This Day In History: The Yom Kippur War Begins (1973)

 The Yom Kippur War Begins (1973)


On October 6, 1973, hoping to win back territory lost to Israel during the third Arab-Israeli war, in 1967, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a coordinated attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Taking the Israeli Defense Forces by surprise, Egyptian troops swept deep into the Sinai Peninsula, while Syria struggled to throw occupying Israeli troops out of the Golan Heights. Israel counterattacked and recaptured the Golan Heights. A cease-fire went into effect on October 25, 1973.

1973 Yom Kippur War: Background

Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 left the Jewish nation in control of territory four times its previous size. Egypt lost the 23,500-square-mile Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, Jordan lost the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Syria lost the strategic Golan Heights. When Anwar el-Sadat (1918-81) became president of Egypt in 1970, he found himself leader of an economically troubled nation that could ill afford to continue its endless crusade against Israel. He wanted to make peace and thereby achieve stability and recovery of the Sinai, but after Israel’s 1967 victory it was unlikely that Israel’s peace terms would be favorable to Egypt. So Sadat conceived of a daring plan to attack Israel again, which, even if unsuccessful, might convince the Israelis that peace with Egypt was necessary.

In 1972, Sadat expelled 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt and opened new diplomatic channels with Washington, D.C., which, as Israel’s key ally, would be an essential mediator in any future peace talks. He formed a new alliance with Syria, and a concerted attack on Israel was planned.

Yom Kippur War: October 1973

When the fourth Arab-Israeli war began on October 6, 1973, many of Israel’s soldiers were away from their posts observing Yom Kippur (or Day of Atonement), and the Arab armies made impressive advances with their up-to-date Soviet weaponry. Iraqi forces soon joined the war, and Syria received support from Jordan. After several days, Israel was fully mobilized, and the Israel Defense Forces began beating back the Arab gains at a heavy cost to soldiers and equipment. A U.S. airlift of arms aided Israel’s cause, but President Richard Nixon (1913-94) delayed the emergency military aid for a week as a tacit signal of U.S. sympathy for Egypt. On October 25, an Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire was secured by the United Nations.

Yom Kippur War: Aftermath

Israel’s victory came at the cost of heavy casualties, and Israelis criticized the government’s lack of preparedness. In April 1974, the nation’s prime minister, Golda Meir (1898-1978), stepped down.

Although Egypt had again suffered military defeat at the hands of its Jewish neighbor, the initial Egyptian successes greatly enhanced Sadat’s prestige in the Middle East and gave him an opportunity to seek peace. In 1974, the first of two Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreements providing for the return of portions of the Sinai to Egypt were signed, and in 1979 Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1913-92) signed the first peace agreement between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors. In 1982, Israel fulfilled the 1979 peace treaty by returning the last segment of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.

For Syria, the Yom Kippur War was a disaster. The unexpected Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire exposed Syria to military defeat, and Israel seized even more territory in the Golan Heights. In 1979, Syria voted with other Arab states to expel Egypt from the Arab League.


Napoleonic Wars: Perlude to Lützen 1813

Blücher had gone to the castle and estates in Silesia given to him by the Prussian King, and Breslau, the capital of that province, had become a centre of anti-French activity. Early in January 1813, chafing at Prussia’s inactivity, he wrote to Scharnhorst, now the head of the commission set up to reform the Prussian Army; ‘I am itching in every finger to grasp the sword. If His Majesty the King, if all the other German Princes, if the German nation as a whole do not now rise and off from German territory the entire rascally French brood together with Napoleon and his following then it seems to me that no German is any longer worthy of the name.’

He besought his monarch to lead Prussia against the French. Frederick William III paid him no attention; he merely relieved General Yorck of his command for negotiating without consent the Convention of Tauroggen. Then Hardenberg, the King’s chief minister, took a hand. He told his monarch that his secret police had reported a French plot to kidnap or kill the Royal family. The plot probably existed only in Hardenberg’s fertile imagination, but it was enough. Greatly alarmed, Frederick William left Berlin hurriedly for Breslau. There, surrounded by the enemies of France, he eventually he succumbed to their entreaties. On 13 March he officially declared war on France. Protesting that it was a waste of time since no one would respond, he issued a proclamation calling every able-bodied man between the ages 18 and 24 to the colours. To his amazement his loyal subjects flocked in their thousands to enlist.

The French seemed meanwhile to have lost their nerve. The garrison in Hamburg, faced by a few Cossacks, withdrew. The French garrison in Berlin, spat on and reviled by the people, also departed, although there was no direct military threat. It looked as if the French would be howled out of Germany. Then, from the west came the long columns of French troops and, more important, Napoleon himself. Many of his men were raw recruits, his cavalry lacked chargers, and his marshals wanted nothing more than to retire to their estates in peace. But Napoleon himself was in the field and suddenly everything was changed.

The Allies-Russia and Prussia-planned to hold the line of the river Elbe and try to persuade Saxony to join them. Scharnhorst and the fierier of the Prussians wished to continue the advance to the Rhine, summoning all Germans to throw off the French shackles as they advanced. But Kutuzov, still at that stage Commander-in-Chief of the Russians, had only been persuaded with difficulty to come as far as the Elbe. He adamantly refused to cross the river and maintained that if the Germans wished to liberate themselves they were welcome to do so, but it was no concern of the Russians. The Tsar disagrees strongly with this point of view, but he had to be cautious about opposing the aged ‘saviour of Russia.’

The Allies planned to hold the river with three armies. One, under Yorck and Wittgenstein, was to take up a position west of Berlin; Blücher, with his newly formed Army of Silesia, composed of Russians as well as Prussians, was to hold Dresden while Kutuzov had his army between the two, ready to aid either. The latter also exercised a general suzerainty over all three.

The Russian concentration was slow and dilatory. Kutuzov with his central army had only reached Kalisz when Blücher was hammering on the gates of Dresden. Kutuzov fell ill on the line of march and died on 28 April. The Tsar nominated Wittgenstein as Commander-on-Chief with authority over Blücher, but as to the other two Russian corps commanders, Tormassov and Barclay de Tolly, were senior to Wittgenstein, they received their orders direct from the Tsar. The Tsar, however, was not to act without consulting with Scharnhorst or General Toll; as a system of command it was clumsy in the extreme.

Meanwhile Prince Eugène with his regiment of gaunt spectres from the old Grande Armée gave back whenever he was pressed, sheltering his men behind the walls of fortresses commanding the main routes along which the allies were likely to advance. Reinforcements were arriving from the old garrisons in German and from France, and his army began to increase in size and efficiency. The Allies, using only second-line troops, proceeded to blockade the fortresses without wasting time trying to reduce them. They screened their front with a host of Cossacks and tried to guess what Napoleon intended to do next.

The Emperor, after his appalling loss of horses in Russia, was very short of cavalry and advanced forward blindly. Breslau seemed the centre of disaffection, and so, while never fettering himself with a rigid plan, he proposed in general terms to advance Breslau by Leipzig and Dresden. He hoped to force the Allies to give battle. When he had won the victory that he regarded as inevitable, he expected the Prussians would retreat northwest to guard their homeland while the Russians withdrew to the east across the Vistula and Neman. He could then turn north on Berlin. Davout was separately organizing an army of five divisions with which to retake Hamburg. From there he would descend on Berlin from the south-east. The Prussian Army would be crushed between the hammer of Napoleon and the anvil of Davout.

Wittgenstein, unaware of the true strength of the French but knowing that Napoleon was steadily accumulating superior numbers, resolved to strike first before the French were fully assembled. He ordered General Kleist with his corps to cover Leipzig while he concentrated his army the area of Pegau. His orders for the move verbose and his staff arrangements bad; however he had undeniably secured the greatest of all tactical advantages, surprise.

Napoleon was aware that there were some enemy to the south of him but he had no idea how strong they were. He planned to continue his advance and seize Leipzig on 2 May. He issued his orders. Lauriston (V Corps) from Prince Eugène’s army was to seize Leipzig itself with the assistance of Latour-Mauborg’s cavary corps. MacDonald from the same army was to descend with his XI Corps on Markranstädt, about seven miles west of the city on the main road. Reynier (VII Corps) would close up to Marseburg on the Elster, about 15 miles father west. Bertrand with his IV Corps was to come up from the south and position his leading troops in Tachau, on the western edge of the low feature south of Gross Gӧrschen. Oudinot was at Naumberg and unlikely to arrive in time for a battle. The Imperial Guard were to be held in reserve behind Ney. Ney’s III Corps held the area about Lützen, guarding the route forward.

Included in Ney’s area were, to the west the empty village of Starsiedel; at the edge of the low plateau south of Gross Gӧrschen was Rahna; in the centre of his position, where Ney had his headquarters, was Kaja, and Gross Gӧrschen and Klein Gӧrschen were a little wat to the east. The small village of Eisdorf lay about one and a half miles north-east of Klein Gӧrschen, nearer to Leipzig. The country was flat and open with only slight gradients and would make excellent going for the cavalry-in which the Allies were so markedly superior. Only the houses and enclosures of the villages offered any security to Ney’s infantrymen. The guns, in which the Allied superiority was equally marked, had splendid fields of fire.


SOURCE: NAPOLEON: The Last Campaigns 1813-15
BY: James Lawford
CONTRIBUTOR: Martin F. Elkins