Overlord'S Blog: 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.