How a Map Torn from a Newspaper Helped Decide a Critical Battle of the Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War of 1973 was utter chaos. Armored corps soldiers who joined the battle in the Valley of Tears on the Golan Heights were not familiar with the terrain and couldn't find a proper map to guide them, so they improvised…

Hadar Ben-Yehuda
21.10.2020
Amnon Kafkafi during the Yom Kippur War

Sarah, 3:22 pm:

Thank you for contacting us. A librarian will be with you shortly.

Sarah, 3:22 pm:

Hello, my name is Sara. Welcome to the National Library’s live chat. How may I help you?

Amnon, 3:23 pm:

Hello Sarah, I was wondering if you might have a copy of the front page of the Haaretz newspaper, dated October 7th, 1973?

(A chat conversation between Amnon Kafkafi and Sara Yahalomi from the National Library’s Reference Department)

***

With four more months left to serve in the army, Amnon Kafkafi was on leave and staying at his parents’ house in Ramat Hasharon in central Israel. The year was 1973. Around two o’clock in the afternoon, an alarm broke the silence of Yom Kippur.

A few months earlier, Kafkafi had left his position as a tank commander in the 82nd Battalion of the 7th Armored Brigade, and therefore he was not called back to his unit. Nevertheless, he quickly put on his uniform while reassuring his mother that “it will be alright”. His father drove him down to the nearby highway. He then hitchhiked the rest of the way to the battalion’s base, Natan Camp near Be’er Sheva in Israel’s southern Negev region.

The base was nearly empty when he reached it. Amnon wasn’t aware that the unit’s soldiers had already boarded a flight on the eve of Yom Kippur from the local airfield to Mahanaim, in Israel’s north. He did not know that they had been assigned tanks and gear from the nearby emergency warehouses and sent to fight the Syrians on the frontline in the Golan Heights. The battalion adjutant, the lieutenant on base, ordered him and the other soldiers that arrived to stay on base and assist in various tasks.

They were far away from the critical frontline, where their battalion was deployed. Kafkafi called the Armored Corps Headquarters. The commanding officer asked if there were any tanks at Kafkafi’s base. Kafkafi replied that there was a T-54 tank in front of the battalion commander’s office, loot from the Six Day War. The officer replied, “I’m sending a transporter vehicle for the tank,” forcing Kafkafi to admit he had only been joking, and that the tank’s frame was merely a monument and completely out of use. The officer told Kafkafi they needed tank operators on the frontline but that he could not spare a vehicle to collect Kafkafi and the others.

Kafkafi told the base adjutant that after two days of hard work, he and his friends wanted to go refresh themselves at Montana Ice Cream, within walking distance of the base. The lieutenant said, “No problem, just don’t forget to bring me back some ice cream too.” The soldiers indeed went out for ice cream, Kafkafi called his mother from a pay phone and told her he was on the base near Be’er Sheva and that there was no need to worry. Then, the seven tank operators crossed the road and began a hitchhiking journey up north, to the frontline.

***

Damaged Syrian tanks near the anti-tank ditch in the Valley of Tears (IDF Archives)

 Amnon, 3:27 pm

On that date, the day after the Yom Kippur War broke out, a map of the battlefield in the Golan was published. This was the only map I had when I fought in the Valley of Tears. Can I get a copy of this map or of the entire front page?

Sarah, 3:29 pm

We can send you the picture, but if you come here, you can get a copy at a much better price.

Amnon, 3:29 pm

I’m not sure if the map was published on October 7th or 8th, how can I find out before I order the page?

Sarah, 3:30 p.m.

I can check that for you.

Amnon, 3:30 p.m.

I’d be extremely grateful…

(A chat conversation between Amnon Kafkafi and Sara Yahalomi from the Library’s Reference Department)

***

“I was asked by a historian studying the war to put into writing everything that had happened,” says Kafkafi. “What sets my tank’s story apart in the war, is that because of the chaos of the first few days, the soldiers in my tank and I had to operate in an extremely unconventional manner. No one in the army ever thought people would go to war the way we did. Guys who had returned from leave and were no longer a part of the unit just took the initiative. Guys who had completed their service as tank operators a few months earlier, guys who chose to go to the frontline and hitchhiked all the way there. We took an unequipped tank, that could not shoot but could only be used for running the enemy over and just found the rest of the gear later [when they found abandoned IDF tanks on the Golan Heights]. We found everything we needed except for a map, because it is forbidden to leave maps behind.”

***

“We climbed up the hill and arrived at dawn on Monday, October 8th, at Camp Philon [on the Golan Heights]. The operations office did not know the exact location of our unit, but they said that the 7th Brigade was assigned the northern front and that the 82nd Battalion no longer existed. I figured this ‘news’ must be false, because after all we were dealing with a long day of battle. We all had in mind the commanders’ promise that anyone who hit an enemy tank would win a bottle of champagne.”

Amnon Kafkafi in a tank during the Yom Kippur War

“At Camp Philon we reunited with the four guys who traveled with us from Montana Ice Cream and together we decided we should go eat breakfast. We found the mess hall and asked the NCO in charge to give us food or at least some bread and cheese. He refused and said we were not assigned to his base and therefore were not entitled to food. We left there empty-handed. I found a newspaper from the previous day with small maps of “The Battlefields in the South and North.” I cut out the map of the Golan Heights, its size was approximately 5×9 centimeters, with a drawing of the Sea of ​​Galilee and to the right an arched line marking the border… I buried it in the pocket of my jumpsuit; it served us from that point on.”

(From the Hebrew book Ashnav 3 [“Window 3: My Yom Kippur War – The Story of a Tank Squad”] by Amnon Kafkafi)

***

Sarah, 3:30 p.m.

You saw the newspaper, and took it with you to war?

Amnon, 3:31 pm

I saw the newspaper and cut out the small map and kept it in my pocket. When I arrived at the emergency storage unit to be assigned a tank, there were no maps left, and so I navigated according to the newspaper clipping…

Sarah, 3:32 pm

Unbelievable …

Amnon, 3:32 pm

Indeed.

Sarah, 3:32 pm

This was before every six-year-old had a navigation tool on their phone.

Amnon, 3:32 pm

I am now writing a memoir and would love to attach that fully schematic map to it.

Amnon, 3:33 pm

In 1973 there were no cellphones…

(A chat conversation between Amnon Kafkafi and Sara Yahalomi from the Library’s Reference Department)

Amnon Kafkafi in the Valley of Tears, at the site where his tank was hit

***

“I knew I wouldn’t find the map in our digital collection of historical Jewish press and that I would have to search the microfilm collection,” says Yahalomi. “I knew he needed help here. He thought the map was published in the Haaretz newspaper and I searched and found a map on microfilm from October 8th, two days after the war broke out. I was sure it was the map from the war and sent it to him.”

***

2017-01-01 18:02 GMT + 02: 00 Sara Yahalomi:

Hello Amnon,

We spoke last Wednesday about the Golan Heights map you were searching for in the Haaretz newspaper.

I am happy to inform you that it was found on the second page of the newspaper printed on October 8th, 1973 (I hope this is indeed the right map).

It is attached to this email in two formats – pdf and jpg.

I must admit I was deeply touched by your story and it was an honor for me to find the map that served you in battle.

(I just wanted to clarify, so as not to create false expectations in the future, that this is not a standard service provided by the Library.)

Regards,

Sarah Yahalomi | Librarian

The Reference Department, Public Services Branch

***

Hello Sarah,

It is very pleasant to meet (even if only on chat) someone who keeps their word, someone who is willing to go out of their way; someone who is simply moved by a simple story that took place 43 years ago.

Thank you so much for your help.

[…]

Did you check the Haaretz newspaper dated October 7th, 1973? I think there was an even less-detailed map published there, that did not specify the location of the Syrian attack. I’m not sure this is indeed the map I had back then. Maybe I was wrong altogether and the map in question was published in Yedioth Ahronoth or Maariv. Anyway, I think it was published on the front page on October 7th.

[…]

I have no doubt, Sarah, that what you have done for me is exceptional and not a standard library service, and for that I am truly grateful.

Please send my regards to your tank-operator nephew and wish him well.

Regards,

Amnon Kafkafi

***

Yahalomi continued to search for the map in the computerized archive of Yedioth Ahronoth, to which the National Library system is linked; she found a map that fit the description and sent it to Amnon Kafkafi.

The maps published in Yedioth Ahronoth on October 7TH, 1973

 

2017-01-12 18:15 GMT + 02: 00 Sara Yahalomi:

Hello Amnon,

I’ve attached a photo of a map published in Yedioth Ahronoth on October 7th, 1973.

Regards,

Sara Yahalomi, librarian

The Reference Department, Public Services Branch

***

Hello Sara,

You are the best!

This is the map just as I had remembered it. Granted, it is not in Haaretz nor is it on the front page – after so many years, memory can be deceptive. In any case, this is without a doubt the only map I had and with which we navigated our tank the whole time we were in the Golan, until our tank was hit and destroyed in the last holding action in the Valley of Tears.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your efforts.

Regards,

Amnon Kafkafi.

***

And Sara Yahalomi adds: “It was an especially moving request. Can you picture the situation? Four guys in a tank with no map! Today, we use Waze for every little thing. They fought with a map they found in a newspaper! It was so surreal and unusual that I decided I wanted to help. Finding the map was exciting as was getting Amnon’s confirmation that it was indeed the map he was looking for.

“I have a nephew who is a tank operator, so the story touched me on a more personal level,” says Yahalomi. “The work of the Reference Department is oftentimes technical, but what’s exciting is that behind the technical searches are people to whom the information we find means a great deal. Amnon contacted us via chat but each of us here responds to about 800 chats every year; yet there was something special about this request.”

***

Kafkafi and the other tank operators barely knew the terrain of the Golan Heights. They were trained in the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula. Before he joined the army, Kafkafi spent a few years in Washington D.C. where his parents worked at the Israeli embassy.  He was therefore not familiar with the Golan, which had been conquered by Israel only a short while earlier.

“The size of the map I clipped from the newspaper (which you were so wonderful in helping me find) was a few centimeters; it was totally schematic,” says Kafkafi. “It outlined and marked the Sea of Galilee and the border. It was almost worthless, but still it was the only map available. So, I cut it out and put it in my pocket.”

“Aside from the nostalgia – for 43 years I remembered that map we carried around with us – it is an indication of how unready and disorganized we were. Heading out with a tank that wasn’t intact, with ex-tank operators who took the liberty and initiative to go out to war, reached the frontline and took part in the most significant and critical battles of the Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights. The fighting in the Golan Heights was literally a battle for the borders of the country. The Syrians reached almost as far as the Sea of ​​Galilee.”

***

“The Battlefields in the North” – The map torn from the newspaper

Kafkafi in an interview with Israel Hayom from September 12th, 2013, on reconnecting with Shmulik Zemel, who was with him in the tank during that same battle: “We had a very brief but intense experience together. We didn’t know each other before the war and spent only two days together, but we were there in the most difficult battles of the war. At the end of the last holding action in the Valley of Tears, our tank was hit. One of our tank-mates was killed and a fourth tank operator was killed shortly after, while on his way to a memorial ceremony in memory of his brother who was killed in action. Zemel and I were injured. At one point, I knew two of my squad mates were killed and I did not know what happened to the third; was he dead or alive? And if he was alive – what had happened to him since? And so it was important to me to find him and recall our experiences.”

***

The late Shalom Burstein, who served in Amnon Kafkafi’s tank. Burstein was killed in the battle in the Valley of Tears.

***

An email from Shmuel Zemel to Kafkafi:

“We were a small cog in the machine but as they say on Hanukkah: ‘Each one of us is a small light. But together we are a mighty light.’ 

Indeed, that morning in the Valley of Tears can be seen as a tiebreaker, in which the side that did not break won, because in the end it still had a bit of strength left, and we were (like each of the other fighters) that ‘extra little bit’ needed to prevail!

Send my warm regards to Mickey and take care of yourself.

I wish you good health and may you take great joy in your grandchildren.

Respectfully,

Your friend,

Shmulik”

***

“We went out [to war] scared for the fate of the State,” Kafkafi concludes, “and ‘Raful’ [division commander Brigadier General Rafael Eitan, later Chief of Staff] truly said of the fighters on the northern front: ‘You are the ones who saved the State.’ Today they call it ‘engaging in combat’ or ‘initiating contact’ – we were guys who understood the significance of the events and did what had to be done in order to help out. And in the end, we succeeded. And we did it without a real map.”

 

This article was originally published in Hebrew in 2017.

We thank Amnon Kafkafi for allowing us to publish the correspondence.

If you are looking for of historical information that has special meaning to you, we recommend browsing through the Historical Jewish Press website, JPress. You may very well be able to find it there.

We invite you to contact our Reference services via chat or WhatsApp.

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