November 2, 2014

 

 

During the first hours of the Yom kippur war on October 6, 1973, Israel was in a scramble to mobilize quickly to meet the invasion forces both of the Egyptians in the South and the Syrians in the North. They had been caught off guard with minimal forces to guard the borders which had been staunchly maintained since the end of the war in 1967.

The Arab force attacked on Yom Kippur purposely to maximize their gains early. The situation in those first 24 hours were desperate. While running to meet up with their units Israelis were wondering if this could this be it, was this the end of the State of Israel, would they all die in an heroic last stand?

One soldier was twenty-one year old Zvika Greengold (pronounced Zvee kah). Like most other Jews he was home on October 6th spending the Yom kippur observance with his parents. A former tank commander he had given up his command and was waiting orders to begin a course for company commanders.

He grabbed his stuff and flew out the door quickly hitch hiking a ride to the Nafah checkpoint a forward Israeli mechanized base for northern operations. He found it filled with wounded and dying soldiers, he did the best he could to help. Wanting to get into the fight he cleared with his central command that he was taking his tank squad back into action, he jumped. Removing wounded from incoming tanks he took off with one other tank toward the front line.

Force Zvika was born. The Israeli  positions were extremely outnumbered. The Syrians had over 1500 tanks in the field, 1000 artillery pieces including heavy mortars and surface to air missile batteries protecting Damascus, supplied and trained by the Russians. The Syrians, this time, were not going to be denied.

Well they weren’t counting on running into Force Zvika. That upset their plans a little.

The Israelis in contrast had only 170 tanks and about 60 artillery pieces, and in the beginning they were getting slaughtered. Valiantly fighting to hold on to the position the Israeli forces were taking extreme causalities.  All through the day of October 6, dead and injured soldiers piled up at the Nafah forward base.

Zvika and his two tanks rode up the Tapline Road, the gateway to the Golan Heights, to meet the oncoming Syrian 90th Armored Brigade. In his own words he describes what happened when he engaged the enemy.

“I fired [at the first tank] 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.”

Continually darting in and out of Syrian columns avoiding the zero targeting of Syrian guns and killing tanks as he went the Syrians appeared more confused than anything else.

From the Syrian actions Zvika could tell that they must have thought they were fighting a much larger force than his one tank. It wasn’t just the Syrians. His own command wasn’t sure how many tanks he had either.  Centcom squaked him and asked how many he had. Zvika   didn’t want to say in case the Syrians could have intercepted the message, so he just said, “My situation isn’t good and I can’t tell you how many.”

After more than twenty hours of running and firing his tank backwards and then moving around to flank another couple of Syrians and taking them out, Central command sent more tanks to reinforce Force Zvika. Greengold heard squawking on his radio that the Nafah base was under assault and without help would soon fall to enemy forces.

Zvika, broke from the others who were fighting and courageously holding the Syrians from advancing in a close range battle, he started back toward Nafah base. Upon arriving Zvika carried on a one man battle to defend the Israeli base, moving quickly along each of the perimeters and firing and hitting most targets. An Israeli commander observed the exchange from the top of a hill looking down at the base, he radioed in “there’s no one in the camp except a single tank fighting like mad along the fences.”

It was only the second day of fighting and Israel ‘s forces were being routed everywhere in both the north and the south. Force Zvika, standing as a one man show held off the Syrians for seven more hours at Nafah until Centcom sent in reinforcements.

During a lull in the fighting Zvika struggled to climb out of his tank, injured, wounded, burns on his chest and arms and full of black soot. He fell to the ground completely exhausted. An officer came over held him and he managed  “I can’t go on anymore.” Thirty hours of constant battle, mostly alone, and left to his own devices, Zvika Greengold held the enemy so Israel could eventually take back control of the all important Golan Heights.

Zvika Greengold was awarded Israel’s Order of Courage, the Jewish State’s highest military honor. It has only gone to seven other soldiers in the history of Israel’s wars.

Like most heroes he doesn’t want the praise and is extremely modest about his achievements. Instead he spreads it among his comrades in arms, his band of brothers, quoted as saying,

“There are men, alive and dead, who did wonderful things we don’t even know about.
The men on the line did exceptional things and I pale by comparison.”

Both fronts Egyptian and Syrian are discussed in this 9 minute video. Syrian story begins around 5:30. Zvika’s heroics are talked about although they don’t mention his name. You get the idea of Israel’s desperation in both Sinai and the Golan Heights in those first couple of days of the war.

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