About Yom Kippur war - Shmuel Askarov story
|December 23rd, 2004||#1|
| || |
Yom Kippur war - Shmuel Askarov story info
Israeli forces came within a hairsbreadth of being pushed off the
Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War 25 years ago. Left by the nation's
leadership to face 9-1 odds, officers and men had to fall back on
instincts in the face of chaos.
Ten days before Yom Kippur, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, head of
Military Intelligence Gen. Eli Zeira, Northern Front commander Yitzhak
Hofi, and other senior military figures toured the Golan line. They were
briefed on a hilltop overlooking Syrian positions by Maj. Shmuel Askarov,
deputy commander of a tank battalion. At 24, he was the youngest deputy
battalion commander in the army and a fast-rising star.
He pointed out the large Syrian deployment to the east and described
the extensive exercises their tank units had been carrying out in recent
days. "War is certain," said the young officer. Dayan turned to Zeira for
a reply. "There will not be a war for another 10 years," Askarov would
remember him saying.
Facing the Israeli lines were five Syrian divisions with more than
45,000 men, 1,500 tanks and 1,000 artillery pieces. On the Israeli side
were 6,000 men, 170 tanks and 60 artillery pieces.
At noon on Yom Kippur, Maj. Askarov drove his tank to his office in
the Hushniya base, a few kilometers west of the front line, and left it
parked a meter from his door, like a favorite sports car, with the crew
At 1:56 p.m., the Yom Kippur stillness was shattered by the drone of
planes and explosions. Even as the Syrian MiGs pulled away, artillery
shells started to tear into the Hushniya base and every other military
target on the Golan. Askarov was on his tank in a minute and heading at
full speed through the heavy barrage toward the front.
When he mounted the tank ramp alongside Bunker 111, he could see
nothing at first because the intensive shelling threw up clouds of dust.
When at last there was a lull, he was dumbfounded at the view. Emerging
from the dust cloud were hundreds of Syrian tanks moving toward the
Israeli line. Five tanks carrying portable bridges had already reached
the Israeli tank ditch -- five meters deep, five meters wide -- that ran
all along the line. Askarov managed to hit three that were within range.
Looking behind him, he saw that the six other tanks that were
supposed to be on the ramps were sheltering behind them. He called on
their commanders on the radio net to move up and begin firing, but got no
clear response. They all seemed to be in shock. Askarov ordered his
driver to reverse down the slope and brake alongside a tank commanded by
an officer. Despite the shelling, Askarov got out of his tank, climbed
the other tank and pulled out his revolver. "Get up there or I'll shoot,"
he said, pointing it at the officer's head. Within a minute, all the
tanks were on the ramp firing. Askarov understood that the shock of
battle can make good men freeze. As for himself, he had no doubt that he
would be hit. There seemed no way of not being swept away by this
inundation. The only question was whether he would be killed or wounded.
Within a short time, most of the tanks alongside him were hit and
their commanders killed. His own tank was hit four times but remained
operational. He kept moving from ramp to ramp in order to throw up dust
and create the impression of a larger force.
Askarov had chosen as his gunner the finest tank sniper in the
brigade, Yitzhak Hemo of Kiryat Shmona. Tank sniping is not a skill but
an art that can enable its practitioners to hit twice as many targets as
an ordinary gunner, even in the stress of battle. Within five hours,
Askarov would count some 35 tanks hit as well as a number of infantry-
carrying armored personnel carriers (APCs). It was Askarov who picked the
target and turned the turret, roughly aligning the gun. But it was the
gunner who did the final 10 percent of fine tuning that made the
difference between hit and miss.
Given the masses of vehicles passing under the guns on the ramp, it
was like shooting fish in a barrel except that in this case the fish were
shooting back. For the most part, the oncoming Syrian tanks simply
swerved around crippled tanks and continued past the bunker, heading for
the Israeli rear. Some, however, detached themselves to engage the tanks
on the ramps. About 7 p.m., Hemo hit a tank at 50-meter range that had
come up from the main track to the left of the ramp. Suddenly Askarov saw
another tank approaching 30 meters away on the service road leading up
from the UN post to the right. He swung the turret and shouted to Hemo,
who fired the same instant as did the Syrian gunner. Askarov was blown
out of the turret. Retrieved by men from the bunker, he reached Safed
Hospital within a few hours with wounds to his face and vocal cords that
enabled him only to whisper. He was operated on and told by the doctors
that he would be able to leave the hospital in two weeks. The young
officer, however, would be taking leave -- and returning -- much sooner
In Safed Hospital, Baruch Askarov, a high school senior, found his
brother Shmuel on Sunday afternoon lying in bed with his forehead and
throat wrapped in bandages. He could not talk louder than a whisper and
could not turn his head. Baruch had read an account in that morning's
newspaper of an officer hospitalized in Safed whose tank had destroyed
more than 30 Syrian tanks in the opening hours of the war. Even though
the article gave a different name, Baruch had recognized his brother from
the description and hitchhiked up from Tel Aviv.
During the day, Shmuel Askarov received visits and calls from rear-
echelon officers from his brigade. They reported an unending series of
disasters. The brigade, the 188th, had in effect been wiped out. Its
commander, his deputy, and the operations officer were dead; their bodies
had not yet been found. The remnants of Askarov's battalion -- 12 out of
33 tanks -- were cut off behind enemy lines at Tel Fares.
With a disaster of this magnitude looming, hospitalization was not a
luxury Askarov could permit himself. He reached his driver by telephone
and told him to bring a uniform. Early Monday morning, Askarov "escaped"
Safed Hospital and headed eastward in a jeep. Having no brigade to return
to, he got off at a large tank depot near Rosh Pina.
What was needed on the Golan, he reasoned, were tanks, mechanics and
crewmen. He found 150 men at the depot, some of whom had descended the
Heights on their own after their tanks were hit. Gathering them round and
speaking as loudly as he could, he said he was returning to the Golan and
wanted to take them with him. Every man was needed there. He had rounded
up four trucks at the depot, he said, to carry them. It seemed for a
moment that he had convinced the men to follow him, but then an officer
spoke up. "I'm a major and I ran away. You can put me in prison, but I'm
not going back to that hell." In the circumstances, that sounded to the
others more like the voice of reason than Askarov's plea for heroics.
Askarov drove off to the Golan with a solitary officer from the brigade.
His first stop was the headquarters base at Nafekh, which he was
relieved to find still in Israeli hands. On the basis of reports about
the last whereabouts of his brigade commander, he located the officer's
upended tank and found his body inside. One hundred meters to the rear
was the body of the deputy commander, who had abandoned his tank after it
had fired its last shell as Syrian tanks closed in.
Askarov drove from there to his battalion's rear base on the
Heights. It was filled with tank crewmen, mechanics, and damaged tanks,
but there was little activity. The men were dispirited and listless.
Askarov, a popular figure in the battalion, called the men together.
Despite his raspy whisper, he managed to transmit to them his
purposefulness and sense of urgency. The situation was desperate, he
said, and everything must be done to get tanks ready for battle in the
morning. Mechanics were soon swarming over the damaged tanks,
cannibalizing some in order to repair others. Askarov formed crews from
volunteers who readily came forward, men who lost their tanks during the
battle and were prepared to return to the front. Repairs went on
intensely through the night.
At one point, a colonel from Northern Command arrived and was
shocked at Askarov's physical appearance. He gave him a direct order to
return to hospital. "I'm commanding the brigade now," replied the young
major, "and I'm giving orders here." The staff officer relented.
Shortly before dawn, someone tapped Askarov hard on the shoulder.
It was Col. Yossi Ben-Hanan, who had been battalion commander until the
month before. He had been in Nepal on his honeymoon when he heard by
chance three days before that his country was at war. He had rushed back
as fast as he could and headed for the Golan. Askarov handed over command
of the force he had shaped. Their old battalion, destroyed in battle,
appeared to have emerged from the ashes.
Just as a sector commander was withdrawing from the line, his tanks
out of ammunition, the 13-tank force that Askarov had organized the
previous night arrived to take his place. Askarov took up position
alongside Ben-Hanan as the rest of the unit formed a battle line. They
began to move slowly forward, pushing the Syrians back.
The Israeli and Syrian tanks were whirling in a death dance, mixed
in with one another. Askarov hit a tank just 40 meters from him and set
it ablaze. A Syrian crewman leaped out, but Askarov had turned away to
scan the battlefield ahead for tanks. He heard Ben-Hanan shout on the
radio, "Watch out," but it was too late. The Syrian tank crewman had
fired a shot from his assault rifle that struck Askarov in the head. Ben-
Hanan killed the Syrian with a shell and ordered Askarov carried to a
Askarov was taken to Rambam Hospital in Haifa where he was examined
by four neurosurgeons. The bullet had entered his forehead and emerged
from the rear of his skull, damaging his brain. Three of the doctors said
it was hopeless and turned their attention to other casualties flooding
the hospital. The fourth doctor, Yitzhak Shechter, performed an eight-
hour operation. Askarov would recover. Though partially paralyzed and
impaired in speech, he would walk unaided, drive his own car, read
extensively, and enjoy an active social life. Today, after lengthy
rehabilitation, he works for the Defense Ministry.
Israel's recovery from the war's shattering opening reflected a
vigorous society that had both a coherent framework for survival -- an
efficient mobilization system and a well-trained army -- and an ability
to improvise in chaotic circumstances. As Avigdor Kahalani would note,
those who stopped the Syrian onslaught were not volunteers from elite
units but ordinary tank crews who represented a cross section of the
population. The nation had proved strong enough to survive the failures
of its leadership.
For Israel, the trauma of the Yom Kippur War is not a nightmare to
be forgotten but a national memory to be perpetuated. It offers a
standing reminder of the dire consequences of shallow thinking and
arrogant pride. But the war also remains a source of surpassing
inspiration deriving from the courage of those who, in a dark hour,
mounted the nation's crumbling ramparts and held.
Champayne for our real friends
real pain for our sham friends
|December 25th, 2004||#3|
| || |
the book that i listed has the same story, but describes it in more detail and is written very well... when i read it i could actually imagine the battle, good use of imagery...