...Less known is the modest operation carried out under unusually hard conditions
- the first production of Jewish weapons in Eretz Israel. I doubt if there
was a more heroic enterprise in the Yishuv, or any other operation involving
such constant mortal danger, as the concealed and secret work of Ta'as, and
I do not know which was greater, their modesty or their valor... ~ David
Ben Gurion on Ta'as, 1953
[All quotes in this blog post are from "The
Ayalon Institute: Kibbutzim Hill Rehovot" compiled and written by Eli Sa'adi
and edited by Yehudit Ayalon. Thank you to Yehudit Ayalon for granting permission to use these quotes.]
Read Risa's personal reflections of her trip to The Ayalon Institute.
The History of Ayalon Institute
Drawings for the Ayalon Institute showing the secret underground bullet-making
factory and the laundry and bakery which hid the two entrances to the Institute.
In 1945, the Ayalon Institute was built in 22 days. From 1945 - 1948,
it produced over 2.25 million bullets which were used before and during Israel's War of Independence.
The Ayalon Institute was a dangerous top secret operation that took place
from 1945 to 1948 that produced over 2.25 million bullets in a clandestine
underground factory, built not far from the British who ruled the area. Passionate,
dedicated, heroic, and selfless young men and woman just out of High School
produced the bullets that were needed for the Sten sub-machine guns, which
were used in Israel's War of Independence in 1948. The 300 sq. yard factory
was built under a kibbutz and its sole purpose was to hide the work of the
young people underground who risked their lives daily. A bakery was built
above ground, as well as a chicken coop, a laundry, a dining hall, a vegetable
garden, workshops, and a barn - all to give the appearance of a normal kibbutz.
It was anticipated long before May 14, 1948 (5 Iyar 5708), the day of Israel's
independence, that upon the establishment of the Jewish State, the small country
would be attacked from all sides from the neighboring Arab countries - Egypt,
Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia - who wanted to destroy Israel's
The Hagana was given the task of preparing for this eventuality and the Ta'as,
part of the Hagana, was responsible for weapons production and procurement.
The Sten sub-machine guns were made in several Ta'as plants, however, it was
making the 9mm bullets that presented the problem.
the Ayalon Institute was the outward appearance of a normal kibbutz, with
a laundry, bakery, barn, chicken coop, and vegetable fields. Except for the clandestine work of the 45 workers underground, this was a normal kibbutz and the members went about their normal kibbutz lives.
It was back in 1929 during riots, before Israel was a state, that it became
clear to the newly formed Ta'as, that it was important to obtain as many weapons
as possible. At the time, a bullet and ammunitions factory was considered,
but first it was necessary to learn bullet-making. Yehezkel Baram left for
Germany in 1931 to learn bullet-making. In 1938, Yehuda Arazi, the Hagana
acquisitions director, went to Warsaw, Poland where he learned that there was
an abandoned bullet-making factory.
According to Adir Cohen:
One winter morning, his aide, Catriel Katz, came to Yehuda's room in Warsaw
with important information: "I have learned that in a suburb of the city there's
a warehouse with old ammunition-making machines. The machines stand idle and
the owner wants to sell them very cheap. It looks like this is the chance
to buy the machines and send them to Eretz Israel. In the hands of Hagana,
they maybe become the basis of bullet manufacture."
was the underground operation of the Hagana responsible for weapons production
and procurement. There were 42 clandestine weapons facilities which made the
Sten sub-machine gun, ammunition, and explosives. The Ayalon Institute was
the 34th plant established by Ta'as which supplied the bullets for the
The bullet-making machinery had a long and difficult journey to Eretz Israel,
which included absolute secrecy, negotiations, favors, several close calls
of being discovered, and help from Jews in the British intelligence. When
the machinery was shipped from Poland to the Haifa port, a Jewish woman who
worked in the British intelligence obtained a copy of a secret telegram, and
notified Shai, the Hagana Intelligence Service. The telegram alerted the British
police that the bullet-making machines were packed in crates whose estimated
size was 3x2x1 meters en route to Eretz Israel. The telegram included details
such as the date the ship was to reach Haifa port, the number of crates aboard
the ship, and where the crates were stored on the ship.
Hagana Intelligence had this telegram 30 minutes after it was delivered to
the British Intelligence and word was quickly sent to Yehuda in Poland, who
shipped the freight. Yehuda enlisted the help of his friend, Colonel Weiss,
an officer in the Polish headquarters, to intervene and alert the shipping
company to divert the shipment to Beirut to prevent this shipment from arriving
in Haifa where the British police were waiting. The crates of bullet-making
machines were transferred to a warehouse in Beirut where they remained for
4 years. With the aid of Jews who served in the British intelligence, and
as a personal favor to Meir Spector of the Hagana, a British officer made
a special trip to Beirut, representing himself as an envoy of the British
Navy, and got the machines released and sent by car to Haifa, where the cargo
was seized, as planned by the Hagana.
With the machines now in Eretz Israel, there was still no end to the problems
that plagued the Ta'as, as making bullets was a complex and multi-staged project.
The machines from Poland needed to be restored, tools were needed, a furnace
for pressure casting was needed, a modern press for pressing the bullet cup
was needed, producing cartridges, gunpowder for bullets, designing a cartridge
to fit the Sten machine guns, how to make a heading, the shape of a bullet,
how much lead goes in a bullet, the proper shape of a bullet, what to coat
the bullet with, the size of the detonator. There was no copper and no brass
- the problems went on and on.
Choosing the Location of the Ayalon Institute
With the machinery restored, the time was ripe to begin bullet-making production.
There was much discussion in Ta'as regarding where to locate the factory.
The site of the Ayalon Institute near Rehovot, not far from Tel Aviv, was
chosen for several advantages:
1) It was isolated but not too remote,
2) It was elevated on a hill to allow for deep excavations for the underground
3) It was a good lookout point,
4) This was formerly the site of another kibbutz 3 years prior so it would
not arouse suspicion,
5) The Rehovot train station near the hill had thousands of British soldiers
passing through it. The proximity to the British would make it implausible
that a bullet-making factory would exist right under their noses.
Recruiting the Team to Work in the Factory
In choosing the young team to work in the factory, Yosef Avidar recounted:
I looked for a group with developed security awareness, most of whose members
could work in the Institute underground and take part in its building: a group
that would agree to adapt its way of life to the security needs of the Institute,
since it would be necessary to limit visits to the area and to conceal its
members' real place of work both from people outside the group and from organizations
such as the Agricultural Center and the Rehovot Labor Council. After consultation
with Yisraeli Galli and Moshe Baron, a member of Shai, the lot fell upon Hatzofim
The members of Hatzofim Aleph were graduates of Herzilia High School in Tel
Aviv and Reali School in Haifa. It was a difficult decision for the young
members of Hatzofim Aleph to make. Yosef Avidar first discussed the proposal
to two kibbutz members, Shlomi Hillel and Dan Amir, and asked that they decide
on behalf of their members. When they demanded that Avidar discuss this with
the other members of the kibbutz who would be involved, Yosef Avidar met with
the kibbutz on August 24, 1945.
The concerns of the kibbutz members were many and the arguments to accept
or reject the proposal were heated. There were many many factors and fears
to take into consideration: fear for their lives, their future hopes and dreams,
the limitation of their lives imposed by the Hagana, the intervention, and
the necessity of complete secrecy from all but those who worked underground.
According to Shlomo Hillel:
...In truth, it was not easy to decide. But national reason won out. The
positive answer was given at once to Avidar and Moshe Baron of Shai who were
The kibbutz members arrived at Kibbutzim Hill on February 1945 and built the
factory. The secret of their activities were to be kept from
everyone, including family and friends. Only those involved and selected
by Ta'as were allowed to know about the clandestine operation.
Building the Ayalon Institute
was excavated and the concrete walls were poured.
As soon as the members of Hatzofim Alef decided to participate in this top-secret
operation, building began immediately based on plans drawn up in 1938 by Professor
Max Korein and Yehezkel Baram. The Kibbutz buildings were erected first including
housing units, a dining hall, and a barn. Then the underground factory was
built. The building was 33 meters long, 8 meters wide, and 3 meters high.
In an amazing construction feet, the building was completed in 22 days! The
coordination of the construction while maintaining secrecy was quite remarkable.
Upon completion of the Institute, Pesach Ayalon recounted:
When Irwin Blau, the engineer who designed the Sten and bullet production,
was brought down into the Institute for the first time, he was excited to
see the large hall, and began running around from pillar to pillar, hugging
them and shouting in German, "So huge, so wonderful!" He was extremely happy!
The factory required 2 entrances - one for the workers and one for the machinery.
One entrance was hidden below a washing machine specially designed to swing
away from it base. The other entrance was under a huge 10 ton bakery oven, which
was mounted on tracks.
Bullet-making was a highly complex multi-staged process. This is a
diagram of the location of the different machines and stations required for
A Day in the Life at the Ayalon Institute
The kibbutz members worked in shifts of 10 hours under very harsh conditions.
According to Abraham Weinberg:
At 7am began the stream of workers, most of them kibbutz youngsters, precious
youth...They arrived furtively, silently, from all corners of the kibbutz,
without attracting notice. Some of them carried hoes that they left at the
adjoining metal workshop. Work on the 'farm' fields afforded cover in the
farm work roster, and if questions were asked, the reply was they were working
in the citrus grove, etc. All gathered in the laundry that covered the little
ascent and descent opening above the Institute and plunged down quickly.
About 45 people disappeared thus within the laundry in 90 seconds, as if
the earth had swallowed them, reducing to a minimum the time the entrance
opening was visible....
It was hot down in the Institute; people worked in light clothes and undershirts.
The noise was ear-shattering, with hammers pounding, lathes turning, a metal
workshop. It was impossible to hear one another...They sang while working,
but as they could not hear each other, they had to guess which song their
neighboring worker was singing in order to join in.
Morale was high and everyone who went down below viewed the work as sacred.
People competed there, not against someone else but to produce more than
they did the day before.
Shortly after work began in the factory, a term was coined to identify those who were not aware of the operation going on at the Ayalon Institute - "giraffe" - because giraffes do not see what is going on down below. There were even members of the kibbutz, including spouses of workers, who were unaware of the activities taking place underground. Except for the clandestine work of the 45 workers underground, this was a normal kibbutz and the members went about their normal kibbutz lives, which included working and maintaining the kibbutz.
Challenges of the Ayalon Institute
workers suffered from ill health and it was determined that it was from a
lack of sunlight which needed to be supplemented by daily exposure to a quartz
light, and improved nutrition, including meat, which was sparse.
The challenges of work in the Institute were never ending. When the factory
was first built, mold formed from the wetness still in the walls so stoves
were installed to dry out the factory. Proper aeration and expulsion of air
was necessary with the air in the institute being replaced eight times an
hour. A water and sewer system needed to be installed underground.
The Institute required a huge amount of electricity, which raised the suspicions
of the Anglo-Palestinian Electric Company. The Hagana invented a system in
which electricity escaped into water, which was the excuse to explain such
high electric consumption. Also, a regional manager, a friend who suspected
that the Hagana was behind this, called off the searches. It was very hot
underground and it was incredibly noisy. The kibbutz members needed to be
resourceful. When the workers shoes got worn out very quickly due to friction
with copper and brass and the shoemaker in town became suspicious, the kibbutz
opened a shoe repair shop.
When there was not enough laundry to keep the machines running continuously
to disguise the noise from below, the kibbutz started a laundry service and
opened a remote location to prevent travel to the kibbutz, and gained customers
from Rehovot and a local hospital.
After a while, the workers suffered from headaches, weakness, eye strain,
and paleness. The plant was visited by Dr. Kott, the Hagana's chief physician,
who determined that the workers needed to be exposed to radiation similar
to sunshine. After that, each worker was exposed to quartz light for a few
minutes each day. He also required that their diets be supplemented with necessary
To get the boxes out of the kibbutz every day, they were placed in a specially
outfitted fuel truck, so as not to arouse suspicion, but highly dangerous.
The raw materials were delivered to the kibbutz and the bullets were removed
daily. It was later revealed that one of the drivers was Michael Shor, former
CEO of Ta'as.
The underground workers were not aware of how the materials got there in
the morning and how the bullets were removed.
Descending to the plant in the morning, they saw that the pile of cartons
were gone and instead, under the machines, were new strips of copper. People
did not ask questions. It was agreed that the less you knew, the better. Then
you simply had nothing to reveal in case of an interrogation by the British.
The difficult work continued underground from 1945 to 1948. In that time, the
Ayalon Institute produced over 2.25 million Sten bullets ~ 10,000 - 14,000 bullets
The End of the British Mandate and the Creation of the State of Israel
May 14, 1948 was the end of the British Mandate and the establishment of the
State of Israel. Israel was attacked from every side. Two months later, the
work underground at the Ayalon Institute ceased and the bullet-making machines
were transferred to another Ta'as plant for continued operation by the newly
formed Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Although the underground bullet-making factory ceased operation, it wasn't
until 1975 that the clandestine operation of the Ayalon Institute was made
public. It's discovery was made quite by accident.
In 1975, Yisraela Kompton, head of the Society for the Protection of Nature's
Rehovot Branch, was preparing for a tour of the area, specifically, Kibbutzim
Hill, where the Ayalon Institute was located. The goal of the tour was to
preserve sites in Rehovot. While doing research into the area, she discovered
the unbelievable and heroic story of the Ayalon Institute in Gen. Yosef Avidar's
book, "En Route to the IDF."
With the help of Yehudit Ayalon, the veil of secrecy that shrouded the underground
bullet-making factory known as the Ayalon Institute on Kibbutzim Hill was lifted
and the story of incredible foresight, coordination, secrecy, and heroism
emerged. In 1986, The Ayalon Institute was proclaimed a National Site and
in 1987, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin presided at the inauguration of the
Ayalon Institute. In 1987, the factory was restored.
After the War of Independence when the Ayalon Institute was no longer needed,
the members of Hatzofim Alpeh, settled at kibbutz Ma'agan Michael in August
Only after we moved the last of our children and built the first huts on
the hill overlooking the sea, did we feel free. The weight of constant secrecy
had been lifted. Our daily struggle for existence and independence had ceased.
We created a new mark on the map of Israel, one we had dreamed of for years
- Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael." ~ Judith Ayalon, Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, 1949
Today the kibbutz has 1,500 people including 400 children.
Also read Risa's personal reflections of her trip to The Ayalon Institute.
Pictures From my Visit to the Ayalon Institute
The laundry room that hid the main entrance to the Ayalon Institute
Ben gets a closer look at the laundry machine that pivoted away from its base
to reveal the opening to the Institute.
The stairs that the 45 workers descended to the Institute in 90 seconds, "as
though the earth swallowed them up."
The bakery provided cover for the second entrance to the Ayalon Institute.
It was under the huge 10 ton oven that the machinery was lowered. This was
not used as a main entrance to the Institute because it took too much time
to move the heavy oven.
Ben and I descend the stairs underneath the oven
The bullet-making machines in the underground Ayalon Institute
Our tour guide is holding the metal grid that held the bullets.
Pressing the caps onto the bullets
Bullets were chosen at random from each batch to test their bullet speed,
which is a measure of the quantity and quality of the gunpowder. In the foreground
is a Sten sub-machine gun, which fired a bullet into two spinning identical
cardboard discs with a marking for every interval of 360 degrees. The differential
between the first disk and second disk determined whether the batch was acceptable.
This firing range was underground. Despite the ongoing, highly explosive work,
there were no accidents in the Ayalon Institute.
After our tour of the Ayalon Institute, we had lunch at Teresa's. The
gang: Risa, Ben, Michael, Daniel, Josh, Amir, Hanita, Alon, Kenny