The Israeli commander whose 500 soldiers were stationed along the Suez Canal on the day 100,000 Egyptians invaded has spoken of the “earthquake” of the attack, 40 years after the Yom Kippur War.
Maj. Gen. Amnon Reshef, who commanded the 14th Armoured Brigade under Ariel Sharon, told the Jewish News of the moment when tens of thousands of enemy soldiers crossed the narrow waterway with over 1,000 tanks and 250 jets.
“It was as if the whole of the Sinai desert was moving,” said Reshef (pictured right), who was 35 at the time and only two days away from finishing his tour of duty at the front.
“It felt like an earthquake,” he said. “In the very first seconds we had casualties, and in just over two hours, 23,000 Egyptian soldiers crossed the canal. I had 82 soldiers killed and 102 wounded on the first day.”
Reshef’s 56 tanks, covering a 200km stretch along the east bank of the canal, tried to stop the Egyptian but several Israeli strongholds were over-run.
“It was like a flood,” he recalled. “We didn’t have any intelligence from above, so one of my first tasks was to understand where they were crossing and with what forces. I also had to see to the wounded and call for reinforcements. Everything is a priority in moments like that.”
Those reinforcements, together with Gen. Ariel Sharon, took 24 hours to arrive, at which point Reshef had lost two thirds of his tanks.
“Sharon was very offensive. He was one of the only ones who really understood what was going on.
“At the Battle of the Chinese Farm [an Israeli attack on an Egyptian stronghold, on the night of 15 October, when Israel destroyed 250 Egyptian tanks] Sharon was under immense pressure from his commanders but he never once put pressure on me, he never gave me an order, it was just consultation. He was very calm, very clever, a great leader.”
The battle comprised many hours of vicious close-quarter fighting resulting in over 120 Israeli dead, is considered by the veteran soldier Reshef as “the most terrible night of fighting in the IDF’s history”.
In the aftermath, sat perched on Reshef’s tank, he and Sharon sat talking.
“I was debriefing him, and he was talking about our options,” Reshef recalls. “We were exhausted. Suddenly I realised I was sleeping while he was talking and he was sleeping when I was talking! So we both went to get some rest.”
Reshef’s rousing speech on the eve of battle is still used across the IDF in military leadership training, and 40 years on the commander has nothing but praise for his men.
“My soldiers were heroes,” he says. “With their bodies they stopped the Egyptians and won the war. They were prepared to give their lives for their country. They were all heroes.”