[SIZE="3"]Defensive Combat Power: Suez – 1973 At the end of October, the Israeli Army was in the midst of effective counterattack against the Egyptian Army. The Israelis had success attacking west across the Suez Canal. Their armored divisions were attempting to achieve several objectives, to include destroying Egyptian air defense sites and completing the encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army, which was trapped on the canal’s east side. To completely encircle the Egyptian 3rd Army, the Israelis had to seize all possible crossing sites to it from the canal’s west bank and the Red Sea. Also, as international negotiations towards a cease-fire progressed, the Israeli government wanted to capture as much Egyptian territory as possible to improve their negotiating position after hostilities. Consequently, the Israeli Adan Armored Division was tasked to seize the Egyptian Red Sea port of Suez on the morning of 24 October. A cease-fire was to begin at 0700, and the Israeli intent was to be decisively engaged in the city by that time and then consolidate their position as part of the cease-fire compliance. The Adan Division plan to seize Suez was a two-part operation. Each of the division’s armored brigades would have a role. The 460th Brigade would attack west of the city and complete the city’s encirclement. Simultaneously, the 217th Brigade would attack in columns of battalions through the city to seize three key intersections in the city. This was in accordance with standard Israeli armored doctrine for fighting in an urban area. The 217th Brigade would seize its objectives through speed, firepower, and shock action. Once the objectives were seized, infantry and armored teams would continue attacking from the secured objectives to mop up and destroy pockets of resistance. The Israeli commanders expected to demoralize the defending Egyptians—two infantry battalions and one antitank company—by this rapid attack. The armored division commander was specifically advised by his commander to avoid a “Stalingrad” situation. The attack got off to an ominous beginning as mist greatly inhibited a scheduled aerial bombardment in support of the attack. The 217th Brigade began its attack without infantry support and was quickly stopped by antitank missiles and antitank fire. Infantry was quickly integrated into the brigade and the attack resumed. At the first objective, the Israelis encountered their first problems. A withering barrage of small arms, antitank missiles, and antitank fire hit the lead tank battalion, including direct fire from SU-23 anti-aircraft guns. Virtually all the officers and tank commanders in the tank battalion were killed or wounded, and several tanks were destroyed. Disabled vehicles blocked portions of the road, and vehicles that turned on to secondary roads were ambushed and destroyed. The battalion, however, successfully fought its way through the first brigade objective and on to the final brigade objective. Hastily attached paratroop infantry in company strength were next in column following the tanks. They were traveling in buses and trucks. As the lead tank battalion took fire, the paratroopers dismounted, and attempted to secure adjacent buildings. The tank battalion’s action of fighting through the objective caused the paratroopers to mount up and also attempt to move through the objective. Because of their soft skinned vehicles the paratroopers were unable to remain mounted and again dismounted, assaulted, and secured several buildings that they could defend. Once inside the buildings, the paratroopers found they were cut off, pinned down, and unable to evacuate their considerable casualties, which included the battalion commander. The paratroopers were on the initial brigade objective but were unable to maneuver and were taking casualties. A second paratroop company also dismounted and quickly became stalled in house-to-house fighting. The brigade reconnaissance company in M113 personnel carriers brought up the rear of the brigade column and lost several vehicles and was also unable to advance.
By 1100 the Israeli attack culminated. Elements of the 217th Brigade were on all three of the brigade’s objectives in the city. However, the armored battalion, which had achieved the deepest penetration, was without infantry support and under severe antitank fire. Both paratroop companies were isolated and pinned down. In addition, an attempt to link up with the paratroopers had failed. At the same time, the civilian population of the city began to react. They erected impromptu barriers, ambushed isolated Israeli troops, and carried supplies and information to Egyptian forces. The Israeli division commander ordered the brigade to break contact and fight its way out of the city. The armored battalion was able to fight its way out in daylight. The paratroop companies were forced to wait until darkness and then infiltrated out of the city carrying their wounded with them. Israeli casualties totaled 88 killed and hundreds wounded in addition to 28 combat vehicles destroyed.
Egyptian casualties were unknown but not believed to be significant. The fight for Suez effectively demonstrates numerous urban defensive techniques. It also vividly demonstrates the significant effect on defensive combat power of the urban environment. The Egyptian defense demonstrates how the compartmented urban terrain restricts the mobility and the massing of firepower of armored forces. Trapped in column on the road, the Israelis were unable to mass fire on particular targets nor effectively synchronize and coordinate their fires. The short-range engagement, also a characteristic of urban combat, reduced the Israeli armor protection and eliminated the Israeli armor’s ability to keep out of small arms range. Thus, hand-held antiarmor weapons were more effective in an urban area. Additionally, Egyptian small arms and sniper fire critically affected Israeli C2 by successfully targeting leaders. The Egyptian defenders effectively isolated the mounted Israelis by defending and planning engagement areas in depth. The Egyptians synchronized so that they engaged the entire Israeli force simultaneously. This forced the Israelis to fight in multiple directions. It also separated the Israeli infantry from the armor and prevented the formation of combined arms teams necessary for effective urban offensive operations. Suez also demonstrated how civilians come to the advantage of the defense. After the battle was joined, the population—by threatening isolated pockets of Israelis and building barricades—helped prevent the Israelis from reorganizing while in contact and hindered the Israelis breaking contact. The population was also a valuable source of intelligence for the Egyptians and precluded covert Israeli movement in daytime. Suez shows the ability of a well-placed defense in depth to fix a superior force in an urban area. Despite the Israeli commander’s caution to avoid a “Stalingrad,” the Israeli division, brigade, and battalion commanders were quickly trapped and unable to easily break contact. Even a successful defense on the perimeter of the city would not have been nearly as effective, as the Israelis would have easily broken contact once the strength of the defense was recognized. Another key to the success of the Egyptian defense was the Israelis’ inadequate reconnaissance. While the Israelis knew the approximate size of the defending forces, they had no idea of the Egyptian dispositions. In this case, time prevented adequate reconnaissance. Key to a successful defense is adequate security to obscure defense dispositions, which permits surprise and shock effect. The Suez defense was a decisive defeat of elite Israeli forces by regular infantry units inferior in training, morale, and numbers. Total disaster was averted only because of the professionalism of the Israeli armored forces and paratroopers that permitted them to continue to fight and eventually exfiltrate the urban trap. The Israeli forces thus escaped total destruction. Suez strongly demonstrates how the enhancing effects of the urban environment on defensive combat power are significant enough to permit inferior regular forces to defeat elite formations.[/SIZE]