Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kosher Counter Attack

Almost exactly 40 years ago a battle raged that would have had the aggressive tank commanders of World war two, such as Patton and Rommel, cheering and yelling "That's how you use armour!" Today we will look at that battle.

In 1973 Israel was engaged with its four neighbours in the Yom Kippur war. After the first week of fierce combat the Golan Heights had stabilized, and focus shifted to the Sinai Desert. As dawn broke on the 14th of October a 9 minute artillery barrage landed on the dug in Israeli forces. From the lower ground around the Suez canal Egyptian armoured vehicles numbering in the thousands advanced behind a walking barrage. This was Egypt's first ever attempt at a major armoured attack. Using Warsaw pact doctrine things went wrong immediately. The combination of exploding shells and the sunrise behind the Israeli's made it almost impossible to see the Israeli tanks. The British and American made tanks occupied hull down positions on the higher ground. Equally the Egyptians attacked along abroad front trying to grab all their objectives immediately.
Things on the Israeli side looked worrying too. The sheer number of enemy tanks and APC's advancing on them caused alarm and awe. Opening fire at two and a half miles, the defenders reaped a massive toll of destroyed armour. One Israeli tank battalion reported knocking out over 60 tanks in an hour. Despite this the sheer weight of numbers meant that the Egyptian attacks reached the Israeli lines. As the columns of Tanks and APC's punched through the defensive lines Israeli tanks were killing T-55's and T-62's at under 50m. Still the Egyptians drove headlong towards their objectives, not returning fire. As the Egyptian casualties mounted their attacks began to falter. Snatching the moment the Israeli defenders charged and routed the Egyptian forces. The Egyptians had lost about 400 tanks, while the Israeli's had lost only 6. Although another 34 had been damaged. With the Egyptians attacking force blunted the Israeli's prepared to go on the offensive.

Two roads, the Tirtur and Akavish, stretch across the Sinai. These lead to the north end of the Great Bitter Lake. They were laid by the Israeli's after they captured the Sinai in the Six Day war, 6 years before. The roads also lead to an area of the Suez Canal where the canal ramparts had been weakened in case the Israeli's needed to cross the canal.
To maintain the element of surprise the Israeli counter attack would need to cross the 20 miles from the front lines to the crossing point before dawn. The only problem was the road had an Egyptian armoured division parked across it. However reconnaissance had discovered that the join between the Egyptian Second and Third armies was just to the south of the Akavish. So on October the 15th, as darkness fell, three Battalions of tanks set out on the cross country trip through 19 miles of desert. Remarkably they made it undetected to the crossing point. The force split up at this point. With one battalion moving to the North to block any Egyptian thrust towards the crossing point. One battalion remained at the Canal. The final battalion moved to attack the Egyptians from the rear and open the roads.

After going only a short distance the Israeli's reached a place now known as the Chinese Farm, where they found the entire Egyptian 2nd Armies reserve force. This formation was only a mile from the crossing point. A raging battle erupted there as all three armour battalions joined the battle. The fighting was so fierce that after 15 minutes so many tanks were burning it illuminated the desert night like it was daylight. The battle raged for two and a half days, as Egyptian forces attacked from both the north and south. However the Israeli tankers held on.

Meanwhile Major Giora Lev led his 30 tanks down the Akavish road, and through the tiny gap that had been opened at the Chinese Farm. Some of his tanks towed motorized rafts behind them.
Despite taking fire from both sides of the road the Major reached the crossing point. Each raft could carry a tank, just. Reversing his tank onto the raft was tricky, but Major Lev led his battalion across the Suez canal. As the first tank across Lev crested a rise and spotted, and destroyed an Egyptian APC. By 0900 on the 15th his entire battalion was across the Suez.
At this stage the Akavish road was still under constant attack, and no logistic units could make it through the gap. This included the Bridge sections that would be used to cross the canal. Major Lev was ordered to hold position and secure the bridgehead.
Major Lev ignored his orders, and used his tanks to hammer the rear areas of the Egyptians. Splitting his force up into small raiding parties he started wreaking havoc. Major Lev took command of a platoon of tanks and led them, with some supporting infantry, towards the Airfield at Deversoir. As his 4 tanks approached the front gate the Sentry not knowing Israeli tanks were anywhere near by, threw a salute.
After his combat group had smashed all the vehicles planes and AA weapons, Lev found time to use the airfields telephone, he called his wife.
Returning to the crossing point, Major Lev received a Long range radio transmission from the head of the Israeli armed forces. From the first day of the war the Egyptian SAM batteries and wreaked a huge toll on the Israeli Air force. Lev was ordered to destroy as many SAM batteries as he could find.

By now the bitter fighting at the Chinese Farm was beginning to swing in the Israeli's favour, and  reinforcements were arriving. Again splitting his force up into raiding parties, normally of a tank and APC section, the Israeli's went SAM hunting. One raiding party destroyed 12 SAM batteries in a day. Overall Major Lev's battalion accounted for over 100 vehicles on the 17th. Normally the Tanks would take up position about 2000m away and start shooting up the battery. Meanwhile the APC's would close then assault through the batteries position using their machine guns.
In desperation the Egyptians were firing SAM's at the tanks. Although utterly unaimed the sight of a SA-2 Guideline screaming towards you is a terrifying sight. One Israeli Tanker described it "[...] like a Telephone pole flying at you at very high speed!"
As the final days of the war were entered more re-enforcements were channelled through the bridgehead. They began to surround the Egyptian 3rd army, one Israeli unit at the end of the war had driven over 1200 miles in armoured vehicles to complete the encirclement. Taking fire from two sides, and being bombed by the Israeli Air force the Second Army took heavy casualties. It was only the cease fire that prevented its utter destruction.


  1. Nice! Are you thinking of doing anything on the Indio-Pakistani wars?

    1. I have found one story that makes me really want to write it for India Pakistan. However the trouble is every source I can find is either a really bad translation, or seems to have an agenda.
      As a final nail in the coffin there doesn't seem to be any really good low level accounts, that would make the story come alive.

      If I can solve the above issues, then sure.

  2. "After his combat group had smashed all the vehicles planes and AA weapons, Lev found time to use the airfields telephone, he called his wife."

    Now that is badass!

    I love the Israeli wars stories. So much heroism and bravery in there. And as a bonus, it makes various antisemites and other filth mad :) Thank you for this.

    1. Nice to see u enjoying SS :)

      But it's kinda ironic that we (the israelis) won the war, and we see it as traumatic event, and the Arabs side celebrate their 'victory' every year.

    2. Antisemites should make the difference - they should hate israeli politicians, not all jews. I see that most people in the IDF are normal humans who do their best to get out of war alive and not chicken out. Thumbs up to that. The fact that they have to carry out retarded orders is a totally different part (messing up people's lives in the area around Israel/colonies, for example). Funny the telephone part of the story. If this would have happened now, that would change to "After his combat group had smashed all the vehicles planes and AA weapons, Lev found time to use the airfields' fast free WiFi connection and upload a full gallery with battle shots to his Facebook account."

    3. "Won" the war after forcing the Americans to stop being neutral for a change and perform a massive resupply (Operation Nickel Grass) less you would have gone nuclear, just what you would expect from some people, blackmailing and hypocrisy.

  3. ... and Egyptians that I know, still claim that 'they' won this war.

    I loved this article, however you could perhaps have gone a little into what happened in the Golan. My father-in-law was a tank commander among the first tanks to arrive in Golan, and his stories from up there are nasty to say the least.

    1. There's a lot of war to cover. But most of the time people focus on the Golan Heights. Not on the more remarkable attack I detailed above.

    2. A War is not decided by a single battle. Egyptians do have a good claim to "winning" the war considering they got their demands: The return of the Sinai and ended the war with all their armies intact.

      Even the surrounded Third Army maintained their positions on the east side of the canal.

      Though I doubt Israel could have been said to "lose" the war.

    3. It's common to say that Israel won tactically, but egypt won strategically.

  4. It is a victory to Egyptians because they regained the Sinai peninsula, plus to be fair this sounds like an article written by the Israeli perspective, October 6 was significant, i mean for a fifth rate army unfamiliar with soviet doctrine they did account themselves pretty well against what is considered a highly professional and nigh invincible army.

    This is also the first war with significant israeli losses, imagery of destroyed israeli tanks, aircraft and also prisoners does shatter their invincible image.

    1. All articles are written from a perspective. Normally the one I share a common language with.
      Its much easier for me to use sources in English than it is in any other language. I've tried using Polish sources fed through Google for another project. That took longer than I'd like and caused headaches.

      Plus, some countries just don't take details of their past seriously, often because they lost, and people tend not to want to focus on loosing. The countries involved equally often don't have a developed civil service which writes everything down. Then we spread recent politics over everything, which can be quite tumultuous.

      Recently I did a series on the Anglo-Iraq war of 1941. The UK and Arab Legion's forces were fairly easy to write about. Finding anything on the Iraqi army of the time, past force returns, was next to impossible. In the end all I had to go on was accounts from the UK side, and translate what that meant over to the Iraqi point of view.
      The kicker of it is, there are veterans of that war still living (or at least were still alive around 2004), but I've not been able to find an Iraqi source that has talked to those people.

  5. Hi David,
    Thank you for that overview of the souther half of the Yom Kippur war. When growing up I found a copy of "The Tanks of Tammuz" and Isreal Tal (mr tanks) gaind a young Aussie fan. His actions during and after this action only increased it. Choosing ethics over his career, wow. At least he was given the led on the design of the Merkava.

  6. Four Neighbours? I was unaware of any major belligerents other than Syria and Egypt.

    Every other Arab nation sent only token support or arrived too late to take part in the fighting....hell, King Hussein flew straight to Golda Meir and informed her of the upcoming

    1. Well, Iraq sent an entire armored division plus a mechanized division which actually helped syria and managed to stop the israeli attack on october 11th.

      Jordan also sent 1 armored division in the later phase of the war.

  7. Overall, still a token effort. Jordan could have opened a vital third front but instead, merely sent a single division.

  8. My father has fight in this war :)