Fighting with Agility
The 162nd Armored Division in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War
Lt. Col. Nathan A. Jennings, PhD, U.S. Army
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The tenets of operations (agility, convergence, endurance, and depth) reflect factors that can explain, in part, why armies succeed or fail in challenging campaigns. Agility, specifically, has emerged as critical to attaining success on the increasingly lethal, expensive, and transparent battlefields of the twenty-first century. As seen in recent events such as the siege of Mosul, the Nagorno-Karabakh War, and Russia-Ukraine War, the ability for attacking combined arms formations to, as argued in the U.S. Army’s revised capstone doctrine, Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, “move forces and adjust their dispositions and activities more rapidly than the enemy” remains essential to protect cohesion and extend operational reach.1 This requirement, especially in the context of proliferating antiair, antiarmor, surveillance, and electronic warfare systems, makes the mastery of operational agility a fundamental imperative for expeditionary armies that seek to achieve decisive outcomes in landscapes increasingly becoming defined by positional and attritional dynamics.
History is replete with examples of militaries that succeeded, and failed, to operate with agility in the face of formidable defenses in order to achieve strategic objectives. The 162nd Armored Division of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) provides a useful example of a formation that negotiated a rapid series of tasks and transitions to enable a high-risk counteroffensive in the final stages of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. While the command’s performance included a costly learning curve following early mistakes, its subsequent recovery and execution of a critical sequence of actions before, during, and after the crossing of the Suez Canal tells a story of adaptation and initiative. The resulting record, which included enabling the crossing, repelling counterattacks, reconstituting combat power, crossing the canal, and immediately leading the breakout in Africa—across just two days of intense combat—offers a compelling case study to understand how superior agility can mitigate setbacks and create opportunity.2
This episode, which deeply informed the U.S. Army’s AirLand Battle reforms in 1980s, holds new value as the institution adopts the multidomain operations concept and negotiates challenges in the twenty-first century. As proven in recent conflicts, the development of sophisticated adversary defenses—bristling with standoff weaponry entrenched in complex terrain—is again threatening to raise the cost of maneuver. While all wars remain distinct to their time and place, the IDF counteroffensive in 1973, and more specifically the 162nd Division’s demonstration of operational agility at the Suez Canal, offers relevant insights to inform how contemporary armies can win across battlefields that feature arrayed fires and ubiquitous surveillance. As argued by Gen. Mark Milley, the twentieth chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this will ultimately require American forces to “disrupt, penetrate, disintegrate, and exploit the enemy’s anti-access systems” to catalyze “operational paralysis” or risk failure in the crucible of expeditionary combat.3
The Fourth Arab-Israeli War began on 6 October 1973 when Egypt and Syria conducted surprise offensives into the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights respectively to reclaim lost territories (see figure 1). While the Egyptian army attacked with two corps-size armies to overwhelm the Israeli forts and garrisons, called the Bar Lev Line, along the east bank of the Suez Canal, the Syrian army simultaneously launched an aggressive assault with thirty-two thousand men and 1,200 tanks to capture the strategically valuable plateau north of the Sea of Galilee. Employing cutting-edge, Soviet-provided antiair and antiarmor missile systems, the Arab forces then repelled the expected, and uncoordinated, counterattacks by the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and Israeli armored brigades that sought to converge multidomain efforts. The resulting IDF losses, which shocked the national command, saw the IDF lose more than 40 percent of its tanks in the Sinai theater in just two days of fighting along with more than thirty attack aircraft during a similar period.4
These opening moves shattered previously held assumptions about the supposed overmatch of the Israeli military and the very character of modern warfare. During the Six-Day War in 1967, the IDF had employed rapid and deep maneuver by tanks and attack aircraft to decisively defeat a coalition of Arab adversaries on divergent fronts, resulting in massive territorial expansion for the Jewish state. Egypt and Syria, smarting from their losses, then acquired an array of surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems that included SAM-2s, SAM-3s, SAM-6s, and SAM-7s along with ZSU-23-4 self-propelled antiaircraft weapon systems designed to contest, or even neutralize, the IAF’s dominance over the air domain. On the ground, the Arab armies had likewise armed their infantry with man-portable AT-3 Sagger guided antitank missiles and RPG-7 rockets to counter the vaunted Israeli Armored Corps. While the IDF would quickly, albeit painfully, adapt in the north to repel Syrian forces out of the Golan Heights, Egypt’s shocking gains in the south would prove a far more difficult and costly challenge.
The problem of retaking the Suez Canal—which crystalized when the 252nd Armored Division lost approximately two hundred of three hundred tanks in the first IDF counterattack on the morning of 7 October—would fall squarely on the Southern Command’s 162nd Reserve Armored Division.5 Commanded by an experienced general named Avraham “Bren” Adan, the division, which began mobilization immediately after the Arab attack, included the 217th, 460th, and 500th Armored Brigades equipped mostly with American-provided M48 and M60 series tanks.6 While it possessed limited mechanized infantry, scouts, and a divisional artillery battery, it lacked the robust combined arms profile required to defeat the now entrenched Egyptian defenders. However, combat experiences in 1948, 1956, and 1967 had provided the command, also called the “Steel Formation,” with veteran leaders at battalion, brigade, and division levels who understood maneuver warfare. This tactical experience would prove crucial in coming days as the division would have to learn from mistakes and adapt to new threats.
The 162nd Division, with a combined total of 183 tanks, led the Southern Command’s renewed counterattack early on 8 October with a headlong assault by two armored brigades and another following in reserve. Ordered to dislodge the Egyptian 2nd Army’s strongpoints at Hizayon and Purkan north of the Bitter Lake, the attacking Israeli armor, which lacked adequate reconnaissance, mechanized infantry, and artillery support, encountered a flurry of enemy missiles and rockets from entrenched infantry as the division’s forward elements struggled to coordinate offensive actions. Worse, the Steel Formation attacked without planned close air support, which was supposed to compensate for the dearth of artillery fires, due to IAF commitments to the exploding crisis on the Golan Front. As argued by Adan after the war, his division, and the entire IDF, had become “prisoners of our own doctrine,” which demanded that they “attack as fast as possible and transfer the fighting into enemy territory.”7
Even as the 162nd Division failed to achieve its objectives in the Sinai at a shocking cost of eighty-three tanks, with similar failure by the 143rd Armored Division and its famed commander Ariel Sharon, the feared IAF encountered its own problems in the skies above. Prevented from eliminating enemy air capability preemptively or methodically as in the Six-Day War, the IAF suffered severe losses in the first week of fighting as they struggled to penetrate the Egyptian and Syrian integrated air defenses. While Israeli pilots would successfully protect the Israeli interior throughout the war, they would do so at the previously unthinkable cost of more than one hundred destroyed aircraft while leaving IDF ground forces bereft of critical support.8 However, in stark contrast, the IDF’s sophisticated missile boat fleet would achieve decisive success in the maritime domain by destroying the small Syrian, and then Egyptian, fleets off of the Mediterranean coast and accruing the benefits of localized sea control.9
With prewar plans in disarray and both their tank and aircraft fleets suffering massive losses, the IDF high command faced a central problem: how to restore offensive maneuver to the inordinately lethal battlefield without succumbing to an attritional contest that their adversaries could better afford. With the Syrian front stabilizing, the answer in the Sinai would arrive in the form of an ambitious attack across the Suez Canal that aimed to encircle Egypt’s 2nd and 3rd Armies and compel a favorable cease-fire. This would require the IDF to not only cross the canal under fire and repel expected counterattacks at points of vulnerability, but also to devise a solution to the SAM and air defense artillery (ADA) conundrum that prevented critical multidomain cooperation between IDF ground and air forces. The battered 162nd Division under Adan would play a central role in the planned operation as the primary breakout force and demonstrate the value of employing operational agility to counter enemy action and seize battlefield initiative.
Recovery and Defense
Despite plans for an ambitious counteroffensive across the canal (see figure 2), the IDF could not attempt the operation until they attained the necessary theater conditions. This occurred, in part, on 12 October when, over the strenuous objections of his generals, President Anwar Sadat acceded to demands from his Syrian ally to relieve pressure on the Golan front by ordering a general offensive into the central Sinai to seize key crossroads and command nodes. This proved decisive from an Israeli perspective because it required the Egyptians to transfer their operational reserve of two armored divisions across the canal to lead the attack—in effect transitioning the enemy posture from a defense in depth to more of a forward posture that could more easily be penetrated and reduced. More importantly, the Egyptian offensive would compel their armor and mechanized infantry to move beyond the antiair and antiarmor shield that had stymied Israeli efforts to that point and, even worse, attack into prepared engagement areas.10
This turn of events would provide an opportunity for the 162nd Division, still recovering from its devastating losses, to regain confidence on favorable terms. Over the past few days, the Steel Formation had reconstituted its combat strength and received reinforcements as it balanced a complicated mix of requirements to integrate replacement soldiers and units, repair battle-damaged and broken tanks, plan for the hoped-for offensive, and above all, maintain readiness to deflect attacks in their sector opposite the Egyptian 2nd Army in the Northern Sinai. Adan ordered one battalion from each brigade to defend forward while the other battalions stood down for recuperation and repair. By 13 October, the division had increased in size to 272 tanks across the three brigades. The depth of combat experience across the division leadership, specifically with armored warfare, proved invaluable as commanders revised their tactics to avoid another catastrophic setback.11
The Egyptian offensive on the morning of 14 October catalyzed the largest clash of tanks since the Battle of the Kursk in 1943. Seeking to draw IDF attention away from the collapsing Golan front, the 21st Armored Division of the 2nd Army and the 4th Armored Division of the 3rd Army led a general assault to advance into the Sinai interior and seize the Mitla and Gidi Passes as well as the IDF command center at Refidim. Unfortunately, and despite the robust artillery fires that preceded the attack, the vector of the Egyptian forces took them away from the antiarmor entrenchments along the canal and into engagement areas overwatched by Israeli tanks and newly acquired TOW antitank missiles. Worse, the attack also left behind the vital SAM and ADA protection and soon allowed a vengeful IAF to compliment the IDF armor’s gunnery with close air support. By afternoon, the remains of stunned Egyptian units were in full retreat to their canal positions while leaving behind an astounding 250 burning tanks.12
The 162nd Division, as the Southern Command’s northern element, played a central role in repelling elements of the 2nd Army in the north. Realizing the need to preserve combat power for the imminent crossing, Adan tasked a temporarily attached armored brigade, with the 500th Brigade in support, to turn back the Egyptian assault while preserving the rest of the division for a future offensive. Now in their element, tank commanders directed textbook gunnery tactics from carefully selected fighting positions with limited counterattacks to prevent penetration of the Israeli line. The division completed the action by clearing out Egyptian infantry that had managed to infiltrate the town of Havraga. By 1600 hrs. that day, with the defense of the Sinai interior assured and the offensive power of the 2nd and 3rd Armies broken, the Steel Formation began turning over its defensive positions to an ad hoc division under veteran commander Sasson Yitzchaki and positioning to cross the canal.13
Enabling the Crossing
With conditions set for the next stage of the war, Southern Command initiated a complicated, multidivision plan designed to penetrate the Egyptian line at a fortuitous gap between the two defending armies, cross over the canal using redundant bridging systems, and break out with deep maneuver to the north and south to sever the Egyptian lines of communication back to Cairo. Critically, the penetration would require IDF ground forces to attack SAM clusters to create, as required by modern Army doctrine, “windows of opportunity” for the IAF to begin disintegration of the Egyptian air defense network. After Sharon’s 143rd Division secured and established the bridgehead over the canal, the 162nd Division would serve as the main effort for the breakout in Africa.14 Unfortunately for Adan and his men, they would not be allowed to wait for their turn to execute; immediate setbacks in establishing the crossing would require agile positioning and retasking to prevent culmination of the IDF scheme.
The first unanticipated action occurred on 15 October when Sharon’s forces proved unable to clear key intersections along the single route leading to the crossing point due to unexpectedly fierce enemy resistance. These difficulties included what would become known as the Battle at the Chinese Farm, which left Sharon’s 14th Armored Brigade severely damaged after chaotic night fighting. The 162nd Division, as it followed along the Akavash Road to posture for crossing, soon received orders to both clear entrenched Egyptian infantry and armor from the vital Lexicon and Tirtur intersections and assume escort responsibility for the struggling pontoon convoy attempting to reach the crossing site. Even as Sharon launched his elite 247th Parachute Brigade across the canal in rubber boats, soon to be followed by an advance guard of twenty tanks on motorized rafts, enemy presence along the passageway to the canal threatened to prevent establishment of more secure bridgeheads with reliable pontoon and roller bridges.15
Over the next hours, the 162nd Division balanced the task of enabling the precarious crossing operation and preserving strength for the anticipated breakout. When the 217th Armored Brigade encountered difficulties in dislodging the entrenched Egyptian forces, Adan received the 35th Paratrooper Brigade to clear a series of trenches and positions extending south from the Chinese Farm. The infantry, under pressure from Southern Command to secure the route for the approaching bridge convoys, rushed into battle the night of 16 October and fought throughout the next day while taking significant losses due to faulty intelligence and miscoordination. Eventually, when the 890th Battalion became pinned down by Egyptian fire and numerous casualties, Adan dispatched the 460th Armored Brigade to rescue the beleaguered infantry. While it would take days to reduce the Egyptian positions along the route, the division’s perseverance enabled the vulnerable bridge convoys to pass through to the crossing point.16
Ambushing the Counterattack
Events in the Sinai theater began to move quickly as the IDF forced the crossing and the Egyptian command realized the seriousness of the situation. Even as the 35th Brigade battled for control of the crossroads and the Chinese Farm, the 143rd Division’s advance tanks had begun destroying SAM and ADA systems proximate to the expanding bridgehead. In Cairo, where Sadat had attended a premature victory parade, the Egyptian national leadership reacted frantically by ordering immediate counterattacks by the 2nd and 3rd Armies to meet in the center and sever the IDF penetration. With the 143rd Division preoccupied with executing the initial crossing, escorting two of the three bridging systems, and recovering from terrible fights the previous night and day, the Steel Formation, who yet needed to retain readiness to conduct the imminent breakout across the canal, would receive the task of countering both the Egyptian assaults and thus preserve the viability of the IDF counteroffensive.
The Egyptian 21st Armored Division attacked from the north first on the morning of 17 October, aiming to smash the Israeli bridgehead and strand Sharon’s forces on the far bank (see figure 3). Adan, also realizing that an elite Egyptian armored force was approaching from the south, directed his 460th Armored Brigade to block the northern sector while he positioned the 217th Armored Brigade to set an ambush in the south. This move, and the Israeli forces’ defensive dispositions informed by accurate intelligence, allowed them to maximize superior gunnery skills and take advantage of the hasty nature of the Egyptian tank assaults that left the attackers bereft of combined arms support. In short order, before noon, the 162nd Division’s northern element had destroyed much of the remaining offensive capability of the 21st Armored Division and compelled a scattered Egyptian retreat into their Sagger-protected positions. Amazingly, the Israeli gunners had destroyed forty-eight enemy tanks without losing a single armored vehicle.17
With his northern flank secured, Adan’s attention shifted south to the next threat: the elite 25th Independent Armored Brigade and its cutting-edge T-62 tanks. Again obeying Sadat’s express orders over the protest of senior Egyptians commanders, the brigade moved north on the Lexicon Road without adequate reconnaissance or fire support. This movement, with the canal on their left, led the Egyptians directly into a prepared “kill zone” where Adan’s 217th Armored Brigade opened fire against the 25th Brigade’s flank from higher ground while the 500th Armored Brigade, then serving as the Southern Command reserve, closed the trap with an assault from the south. The result was devastating for the Egyptians: in just a few hours, eighty-six of their ninety-six main battle tanks were destroyed along with numerous armored carriers and support vehicles.18 From the Israeli perspective, this final action reduced the threat of interference on the east bank and allowed full focus on crossing into Africa.
Maneuver and Breakout
Even as the Steel Formation completed the destruction of the 25th Armored Brigade, the IDF, after massive logistical hurdles, had finally installed the pontoon bridge over the canal. Low on fuel and ammunition following days of fighting, Adan, under pressure from both Sharon and Southern Command to immediately cross and exploit Egyptian paralysis, nevertheless had to pause on the evening of 17 October to partially replenish his worn brigades. At 2200, as Egyptian artillery now shelled the entire crossing site, the veteran general crossed with his division headquarters followed by the 460th Armored Brigade at midnight and the 217th Armored Brigade before dawn. Such was the urgency to seize initiative on the far bank that many of the 162nd Division vehicles launched without full fuel tanks. While the 500th Armored Brigade remained in the Sinai as the theater reserve, the division brought over two self-propelled artillery battalions and additional infantry to support its assault forces.19
By 0515 on 18 October, the division main body had crossed, assembled, and received passage-of-line briefs from the 143rd Division elements that had secured the lodgment. At 0545, in a remarkable display of operational agility, the command immediately pivoted southwest and attacked the first series of Egyptian positions. After Adan’s forces used a combination of shock armor assault, infantry clearing, and artillery suppression fires to defeat Egyptian tanks and Sagger-equipped infantry at the fortified Tsach crossroads—reflecting significant combined arms improvement since the start of the war—they then scattered an array of SAM clusters to allow IAF participation. Throughout this process, the brigades and battalions negotiated a delicate process of maintaining pressure on the Egyptian defenders and pausing to complete the delayed resupply. While the 143rd Division’s breakout to the north had stalled short of its objectives at Ismailia, the Steel Formation was making better progress toward cutting off the Egyptian 3rd Army on the east bank.20
Early the next morning, on 19 October, Sharon’s engineers finally emplaced a giant roller bridge, and Israeli forces began pouring across the canal. While the 500th Brigade rejoined the 162nd Division, the 252nd Armored Division arrived to protect its right flank. Overhead, in an act of desperation, the Egyptian high command had initiated a massive air battle that saw its air forces decimated by Israeli fighters even as they pulled critical SA-6 systems back to protect the capital area. Now boasting three armored brigades, Adan continued his attack to the south with an intermediate aim of clearing a cluster of SAMs from the Geneifa Hills to open the way to the main objective of Suez City. With Egyptian defenses in disarray, Israeli armor overran an entire artillery brigade that had been shelling the crossing site and, while coordinating with the IAF, cleared the SAMs from the high ground the next day. To the division’s right, the 252nd Division captured the valuable Fayid Airfield to repurpose as a forward air base.21
By 20 October, the Steel Formation had fought through the Geneifa Hills to sever the vital Asor Road and Cairo-Suez railway that connected the 3rd Army to its strategic support areas. With the 143rd Division having failed to fully isolate the Egyptian 2nd Army in the north, Southern Command placed renewed emphasis on completing the isolation of the 3rd Army to the south, despite intermittent cease-fire agreements, to attain diplomatic leverage for postconflict negotiations. With the 252nd Division on his right, Adan continued to prioritize the reduction of SAM and ADA sites as his forces encountered elements of the 4th Armored Division and 6th Mechanized Infantry Division that had recrossed to the west bank in a desperate move to prevent the strategic disaster. However, despite dogged Egyptian resistance, the ever-increasing Israeli air dominance allowed the attacking IDF ground forces to employ joint approaches to avoid culmination and continue the methodical advance.22
With a cessation of hostilities imminent, Adan pushed his forces hard in the final stage of the war to secure maximum positional advantage. While the 252nd Division maneuvered west of the hills of Mount Ataka and past the Steel Formation to reach the Adabiah Port on the Gulf Coast and complete the isolation of the 3rd Army, Adan, in a departure from the agile tactics that had marked his division’s performance over the previous week, ordered the 500th Armored Brigade with attached paratroopers to execute a hasty attack to occupy Suez City on 24 October. Unfortunately for the Israelis, the movement by disjointed columns into the complex urban terrain would result in disaster when a determined militia resistance inflicted heavy casualties and forced disparate groups of IDF soldiers to fight their way back to friendly lines. The dramatic loss of eighty men dead and one-hundred-twenty wounded over the next day and night would leave a black mark on Adan’s reputation and the 162nd Division’s record after the war.23
Yet regardless of the failure in Suez City, the IDF, and the 162nd Division in particular, had salvaged a disastrous start to the war and ended it with a convincing, though not fully decisive, tactical victory. While the Egyptian 2nd Army remained viable with intact lines, the 3rd Army to the south was beaten and likely only days away from surrender when the armistice took hold. By emphasizing operational agility, the Steel Formation had executed a complicated sequence of actions that required exceptional flexibility, responsiveness, and sequencing as it enabled the canal crossing, won major tank battles, reconstituted combat power, and exploited the crossing with deep maneuver. Called a “dazzling victory” by Adan, they “stormed the enemy and broke through his defenses” to advance one hundred kilometers in five days, eliminate thirty SAM sites, repel the Egyptian 4th and 6th Divisions, and capture thousands of prisoners.24 More importantly, the division’s tactical adroitness, even as it learned costly lessons, placed Jerusalem in a far better position to negotiate a future peace.
Insights for the Twenty-First Century
The Fourth Arab-Israeli War, though distinct to a different time and place, continues to hold insights for the U.S. Army as it focuses on winning wars of expanded scale and intensity. As seen in the Siege of Mosul, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and Russia-Ukraine War where positional and attritional dynamics have strongly influenced outcomes, the mastery of operational agility remains a fundamental requirement to attain battlefield success. This has become especially apparent given the multidomain character of the current environment and the demonstrated capacity for standoff weaponry to challenge the offensive actions. The combat performance of the 162nd Armored Division in 1973 consequently provides a valuable example for ground forces that seek to, as required in the 2022 version of FM 3-0, Operations, “maneuver to seize or retain key terrain and exert control over resources and people for as long as is necessary to achieve tactical, operational, and strategic objectives” in the twenty-first century.25
One of the primary and most obvious parallels between the Yom Kippur War and the contemporary environment is the continued lethality to both defending and attacking forces. As assessed in the U.S. Army’s postconflict report, “Anything seen on the battlefield can be hit, and anything that can be hit can be killed.”26 This trend toward attrition, which forced Adan to reconstitute entire brigades and innovate new tactics, has likewise characterized recent combat. While the Azerbaijani army reportedly integrated drones, indirect fires, and standoff missiles to destroy more than seven hundred armored vehicles and paralyze their Armenian opponent in 2020, the Russian army has suffered similarly high losses to sophisticated antiair and antiarmor weaponry in its invasion of Ukraine.27 Echoing how the IDF grappled with Egyptian lethality in the Sinai, armies in the present will be required to employ similarly agile approaches that preserve combat power and enable survivable maneuver across contested spaces.
A second continuity between 1973 and the current environment centers on the increasing transparency of the battlefield. With the onset of ubiquitous surveillance tied to long-range and precision fires, contemporary armies will require dexterity, redundancy, surprise, and deception to implement offensive maneuver and defend critical terrain. This is especially relevant during contested gap crossing operations, with the IDF’s successful traversing of the Suez Canal—despite major mistakes and Egyptian interference—contrasting with failed attempts by the Russian army to cross rivers in Ukraine in 2022. While the 162nd Division’s support to the IDF effort demonstrated how rapid maneuver, redundant systems, and crossdomain cooperation can overcome sophisticated defenses, the Russians proved unable to achieve the same against Ukrainian defenders who observed, targeted, and destroyed clumsy attempts.28 This indicates that transparency will remain a feature of modern warfare and countering it will require an enhanced scope of maneuver and logistical agility to survive and win in nonpermissive spaces.
One of the primary and most obvious parallels between the Yom Kippur War and the contemporary environment is the continued lethality to both defending and attacking forces.
A third insight from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War stems from the complicated requirement for armies to reconstitute during major campaigns. Following the disastrous initial counterattack where it lost 45 percent of its armor, the 162nd Division conducted a remarkable recovery that required rapid repair and replacement of tanks, integration of new leaders and soldiers, and psychological recovery of battered teams—all while yet committed to an active front. As argued by Adan after his shocking defeat, though his command was “dead tired, hurting for our friends … and downcast over the blows taken,” the division nevertheless “girded themselves for the task” and “threw themselves into the work.”29 Fast forward to the present, the debilitating losses by the Iraqi army in 2017, the Armenian army in 2020, and both the Russian and Ukrainian armies in 2022 suggest that dynamic reconstitution will remain fundamental to sustaining operational endurance and campaign tempo.30 Conversely, inability to rapidly rebuild broken formations will not only risk culmination, but also potentially outright defeat, in austere and expeditionary settings.
A fourth insight from the experience of the Steel Formation in 1973 pertains to the ability to operate with enough agility to ensure multidomain convergence. While the division’s early setbacks stemmed from the Arab militaries’ newfound ability to disintegrate the IDF’s historical air-ground approach, its subsequent success in responding to armored counterattacks in Sinai and then maneuvering into Africa resulted from adaptive efforts to restore crossdomain cooperation and isolate components of the Egyptian area defense.31 For contemporary armies, as illustrated by flawed combined arms and joint offensives in Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Ukraine, the imperative to prevent friendly disintegration while inflicting the opposite upon the enemy order of battle remains just as challenging and important in the wars of today. Regardless of time and place, the lesson is clear: possessing the agility to ensure multidomain convergence continues to define success in campaigns that aim to maneuver decisively against sophisticated antiaccess and area denial defenses.32
The record of the 162nd Armored Division in 1973 represents a useful demonstration of how ground forces can employ operational agility to overcome intractable challenges.
In the final analysis, the record of the 162nd Armored Division in 1973 represents a useful demonstration of how ground forces can employ operational agility to overcome intractable challenges. For contemporary armies, the Steel Formation’s ability to rapidly reconstitute, enable difficult gap crossings, repel enemy counterattacks, and transition to offensive maneuver remains an emulative example. For the U.S. Army of today, like how it studied the conflict for the AirLand Battle reforms in the 1980s, the episode can inform its adoption of the emergent multidomain operations doctrine. While no two conflicts are exactly alike, the requirement to employ superior agility to converge efforts, disintegrate networks, and endure in lethal settings will remain fundamental to both deterring adversaries and defeating enemies. Adan, in his memoir, perhaps summarized it best: “In spite of unfortunate conditions at the start, we managed to hold our own; we were able to recover quickly and launch a counterattack” that, against all the odds, allowed his nation to “overcome the most problematic of situations.”33
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Department of the Army or Department of Defense.
- Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2022), 3-3.
- George W. Gawrych, The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: The Albatross of Decisive Victory (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, 1996), 50, 56–57, 64, 73.
- Sydney Freedburg, “‘A Perfect Harmony of Intense Violence’: Army Chief Milley on Future War,” Breaking Defense, 9 October 2018, accessed 26 October 2022, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/10/a-perfect-harmony-of-intense-violence-army-chief-milley-on-future-war/.
- Gawrych, 1973 Arab-Israeli War, 40.
- Ibid., 43–44.
- Avraham Adan, On the Banks of the Suez: An Israeli General’s Personal Account of the Yom Kipper War (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1980), 218.
- Joseph Doyle, The Yom Kippur War and the Shaping of the United States Air Force (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, 2019), 4, 6.
- Chaim Herzog, The War of Atonement, October 1973 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1975), 263–69.
- Abraham Rabinovich, The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter that Transformed the Middle East (New York: Schocken Books, 2004), 341.
- Adan, On the Banks of the Suez, 228–29.
- Herzog, War of Atonement, 205–7.
- Adan, On the Banks of the Suez, 240.
- Gawrych, 1973 Arab-Israeli War, 60.
- Amiram Ezoz, Crossing Suez, 1973 (Tel Aviv, IL: Content Now Books, 2016), 205–8.
- Ibid., 247–49.
- Rabinovich, Yom Kippur War, 404–5.
- Herzog, War of Atonement, 228–9.
- Adan, On the Banks of the Suez, 308–13.
- Ibid., 314–15.
- Herzog, War of Atonement, 241–44.
- Ibid., 245–48.
- John Spencer and Jayson Geroux, “Urban Warfare Project Case Study Series: Case Study #4—Suez City,” Modern War Institute at West Point, 13 January 2022, accessed 26 October 2022, https://mwi.usma.edu/urban-warfare-project-case-study-4-battle-of-suez-city/.
- Adan, On the Banks of the Suez, 437–38, 473.
- FM 3-0, Operations, ix.
- Donn A. Starry, “October 1973 Mideast War,” 12 May 1975, Box 59, Folder 3, Gen. Donn A. Starry Papers, The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
- Seth Jones, “Russia’s Ill-Fated Invasion of Ukraine: Lessons of Modern Warfare,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1 June 2022, accessed 26 October 2022, https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-ill-fated-invasion-ukraine-lessons-modern-warfare; Eado Hecht, “Drones in the Nagorno-Karabakh War: Analyzing the Data,” Military Strategy Magazine 7, no. 4 (Winter 2022): 31–37, accessed 2 December 2022, https://www.militarystrategymagazine.com/article/drones-in-the-nagorno-karabakh-war-analyzing-the-data/.
- David Johnson, “Would We Do Better? Hubris and Validation in Ukraine,” War on the Rocks, 31 May 2022, accessed 26 October 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/05/would-we-do-better-hubris-and-validation-in-ukraine/.
- Adan, On the Banks of the Suez, 153.
- Johnson, “Would We Do Better.”
- Gawrych, 1973 Arab-Israeli War, 68.
- Jones, “Russia’s Ill-Fated Invasion of Ukraine.”
- Adan, On the Banks of the Suez, vii, ix.
Lt. Col. Nathan Jennings is an Army strategist and assistant professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is a graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and holds a PhD in history from the University of Kent. He served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Armies in Retreat: Chaos, Cohesion, and Consequences
Edited by Lt. Col. Tim Heck (U.S. Marine Corps) and Capt. Walker Mills (U.S. Marine Corps)
In Armies in Retreat: Chaos, Cohesion, and Consequences, editors Timothy Heck and Walker Mills have culled together a collection of essays that fills a critical gap in publications and literature covering large-scale combat operations. Every battle has two sides: the victors and the vanquished. This book explores retreating armies—those that maintained cohesion and later succeeded and others that devolved into chaos. Ultimately, this book is about surviving defeat and designed to inform leaders about what to expect when the unexpected happens, to prevent the shock and mitigate some of the terror on every side so they can respond with resilience and cohesion. Retreat, while unpalatable, can ultimately lead to military or national survival, even victory.
To read this book online, visit https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Portals/7/Research%20and%20Books/2023/ArmiesRetrt-HeckMills-2023.pdf.
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