacked.
Many years later, Sharon tells about the battle in Latrun: “This battle affected me in many ways, but first and foremost it affected me in regards to the subject of wounded soldiers in battle, as it was inevitable to abandon wounded soldiers.”
Sharon: “Not everyone in my platoon made it. Some wounded soldiers were left there… It was a horrible battle. By the time we got there it was already around five in the morning, a heavy fog covered the fields and when we got down, right by the road, in the open field ready to move ahead, the fog lifted at once and we immediately were under ferocious fire. The whole mountain in front of us spitted fire. Only a few days earlier we received the Czech guns. Until then only half my soldiers had guns and the others had hand grenades etc. It was only thanks to the Soviet aid that we received Czech guns. We had sub-machine guns, Israeli made Stens. We had Bren machine guns or the likes. A relentless fire was opened and we immediately suffered several casualties. We couldn’t move forward, because the fire was overwhelming. I ordered the mortar operator to fire 52mm shells and I myself started to fire those mortars. The mortar operator, a guy whose name was Azriel Shevah, got up to load the mortar, and then got hit and killed by a bullet which pierced his lungs. I managed to reach a small ravine, not far from the vineyard which is there today, under Latrun, and that was it. Once we got into the ravine, it was clear that it was not possible to move on. Around eight o’clock in the morning the Jordanian troops began moving towards us behind a stone wall, through the olive tress, and then crossed the road, entered the vineyard zone, where we were, and approached us shrieking blood-curdling horror shrieks. We would rise, fire, and they retreated. It went on and on this way… every time we rose we suffered casualties. Around noon we were air-raided by Iraqi fighters. They bombed us, everything was in flames around us, and we were thirsty as hell. It was terribly hot that day, and we had no water canteens.
“I got hit around that time. A bullet entered my stomach and the exit wound was in my thigh… I lost blood but fortunately no major blood vessel was hit and I didn’t blackout. We couldn’t see any way out. We received no message and no orders. My platoon suffered 15 casualties, 11 wounded, and 5 were captured. Our attack failed. We could not have withdrawn. There was no communication with anyone. The radio got hit. We were under heavy fire and the fields around us burned… The day was never ending. While lying there, it seemed to me that time has stopped… Our two cannons fired relentlessly, and I thought to myself and later said it out loud, that there are probably some friendly forces nearby. Suddenly I saw behind me Arabs stealthily heading toward us from the east.”
“They weren’t soldiers. I saw them on the hill, which up to that point was held by our forces. I’m talking about hill 314 which is above what’s now is Neve Shalom. They began descending toward us from behind. I realized that the fire from our side was probably meant to cover our withdrawal, only we received no orders to do so. When I saw the situation, I gave the order to withdraw. I instructed the soldiers where to go. I was very thirsty and tired. I felt that if I didn’t drink, I wouldn’t be able to make it. But there was no water. Since the previous winter was very rainy, there was a puddle of muddy water in the ravine. It was also the assembly point for our wounded soldiers. It was a bit more protected, and this water, which was covered with reddish moss, maybe from blood drops, was the only water around. I hesitated for a second and then overcame my reluctance and put my lips to the muddy puddle and drank a substantial amount of water, to give me strength to the make the hardest ever effort – to withdraw. When I saw the only four well soldiers left pass by me, I felt no resentment. There simply was no chance of getting out of there. It was a critical moment. It was clear that all our forces have withdrawn and we were left there to our own devices. I feared that the Arab villagers will kill the wounded, as they used to. With what strength left in me I started crawling. It was kind of walking on all fours up the hill. The field was constantly burning embers. My knees were severely burnt, as I wore shorts. Nearby crawled a soldier from my platoon, a new recruit, who arrived only two days earlier. He looked horrible. His jaw was completely shattered. But that day only hands and legs mattered, especially legs. He crawled nearby, a few feet to my left. I didn’t remember his name and he couldn’t speak. I was too weak to speak. I was exhausted… I guess the thought of Arab villagers coming down to kill the wounded and take our guns gave us the will to go on, I can’t deny that. We both continued crawling. Neither of us spoke. He helped me climb that terrace, and again we crawled side by side and reached a second terrace. And again, saying nothing, he helped me climb that terrace and move to the other side of the ridge. It was obviously a relief. There I met the remains of our company, which was withdrawing. There was a company sergeant, Moshik Lanzet, who himself was slightly wounded. He tried to take me on his back. Though I weighed only 150 lbs back then, it was hard. But he tried to help me. I dragged my feet, leaning on him, and this way we crossed the burning fields… we headed to Hulda, which was a few miles from there… after several miles I was half beat. Then someone came and took me in an armored vehicle.”
Sharon recovers from his wounds and goes back to his patrol unit. On December 28, 1948, Alexandroni brigade is sent to break through an Egyptian stronghold in Iraq-El-Manshia, as part of the big campaign aimed to capture Kis Fallujah which is held by the Egyptian Army. The brigade did not succeed in this mission either.
When the war ends, Alexandroni Brigade Commander, Ben Tzion Frieden, asks Sharon to stay in the army and help reorganizing the brigade and analyzing the mistakes of the war. Sharon accepts.
Ariel Sharon later becomes a company commander. His first task is to command a company of new immigrants, who lack any military background and discipline. He’s tough and eventually gains their respect. After a while he’s assigned to command the patrol company of the Golani brigade.