March 24, 2017. Our group left the hotel at 8:30 am (so much for a Senior Tour including a relaxed schedule) …
and drove to Rehovot to visit Machon Ayalon (Ayalon Institute), an underground ammunitions factory from the time before Israel was a state — when the British still ruled the land. During that time, although guns had been smuggled in, and sten machine guns were being made secretly, ammunition was the biggest problem for the Haganah (the Jewish paramilitary organization during the British Mandate of Palestine, 1921–48). The future land of Israel was surrounded on all sides by countries eager to destroy it, but they couldn’t buy bullets for their guns. They decided to create a clandestine bullet factory literally right under the nose of the British Army, which had a base nearby. Kibbutz Hill was where groups of pioneers were trained in kibbutz life before moving on to establish cooperative (kibbutz) farms around the country. One group volunteered to remain and man the clandestine factory. Using the Kibbutz as the cover, the bullet factory itself was built in 22 days – literally underground – with 2-foot-thick walls and ceiling.
One entrance was covered by a large indstrial washing machine which could open to reveal a stairway. The laundry machine had to run all the time to mask the noise of the factory below, but the kibbutz didn’t have that many clothes to wash. So, in order to have enough laundry to justify running the machine all the time, the Kibbutz took in laundry from the nearby village and even from the British Army. In fact, they provided a pickup and delivery service for the soldiers in order to keep them away from the laundry facility.
Below is Natalie, our guide, explaining to us how the laundry room worked. Next to her is the industrial washing machine on the one side, and an old sewing machine on the other.
A closer look at the stairway under the washing machine. Yikes!
Another entrance to the underground factory was covered by a bakery which supplied bread to both the kibbutz and residents of the nearby town of Rehovot. Metal runners allowed the oven to be moved to reveal the entrance, and thick mattresses underneath suppressed the noise of the factory machinery. Ventilation pipes attached to the furnace and the laundry provided ventilation to the rooms below.
Above and below are lifesize models of the bakers at work in the Kibbutz upstairs.
The spiral staircase below the oven is the one by which we descended. See our video below (that thing swinging back and forth is Tom’s camera lens cap).
The existence of the munitions factory was a secret — if discovered, the punishment was death. So not only was its existence kept from the British, but even from the members of the kibbutz above, who were referred to as “giraffes” since a giraffe’s long neck prevents him from seeing what is going on below. One potential problem was that lack of sunlight might make the workers obviously pale; to prevent this, a doctor devised a type of “tanning” light for them.
Another problem was the British who inspected the Kibbutz frequently. When the soldiers complained that the beer they were offerred was warm, it was suggested that if they would let the kibbutz know in advance that they were coming, there would be time to chill the beer. They fell for it.
A further problem was that the bullet factory had to order large amounts of copper sheets from which the bullets were made. To conceal the real purpose of ordering all this copper, the kibbutz claimed to be making kosher lipstick cases. Lipsticks were given to the British officials as gifts for their wives.
To prevent the heavy use of electricity from being noticed, the factory plugged directly into the British army’s power source. Bullets were smuggled out in milk cans and in fuel trucks. In total, they had made more than 2.5 million 9 mm bullets which made a significance contribution to the War of Independence.
The youg pioneers who had accomplished this miracle went on to found an ordinary kibbutz elsewhere after the war, but continued to keep this secret for another 30 years. First there was concern it may be needed again one day, and then it was just a habit. It was not until 1975, when a demolition crew was clearing away the remains of the old kibbutz buildings on Kibbutz Hill, that workers moved the clothes washer and revealed the secret of Ayalon. In 1986 it was opened as a museum.
Below is an interesting video about it from the History Channel:
Close-ups of some of the machinery:
More views of the same room with our group members, as well as some other tourists, and the “worker” models. Pictures on the wall depict the actual teenage workers.
The firing range where the bullets were tested for quality control. It is not usual to put a firing range right in the same rooms as the bullet manufacturing, but there was no choice.
Some more pictures of our group listening to the presentation.