The Battle Of The Chinese Farm

By Mark Gelbart
Feb. 24, 2006

Mention Arial Sharon and most Americans who pay attention to the news think of the old, overweight Prime Minister of Israel, now comatose and near death. Most have forgotten or are unaware that Mr. Sharon (then General Sharon) was once a renegade general and war hero. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, General Sharon was so brazen in his disregard for orders that he really should have been fired, but the counter attack he led helped save Israel. General Sharon's arrogance and daring are interesting and the account of his actions bear telling here, but first I'll give a little background information.

Israel's decisive victory in the six day war of 1967 led to the capture of the Golan Heights in Syria and the Sinai Penninsula in Egypt. Israel decided to defend the Sinai Penninsula by using an early warning system known as the Bar Lev line, a group of raised sand ridges and forts along the Suez Canal manned by only a few troops. There was no way Israel could afford to statically defend the line so the strategy was to detect an Arab invasion and counter attack. By 1973 the Arab nations had supplied themselves with the latest Soviet weapons, especially stocking up on hand held wire guided anti-tank missiles and improved surface to air missiles because Israel had smashed them with airstrikes and tank charges in their two most recent wars.

Yom Kippur is the holy day of atonement in the Jewish religion and the Arabs picked this day for a surprise attack. On October 6th four thousand Egyptian weapons fired on the east bank of the Suez Canal and hundreds of airstrikes from over two hundred aircraft were launched. Eight thousand commandoes brandishing anti-tank weapons crossed the Suez Canal in collapsible boats, and they set up blocking positions to stop Israeli tanks from counter attacking. Engineers using high pressure water hoses washed away the sand embankments and in less than a day there were eighty two gaps in the Bar Lev line and eighty-thousand Egyptian troops were pouring through these gaps. Using tactics that were so successful in 1956 and 1967, the Israelis madly rushed jets and tanks into the fray, but the new effective Soviet missiles decimated the tanks and blew the jets out of the sky.

Stretched thin by fighting Syria and Egypt at the same time, Israel rapidly mobilized. A large percentage of the Israeli population was (and still is) in the army reserve because the Jews were fighting for survival. If they lost the war, there would have been a second holocaust in the twentieth century. Mr. Sharon, already a poltician in civilian life, became General Sharon and was placed under the command of General Gonen. There were problems between the two from day one.

General Sharon found a gap in the Egyptian line at Deversoir, a spot on the Suez Canal. Apparently, there was an error in Egyptian planning that led to this undefended location. The Egyptian unit that had crossed the Suez Canal at this point had been ordered to move north and no unit had ever been ordered to take its place in the line. Deversoir was located geographically between two different Egyptian armies under two commanders, and they never checked with each other to see whether Deversoir was covered. General Sharon wanted to counter attack and cross the Suez Canal at Deversoir right away, but General Gonen wanted to wait until the Egyptian offensive had been stopped before making such a risky decision.

General Sharon defied General Gonen. He sent a reconnaisance in force to this undefended part of the Suez Canal, he ordered a diversionary attack that lost twenty three out of twenty six tanks, and he went over General Gonen's head and requested permission from the general staff to attack across the canal. General Gonen requested that General Sharon be relieved. However, General Sharon was a popular politician and recognized as a tactical genius so the general staff brought General Bar Lev out of retirement with the sole task of controlling General Sharon. This led to friction (between Bar Lev and Gonen). And by the end of the war General Bar Lev, himself, had requested that Sharon be relieved of command on three separate occasions.

On October 14th the Egyptians made a major effort to renew their offensive and were defeated in the biggest tank battle since World War II and the biggest one since. Finally, all the Israeli general agreed that the time was ripe for a counter attack across the canal. Under General Sharon Operation Strongheart began. His troops crossed the canal on pontoon bridges and ferries, while larger forces waited behind as a big, clumsy, mobile bridge was rolled down the desert to this corridor. Just to the north of the corridor was the "Chinese Farm." The Chinese Farm was actually a failed experimental farm established by a Japanese agricultural assistance mission to Egypt. This was to become one of the bloodiest areas of the war. The Egyptians were dug in here and could fire on the corridor preventing the bridge from being placed over the canal. The Israelis decided to attack the Chinese Farm so the corridor would be widened and the Egyptians would be unaware that they were crossing the canal.

The first Israeli attempt to attack the Chinese Farm was annihilated. Another attempt was made by Israeli paratroopers, and they were quickly pinned down and put in danger of annihilation as well. Reinforcements were sent but they ran into an Egyptian tank brigade. After a day and a half of savage fighting, two hundred fifty Egyptian tanks had been destroyed, the Egyptians had been chased off the farm, and the Israelis were able to place the bridge across the canal.

General Sharon led these forces behind the Egyptian third army and they cut the supply lines. Sixty-thousand Egyptian soldiers were trapped on the Sinai penninsula, and they were running out of ammunition, food, and most importantly (in the desert) water. The Egyptians were forced to agree to a ceasefire. Ironically, if the Arabs had agreed to a ceasefire a week earlier, it would have left the battle looking like an Arab victory. Instead, it was another embarrassing defeat.

No one knows how much time Arial Sharon has left. Take the time to remember how he helped save Israel.


About the author Mark Gelbart: My book, Talk Radio, is a black comedy about a radio talk show host who gets kidnapped and psychologically tortured by a loser.


Email: agelbart@aol.com

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