Operational Valiant: Turning Of The Tide
In The Sinai 1973 Arab-Israeli War
SUBJECT AREA History
Author: Owen, Richard L., Major, USMC
Title: Operation Valiant: Turning of the Tide in the Sinai,
1973 Arab-Israeli War
Publisher: Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Date: 1 April 1984
On the 15th of October, only eight days after being
stunned by a highly successful Egyptian crossing of the Suez
Canal, the Israeli army began an attack which would carry it
over the Canal, threaten Cairo, and encircle half of the
Egyptian army. This offensive was code named Operation
Valiant, and it is the subject of this paper.
The Israeli army was only marginally prepared for such an
attack. Bridging equipment was obsolete and the logistics
system was inadequate. The detailed planning and centralized
command and control needed for a water crossing operation
were alien to Israeli leaders whose philosophy emphasized
initiative and individual action.
For the first three days, the outcome was in doubt. The
inability of the Israelis to conduct combined arms operations
and coordinate their forces was balanced by grave tactical
errors on the part of the Egyptians. When the Israeli
divisions finally broke through the Canal defenses, however,
the result was decisive. Able to return to mobile armored
warfare, the Israeli tanks rapidly pushed south, cutting off
the 3d Egyptian Army and forcing Egypt to call for a
This paper concentrates on the planning, preparation for,
and execution of the Canal crossing. The principal findings
-The Israeli army was hamstrung by the pre-1973
organization, doctrine, and tactics which had evolved from
the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and which were based on an
unfounded assumption of Egyptian ineptitude.
-The Israeli concentration on mobile armored warfare
to the exclusion of all else had greatly reduced their
ability to conduct operations which required detailed
planning and centralized control. The battle was nearly lost
as a result of internal bickering and poor coordination of
-Israeli domestic politics often interfered with the
conduct of the war.
-The tendency of the Israeli leaders to lead from the
front was a major factor in their success.
-Ultimately, it was the Israeli offensive spirit and
determination which gave them victory
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
Turning of the Tide in the Sinai 1973 Arab-Israeli War
Major Richard L. Owen
2 April 1984
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
Table of Contents
List of Figures iii
1. Introduction 1
Historical Setting 2
Egyptian Military Preparations 5
Israeli Military Preparations 8
Egyptian Organization 10
Israeli Organization 12
3. Prelude to Operation Valiant
The Egyptian Attack: 6-7 October 16
The First Israeli Counterattack: 8 October 20
Stalemate: 9-13 October 26
The Egyptian Attack on the Passes: 14 October 29
4. Planning and Preparation
Pre-War Planning and Preparation 33
Planning and Preparation During the War 37
The Egyptians and the Terrain 39
The Plan 42
5. Operation Valiant
Attack and First Crossing: 15-16 October 46
Opening the Corridor: 16-17 October 50
Breakout: October 18-19 68
Encirclement of the 3d Army: 19-25 October 76
Pre-War Planning and Preparation 81
Planning and Preparation During the War 85
Command and Control 91
7. Conclusions 95
1. Egyptian Division Organization 11
2. Initial Dispositions 14
3. Egyptian Plan, 6 October 15
4. Initial Israeli Counterattacks 18
5. Egyptian Attack Plan, 14 October 31
6. Operation Valiant Terrain Map 41
7. Operation Valiant Plan 43
8. Sharon's Division Plan 44
9. Sharon's Attack and Crossing, 15 October 47
10. Battle for the Corridor, 17 October 59
11. Breakout, 18-24 October 69
Even though a decade has passed since the 1973 Yom Kippur
War, it is recent history for the Arab and Israeli states.
Much of the information concerning this conflict is still
classified. That which has been written for public
consumption usually leans significantly toward one side or
the other. Contradictions abound, and no one source provides
a complete picture. Where there were conflicts, I have tried
to present that side of the story which, in my opinion, was
most consistent with the overall military situation, while
noting the opposing view.
Since this is the tale of an Israeli operation, the
Egyptians unavoidably appear as the enemy. In my readings,
however, I came to have a great deal of respect for both
sides. Indeed, I suspect that the Marine Corps, because of
its structure and likely opponents, has at least as much to
learn from the Egyptians as from the Israelis.
I would like to thank Lieutenant Colonel Tim Kline, USAF,
Major Ed Robeson, USMC, and Major Jerry Kelly, USMC, for
their critical readings and suggestions, which much improved
this paper. Any errors or ill-founded conclusions, however,
remain solely my responsibility.
On the 6th of October 1973, armies of Egypt and Syria
attacked Israel. The Egyptians mounted a highly effective
crossing of the Suez Canal, quickly pushed through the
Bar-Lev defensive line, and established control of the
canal's west bank.
Israeli counter-attacks were disastrous. Entire
battalions were destroyed, and the vaunted Israeli Air Force
was forced from the sky. By 14 October, the Egyptians were
prepared to capitalize on a two-to-one force advantage to
seize the key mountain passes which controlled the Sinai
Ten days later, however, it was the Egyptians who were
near defeat. The Third Egyptian Army was surrounded. Israeli
tanks had crossed the Canal and were roaming through Egypt.
The Israeli Air Force once again in commanded the skies.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the events which
produced such a dramatic change of fortune. The focus is on
the canal counter-crossing operation which occurred from 15 -
18 October. During this period, the Israelis threw three
divisions over the Suez Canal under the noses of two Egyptian
armies. They succeeded in this daring attack despite being
handicapped by antiquated equipment and the violation of
nearly every doctrinal principle for such crossings. Given
the circumstances under which this attack was planned and
executed, it was appropriately named: Operation Valiant.
Historical Setting. The actions of the leaders during
the 1973 Arab-Israeli War are difficult to understand outside
of the historical context. The recurring wars fought by the
Israelis and various combinations of Arab states since 1948
flavored the decision making on both sides.
Even before the formation of Israel in 1948, Arab
inhabitants of Palestine and the neighboring states had
warred with Jewish settlers. The professed Arab objectives in
these battles were unstintingly the destruction of the state
of Israel and the complete election of the Jews. The
Israelis, consequently, had the strongest possible motivation
in each war: survival.
The Israelis had two inherent disadvantages. First, they
were greatly outnumbered by the Arabs. Second, Israel was
small. Lacking in defensible terrain, battles fought on
Israeli soil are unacceptably dangerous and destructive.
Because of these limitations, the Israelis developed a
strategy of carrying the war to the Arab nations as quickly
as possible. Successes in 1956 and 1967 reinforced this
philosophy. By 1973, it had become an unquestioned principle
of Israeli military planners.
Despite a huge Arab superiority in numbers, Israel had
come away the victor in these early wars. In 1948, the
Israelis pushed back the Arab armies of Egypt, Lebanon,
Jordan, Syria, and other independent groups to establish
borders beyond those lines which had been mandated by the
United Nations. In 1956, only the intercession of the United
States and Russia prevented the Israelis (supported by France
and Great Britain) from gaining control of the Suez Canal.
The 1967 "Six Day War" was their most complete victory. In
the north, east, and south, the Israelis occupied highly
defensible territory which greatly increased the size of the
nation. The armies of Syria and Egypt were routed, and the
Arab air forces were destroyed. Although an objective
evaluation of these battles suggests that Arab leadership was
principally at fault, the Israeli military came to believe in
their inherent superiority over the Arabs.
To a certain extent, the Arabs agreed with this
assessment. The Egyptians, when analyzing the 1967 war,
recognized that the Israelis had, and for the forseeable
future would maintain, superiority in air forces and in
mobile armor skills. If these advantages could be nullified,
however, the Arabs felt that they could win, given strong
Both sides recognized that their fate was not entirely in
their own hands. Because of the international dangers of an
unlimited middle east war, every war between the Arabs and
the Israelis had ended with a cease-fire either arranged or
imposed by the super powers. As a result, military objectives
tended to be limited and were closely tied to political
Especially in Israel, the politicization of the military
extended beyond war objectives. With national survival
directly connected to the effectiveness of the armed forces,
top ranks of the military were often springboards to
political careers. On the Arab side, Nasser, Sadat, and Assad
had each begun their careers as military officers, and
political loyalty was often at least as important as military
ability in determining an officer's success.
At the end of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel had
gained complete control of the Sinai penisula, had ejected
Jordanian forces from the west bank, and had secured the
length of the Suez Canal. These successes removed much of the
Israeli impetus for bargaining with the Arab states. Bounded
by the Suez Canal on the south, the Golan Heights on the
north, and the Jordan River on the east, Israel finally had
fully defensible borders. Neither Israel nor the Arabs would
agree to the other's starting conditions for negotiations.
The situation settled into stalemate punctuated only by minor
For Anwar Sadat, this was unacceptable. Egypt had been
humiliated by the performance of her armed forces. Israel
occupied the Sinai Peninsula. The Suez Canal, which had been
a major revenue source for Egypt, appeared to be forever
closed. Improvement of the situation by diplomatic means
seemed to be hopeless. According to much Arab opinion,
chances for meaningful military action were not better. Sadat
thought otherwise. In October of 1972, he began preparations
for a coordinated Arab attack on Israeli occupied
territories. His principal objective, however, was not
military victory. Sadat hoped to bring about a change in the
political situation which might lead to negotiations. At the
least, Sadat wanted to raise the human cost, always difficult
for the small Israeli nation to accept, of the Israeli
occupation. At the most, Sadat hoped to regain control of the
Suez Canal, and to hold his position until the superpowers
solidified his gains with a cease-fire. Such a success, Sadat
hoped, would convince the Israelis that they could not depend
on military force alone.
Egyptian Military Preparations. Sadat and his
military staff faced a most difficult military problem. All
by itself, the Suez Canal was a formidable obstacle. (Moshe
Dayan had called it "one of the best anti-tank ditches
available.") The Israeli fortifications on the Sinai side,
their superiority in mobile armored combat, and the mighty
Israeli Air Force combined to make a crossing appear
impossible. Egypt, however, was not without advantages. The
Egyptian soldier had proven to be a tenacious fighter when
well led. This was especially so while he occupied strong
defensive positions. The Arabs enjoyed a great numerical
superiority, the value of which was increased by the Israeli
political sensitivity to wartime casualties.
Egyptians sought to neutralize the Israeli advantages,
while maximizing their own. To this end, Sadat employed two
means: technological improvements to the equipment of the
Egyptian army, and detailed, intensive planning and
Technological improvements1 fell into three
categories. In order to quickly cross the canal, the
Egyptians acquired the Soviet bridging equipment designed to
span the rivers of Europe. Precision guided munitions,
principally the Sagger anti-tank missle, and great numbers of
Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) were provided to the infantry
to counter the Israeli armor. Finally, the Egyptians
installed a massive and interlocking array of Surface-to-Air
Missles (SAM) in order to provide protection from the Israeli
Although the new equipment improved the Egyptian army's
1Despite the ejection of the majority of the Russian
advisors in June of 1972, the Soviet Union not only maintained,
but increased the flow of military equipment to Egypt. Clearly,
the 1973 war would not have been fought without this support.
ability to battle Israel, past experiences had shown that
technology alone would not provide sufficient advantage to
insure an Arab victory. The plan had to be effective;
preparation had to be intensive. In essence, the plan which
emerged was simple. Under cover of a massive artillery
bombardment and the SAM umbrella, Egyptian forces would
quickly cross the canal and isolate vital Israeli
strongpoints. Infantrymen would then press forward and
establish defensive positions along avenues of approach to
block counter-attacks. While Israeli armored units were
beaten back by the Sagger-equipped infantry, the strongpoints
would be eliminated. Only then would major Egyptian armored
forces cross the Canal to support further advances into the
The Egyptians realized that the secret to successful
implementation of simple plans is detailed and intensive
preparation. Moreover, they recognized that achievement of
surprise was critical. The Egyptian army supported both goals
by initiating monthly exercises near the Canal, involving
many of the units that would participate in the attack. Over
time, Israelis accepted these exercises as routine. For one
year, each Egyptian unit drilled in the combat tasks which it
would need to perform during the offensive. Mock-ups of the
targets were constructed for rehearsals. Each soldier
practiced his job hundreds of times, gaining both proficiency
and confidence in his ability to succeed. When the attack was
launched, the Egyptian soldier was ready.
Although the plan for the crossing and seizure of the
Canal was prepared in great detail, the plan for subsequent
operations was not. This failure to plan for success would
cost the Egyptians dearly.
Israeli Military Preparations. In the years following
success in the 1967 war, Israel had not been idle. She, too,
had upgraded military equipment, developed plans, and
prepared for the renewal of fighting. Not surprisingly,
however, Israeli conclusions from the 1967 war differed from
those of the Egyptians. Based upon the successes of the air
and armored forces, these components received the most
attention. Both were equipped with new, improved weapon
systems2 which greatly increased their capabilities. The
artillery was also upgraded with weapons which increased
their range and mobility. The infantry, however, received
much less consideration. Although some mechanized units
supporting armored divisions were given the M113 armored
fighting vehicles, most still traveled in antiquated (1941
vintage), open-roofed half-tracks.
Tactically, the Israelis were on the horns of a dilemma.
Although the west bank of the Suez Canal was of major
military importance as a defensive position, its primary
2The M6O tanks acquired by the Israelis were the
first which had not been used prior to being given
to the Israelis.
value was political. Loss of control of the canal, even for a
short period, would be unacceptable to Israel, since an
externally imposed cease-fire might make permanent the
temporary Egyptian gains. The only way to prevent penetration
in the Sinai was to conduct an area defense3 along the
entire line of the canal. The Israeli army, however, was
totally unsuited for such a tactic. Relying on maneuver and
surprise to offset a gross numerical inferiority, the
Israelis had developed an army which was dedicated to the
doctrine of mobile defense. Faced with this conflict, Israel
opted for compromise. A series of 33 strongpoints, known as
the Bar-Lev Line4, were built along the west bank of the
Canal. These strongpoints were to serve as early warning
posts, and as fixed positions which would divide any
attacking force. All except 16 of these, however, were later
closed. At the time of the Egyptian attack, these forts were
manned by reservists who had been brought forward to allow
the regulars to enjoy the Yom Kippur holiday at home.
Behind these strongpoints, using a road network built for
the purpose, stood the Israeli counterattack force composed
3In an area defense, the defenders attempt to prevent
any forward advance of the attackers. In a mobile defense,
penetrations are allowed in order to destroy the offensive
force with a counter-attack.
4The Bar-Lev Line was named after Lieutenant-General
Chaim Bar-Lev, who was then the Israeli Chief of Staff.
of an armored division supported by fourteen batteries of
artillery. Their job was to move against the main attacking
force and halt it until the national reserve forces could be
mobilized and deployed.
Egyptian Organization5. On paper, the Egyptian
army was a mighty force. Fully mobilized, as it was by the
time of the Canal crossing, it totaled 1.1 million men. In
reality, however, the effective force was far less imposing.
Nearly half of the army was the poorly trained and
ill-equipped National Guard which was used for support and
rear guard duties. Forces used for the cross-canal attack
consisted of approximately 200,000 men. These were organized
into two Egyptian Armies (analogous to U.S. Corps): the
Second (110,000 men), commanded by General Saad el Din
Mamoun, and the Third (90,000 men), commanded by General Abd
el Moneim Wassel. Figure (1) illustrates the division
These two Armies (and the forces of the central military
district, which served as a strategic reserve) came under the
command of the Egyptian General Headquarters (GHQ). The top
military officer at the GHQ was the Chief of Staff,
5Organizations and strengths are taken from Colonel
Trevor N. Dupuy's Elusive Victory: The Arab-Israeli War.
(1947-1974 New York, 1978) pp. 399 ff. Of the many books
on the subject, this was the most objective.
Click here to view image
Lieutenant-General Saad el-Shazli. The Commander in Chief and
Minister of War was General Ahmed Ismail, who had been
appointed by Sadat to implement the plan for the attack on
Israel when his predecessor Commander in Chief had balked.
He, like Sadat, was fully aware of the political nature of
the upcoming campaign.
Israeli Organization.6 Israel's combat units were
organized into three area commands, one each in the north,
center, and south of Israel. All of these were under the
command of the General Staff, headed by the Chief of the
General Staff, Lieutenant General David Elazar.
The southern command, responsible for the defense of the
Canal and the Sinai Peninsula, was commanded by Major General
Shmuel Gonen. General Gonen had only recently been appointed
to the position, haven taken command 1 July 1973 from Major
General Ariel Sharon. His forces consisted of two infantry
brigades, one of which occupied the Bar-Lev line
strongpoints, and one armor division with three armored
brigades. This "Sinai Defense Force" was commanded by Major
General Albert Mandler. All together (including divisional
support and the nearest reserves) Israel had approximately
18,000 men defending the Suez Canal. Of these, only 8,000
were in position to meet the initial attack.
Dedicated to the southern command were two reserve
6Dupuy. pp 399 ff.; and Edward Luttwak and Dan
Horowitz The Israeli Army (New York, 1975). pp 94 ff.
divisions. The first, commanded by Major General Avrahan
Adan, consisted of three tank brigades. General Adan, one of
Israel's most experienced warriors, had previously commanded
the Israeli Armor Corps7, and the Sinai Defense Force.
The second division, composed of a paratroop and two
armored brigades, was led by Major General Ariel Sharon.
General Sharon was a living legend in the Israeli military,
having, like Adan, commanded units since the founding of the
Israeli nation. Also like Adan, he was far more experienced
than General Gonen, having held the Southern Command for
nearly three years prior to Gonen's assumption of that
position. Sharon had resigned his regular commission upon his
relief from Southern Command, in order to pursue a career in
politics. He was emerging as a potent political figure, and
headed one of the principal opposition parties.
Reserve divisions required from three to five days to
mobilize and travel to the Sinai. Israel assumed that Egypt
could not prepare a major attack across the canal without
giving sufficient warning to allow deployment of these units.
The total Southern Command forces, when mobilized, equalled
approximately 100,000 men.
7The Armor Corps is a training and supervisory direc-
torate responsible for overseeing Israeli armored unit
development and performance.
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PRELUDE TO OPERATION VALIANT
The Egyptian Attack: 6-7 October. A successful
Israeli defense of the Suez Canal would depend on sufficient
warning to allow mobilization and deployment of the reserve
forces. Conversely, a successful Egyptian attack would depend
on achieving surprise to the extent that such timely
mobilization would not be possible. In the initial battle of
intelligence services, the Egyptians clearly triumphed. By a
shrewd combination of military and political maneuvering,
Sadat convinced Israel that she was secure behind the Canal.
As late as the evening of October 5th, Israeli Intelligence
was maintaining that there would be no war. Not until 0700 on
the 6th did GHQ inform the reserve division commanders that
war was imminent1. The warning came too late.
At 1405 on 6 October, the Egyptian armies opened with a
devastating artillery barrage. Nearly 2,000 artillery and
mortar pieces, 1,000 tanks, and 1,000 anti-tank guns pounded
the Bar-Lev line. Within 15 minutes, the first wave of
Egyptian infantry crossed the canal, by-passed the forts, and
moved inland to establish defensive positions. Within four
1Avraham Adan, On the Banks of the Suez (San Fran-
cisco: Presidio Press, 1980), pp. 3-4.
hours, nearly 80.000 Egyptians crossed into the Sinai.
The multi-pronged offensive purposely had no main attack
against which Israel could concentrate her counter-attack
(figure (4)). Instead, the Egyptians pushed into the desert
on line, while Gonen lost precious hours trying to identify
their principal effort.
Forward Israeli armored units, rushing to help the
besieged strongpoints, were met by an eruption of Sagger
missiles and RPG's. With no reconnaissance and unsupported by
infantry, the Israeli tanks were routed. By the morning of
the 7th of October, more than half of the three hundred tanks
with which the Israelis had begun the battle were destroyed.
The Egyptians consolidated their gains behind their
infantry shield. The Bar-Lev line forts remained under
intense attack, and, when their appeals for help were
unanswered, began to fall one by one2. Using powerful
jets of water, the Egyptian engineers quickly wore away
sections of the high Canal ramparts, making paths for the
on-coming armies. (Some of these gaps were opened in only two
hours, beating Israeli intelligence estimates for such a feat
by 46 hours.) The first through the breaches were amphibious
tanks and APC's. They were followed by other vehicles carried
initially by ferries, and later by Soviet pontoon bridges and
self-propelled barges. The infantry crossed on small,
2At the end of the war, only one of the forts was still
held by Israel.
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float-supported bridges which were laid by amphibious
vehicles. Following colored markers, the follow-on forces
joined up with advance elements and strengthened their
positions. By the end of the day, the Egyptians controlled
the entire west bank, to a depth of one to two miles. By the
evening of the 7th, while fighting off initial Israeli
counter-attacks, they had expanded their zone to a depth of
five to six miles.
In the air, the battle was going no better for Israel.
Soviet supplied AA systems performed with deadly efficiency.
More than half of the attacking aircraft were hit by missiles
or gunfire. The shock of these losses, and the worsening
situation on the Syrian front, resulted in a suspension of
air support for Southern Command.
The Egyptians had been prepared to accept 30,000
casualties to win the Canal crossing. Their actual total was
just 208. The attackers had crossed the Suez Canal swiftly
and efficiently, in what is one of the most impressive water
barrier crossings recorded in military history.
The Israelis, however, were not yet defeated. As the
forces on the Bar-Lev line were fighting their desperate
battle, the reserve divisions began to arrive. The lead
elements of Adan's armor division reached the front during
the evening of the 7th, only one day and a half after the
order to mobilize had been given. By the morning of the 8th,
the Israeli forces had pushed over 500 tanks, the principal
portions of three divisions, into the Sinai. Already, their
thoughts were on a major counter-attack.
The First Israeli Counter-Attack: 8 October. Although
the Israeli assault which took place on the morning of the
8th of October is not the principal topic of this paper, it
is worth while to examine it in some detail to establish
trends and comparisons relative to Operation Valiant.
Much of the impetus for the first counter-attack came
from Sharon, who arrived in the Sinai during the afternoon of
October 7th. Although, by position, he was subordinate to
Gonen and the Southern Command, Sharon did not hesitate to
make his views known to the highest levels. Motivated by a
desire to rescue the men trapped in the Bar-Lev forts, he
called directly to General Elazar, the Israeli Chief of
Staff, to recommend an immediate counter-attack. Elazar
carried this recommendation to Prime Minister Goldal
Meir3. On the next morning, the Chief of Staff ordered
his staff to begin planning for counter-attacks both in the
Sinai and the Golan Heights.
Enthusiasm for counter-attack was not universal. Adan, in
particular, was hesitant to charge into the face of the
freshly prepared Egyptian positions when so much of the
Israeli strength was still queued along roads leading from
Israel's interior. At a meeting which included Elazar, Gonen,
and Sharon, he called for a limited attack aimed at wresting
3Ibid., pp 92-93.
the initiative from the Egyptians. Over Sharon's objections,
it was agreed that Adan's division would attack from the
north, along a line parallel to but three kilometers away
from the Canal. The assault was to be a limited one, with no
intention of reaching the Canal. Sharon's division would
support Adan's by acting as a holding force near the center
of the canal.
Despite this apparent agreement, planning did not proceed
smoothly. When Gonen returned to his command post, he issued
an overlay order to implement the attack plan. Either by
mistake or intent, the written order contained major changes
from the plan discussed the previous evening. Rather than a
limited spoiling attack the mission had become:
"Mopping up tho zone between the Artillery Road and
the canal water line; destruction of the enemy
forces in that area while extricating forces from
the strongpoints and pulling out stuck tanks; and
readiness for a crossing to the other side of the
Further, the overlay apparently called for a two stage
offensive, with Adan's attack being the first phase, to be
followed by an assault by Sharon's division from the center
of the zone south to the Gulf of Suez.5 As might be
4Ibid.p p. 107.
5It is not clear that Gonen intended to call for a two-
phase attack. Quite possibly, the second attack plan was pre-
pared as a contingency should the first go well. Regardless of
the intent, the order as written was not clear.
expected of a one-page order from a corps-level headquarters-
the instructions were not particularly explicit. The mission
for Adan's division, as an example, was: "containment in the
west and north, attack southward and reserve."
Despite this major change in the plan of attack, Gonen
chose to issue his order by radio rather than send it to the
division headquarters by helicopter. Adan, however, could not
be reached until 0430 on the 8th, four hours before the
assault was to be launched. Gonen then informed him that he
was thinking of linking up with the forts, and of crossing
the canal. Adan was ordered to be prepared for either. At the
same time, Gonen was ordering Sharon to prepare to attack to
the south, cross the canal near the mouth of the Gulf of
Suez, and capture Suez City!
At 0800, Adan began his attack to the south with his two
armored brigades. Although he had discussed the possibility
of a change in plan with Gonen, he did not understand that a
decision for such a change had been reached. He did not know
that Sharon's division (on Adan's left flank) would soon move
out and leave his flank exposed.
The early going was easy. Adan's brigades came under
artillery fire, but met few Egyptian soldiers. At 0900, Gonen
called. Once more he discussed an attack to and over the
canal, but now in definite terms. Adan was to break through
to the canal, cross, and establish a foothold. Repeated radio
messages from Southern Command urged Adan to move quickly.
Gonen, like most senior Israeli officers, expected an
Egyptian collapse when they were faced with resolute attack.
He wanted to be sure that, when the rout began, the most
would be made of it. At 1005, Gonen's deputy sent this
message to Adan:
"There are some slight indications that the enemy
gas begun to collapse, so it's very important, very
important, to rush at maximum speed with all your
forces along your entire axis from the north, from
Qantara, to down below to make contact and destroy.
Otherwise they're liable to get away!"6
The "slight indications" noticed by Southern Command were
not evident to the brigades in contact. They had found the
Egyptians. Adan's forces were now under heavy fire from
artillery, tanks, and anti-tank missiles. Far from chasing a
defeated enemy, they were themselves in danger of defeat.
Again and again, the engaged units called for air support and
reinforcement. Two flights of four Israeli planes each
finally appeared, made short attacks, then left. There was no
Southern Command, nonetheless, acted as if they were
viewing a different war. Sharon still intended to move south,
away from Adan. Adan continued to receive urgings to hurry
his attack in order to trap the enemy, while his requests for
support were handled in a cursory manner. The tone of the
6Ibid., p. 123.
7Dupuy, p. 428.
radio communications between Adan and Southern Command became
increasingly bitter, and as the bickering continued, one of
Adan's brigade commanders sent his own message:
"You are arguing among you, and meanwhile my men
are being killed."8
In compliance with Southern Command orders, Adan now
reoriented his attack toward the Canal. One brigade moved
west with two battalions on line. Within minutes, one of the
battalions lost 20 tanks to missiles and RPG's. They fell
back, while Adan's other brigade, also with two battalions
forward, assumed the attack. One of these battalions,
receiving heavy fire, began to retreat. The remaining
battalion pressed on alone with no air and little artillery
support. They were crushed as they charged into the killing
ground established by the Egyptian 2nd Infantry Division.
Reduced to 120 tanks, with Egyptian pressure mounting,
Adan was now ordered to extend his front lines to cover the
gap left by Sharon's move to the south! Desperately, he
reorganized his forces into three brigades of only two
battalions each, and sent one brigade to the south. It
immediately came under attack by strong Egyptian forces. He
was now being assaulted by three Egyptian divisions. His area
of responsibility included 40 kilometers of the Israeli front
lines, and the only available reinforcement, Sharon's
8Adan., p. 127.
division, was moving away from the battle.
On the verge of retreating, Adan pleaded with Southern
Command for help. Gonen, who finally realized that he was
nearer defeat than victory, turned Sharon back to give
support to Adan's endangered left flank. The commitment of
one of Sharon's brigades allowed Adan to stabilize his
position, and hold in place9.
The Egyptians, taking advantage of the disorganized
Israeli attack, continued to consolidate bridgeheads and
advance where possible. By the morning of the 9th, they had
pushed forward to lines seven to ten kilometers from the
Canal, and had brought approximately 800 tanks and 90,000 men
to the east bank. The battles on the 8th had demonstrated
that they would not repeat the poor performance of the 1967
war, and had given the Egyptian soldier confidence in his
ability to stand against the Israelis10.
For the Israelis, the 8th was a severe shock. The day's
fighting had resulted in a clear tactical defeat, possibly
the worst in Israeli history. The performance of the Israeli
generals had been unmitigatingly poor. Gonen had wasted
forces in uncoordinated and confused attacks. Adan had failed
to coordinate the attack of his division, allowing it to be
defeated piecemeal. Sharon had resisted direction from
Southern Command and only exacerbated the poor coordination
9Dupuy. pp. 426-433.
10Dupuy. p. 470.
between divisions resulting from Gonen's plan. As a group,
the Israeli generals underestimated the capabilities of
Egyptian forces. Israel reacted with little or no
intelligence or reconnaissance, with negligible air and
artillery support, and with no infantry. They were saved from
disaster only by the fighting skills and courage of
individual Israeli officers and men11.
Stalemate: 9-13 October. For awhile, the situation in
the Sinai settled down to minor, if briefly intense,
engagements between the two armies. The Bar-Lev line forts
which remained in Israeli hands were under continuous attack.
On the 9th, Gonen authorized the garrisons to either
surrender or try to breakout to friendly lines. By the 13th,
all but one were controlled by the Egyptians12.
The Israelis were learning to deal with the new Egyptian
tactics, which, though effective, were yet too predictable.
As the vulnerability of unaided armor became apparent, they
began to employ artillery screens and infantry forces in
coordination with the tanks. Israeli tanks sought out hull
down positions, and planned for movement between hiding
11Even if the Israelis had succeeded in reaching the
Canal, the chances for a successful crossing would have been
poor. Post-war evaluation of the Egyptian bridges, which the
Israelis hoped to use, showed that they could not support
the heavy Israeli tanks.
12Ibid., p. 472-473.
places to confuse Egyptian gunners. Most importantly. the
Israelis began to operate carefully, with new respect for the
abilities of the Egyptian army.
Meanwhile, the internal battle between Sharon and Gonen
broke into the open. As a result of the defeat of the 8th,
Gonen issued orders for his division commanders to
consolidate positions until Southern Command could regain
strength and prepare for the next phase of the war. Sharon,
nonetheless, continued to engage in armed reconnaissance
along his front, with significant forces. When, on the 9th,
these units discovered a gap in the Egyptian lines13,14
near the northern edge of the Great Bitter Lake, Sharon
pressed Gonen to mount an immediate attack. In order to keep
the Egyptians from noticing his units along the Canal, Sharon
conducted a diversionary assault on Egyptian forces to the
north, incurring heavy Israeli losses.
Gonen was furious. He ordered Sharon to break off the
attack and withdraw his units. Instead of complying, Sharon
radioed directly to the Israeli GHQ, and presented his views.
Not unsurprisingly, Gonen would not tolerate such
13Sharon had found the boundary between the Egyptian
2nd and 3d Armies.
14Edgar O'Ballance, (No Victor. No Vanguished: The
Middle East War (San Rafael, Ca: Presidio Press, 1974)
p. 222) claims that the gap was located by American
insubordination. He requested Sharon' s relief.
Relieving Sharon was not simply a matter of military
discipline for the Israeli High Command. Politically, a
cashiered Sharon would become a time-bomb which would explode
in the inevitable review of the conduct of the war. Gonen was
not in a strong position. His performance had been mediocre,
at best. Dayan, to whom the question of Sharon's relief was
referred, decided that Sharon would remain. It was Gonen who
would be replaced. Lieutenant-General Haim Bar-Lev, a former
Chief of Staff and the current Minister of Trade and
Industry, was recalled to active duty and placed in command
of Southern Command. Gonen remained at Southern Command as
In the north, the war was not going so well for the Arab
coalition. Since the Syrian attack on the Golan Heights more
quickly threatened the Israeli homeland, the IDF had first
concentrated on eliminating that threat. By the 11th, the
Syrians were in trouble. Not only had Israeli armored units
come close to penetrating the main Syrian defensive line, but
the Israeli Air Force, having neutralized the AA defenses,
was loose over Syria, attacking key industrial, government,
and military targets. The Syrians appealed to the Egyptians
for help. They hoped that an increase in pressure in the
Sinai would force the Israelis to divert resources to the
15Chaim Herzog. The Arab-Israeli Wars (New York:
Random House, 1982) p. 255.
The Syrian request placed the Egyptians in a quandary.
Essentially, they had achieved their objectives, if they
could avoid a major defeat. The chief danger lay in an attack
which would move the Egyptians out from under their precious
SAM umbrella. Nonetheless, such a Syrian call for help could
not be ignored. The only hope for victory over Israel lay in
coordinated and combined action by the several Arab nations.
General Ismail ordered the Egyptians to attack.
The Egyptian Attack on the Passes: 14 October. In
preparation for the new assault, armored reserves of the two
Egyptian Armies passed over the Canal. This gave Shazli, the
Egyptian Chief of Staff, a force of nine divisions and one
independent brigade on the east bank16, but left only one
armored brigade and three mechanized infantry brigades on the
As in the cross-Canal assault, the Egyptians decided not
to concentrate for one principal attack. Instead, they would
send out brigades all along the front in order to confuse the
16The Egyptians were organized as follows:
2nd Army: 2nd, 16th, and 18th Infantry divisions, 23rd
Mechanized Division, 21st Armored Division, and one
independent infantry brigade. 3d Army: 7th and 19th
Infantry Divisions, 6th Mechanized Division, and the
4th Armored Division.
17Herzog. p. 257, and Adan, p. 252
Israeli counter-attack effort, and to find and pierce any
weak spot in the Israeli lines. Two brigades would attack in
the north, two in the center sections, and two in the south.
Their objectives were the three mountain passes which
controlled the Sinai: Mitla, Giddi, and Khatmia (figure (5)).
Even though the mission was patently offensive, the main
Egyptian concern continued to be preservation of their
position. Six brigades made the attack against the three
Israeli divisions. Over twenty others remained behind
The Egyptian attack was heralded by a violent artillery
bombardment in accordance with Soviet doctrine. At 0630, the
Egyptian attacked with tanks and armored personnel carriers,
but without dismounted infantry. This time, there was no
surprise. Firing from prepared positions, and using combined
arms tactics which they had developed since the war began,
the Israelis stopped, then turned the attackers. Israeli
artillery was effective in nullifying the BMP borne Sagger
teams, but the Egyptian artillery, without the benefit of the
detailed planning which had made it so deadly only eight days
earlier, merely obscured the already well-concealed Israeli
On the 14th, the Israeli Air Force was once again a
potent battlefield killer. The Egyptians had left most of
their new SA-6 SAM's on the west bank to reduce their
18Dupuy. p. 485-491.
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vulnerability to ground attack. This distant positioning,
however, also reduced their effectiveness. The trade-off was
not a good one for the exposed Egyptian armor.
The battlefield was a bedlam. In the largest tank battle
since World War II, the Egyptian force of 1,000 tanks and
5,000 mechanized infantry was pitted against 800 Israeli
tanks and their supporting infantry. Advances were
negligible, and, as the toll of the battle continued to rise,
Ismail recalled his brigades. By the end of the day, the
Egyptians had lost 260 tanks and had suffered over 1,000
casualties. The Israeli losses were 40 tanks19.
The Egyptian attack did nothing to lessen the pressure on
their Syrian allies. It did damage the confidence of the
Egyptian High Command. The Israelis, on the other hand, while
failing to take immediate advantage of their victory, were
confirmed in the opinion that the time was ripe for an
offensive. As the Egyptian tanks rumbled back, the Israeli
preparations for the charge to the Canal continued. 36 hours
later, they would be in Egypt.
19Dupuy. p. 487. A major Israeli advantage, noted
by many authors, was their ability to quickly return
damaged tanks to combat. Of the 40 tanks put out of
action on the 14th, all but six were soon back in
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
FOR THE COUNTER-ATTACK
Pre-War Planning and Preparation. Operation
Valiant1 did not spring, ready for battle, from the minds
of the Israeli Generals in October of 1973. Planning and
preparation for a Canal crossing began in 1967, when the
Israeli nation found itself pressed against water obstacles
for the first time. The Israeli strategy required any battle
be quickly carried to the enemy. To do that, it was now
necessary to be able to bridge the Suez Canal.
The Israelis began buying bridging equipment soon after
their victories in 1967. The principal acquisitions were
British Unifloat bridging sections, which could be joined to
form a bridge or, with the addition of ramps and a motor, be
combined into 60-ton, 45 foot long rafts. These iron floats
(each was 5 x 2.5 x 1.2 meters in size and weighed three
tons) were difficult to handle both in and out of the water.
They required huge trailers for their transport, as well as
1Some authors have mistakenly used "Operation Gazelle"
as the code name for the Israeli Canal crossing operation. In the
U.S. edition of Adan's book, On the Banks of the Suez, the
Hebrew "Abiray-Lev" is translated as Valiant. Dupuy (op. cit., p.
492) calls the crossing "Operation Strongheart".
considerable time and a large crane for assembly2.
Practically, the Israelis had to control the far side of any
water obstacle before they could begin to build their bridge,
and the crossing site could not be within enemy artillery
range. Since such circumstances were not likely, the Israelis
continued to try to improve their water-crossing
capabilities. Some of the unifloat sections were combined to
form permanent rafts, and special trailers were built for
transport. Eleven of these rafts could be joined to make a
bridge sufficiently long to span the Canal. Seven man crews
were assigned to each raft, and the raft and bridge sections
were combined into bridging units directly under the control
The new Israeli equipment was tested in the winter of
1971-2 during the IDF Exercise Oz. By flooding a small valley
in the northern Sinai, Sharon, then commanding Southern
Command, was able to create a Canal surrogate over which
crossing tactics and equipment could be evaluated. In a live
fire demonstration, paratroops in rubber rafts and infantry
in APC's crossed the water barrier and "seized" the opposite
side. The bridging equipment was then towed forward, and
within an hour the bridge had been emplaced.
2Adan. p. 245, and Lieutenant Colonel William G. Kosco,
"The 1973 Middle East War: An Engineer's View," The Military
Engineer, November-December 1979, p. 395.
3Kosco. p. 395.
Although the crossing exercise had been reasonably
successful, the Israelis were still not satisfied. The IDF
engineer corps, desiring a bridge with the capability of
spanning the Canal under fire, developed the Roller Assault
Bridge (RAB). This 200 foot long, 400 ton goliath was built
of 2 X 12 meter cylindrical float units, which also served as
rollers while the bridge was being moved into place. By plan,
this bridge would be assembled beyond the range of enemy
weapons. It could then be towed by 10 to 16 tanks to the edge
of the Canal. Once there, the bridge would roll down the band
and into the water, while one tank to the rear attempted to
govern its progress. This bridge was capable of immediately
carrying the heaviest Israeli tanks and self-propelled
artillery, and could be towed at speeds of up to 20 miles per
In practice, the bridge had severe problems. It took
three days to assemble, required a straight, specially
prepared road, and was very difficult to maneuver. While
being towed, it was vulnerable to breakdowns, and, with its
tow-tank escorts, made an impressive target. Finally, the
sixteen tanks needed to provide mobility were a significant
loss to the Israeli forces during the towing operation5.
The final additions to the Israeli array of bridging
equipment were twenty obsolete U. S. Army Gillois Amphibious
4Kosco. pp. 394-5.
5Adan. pp. 248-9.
River Crossing Equipment (ARCE) self-propelled rafts6.
These wheeled assault rafts were purchased as salvage in
Europe, then refurbished by the Israelis. They could quickly
reach the Canal, join into three-raft units, and carry tanks
over to support initial operations. Because of the inflatable
rubber flotation rings used for support, however, these rafts
were especially vulnerable to enemy fire7.
Even with the required bridging equipment, the Israeli
army could not cross the Canal without special preparations.
There were no roads to the Canal which met the requirements
of the RAB. Once there, the sandy terrain would not support
the concentration of men and equipment needed for such a
crossing. Most importantly, the high ramparts which had been
built by both sides along the Canal blocked access to the
water. As far back as 1970, Sharon had begun to prepare for
the eventuality of an Israeli crossing of the Suez Canal.
At several spots along the canal, Sharon had the ramparts
thinned so that bulldozers could quickly break through and
clear them. At these spots, hard surface "yards" were
constructed to support the bridgehead personnel and vehicles.
These areas were re-covered with sand, and marked with red
brick for identification. Finally, a road designed to the
specifications required for transport of the RAB was laid
through the desert from the small town of Tass to the most
6Kosco. p. 395.
7Adan. p. 249.
likely crossing site, on the northern edge of the Great
Bitter Lake8. In retrospect. Sharon's choice of location
would prove to be uncanny.
Planning and Preparation During the War. At the onset
of operations there was never any question in the minds of
the Israeli generals concerning whether they would attack to
cross the Canal. It was only a question of when, where, and
how. Gonen and the Southern Command staff set to work to
develop the plan.
Two sites were considered for a crossing. The first was
in the far north of the Canal, where relatively light
Egyptian forces and Limited avenues of approach from the
Egyptian side would permit the Israelis to quickly isolate
the area and gain a bridgehead. Unfortunately, the same
factors would limit the potential value of such an attack.
The Egyptian army would not be seriously affected, and
follow-on operations against the main Egyptian forces would
The other site was at the northern edge of the Great
Bitter Lake, where Sharon had detected the gap in the
Egyptian lines, and near which the majority of the Israeli
bridging equipment was conveniently staged. The small
Devesoir airfield, on the Egyptian side, could support
Israeli operations once it was secured. On the west bank,
8New York Times, 12 November 1973. p. 20, col. 1.
9Adan. pp. 250-1.
operations against the rear of either the second or Third
Armies would become possible. Even a thrust at Cairo could be
threatened. Finally, any crossing at this site would have its
left flank guarded by the Great Bitter Lake.
The risks, however, were significant. An attack toward
Devesoir would put the Israeli crossing force between the
Egyptian armies. A long and vulnerable corridor from the
Israeli lines to the west bank would hazard the effort. Until
Israeli armored units could cross and knock a hole in the
Egyptian AA system, there would be no air cover. Lastly, it
would be some time, even under the best of circumstances,
before a bridgehead secure from indirect fire could be
established. Until then, the crossing forces could be under
heavy artillery bombardment.
The decision to risk greatly in order to gain much was
typically Israeli. The crossing would be at Devesoir.
Furthermore, it would be made as soon as possible. Gonen
proposed a crossing date of 13 October. Bar-Lev agreed, then
flew to Tel Aviv on the 12th to present the plan to a war
counsel composed of himself, Dayan, Elazar, Tal (Elazar's
deputy), and Gonen. After gaining the approval of this group,
the plan was taken to Prime Minister Golda Meir.
The consensus was that Israel must quickly attack.
Although no one relished a charge into the teeth of prepared
Egyptian positions, the present stalemate was clearly
unacceptable. The plan was approved. Before Bar-Lev could
leave, however, new intelligence reports were received which
indicated that a major Egyptian attack could be expected on
The Egyptian attack was the answer to Israeli prayers.
Egyptian defensive positions would be thoroughly disorganized
after their assault. Most importantly, the Israelis would
have an opportunity to reduce Egyptian strength while risking
little of their own. The decision, then, was to let the
Egyptians throw the first punch. The Israeli offensive was
re-scheduled for the 15th of October.
The Egyptians and the Terrain. A review of the
Egyptian situation and the terrain over which the battle
would be fought will set the stage for the pending action.
Despite their defeat on the 14th, the Egyptians were
still a dangerous adversary. To the north of the corridor
chosen for the Israeli attack, the 21st Armored Division and
the 16th Infantry Division were reorganizing. The 21st had
been mauled during the attacks of the previous day, losing
over 100 tanks. Nonetheless, 200 remained. To the south, the
7th Infantry Division and the 25th Armored Brigade were also
settling in after their operations on the 14th10. The
total east bank Egyptian forces were five infantry divisions,
two armor divisions, and an indepedent armored brigade, with
a total of 650-700 tanks11.
10U. S. Army Command and General Staff College,
The Middle East War Reference Book 100-2, Vol I.
Fort Leavenworth Kansas, 1976) pp. 4-12 to 4-13.
11Adan. p. 252.
Across the Canal, the opposition was much lighter. The
principal units holding the gap between the 2nd and 3d
Egyptian Armies were the Ain Jolloud Brigade of the Palestine
Liberation Army and the Kuwait Yarmuk Brigade. Both were
lightly armed infantry units12. In the 2nd Army portion
of the west bank were two mechanized infantry brigades, while
the 3d Army west bank section contained one armor and one
mechanized brigade. In the Cairo area, maintained as GHQ
reserve, were five tank brigades and eight commando or
paratroop brigades. All in all, the Egyptians had
approximately 650 tanks west of the Canal, but only one
armored brigade on the west bank proper13.
The area over which Operation Valiant would be played out
is shown in figure (6). The principal roads in the area were
the Lexicon road, paralleling the Canal; the Artillery Road,
also parallel to the Canal but further east; the Akavish
road, running from Tass to the deserted Israeli fortress of
Lakekan; the Tirtur road, splitting from the more southerly
Akavish road and running to the crossing point near the
Matzmed fortress; and the Nahala road, connecting the Lakekan
and Matzmed fortresses. Off-road surfaces were often deep
sand, which restricted the mobility of even armored vehicles.
Tirtur was the road built by Sharon to carry the RAB. At
its end was the "yard" designed to hold the bridgehead, men,
12O'Ballance. p. 220.
13Adan. p. 252.
Click here to view image
and equipment. This brick covered area was 700 meters long by
150 meters wide, and was surrounded by a sand wall. It was
located between the Matzmed fort and the northern edge of the
Great Bitter Lake14.
Just north of the Talisman-Artillery road junction was
the Hamatul hill mass (the Egyptians called it Talia). To the
south was another bit of high ground known as Televisia. Both
14Dupuy. p. 494.
of these hills were held by the 16th Infantry Division. The
corridor formed by the Akavish and Tirtur roads was
overlooked from the north by a long ridge line known as
Missouri, and from the south by a smaller hill called Kishuf.
Finally, near the northeast of the junction of the Tirtur and
Lexicon roads was an abandoned experimental agricultural
complex known as Chinese Farm. This area was covered with
irrigation ditches and embankments which could provide
ready-made cover for infantry forces15.
The Plan. The Southern Command plan (figure (7))
called for Sharon's three brigades (with a total tank
strength of about 240), reinforced with a fourth paratroop
brigade, to attack to the west and open a corridor through
the Egyptian lines on the evening of the 15th. At the Canal,
the paratroops, in rubber rafts, and a tank battalion, on
self-propelled rafts, would cross and secure a bridgehead on
the west bank. Meanwhile, the RAB and the uniflost bridging
sections would be brought forward and put in place. All would
be completed by the morning of the 16th. One brigade of tanks
would then cross to expand the west bank bridgehead beyond
direct fire weapon range, while the remaining two tank
brigades held the corridor from the Israeli lines open.
Adan, now armed with three-full strength tank brigades
(total of about 200 tanks), would pass through the corridor
and cross to the west bank. Once in Egypt, he would attack
15Dupuy. pp. 493-4.
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either to the north to take the town of Ismailia and threaten
the 2nd Egyptian Army, or to the south towards Suez City and
the 3d Egyptian Army. Adan's west bank breakout was planned
for the evening of the 16th or the morning of the 17th. When
Adan's drive began, Sharon would be relieved from security
duties by the division commanded by Major General Magen (with
a tank strength of 140 tanks). Sharon would then follow
across the Canal to protect Adan's rear and provide
The Southern Command plan for the crossing was a simple
one Sharon's division plan was much less so. (Figure (8)).
Click here to view image
His northern-most brigade
was to attack to the north
against the Egyptian
positions at Talata and
Televisia in order to
divert attention from the
main effort. An hour later,
his second brigade,
reinforced with two
mechanized infantry and one
armored battalions, would
move to the southwest
toward the northern shore
of the Great Bitter Lake.
16Dupuy. pp. 492-3.
Once there, this brigade would divide into three segments,
with one tank battalion returning to the northeast to clear
the corridor for the follow on forces, three tank battalions
attacking to the north against the right flank of the 2nd
Egyptian Army in another diversionary move, and the three
mechanized infantry battalions remaining near the crossing
yard as the brigade reserve. Meanwhile, the paratroop
brigade, reinforced with a tank company, would be moving
toward the Canal. Once there, they would cross to seize a
bridgehead. The remaining armored brigade, in division
reserve, would follow after the paratroops, towing and
providing security for the RAB and other assorted bridging
The Israeli plan was bold. If it succeeded, they would
break into the rear of the Egyptian armies, threatening their
lines of communication as well as the Egyptian capital. The
Israelis could return to the mobile, hard-hitting tactics at
which they excelled. If they failed, the results might be
just as dramatic. Three quarters of the total Israeli force
in the Sinai would be caught between two Egyptian armies,
with no air support and potentially no line of retreat.
17Dupuy. pp. 495-6.
Attack and First Crossing: 15 - 16 October. No
military plan is ever executed completely according to plan.
Nonetheless, the divergence between the plan for Operation
Valiant and the event was remarkable. The initiative of the
israeli commanders, which has been both a curse and a
blessing, was be strained to the limit.
On the morning of the 15th, the Israeli forces deployed
for the advance. Southern Command had not specified routes of
advance1, causing the roads to the Canal to quickly
become entangled with masses of vehicles as combat units and
supporting equipment tried to reach their jumping off points.
Traffic control was poor to nonexistent. Localized Egyptian
attacks added to the confusion. By 1500, Sharon realized that
he could not meet the schedule appointed him by Southern
Command. Rather than risk cancellation of the mission, he
decided to continue apace and improvise2.
At 1700, Sharon's northernmost brigade, led by Colonel
Tuvia Raviv, launched its diversionary attack toward the
Egyptians at Talia and Televisia. As had been expected, it
1Adan. p. 256.
2Herzog. p. 262.
made little progress. It did serve, however, to divert
attention from the reinforced brigade commanded by Colonel
Reshef which had begun the approach down the Akavish Road an
Reshef's advance started smoothly enough. He met only
light patrols and had no difficulty in reaching the Matzmed
fort and the crossing yard. Reshef radioed back that the
Akavish Road was open, then began a diversionary attack to
the north with five battalions, as the brigade reconnaissance
battalion secured the yard area, and the remaining battalion
turned back along the Akavish Road to meet the advancing
paratroop brigade commanded by Colonel Matt. (Figure (9))
Click here to view image
Colonel Matt's beginnings had not been as auspicious.
Neither the transportation for his men nor the boats in which
he was to cross the Canal had arrived at his location at Tasa
as planned. Not to be stopped, Matt's men "borrowed" vehicles
meant for another unit, and sent out teams to locate and
bring forward the boats. It was not until 2230 that Matt's
brigade, with an attached tank company, began to move down
the Akavish road toward the Canal3. His progress was
excruciatingly slow. The road was jammed with Israeli
vehicles. Those without tracks which tried to move off the
road were quickly mired in loose sand4
The main force from Reshef's brigade, meanwhile, was
advancing to the north along the Lexicon Road and into the
rear of the Egyptian 2nd Army zone. Initially, the deep
penetration surprised the Egyptian outposts. There was little
fighting. At the junction of the Tirtur and Lexicon roads,
one armored battalion and one infantry battalion turned to
the northeast along Tirtur, while two armored battalions and
one infantry battalion continued the attack along Lexicon.
One infantry battalion stayed near the intersection as
Suddenly, explosions erupted all around Reshef, as the
Egyptians finally awoke to the intrusion. Reshef's seven
3Adan. p. 262.
4Herzog. p. 267.
5Dupuy. pp. 497-8.
battalions had stumbled upon the heart of both the 16th
Infantry Division and the 21st Armored Division. The
previously clear roads were now swarming with sagger and RPG
equipped soldiers. Chinese Farm, which dominated the Tirtur
road, was now seen to be held by at least a brigade of
Matt's force soon ran into the firestorm raised by the
attack to his north. Guided by Reshef, however, he was able
to avoid most of the fighting, and proceeded toward the
Canal. As Matt's brigade passed south of the Tirtur-Lexicon
road junction, he sent his attached tank company to the north
to secure that crossroads. They never returned. This company,
charging into the middle of the battle raging between
Reshef's brigade and the Egyptian forces, was destroyed to
the last tank.
Matt's brigade finally reached the crossing point shortly
after 0100 on the 16th. Sharon, traveling with a six APC
command group, had also arrived at the crossing site and was
supervising preparations for the crossing. Behind a heavy
artillery preparation, the first paratroopers boated over,
arriving on the west bank at 0135. There were no Egyptians.
25 minutes later, Sharon himself crossed. Dawn on the 16th
arrived with the entire paratroop brigade safely over the
Canal. Closely following was a company of tanks on rafts. The
Israelis were in Africa6.
6Dupuy. PP. 498-499.
If the situation seemed to be well in hand on the west
bank, it was just the opposite on the east bank. The
Tirtur-Lexicon junction, which had appeared to be undefended
when Reshef first crossed, was now held by strong Egyptian
forces. Realizing the criticality of opening the Tirtur Road,
Reshef attacked with battalion after battalion throughout the
night. Finally, just after dawn, a coordinated attack from
the west and south broke the defenders, who retreated to the
north. Reshef's advance east from the junction, however, was
quickly halted by heavy fire from Missouri ridge. Tirtur
remained closed. Reshef's brigade was decimated, with losses
of 60 of 100 tanks, and 120 men dead or missing7.
Opening the Corridor: 16 - 17 October. By plan, the
morning of the 16th should have seen an open corridor to the
crossing site, and at least one bridge over the Canal. It
soon became obvious that neither of these events were going
to occur on schedule. At the Southern Command headquarters,
Gonen, Bar-Lev, and Dayan listened to reports from Sharon's
units revealing the dangerous Canal-front situation.
The bridges and Gillois assault rafts were far from the
Canal. They had gotten stuck on the Akavish Road along with
hundreds of other vehicles. Worse, Erez's brigade from
Sharon's division was stuck along with it. It was decided to
send the mobile Gillois rafts ahead, over the sand dunes, to
support Matt's brigade on the west bank. By 0630, the Gillois
7Adan. p. 269.
had been formed into one one-tank and three two-tank rafts,
and had begun ferrying armor over the Canal8.
The RAB, meanwhile, was in serious trouble. Finally clear
of Akavish, the bridge had to traverse a series of shallow
slopes before it could reach Tirtur. One hill, however, was
not shallow enough. The tanks could not slow the bridge
sufficiently, and it broke loose. When it finally stopped, a
roller connection had snapped. Repairs, which would take
hours, had to be made before the trip could begin again. With
that, Sharon ordered Erez to leave the bridge and move to the
west bank. Erez did so, completing his crossing by 1000.
At Southern Command headquarters, the realization was
growing that Operation Valiant was bogging down. There was no
bridge, and there would be none for some time. Even if the
bridge was movable, the route to the canal was still blocked
except to armored vehicles. Without a secure line of supply
and reinforcement, adding more units to the exposed
bridgehead only increased potential losses. Bar-Lev ordered
Sharon to cross no more tanks9, and, with his remaining
8Adan. p. 271.
9Sharon was furious at this order. Even before the war
ended, he began accusing Bar-Lev, in the press, of ruining the
chances of victory by his over-cautious approach. It may be
noted, however, that Sharon was on the west bank, where
there was almost no opposition. Had he been experiencing the
bitter fighting on the east bank, he may not have felt so
east bank units, to capture the Chinese Farm position. Adan
was now directed to take charge of clearing the corridor and
transportation of the bridges10.
Adan's inspection of the Akavish Road revealed the
vulnerability of the Israeli operation. If the Egyptians
broke through from the north, or committed their air force, a
disaster might ensue. Even heavy artillery shelling would
cause many casualties. Adan assigned his Second in Command,
Brigadier General Dov Tamari, to take charge of traffic
control on the road. Sharon's second in command, Brigadier
General Jack Evans, assumed responsibility for moving the
Adan did not yet know that Southern Command had ordered a
halt to tank transfers over the Canal. Still following the
original plan, he sent an armored battalion, commanded by
Lieutenant Colonel Amir Jaffe, to the yard as his lead
crossing element. When this unit reached the Canal, they were
met by Sharon. He told them of the Southern Command ordered
halt, then called Adan to request that the battalion be
attached to his (Sharon's) division to help Reshef's brigade.
On hearing of the desperate situation at Tirtur Road, Adan
agreed. Sharon immediately sent Jaffe's battalion north,
where it went into action against the advancing Egyptian 14th
10Adan. pp. 271-4.
11Dupuy. p. 506.
Adan now committed his two armor brigades12, under
the command of Colonels Natke Baram and Gavriel Amir, to the
hills north of the Akavish-Tirtur road junction. Their
mission was to open the Tirtur road. When they advanced,
however, they were met by long range Sagger fire, and
indications of heavy Egyptian concentrations. The movement to
the west proceeded slowly, under heavy fire. The Egyptians
were making good use of the extensive network of ditches,
which extended south from Chinese Farm to the Akavish Road,
to provide cover and concealment for anti-tank missile teams.
Adan, realizing that his armor heavy units would not be. able
to advance without taking unacceptable losses, requested
infantry support to clear the ditches. An Airborne Infantry
brigade commanded by Colonel Uzzi Ya'iri was given the
mission13. The infantrymen, however, were then at
Refidim, 80 kilometers to the east of the Chinese Farm.
Boarding buses, they began the long drive to the front14.
12Adan's third brigade, commanded by Colonel Aryeh
Karen, had been retained as a reserve force by Southern
13There is some disagreement concerning the size of this
force. Dupuy (op. cit., p. 506) states that Ya'iri's entire
brigade was used for the attack. Adan (op. cit., p. 284-5), the
commander to whom the paratroops were attached, says that only a
battalion, accompanied by Ya'iri, was sent to him.
14Adan. p. 278-81.
Tamari, meanwhile, was making progress in unjamming the
traffic on Akavish. Using bulldozers to push vehicles off the
road, he was able to inch forward with the unifloat rafts.
Sharon was not pleased with his new orders. He mounted no
attack on Chinese Farm. Instead, he continued to push for
permission to bring the remainder of his tanks over the
Canal. His reserve brigade, under Colonel Tuvia Raviv, was
ordered to send one battalion to the RAB, and to move to the
crossing site with the others in preparation for crossing.
Although Sharon issued his directions as a warning order,
contingent upon Southern Command permission, it was clear
that he was still following his own scheme.
On the west bank, Sharon did not conform to traditional
procedures for establishing a bridgehead. Instead of
developing a defensive ring around the crossing site, he sent
out units to raid SAM sites and rear-area support facilities.
Sharon's units near the bridgehead were concealed in the
thick growth along the Sweetwater Canal which paralleled the
Suez in the West, and in the Deversoir airfield buildings. He
had still met no significant Arab forces15.
Southern Command found that even talking to Sharon was
difficult. When attempts to raise him were unsuccessful,
Gonen called Sharon's east bank brigade commanders. Their
orders from Sharon, in contradiction to Southern Command
direction, increased the developing friction between Southern
15Dupuy. p. 503-5.
Command and Sharon. Gonen ordered Raviv not to cross the
Canal without direct orders from southern Command16.
Serious consideration was now being given to cancelling
the entire operation. Dayan, at Southern Command
headquarters, had seen the grim situation on the roads as he
flew in. He, Bar-Lev, and Gonen agreed to concentrate on
securing the east bank before proceeding with the attack on
the west bank. Continuation of the mission would be
contingent on opening the corridor and putting the bridges in
place. If this could not be done, the forces on the west bank
would be recalled.
If the Israelis were concerned with the situation, the
Egyptians were not. Their lack of concern, however, was based
on ignorance. The Israeli diversionary attacks had mushroomed
into major battles, were serving their purpose. The Egyptians
thought that the aim of the east bank attacks was to roll up
the right flank of the 2d Army, and they were confident that
such an assault would be stopped. Whether by intent or
luck, Sharon's tactics on the west bank were also successful
in deceiving the sparse Egyptian forces. Reports to
Cairo17 from units in contact spoke of nothing more than
16Adan. p. 280.
17Unlike the Israelis, the Egyptian GHQ was never moved
close to the front. Even the force commander, General Shazli,
operated from Cairo until the Egyptians recognized the scope
and danger of the crossing. O'Ballance (op. cit. p. 334.) quotes
Ismail as follows concerning this arrangement:
"The distances were too small and a corps headquarters would
required an extra 100 staff officers which we did not have.
I did have a forward HQ, which both myself and Shazli visited
from time to time, and also a field GHQ, designed to move
forward if we advanced."
small numbers of amphibious tanks, which were purportedly
being destroyed by the Egyptian defenders. It was not until
the evening of the 16th that the Egyptians began to seriously
shell the bridgeheads on the east and west bank. Even then,
there was no real effort to concentrate forces against the
west bank Israelis18.
The Egyptians did have a plan to contain an Israeli
crossing. Called Plan 200, it mentioned three possible
crossing sites, one of which was near Deversoir. The 182nd
Paratroop Brigade was designated as the reaction force.
Neither of the armies, however, was given responsibility for
implementing the plan, and no rear area commander was
designated. As a consequence, the local unit commander was
the only one to take any action, and that was with company
size units. The commands which should have taken control of
the penetrated area at this point were the Army headquarters.
Despite the threat posed to both, neither chose to do
so19,20. The involved Egyptian command system also
contributed to the inflexible response. Orders with the
18Dupuy. p. 505.
19O'Ballance. p. 242.
20The 2nd Egyptian Army commander, General Mamoun, had had
a heart attack on the 13th. He was replaced by General Abdul Moneim
Khalil. After the war, this change in command was noted by the Egyp-
tians as a factor contributing to the lack of decisiveness shown
the Army commanders during this period.
signatures of four separate staff officers were required in
order to initiate an operation involving both the 2nd and 3d
If the tip of the knife had not yet touched a sensitive
area on the west bank, the same could not be said about the
blade's penetration to the east. The Egyptian reaction to the
Israeli wedge continued to be violent. In a planned pincer
movement designed to cut off the Israeli forces near the
Canal, the Egyptian GHQ ordered the 16th Infantry division to
attack to the south, and the 25th Independent Armor division
was directed to attack to the north22.
Adan, meanwhile, continued in his efforts to clear the
corridor and to move the recalcitrant bridges forward. The
RAB had, at length, been repaired. But the Tirtur Road was
still contested by the Egyptians.
The paratroopers were making slow progress in their move
toward the front. Although they had been expected at dusk, it
was 2200 before Colonel Ya'iri finally reached Adan's command
post. His troops landed soon after by helicopter (which had
finally been supplied when their buses became mired in the
road-jam). Adan briefed Ya'iri on his mission using a photo
map and 1:50,000 scale maps. There would be no tanks or APC's
because of the full moon. Surprisingly, the paratroopers had
brought no artillery officers. Rather than delay the attack
21USACGSC Reference Book, p. 4-14.
22Adan. p. 283.
for the hour needed to bring one forward from Adan's
batteries, it was agreed that Ya'iri would request fires over
Adan's division command net. Preparations proceeded with a
sense of urgency. If the mission could not be completed
during darkness, the paratroops would be exposed to the brunt
of the Egyptian fires from Missouri ridge. At midnight, with
no reconnaissance and too little preparation, Colonel Ya'iri
began to move down Tirtur Road23.
It soon became apparent that the infantry would not clear
the road in time. Adan ordered Ya'iri to narrow his front and
move faster. In desperation, he also sent a scout company in
APC's down the Akavish Road to probe for a hole.
At 0245, the paratroopers found the Egyptians. Artillery
began to land around them, and the volume of small arms fire
became heavy. Saggers, used against the infantrymen, made
movement even more difficult. Israeli artillery fire was
ineffective. Attempts to move around the left, then the right
flanks, of the Egyptian position were met with barrages of
fire. Casualties mounted.
As the infantry battle increased in intensity, the scout
company reported in. Amazingly, the Akavish Road was open all
the way to the Lexicon junction. Adan decided to push his
luck to the limit. He recalled the scout company, then sent
them back down the Akavish Road with the irreplaceable
unifloat rafts. A tank battalion from Baram's brigade was
23Adan. pp. 285-8.
detailed to cover their movement by traveling along the sand
dunes to the north of Akavish. Bulldozers were sent out to
clear the road of the wrecks from tank battles of previous
days. The convoy moved out at 0400, while the paratroopers'
desperate battle held the attention of the Egyptians. By 0630
on the 17th, the rafts had reached the Canal. Construction of
a bridge began immediately24.
With bridge emplacement finally under way, Adan turned
his full attention to opening the roads to the crossing site.
He sent his two tank brigades down the Akavish Road, then to
the north against the Egyptian positions. (Figure (10))
Click here to view image
They were met by major
elements of the Egyptian
16th Infantry and the 21st
Armor Divisions, who, in
compliance with the
Egyptian GHQ plan for
pinching off the Israeli
penetration, had begun
their attack to the south.
The two forces slammed
together between Akavish
and Tirtur, and began a
morning long battle which
see-sawed between the two
24Adan. pp. 290-91.
The Israeli brigades received help from an unexpected
direction. Since the morning of the 15th, Amir Jaffe's tank
battalion had been in battle against the Egyptian 14th
Armored Brigade. In a final encounter on the morning of the
17th, the 14th brigade broke, retreating to the north. Jaffe
then turned his men to the east, and hit the main Egyptian
force from the rear. The Egyptians began to pull back
grudgingly, allowing the Israeli brigades to move,
temporarily, into the Chinese Farm area26.
The advancing Israeli armor was a welcome sight to the
beleaguered paratroopers. Although the tankers were under
effective Sagger fire, they collected the infantrymen, then
pulled back to stronger positions on the Tirtur Road. In all,
the paratroopers lost 80 wounded and 40 killed, among which
were two company commanders27. Armor losses had also been
"In an area of about seven kilometers by three
kilometers a total of about 250 tanks had been
destroyed in about 36 hours of intensive fighting;
about two thirds of these were Egyptian."28
The Egyptian forces were far from defeated. They occupied
25Dupuy. p. 508.
26Herzog. p. 272.
27Adan. p. 294-5.
28Dupuy. p. 508.
strong positons on Missouri ridge, and along the northern
section of the Chinese Farm. From there, they could still
bring effective fire to bear on the Tirtur Road, now held by
the Israelis. The Akavish Road, however, was secure. At 1100,
the road was declared open to all traffic. The logistic
support needed to make the crossing viable began to pour
forward, and, with Bar-Lev's authorization, Sharon
transferred ten more tanks to the west bank29.
The reinforcements had not come too soon for Sharon. On
the morning of the 17th, the Egyptians finally focused heavy
artillery fire on both the east and west bank
bridgeheads30. The engineers took heavy casualties
struggling to assemble the unifloat bridge. Sharon, hoping to
take out some of the artillery positions, sent elements of
Matt's brigade in an attack to the north, while units from
Erez's brigade continued to roam in the Egyptian rear areas.
Matt's men soon ran into trouble. Near a position known
as Orcha, they were attacked by an Egyptian commando unit,
supported by artillery firing directly at the paratrooper
29Dupuy. p. 508. Adan (op. cit., p. 293) differs. He
states that the tank crossing was in violation of the still
in force ban on transfers.
30Adan (op. cit. p. 296) states that the Egyptians
had 21 light artillery, 5 medium, and 3 heavy batteries,
for a total of 144 pieces, which could bear on the
half-tracks. The paratroopers were pinned down for four hours
before an armored rescue unit managed to relieve them31.
Erez' force also drew a violent response. In the first
major west bank attack on the Israelis, the Egyptian 23rd
Armored Brigade charged into Erez' positions. The battle was
intense, but the Egyptians finally withdrew, having lost ten
As Adan was directing the battles in his division area, a
helicopter arrived at his command post. In it were Dayan,
Elazar, and Bar-Lev. Sharon soon appeared as well, having
traveled from the Yard in a half-track34.
Since the previous day, Dayan had been considering
canceling Operation Valiant. Reports which worked their way
up to Southern Command were relentlessly bad. The
paratroopers failure to clear the Chinese Farm area had made
up his mind. The assemblage of military leaders was intended
31Adan. p. 296-7.
32Herzog, p. 275.
33O'Ballance. p. 236. According to this author, the
Egyptian commander of the attack only fell back after re-
ceiving an order directly from "No. 10" (Ismail) to retreat
in order "to avoid creating a salient."
34The composition of Sharon's traveling party
is interesting. They included a reporter and senior
Israeli officers, not assigned to Sharon's division,
who were his friends. (Adan. p. 298.)
to begin planning for an Israeli retreat.
Adan, however, was not thinking of retreating. As he
spread his 1:50,000 map on the sand and explained the
situation, it became clear that the battle was finally
turning in favor of Israel. Within hours, a bridge would be
in place. The Akavish Road was finally open, and progress was
being made in the clearing of the Tirtur Road. As they
talked, a new report came in: the paratroopers at Chinese
Farm had been rescued. With that, talk of retreat ceased, and
the Israelis began to plan for the advance35.
Sharon, ever offensive-minded, called for a change to the
original plan. He proposed that Adan's division, instead of
passing through Sharon's positions, relieve the in-place west
bank forces. Sharon would then breakout from the bridgehead
and lead the attack to the south.
Adan would have none of it. He felt that his division had
done the dirty work, originally assigned to Sharon's
division, of opening the corridor and bringing up the
bridges. He was insistent that his division would now have
the position of honor in the attack. Elazar stepped in and
stopped the argument. Operation Valiant would go as planned.
Adan would cross and attack. Sharon would continue to hold
the bridgehead, and take responsibility for the security of
the corridor on the west bank. Raviv's brigade was returned
35Dupuy. p. 509.
to him for that purpose. Sharon, meanwhile, could re-commence
the ferrying of his tanks to the east bank, preparatory to
his follow on assault36.
Adan had one more job to finish before crossing over.
Even before the command post conference began, he had
received reports of a large tank formation advancing on the
Israeli corridor from the south. This was the Egyptian 25th
Independent Armor Brigade, with 100 T-62 tanks, finally
commencing the southern portion of an intended double pincer
attack on the Israeli penetration. By 1300, the dust cloud
from the Egyptian tanks could be seen at Adan's command post.
He moved out in an APC to personally direct the impending
The advance notice and long march required of the
Egyptians gave Adan the opportunity to set an effective trap
for the 25th Tank Brigade (figure (10)). Reshev, with one
battalion, was already at the Lakekan fort, directly in front
of the advancing Egyptians. Adan pulled Baram out of the
Chinese Farm battle, and sent him south with two battalions.
One of these moved up beside Reahev, while the other took up
positions on the right flank of the Egyptian line of march.
Finally, Karan's brigade, released from Southern Command
reserve, circled behind the Egyptians from the southeast.
As the 25th Armored Brigade traveled up Lexicon Road,
with the shore of the Great Bitter Lake on their left flank,
36Dupuy. p. 509.
they were advancing into a killing ground whose borders were
defined by the principal portions of three Israeli tank
brigades37. The outcome was never in question.
As the lead Egyptian tanks approached the Lakekan fort,
Baram and Reshev's battalions opened fire. An Egyptian
attempt to deploy away from the lake was met by fire from the
other tank battalion on their right flank. Soon thereafter,
Karen's brigade reached their positions, and opened fire from
the right rear of the Egyptians. In the confusion which
ensued, few managed to escape. More than 80 of the nearly 100
Egyptian tanks were destroyed in less than an hour. The only
Israeli losses were four tanks which ran into a minefield
while trying to pursue the disorganized Egyptians.
Adan had won the battle for the corridor. The commander
37The Egyptians claim that there were considerably more
than just tanks used in this ambush. O'Ballance cites Egyptian
sources which stated that most of the Egyptian tanks were
killed by TOW's, (Tube launched, Optically tracked, Wire guided
anti-tank missiles) recently supplied from the U.S., and flown to
the Sinai by helicopter just before the attack. (O'Ballance.
p. 234) Adan denies this, and Dupuy considers the use of TOW's on
the 17th to be unlikely. (Dupuy. p. 502.) Willmott, however,
flatly states that the Israelis used TOW's against the Egyp-
tians from the 16th on. (H. P. Willmott, "The Yom Kippur War,"
in War in Peace, ed. Sir Robert Thompson (New York: Crown,
1981), p. 238.)
whose performance on the 8th of October contributed to one of
Israel's worst defeats had totally redeemed himself.
"On the 16th and 17th, as on the 8th, combat
activity on the Sinai front was focussed on one
Israeli division: Adan's. While this division was
carrying the heaviest part of the fighting, other
Israeli units were doing their part. But just as
with the failure of Adan's division on October 8
Israel suffered the most crushing military defeat
in its history, so with the division's success on
the 17th came the most outstanding Israeli victory
of the war."38
By 1600, Adan and his men were on their way back to their
assembly areas to refuel and rearm, Karen returned to
Southern Command reserve, These preparations, however, were
not moving fast enough for the impatient Sharon. Immediately
after the battle, he radioed to Southern Command:
"Where is Bren (Adan)? Everything is ready. Where
is Bren? Why is he holding things up?"39
Adan was incensed at the radio call, which he intercepted
over the Southern Command command net. Indeed, the bridge was
finally ready to carry traffic. Before he crossed, though,
Adan had to ensure that the hard won positions on the
shoulders of the Israeli corridor remained secure. The units
which Sharon was to send to replace Adan's men had not
arrived. Until they did, Adan could not complete his
38Depuy. p. 511
39Depuy. p. 511.
The tension among the Israeli Generals increased as
Sharon, his attention riveted on the west bank, resisted
attempts to have his forces open the Tirtur Road. When
Bar-Lev applied pressure, Sharon turned to Dayan. The Defense
Minister took Sharon's part, and chided Bar-Lev and Gonen for
the delays. Adan, in turn, refused to begin crossing his
tanks until they were prepared. It was not until 2000 that
Raviv relieved Baram in his positions near Chinese Farm. At
2130, with some tanks still not completely refueled, Adan
ordered his brigades to move to the east40.
Traveling along the dunes south of Akavish, Adan arrived
at the bridge an hour later. He began to cross his forces,
still bickering with Southern Command and Sharon over the
latter's refusal to return Jaffre's battalion. Adan was among
the first to cross. Under a full moon, the bridgeheads were
quiet; too quiet on the west bank. Instead of the guides Adan
had expected to lead his men into position, there was no one.
Only after Adan contacted Sharon's headquarters did Colonel
Erez appear to bring Adan forward. He arrived none too soon.
Artillery shells began to pour into the bridgehead as the
tanks from Amir's brigade were crossing the bridge.
Initially, the barrage was not the principal problem.
After only two tanks had crossed, the connections between two
floats of te bridge snapped. The traffic waiting to cross
40Adan. p. 306-8.
piled up, making an inviting target for the Egyptian
artillery. Adan quickly ordered his men to continue the
crossing using the Gillois rafts while the engineers tried to
repair the damage. Adan himself solved the problem. He
ordered a bridging tank forward, and soon the gap was spanned
by an Assault Vehicle Launched Bridge (AVLB)41.
With artillery shells and Katyusha rockets thundering
around them, Amir's tanks returned to the bridge and
completed their crossing. By 0235, all of his armor had
reached the west bank, despite the sinking by artillery of a
Gillois raft. The artillery attack ended around 0315, and
Baram quickly brought his men over. Both brigades and a
battalion of self-propelled artillery were on the west bank
and in staging areas by 051542.
Breakout: October 18 - 19. As previously noted, the
Suez Canal is paralleled in the west by a fresh water canal
and irrigation system from Ismailia, near the center of the
Canal, to Suez City in the south, A heavily cultivated "green
belt:, covered with thick vegetation, extends from the fresh
water canal west for distances of 100 to 5,000 meters43.
41The AVLB is a metal bridge mounted on a tank chassis.
It is driven up to a gap, then automatically unfolded and
extended from bank to bank. The chassis is then detached.
The AVLB does not float.
42Adan. p. 312-3.
43USACGSC Ref Book, p. 4-4, and Dupuy. p. 514.
Click here to view image
Sharon was to have included the green belt in his bridgehead
in order to establish a strong position from which Adan could
begin his attack. In fact, Sharon had only moved to the
eastern edge of the fresh water canal, leaving the green belt
to the Egyptians. Adan's first battle would be to reach the
Sharon, meanwhile, had finally obtained an attack of his
own. Although his division still straddled the Canal, with
one brigade on the east bank (Raviv) and two on the west
bank, Sharon requested and received permission to attack
north on the west bank toward Ismailia and the 2nd Egyptian
Army. Conceptually, Sharon envisioned a wide sweep around the
rear of the 2nd Army, eventually reaching the Mediterranean
and cutting them off. Southern Command, however, was not
quite so ambitious. Sharon could attack toward Ismailia, but
he must also clean up the Missouri Ridge position on the east
bank, and maintain security for the bridges. Magen's
division, which had previously been assigned to guard the
corridor and bridgeheads, would assume Sharon's old mission
of providing security and depth for Adan's assault to the
44Dupuy. p. 516. Bar-Lev recognized the obvious
disadvantages of this split in the Israeli effort.
The change in plan was approved, in large part, in
an attempt to quiet the irascible Sharon. Unfortu-
nately for Southern Command, Sharon continued to be
just as difficult to deal with.
Issuing his orders over the radio, Adan launched a
two-pronged attack to the west at 0545. Baram was on the
north flank, and Amir the south. Each had an artillery
battalion in direct support. They used Bailey bridges or
existing small stone bridges to cross the ten meter fresh
water canal, and moved into the green belt. Contact was
immediate. Although the Egyptians had still not deployed
large units against the Israeli bridgehead, those which were
in place had had time to chose and develop good positions.
Dense vegetation and irrigation canals aided the defenders.
Within minutes, both brigades began to lose tanks to Saggers
and Egyptian tanks firing from well concealed emplacements.
Baram advanced quickly. Despite an ambush by an Egyptian
tank battalion, he cleared the green belt and took up
positions on a hill five kilometers to the west by 0800. From
the heights, he fought off Egyptian infantry and armored
Amir was not so successful. His road-bound forces were
pinned down by infantry hidden in the thick growth across the
fresh water canal, and by tank positions on his left flank.
Unable to advance and taking heavy casualties, he called for
infantry reinforcement, and then sent a tank battalion around
the flank of the Egyptian position to his south. The flanking
movement cleared away the enemy armor, allowing the arriving
paratroopers to attack and seize the infantry positions.
Finally able to cross the stone bridge, Amir's tanks ran into
still more tanks, missiles, and anti-tank guns firing from an
Egyptian position called Tsach. This stronghold was too much
for the brigade. Amir despersed his tanks among the trees,
while Adan developed a coordinated divisional attack against
the Egyptians strongpoint.
The Tsach position was a stong one, dominating all of
the approaches. Adan needed more punch if he was to either
take or by-pass it. He requested and received his own third
brigade (Karen's) which had been in Southern Command reserve.
While Karen was pushing west, Adan, on Gonen's orders,
sent tank raids against the Egyptian SAM sites. The tankers
concentrated on knocking out the vulnerable radar equipment
from long distances, avoiding the anti-tank defenses.
Although only three or four missile batteries were destroyed,
the attacks struck an exposed Egyptian nerve. The SAM's were
soon pulled back to less threatened, but also less effective,
In Cairo, serious attention was finally being given to
the Israeli presence on the west bank. Soviet Premier Kosygin
had arrived on the 16th. He brought satellite photographs
showing the bridge in place with many Israeli armored
vehicles on the east bank46. Ismail sent General Shazli,
the Chief of Staff, to the front to investigate47. What
45Adan. p. 320
46O'Ballance. p. 241.
47This may be contrasted with the Israeli practice
of front line leadership. Earlier in the day, Dayan had
nearly been injured when an Egyptian helicopter dropped a
napalm barrel near him at Adan's command post on the east
bank. Throughout the war, both Dayan and Elazar, his Chief
of Staff, regularly visited the forward units.
Shazli found shocked him from his complacency. It was obvious
that the Israeli attack posed a major danger to both Egyptian
armies. When he returned to GHQ, he recommended pulling three
to four armored brigades back from the east bank to contain
the Israeli offensive. Ismail refused. His focus was still on
the political value of the Egyptian gains in the expected
negotiations following the war. Moreover, the spectre of the
panic which had followed the retreat order in 1967 was in his
mind. The Egyptians simply could not pull back their forces,
even for a tactical counter-attack48. He did, however,
order the 23rd tank brigade and the 150th paratroop brigade
forward from GHQ strategic reserve. The remaining east bank
forces were concentrated against the Israeli
bridgehead49. These actions were not enough for Shazli.
In the argument which followed, disagreement turned to
hostility. Ismail ordered Shazli to wait for him in the
command post, the called Sadat and requested his presence at
the headquarters. When Sadat arrived, the generals presented
their opposing views. Sadat agree with Ismail, and Shazli
In the discussion which followed Shazli's relief, Sadat
and Ismail agreed to seek an end to the war. This was
especially difficult for Sadat, since he had been resisting
48O'Ballance. p. 245.
49Adan. p. 314.
50Dupuy. p. 518-9.
Soviet attempts to impose such a halt to the fighting almost
from the first day of the war. Nonetheless, the political
gains which could be realized if Egypt's position remained
reasonably intact overweighed any possible gains from
continued combat. Sadat instructed the Soviets and the
Syrians that Egypt would now accept a ceasefire51.
Sharon's forces were especially busy on the 18th. When
Raviv's brigade attacked toward Chinese Farm that morning,
they found that the Egyptians had abandoned most of their
positions. They cleared an area north of the road sufficient
to permit engineers to commence clearing mines. By 1100, the
road was open, and the RAB began to roll once more. It
51Dupuy. p. 519. Sadat sent the following telegram to
President Assad of Syria: "We have fought Israel to the fif-
teenth day. In the first four days Israel was alone, so we
were able to expose her position on both fronts. On their ad-
mission the enemy have lost 800 tanks and two hundred planes.
But during the last ten days I have, on the Egyptian front,
been fighting the United States as well, through the arms it
is sending. To put it bluntly, I cannot fight the United States
or accept the responsibility before history for the destruction
of our armed forces for a second time. I have therefore in-
formed the Soviet Union that I am prepared to accept a cease-
fire on existing positions..." Although Assad strongly objected
to such a move, the Soviets quickly arranged meetings with the
United States in support of the Egyptian request.
reached the crossing site at nightfall, and by midnight was
in position about one kilometer north of the first bridge. It
began carrying traffic the next morning. It had not arrived
too soon. By nightfall, all but one Gillois rafts had been
sunk. One of these had taken two tanks and their crews with
it to the bottom of the Canal.
Missouri ridge remained a problem. From that position,
the Egyptians could fire, and direct fire, on the Israelis in
the corridor. Sharon's remaining forces on the west bank were
unable to take the position, and settled in about one
kilometer north of Chinese Farm.
On the west bank, Sharon had little success. The
paratroop brigade was unable to move against strong enemy
positions, and Erez' tank brigade made only limited progress
Israeli reinforcements and supplies poured in along with
Karen's brigade during the evening. The trip west had been
hectic, with the roads jammed with supply convoys and under
heavy artillery fire. Magen's division, also moving west in
preparation for the next day's operations, added to the
Re-supplying, repairs, and planning were done under
intense artillery bombardment. Especially for the ammunition
and fuel crews, the evening was nightmarish.
52Adan p. 326-8.
"There were many casualties among the logistics
personnel, and control difficulties grew. Every
time the shells started landing near the convoy
vehicles, the drivers would leap out and scatter in
every direction, trying to take cover as far as
possible from the trucks loaded with fuel and
ammunition. Reassembling in the dark was difficult
By morning, though not as ready as he would have wished
to be, Adan was prepared for the breakout effort. He had
three armored brigades, with 170 tanks. Magen was also across
the Canal, and Sharon was poised for his strike to the north.
There was no longer any question of whether or not Operation
Valiant would go. It was only a question of how far.
Encirclement of the 3d Army: 19-25 October54.
Adan considered the Geneifa Hills, located about 20
kilometers to his south, to be the key to an effective attack
into the rear of the 3d Army. If the Egyptians occupied and
prepared these heights, the assault could be slow and
difficult. Consequently, he left a small holding force before
the Egyptians at Tsach, and aimed his briades to the south
for a concentrated blow. His aim was to quickly by-pass the
Egyptian strongholds, and occupy the Geneifa Hills before the
Egyptians recognized his object. Magen would follow behind
and clear up the by-passed pockets55.
53Adan. p. 328.
54The story of this last phase of the war is sum-
marized from Dupuy (op. cit. pp. 521-9 and 538-46).
55Dupuy. p. 523.
Adan attacked in an arc, first to the west and then to
the south, with Baram and Amir in the lead, and Karen in the
rear. Magen, able to move around the flank of the Tsach
position, captured it fairly quickly and opened a major road
junction. Adan pushed ahead, and although he encountered
strong Egyptian resistance, he was able to overcome or
by-pass it. By evening, he had established himself in the
foot hills of the Geneifa region.
Magen, meanwhile, had advanced well to the east in order
to protect Adan's rear and flank. His position, less than 100
kilometers from Cairo, added to the Egyptian confusion about
the ultimate goal of the bold Israeli thrust.
On the 20th, Adan and Magen continued their drive to the
south. Their effectiveness increased dramatically with the
return of the Israeli Air Force, able to operate more freely
now that the SAM system had been punctured. Adan's tanks
secured the Geneifa hills by evening, and took control of the
Asor Road, one of the major arteries from Cairo to the front.
On the 21st, the town and airport of Fayid fell, opening
effective air and land supply routes for Adan. Baram and
Karen's brigades pressed on, hoping to close the last supply
route from Cairo to the 3d Army and town of Suez, the
Sarag Road. The Egyptians, recognizing this threat, mounted a
determined defense with two brigades of the 4th Armored
Division. This force stopped Adan 10 kilometers short of the
road. Nonetheless, long range Israeli fires made movement
along the road difficult for the Egyptians.
On the 22nd, Adan was informed that a ceasefire would be
imposed around 1800 that evening. In order to gain the
greatest amount of territory, Adan sent Baram with Magen's
division to the west in another effort to cut the Sarag Road.
With his two remaining brigades, he attempted to reach Suez
City to the south.
Magen was quickly successful in cutting the Sarag Road.
Baram then returned to reinforce Adan's attack in the south,
which was stalled by stong Egyptian resistance. As the
ceasefire neared, Adan decided to try, once more, the
full-fledged tank charge which had been the Israeli forte in
1967. He turned to the east, toward the south shore of the
Great Bitter Lake, and with all three brigades on line,
roared into the desert. The result was an armored melee as
the Israelis broke into the rear area of the 3d Army.
Although the Egyptians fought bravely, Adan's forces were
able to reach the green belt and cut off the Egyptians to the
Sharon's attacks in the north, toward the town of
Ismailia, gained much less ground. The Egyptian 182nd
Paratroop Brigade had arrived to bolster the southern flank
56The Egyptians dispute the Israeli claim of control
in this area. Adan's by-passing of units had left strong Egyp-
tians forces along his trail, who did not consider themselves
of the 2nd Army's on the west bank position. Matt's
paratroopers and Reshev's tank bigade, in a four day battle
from 18 to 22 October, were unable to make any significant
progress against the Egyptian positions, and sustained heavy
casualties in the attempt. By the ceasefire on the 22nd, they
were still 10 kilometers south of Ismailia57.
In Adan's sector, there was little chance the cease fire
would hold. After his wild charge, Israeli and Egyptian units
were scattered over the battlefield, with no clear lines
between them. Fire fights broke out regularly as both sides
tried to consolidate and link up. With these skirmishes as an
excuse, the Israelis continued their attack on the 23rd.
Their objective was to complete the encirclement of the 3d
Egyptian Army, and to capture Suez City.
Reinforced by an improvised mechanized infantry brigade
transported in captured Egyptian APC's and commanded by his
second in command, General Tamari, Adan first concentrated on
opening his lines of supply to the north. Around noon, he
again used a tank charge, this time with Amir and Karen's
brigades, and set off for Suez City. The battle was a
difficult one, but by avoiding strongpoints Adan was able to
57Sharon claimed that his lack of success was princi-
pally the result of politically motivated interference from
Southern Command. Often during this period, he would call
directly to Dayan and have Southern Command orders counter-
manded. Bar-Lev's attemts to have him relieved were rejected.
bring both brigades to the outskirts of Suez City by dark.
To the west, Magen made his own daring advance. He
established a strong position on the Sarag Road at the
kilometer 101 marker, then pushed an armored brigade toward
the Gulf of Suez. During the evening of 23-24 October, the 17
tank remnant of this brigade, with headlights on to gain
speed, rumbled into the town of Ras Adabiya on the shore of
the Gulf of Suez. The 3d Egyptian Army was trapped.
On the 24th, the UN Security Council tried once more to
establish a ceasefire. In an attempt to gain control of Suez
City before the arrival of UN observers, Adan launched an
attack into the town. It was a mistake. The Egyptians held
the tank units to slight gains, and forced the accompanying
infantry to break up into separated company size pockets.
These barely escaped and suffered heavy casualties in the
Despite repeated breakdowns of the ceasefires, and
repeated Israeli attempts, on the 25th and 28th of October,
to overrn Suez City, the lines upon which the Israel and
Egypt would end the war had finally been drawn. Operation
Valiant was over.
In terms of military results, Operation Valiant was a
major Israeli success. Audacity and courage changed the
situation in the Sinai from an incipient Egyptian victory to,
at the least, a draw. Nonetheless, this is not a model to
copy without reservation. Operation Valiant enjoyed a degree
of serendipity sufficient to encourage conversion to judaism.
Despite this good fortune, the entire journey to Suez City
was made with one track on the edge of the cliff. If the
crossing site selected before the war had not coincided with
an Egyptian force vacuum; if the Egyptians had not made
their ill-fated attack on the 14th; if the Egyptians had
not tailed to recognize the seriousness of the crossing for
an incredible three days... Certainly, Operation Valiant had
much to commend it, but its lessons are not all positive.
Planning and Preparation. Throughout the period from
1967 to 1973, the Israelis underestimated Egypt, assuming
that she would not correct the glaring problems which
lessened her combat effectiveness. There was a name for this
denigration: the "collapse theory". Operating under this
banner, Israeli military leaders assumed that the Egyptian
forces would fall apart as soon as they were dealt a strong
blow. as they had in 1967.
The Israeli commanders, most of whom had fought
successfully as independent task force leaders behind enemy
lines, came to believe entirely in their individual military
judgement. Confidence is desirable, but in this instance it
appears that it was achieved at the cost of cooperation. The
tendency of the Israeli generals to become "prima donnas" was
reinforced by the political environment in which they
Israel carried more than assumptions of superiority from
the 1967 war. As has been noted, the doctine of immediate
offensive action on enemy soil became sacrosanct. Their
dedication to the offense was comparable to, and at times as
self-destructive as, French attitudes prior to World War I.
This orientation, along with the political hazards inherent
in even a temporary Egyptian seizure of the canal, locked
them into what was actually an area defense. They were poorly
suited for such a strategy.
Tanks and aircraft had been the dominant weapons in 1967.
The doctrine, organization, and armament of the IDF resulting
from the Six Day War ensured that they would remain so in the
future. Doctrinally, the Israelis had come to rely almost
exclusively on the tank attack, supported only by the IAF.
Tank battalions and brigades were stripped of all impediments
to rapid advance, becoming almost pure armor instruments.
Including in this purification were most of the organic
mortars which had provided a base of fire for the
tankers1. The majority of Israeli money went into
1Luttwak and Horowitz. p. 363.
upgrading the armor and air components of the IDF, with the
consequence that there was little funding left for the rest.
The infantry suffered the most. Not only were most units
lift with antique half-track armored cars and buses for
trasportation, but the pride of the Israeli manpower was
channeled into the IAF and the armored divisions. There were
no more infantry organizations higher than brigade level, and
few of these.
"By 1973 most infantry brigades had been converted
to armour; as distince from at least seventeen
brigade-equivalents of armour, there were
reportedly only three paratroop and a few
first-line infantry brigades, including the Golani,
the training brigade of the conscript infantry.
Much of the rest of the infantry, 'motorized' with
conscripted civilian buses or trucks, was made up
of second line troops."2
Training of the armored division infantry brigades and
battalions was often poor. Concentration was on developing
the ability of nearly tank-pure units to make swift charges
through the enemy lines and into his rear. The infantry, it
was assumed, would come along, with little attention to
tank-infantry coordination. No more time was allocated for
training of the mechanized infantryman than was provided for
the footmobile troops3.
2Luttwak and Horowitz. p. 370.
3Adan. p. 212.
Certainly, not all of Iarael's military activity before
the war was poor. Sharon's prescient preparations for the
Canal crossing were outstanding examples of sound planning.
Without the previoualy readied yard and thinned Canal
ramparts, the specially prepared road, and the pre-staged
bridging equipment, the crossing would have been much harder,
if possible at all.
The Israelis recognized that their bridging equipment was
barely adequate. Assault bridging capability, in particular,
was poor with only the RAB having even the potential of being
emplaced under fire. This equipment must be considered,
however, in light of the arms embargos which numerous
countries placed on Israel, and the difficult choices which
Israel faced allocating her scarce funds.
Israeli pre-war planning for the crossing of the Suez
Canal does not appear to have gone much beyond these bare
bones elements of a bridging operation. Certainly, there was
little attention to developing a road network and logistics
system which would support operations on the west bank. It is
equally clear that there was little attention to creating a
plan for command and control of the bridgehead and attack
elements. To be fair, however, the Israeli Generals never
expected to have to fight their way to the east bank
before they crossed. The need to maintain two bridgeheads,
and supply them via a forced corridor through Egyptian-held
territory was entirely unforseen.
Planning and Preparation During the War. Israeli
plans during the 1973 war were characterized by boldness and
emphasis on maneuver to achieve surprise and shock effect.
However, they typically underestimated the Egyptians, showed
poor attention to detail in command and control, and failed
to provide for adequate logistics support. Both the Israeli
counterattack of 8 October and Operation Valiant illustrate
The "mission-type" order issued by Gonen to launch Adan's
a October charge against the Egyptians shows the Israeli
planning process at its worst. It was simplistic to a fault,
and provided little of the coordination and control
instruction needed by the Israeli commanders. Beyond mission
statements and diagrammed axes of advance, there was scant
substance. All of these problems were worsened by the
decision not to deliver physical copies of the order,
especially since major changes in concept had occurred since
the planning conference the day before. Although a canal
crossing and attack into the Egyptian rear was envisioned,
there was no mention of logistics support or supply routes to
be opened. In the tradition of the 1967 war, all was left to
the local commander's initiative.
The mission was vague in the extreme: mopping up the
zone between artillery road and the Canal...", "readiness for
a crossing to the other side of the canal.", "containment in
the west and reserve". The problems with such orders were
"...paratroop officers complained that their
colleagues in the Armour Corps do not plan their
battles...that the tank commanders simply advanced
and attacked without thought or method."4
As a generalization, this is an overly heavy indictment
of the armor corps. In those circumstances where a
breakthrough was possible, such loose planning supported the
rapid decisions and initiative which could turn a small gain
into a rout. There were occasions, however, when more
detailed and controlled plans were required. The inability of
the Armor Corps officers to conduct such planning was a
The plan for Operation Valiant, although it enjoyed more
success, was similarly weak in command, control, and
logistics. Procedures for controlling traffic on the routes
to the crossing site appear to have been given little
attention. Sharon's responsibilities for securing the
corridor and bridgehead, and for preparing for follow-on
operations, were covered as generalities. Once again, each
Israeli commander was given almost complete freedom of
action. In a battle which required the closest cooperation
between divisions, such an approach guaranteed problems.
Despite these criticisms, the Israeli planners deserve
respect. Operating under fire and near exhaustion, they
4Luttwak and Horowitz. p. 369.
responded to the ever-changing battlefield situation with
plans which, though not unflawed, did achieve their
objective. The flexibility and responsiveness of the Israeli
staffs, at all levels, stands in stark contrast to the
rigidity of the Egyptian planners.
Tactics. The Israeli emphasis on individual
initiative produced many tactical victories. Such a
philosophy was necessary in order to offset the Arab
superiority in numbers. There was, however, a cost: poor
Most serious for the Israelis was a reduced ability to
conduct operations which required close cooperation between
units, arms, and support agencies. The formation of what were
essentially uni-arm units and an atrophied logistics system
increased the difficulties.
Both the initial counterattacks on 6 October, and the
Adan attacks on 8 October demonstrated this Israeli weakness.
They were largely unsupported tank charges, without the
degree of multi-arm orchestration needed to defeat a modern,
well prepared defense.
This is not to say that the Israelis refused to learn.
Their defensive battle against the 14 October Egyptian attack
was an excellent example of combined arms tactics. Artillery
obscured the vision of the Egyptian gunners and distracted
them as they fired missiles. Infantry in armored vehicles
used small arms to prevent deployment of the Egyptian
infantrymen. Aircraft, working closely with artillery, took
out many tanks, while Israeli armor effectively worked within
the cover provided by these supporting arms to destroy most
of the Arab armored vehicles.
In Operation Valiant. however, the Israelis returned to a
single arm offense. Although artillery was used more
effectively, it still was not closely integrated with
maneuver. Coordinated infantry-armor attacks were simply not
used. If infantry was required, the armor would fall back
until the infantry, unaided, had cleared the axis of advance.
Then it would charge on. The paratroop brigade attack on
Chinese Farm during the period 16 - 17 October is an example
of how not to conduct combined arms operations. Once over the
Canal and out of the green belt, Adan returned to pure tank
charges, with the infantry again assigned to clean up
The reason for this regression was not intransigence. By
this point, the Israelis recognized the danger of unsupported
attacks, and had identified the solution. Unfortunately,
post-1967 organization, training, and armament had made it
very difficult for them to operate as a combined arms team.
Organic indirect fire assets had been removed from the
brigades, to include forward observers in some instances. The
infantry was neither trained nor equipped to for combined
attacks with armor. The IAF had not developed tactics which
gave the other arms a role in suppressing air defenses5.
This ragged cooperation extended beyond combined arms
issues. Too often, cooperation between units was defective.
In the 8 October counter-offensive, Gonen attacked with only
one of his three divisions (Adan's), Adan attacked with only
one of his brigades, and the brigade commander attacked with
only one of his battalions. The result was that only one
battalion from Adan's division faced the firepower of an
entire Egyptian division, with predictable consequences. Adan
candidly recognized his shortcomings:
"I do not shirk responsibility for what happened in
my division. The running of the battle was faulty;
my coordination and control were insufficient. In
5It is ironic that the Israelis were fighting in nearly
the same arena in which the British had been painfully
schooled in the need for combined arms tactics three
decades earlier. General Gott, General Officer Commanding
7th Armoured Division in the 1941 "Crusader" battle against
Rommel wrote of that operation:
"The German will not commit himself to tank versus tank
battle as such. In every phase of battle he co-ordinates
the action of his anti-tank guns, Field Artillery and In-
fantry with the tanks and he will not be drawn from this
policy." Correlli Barnett. The Desert Generals. (New
York: Viking Press, 1960) p. 105.
the second attack I was unable to prevent a
situation in which Natke's brigade made an assault
on its own. The brigade commanders were also at
fault in coordination and control. Gabi, Natke, and
Nir did not succeed in preventing an assault by
just one battalion from their brigades."6
Sharon's cross-canal charge on the 15th, and his
subsequent failure to secure the corridor on the 16th, were
also examples of poor control and coordination. Essentially,
only one of Sharon's three tank brigades carried the brunt of
the fighting on the 15th. That brigade further sub-divided
its efforts by sending battalions off in five different
directions, three of which resulted in major engagements. The
chance arrival of a battalion from Adan's division, which
surely was not part of Sharon's plan, probably saved the
Once over the Canal, Sharon's attention was hypnotically
focused on the Egyptians to his front. He essentially
abdicated his responsibilities for opening and securing the
east bank corridor and bridgehead. On the west bank, instead
of developing a true bridgehead, Sharon concentrated on raids
into the enemy rear, using dispersion and concealment to
avoid the artillery attacks he could not prevent. His tactics
were successful, in that the Egyptians did not recognize the
magnitude of the crossing until it was too late. However,
this was more a function of Egyptian mistakes than of
Sharon's tactics. Had the Egyptians attacked on the west bank
6Adan. PP 159-160.
in force prior to the 19th, the lack of a secure bridgehead
could have been disastrous.
Certainly, not all of the Israeli battles from 6 to 25
October can be criticized for this same failing. Adan's
magnificent fight on the 17th, during which he simultaneously
cleared the Akavish Road and destroyed the 25th Egyptian
Armored Brigade, was a model of effective and efficient use
of forces. His west bank charge to the south was also
extremely well done, with Adan coordinating not only his
units, but Magen's. In these instances, the Israelis
demonstrated the value of their favored tactics under the
proper conditions. Essentially, such circumstances included:
a turnable flank or penetratable line; a vulnerable rear area
which could be reached quickly; and room to maneuver once the
breakthrough had occurred. Once over the Canal, this
situation existed. On the east bank, it did not.
Command and Control. In a very interesting study, the
Historical Evaluation and Research Organization (HERO)
analysed the relative combat performance of Egyptian and
Israeli units during the 1967 and 1973 wars7. The study
results did not support popular conceptions.
7Historical Evaluation and Research Organization.
Comparative Analysis: Arab and Israeli Combat Performance.
1967 and 1973 Wars. Defense Nuclear Agency Report No.
DNA001-76-A-0089-0001 (Washington, D.C., 1976).
"The significant thing is that, although the
differential was still close to the same-about (a)
two-to-one factor in favor of the Israelis-the gap
had not narrowed between 1967 and 1973; if anything
it had widened. This is completely contradictory to
the conventional reasoning, which has suggested
that the Arabs did so much better in 1973 than in
1967 because they had learned from their 1967
lessons, and had utilized the time to improve
themselves. while the Israelis, arrogant and
overconfident, had not made comparable
In other words, the Israeli combat unit was still nearly
twice as effective as its Egyptian counterpart, all else
being equal. It was the improved Egyptian leadership,
especially at the GHQ level, which accounted for the
difference in outcome in 1973.
Although Israel generals had moments of brilliance,
their overall performance was subpar. Their reluctance to
cooperate was evident throughout the war. Sharon, in
particular, regularly acted in a manner which would have
resulted in relief in almost any other army. Instead, he was
often rewarded by having the orders of his superiors
This singular breakdown in military discipline was the
consequence of three factors:
First, the Israeli policy of encouraging exceptional
initiative and independence on the part of her commanders had
other than beneficial results. Especially after the successes
of 1967, each top military leader came to believe that he
8Ibid. p. 25.
knew best how to win the war, and could do so without help if
only given a little air support.
Second, the habit of returning senior generals to wartime
positions which placed them under the orders of junior and
less experienced officers proved to be unfortunate. Gonen was
not in an enviable position with subordinates of the ilk of
Adan and Sharon.
Finally, the politicization of the Israeli army had
created a situation in which military requirements were often
overwhelmed by domestic political considerations. Sharon was
a senior member of the Likud party, and would be a dangerous
adversary after the war if given ammunition. Both Bar-Lev and
Dayan had to consider the political impacts of every order
issued to Sharon.
The results of this weakness in the Israeli command
system were displayed throughout the war. The most striking
example occurred when Southern Command acquiesed to Sharon's
demands for has own northern front. This dilution of effort
greatly weakened the attack to the south with no apparent
gain in the north.
Obviously, the Israeli command system also had many
strengths. Most notable was the tradition of front line
leadership. From the Minister of Defense down, the Israeli
leaders were most often found at the point of action. As a
consequence, they were able to make rapid decisions based on
the immediate situation. The "conference in the sand dunes"
on the 17th is perhaps most illustrative. In contrast, Ismail
never visited the front lines, and Shazli ventured out only
The attention given to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war is
certainly well justified. The usual lessons, however, have
almost become cliches. As Operation Valiant demonstrates,
there is much to be learned from this conflict beyond "the
need for combined arms operations" and "the lethality of the
Planning. Operation Valiant demonstrates the
difficulty of planning during a high intensity war.
Situations change rapidly, and planners must develop
effective plans quickly and under the most demanding
circumstances. Most current military training exercises,
however, focus almost entirely on operations, with little
planning in the field. This is an artificiality which should
The trend toward mission-type orders at the expense of
detailed, objective based orders can also be dangerous.
Neither type of order is always preferable. Each has its
place. Planners must be able to recognize which is required,
and he prepared to develop both.
The Combined Arms System. Most military officers are
convinced that combined arms operations are necessary. So
were the Israelis after a October 1973. Unfortunately, the
Israeli army was still not able to operate as a combined arms
team because of the impediments put in place by pre-war
training, organization, and equipment. The lesson is that a
combined arms system is necessary, to include tactics,
training, equipment, organization, and logistics. If all
components are not trained, equipped, and organized as
combined arms forces before the war, it will be very
difficult to do so then.
Command and Control. The modern battle is more
obscure and is fought at a much quicker pace than previous
actions. Consequently, command and control has become many
times more difficult. Commanders and their staffs must be
manned and trained to work 24-hours a day for long periods.
Equally important is the need to be prepared to operate as
far forward as possible. By shortening the physical
separation between the point of action and the point of
decision, and by gaining first-hand knowledge of the
situation, the commander can gain a critical edge over his
Water Crossing Operations. Operation Valiant
reinforces the fact that water crossing operations are
difficult to conduct. They can be made less so by following a
A water crossing operation is complicated by the
channelization and intermingling of units, and by the need to
move over the obstacle without slowing. For these reasons,
tight control at the crossing sites and detailed planning are
Water crossings are not an end in themselves. They should
be conceived and executed as a means to conduct follow-on
operations. Attention must be given to the development of
support routes which can carry the crossing force, the attack
force, and all of the supplies needed. Because of the
concentration of traffic into the crossing sites this
implies, a detailed plan for traffic control is essential.
Once over the water, the crossing force must be prepared
to seize objectives which will support the follow-on assault
force. If these are not assigned by higher headquarters, they
should be mutually agreed upon by the crossing and assault
Politics and the Military Officer. It is currently
faddish to emphasize the political aspects of warfare.
Domestic politics, however, should have little place in
the conduct of a battle. When a military officer, either by
choice or necessity, begins to balance domestic politics
impacts against military requirements, the war will be less
The Will to Win. Despite its many faults, Operation
Valiant succeeded. It succeeded because of the boldness and
determination of the Israeli commanders and their men.
Lackng this offensive spirit, Operation Valiant could have
been a text book example of planning, command and control,
and logistics support, and it would have failed. With it, the
Israelis triumphed over the Egyptians and themselves.
Military proficiency is critical in modern war. The will to
win is essential.
Adan, Avraham. On the Banks of the Suez San Rafael, Ca:
Presidio Press, 1980. General Adan's account of the 1973
Arab-Israeli War as he saw it. By far the most detailed
account of the 1973 war in the Sinai. Despite an occasional
tendency to be self-serving, the book is valuable for its
depth and the personal portraits presented.
Al-Haytham al-Ayoubi. "The Strategies of the Fourth Campaign" In
Middle East Crucible: Studies on the Arab-Israeli
War of 1973 ed. Naseer H. Aruri. Wilmette, III: The
Medina University Press International, 1975. Discusses
the political aspects of the War from the Egyptian point
Dupuy, Trevor N. Elusive Victory. The Arab-Israeli Wars.
1947-1974. New York: Harper & Row, 1978. The most
objective book on the series of conflicts between Israel
and the Arab states. Contains excellent analyses of the
Herzog, Chaim. The Arab-Israeli Wars New York: Random
House, 1982. Account of the Arab-Israeli wars since the
beginnings of the state of Israel from the Israeli point
Herzog, Chaim. The War of Atonement Boston: Little, Brown,
and Company, 1975. One of the first books out on the 1973
War. Tends to be spotty in its coverage, and biased toward
Israel. Contains good portraits of the principal Israeli
Khalidi, Ahmed S. "The Military Balance, 1967-73" In Middle-
East Crucible: Studies on the Arab-Israeli War of 1973
ed. Naseer H. Aruri. Wilmette, III: The Medina University
Press International, 1975. A comparison of the military and
economic strengths of Israel and the Arab states.
Luttwak, Edward and Horowitz, Dan. The Israeli Army New
York, NY: Harper and Row, 1975. Although the principal
portions of this book were written just before the 1973
war, a chapter was added to include that conflict. Best
source for history, organization, doctrine, and equipment
of the Israeli army.
O'Ballance, Edgar. No Victor. No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur
War San Rafeal. Ca: Presidio Press. 1978. Leans most
toward the Egyptians of any book by a western author. Con-
tains excellent information from Egyptian sources, but is
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. The 1973 Middle
East War USAGSC Reference Book 100-2, Vol I [Fort
Leavenworth, Ks, Aug 1976]. Prepared as a reference source
for students at the USACGSC, contains excellent graphics
and discussions of the military science aspects of the
Willmott, H. P. "The Yom Kippur War", in War in Peace, ed. Sir
Robert Thompson. New York: Crown Publishers, 1981. A sup-
erior capsulization of the 1973 war. Excellent graphics.
Kosco, Willam C. "The 1973 Middle East War: An Engineers View"
The Military Engineer, Nov-Dec 1979, pp. 394-399. An
excellent report on the technical engineering aspects of
both the Egyptian and Israeli Canal crossings. Best source
of information concerning bridging equipment.
Times [New York], 12 November 1973, p. 20, col. 1. A report
of Sharon's views concerning the war.
Brown, Robert E. "The Role of Field Artillery in the Yom Kippur
War." Research Paper. Auburn Univ., 1977. A good analysis
of the tactics, successes, and failures of field artillery
in the 1973 war. Well documented.
Erickson. Philmon A. Jr. "The 1973 War: Implications for U.S.
Army Forces." Thesis. U.S. Army Command and General Staff
College. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 1978. Looks at the
"lessons learned" from the 1973 war and considers their
applicability to the NATO scenario.
Historical Evaluation and Research Organization. "Comparative
Analysis, Arab and Israeli Combat Performance. 1967 and
1973 Wars." Defense Nuclear Agency. Washington, D.C.,
1976. A technical evaluaton of the relative performance
of the Arab and Israel armies in 1967 and 1973. Highly
objective, but the assumptions behind the evaluations
are not sufficient to allow the reader to judge their
worth. Colonel Dupuy, who wrote the book Elusive
Victory mentioned earlier in this bibliography, was
the evaluation team leader.
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