A Watershed in Retrospect (The Yom Kippur War Twenty Years On - RAK REKA No. 18)

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Zvika's Story

At noon on Yom Kippur, Saturday October 6, Zvika Greenberg was at home on Kibbutz Lohamei Hagettaot. At 14.00 hours, Air Force planes began passing overhead. He rushed to a radio to hear that war had broken out, put on his uniform and went out to hitch a lift. At his unit base, "There was no-one to give orders. We opened a half-track radio set, and I suggested I retake command of my old company."

Zvika's suggestion was approved by radio. He raced up to the forward post at Nafah crossroads on the Golan: there was no way to reach the forward line, where a few tanks were still fighting. Four damaged tanks stood near the camp gate; armourers tried to repair them. Two hours passed.

Zvika radioed the bridge commander to report that he had a "force" ready for battle and received the code name "Zvika's Force". Close to 21.00 hours, the entire southern Golan tank force heard the radio report that "Zvika's Force" was going into action. One crewman later said: "It was very encouraging; a sign that reinforcements had arrived. We were convinced "Zvika's Force" was coming to our rescue." He had no idea that Zvika had only two damaged tanks - nor did the Brigadier.

Zvika: "The situation wasn't clear. We thought our tanks had blocked the Syrians and, that overnight, they would mop up the area - and the war would be over tomorrow. From what I heard over the brigade radio, and from my own assessment, the task didn't seem too difficult."

But on the Hushniye axis there were some hundreds of Syrian tanks, which had crossed between the front line positions and poured on with nothing to stop them. Zvika's two tanks moved in line abreast, slowly, carefully. After an hour, Zvika spotted his first Syrian tank, near the crossroads.

"I fired and he burst into flames. There was a terrific flash so I backed away fast. Then I found the radio wasn't working. I moved to the other tank and changed places with its commander. I told him, 'Watch me and do as I do, if possible'. Within a short time, a second Syrian arrived and we set him ablaze. I saw others, then noticed that the tank alongside me had vanished. I was alone, and surrounded from the front and to the right. I fired in both directions, destroying a number, moving backwards all the time. They began a search with lights. I destroyed a few more. The brigadier asked over the radio how many tanks I had. I told him: 'My situation isn't good and I can't tell you how many.'

The brigade radio reports were desperate everywhere; lack of fuel and ammunition. "A feeling of helplessness overtook everyone," Zvika says, "including the commander, because he had no reserve forces".

Close to midnight, Zvika noticed that a few tanks from another brigade had arrived to help. They were still an insignificant force, but they decided to advance along the Petroleum Road in two parallel columns, covering each other.

"We tried to advance, but our first tank was set ablaze immediately by a bazooka. The road was blocked by tanks with searchlights. All night long, armored brigades crossed the line with lights full on. We decided to send up a tank to help its damaged comrade. I moved up to give cover from the flank. Suddenly all three of us were ablaze. My gunner was injured; I felt the shock and the searing flame and pulled myself out. I was lying flat on the ground, but realized that the tank could explode; I went back to another of our tanks and then noticed I'd been wounded in my upper arms and on the left side of my face. I climbed into the tank and asked its commander to turn around.

"I was again alone with one tank. I saw the Syrian tank columns with supply and ammunition trucks. Today, I know that it was a whole armored division."

From time to time, Lt. Zvika's sole tank on the Petroleum Road would sally out, fire, hit a Syrian tank, set it ablaze and dash back in again. At 03.00 hours: it stopped firing rather than wear down the remaining forces, waiting until morning for additional tanks or Air Force support.

At dawn, Zvika was joined by a company of tanks. He deployed the force against possible attack by Syrian aircraft and armor and asked the brigadier to send 'somebody more serious' to command. The brigadier promised to come personally. While they were still talking, the Syrian artillery opened fire on "Zvika's Force", immediately followed by a tank charge.

"A battle began at a range of 1,500 yards - armour against armour. They had a whole armoured division, but didn't know how to fight," Zvika remembers. "During the day, it went very well, considering there were only 16 of us. Towards noon the situation was definitely improving. "

But this was a Syrian trap: while their armour was battling "Zvika's Force", another force was bypassing to assault Nafah cross-roads and the nearby command post. Zvika was ordered to withdraw to Nafah, where there were no tanks to meet the Syrians. As the Syrian tanks reached the camp fences, Zvika and Shai in two tanks got into the camp to try and stop them. But when Zvika's driver saw soldiers fleeing before the Syrians, he went into shock and raced out of the camp on a half-track. Zvika was driverless in a damaged, unusable tank.

"The brigade commander has been overturned." Zvika's shout pierces through the tumult, gesticulating with his hands. Over the radio, he asks, "I don't see enough of a force to stand up to the scores of Syrian tanks. What should I do?"

H.: "Zvika has three tanks without ammunition. The Syrian tanks are advancing along the ridges above the Oil Route - which is completely open. We have nothing with which to stop them."

It seemed that the crossroads on the approach to Bnot Yaakov Bridge would fall into Syrian hands, but help appeared in the form of a tank unit fighting from the north. The information officer realized they could establish a second defence line at Aliqua. He set up the tank force and a 120mm. battery on the road the Syrians would be forced to use because of their own mine-fields elsewhere… It was a suicide move, in a final effort to block the Syrian stream to the bridge.

Shmulik adds a wounded tank commander from a nearby base to Zvika's force; Zvika's gunner keeps making good hits; two more reservist tanks are rounded up and positioned. Then Syrian ground-to-air missiles shatter two Israeli airforce Skyhawks, while the bazooka ammunition runs out on terra firma. As Zvika begins taking on ammunition, he spots another wave of Syrian tanks advancing towards Nafah.
The brigade's three officers begin moving along the camp fencing and firing at the Oil Route, the ridges, in every direction, creating a pincer which catches the Syrians in a crossfire.

H. doesn't understand what's happening at Nafah; when the command jeep sets out to see, they are informed, "There's no one in the camp except a single tank fighting like mad along the fences."

Zvika has been directing the fighting in the camp as if his force were bent on suicide. Treads grinding and churning, his tank seeks out firing positions. Then he hears over the radio, "Aliqua's being attacked!" and leaves to aid his mother base. At the Nafah intersection, he comes upon scores of burning Israeli and Syrian vehicles, but off to the side are three
abandoned IDF tanks - in working order. he strikes the steel plate of the tank with his fist.

At Aliqua Zvika discovers it was a false alarm and asks what's being done; he studies the makeshift defence line.
Suddenly, he removes his helmet and climbs down from the tank. "I can't take it any more," he groans.

After the war, Zvika explained: "I still had strength. What broke me up was the sight of those three abandoned tanks. I got out of the tank feeling that the Israeli Army had reached the end of its road and the Golan wouldn't stand fast. I felt defeated and broken... the helplessness of inadequate force and inability to assist our weak points. One thing that stayed with me after this war was the feeling of being alone - not in a room, but in a war - with one tank."

That night, the information officer finally gets through to command HQ and asks for instructions for the following day.

"What?" he hears… "You're still alive?"

Taken aback, but recalling the last wishes of his late brigade commander, he replies slowly, "Yes, we're still alive" and replaces the receiver.

Lt. Zvika collapsed after 30 hours of combat. His superiors estimate that Zvika destroyed 60 Syrian tanks single-handedly, although he only claims 20. "There are men, alive and dead, who did wonderful things we don't even know about", he explains. "The men on the line did exceptional things and I pale by comparison."

Source: Item 1, Article 1 and Item 5 Bibliography.






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27 Jun 2007 / 11 Tamuz 5767 0