Friday, October 5, 1973, Yom Kippur eve – IDF is on high alert as a result of army movements in Syria and Egypt.
Ariel Sharon is appointed commander of a reserve division in the Southern Command. He arrives to the headquarters of the Southern Command to be briefed and then returns to his home. Head of IDF intelligence is saying, even at this stage, that the likelihood of war is low.
Saturday, Yom Kippur, October 6, 1973 – On 09:30 Sharon’s division headquarters receives orders to immediately begin reserve mobilization, as the Chief of Staff is now saying that Syria and Egypt are about to launch a war against Israel within hours.
At 13:55, while Sharon’s division is conducting reserve mobilization, tens of thousands of Egyptian troops attacks across the Canal and rendered Israel’s army chaotic with shock. The Egypt army then crosses the Suez Canal from west to east.
Under Sharon’s orders, the first armored companies move south without waiting for the complete reserve mobilization. At midnight, Sharon goes to Sinai. Although the prospects are very grim, Sharon is full of confidence that the Israeli forces would eventually cross the Suez Canal and defeat the Egyptian army.
October 7 – When Sharon arrives to the headquarters of the armored forces in Sinai, he learns that an emergency plan, which was designed by him, to deploy IDF’s regular forces in the event of an Egyptian attack, was not implemented. IDF’s strongholds along the Suez Canal are left with no reinforcement and are under fierce Egyptian fire. He hears over the radio the screams of the soldiers in the Bar Lev line of strongholds and talks to Max Mamman, one of the frightened soldiers. The minute Max recognizes Sharon’s voice, he calms down. Sharon promises Max that he would do everything in his power to save the soldiers in the strongholds, though it is clear to him that chances for that are very slim. Two hours later, Max Mamman begins shouting again, “They (the Egyptians) are coming in to slaughter us.” And Sharon hears gun shots over the radio.
The southern front along the Canal is divided into three sections: in the northern section fights Avraham Aden’s (Bren) reserve division; in the central section: Sharon’s reserve division; in the southern section: Albert Mendler’s regular division.
Sharon talks over the radio with the soldiers in the strongholds and understands the gravity of their situation. They are about to get killed. He asks the Head of the Southern Command, Shmuel Gonen, and the Chief of Staff Elazar David (Dado) to immediately launch a counter attack in order to rescue the reserve soldiers who are trapped in the strongholds of the Bar Lev line. Dado prefers to postpone the counter attack and wait until all the reserve units of Bren and Sharon’s division would arrive. He’s afraid that if the counter attack fails, nothing would prevent the Egyptian forces from rapidly moving northward, to the heart of Israel. By evening more Israeli reserve forces arrive to Sinai, and now Dado has 460 tanks. He decides to launch a counter attack. According to the plan, Bren’s division is to attack first; if it succeeds, Sharon’s division should attack the Egyptian forces that are deployed across from it; if, however, Bren needs assistance, Sharon’s division is to attack the Egyptian forces that are deployed across from Bren. Because of a helicopter technical failure, Sharon arrives late to the war room, and the decision about the counter attack is already made. Sharon briefly presents Dado an alternative plan of attack, which includes rescuing the strongholds that same night. Dado does not approve of Sharon’s intention to act that night in order to rescue the strongholds, because he wants his division to be fresh the next morning for the counter attack. Dado is in a hurry for a government meeting, and asks Sharon to talk to the Head of the Southern Command, Gonen. After considerable persuasion efforts, Sharon gets Gonen’s authorization to try and rescue the strongholds in his section that same night.
October 8 – After the night talk with Gonen, Sharon begins to prepare his units for the battle of rescuing the strongholds. At 05:45 he receives orders from Gonen to abort these preparations and not advance his forces towards the Bar Lev line, because the Egyptians have already built up their force in the section across from him.
At 09:00, according to Dado’s plan, Bren’s division launches a counter attack in the northern section of the Canal front. After a while, Bren confirms that he does not require Sharon’s division support. At 10:45, by order from Head of the Southern Command, Gonen, Sharon begins advancing southward, towards the Gidi Pass, in an attempt to break through to the west. An hour later, Bren’s division reports on heavy resistance in their section by Egyptian forces. Bren tries to defeat the resistance until noon, but fails. One of Bren’s brigades asks support from one of Sharon’s regiments, but declined because Sharon’s orders are to keep moving southward. During the day Sharon receives several contradicting orders about the direction in which his division should advance, and about its goals. At 17:00 Sharon receives an order to stop and after a short while he’s ordered to move his division back, northward, to where it was deployed in the morning. In light of the contradicting orders he received that day, Sharon refuses to obey until a special envoy arrives in a helicopter and hands him a written order. HIs division wastes a whole day. That evening Sharon arrives with his division back to the central section of the Canal front, only to find out that during the day the Egyptians have captured strategic areas. Bren now asks Sharon to assist him, but Sharon refuses. At the end of the day, Bren’s counter attack fails and Sharon’s division was not properly used; The Egyptians improve positions. During the night the division commanders hold a meeting with Chief of Staff Dado. Dado says he authorized Gonen to order Sharon to move southward based on the optimistic reports he received from him during the morning hours in regards to the success of Bren’s division in the northern section of the Canal front. Chief of Staff Dado orders Bren and Sharon to stay put and wait until reserve reinforcement arrives. As for the strongholds – many soldiers are killed and some surrender. Dado gives an evacuation order, but only one stronghold manages to retreat through the Egyptian forces and be rescued by a force from Sharon’s division.
October 9 – Sharon, contrary to the orders he received, sends one of his brigades to collect vehicles that were hit during the rescue operation last night. Two other brigades carry out offensive operations against the Egyptian forces. Head of the Command, Gonen, tries to contact Sharon to order him stop, but can’t get through. He personally goes to see Sharon by helicopter and orders him to retrieve his brigades.
One of Sharon’s patrol units reaches the bank of the Suez Canal and discovers the empty ‘seam line’ between the Second Egyptian Army (in the northern section of the front) and the Third Egyptian Army (in the southern section of the front). Those two Armies have now completed the crossing of the Canal and their deployment on the eastern side of it. Sharon offers Gonen to broaden this gap between the two Egyptian armies, in order to enable Israeli forces to cross the Canal through it to the western side and attack the Egyptians from the rear. Gonen talks to Dado, but Dado rejects this plan and orders Sharon to move his division back to its original deployment area and prepare for defense. Sharon follows that order. At the same time Gonen gives the order to start preparing the cylinder bridge that would be used in a couple of days to cross the Suez Canal.
Sharon’s lack of discipline brings Gonen to ask Chief of Staff Dado to replace him. Dado speaks to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and stresses the danger in Sharon’s moves. Dado thinks that if Bren and Sharon’s divisions would dedicate their efforts to the crossing of the Canal before any weakening of the Egyptian forces took place, it might lead to a situation where Egyptian tanks could move northward to Israel with nothing to stop them. Dayan decides not to replace Sharon. Instead, he sends former Chief of Staff Chaim Bar Lev, to serve as a superior commander of the Canal front, alongside Gonen, and ensure that Sharon follows orders.
Bar Lev arrives to the front and finds out just how bad the interpersonal communication between Gonen and Sharon is. First, he talks separately with each commander and then, on October 10, holds a meeting of all the commanders of the Southern Command. Bar Lev decides that at this point all three divisions should strengthen their positions and avoid any offensive operations. The next day Sharon offers Bar Lev another plan of attack. His plan is rejected.
On October 11, Gonen presents to the division commanders his plan for crossing the Canal. Its main points are: First, Sharon’s division breaks through the Egyptian forces, reaches the Canal, seizes a bridgehead both on the eastern side and on the western side and sets up two bridges. Upon completion of this stage, Sharon’s forces cross the Canal and then Bren’s division crosses it.
On October 12, during a meeting held by Prime Minister Golda Meir, reports received about movement of the Egyptian forces eastward. It seems as though the Egyptians are on their way to attack Bren’s and Sharon’s divisions. Golda decides to postpone the crossing operation. Bren and Sharon prepare to defend their lines.
On the dawn of October 14, the Egyptians drop commando forces from helicopters in the rear of Sharon’s division. The commando soldiers are spotted and killed. The Egyptian attack is under way. At 06:00, Egyptian artillery shells the Israeli divisions and half an hour later their armored formations start to move eastward to attack. The battle ends after nine hours. Sharon’s division destroys 120 Egyptian tanks. On other sections, the Israeli forces have a similar success. IDF loses only 6 tanks in this battle.
On October 15 at 17:00 the Israeli operation “Abirey Lev” (Bravehearts) – the crossing of the Suez Canal – is under way. First, the Israeli artillery launches a massive shelling on the Second and Third Egyptian Armies. Under cover of the artillery, one division creates a diversion by attacking westward. It enables a second division to move to the rear of the Egyptian formation through the gap between the two Armies and take positions to block any attempt by the Second Egyptian Army to move southward towards the forces that carry out the crossing operation. At a certain point the Egyptians manage to block the road on which the bridging equipment should be transported. Even so, Sharon orders his paratroopers brigade, which has already reached the canal embankment, to cross the canal by rubber boats and seize a bridgehead on the western embankment.
On October 16, at 01:30, Danny Matt, Commander of the paratroopers brigade, transmits the code word Acapulco – meaning: “We are on the western embankment of the Suez Canal”. Within a few hours, all the Paratroopers Brigade crosses the canal and reinforces the western bridgehead. At 03:00 Sharon arrives to the eastern embankment of the Canal with the first twenty tanks, two rafts and two bulldozers. The bulldozers breach through the sand embankment and the rafts begin to move tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers to the western side.
Israeli armored forces penetrate deep into the Egyptian territory on the western side of the Canal and hit anti-aircraft bases. The swift success of moving an entire brigade plus tanks and APC’s to the other side of the canal, turns out to be a dangerous move, because Sharon’s forces which are also in charge of broadening and securing the corridor through which the Israeli divisions should cross, fail to accomplish this part of the task. Now there is no safe way for the Israeli divisions to cross the canal and join the forces that have already crossed, and so there is a fear that the forces on the western side would remain cut off. The task to create a safe corridor in the gap between the Second and Third Egyptian Armies is now assigned to Bren’s divison. A few hours later, Gonen orders Sharon to stop sending tanks on rafts to the western side of the canal. Sharon is furious. Chief of Staff Dado talks to Defense Minister Dayan about the operational difficulties that stem from the bad atmosphere in the Southern Command due to the lack of cooperation between Sharon and his superiors. Dayan backs up Sharon.
Bren’s division also fails to create a safe corridor for crossing between the two Egyptian Armies. Egyptian forces try to destroy Sharon’s bridgehead the eastern embankment. After a fierce battle Sharon manages to push them back.
At night, a brigade of Sharon’s division launch an attack on the Egyptian stronghold named the Chinese Farm, on the eastern side of the canal. After a bitter fight, they manage to open the road to the rafts convoy, and the rafts can finally advance towards the Backyard, the site where the breach in the sand embankment was made.
On October 17, the rafts convoy reaches the canal embankment. Sharon asks the Southern Command to setup the rafts bridge and start moving tanks to the other side, in order to reinforce the Israeli forces on the western side, which are under constant Egyptian fire. Gonen orders him not to do so and to keep strengthening the bridgehead on the eastern side. After a while, Egyptian artillery starts to shell the Backyard, where Sharon stays with his forces. Sharon calmly gives his soldiers orders how to avoid the fire. Following this shelling, Chief of Staff Dado holds a meeting. Bar Lev complains about the lack of trust between the high command and Sharon. Sharon is offended. Dado concludes the meeting by saying that Sharon should hold his positions on the eastern side and enable the crossing of Bren’s division to the western side. At noon, Sharon completes the construction of the rafts bridge, but only at 22:00 Bren’s first tanks start to cross due to organizational delays and disagreement between Bren and Sharon about exchanging their tasks on the eastern side.
On October 18, Amnon Reshef’s brigade of Sharon’s division completes the capturing of the Chinese Farm. Another force opens a second road in the corridor between the two Egyptian Armies. This enables the transportation of the cylinder bridge to the Canal. At night, the Southern Command authorizes Sharon to move additional forces from his division across the canal.
On October 19 an international pressure to end the war starts to build up, and IDF’s high command is under pressure to achieve the military goals before a cease fire is announced. Sharon moves his forces on the western side of the canal northward in an attempt to encircle the Second Army, which still holds the Missouri stronghold on the eastern side.
On October 20, Defense Minsiter Dayan visits Sharon’s bridgehead on the western side of the canal. Sharon asks permission to attack the Egyptian city of Ismailia in order to isolate the Second Army from Cairo. Dayan refuses. Bar Lev and Gonen give first priority to the capture of the Missouri stronghold on the eastern side before a cease fire is announced. They order Sharon to retrieve his forces to the eastern side and prepare to attack the Missouri stronghold. Sharon is upset.
On October 21 at 15:15 the attack on the Egyptian stronghold of Missouri begins. A brigade from Sharon’s division, that hasn’t crossed, is at the vanguard. Sharon orders only five tanks to cross back the canal from west to east in order to support the attacking brigade. On the evening of that day, Gonen orders Sharon to prepare to launch another attack on Missouri the next day and to move additional forces back to the eastern side of the canal. Only when Bar Lev intervenes Sharon is willing to follow this order, but immediately afterwards he contacts Defense Minister Dayan and convinces him to abort the second attack on Missouri.
On the evening of October 22, the United Nations General Assembly announces a cease fire, and the Israeli government instructs IDF to stop all fighting. The General Headquarters asks to postpone the time set for the cease fire, in order to complete the encircling of the Third Egyptian Army. At the last moment, Sharon attempts to capture Ismailia, but his division does not reach the city on time. On 19:50 IDF receives orders to cease fire.
In fact the fighting continues until the October 24, and the Israeli forces eventually manage to encircle the Third Army.
Sharon becomes very popular among his soldiers, and is praised for his part in the war. Israeli tanks are sprayed with slogans that read, “Arik, King of Israel.”
A short while after the war, Sharon is interviewed by the New York Times and by the Los Angeles Times. He blatantly criticizes IDF’s high command for the way it conducted the war on the Canal front.
On January 20, 1974, Sharon issues an order of the day to his division, in which he announces the end of his military service. He writes: “Our division is the one that initiated and took upon itself the most difficult, most complex and cruel part of the war – the operation of the crossing the Canal. This crossing operation is the turning point of the war. The crossing of the Canal is the operation that brought the victory in the war. We must remember that the victory in the Yom Kippur War is the greatest victory we ever had. If – albeit omissions and mistakes, albeit failures and failings, albeit loss of composure and self control – we have achieved our victory, we should know that this is the greatest victory of the IDF ever. We fought. Hundreds of our best soldiers have fallen in the battlefield and many more were wounded during combat – but we have won… The war has ended… now I feel I have to fight in a different front. It is essential to fight, with all might, in order to prevent another war in the future. That is why I leave.”
Following the interviews to the American press and the things Sharon writes in the order of the day, Chief of Staff removes Sharon from his position as division commander. IDF spokesman issues the following statement: “The order of the day by General Sharon and the things that were published on his behalf in Harper’s Magazine stain the reputation of commanders and other IDF units, offend fellow soldiers and damage the sense of brotherhood among soldiers. Even though the good order and military discipline have been breached, Chief of Staff has decided not to take disciplinary measures against General Sharon, since he is released from service and from his duty as division commander.”
Years later Ariel Sharon writes on the Yom Kippur war: “In the late afternoon of Yom Kippur eve, Friday, October 5, 1973, I was informed that a state of alert was announced in the IDF. After a while the reserve mobilization began. The Egyptian attack was launched on Yom Kippur at noon. The next morning I arrived in Refidim (Bir Gafgafa). Behind me the division armored vehicles were already on the move, after being taken out of the emergency warehouses.
“By the afternoon hours, the division was already concentrated in the front line. We were in charge of the central section of the Canal front (between Ismailia and the Great Bitter Lake). I had under my command armored brigade 421 (Hayim Erez), armored brigade 600 (Tuvia Raviv), division patrol regiment (Bentzi Karmeli) and part of the artillery forces subordinate to the division under the command of Yaakov Aknin. The 14th brigade (Amnon Reshef) of the Sinai division was also joined to my division.
“In the first 24 hours, the Sinai division lost about two hundred of its three hundred tanks. The soldiers fought bravely. It lost its power in many small clashes along the water line, defending the strongholds of the Bar Lev line and joining them. This is why it couldn’t prevent the Egyptian forces from crossing the canal and establish bridgeheads.
“The strongholds of the Bar Lev line, as part of a fundamentally wrong defense perception, were no more than fortified bunkers with little ammunition. Due to their location and weakness, they had little value and were a dangerous burden.
“When I acted as Head of the Southern Command, a term which ended three months before the war, I managed to close down about half of the thirty strongholds, and it was decided that in the case of a total war we would immediately evacuate those on the canal embankment. But when the war began, the Chief of Staff did not order the evacuation of the strongholds, and the new Head of the Southern Command, General Shmuel Gorodish, insisted on keeping them.
“By October 7, many of the strongholds were captured and from the ones that were not captured came cries for help of the besieged soldiers.
“We held the line until October 14 and prepared to launch a counter attack and cross the canal, but it was delayed. In the morning of October 14 the Egyptian forces launched a widespread armored offensive along the front. My division forces acted in a controlled and wise manner and destroyed about eighty enemy tanks. On our end only five tanks were hit. After this Egyptian failure it was decided to shift from defense to offense.
“According to the plan of attack, operation ‘Abirey Lev’ (brave hearts), the division was to arrive to the canal, cross it, bridge it and establish a bridgehead on the Egyptian side and a secured corridor on the eastern side of the canal. The task of Aden’s division was to immediately utilize the success, pass through the bridgehead that my division would establish, and breakthrough to the depth of the Egyptian zone.
“Early morning of October 15, the divisional command group convened in Tassa and I gave the operational command. Its main points were as follows:
- The crossing area will be in Dawar Suar north to the Great Bitter Lake. The crossing will commence from the ‘Backyard’ which I have prepared for this end when I was Head of the Southern Command. A pile of red bricks marked the point in which the enormous embankment that we built along the canal was narrowed and prepared for the breakthrough.
- The 14th armored brigade under the command of Amnon Reshef, which was heavily reinforced, will move with the patrol regiment ahead on the ‘seam line’ south to the ‘Spider’ road until it reaches the bank of the Great Bitter Lake. There it would turn north along the canal road (Lexicon), attack, push the enemy back from the crossing zone and three miles to the north, and then send forces to open the vital Spider road and the secondary road of Tirtur (which is required for the transportation of the cylinder bridge) from their rear end.
- Paratroopers brigade under the command of Danny Matt will move on the Spider road, would then turn to the ‘Backyard’ under the cover and securing of the 14th brigade, cross the canal with rubber boats, and establish and fortify a bridgehead on the Egyptian side.
- Armored brigade 421 under the command of Hayim Erez will assist in advancing bridging gear, including towing of the cylinder bridge, and would cross the canal after the paratroopers.
- Reduced armored brigade 600 under the command of Tuvia Raviv would hold the Hamediya area and attack from it toward the front lines of the Second Egyptian Army in order to occupy it and create a diversion, and would also assist Amnon Reshef’s brigade.
- The artillery forces of Yaakov Aknin, which were reinforced to a total of thirteen regiments would deploy along the Spider road.
- Engineering forces under the command of Baruch De Leon – in fact, almost all of IDF’s bridging units plus a divisional engineering regiment – would carry the paratroopers in boats, break through the embankment and set up the bridges.
- Maintenance units under the command of Moshe Tzepler would operate along the Spider road.
- Yaakov (Jackie) Even, my second in command – would be in charge of the rear and of the bridging effort.
- Main HQ under the command of Gideon Altosher would be in Tassa. I, with the tactical headquarters, would be in the front line.
The attack and the crossing were to take place in the night of October 15. It was the second time in the history of the IDF that a night offense of an armored division is launched. The first time was also under my command, in the Abu Ageila battle of 1967. As always, the unexpected and undesirable happened, but for the most part the division’s tasks were carried out according to plan, unlike what happened in the offence of October 8, and the mission was fully accomplished.
“On October 15 at 5:00 PM the battle began, with a diversion attack by brigade 600. At 7:00 PM the force was already on the move and the tactical headquarters reached the ‘Kishuf’. But the floating docks for setting up the bridges were stuck in traffic in the roads leading to the operation zone. These delays, caused by the front command’s total and ongoing failure to control the traffic, threatened the crossing operation more than any obstacle caused by the bloody collisions with the enemy. I ordered to bring forward the ‘Crocodiles’ – amphibian vehicles capable of going on the sand in the roadsides – and they were attached to the raft tank carriers. This saved the crossing operation.
“Once it got dark, the battle was in its peak. The 14th brigade attacked to the north, after crossing the Spider junction and Nahla Junction. Amnon Reshef moved far ahead, beyond Tirtur-Lexicon Junction. Only after half the brigade was north to Tirtur junction, it turned out that it is surrounded by Egyptian forces which came back to life at around 9:00 PM and opened a deadly fire. The strong Egyptian formation in the Chinese Farm stronghold, closely controlled the Tirtur road and prevented its opening. Covered by fighting forces from north and east, the Paratroopers Brigade moved ahead on the Spider road with two regiments packed with half-tracks carrying upturned rubber boats. The brigade moved on to the Nahla Junction and entered the ‘Backyard’. After midnight the ‘Crocodiles’ arrived, along with the bulldozers and the Command Company. The paratroopers got into the water and at 1:30 past midnight they announced ‘Acapulco’ – meaning ‘We have reached the western embankment of the canal’. By 3:00 in the morning 700 paratroopers deployed in the dense farm bush that was beyond the canal, equipped with 500 personal anti-tank missiles. By sunrise the bridgehead was 4.5 miles wide. In the meantime the embankment was penetrated, and the ‘Crocodiles’ were employed and connected to three rafts. At 6:00 AM the first tanks of brigade 421 began crossing the canal.
“During the night we heard the explosions, saw the flashes and listened to radio communication. But only at dawn, with first light, we could look around and see. This was the most horrible sight I have ever seen: north and east to the ‘Backyard’ were about fifty burned and wrecked tanks as well as other IDF vehicles. Around them were about a hundred and fifty tanks and hundreds of armored personnel carriers. In the vehicles and by their sides laid dozens of dead soldiers, both Israelis and Egyptians, at times side by side, a soldier with his enemy, rifle to rifle. That night and in the early morning hours two hundred soldiers of my division were killed in action and hundreds were wounded. The enemy’s casualties were much higher. It was probably the most difficult battle IDF ever fought. We all participated in the actual fighting, from the soldier in the tank and in the APC to the division Command Company.
“Around 8:00 AM, Amnon Reshef took over Tirtur-Lexicon junction, moved onward and deployed north to it. During the morning we managed to transfer 28 tanks to the western side of the canal under the command of Hayim Erez, and also half-tracks and other gear, with no obstruction by the enemy. According to the plan, we prepared to transfer more tanks and immediately break through from the bridgehead. And then, at 11:00 AM, we received a shocking blow: the front command ordered us not to transfer any more tanks or soldiers to the western side of the canal. ‘You are surrounded and cut off’, they told us. We’ve been on the embankment of the canal for 11 hours now. Bar Lev, Gonen and Chief of Staff ‘Dado’ did not explore the battlefield. The Egyptians were surprised and they did not surround us, nor did they shell the crossing area or the bridgehead.
“In the cost of the casualties not only did we accomplish the mission, but the situation was even better then expected. Though the Tirtur road was not open, it was only a secondary road. The Spider road, which was allegedly cut off, was open to restricted traffic during daytime and to unrestricted traffic during nighttime. Vehicles moved on it and also the vulnerable ‘Crocodiles’ and floating docks, and hundreds of wounded were evacuated. Armored vehicles and trucks could use even the roads to the south of the Spider. The alleged cut off and the reopening of the Spider road at a later stage were not real, and the wrong picture was due to the fact that non of the commanders in the front command explored the battlefield. In spite all my explanations they kept telling me: ‘You’re surrounded, you’re surrounded.’ I later learned that this wrong panic in the front command and in the General Headquarters even made them consider bringing back our troops to the eastern side of the canal. The claim of ‘waiting to the bridge’ was also groundless. The ‘Crocodiles’ rafts, though not perfect, were a sufficient bridging solution at this point, and the arrival of the actual floating docks, in order to set up the two bridges according to the plan, was also possible if only the front command would have fulfilled its duties properly. On October 16 we were about to achieve, though with heavy cost, a decisive victory over the surprised Egyptian enemy. This chance was missed due to the unjustifiable decision to stop the canal crossing, in addition to the indecisiveness of October 17.
“On October 16 our division units continued to secure the corridor and widen the crossing area and the bridgehead. The tank force of Hayim Erez moved about 15 miles to the west, destroyed four surface-to-air missile bases and returned to the bridgehead. On the night of October 16, Unifloat floating docks were towed on the allegedly cut off Spider road. On October 17 at about 07:00 we began to employ and connect them to the bridge, and immediately after this began a heavy shelling of the crossing area. About 170 cannons shelled the area for several days non stop. The grace period was over. The Egyptian air raids, which began the previous day, became more ferocious. The engineering units and everyone who was in or close to the crossing area was now operating under enemy shelling, but we were able to report that by 4:00 PM the bridge was expected to be complete (eventually the work was done by 4:30 PM).
On the noon of October 17, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan arrived to the front line. Even at this difficult stage, the Southern Command was yet to realize that it was not possible to vanquish the Egyptians with only one division, and that it was necessary to concentrate at least two divisions in one fist, as I have claimed in October 7. Dayan alone accompanied me to the ‘Backyard’ and crossed the canal. The first time that the Chief of Staff arrived to the western side of the canal was on October 19 at noon. Bar Lev and Gonen never arrived to the division’s front line.
On October 17 at 4:30 PM the first bridge of floating decks was set up. In addition, there were two ‘Crocodiles’ rafts in the water. Earlier, the Spider road was officially declared open, but the order not to transport through it ‘not even one tank or soldier’ remained unchanged, and therefore no other forces arrived.
Aden’s division began crossing the canal only at 11:00 PM. Seven hours have passed from the time the bridge was set up until the time it was used for crossing. From the time the tanks of Hayim Erez crossed the canal, 35 hours were wasted. Aden’s division began the breakthrough battle from the bridgehead only on the morning of October 18, but now it had to face the Egyptian formations. During the day the division made a progress of only three miles from the bridgehead – in an area which was empty two days earlier and where Hayim Erez operated and penetrated with no obstructions.
The breakthrough to the depth of the Egyptian rear occurred only on October 19, three days too late. Even at this late stage the Egyptians could not prevent the encircling of the Third Army and our deployment very close to Cairo, but at this point the chance to end the war in a strategic victory for Israel rather than for Egypt was missed.
On October 18, brigade 600 opened the Tirtur road. Jackie Even used this road for the transportation of the cylinder bridge and by midnight the bridge was slid to the water under heavy fire and was prepared for use. That day, Brigade 14 along with Shaked Regiment captured the buildings of the ‘Chinese Farm’ and continued to move north. Just west to them, the paratroopers and brigade 421 kept on widening the bridgehead towards north and west, sticking big Israeli flags on each Egyptian ramp they captured. This manifestation of our penetration to the rear of the Second Army helped weaken the resistance to our forces.
“From October 19 on we widened the bridgehead to the west and reached the fresh water canal which led water from the Nile to Ismailia. At this point a cease fire was announced.
“We organized and counted the dead. We suffered heavy casualties but could not know for sure how many because some units joined the division and left in the midst of the fighting.
“It was a very difficult war – ‘the war of the soldiers’ I called it then. It was a great victory of the forces that fought in the battlefield, all the divisions, the combat soldiers who believed they carry the burden of the responsibility to the existence of Israel due to the failure of the higher command in the rear.
“The canal crossing transformed the war from defeat to a victory, and eventually it was the factor that brought about the signing of the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country – Egypt.”
Yeshayahu Ben Porat, Israeli political journalist, says: “He led the military across the Canal and occupied a part of Egypt, west of the Canal. If it were up to him he would have continued until Cairo.”