Surrounded by Syrian tanks, Brig. Gen. (res.) Manus had command of an artillery battalion suddenly thrust upon him. Command suited him well. He daringly led the encircled and battered battalion to safety, earning himself a medal of honor .
The opening days of the Yom Kippur were some of Israel’s darkest. The Syrian military should have been victorious: it had the advantages of surprise and greater numbers. Yet the IDF finished the war with its troops near Damascus.
The thin line of soldiers on the Syrian border on those fateful first days was the last line of defense for the Jewish State. Generations of Israelis hence owe the existence of their homeland to that small group. Among this honorable few was Brigadier General (res.) Uri Manus, who found himself in command an artillery battalion in the Golan Heights when hostilities broke out. His battalion was decimated, but helped hold the line just long enough for reinforcements to arrive. His story is not just the epitome of the initial struggle of the war, but also of what it means to lead under fire.
Prepared for battle, not war
Five days before the start of the war—two days after Rosh Hashana, October 1, 1973—the Namar (Tiger) Artillery Battalion was called to support the front line of the Golan, where Syrian forces were seen amassing. At that time, Manus served as the deputy to the Commander of the Namar Battalion Major Aryeh Mizrach, later Commander of Artillery for the battalion.
“We had prepared excellently for one day of battle, but we weren’t prepared for a full-scale war,” Manus recalled.
“I had been serving as the Deputy Battalion Commander for nine months, and I had already endured a day of battle with the battalion in January of that year. We were a well-trained unit, cohesive and even coming off of a week of vacation to boost the morale. However, the wartime experiences of the young officers were limited to that one day in January. I myself had plenty of experience and seniority from the Six Day War and War of Attrition.”
The Namar Battalion was stationed along the Golan Heights. It consisted of three artillery batteries of self-propelled 155mm shells, among the most up-to-date in the world, and a fourth battery that was deployed in the Sinai. The Battalion Commander, then Major Mizrachi, had to join the 7th Brigade in the northern sector, where he and the rest of the battery commanders watched, directed and managed artillery fire of the tank forces. This made Manus the de facto commander of the Namar Battalion.
Of the events of the long war, Manus best recalls the opening two days of battle, for which he would later receive the Medal of the Commander of the Division.
War is underway
At 2:00 PM, according to Manus, the “Golan Heights began to quake.” The Syrians began shelling and launching air strikes throughout the region. Amidst the turmoil, plagued by intense heat and hunger from the Yom Kippur fast, the soldiers of the Namar Battalion held fast. They directed their opening fire at the source of the Syrian gunfire and later at Syrian forces that had attacked or besieged IDF positions.
“One of our soldiers heard on the transistor that our forces were also fighting in the Sinai. From this, it finally sunk in that a war was underway,” said Manus.
Friend or foe?
“The Syrian volleys fell directly within our artillery positions, wounding a number of soldiers. Despite this, the soldiers of the battalion retained an unrelenting fire in order to protect our forces. Throughout this hectic period, we didn’t receive a single report on the condition of our forces or the enemy’s. The fate of Battery B was also uncertain: its firing station was a mere three kilometers from the Syrian border and its ammunition was exhausted. Additional ammunition was supposed to be on the way but had yet to arrive,” Manus recalled.
“At 10:00 PM on the day of Yom Kippur [the first day of the war], a company of Syrian tanks broke through IDF positions and pressed forward to firing positions a mere 200 meters above Battery B. The battery commander reported the movement of tanks above him. I contacted the high command, who said that the tanks were our forces. The tanks were actually Syrian, and this mistake left Battery B open to a surprise attack.”
While engaged in providing cover fire to IDF positions under attack, the Syrian tanks unleashed fire, killing 15 soldiers of Battery B, including the battery commander, and leaving many others wounded.
Despite being in close proximity, the fate of Battery B was unknown to Manus. “My command post was located near Battery A. I only found out about Battery B after a group of survivors arrived from the inferno. I immediately understood that we were in an entirely different situation. I ordered five minutes of silence so that we could locate the Syrian tanks.”
In the ensuing silence, Manus had to think fast. ”We faced a dilemma. On one hand, Syrian tanks were threatening the battalion and the temptation existed to pull back and cut off their contact. On the other, there was an obligation to continue the mission of aiding our outposts. This moral-professional dilemma was solved when Commander of the 188th Brigade Colonel Yizthak Shoham Ben, arrived incidentally. He made it clear that we were surrounded by Syrian tanks and it wouldn’t be right to risk the rest of the battalion. He believed we needed to withdraw and find safer locations to continue firing.”
“I chose to move to a narrow stream of basalt in order to avoid meeting Syrian tanks on the main roads. I led a convoy that included Battery A, the battalion command and remnants of Battery B. I led the convoy on foot, steering it between rocks. We managed to avoid detection throughout the night and arrived at Tel Bezeq. At dawn on Sunday, we opened fire to protect our positions in the southern sector.”
The lone commander leads the way to safety
As light was breaking on Sunday, it seemed like the Namar Battalion was in for another round of heavy Syrian fire. The artillery force was again attacked by Syrian tanks, and there was a feeling of playing “hide and seek with the enemy,” as Manus described it. At one point, Manus’ tank was hit by a shell. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
“I did not want to withdraw with Battery A from the Golan Heights because of a feeling of responsibility to the trapped soldiers fighting at the Tel Saki outpost,” recalled Manus. However, due to the increasing influx of Syrian tanks and flagging power of IDF artillery, the Southern Command gave the order to retreat southward to safer territory just north of the Sea of Galilee.
“The question now was how to move our troops from our spread-out position with Syrian forces sitting above us. I decided to do an experiment and head to the Sea of Galilee in an APC, just me and the driver. I instructed the commander of Battery A that if I make it there in peace, he should bring the rest of the battalion after me. At worst, I told him to take command in my place.”
The experiment succeeded and the rest of the battalion followed after Manus. The Syrians then left their top position in pursuit of IDF forces.
“The shores of the Sea of Galilee looked strangely calm and pastoral as the enemy shells zoomed over us, causing the water to spring up. The hope was to rest on the shores and stock up on food, water and ammunition. We had just hardly managed to load the shells into our tanks when the order came to join the reserve tank forces and move with them to Gamla. The situation was simply awful. On Sunday afternoon, Battery A was the only artillery force in the southern Golan Heights.”
“By the second day reserve forces had stabilized in our position where yesterday the Syrians had repelled us. That night we had scanned the area and arrived first to the destroyed post of Battery B near Tel Jokhdar. Only then did I understand the magnitude of the tragedy that had befallen the battery. As the battle raged on, I had to identify the fallen and locate the missing. On the third day, I found the remains of a burned jeep that carried the troops bringing the ammunition and their officer.”
“Only on the 10th day of the war did we break through the Syrian line and connect with the Battery C, and we created a new Battery B with the help of veterans that survived and new soldiers that we absorbed.”
Effects of war
Today Manus is striving to establish a memorial for the fallen soldiers of his regiment during the war. Like many others veterans of the Yom Kippur War, he learned many lessons for his military career and civilian life.
“My main lesson,” says Manus today, “is that you are responsible for yourself and your mission. Learn, ask, explore, do not give up on your superiors and subordinates until you are absolutely sure you have done everything you can to complete the task expected of you.”
Commemorating the fallen fighters
Following the Yom Kippur War, in which the Namar Battalion lost 21 fighters, operational and strategic lessons are still drawn from the Manus’s artillery corps for today’s soldiers. Since 1973, the battalion veterans have continued a tradition to meet during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in the Golan Heights. They are joined by the bereaved families and soldiers currently serving in IDF artillery, who honor the memory of the fallen together.
(Today, Brig. Gen. (res.) Uri Manus, 72, is the father of four, grandfather to 10, and resides in Rana’ana.)
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) October 24, 2013