WARRIOR WEDNESDAY: AVIGDOR KAHALANI AND THE VALLEY OF TEARS
I’ve written a bunch of Warrior Wednesday posts about badasses infantry leaders, cavalrymen and warfighters engaged in hardcore hand to hand combat. However, I haven’t written about any tankers so figured I’d start with arguably one of the greatest Tank commanders in the history of modern warfare. His real life story seems more incredulous than the Brad Pitt movie “Fury.” This is the insanely violent story of then LTC Avigdor Kahalani and the defense of the “Valley of Tears”.
Avigdor Kahalani was born on June 1944 in a small Jewish settlement called Ness Ziona. His family moved from Yemen, where they’d lived for hundreds of years, hoping to create a new life for themselves, and were among some of the first official citizens of Israel. As any dutiful citizen would, Kahalani applied himself to his studies and eventually gained acceptance to the Israeli National Defense College. He was commissioned as an armored warfare officer in the 7th Brigade of the IDF Armored Corps.
At this time in history, Israel was surrounded by a bunch of countries that wanted to basically kill and destroy the new founded country off the map. Obviously, living like this wasn’t such a good thing so in 1967 Israel launched a controversial pre-emptive war and attacked Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. IDF armor assets, Infantry, and fixed wing aircraft surged across the borders of these Arab countries and basically dick punched all of them at the same time. From the very onset of the war, 23 year old Kahalani, a captain at the time and his Magach Tank (an Israeli M48 Patton Tank), tore through the Sinai peninsula, all guns blasting away.
Kahalani and the IDF Armored Corps ravaged their way across the Sinai, leaving the burning wreckage of Egyptian T-54 and T-55 tanks in their wake. During a vicious slugfest of a battle outside the city of El Arish, Kahalani showed a level of leadership and brass balls yet unseen in the Armored Corps. He was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Service, which is kinda like their version of the Silver Star, but for Kahalani the victory was ruined. In the final hours of the war, his tank was hit by enemy fire igniting his ammunition locker. This turned his entire tank into a flaming metal death trap. Every single man in his crew met a gruesome death in those flames. Kahalani managed to just barely crawl out himself with significant 3rd degree burns all over his body. He was evacuated to an IDF hospital where he received seventeen major operations and multiple skin grafts. Doctors weren’t sure that he would survive let alone be able to walk but it would take much more than near-death and the loss of his entire crew to keep this warrior down. He would go on to defy all expectations and not only lead a normal life, but become a revered Battalion Commander of an Armor unit.
The Six-Day War was a humiliating defeat for the Arab countries. For six long years, they slowly rebuilt and upgraded their armies; they planned quietly in the shadows while Israel enjoyed the spoils of its victory. And on October 6th 1973, they struck back with vengeance.
It was Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish Holidays. Checkpoints were manned with skeleton crews as many members of the IDF were on leave to spend this holiday with their families. That day was no different than any of the other days leading up to Yom Kippur. Everything was quiet and peaceful.
Then, the sentries heard a noise that dropped their hearts into their stomachs: a loud mechanical rumbling in the distance. It was the sound of entire divisions of Soviet-built T-62 and T-55 tanks, APCs and trucks supported by rotary wing aircraft, jets and artillery racing towards the Israeli border. Entire Egyptian Infantry battalions launched a full-scale assault across the heavily-defended Suez Canal in the South. Without any sense of self preservation, they charged through fields of machine gun fire, crossed the Canal and closed the gap to bayonet distance against the beleaguered Israeli defenders. In the Golan Heights, a plateau that the Israelis took as its territory in the aftermath of the Six day War, crack Iraqi commandos captured communication hubs while over a thousand Syrian T-62 and T-55 tanks attacked across a 36-mile-long front. They quickly outmaneuvered and surrounded the few Israeli units there and blasted them into the afterlife. The IDF scrambled F-4 Phantoms to bomb the Syrian assault elements in retaliation, but Syrian AA guns and guided missiles destroyed over twenty IDF aircraft in a matter of hours.
29 year old LTC Avigdor Kahalani was the commander of the 77th Armored Battalion when the frantic calls came over the radio for Armored support. Despite only having a small number of his soldiers available, he scraped together crews with anyone he could find and put them into enough tanks to create an ad-hoc unit. He kitted up, ordered his driver to kick it into gear and drove straight toward the sound of enemy fire. When it was all said and done, he had managed to assemble an understrength Tank battalion of only 40 Centurion and Patton tanks.
Kahalani ordered his men to hold a critical defensive position in the central Golan Heights. If he failed to hold this position The Syrians would be able to maneuver deep into Israel and potentially accomplish their goal of wiping his nation off the map. The literal survival of his country rested upon the shoulders of Kahalani and his men; his 40 tanks against an entire fucking armored division until reinforcements could be mustered and deployed.
His tank’s engines roared as Kahalani advanced up the plateau. When he looked down at the valley below, his heart dropped. There were over 500 enemy tanks, supported by hundreds of trucks, APCs, and artillery pieces strewn about as far as his eyes can see. The only thing that stood between the horde of enemy armor and Kahalani’s 40 tanks was a large minefield and a 20 mile long anti-tank trench. Kahalani ordered his men to get hull-down on the ridgeline to minimize exposure, start picking targets and to only fire on his command.
Avigdor Kahalani and the 77th Armored fought like they were the Gods of War for the next fifty hours . These men and their tanks made a desperate last stand against an enemy that they could not logically defeat. The air grew hazy with the dust from explosions as their 105mm cannons blasted apart enemy tanks leaving them as wreckage in fiery explosions. Under massive suppressive fire from the artillery and tanks, Syrian mine clearing vehicles advanced forwards to dismantle the Israelis’ defenses and open up a path for their comrades. Some extremely brave and foolhardy Syrian tankers, frustrated with the time it was taking, began to surge through the minefield vowing to either find a safe route or sacrifice themselves to make one for their comrades.
While all that happened, Kahalani and his men rained down High Explosive death to any Syrian vehicle that came within striking distance. Finally under the cover of darkness, the Syrians managed to break through. Unfortunately for the Israel defenders, the enemy T-55 and T-62 tanks were equipped with IR rangefinders. This gave them a significant advantage at fighting under low-light conditions. The IDF only had night-vision binoculars for their vehicle commanders which were pretty much useless while the tanks were buttoned up. With enemies within 50 meters from IDF lines in the dark, the destruction was close to breaking the badly-outnumbered defenders. Kahalani, fighting for survival against a superior enemy force he could barely see, ordered his tank crews to aim for muzzle flashes and pray that their aim was accurate. In desperation, he popped the hatch of his tank and manually looked around with his night vision goggles. There was such a large haze from the hanging dust that he could see the Syrian IR targeting beams, so he basically back azimuth’ed those beams to their starting points and had his gunners lay fire into them. All night explosions and tracer fire lit the darkness up with brief windows of searing light of violence and death.
When dawn finally arose on the Golan Heights, the situation looked grim. The IDF had been forced to withdraw from the ridgeline and the first Syrian elements were close to taking the plateau. Kahalani had just a handful of operational tanks left. Still, he refused to back down. Seeing a few of the enemy vehicles holding the ridge ahead of him, Kahalani ordered his tanks to advance one last time. Once more into the fuckin’ breach. He led the charge as only a proper leader should and surged towards the enemy line. His crew blew apart two of the three T-55s manning the ridgeline before they could even turn their guns onto his tank but as his crew aimed for the next one, the cannon suffered a ruptured shell casing. The gun was down. The remaining T-55 swung its cannon at him... but as it adjusted its turret to end Kahalani’s story, the enemy tank blew up into a flaming wreck as two more IDF Centurions rolled up into formation alongside Kahalani and broke the Syrians attempt to hold the ridgeline.
For over 50 hours, Kahalani and the 40 tanks of the 77th Armored Battalion held the line against more than 500 Syrian tanks and armored vehicles denying the enemy advance. They were eventually supported by reinforcements that finally managed to link up with them. At the head of a fresh force, Kahalani led the final counter assault into the Syrian lines. The battle at the Golan Heights resulted in the destruction of 260 Syrian tanks as well as 400 destroyed trucks and support vehicles. Even after being reinforced, Kahalani was left with only twenty tanks and their crew at the end of the battle. This hallowed ground of one of the most lopsided tank battles would become known as the “Valley of Tears”.
For his Superb leadership, volleyball sized testicles and aggressive actions that turned the Syrian blitz into a Graveyard of enemy armor, Kahalani received the Medal of Valor. He retired as a Brigadier General in ‘92, was elected as the Minister of Public Security in ‘96 and spent his retirement working with charitable organizations that help deal with IDF soldiers’ and Veterans’ Issues. I can’t imagine a better way for a warrior to retire.
About the author: Andy, is a US Army Infantryman and your local Friendly Neighborhood Rooftop Korean. When he's not burning through his savings at the range, you can find him online sharing memes, playing video games, and writing stories about the baddest warriors throughout history. You can follow all of Andy's NSFW content at @call_me_ak on Instagram.