Tuesday, October 22, 2013
How One IDF Commander Turned Back a Syrian Column in the Yom Kippur War
With just one tank, Captain Zvika Greengold withstood the might of the Syrian military. As the battle around him raged, he moved in and out of the darkness, firing at Syrian forces while remaining undetected. He persisted heroically for hours, throwing himself at the enemy in the face of almost certain death.
On October 6, 1973 – the first day of the Yom Kippur War – the Syrian military bombarded Israel’s northern border. At exactly 2:00 pm, its air force and artillery pounded IDF positions in the Golan Heights in coordination with an Egyptian strike in the Sinai Peninsula. Hours later, Syrian tanks and troops crossed the border and invaded Israeli territory. The IDF soldiers, suffering tremendous losses, scrambled to stop the Syrian onslaught.
Meanwhile, Captain Zvi “Zvika” Greengold, a 21-year-old tank commander, frantically left his home on a kibbutz near Haifa. Before the war, he had been granted two weeks’ leave before beginning a course for commanders. When he learned of the Syrian attack, he made his way northward to the Golan, where IDF forces were growing increasingly outnumbered.
In the late afternoon, Cpt. Greengold reached Nafah – an IDF command center in the Golan’s southern sector. Determined to join soldiers in the battlefield, he took command of two tanks and assembled scratch crews to run them. He made contact with troops in the southern sector and advanced toward them, identifying his tanks over radio as ‘the Zvika Force.’ With night falling, he set out along the Tapline Route – a road in the Golan Heights used by Syrian forces to enter Israeli territory.
Moments later, Cpt. Greengold discovered a company of Syrian tanks moving toward Nafah. With two tanks, he faced slim chances of success against the Syrian forces, but he was determined to protect the Israeli command center. In a heroic act, he began to coordinate an attack on the company. For hours, he persisted with extraordinary bravery, throwing himself at the enemy in the face of almost certain death.
Battle on the Tapline Route
Cpt. Greengold’s crew took partial cover beside the road and waited for the Syrian tanks to approach. When he spotted the first Syrian tank, he rapidly opened fire. The blast from his vehicle hit the Syrian tank and ignited it, generating a shock that destroyed his own radio communications. Left unable to communicate, he jumped out of his vehicle and ran to the second tank in the heat of battle.
Cpt. Greengold traded places with the second tank’s commander and ordered him to follow his lead. But as the two vehicles moved down the road, the other tank soon lost its direction in the darkness. With no way to locate the other half of his force, Cpt. Greengold realized that he would need to face the remaining Syrian tanks alone.
Several minutes later, Cpt. Greengold beheld a shocking site – a long column of Syrian tanks moving steadily along the road. Despite being outnumbered, he moved in and out of the darkness, firing on the Syrian tanks while remaining undetected. As the battle raged, he changed his position constantly, firing from different directions to give the perception of a much larger force. In attempt to uncover the Israeli forces, the Syrian tanks turned on their searchlights but discovered nothing. The beams of light only helped Cpt. Greengold identify more Syrian tanks and inflict greater losses. The Syrian forces, stunned by the attacks, retreated to avoid further casualties.Cpt. Greengold joined two platoons of reserve tanks to stop the Syrian advance. Moments into battle, a Syrian tank fired on Cpt. Greengold, lighting his tank on fire and badly burning his crew. Although he suffered from burns and shock, he ran to
Meanwhile, Syrian tanks continued to pour over the northern border. Late at night, another tank and took command over its crew. He continued in this way for hours, striking at Syrian tanks and changing vehicles whenever his tank was disabled.
The fight for Nafah
Before dawn on October 7, the Zvika Force joined other troops along the Tapline Route, where they confronted the Syrian 51st Tank Brigade. Although Israeli forces gained the upper hand, they received urgent orders to return to Nafah – where Syrian tanks were on the verge of breaking Israel’s defenses.
At noon, eighty T-62s – the most advanced tanks in the Syrian military – were poised to take the Israeli command center. Understanding the dangers on the Tapline Route, Cpt. Greengold drove off the road and reached the command center without encountering Syrian forces. When he arrived with the 679th Reserve Armored Brigade, IDF forces were withdrawing as Syrian tanks entered the base.
As the enemy forces fired wildly, a Syrian tank pointed its gun toward an Israeli anti-tank unit inside Nafah. Cpt. Greengold spotted the Syrian tank and fired, destroying the Syrian vehicle and saving the lives of the Israeli soldiers. He continued to shoot at the Syrian forces, replacing his gunner who was too exhausted and shocked to function. Although Nafah was nearly lost, the tables began to turn in Israel’s favor. After a brutal fight, the IDF forces overcame the Syrian tanks and pushed them out of the base.
After more than twenty hours of battle, Cpt. Greengold exited his tank in the middle of the Nafah base. Exhausted from the non-stop combat, he fell to the ground. An intelligence officer embraced Cpt. Greengold and brought him to an IDF medical center, where Cpt. Greengold was treated for his injuries.
After the Yom Kippur War, the IDF awarded Cpt. Greengold with a Medal of Valor for his extraordinary heroism. He is one of only eight soldiers to earn the medal after fighting in the war. After leaving the IDF, he became a successful businessman, leading two Israeli companies. Today, he serves as Mayor of Ofakim, a city in southern Israel. He is married and the father of three children.