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1973: The Tanks In The SINAI

Egyptian Army Crossing The Suez On 7 October 1973 Egyptian Army Crossing The Suez On 7 October 1973

June 5th, 1967, the State of Israel launches a pre-emptive attack against Egypt, Syria and Jordan. The war is known as the Six-Day War because the war was won by the Israel in the space of just six days. For the Arabs, especially Egypt, it was a humiliating defeat. In the first few hours of the war, Israeli air strike had completely blown away the mighty Egyptian Air Force. The Israeli Forces attacked the Egyptian Forces in the Sinai of Western Egypt and seized the entire Sinai Peninsula in less than a week, left the Egyptians totally devastated.

Syrian T-72 Tanks During Yom Kippur War

The Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser begins rebuilding his battered army immediately after the Six-Day War. When Anwar Sadat comes to power in 1970, he appoints a dynamic and popular military commander General Sa’ad Uddin Al-Shajli to revitalize Egypt’s poorly trained and under-equipped army. Sadat was clearly determined to fight back and re-capture the Israeli occupied Sinai. The Israelis never expected that.

The Egyptians knew that they need to catch Israel by surprise. So, they practice forming up their units driving to theSuez Canaland they practice the canal crossing again and again. They do it as a part of the scenery. So, to the Israelis it has seemed a regular exercise by the Egyptians. The Egyptians manage to form an army of over 300,000 well trained men, 2,000 artillery guns and 2,400 tanks by the fall of 1973.

Egyptian Flag Being Hoisted At The Top Of Barlev Line

On October 6th, 1973,Egypt and their Syrian allies launch an immense two front offensive against Israel in a determination to avenge their humiliating defeat in the Six-Day War in 1967 and to take back their piece of land, the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights from Israel. Israelis respond immediately by sending their elite Air Force to smash the advancing Egyptian invaders. This time the Israeli Air Force is neutralized successfully by the Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) deployed by the Egyptians. They lost one-third of their aircrafts in the first two days of the war. Then the most difficult phase begins, crossing theSuez Canal. Egyptians cross the canal with such a brilliance, so, they could send 90,000 men and 850 tanks across the Suez Canal in the first eighteen hours of the attack. Most of their tanks were Soviet designed T-55 Main Battle Tanks. On the northern front masses of Syrian Armour steadily advance into the Golan Heights.

Israeli Forces have to defend its 125 miles Sinai front with 18,000 men, 100 artillery guns and less than 300 tanks. But in the beginning of the attack, Egyptians with their 850 tanks, about 2,000 artillery guns and aircrafts storm into Israeli 14th Armoured Brigade. Being completely surprised with their 88 tanks they find themselves in a desperate fight for survival. The ferocity and magnitude of the Egyptian attack has forced them back. By the end of the day the Egyptians have advanced almost 5 miles deep into the Sinai.Israelcalls up its armoured reserves to staunch the Egyptian invasion and by October 8th they are ready to strike back.

President Anwar Sadat With The Then Egyptian Air Force Chief Husni Mubarak During Yom Kippur War

With 100 tanks, Israeli armoured reserves approach with a plan to attack straight into Egyptian positions, break up their formation and force them back across the canal. On October 8th, 217th Reserved Armoured Brigade has given the task to move southward and to attack into Egyptian position near the Ferdan Bridge. When the brigade reaches within 650 yards from the canal, they encounter heavy shelling. An Egyptian tank division was already there. Without any artillery and air support, only depending on tanks this time the Israelis have been floored by the Egyptians. Equipped with Soviet made Sagger Missiles it was a very different Egyptian Army faced by the Israelis. Suffering heavy casualties and most of their tanks destroyed the 217th Armoured Brigade retreats with the rest of their tank. But there are still some Israeli troops remain trapped behind the Egyptian lines.

Finally the Israelis decide that they shall try to evacuate the troops from behind the enemy lines, but the problem is, they have to approach between the Egyptian 4th and 5th Infantry Divisions containing about 1,500 tanks. The Israeli 14th Armoured Brigade has given the task. When they enter, fortunately they encounter a small team of Egyptians firing Saggers at them. Killing all of them the Israelis rescue their front line soldiers then they fall back to defensive positions near the strategically important passes through the Sinai Mountains. From October 9th they pause to regroup their forces. On the other side the Egyptians were preparing for an enormous armoured offensive one may hold to drive their enemy out of the Sinai.

In just over a week the Egyptian Forces have advanced more than 6 miles deep into the Sinai and easily crashed every Israeli attempted counter-attack. But on the northern front their ally Syria was not experiencing the same degree of success. The Syrians have failed to secure their objectives on the Golan Heights and the Israelis were now smashing them. Hoping to draw Israeli Forces away from their Syrian allies, in spite of General Shajli’s disapproval Sadat decides to send his armoured divisions to the strategic passes in the Sanai Mountains getting out from the range of SAMs. At first light on October 14th, 1973, two armoured divisions with 1,000 tanks advance towards the Israeli lines in a gigantic pencil movement, aimed at smashing the Israeli forces guarding the passes through the Sinai Mountains and one of the biggest tank battles of the history begins. But unlike October 7th, 8th and 9th, the Egyptians advance forward in some kind of awkward way that they have been famous for in 1967. This time the Israelis along with their 14th and 421st Armoured Brigade were waiting for them. Most of their tanks were the modified version of the American made M48 Patton known as the Magach. The Egyptians begin firing artillery first, then move forward towards the enemy. The Israelis choose to hold their positions and stay behind the camouflage on the hill, which gives them a huge advantage to fire accurately. In the space of time they had become expert at long-range gunnery. The Israelis fire one tank after the other with perfect accuracy, aiming and destroying Egyptian tanks. The Israelis use their Air Force effectively this time.

T-55 Main Battle Tank

At 40 tons the T-55 is relatively small but it can move up to 30 mph and is armed with 100 mm main canon providing a perfect balance of speed and deadly fire power.

Origin: Soviet Union

AT-3 Sagger ATGM

The AT-3 Sagger is a Soviet designed portable anti-tank guided missile. Fitted with a 5.7 lbs warhead, the Sagger can penetrate 8 inches of armour at ranges of nearly 2 miles. Its most deadly feature is a wired guidance system, which allows the operator to steer the missile all the way to the target.

Origin: Soviet Union

Within simply a matter of hours the entire Egyptian attack has been completely unhinged loosing 260 tanks in a single day. On that day the Israelis felt for the first time that they could make it. The reality of the battle forces Anwar Sadat to order his battered armoured divisions to fall back to defensive positions.

While falling back the Egyptians leave a dangerous gap between their 2nd Army and the Grate Bitter Lake. Using this piece of information the Israelis plan their counter-offense. They plan to send three armoured divisions to the canal, cross over it using a temporary bridge to get behind the Egyptian formations and to be able to tear them up from inside out. But before crossing the canal, they must secure their flank against the Egyptian 2nd Army. The Israelis did not know exactly where the enemy position is located. When they reach a small agricultural area called Chinese Farm, they encounter a heavily reinforced Egyptian Infantry Division along with an Egyptian Armoured Division. The ratio between the Egyptians and the Israelis was unthinkable. The fight continues four days too terrible that sometimes the distance between the Egyptian and Israeli tanks was half a meter. The battle of Chinese Farm causes heavy casualties to the Israelis.

Magach 3 Main Battle Tank

Modified version of American M48 Patton, Magach 3 is well protected with 5 inches of frontal armour and has a 105 mm canon, they can accurately hit targets of ranges over 2 miles.

Origin: USA

T-62 Main Battle Tank

In 1973, T-62 is considered one of the best tanks in the world. It is well protected with almost 4 inches of frontal armour. It carries a 115 mm smooth bore canon, a powerful and deadly accurate main gun.

Origin: Soviet Union

Before winning the battle of Chinese Farm Israeli commander General Ariel Sharon takes a stunning decision, with his troops to forward towards the canal and cross over it. They reach the canal and immediately begin work on building a bridge. The Egyptians quickly react. They send a lot of helicopters with explosive to prevent the Israeli Army from crossing the canal. But now the Egyptians failed. By the dawn the first Israeli tank was able to cross the canal.

In response to the Israeli tanks on the western banks of the Suez Canal, the Egyptians send their elite 25th Armoured Brigade. 100 of them were most modern Soviet designed T-62 Main Battle Tanks. Their plan is to push north in a massive armoured column and destroy the Israeli rear guard cutting off Israeli Forces west of the canal. The first position of the Israeli tanks were about 2 miles from the canal. They were camouflaged so the advancing Egyptians could not see them. The Egyptians advance in some way that puts them straight into an L shaped ambush area. Once the entire brigade enters into the ambush area, the Israelis begin firing at them. They fail every Egyptian try to counter-attack. After two hours of desperate attempt to counter-attack, the elite Egyptian 25th Armoured Brigade destroyed. A few tanks could escape from the battlefield.

With the destruction of their 25th Armoured Brigade, the Egyptians lose any hope of stopping the Israeli advance into the Egyptian heartland. By the next morning Israelis have strength of two armoured divisions with almost 200 tanks west of the Suez Canal. By October 24th, the Israelis have advanced to within 60 miles of Cairo and have encircled the 3rd Egyptian Army positioned east of the canal.Israel uses this as a most important bargaining tool to bring the war to an end on their terms. Finally the Egypt and Israel agree to a ceasefire on October 25th, 1973.

It’s hard to say that who is the clear victor of the October War. It took another five years of negotiations beforeIsrael finally returns the Sinai toEgypt. For the Egyptians it was a great victory. Anwar Sadat got everything he wanted. He is seen as a victor of the October War by the Egyptian people.Israel had its own cause to celebrate victory also.

On October 6th, 1981, in the 8th anniversary of the war, President Sadat was assassinated by gunmen oppose to his peace treaty with Israel, the October War had claimed its last victim! Israel is still in a state of war with Syria.