The Battle on Mount Hermon in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 – The courage of the Golani soldiers under fire

 

By Gideon

Benny Masas, a Golani soldier from battalion 51, in an interview shortly after the second battle to recapture the Hermon was over:

“They began shooting at us when we got there.  The dead and the injured teammates were taken down the mountain. I saw that they (the Syrians) were shooting at us so I waited for some dawn light in front of the (Syrian) bunker. In the dawn light, I noticed that they were lifting their heads and shooting at us. I was there with two other teammates. I told them to come with me to clear their (Syrians’) position. I picked up my legs, I took my ammunition, and my mag (machine gun). I began leaping forward from rock to rock toward them, until I got to them from the back. I fired and killed them there. I found myself alone there. I saw that my teammates didn’t come with me. I don’t know why they didn’t come. They left me there by myself. Soon after that, mortar shells began falling on my position. I noticed that I was without ammunition. I looked back and suddenly I saw a Golani soldier with a miklaon (light machine gun). I rolled back toward him. I took his machine gun, his transistor (small radio player), and his ammunition. I gave him my mag (machine gun) and my ammunition. I began moving forward. By then, my friends advanced and joined me. We moved forward battling our way until we reached the Hermon. It came to me by itself. I didn’t feel that this was what I was doing.”

Reporter: “What does it mean, you didn’t feel what you were doing?”

Benny Masas:” It happened by itself, I didn’t think.”

Reporter: “When you look at the Hermon…”

Benny Masas: “I don’t watch it anymore.”

Reporter: “Why?”

Benny Masas: “I don’t want to see this place anymore.”

Reporter: “Why?”

Benny Masas: “My friends’ blood ran there like water.”

Reporter: “You never look up to see it?”

Benny Masas: “I do. We looked through the binoculars to see if Golani’s flag is there.”

Reporter: “Did you see it?”

“We saw only the Israeli flag. Perhaps the paratroopers removed it.”

(This was the only time Benny Masas smiled during the interview, which he did most of it with his eyes down looking at the ground. Perhaps he smiled to to idea that the paratroopers removed the Golani flag as part of the longtime rivalry between the units of who was the best Israeli infantry unit) .

Reporter” It was a difficult battle…”

Benny Masas: “I was never shot at before. I was in a raid before. People fired and fired and fired, but gunfire like it was on the Hermon I never saw before. I was also in Gaza when we ran into a terrorist. It was over very quickly, not like what happened here.”

Reporter: “Were you scared?”

Benny Masas: “I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was pushing forward. We were told before the battle, they (our commanders) knew that we will be separated there. They explained to us that over there (on the Hermon) we won’t have commanders, and that we will have to operate alone. I don’t know how come I wasn’t hit. Bullets whistled around me. I just wasn’t hit. I leaped from one rock to another slowly, the same way I was trained.”

Reporter: “Were you willing to climb down from there without capturing the Hermon?”

Benny Masas: “I would have been ashamed of myself if I was climbing down. I would have died there and not going down.”

Reporter: “Would you also say so today?”

Benny Masas: “Yes, everyone over there (in the Golani’s assembly point before the battle) made the same decision, before we climbed the Hermon. They (the commanders) drilled it into our heads that we are not climbing down from there until we see the Golani and the Israeli flags up there.”

Reporter: “Do you believe that it is important?”

Benny Massas: “Off course it is important. It is the eyes of the state. That’s what they told us.”

(To watch the actual interview in Hebrew, see the detailed information at the end of the article).

The situation on Mount Hermon before the war begun

Capturing the Hermon in the first place was an afterthought during the 1967 Six Day War; the Israeli air force’s commander, Moti Hod, asked permission from the Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, to capture one of the top summits on the Hermon mountain, to be used as an observation post for the air force. Moshe Dayan authorized it. On June 11, 1967, a short time before the cease-fire went into effect, a single Israeli helicopter with a small group of Golani soldiers landed on the Hermon. Initially they attempted to land on the highest peak, elevation 9,232 feet (2,814 meters) above sea level, but when conditions did not allow, they landed on a lower peak at the elevation of 7,300 feet (2,224 meters), which they called “Mitzpe Shlagim” (Snows observatory). The UN marked their location on the maps as part of the Israeli cease-fire territory. Golani soldiers were the first to fly the Israeli flag on the mountain. In the years between 1967 and 1973, a permanent observation post was built on the slightly lower summit, at elevation of 7,244 feet (2,208 meters), above sea level. Thus, when the war was over, the Syrian army had an observation post on the highest peak. It was named by the IDF soldiers “The Syrian Hermon”. Israel had control over the two lower summits; Mitzpe Shlagim which was used by the IDF as a daytime observation post, and a permanent post, which was built on the lowest peak. It was named by the IDF soldiers “The Israeli Hermon”.

The Israeli permanent post on the Hermon was fortified to withstand heavy artillery bombardments; living quarters, connected by tunnels, were dug deep into the mountain. On top of it, the IDF piled large boulders which were secured with a steel wire mesh. Battle positions were on the roof of the post. Access to the battle positions was through tunnels from the living and common quarters. It was said that the Israeli Hermon post could withstand any attack on it. It was the most fortified forward post the IDF had ever built.

A Golani platoon of 13 soldiers from battalion 13, led by a young 2nd lieutenant, guarded the entire post. In the euphoria, after the victory of the 1967 war, it was believed that in the event of a Syrian attack, the soldiers stationed at the post could find shelter inside the post, lock the heavy steel doors behind them, and wait for Israeli reinforcement to rescue them.

Besides Golani, there were intelligence, signal, artillery, and air force personnel. Their job was to listen radio communication, observe movements of Syrian army units deep in Syria, and direct artillery and air force attacks during battle days, which erupted between Syria and Israel from time to time. The battle days consisted of artillery exchanges, static tanks battles from behind protective platforms, and aerial confrontations between the IDF air force and the Syrian air force.

The soldiers from different units at the post were independent of each other. They reported directly to their respective mother units outside the post and interacted with each other only during meals in the common lunchroom. Other than the Golani soldiers who were responsible for security, there were some soldiers in this remote post that did not even have personal weapons to defend against attacks on the post. The 13 Golani soldiers were the only ones assigned to protect the post.

The fortification construction work before the war was performed by local Druze villagers from a nearby village named Majdal Shams. During that time, a Syrian spy ring from this village worked at the post. At least three times classified maps from the Hermon post flew into the minefields around the post and had to be recovered. The Syrian spies, pretending to be innocent construction workers, relayed to the Syrian intelligence, the safe access routes to the post, and the layout of the post. The heavy steel doors, which were supposed to shield the post from Syrian attack, weren’t fully installed and provided no protection.

Yom Kippur Eve – The evening before the Syrian attack.

On the 5th of October 1973, on Yom Kippur’s Eve, the IDF high command finally began to accept the fact that a war might begin in the next 24 Hours. However, the IDF’s high command was not absolutely sure until the morning of Yom Kippur. The IDF’s Northern Command took precautionary measures on October 5th and regular units in its sector were put on high alert, vacations were canceled, and the IDF Northern Command began preparing for the upcoming war. Reserve unit were not called. The entire Syrian front was sparsely defended for what was about to happen.

While most units on the Golan Heights were at the highest alert possible, somehow this message was not delivered to the soldiers in the Hermon post, nor to the Golani Brigade headquarters. On the evening of October 5th, the soldiers on the Hermon mountain ate their holiday pre-fast dinner and went to sleep. In the next morning, the day of the war, they followed the same routine as they did for the past few years. No extra precaution was taken. The Golani unit even sent out two of its soldiers to a daytime post near the top end of the cable lift of a nearby ski resort. There were total of 60 Israeli soldiers on the Hermon post the day of the attack. However, only only the 11 Golani soldiers at the post were defending it.

The Fall of the Israeli Hermon into the hands of the Syrian Commando

At 2:00 PM a heavy artillery bombardment by Syrian artillery on the entire Golan Heights including the Hermon begun. A similar artillery bombardment by Egyptian artillery on Israeli forces on the Suez canal, was also initiated. It signaled the beginning of the Yom Kippur war.  Shortly after that, thousands of soldiers and tanks crossed the borders into Israeli territory from both sides. The attacking forces raced forward, meeting only minimal Resistance.

In Israel, most people were either at home or in synagogues, celebrating the Yom Kippur holiday and fasting. Hardly anyone in Israel had a radio on to listen to the news. Most Israelis were not aware of the upcoming war. They were stunt, in panic, and unprepared. It seemed that the country was about to fall into the hands of the Arabs. The Israeli army was fighting hard in all areas, attempting to stop the advancing enemy, but there too few of them to stop the massive wave that came directly at them. No one could focus on anything else but fighting for his own life. In this chaotic situation, no one but the people who were stationed there, paid attention to what was happening on the Hermon.

Syrian commando was transported by helicopters to the area. They joined by other Syrian commando units who walked down from the Syrian Hermon. Together they attacked the isolated Israeli post. By 4:00 pm that afternoon they were on the post’s fence. The 11 Golani soldiers found themselves fighting hundreds of Syrian commandos. When it was all over, out of the 11 soldiers who were at the post that day, 9 were killed defending the post, one was injured and was taken as prisoner of war. He was murdered by one of the Syrian soldiers who transported him into Syria. One injured Golani soldier, David Nachliel, was able to escape the post and reach the Israeli line. When it was over, 13 Israeli soldiers were killed, 37 were taken prisoners of war, and 10 were able to escape and reach the Israeli line. Among the prisoners of war was an intelligence officer with phenomenal memory and access to information well beyond his needs. This intelligence officer was tortured and ended up giving secrets that caused significant damage to Israel. It took twenty years for the Israeli military intelligence to recover from it.

David Nachaliel, the only Golani soldier from battalion 13, who survived the Syrian attack on the Hermon post, in an interview after the war:

“At 2:00 pm an artillery bombardment on the Hermon post had begun. All the people in the post went down into the bunker. Helicopters landed near the post a little bit after 3:00 pm. We heard gunfire from light weapon hitting our post. I went up with few combat soldiers and we began shooting with our personal weapon toward the approaching Syrians. They probably came with heavier weapon, better than ours. They spotted the opening from which we came out to stop their attack. The magist (heavy machine gun operator), that was next to me was killed at the beginning of the battle. We continued with few combat soldiers to push back the enemy. The enemy found the opening and continued to fire with all his weapon toward the opening. We retreated into the hall where we took shelter at the beginning of the artillery bombardment. We blocked all the the possible openings for the event that the enemy would come. The enemy entered the post and began clearing the tunnels and rooms with hand grenades, with their personal weapon, and with smoke grenades.”

The first Golani attack on the Hermon

Amir Drori, Golani’s brigade commander tried to get permission for a counterattack on the Hermon that night in order to rescue the soldiers that were hifding inside in the deep tunnels, but his request was denied by Raful, the commander of the Northern Division, Amir’s superior. Raful had a bigger crisis on his hand; stopping the Syrian from capturing the entire Golan Heights. On the first day of the war, it seemed that there was nothing to stop them. Raful needed Golani to stop the advancing Syrian army elsewhere.

Golani launched its first counterattack two nights later. By that time the Syrian commando was already dug in on higher elevations. Golani forces drove on the only road to the post; a narrow winding mountain road that was easy to ambush. The advancing Golani force was Battalion 17; Golani’s non-commissioned officers school. 140 combat soldier without any artillery or air force support fought their way up the mountain against oncoming enemy fire from higher elevations. They suffered heavy casualties; a total of 25 death, including the battalion commander. Only 25 of the 140 soldiers of battalion 17 reached the summit near the post. Amir Drori, who was with the attacking force, determined that the battalion lost too many people and the remaining force wasn’t large enough to take on the heavily fortified positions. Golani had no choice but to retreat and reorganize. After this battle Amir Drori said, that all they needed was just one last push to finish it, but they didn’t have the resources to do that.

The second Golani attack on the Hermon

The Yom Kippur war caught Israel by surprise. Syrian and Egyptian forces were advancing on the Golan Heights and along the Sinai desert. The high command had more burning issues to deal with than the Hermon. The Golani brigade was assigned to other duties and for most of the war there wasn’t another attempt to recapture the Hermon. However, it was on everyone’s mind that they’ll come back to it before the war is over. The Hermon was the only post, held by Golani, to fall into the hands of the Syrians. They wanted it back and kept their eyes on it from a distance, waiting for the opportunity.

Once the situation has stabilized and the IDF began pushing the Syrian and Egyptian armies back into their territories, it was time to go back to the Hermon. Amir Drori, the commander of the Golani’s brigade pleaded repeatedly to the IDF’s high command to allow Golani to recapture the Hermon. For Golani it was a matter of honor. Drori was persistent until finally he was promised by the Northern Command that when the time comes, the mission for recapturing the Hermon will be assigned to Golani.

The IDF’s Northern Command planned the battle carefully, Brigade 1 (Golani) was assigned to the Israeli Hermon. Brigade 317 (reserve paratroopers) was assigned to the Syrian Hermon. The assignment for establishing an observation post behind enemy lines was given to Sayert Matkal, which was led by Yoni Netanyaho, Benjamin Netanyaho’s older brother, who was later killed in action, when he led the Entebbe operation to rescue Israeli hostages, kidnapped by German and Palestinian terrorists. At the time of the war, and probably it is still true today, Sayeret Matkal was considered the best special forces unit of the IDF.

The battle on the Hermon was the last major battle in the Yom Kippur war. The cease-fire agreement was to be implement that evening at 6:00 pm. It was a race against time between the Israeli army in its attempt to recapture the post on the summit, and the Syrian army’s attempt to hold on to its only achievement in the war. The prize for Israel was controls over a superior observation post; one that could have given Israel the ability to watch and see every movement of the Syrian army, all the way to Damascus. Golani was fighting to restore its honor after the loss of the post on the first day of the war. The Syrians were fighting to gain some honor after the painful defeat in all other major battles on the Golan Heights. It was a battle between Syria’s and Israel’s best infantry units. It took 18 hours with heavy casualties on both sides. The battle on Mount Hermon in the Yom Kippur war of 1973 is the story of the foot soldiers and their immediate field commanders. The Golani soldiers had to fight uphill after a relentless climb in a difficult terrain, under constant and intense fire from above. The Syrians commando had to withstand a constant artillery bombardment on its position, and an attack by a relentless opponent, who was willing to pay any price to win the battle.  56 of Golani’s best died on the mountain that night. 80 others were injured.  Unknown number of Syrian commando soldiers died and injured on the mountain that night. This is their story:

The Syrian forces on the Israeli Hermon consisted of two commando battalions and additional Syrian commando companies dug in around the Israeli post and on the western slopes facing Israel. There were no Syrian soldiers inside the post itself. Two additional Syrian companies defended the Syrian Hermon. Despite Golani’s brigade request to surprise the enemy and attack from the steeper eastern slopes of the Hermon, the Northern Command instructed Golani to attack from the expected western side. On October 20th, 1973, a day before Golani’s counterattack ,the special forces unit “Sayeret Matkal” established an observation post on the Syrian side and reported that the area looks calm.

On the same day, October 20th, at 2:00 pm, reserve paratroopers were airlifted by Helicopters to the Syrian Hermon. Their assembly point was near the Syrian summit. The Syrian air force scrambled its migs in order to shoot down the helicopters. They were intercepted by Israeli fighter jets who shot down 11 Syrian migs. The airlift continued during the aerial fight. The Syrian launched tanks and attack helicopters. They were also shot down by the Israeli air force. By the time the attack on the Syrian post begun there were 650 Israeli paratroopers on the mountain. The Syrian summit was in the hands of the paratroopers at 6:18 pm. On the summit, they prepared to their battle on the Syrian post.

Golani attack on the Israeli Hermon and the paratroopers attack on the Syrian Hermon began around the same time. While the paratroopers were airlifted to the summit. Golani had to climb up the mountain in a frontal, unsophisticated attack.  It relied on the drive of its soldiers to restore the unit’s honor, their superior skills as infantry soldiers, and the close cover of heavy artillery. Their path to the summit was direct; there were two hills between them and the summit they were called Hill 16 and Hill 17 (or Hill A and Hill B).

Golani attacked in three forces: The primary force was battalion 51 led by Yudke Peled, the second force was Sayeret Golani (a company size special forces unit) led by Shmaryahoo Vinik, and a reserve battalion made of Golani’s basic training battalion, and a company from Golani’s non-commissioned officers school of battalion 17. Golani’s other three battalions; battalion 12, battalion 13, and most of battalion 17 fought the Syrians in other hot spots on the Golan Heights that night and didn’t participate in the battle on the Hermon.

Amir Drori, Golani’s brigade commander directed the artillery fire at the Israeli Hermon summit and the hills around it. Golani climbed under the cover of a rolling artillery umbrella, which was shifted up every time the climbing force reached the edge of the artillery coverage. For some reason, Hill 16 was not bombarded by the Israeli artillery. The Golani soldiers began their climb just after 8:00 pm. The did the first portion of the climb walking on the paved road leading to the summit. Golani had a tough climb from 3,000 feet above sea level to 7,000 feet above sea level in difficult mountain road and oxygen deficiency. The Golani force expected to engage the Syrian commando at the same place where the previous confrontation took place, but when they got there, there were no Syrian soldiers in the area. The Syrian commando was so disciplined that neither Syaret Matkal on Mitzpe Shalagim, nor the aerial reconnaissance in the previous day were able to determine how many Syrian soldiers were there, and where exactly they were located. In reality the Syrian force on the Hermon was three times larger than what Golani expected.

At 1:00 am, after six hours of climb, Yudke Peled, combined the the two climbing forces into one. When they reached Hill 16, the Golani force left the paved road and began climbing toward the summit. Company Gimel led by Igal Paso was at the front, Yudke Peled with the battalion command staff was just behind it. At 2:38 sudden bursts of intense gunfire, from a short distance on the slope Hill 16, initiated the battle.

The battle took place in a complete darkness. Golani soldiers took cover in the inferior lower areas and begun climbing up. The Syrian paratrooper battalion was expecting them and in an accurate gunfire caused many casualties very quickly. It was a very cold night on the Hermon that night and the soldiers, who were still sweating from the climb, had to stay still in their wet uniform, in their makeshift positions, and fight their way up.

Yudke Peled sent the support company to aid Company Gimel. He sent Company Bet to the other side of the hill to force the enemy to split its forces. However, company Bet got lost and climbed on a different hill. In the hit of the battle, no one noticed that company Bet was fighting Syrian commando at the wrong place instead of supporting company Gimel. Being on the wrong hill, Company Bet was not able to influence the outcome of the battle. Yudke Peled sent Company Alef, under the command of Shuki Viater to Hill 17, east of Hill 16, in order to capture the ridge line above Hill 16. Company Alef found itself also under heavy fire on Hill 17. The Syrian soldiers were dug in their position and fired accurately at the the advancing Golani forces. People were killed on left and right.

Around 3:00 am, the paratroopers reported that they captured the Syrian post and found the bunkers empty. Golani continued to climb the Hermon mountain under fire. By 4:10 am, battalion 51 was engaged in heavy fighting and suffered heavy casualties. Amir Drori, the brigade commander moved forward with his staff. He established his command post about 60 feet behind Yudke Peled’s command post, not realizing how close they were to Yudke Peled, or to Golani’s front line. At one time Amir Drori, called Yudke Peled and asked him if he could take the hill (Hill 16) and Yudke Peled responded that the problem was that he was there all by himself. Yudke Peled requested permission to evacuate the injured under the cover of darkness, before they are exposed to the Syrian commando in daylight.

A quick assessment by the Israeli Northern Command around 4:00 am provided that  Golani was engaged in heavy fighting while the paratroopers finished their mission and could easily walk down from their higher position and attack the Israeli Hermon post from the Syrian side. The Northern Command ordered the paratroopers to prepare for an attack on the Israeli Hermon. Golani soldiers were not aware of it.

Sayeret Golani had even tougher climb; their mission was to get to the lower end of the cable lift and climb up to the upper end. They reached the upper end at 4:15. Shamryahu Vinink reported that there was no one at the upper end of the cable lift. Amir Drori ordered him to leave twenty soldiers there and proceed with the rest of the company to Hill 16 to aid the Gimmel company. On his way back, as he crosses the road Vinik was hit by a Syrian sharpshooter and died immediately. Three other soldiers were killed. It was a difficult news for Amir Drori and Yudke Peled. Shmaryahu Vinik was the most senior company commander in the brigade.

Just after 5:00 am, the Northern Command requested air force support to prevent the landing of Syrian helicopters on the Israeli Hermon. Around 5:15 am Amir Drori was seriously injured in the chest. Yudke Peled, the commander of battalion 51, assumed command of the entire operation. Five minutes later he himself was injured and had to be evacuated. To add to Golani’s problems, the air force reported that it couldn’t support the battle due to fog in the area.

Shuki Viater, the commander of company Alef was seriously injured on Hill 17. He later died from his wounds.Igal Paso, the commander of comapany Gimmel was killed on Hill 16.  The commander of the support company was also injured on hill 16. In the heat of the battle, Golani was left without its leaders. In the meantime, due to heavy casualties. a young Golani captain, Yoav Golan, who was injured in himself in previous battle in the Suez Canal, and was assigned to a staff position at the brigade command due to his physical condition, found himself as the only officer still functioning at the brigade command.

Yoav Golan assumed command on the entire Golani force on the Hermon mountain. His initial task was to coordinate the attack, which at this stage was no more than holding on to the inferior positions that Golani was able to establish on Hill 16. Than ordered a squad size force to protect the flank at all cost. During this time, heavy Syrian artillery was falling all around them. He ordered the evacuation of the remaining solders from company Alef from Hill 17. Then he coordinated artillery and air support with the Northern Command. When the Syrian resistance began to weaken, he pushed the remaining soldiers to go on the attack quickly to capture the hill 17 and then the Hermon post. (An interview with him (in Hebrew) can be seen in the documentary movie To Die Or Capture The Mountain at the end of this article.)

The Northern Command instructed the paratroopers to join the battle. The paratroopers made their way down the mountain from the Syrian Hermon, but their progress was slow and at one point they were instructed to stop in fear that they’ll be hit unintentionally by the Golani forces who were attacking from the opposite side. For that reason, they did not have an impact on the battle on the Israeli Hermon.

At 6:00 am, the paratrooper reserve force, who was waiting in a small airport in northern Israel, was ordered to get to the Hermon and assist Golani. They were transported by helicopters to an assembly area near the Hermon and continued up by armored vehicles and by foot.

The Syrian commanders on the Hermon, realized that Golani was not retreating and fled the area under the cover of darkness. Their soldiers continued to fight. About an hour after sunrise, the Syrian soldiers had realized that they were left alone, some began surrendering while others ran way. Yet other Syrian commando soldiers continued to fight. The reserve force of the Golani Brigade finished the capturing of Hill 17. Around 8:00 am, Golani finished mopping up and taking control of the hills leading to the Israeli Hermon. Just after 9:00 am, Golani soldiers reached the perimeter fences of the Israeli Hermon. Artillery had to be stopped as Golani soldiers and Syrian soldiers were too close to each other. The paratroopers reserve force, who was on its way to aid Golani, arrived when the battle was over.

At 10:50 the Northern Command received the following radio message; “Listen up (radio) stations around the world, the Hermon is in our hands”

56 Golani Soldiers and 2 paratroopers were killed in the battle. 80 Golani soldiers and 5 paratroopers were injured. Unknown number of Syrian soldiers were killed and injured on the mountain that night.

Shortly after raising the flag, the paratroopers got control of the Hermon from Golani. The paratroopers mopping up the remaining hiding Syrian commando. Goani soldiers climbed back down to carry their dead and attend to their wounded friends.

An interview with Zion Ziv, Battalion 51 deputy commander Golani after the second battle to recapture the Hermon:

“The truth to be told; it seemed to us that we are about to lose it because they fought very hard. They fought from all kind of holes in the grounds and from positions that they dug over the two weeks that they were on the Hermon.

When we were on Hill (16), we organized the healthy soldiers; the ones who limped, the ones who were tired, the soldiers that didn’t have ammunition, and the soldiers who were bringing downhill the injured. We brought all of them up and ordered them to get ready for a counterattack, for the final push, and drive them (the Syrians) away from there. At that moment, the change came. It was announced on the radio network that they (Yoni Netanyahu and Sayeret Matkal) see them (the Syrian soldiers) begin to retreat north and begin to run away. It was encouraging. We got organized quickly, and under the cover of the continues artillery bombardment on hill (17) and the summit, we began moving forward.

In my opinion, what broke their (the Syrians) spirit, was the artillery, the stubbornness of our forces who stayed on hill (16) and didn’t want to give it up. It can’t be discounted that we knew that (the paratroopers’) reinforcement was in our back (Golani’s unit pride was pushing them harder, they didn’t want paratroopers come to their aid). The truth is that the reinforcement came too late. By the time it arrived, the forces were on the post itself already. All they did was sit down and clap their hands to Golani. The flag was raised by the ones who were still alive and limped, and the ones who were able to drag themselves to the post. They raised the flags of the unit and and the nation. It was very emotional ceremony. You can describe it as (the same as it was for) the paratroopers at the Kotel (Western wall).

I would have described it as stubbornness of fighters that for them the Hermon was the Kotel (the Western Wall). They (the Golani soldiers) waited for it for two weeks. They wanted to get to the Hermon by hook or by crook. They wanted to take it and they weren’t willing to give it up.”   

Yudke Peled in a speech to his soldiers, battalion 51, thirty-two years after the Yom Kippur war.

The battalion briefing for Battalion 51 on Operation Dessert for capturing the Hermon on October 21, 1973, in the afternoon, was given in the Masade forest, looking at the Hermon.

It was the beginning of an event the will be entered into the IDF’s history and Golani’s especially as the battle to capture the Hermon. The brigade battle, commanded by the brigade commander Amir Drori, blessed his memory, ended in the following day before noon. It ended the Yom Kippur without any ground achievement for the Syrian enemy on the Golan Heights.

Over the years, this battle was registered in the historical memory of the nation as a test of courage, dedication, and the strength of the will power. The battle on the Hermon became a myth on which combat soldiers of Golani and other units are trained. We, that fate called upon us, to fight it together, continue to experience it in different ways for the past 32 years. Each one of us experience it differently. We all took something from there, and we all left something there…

A commander must know his soldiers, the warriors, the support units. A military unit exists for the day when the order is given. To win the battle, battles, and war. The commander is the one who is responsible for bringing it (the unit) to the level and capability to do that.

As a commander, I faced unusual difficulty. I arrived in the battalion on Thursday, October 4th in the afternoon. Less than 48 hours later, the war erupted. I didn’t know you and you didn’t know me. Certainly, not on October 6th, 1973. You followed me, you executed my orders, you fought, and you accomplished all the assignments…

The battle on the Hermon on the night between October 21st and 22nd, 1973, is the most significant personal challenge that I experienced. Not only in its military aspect, but also in its spiritual and mental complexity. In the end of the day, I was mostly exposed to the strength of the will power of the warriors, which I didn’t get to know before the battle.

In its military aspect, this was a tough battle, which got complicated. It was only for the norm of completion the mission at all cost, executing orders as they were issued, and the spirit of Golani that won the battle.

Three days before the battle, the battalion moved to Hader. Those of you who participated, remember the “ambush” on the route to the Hermon on the Syrian side. One of the objectives was actually an exercise to test the model of capturing the Hermon from the North East. A very difficult steep route of a 1000 meters (3000 feet) straight from Hader to the Israeli Hermon. A plan that the battalion prepared and in principle was authorized by the brigade commander. We knew that this will be our mission.

I personally wanted to ensure that the battalion could withstand the physically demanding challenge. I remind you that I asked you to carry heavy load of supply and ammunition on your backs. My conclusion was that the battalion would be able to carry out the mission.

The Northern Command, which was the deciding authority, weighed the options and decided differently. On the morning of October 21st, we received the brigade orders to attack from the south-west. The direction of which the Syrians commando and the (Syrian) paratroopers were prepared for.

Infantry warriors are the only warriors in the army, any army, that face all the time a decision that is the hardest to make; it objects to the most primal instincts; the will to live. Bullets whistle from every direction, artillery shells are falling, hand grenade exploding, friends are hit. The battle picture is not known to the warrior, especially not during the battle. His view is limited to few meters around him. Everything else doesn’t exists. It is even more so during the night in an unfamiliar territory. Yet, this warrior continues to fight, to push forward, to evacuate injured friends under fire, not to retreat. Each one of you that was there was in this situation. This warrior is the one who wins the battle. He is the one that brings the enemy to the breaking point.

I was injured toward the end of the battle, despite the fact that was uncertainty in this phase of the battle, I had no doubt that we might not complete our mission. I learned the details of the end of the battle from a briefing that we conducted in the field few weeks later.

Today, 32 years later, with the time perspective, with the pain, and the doubts, the battalion soldiers continue with the same spirit, Golani’s spirit…

Since then, I’m getting requests to tell the story of the battle on the Hermon. However, with the exception of the families and the battalion men, I answer that first, I don’t know how to tell it, and second, anyone who wants to learn what happened and how it happened, I’m willing to climb with him the Golani slope, that it is basically the same as the battalion climbed that night, and the hills of the battle. Beyond the description of the battle, I also admire today, the same way as I did then, the Golani warriors, the support units, the field hospital that treated and saved lives under impossible conditions.

Since I came to the battalion from the Sayeret (Golani’s elite patrol company – G.S.), I know, and can compare, capabilities. They battalion 51 warriors] didn’t fall short in any professional aspect, especially not in the ability to perform under pressure, commitment, will power, friendship, courage, and most of all the commitment to the mission. I always insist that who actually won the battle and brought the victory are the warriors. Every one of you who was there.”

Notes:

  1. I heard about the Hermon battle. It took place only few years before. I heard about it when I was in Golani’s basic training, and when I was in Golani’s non-commissioned officers school (battalion 17), the battalion which led the Golani first attempt to recapture the Hermon. However, it was more of a motivational speech, without many details of what exactly happened there, or how exactly the battle was fought and won. It wasn’t until a year ago, during a visit to Israel that I came across the book “The Battle On The Hermon” (in Hebrew) that I became familiar, for the first time, with the details of the battle. I read the entire book in one day. I was mostly shocked to learn some of the things that led to the fall of the heavily fortified post in the first place. When I researched materials for this article I was surprised to learn how little was available on the internet (in English). For that reason, I added as many details as possible so this piece of history could be shared with people outside Israel.
  2. Although I was in Golani few years after the war, I didn’t think that I knew anyone who fought on the Hermon. It wasn’t until I read the book that I realized my base commander during the service was the same Yudke (Yehuda) Peled who led Golani’s battalion 51 in the battle on the Hermon. I was once interviewed by Yudke Paled when I applied for officers’ school.  He recommended me. I don’t know what I said, or what was in my file, that made him make the recommendation. (It wasn’t an automatic thing; I came to the interview with a friend who was also interviewed for officers’ school, but his application was denied.)  As it turned out, I did not attend the officers school due to conflicting schedules. Today I’m just sad that at that time I didn’t know who Yudke Peled was, and didn’t thank him for his service to the State of Israel. All I remember is that it was a very pleasant interview with a nice person. I’m not sure what I could have said. His memories from that battle must have been terrible. I can only say that I’m glad that I had the honor to meet him, even if it was only for few minutes. Lastly, as strange as it is, until I read the book, I never made the connection between the stories of my uncle Michael Pick, a paratrooper, about his participation in the battle to capture the Syrian Hermon, and this famous battle.
  1. I was on the Israeli Hermon summit once, as a reserve soldier, ten years after the 1973 war. Our unit held the line from the Hermon mountain to the the Lebanese border. I was assigned to the Mount Dov post (another challenging place facing the Lebanese border). One day my company commander stopped by to visit us and offered to take us on a day-trip to the Hermon. I don’t remember much from the visit, except for the fact that I was there once. I hope to have the opportunity to visit it again one day so I could pay my respect to the soldiers who fought and died on the mountain.

Translations

I translated the interviews as close as possible to the original. However, few words were changed due to language differences. However, the slight differences have no impact on the content, or the spirit of the interview.

Benny Masas’ interview can be seen in the video below about the battle on the Hermon. Masas interview is broken into three parts: Part 1 begins at 9:03. Part 2 begins at 11:35. Part 3 begins at 14:22.

David Nachliel’s interview starts at 1:15 of the video below.

Zion Ziv’s, the battalion 51 deputy commander, interview starts at 12:04 of the video below. 

To read more on Golani click on the following link: Becoming a Golani Soldier

The video with Benny Masas interview – The Video in Hebrew 

 

The documentary movie “To Die Or Capture The Mountain – 

The Video in Hebrew 

 

hermon20

The Hermon from the Golan Heights

hermon 60

The Israeli Hermon Post

amir drori

Amir Drori – Golani’s brigade commander in the Yom Kippur war

Y P

Yudke Peled Battalion 51’s commander in the Yom Kippur War. Zion Ziv behind him

 

hermon3

On the way to the Hermon

syrian_place

The rocks of which behind them the Syrian Commando was firing at the advancing Golani soldiers.

Hermon post1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golani soldiers reaching the Hermon post on October 22, 1973

hermon50

Soldiers on top of the post

hermon30

Artillery bombardment on the Hermon post

hermon36

Access troad to the Hermon post

hermon5

The Northern Commnad during a meeting in the Yom Kippur war with the IDF’s chief of Staff Elazar Ben David (Dado)

Hermon-Ilan Kfir

The book The Battle On The Hermon by Ilan Kfir

Hermon2

Golani soldiers from Battalion 17 (Golani’s non-commisioned officers school) on the way to the Hermon during the first attempt to capture it.

hermon32

Observing deep into Syria from the Hermon

hermon 85

Memorial for Battalion 17 soldiers who were killed on the Hermon in the Yom Kippur war

vinik4

Memorial for Shmaryahu Vinik, the Sayeret Golani commander who was killed in the second attack on the Hermon

hermon 86

A memorial for Sayert Golani soldiers who were killed on the Hermon in the Yom Kippur war.

male_golani_road

The Golani climb started at this point. It is named after the war the Golani Slope

hermon81

The cable lift. Sayaert Golani suffered heavy casualties near its upper end.

Untitled presentation (51)

Golani soldiers on top of the Hermon post after the battle

hermon93

Golani soldiers climing on the Hermon antenna to raise the Israeli and Golani’s flags

road1

The road to the Hermon near the cable lift upper end

hermon 80

The Hermon Mountain

Related Article: Becoming a Golani Soldier

Golani’s song – The Video in Hebrew 

 

Untitled presentation (24)

More articles on the Yom Kippur War:

The difficult war that brought peace: The Yom Kippur War of October 1973

The Story of the Israeli Pilots in the Yom Kippur War – מלחמת יום כיפור: סיפורם של טייסי הקרב

Henry Kissinger’s Shuttle Diplomacy after the Yom Kippur War

The great tank battles of the Yom Kippur War of 1973

42 Years to the Yom Kippur War – כאילו לא היתה מלחמה

Frozen in time: The Golan Heights – What in its future?

Remembering Menachem Begin

Itzhak Hofi – An IDF General and Head of the Mossad

Moshe Dayan

David “Dado” Elazar

Golda Meir

Ariel “Arik” Sharon

 

 

 

 

POSTS

%d bloggers like this: