An eyewitness account of the 1973 Yom Kippur war

By Effi Eitam, April 18, 2008

The 1973 Yom Kippur War


When the 1973 war broke out, I was a platoon commander straight out of officers’ training. The battalion was in Tel Aviv, preparing for a big event of the Golani Brigade. On Yom Kippur, we were put on a combat footing, although no-one expected war. Then we heard sirens go off and saw people going out of the synagogues. I understood that something serious was happening. That night, we were sent up north in buses, to a base near Rosh Pinah, where we were supposed to receive half-track vehicles. We could see the bombardment on the Golan Heights, but no-one was talking about war yet. All kinds of sergeants wanted us to sign forms — it seemed as if the process was cut off from reality. We smashed open a gate and drove out, my platoon on three half-tracks. We arrived at the brigade HQ at Naffakh and were ordered to take up positions outside the camp. It was 8am, and I looked through the binoculars and saw a sight I will never forget: hundreds of Syrian tanks charging on to the Golan. We thought that our tanks were still there facing them. No-one in HQ knew anything. They started firing, and in no time our half-tracks were burning. Most of our company dispersed, and we retreated a bit to the west. I radioed the HQ that tanks were close to the base’s perimeter. They radioed back: “Young officer, improve your range assessment.” They had no connection to what was happening out in the field. I was left there with one more soldier. We had a World War Two bazooka rocket, the company’s main anti-tank weapon. I prepared it and we hid behind a rock and waited for the lead Syrian tank. When it was ten metres away, I got out and fired the first missile. It hit the tank and stopped it, though it did not catch fire. The tank crew got out and the entire Syrian battalion that was leading the onslaught stopped. A few of the tanks kept on firing, but their advance ended. I have researched this battle for decades, and still have not come up with a convincing answer: why didn’t they take advantage of their success and carry on towards the Jordan Valley? Some say they were afraid of tank-hunting teams in the area. Others believe that the Syrian high command was worried that, if they advanced too far, Israel would use its doomsday weapon. I have found no proof of these theories. I just call it a miracle.

Last updated: 1:46pm, September 16 2008