On September 7, 2002, Col. Uzi Gal, designer of what may be world’s most recognizable Israeli product – the Uzi submachine gun – died, at age 78.
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Uziel Gal was born Gotthard Glas, on December 15, 1923, in Weimar, Germany. His father, Erich Glas, was a pilot in World War I and one of the earliest practitioners of aerial photography in the German army. Later, the father worked as an artist, principally in engraving and lithography. He also was an avid collector of antique weapons, a passion that he passed on to his son. Gotthard’s mother was Miele Glas.
His parents divorced when Gotthard was young, and he remained with his mother. In 1934, after the Nazis’ rise to power, Erich Glas emigrated to Palestine, settling in Kibbutz Yagur, southeast of Haifa, where he was eventually joined by his family, current and former.
Gotthard, whose Jewish school had in the interim relocated in its entirety to London, joined his family at Yagur in 1936.
Reinventing the bow
Gotthard Glas became Uziel Gal – “Uzi” for short. He went to school in the nearby village of Nesher, and then attended technical school at Yagur. By age 15, he had already designed and built a weapon that could fire off arrows automatically.
Following high school, Gal joined the Palmach, the commando force of the pre-state Haganah, where he worked on weapons design. In 1943, he was arrested by the British for illegal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to six years in prison. During his 2.5-year stint in Acre Prison, he studied mechanical engineering, and back at Kibbutz Yagur, Gal continued his design work.
In 1949, during the War of Independence, he took up the challenge issued by senior official Meir Zorea to design a lightweight automatic weapon for the Israel Defense Forces, to serve in the stead of the British Sten submachine gun.
Both Gal and Maj. Chaim Kara submitted prototypes for new guns to the army. The panel that tested them was headed by Yitzhak Rabin. Gal’s was the one chosen , because it had fewer parts and could be produced more cheaply. Its magazine fit into its grip, it had a foolproof safety latch, and its parts stood up well to desert conditions.
The 9-mm gun’s design was patented in 1952, tested in the field in 1954, and first used in combat during a reprisal raid by Paratrooper commandos in February 1955. By the time of the Sinai Campaign, in October 1956, the rifle was standard issue in the IDF.
Although Gal received recognition as the designer of the weapon – he resisted having it named for him, but his superiors prevailed upon him to agree – because he was an employee of government-owned Israel Military Industries, he received no royalties from its production and sale. By the time Uzi Gal died, in 2002, more than 1.5 million units had in fact been made and sold.
Initially, the Uzi had a long wooden stock, but by the 1960s, that was replaced with a folding metal stock, which is the way moviegoers now recognize it. The rifle, which can shoot up to 600 rounds per minute, is considered dependable, though its short barrel means it has a limited range and accuracy. It later came out in “mini” and “micro” versions, the latter a revolver that could fire 20 rounds in under a second.
By the early 1970s, the IDF had decided it needed a new standard assault rifle. Uzi Gal submitted a design, but the army decided to go with Israel Galili’s “Galil” model.
Gal was married twice, the second time to Ahuva Gal, in 1956. Their daughter, Tamar, who was born in 1961, had a serious brain disorder, and in 1976, the year after Uzi retired from IMI, the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Tamar was treated at the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. This enabled her to graduate from high school in Philadelphia. Tamar died in 1984.
Uzi Gal remained in the Philadelphia area, where he ran a weapons-design consultancy. Ahuva died in 1998. Uzi died of cancer four years later, and his body was returned to Kibbutz Yagur for burial.