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The Suez Canal in the Yom Kippur War, 1973 & Israel's Operation Dovecote

Updated on March 23, 2011
SAM-6 Missiles
SAM-6 Missiles
The canal from the Egyptian side. Across is the Israeli side.
The canal from the Egyptian side. Across is the Israeli side.
Pontoon bridge
Pontoon bridge
IDF Armor M-48
IDF Armor M-48
Egyptian tanks and infantry with AT weapons
Egyptian tanks and infantry with AT weapons

Many days prior to the Eqyptian attack across the Suez Canal in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War, the US CIA had sent a full report about what the Egyptian Army was planning to do. The IDF did not bother to read it. They had their own defensive plan, Operation Dovecote.

The plan had been around for three years, since August 1970, and would act as a trip wire and delay until the quick mobile forces of the IDF could get in place and attack. The original plan had the 252nd Armor Division deployed along the canal in key positions, there were 32 strongpoints and it was felt any Egyptian attack across the wide canal could be contained. However, by 1973, the plan had been largely tinkered with and modified. Time played havoc for nothing happened for three years, and nothing seemed to be changing even a few days before the attack.

The IDF along the canal in October, 1973, had only 16 of the strongpoints manned by a total of only 468 reservists. The armor had been scattered in platoon sized units all along the canal, some 290 tanks. The whole canal length had only 12 artillery batteries for a total of 52 guns. Anti-aircraft defenses were six batteries and two HAWK SAM batteries. In contrast, across the canal, a huge Soviet armed army was lurking miles from the canal itself, so as not to drawn attention. The satellite photos were in the CIA report, but the IDF never saw them. Some IDF generals tried to reinforce the line just prior to the assault, but were unsuccessful because nothing looked out of the ordinary to IDF intelligence. These men were from the Hamutal Infantry Brigade. The Reshev Tank Brigade was much further away in the Sinai. The total manpower was 8000. However, IDF reserves were much further back. Thus, the IDF had 18000 men to defend the Sinai.

The Egyptian Armies consisted of the 2nd and 3rd. A total of 19 infantry brigades, 3 Parachute brigades, 1 amphibious brigade, 4000 artillery guns, 1700 tanks, 2000 APCs, 150 SAM batteries, 400 aircraft, and 2500 anti-aircraft guns!  From the standpoint of the Egyptian, one could hardly not think that victory would be easy. Such a disparity of forces! 

The west side of the canal (where the Egyptians deployed) were hidden and concealed by a huge 50 ft. high and 160 ft. wide, which extended all along the canal. IDF observers could not see beyond it and IDF aircraft were not allowed to conduct flyovers.

On October 6th, 1973, in typical Soviet manner, the Egyptian Armies fired 4000 artillery guns and in the first minute, over 10,000 shells had fallen on the strongpoints. There were 52 more minutes to go. As this happened, the Egyptians began to construct crossings across the Suez under aircover also. In addition, 8000 commandos crossed in motor boats. The first wave of men crossed the 180-230 meter canal in seven minutes. Fifteen minutes later, the second assault crossed and for the next four hours it continued and by 8 p.m.(six hours after the start) some 80,000 Egyptians had crossed the canal!!! To deal with the massive earthen ramparts, the Egyptians used water cannons fashioned from hoses attached to dredging pumps in the canal. Other methods involving explosives, artillery, and bulldozers were too costly in time and required nearly ideal working conditions. For example, sixty men, 600 pounds of explosives, and one bulldozer required five to six hours, uninterrupted by Israeli fire, to clear 1,500 cubic meters of sand. 

The IDF men in the forts fought to their end and repelled all the Egyptian attacks. But the AT fire from Sagger missiles annihilated the first and second armor brigades as they approached. The IDF in the air fared no better, the Russian SAM-6 missiles, which were then new to the Mideast, tracked and wiped out all Israeli air attacks upon Egyptian men (as long as they were under the SAM umbrella). Egyptian aircraft flew deep strikes into the Sinai, disrupting Israeli reserves trying to approach. The defending IDF division along the canal had lost 50% of its own tanks already numbering only 150 by the 7th (by the end of the 7th, it had only 100). The Egyptians had moved 500 T-55 tanks across the canal. The IDF airforce also attempted to destroy the pontoon bridges, which could be in place across in 30 minutes.

The first two days looked as if Israel would finally be defeated. It was a battle akin to David and Goliath. David was down but not out and everything began to reverse in the next two days.


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