Yom Kippur War : Ramadan War Fight for Missouri, Oct 21, 1973.
A lot has been written about the Yom Kippur War, but still there are many facts that became available only in recent years.
The same is true for this article.
No one likes to talk about failures and that is the reason that many associate YKW with IDF standing and pushing its enemies back and even further, being more effective, flexible, smart and trained than its rivals. Well it was not all the time and there were some painful failures.
I am going to tell you about the fight that many have never heard about. Note I can miss some details and it somewhat chaotic, as the sources are messy and sometimes not matching.
October 18, after successful crossing of the Channel, Oct 15-16 (421 Brig), and pushing towards Ismailia (14 Brig) from west, and clearing Chinese Farm area (14 and 600 Brig) and enlarging bridgehead area (600 Brig) from east, Gen Arik Sharon (143 Div CO) was requested by Gen Shmuel Gonen (Southern Command Chief), to clear up Missouri range, egg-shaped area north of Chinese Farm, 7.5km long and 3.5km wide (see map).
Sharon was not eager to shift from his plan, besides he believed there was no threat coming from Missouri towards the bridgehead.
Gonen insisted but Sharon stood still. Finally after three days of ping-pong over the radio, on the morning Oct 21, Gen Gonen supported by Bar-Lev (acting as Southern Corps CO) put an ultimatum – either Sharon is going to fulfil the order and attack Missouri, or he will be relieved of command immediately. Need to say that earlier Sharon tried to seek some help from Moshe Dayan (Minister of Defense), but Dayan decided not to interfere in ‘tactical decisions’.
Most of Sharon units already crossed the Channel, and there was no other option rather to commit 600th Brigade – young reserve duty unit, formed in 1971 and a year later received the newest tank in IDF inventory – M60A1. Oct 21, 9:30 am, two Magach 6 tanks of 600thBrigade CO Col. Tuvia Raviv and brigade support officer, crossed the Channel over the Roller Bridge and reported to Sharon HQ at Diversoir. Sharon said – ‘there is no other choice, you have to take over Missouri.’
Missouri was known to IDF intel as a two-brigade complex with well entrenched infantry, tanks and AT means, Raviv replied – ‘It will be a slaughter’.
There was nothing Sharon could do but offer Col. Raviv to step out from commanding the brigade for the suicide mission, of cause Tuvia declined but requested close artillery and air support, the latter was granted by Gen Motti Hod (acting as IAF advisor). The attack was planned for 1:00 pm.
The 600th Brigade had only two battalions (409 and 410, while 407 was reporting to 14th Brigade), in total there were about 40 (45) M60A1 tanks with exhausted crews that had almost no rest after the start of operation Knights of the Heart – crossing the Channel. After his return to Sinai Col. Raviv called his two battalion commanders for a brief. The plan was 410 Battalion (Yehuda Geller) attacked from its current position around Lexikon-Osha to the north-east, while 409 Battalion (Uzi Ben-Itzhak) pressed from south to north.
According to Yehuda Geller, the brief was too short to work out any detailed cooperation between battalions, besides they worked with maps from 1970 and had little understanding of the current situation besides there were remains of two infantry brigades devastated by previous fighting.
The reality was much worse – Missouri hosted elements of two brigades of 16 Division (16 Inf and 3 Mech) that were pushed from Chinese Farm, and remains of three brigades of 21 Division (1 Tank, 14 Tank and 18 Mech) pushed from Lexikon and Tirtur. There is no precise data on Egyptian forces but they were definitely over the ‘two infantry brigades’ known to 600th Brigade officers.
410 Battalion was spread over the Lexikon route (247-250) and over Osha route towards Missouri. There were 3 Companies (M – 4, L – 8 and K – 6) plus additional tanks that joined 410 battalions from two units – 3 from A Company, 87/14 and another 4 of B Company, 407/600 (those 7 tanks were combined in joint unit under command of Mgr. Rafi Mitzafon, A Company CO, 87/14, who now acted as 410 Battalion XO). In total there were 26 Magach 6 tanks including the tank of Yehuda Geller, Battalion CO. Moreover, in reality the battalion was separated into two elements.
Furthermore, in the middle of the structure (Osha 33), was mechanized infantry on halftracks. Battalion had a mission to sweep the northern area and take positions over the higher ground near A-Talia. 409 Battalion was spread on the line of Lexikon 251 with three companies (V, H and Z) that had about 15-18 tanks (I don’t have exact number). Need to say that most M60A1 tanks were not equipped by MGs and had limited capability against infantry. This glitch happened when the tanks were received in depots and no MGs were available at the moment.
Upon the original plan, Israeli jets had to attack Missouri at 1 pm, but the attack was postponed to 2 pm. At 2 pm several Skyhawk formations appeared but shortly before the attack they were redirected towards Ismailia. Artillery fire-mission was on time but due to the relatively small number of rounds (700) the effect on Egyptian positions was very limited.
Sharon postponed the attack till 2.30 but still there were no planes and artillery elements were shifted to other missions.
3 pm – 4 attack jets dropped the bombs from high altitude (despite the request to attack with napalm from low level), most of the hits were scored on already destroyed armor and there was almost no effect on Egyptian forces. 600th Brigade tanks were in positions for already two hours. Another 15 min delay. Finally at 3:15 pm Col. Raviv got the green light from Division HQ and ordered an attack.
The tanks of 410 Battalion moved at full speed constantly firing at armor and infantry (at least what could be identified), very soon it appeared that map was not correct. And the northern part of the Missouri complex appeared to be much closer than anticipated.
M Company got engaged by AT fire, 4 tanks were hit by Saggers and pulled back, then two of them hit mines. L Company, the most northern one, attacked infantry positions when one-by-one tanks were hit by ATGMs, in a matter of minutes the company lost 5 tanks from 8. Yehuda Geller, 410 CO, stopped the attack and ordered infantry on half-tracks to recover casualties. At least one half track was destroyed by mines with Mech Infantry Company CO KIA.
On the right flank K Company and the joint unit under Rafi Mitzafon pressed through Missouri. Two tanks of the joint force got hit and the rest retreated after recovering casualties. K Company lost two tanks but its CO decided to continue the attack and crossed Missouri towards Television range where all its tanks were hit by AT fire, one tank was destroyed by ammo detonation with all crew KIA. Rafi Mitzafon followed K Company with his tank and managed to recover survivors. On the way back the lone tank loaded with IDF tankmen most probably lost direction and got knocked out by Egyptians, getting 2-3 AT hits and MG fire, killing several and wounding all others.
Israelis abandoned the tank and tried to make it to friendly lines, Rafi was killed by Egyptians, others were taken POWs and only two managed to make it back.
On the southern side 409 Battalion started to move east to take positions towards north and got engaged by heavy AT fire. It stopped and returned fire, reportedly destroying about 20 Egyptian tanks. At some point 409 Battalion CO realized that they were firing at 410 Battalion tanks that might have lost direction, as there was no coordination between battalions. The tanks of 409 ceased fire, moved forward towards the center of Missouri range, and waited for 143 Division order to continue the attack, but fortunately it was cancelled.
Two tanks were lost to mines and there were no other losses to the battalion. For 410 Battalion the story was completely different, from 26 tanks only 4 made their way back.
All but one of the infantry half tracks were lost, 40 men were killed, and several POWs taken. Battalion lost almost all officers including XO and three company commanders. Moreover, the men of the joint unit (87 and 407 battalions) were not registered in the 410 battalion roster and therefore the casualties could not be identified by 100%.
Arik Sharon took this as his personal fault – he knew about the situation with Missouri and inability of 600th Brigade to complete the mission, moreover he was certain that Egyptian forces in Missouri were not threatening the bridgehead. He surrendered to Gen Gorodish pressure and had to fulfil the order. Need to say that the dispute over Missouri was one of the major milestones in the so-called War of Generals – between Gorodish and Bar-Lev from one side, and Sharon and Adan from another.
The situation with Egyptian forces at Missouri was later confirmed by several Egyptian sources – there was no intention to attack the bridgehead, but to sit still and hold the ground as they anticipated another push but from the east (see post re Hamutal Ridge fighting). As for the fighting itself, the IDF tried to forget about it and for several decades there was no mention of this episode in YKW official history.