by Gerald Boerner
Due to injury, this commentary will be added later. Please check back. Thank you. GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2010 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3866 Words ]
Quotations Related to Warfare
“All warfare is based on deception.”
— Sun Tzu
“History has been the history of warfare.”
— Godfrey Reggio
“Air warfare is a shot through the brain, not a hacking to pieces of the enemy’s body.”
— J. F. C. Fuller
“But we must not, if we are loyal, disperse our energies in a partisan warfare that is waged without regard to its consequences to the well being, security, or honor of the country.”
— Bainbridge Colby
“I am extremely proud of my service with the government and my efforts to help safeguard public health and protect our country against the scourge of offensive biological warfare.”
— Steven Hatfill
“I never saw anything more like real warfare in my life – only the attack was all on one side. The police, in spite of their numbers, apparently thought they could not cope with the crowd.”
— Walter Crane
“In recent times, European nations, with the use of gunpowder and other technical improvements in warfare, controlled practically the whole world. One, the British Empire, brought under one government a quarter of the earth and its inhabitants.”
— John Boyd Orr
“For an event that was wholly created in the poisonous psychological warfare kitchens of the Second World War, run by the ministries of propaganda in many countries, not just by the British or the Americans, but also the Russians and undoubtedly the world Jewish organizations.”
— Ernst Zundel
The Yom Kippur War of 1973 — Sequence of Operations: In the Sinai
The Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War or October War, also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, was fought from October 6 to 26, 1973, between Israel and a coalition of Arab states backing Egypt and Syria. The war began with a joint surprise attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, which coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Egypt and Syria crossed ceasefire lines to enter the Israeli-held Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights respectively, which had been captured and occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War. The conflict had all the elements of a severe international crisis, and ended with a near-confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, both of whom initiated massive resupply efforts to their allies during the war…
In the Sinai
The Sinai was once again the arena of conflict between the Israelis and the Egyptians, the fifth such occasion. The Egyptians had prepared for an assault across the canal. Large bridgeheads were established on the east bank on October 6. Israeli armored forces launched counterattacks from October 6 to 9, but they were often piecemeal and inadequately supported and were beaten back principally by Egyptians using portable anti-tank missiles.
The Egyptian units generally would not advance beyond a shallow strip for fear of losing the protection of their surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries, which were situated on the west bank of the canal. In the Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force had pummelled the defenseless Arab armies. Egypt (and Syria) had heavily fortified their side of the ceasefire lines with SAM batteries provided by the Soviet Union, against which the Israeli Air Force had no effective countermeasures. Israel, which had invested much of its defense budget building the region’s strongest air force, would see the effectiveness of its air force curtailed in the initial phases of the conflict by the SAM presence.
On October 9, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chose to concentrate its reserves and build up its supplies while the Egyptians remained on the strategic defensive. It was decided to counterattack once Egyptian armour attempted to expand the bridgehead beyond the protective SAM umbrella. The riposte, codenamed Operation Gazelle, was launched on October 15. IDF forces spearheaded by Ariel Sharon’s division broke through the Tasa corridor and crossed the Suez Canal to the north of the Great Bitter Lake. After intense fighting, Israeli progress towards Cairo was brought to a halt while the IDF advanced southwards on the east bank of the Great Bitter Lake and in the southern extent of the canal right up to Port Suez when the ceasefire was declared on October 24.
Anticipating a swift Israeli armored counterattack by three armored divisions, the Egyptians had armed their assault force with large numbers of man-portable anti-tank weapons—rocket-propelled grenades and the less numerous but more advanced Sagger guided missiles, which proved devastating to the first Israeli armored counterattacks. Each of the five infantry divisions that was to cross the canal had been equipped with RPG-7 rockets and RPG-43 grenades, and reinforced with an anti-tank guided missile battalion, as they would not have any armor support for nearly 12 hours. In addition, the Egyptians had built separate ramps at the crossing points, reaching as high as 21 metres (69 ft) to counter the Israeli sand wall, provide covering fire for the assaulting infantry and to counter the first Israeli armored counterattacks. The scale and effectiveness of the Egyptian strategy of deploying these anti-tank weapons coupled with the Israelis’ inability to disrupt their use with close air support (due to the SAM shield) greatly contributed to Israeli setbacks early in the war.
The Egyptian army put great effort into finding a quick and effective way of breaching the Israeli defenses. The Israelis had built large 18 meter (59 foot) high sand walls with a 60 degree slope and reinforced with concrete at the water line. Egyptian engineers initially experimented with explosive charges and bulldozers to clear the obstacles, before a junior officer proposed using high pressure water cannons. The idea was tested and found to be a sound one, and several high pressure water cannons were imported from Britain and East Germany. The water cannons effectively breached the sand walls using water from the canal.
At 2:00 pm, Operation Badr began with a large air strike. More than 200 Egyptian aircraft conducted simultaneous strikes against numerous Israeli targets, principally air bases and Hawk batteries. Airfields at Refidim and Bir Tamada were temporarily put out of service and damage was inflicted on a Hawk battery at Ophir. The aerial assault was coupled with a barrage from more than 2000 artillery pieces for a period of 53 minutes against the Bar Lev Line and rear area command posts and concentration bases.
Egypt acknowledged the loss of five aircraft during the air strike, and Andrew McGregor states that the success of the first strike negated the need for a second planned strike. The airstrike’s effectiveness, however, was questioned by Pollack, who notes that 18 Egyptian aircraft were shot down for no Israeli losses and that these losses prompted the cancellation of the second wave.
Under cover of the initial artillery barrage, the Egyptian assault force of 32,000 infantry began crossing the canal in twelve waves at five separate crossing areas, from 14:05 to 17:30, in what became known as The Crossing. The Egyptians prevented Israeli forces from reinforcing the Bar Lev Line and proceeded to attack the Israeli fortifications. Meanwhile engineers crossed over to breach the sand wall. The Israeli air force conducted air interdiction operations to try to prevent the bridges from being erected, but were met with heavy resistance from SAM batteries. These attacks were overall ineffective, as the sectional design of the bridges enabled quick repair. The Israeli reserve brigade garrisoning the Bar-Lev forts was overwhelmed, and according to Shazly, within six hours, fifteen strongpoints had been captured as Egyptian forces advanced several kilometers. Shazly’s account is disputed by Kenneth Pollack, who notes that for the most part, the forts only fell to repeated assaults by superior forces or prolonged sieges over many days. The northernmost fortification of the Bar Lev Line, code-named ‘Budapest’, withstood repeated assaults and remained in Israeli hands throughout the war. Once the bridges were laid, additional infantry with the remaining portable and recoilless anti-tank weapons began to cross the canal, while the first Egyptian tanks started to cross at 20:30.
The Egyptians also attempted to land several heli-borne commando units in various areas in the Sinai to hamper the arrival of Israeli reserves. However, this attempt met with disaster as the Israelis downed twenty helicopters. Israeli Major General (res.) Chaim Herzog placed Egyptian helicopter losses at fourteen. Still, other sources claim that “several” helicopters were downed with “total loss of life” and that the few commandos that did filter through were ineffectual and presented nothing more than a “nuisance.” However, Kenneth Pollack asserts that despite their heavy losses, the Egyptian commandos fought exceptionally hard and created considerable panic, prompting the Israelis to take precautions which hindered their ability to concentrate on stopping the assault across the canal.
Egyptian forces advanced approximately 4 to 5 km into the Sinai Desert with two armies (both corps-sized by western standards, included the 2nd Infantry Division in the northern Second Army). By the following morning, some 850 tanks had crossed the canal. In his account of the war, Saad El Shazly notes that the crossing was completed with few casualties on the Egyptian side: 280 men killed, 15 aircraft and 20 tanks, though this account is disputed, especially the aircraft losses. Israeli forces defending the Bar Lev Line suffered heavy losses. For the next several days, the IAF played a minimal role in the fighting largely because it was needed to deal with the simultaneous, and ultimately more threatening, Syrian invasion of the Golan Heights.
Egyptian forces then consolidated their initial positions. On October 7, the bridgeheads were enlarged an additional 4 km, at the same time repulsing Israeli counterattacks. In the north, the Egyptians managed to seize most of the town of Qantara by evening, clearing it completely by the next morning.
Meanwhile the commandos airdropped on October 6 began encountering Israeli reserves the following morning. The commandos inflicted and at times incurred heavy losses during these battles, but were successful in delaying the movement of Israeli reserves to the front. These special operations often led to confusion and anxiety among Israeli commanders, who commended the Egyptian commandos. One source however states that few commandos made it to their objectives, and were usually nothing more than a nuisance. Of the 1,700 Egyptian commandos inserted behind Israeli lines during the war, 740 were killed — many in downed helicopters — and 330 captured.
On October 7, David Elazar visited Shmuel Gonen, commander of the Israeli Southern front—who had only taken the position three months before at the retirement of Ariel Sharon—and met with Israeli commanders. The Israelis planned a cautious counterattack for the following day by Abraham Adan’s 162nd Armored Division. On October 8 however, after Elazar had left, Gonen changed the plans on the basis of over-optimistic field reports. Adan’s division was composed of three brigades totaling 183 tanks. One of the brigades was in still en route to the area, and would participate in the attack by noon, along with a supporting mechanized infantry brigade with an additional 44 tanks. The Israeli counterattack was in the direction of the Bar Lev strongpoints opposite the town of Ismailia, against entrenched Egyptian infantry. In a series of ill-coordinated attacks, which were met by stiff resistance, the Israelis suffered heavy losses. That afternoon, Egyptian forces advanced once more to deepen their bridgeheads, and as a result the Israelis lost several strategic positions. Further Israeli attacks to regain the lost ground proved futile. Towards nightfall, a counterattack by the Egyptians was stopped by Ariel Sharon’s 143rd Armoured Division—Sharon had been reinstated as a division commander at the outset of the war. Garwych, citing Egyptian sources, documents Egyptian tank losses from October 6 through 13 at 240.
According to Herzog, by October 9 the front lines had stabilized and the Egyptians were unable to advance further. He states that Egyptian armored attacks on October 9 and 10 were repulsed with heavy losses. However, this claim is disputed by Shazly, who states that the Egyptians continued to advance and improve their positions well into October 10. He points to one engagement, which involved elements of the 1st Infantry Brigade, attached to the 19th Division, which captured Ayoun Mousa, south of Suez. However, both Herzog and Shazly mention an Egyptian attack southward along the Gulf of Suez in the direction of Ras Sudar by the Egyptian 1st Mechanized Brigade. Leaving the safety of the SAM umbrella, the force fell victim to the Israeli Air Force and suffered severe losses. Shazly cited this experience as a basis to resist pressure by Minister of War, General Ahmad Ismail Ali to attack eastward toward the Mitla and Gidi Passes.
With the situation on the Syrian front stabilizing, the Israeli high command agreed that the time was ripe for an Israeli counterattack and strike across the canal. General Sharon advocated an immediate crossing at Deversoir at the northern edge of Great Bitter Lake. On October 9, a reconnaissance force attached to Colonel Amnon Reshef’s Brigade detected a gap between the Egyptian Second and Third armies in this sector. Chief of Staff Elazar and General Chaim Bar-Lev, who had by now replaced Gonen as Chief of Southern Command, agreed that this was the ideal spot for a crossing. However, given the size of the Egyptian armoured reserves, the Israelis chose to wait for an opportunity which would allow them to reduce Egyptian armored strength before initiating any crossing.
The opportunity arrived on October 12, when Israeli intelligence detected signs that the Egyptians were gearing up for a major armored thrust. This was precisely the moment the Israelis were waiting for. They could finally utilize their advantages in speed, maneuver and tank gunnery, areas in which they excelled. Once Egyptian armored strength was sufficiently degraded, the Israelis would commence their own canal crossing. General Shazly strongly opposed any eastward advance that would leave his armor without adequate air cover. He was overruled by General Ismail and Sadat, whose aims were to seize the strategic Mitla and Gidi Passes and the Israeli nerve centre at Refidim, which they hoped would relieve pressure on the Syrians (who were by now on the defensive) by forcing Israel to shift divisions from the Golan to the Sinai.
The 2nd and 3rd Armies were ordered to attack eastward in six simultaneous thrusts over a broad front, leaving behind five infantry divisions to hold the bridgeheads. The attacking forces, consisting of 800-1,000 tanks would not have SAM cover, so the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) was tasked with the defense of these forces from Israeli air attacks. Armored and mechanized units began the attack on October 14 with artillery support. They were up against 700-750 Israeli tanks. Preparatory to the tank attack, Egyptian helicopters set down 100 commandos near the Lateral Road to disrupt the Israeli rear. An Israeli reconnaissance unit quickly subdued them, killing 60 and thwarting the commandos’ objectives. Still bruised by the extensive losses their commandos had suffered on the opening day of the war, the Egyptians were unable or unwilling to implement further commando operations that had been planned in conjunction with the armored attack. "The attack, the most massive since the initial Egyptian assault on Yom Kippur, was a total failure, the first major Egyptian reversal of the war. Instead of concentrating forces of maneuvering, except for the wadi thrust, they had expended them in head-on attack against the waiting Israeli brigades."
Kenneth Pollack credits a successful Israeli commando raid early on October 14 against an Egyptian signals-intercept site at Jebel Ataqah with seriously disrupting Egyptian command and control and contributing to its breakdown during the engagement. Whatever the reasons for the Egyptian failure, one thing remains clear, the decidedly lop-sided result in Israel’s favor represented a turning point on the southern front. No fewer than 250 Egyptian tanks and some 200 armored vehicles were destroyed. Egyptian casualties exceeded 1,000. Fewer than 40 Israeli tanks were hit and all but six of these were repaired by Israeli maintenance crews and returned to service.
The Israelis immediately followed their success of October 14 with a multidivisional counterattack through the gap between the Egyptian 2nd and 3rd armies. Sharon’s 143rd Division, now reinforced with a paratroop brigade commanded by Col. Dani Matt, was tasked with establishing bridgeheads on the east and west banks of the canal. The 162nd and 252nd Armored Divisions, commanded by Generals Bren Adan and Kalman Magen respectively, would then cross through the breach to the west bank of the canal and swing southward, encircling the 3rd Army. The offensive was code-named Operation Stouthearted Men or alternatively, Operation Valiant.
On the night of October 15, 750 of Matt’s paratroopers crossed the canal in rubber dinghies. They were soon joined by tanks ferried on motorized rafts and additional infantry. The force encountered no resistance initially and fanned out in raiding parties, attacking supply convoys, SAM sites, logistic centers and anything of military value, with priority given to the SAMs. Several SAM batteries were destroyed, punching a hole in the Egyptian anti-aircraft screen and enabling the IAF to more aggressively pursue value targets. By now, the Syrians no longer posed a credible threat and the Israelis were able to shift their air power to the south in support of the offensive. The combination of a weakened Egyptian AA umbrella and a greater concentration of IAF fighter bombers in the theatre of operations did not bode well for the Egyptians, who now bore the full brunt of IAF efforts. EAF attempts to interdict the IAF sorties resulted in one-sided dogfights in Israel’s favor.
Despite the success the Israelis were having on the West Bank, Generals Bar-Lev and Elazar ordered Sharon to concentrate on securing the bridgehead on the East Bank. He was ordered to clear the roads leading to the canal as well as a position known as the Chinese Farm, just north of Deversoir, the Israeli crossing point. Sharon objected and requested permission to expand and breakout of the bridgehead on the west bank, arguing that such a maneuver would cause the collapse of Egyptian forces on the east bank. But the Israeli high command was insistent, believing that until the east bank was secure, forces on the west bank could be cut off. Sharon was overruled by his superiors and relented. On 16 October, he dispatched Amnon Reshef’s Brigade to attack the Chinese Farm. Other IDF forces attacked entrenched Egyptian forces overlooking the roads to the canal. After three days of bitter, close-quarters fighting, the Israelis succeeded in dislodging the numerically superior Egyptian forces. An ancillary target codenamed Missouri was not taken, but this proved to be of no consequence and ultimately, had no bearing or impact on the success of the Israeli counteroffensive.
The Egyptians meanwhile failed to grasp the extent and magnitude of the Israeli crossing nor did they appreciate its intent and purpose. This was partly due to attempts by Egyptian field commanders to obfuscate reports concerning the Israeli crossing and partly due to a false assumption that the canal crossing was merely a diversion for a major IDF offensive targeting the right flank of the Second Army. Consequently, on October 16, General Shazly ordered the 21st Armored Division to attack southward and the T-62-equipped 25th Independent Armored Brigade to attack northward in a pincer action to eliminate the perceived threat to the Second Army. However, the Egyptians failed to scout the area and were unaware that by now, Adans’s 162nd Armored Division was in the vicinity. Moreover, the 21st and 25th failed to coordinate their attacks, allowing General Adan’s Division to meet each force individually. Adan first concentrated his attack on the 21st Armored Division, destroying 50–60 tanks and forcing the remainder to retreat. He then turned southward and ambushed the 25th Independent Armored Brigade, destroying 86 of its 96 tanks and all of its APCs.
After the failure of the October 17 counterattacks, the Egyptian General Staff slowly began to realize the magnitude of the Israeli offensive. Early on October 18, the Soviets showed Sadat satellite imagery of Israeli forces operating on the west bank. Alarmed, Sadat dispatched Shazly to the front to assess the situation first hand. He no longer trusted his field commanders to provide accurate reports. Shazly confirmed that the Israelis had at least one division on the west bank and were widening their bridgehead. He advocated withdrawing most of Egypt’s armor from the east bank to confront the growing Israeli threat on the west bank. Sadat rejected this recommendation outright and even threatened Shazly with a court martial. Ismail Ali recommended that Sadat push for a cease-fire so as to prevent the Israelis from exploiting their successes.
Israeli forces were by now pouring across the canal on bridges, including one of indigenous design and motorized rafts. Adan’s division rolled south to the Ganeifah Hills while Magen’s division pushed west. Sharon’s drive north was halted 10 km south of Ismailia by a combined force of paratroopers and commandos. However, Adan and Magen beat the Egyptians decisively in a series of engagements, though they often encountered determined Egyptian resistance which caused heavy Israeli casualties. In light of these casualties and the stiff resistance, Elazar made an adjustment to the operational plan, one that lacked the optimism of the original plan, which had promised a quick and decisive defeat of the Egyptians. In addressing the Israeli cabinet, Elazar said, "A battle is not being conducted according to the more optimistic model—the one that predicts the total collapse of the Egyptian army—but according to a realistic one…The Egyptian army is not what it was in ’67." Furthermore, Magen’s division, which possessed around 50 tanks on October 23, attempted to advance west towards Cairo from Kilometer 101. They advanced for eight kilometers, at which point they encountered an Egyptian armored force of the 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Armored Division. After heavy fighting throughout the night, the Egyptians repelled the Israelis, who broke off the attack and returned to their original starting point.
By the end of the war, the Israelis had advanced to positions some 101 kilometers from Egypt’s capital, Cairo, and occupied 1,600 square kilometers west of the Suez Canal. The Israelis had also cut the Cairo-Suez road and encircled the bulk of Egypt’s Third Army. The Egyptians held a narrow strip on the east bank of the canal, occupying some 1,200 square kilometers of the Sinai. One source estimated that the Egyptians had 70,000 men and 720 tanks on the east bank of the canal. However, 30,000 of these were now encircled by the Israelis.
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Yom Kippur War of 1973…
Brainy Quote: Warfare Quotes…