CDG 63 – Battle on Golan Heights, 1973
The July 2014 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “Battle on Golan Heights, 1973.” This CDG placed readers in the role of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Captain Meir Zamir, commander of a company of 10 Centurion (or Sho’t) main battle tanks in 82d Tank Battalion, 7th IDF Tank Brigade. Zamir’s mission on the night of October 6-7, 1973, was to defeat a much larger Syrian mechanized force of 40-50 tanks and armored vehicles moving northwest along the Ramtania-Nafakh road toward his company located at Nafakh.
Earlier on October 6, during the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, Israel’s neighboring Arab states of Egypt and Syria had launched a two-front surprise attack, with Egyptian army forces targeting the Sinai in the south and Syrian army forces targeting the Golan Heights in the north. This was the beginning of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The massive Syrian army attack in the north posed the most serious and direct threat to Israel, since the narrow Golan Heights region separated the borders of Israel and Syria by only 15 miles. It was vital that the heavily outnumbered IDF defenders positioned on the Golan Heights delay the Syrian army until Israeli reservists could be mobilized and sent to turn back the attack. If Zamir’s company failed to defeat the enemy force advancing on Nafakh, the Syrians not only would overrun the IDF major headquarters command post located there but also move on to invade northern Israel before the reservists could arrive to stop them.
Zamir recognized that tanks bring three main elements of combat power to armored warfare: mobility, firepower and shock action. He judged that by capitalizing on firepower, he could give his company the best chance of victory in the tactical situation it faced.
Zamir therefore decided to deploy his tanks in an L-shaped ambush, with four tanks under his command blocking the Ramtania-Nafakh road, and six tanks led by his deputy commander taking up firing positions along the east side of the road (CDG COURSE OF ACTION TWO: AMBUSH). By 3 a.m., his crews were ready and waiting in the darkness with their tank engines off to ensure they did not alert the approaching enemy.
About 15 minutes later, the unsuspecting Syrian column, composed of a tank battalion and mechanized battalion from 43d Mechanized Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, moved into the company’s “kill zone.” The enemy’s 40-50 armored vehicles (a mixture of T-54/T-55 and T-62 tanks, BMP-1 fighting vehicles and BTR-60 personnel carriers) were spread out along the column, which also included a substantial number of unarmored vehicles carrying ammunition and supplies.
Zamir’s deputy commander suddenly switched on his tank’s xenon searchlight, illuminating the enemy vehicles and signaling the beginning of the ambush. The company’s other two searchlights were then switched on, followed by rapid fire erupting from the 105 mm main guns of all 10 IDF tanks. The highly skilled Israeli gunners and loaders worked frantically, blasting dozens of Syrian vehicles within minutes.
Although the Syrians’ return fire knocked out the Israelis’ searchlights, the glow cast by the large number of burning enemy tanks and vehicles provided Zamir’s gunners plenty of visibility to continue wreaking carnage on the column.
The Syrian vehicles that survived the devastating barrage turned around and fled back down the road, leaving behind 50 blazing wrecks, including at least 25 tanks. However, not one IDF tank was knocked out. In fact, Zamir led his crews in pursuit of the fleeing remnants of the Syrian column, and at dawn they took out 20 more tanks that had escaped the initial ambush.
For the IDF, this night tank battle on the Golan Heights represented the high-water mark of the Syrian advance in the central Golan. To the astonishment of Syrian commanders, in less than 24 hours the Israelis had mobilized four reserve tank brigades and moved them into combat along the Golan Heights.
By October 10, IDF forces had pushed the Syrians back to the start line of their attack. The next day, the Israelis launched an offensive into Syrian territory that advanced to within 30 miles of Damascus, Syria’s capital. On October 25, all fighting on the northern front against the Syrians and on the southern front against the Egyptians came to a halt as a cease-fire brokered by the United Nations took effect.
ACG judges based their selections for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose COURSE OF ACTION TWO: AMBUSH or those whose explanations demonstrated a solid understanding of the key principles for a tank unit defense. (See “After Action Report.”) This plan allowed Zamir’s company to overcome the great disparity in numbers it faced by capitalizing on surprise and rapidly delivered, overwhelming firepower. The L-shaped ambush formation placed the maximum number of IDF tanks in positions with clear fields of fire from which their well-trained gunners could aim at the enemy vehicles lined up along the road like targets in a shooting gallery.
COURSE OF ACTION ONE: HAMMER AND ANVIL not only split Zamir’s company in the face of a greatly superior enemy force occupying a central position; it also required the “hammer” element to attempt the extremely difficult task of maneuvering off-road in the darkness. Moreover, this plan put the company at risk of incurring friendly fire casualties as the “hammer” force closed on the “anvil” force. Finally, the rounds from the IDF tanks’ main guns would be less effective and accurate under this option, since the “hammer” element would have to fire while on the move.
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: SPOILING ATTACK was likely the worst plan for this tactical situation, since a head-on attack carried several risks: it reduced the number of IDF tanks that could fire effectively at the Syrian vehicles; it made targeting vehicles in the center and back of the column difficult if not impossible; and, as in COA One, it required the IDF tanks to fire while on the move, thereby making their rounds less accurate. Furthermore, any knocked-out Syrian vehicles near the front of the column could have blocked the road and impeded the IDF company’s progress, while vehicles in the center and rear of the column not initially engaged could have escaped or maneuvered against Zamir’s tanks.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
Key Points for a Tank Unit Defense
- TRAIN CREWS to maximum proficiency to fight in all weather and terrain conditions.
- DRILL UNIT to fight as a cohesive team in various tactical scenarios.
- CAPITALIZE ON ELEMENT(S) OF ARMORED COMBAT POWER (mobility, firepower, shock action) best suited to the tactical situation.
- EXPLOIT ENEMY WEAKNESSES, vulnerabilities and mistakes.
- POSITION TANKS with unobstructed fields of fire.
- RESTRICT ENEMY’S ABILITY TO MANEUVER by using terrain and obstacles.
- SURPRISE ENEMY through location and timing of defensive fire and maneuver.