The IDF’s 600th Armored Brigade in the Yom Kippur War

A very moving gathering took place on Tuesday evening at the Latrun Armored Corps memorial site.

IDF RESERVISTS for the 600th Brigade train at Tze’elim. 370 (photo credit: courtesy)
IDF RESERVISTS for the 600th Brigade train at Tze’elim. 370
(photo credit: courtesy)
A very moving gathering took place on Tuesday evening at the Latrun Armored Corps memorial site. Participants included dozens of former IDF gunners, fighters and commanders who were members of the IDF’s 600th Armored Brigade under the command of Col. (res.) Tuvia Raviv in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
They had gathered for a survey by the distinguished historian Menachem Ben- Shalom on the 600th Armored Brigade’s operations during the war.
Ben-Shalom devoted a good few years to his historical investigation of the war during which some 119 soldiers who fought for the brigade fell. The result is a unique study that incorporates recordings and documents from the brigade’s communications network, as well as individual testimonies by soldiers and commanders.
The findings focused on three primary subjects:
• The war in the Sinai Peninsula, from October 9- 10.
• The large-scale “misleading operation” from October 15-16.
• The final, heroic battle to establish a corridor to victory, in which there were many casualties.
The historical investigation, which has not yet been completed, will ultimately cover other activities of the brigade as well.
One example is the evacuation of dozens of paratroopers during the so-called Battle of the Chinese Farm in the Sinai Peninsula between October 15-17.
Ben-Shalom, who also fought for the brigade, has made supreme efforts not to sound like a Monday morning quarterback critical of the commanders’ orders. Before presenting any data, he apologized repeatedly, saying, “These are the facts that we have found. Perhaps the reality was different.”
The findings are not easy to digest, except for Israel’s refusal to accept an Egyptian peace initiative and the intelligence failures on the eve of the war. In addition, the brigade’s tanks were in the process of being upgraded.
In all, Ben-Shalom uncovered much confusion, incomplete orders, the absence of battle intelligence and other shortcomings that might not have actually occurred. As we say in Hebrew, “Things you see from here you don’t see from there.”
One clear conclusion, though, does emerge from the study: the courage, determination and persistence of the soldiers were beyond imagination.
The hardest thing to fathom was Ben-Shalom’s presentation of Operation Abirei Lev (“Stouthearted Men”), the battle for the corridor to the Suez Canal.
According to the IDF commanders, it was an erroneous order that led the brigade to fight for a large piece of Egyptian territory (near an agricultural research station) which was well-guarded by the Egyptians.
Despite the difficult circumstances, the brigade succeeded in significantly expanding the corridor, while suffering a large number of casualties.
In the 40 years that have passed since the war, the pain and the trauma of those who fought in the war have not subsided. A group of young civilians, including myself, were summoned from our homes and families to fight in the war. We didn’t know when or if we would return.
We were a group of young reservists, but professional in every respect. We had at our disposal the IDF’s latest tanks, purchased as part of a package by then-prime minister Golda Meir. Our entire future stood before us. We all got to know each other intimately, both those who returned, and those who didn’t.
The pain over the loss of our comrades is enormous, and so is the anger.
There was something in the air at Latrun that was special, something that you can’t express in words. There are those who call it “the bond of brotherhood” among soldiers, but perhaps it has another name, something that won’t allow the pain and the anger to win, something that leaves all of us with a spark of hope.
The author served as a gunner in the 600th Armored Brigade during the Yom Kippur War.
Translated by Sapir Sharvit.