Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Davidka" shell found at Kotel archaeological dig

From YNet:
More than 60 years after it was buried, archeologists working an excavation in the Western Wall Plaza unearthed a completely intact 'Davidka' mortar shell on Tuesday afternoon.

Sappers who were alerted to the scene removed the shell from the site and documented the finding before transported it outside city limits to detonate the explosives in a controlled environment.

Largely ineffective, the locally manufactured three-inch Davidka developed by the Haganah prior to the country's inception is remembered more for the noise it made rather than the damage it inflicted.
Wikipedia adds:
The name Davidka means “Little David”, and was said to be a tribute to the tiny, fledgling state of Israel fighting against the giant Arab Legion, in reference to King David's battle against the giant Goliath. It is generally accepted, however, that the weapon was named after its designer, David Leibowitch. Leibowitch designed and developed the weapon at the Mikveh Israel agricultural school in Holon in the winter of 1947-48.

The first Davidka was fired in combat on 13 March 1948, in the attack on the Abu Kabir neighborhood of Yafo. Probably the greatest victory attributed to the Davidka was the liberation of the Citadel, a strongpoint in the center of Safed, on the night of May 9-10, 1948.[1]

Six Davidkas were manufactured in all, and two were given to each of the Palmach's three brigades (Harel, Yiftach, and HaNegev). The most famous of them were the one used by the Yiftach Brigade in the battle for Safed, which is now mounted in Davidka Square in that city, and the one mounted in Jerusalem's Davidka Square, which has a shell still attached, memorializing the Harel Brigade's participation in the battle for Jerusalem.

As with any mortar, the secret of the Davidka's operation was in its 40kg (roughly 90lb) shell. In this case, as seen in the image on the right, the gigantic shell was much larger than the mortar from which it was fired. Rather than with more conventional mortars, where the shell is inserted into the tube and the entire projectile travels through the tube to gain initial guidance at launch time, the Davidka's tail tube is the only part of the shell which fit inside the launch tube. This contributed to the weapon's notorious inaccuracy, as the shell lacked adequate guidance during the launch phase to acquire aerodynamic stability in the intended direction...

Small pieces of metal and tubes were welded onto the outside of casing, reducing the weapon's accuracy even further than its already non-aerodynamic design, but contributing greatly to the whistles and shrieks which it made when in flight. The noise was its most important effect, so that anyone near a Davidka mortar would hear the shell seeming to fall very near to them before bursting very loudly, increasing the fear factor. It is said that the Arabs against which the Davidka was deployed, having been told that many of the designers of America's atomic bomb were Jewish (e.g., Einstein and Oppenheimer,) thought that they were being attacked with atomic weapons.
The Palestine Post, in its May 23, 1949 issue, had this article about the Davidka:
A small party of former Haganah commanders met at a cafe in Tel Aviv to honour the inventor of the first heavy artillery of the Haganah. It was already a time for reminiscences and although the war was still on, and tanks and artillery rumbled through the land, the first home-made artillery was already a museum piece, like the long rifle of the American backswoodsmen in their Revolutionary War.

As the commanders raised their glasses in a toast to David Kablani, the inventor of the "Davidka," the thoughts of the inventor turned to a time so long. . . . a few months. . . . back when Tel Aviv was ringed with siege and the state of Israel was little more than a dream. Kablani, a member of Haganah for 22 years, had built a 3-inch mortar back in 1923 after a Polish model. At that time all of Haganah's heavy weapons were taken from Kablani's secret workshop, either on foot or hidden in trucks, to S'dom at the southern end of the Dead Sea, the only testing gtound they were safely out of sight of the British and the Arabs.

When the Arab attacks began, Kablani was appointed armourer for the southern area of Tel Aviv, including Manshieh, Salameh and Abu Kebir. For this entire sector of the front, he had only 200 weapons of all kinds, including 45 rifles, 150 Sten guns, and a number of automatic rifles and 2-inch mortars, and the commanders would battle for every Sten gun, which would pass from hand to hand for each engagement.

The idea for the "Davidka" was born out of the suffering and death of so many Haganah sappers who went into Arab posts under fire with loads of explosives night after night. If only a weapon could be invented which could hurl a charge of explosives into the Arab positions from a safe distance, Kablani thought. He calculated and planned , and finally presented his idea to his commanders.

The first test, with a sand-filled shell, proved a success. The night of March 13 was fixed for the first operation, against Abu Kebir. Two more models and nine live shells were prepared .

The residents of Tel Aviv were used to their nightly storm of gunfire, and went to sleep as usual in the rifle exchanges of that Saturday night. The three new mortars were taken by truck to the advanced positions, and a general attack on Abu Kebir was prepared.

At midnight a tremendous explosion woke up all Tel Aviv and Jaffa . A dead silence fell on the entire front, and the population g u e s s e d that the war had entered a new stage.

Two more booming explosions followed. When the Haganah men broke into Abu Kebir, they found the village completely deserted. The Arabs had fled the unknown weapon of the Jews, and shortly thereafter the desertion of Jaffa began.

Immediately after 12 more mortars were built and sent to Haifa, Jerusalem, and Sated. Soon the "Davidka" became as integral a part of Haganah as the slouch hat of the Australian army.

Palmach commanders, before an operation, would calculate the number of "Davidka" shells needed, figuring one shell for a small village, and as much as three for a large one. Rumours spread through the Arab population that "King David " had returned to fight with his people.

The climax in the career of the "Davidka" came in the battle for the liberation of Safed. Fighting asainst an enemy vastly superior in both numbers and arms, and one fortified in the highest point of the city, Safed had been one of the most difficult points in the country. A desperate effort was needed to liberate this strategic city before the expected Arab invasion after May 15.

The attack was begun with the firing of several "Davidka" shells, and the explosions reverberated deafeningly through the echoing hills. Immediately rumour spread among the Arabs, aided by a sudden, unseasonal rain that the Jews were using the Atom bomb. The attack found the enemy already demoralized and fleeing from the city by the thousands.

A Reuters report from Amman shortly thereafter said mysteriously, "the Jews are using a new secret weapon."

A few days later the State of Israel was proclaimed and expertly tooled weapons began to come in from abroad. The hand-made grenade and the home-made "Davidka" were quickly put aside, but the men who had used them had already turned the tide of the war.