General (reserves) Aryeh Biro, 68, was discharged from the Israeli army ten years ago. He was known as “the Prussian officer” and the nickname was given to him for his toughness. Biro, a typical product of the forests where the partisans fought and of the concentration camps in Europe, was Raful’s right-hand man through the 1956 campaign. Biro was thought to be Raful’s identical twin, to the point that people would confuse of the two. The same looks, the same countenance of an expressionless peasant, the same style of speech, the same blind courage. Those who argued against their world-view used to say that they turned Battalion 890 into a band of Cossacks. Those who supported their values said that they had turned the men of 890 into courageous Jewish fighters.For years, Biro did not speak about the events of the war. Now he has broken his silence, starting with what happened at the jump site.
“South of us, pretty close to the position we took, there was a quarry. There were exactly 49 people there, not 15, not 20 and not 30. All of them were road workers from the Egyptian public works department. Some were Bedouins and some were perhaps Egyptians. We tied their hands and led them to the quarry. They were frightened and shattered. Raful did not give us an explicit order and I did not ask for any. In any case, only an idiot would ask his commander for permission to do what was his duty to do. In any event I can tell you that Raful did not grieve over the bodies of the workers killed by us. He also didn’t punish whoever it was that finished the job there and got rid of them. They were a burden, a pain in the butt, and until we finished them off we could not find the time to deal with the other matters. The stories about us of letting them run and then massacring them are nonsense. They died and that is that. One of them really did manage to flee with bullets in his leg and chest, but he came back several hours later on all fours. We did not understand why. Very quickly we found that he was simply thirsty. Instead of getting to the radiator of some truck, emptying it into his belly and waiting for an Egyptian patrol to pass, the idiot came to me to ask for water. I am not responsible for the stupidity of the enemy and he quickly found himself among his friends. As to the question who fired and who did not fire at the workers, why is it important? Between you and me, the main thing is that they did fire.”
The battle of the Mitla began on the following morning, the third day of the war. Many from the battalion were wounded. But Battalion 890 was not destroyed or neutralized. On the fourth day of the campaign, with a smaller, hurt and angry force, they received the order to move forward into the desert, to Ras Sudar. From every aspect, that was an unexpected order. No one actually knew where the Egyptian divisions were located((In Ronal Fisher’s view this is untrue. According to my sources, the French army told the Israeli army that all Egyptian units had already received an order to retreat to Egypt as quickly as they could.)) and the intelligence reports and navigation maps were inaccurate. Nor did anyone know how to reach the destination and how to identify the place when they did arrive. In a convoy of nine old vehicles, and several captured ones and four jeeps, with Biro at the head, they went to seek the location of Ras Sudar. Like all those who went through the campaign, their feeling was that they were going to their death, venturing forward without any possibility of withdrawal. With this feeling and the pain over the loss of their comrades, the next massacre was only a question of time.
The Egyptians, who smelled the “red feet” the nickname of Raful’s paratroopers; did not want to conduct a battle with them and simply fled. The feeling that battalion 890 was going towards its death was dispelled. They did not face organized Egyptian troops.
Lieutenant Colonel (reserves) Shaul Ziv, then aged 17, a soldier in Platoon 5 and later the commander of Sea Commando Unit 13, admitted that the events of Ras Sudar disturbed him for years. Ziv has refused, up to now, to speak of his memories of that campaign.
“All in all, we were in a pretty good mood by the time we camped at Ras Sudar. The guys confiscated many booty vehicles from the Egyptian oil company and played around, driving wildly. The fact that we did not confront any Egyptian commando unit, anyone willing to battle us, was a relief on one hand, but on the other hand, the tension, the anxiety of those who were living war for the first time, had not been vented by actual fighting. I remember that my unit settled on both sides of the road, when suddenly a truck loaded with people appeared from a bend on the road. At first no one paid any attention to them. In fact, when I think about it today, if they had continued driving towards us without making a provocation, they would have passed us without our noticing them. But, apparently, they were frightened. They did not expect to find us in the middle of Sinai. One of them fired, out of hysteria, a few aimless bullets. Even before the truck came into our range of fire, it was obvious that we had to eliminate it. Whoever fires, as far as we are concerned, is the enemy from any aspect. The truck, I remember as though it were today, was open in the back, was hit in the driver’s compartment by my rifle-fired anti-tank grenade, swung to the side of the road and halted. The people who were hanging on it, holding on to the doors or sitting on the hood, flew several meters in the air and were thrown onto the sand. My hit was right on target, and one minute later it was quiet. I looked at the truck and at the people in it. They were stunned. They did not move. Already then I could see that they were Fedayin [Palestinian guerillas]. Possibly there were also Egyptian soldiers there but not in uniform. In any event, it was certainly not an organized Egyptian army unit.
I turned back to dismantle the grenade rifle and all at once I saw our unit assaulting them. It was a mad scene. Biro gave the order, and each person caught the gun closest to him and fired. It was a huge round of fire that shook the desert. I did not shoot; I only stood there and watched the truck and our guys, and did not grasp what was going on, why they were doing that. For me everything ended when my anti-tank grenade blew away the head of the truck driver. The cruel attack afterwards seemed totally uncalled for. The people in the truck simply remained standing and they absorbed hundreds of our bullets without responding, without moving.”