Bar Lev Line

Infobox Military Structure
name= Bar Lev Line
location= Sinai Peninsula Egypt
built= 1968–69
materials= Concrete, sand
used= 1969–73
type= Defensive line
controlledby= Israel
battles= Yom Kippur War (October 1973 War)

The Bar Lev Line ( _he. קו בר לב, "Kav Bar Lev"; _ar. خط برليف, "Khaṭṭ Barlīf") was a chain of fortifications built by Israel along the eastern coast of the Suez Canal after it captured the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Planning and construction

The $500 million line was named after Israeli Chief of Staff Chaim Bar-Lev. It consisted of earthen ramparts and a series of concrete observation posts positioned along the canal with extra fortifications at the more likely crossing points. The earthen ramparts were constructed over a unique water barrier and had an average height of 20 to 22 meters and a 45 degree incline on the side facing the canal. Each post held about 15 men, their primary task to give warning of any Egyptian attempt to cross the canal and direct artillery fire on them from batteries well in the rear. Behind the canal the Israelis held small armored and artillery units, and further back there were bases at which were stockpiled the weapons and equipment for reserve brigades, which could be mobilized within 24 hours of any attempt to cross the canal. The Israelis expected their artillery and air force to keep any canal crossing force busy until the reserve brigades could get moving towards the canal.At the top of the sand ramparts that ran the length of the canal, Israeli engineers had constructed thirty strongpoints at seven- to ten-kilometer intervals. Built to a depth of several stories under the sand, these concrete forts were designed to provide troops with shelter from 1,000-pound bombs as well as offer creature comforts such as air conditioning. Above ground, the strong-points' perimeters averaged 200 by 350 meters, surrounded by barbed wire and minefields to a depth of 200 meters. The entire length of the canal contained emplacements for tanks, artillery pieces, mortars, and machine guns so that Israeli soldiers could foil an Egyptian crossing at the water line.

Some of the names of the strongholds were Tasa, Maftzach, Milano, Mezach, Chizayon, Mifreket, Orcal, Budapest (the largest), Nisan, Lituf, Chashiva.

As a final touch to take advantage of the water obstacle, the Israelis installed an underwater pipe system designed to pump flammable crude oil into the Suez Canal to create a sheet of flame. This burning furnace would scorch any Egyptians attempting a crossing. Some Israeli sources claim the system was actually unreliable, and apparently only a couple of taps were operational. Nevertheless, the Egyptians took this threat very seriously, and, on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, during the late evening of 5 October, teams of Egyptian frogmen blocked the underwater openings with concrete.

History

The Bar-Lev Line experienced some decay after the War of Attrition ended in August 1970, as the Israeli military gradually closed some fortifications, cutting the number of strongpoints from around thirty to approximately twenty-two. Despite these reductions, the Bar-Lev Line still presented a formidable barrier, and the Egyptian General Staff had to devote a great deal of time, effort, and resources in developing a plan for overcoming the Israeli defenses. While the Bar-Lev Line was not constructed as a Maginot Line, the Israeli senior command still came to expect it to function as a graveyard for Egyptian troops, preventing any major Egyptian effort to establish bridgeheads on the east bank.

The defense of the Sinai depended upon two plans, Dovecote (יונים שׁוֹבָךְ Shovakh Yonim) and Rock (Sela). In both plans, the Israeli General Staff expected the Bar-Lev Line to serve as a "stop line" or kav atzira—a defensive line that had to be held at all cost. As noted by an Israeli colonel shortly after the War of Attrition, "The line was created to provide military answers to two basic needs: first, to prevent the possibility of a major Egyptian assault on Sinai with the consequent creation of a bridgehead which could lead to all-out war; and, second, to reduce as much as possible the casualties among the defending troops."

The line was wildly popular with the Israeli public but some generals, notably Ariel Sharon, were very critical of it.

War and destruction

During the Yom Kippur War (October 1973 War) the Egyptians, under the leadership of then-president Anwar Sadat, were able to easily overrun the Bar Lev Line in less than 2 hours due to the element of surprise and overwhelming fire power. To deal with the massive earthen ramparts, the Egyptians used water cannons fashioned from hoses attached to dredging pumps in the canal. Other methods involving explosives, artillery, and bulldozers were too costly in time and required nearly ideal working conditions. For example, sixty men, 600 pounds of explosives, and one bulldozer required five to six hours, uninterrupted by Israeli fire, to clear 1,500 cubic meters of sand. Employing a bulldozer on the east bank while protecting the congested landing site from Israeli artillery would be nearly impossible during the initial hours of the assault phase. Construction of the much-needed bridges would consequently begin much too late.At the end of 1971, a young Egyptian officer suggested a small, light, gasoline-fueled pump as the answer to the crossing dilemma. So, the Egyptian military purchased 300 British-made pumps and found that five such pumps could blast 1,500 cubic meters of sand in three hours. Then, in 1972, the Corps of Engineers acquired 150 more-powerful German pumps. Now a combination of two German and three British pumps would cut the breaching time down to only two hours. This timetable fell far below that predicted by the Israelis, who apparently failed to appreciate the significance of the water cannons used by the Egyptians during their training exercises.These cannons pumped out powerful jets of water creating 81 breaches in the line and removing three million cubic metres of packed dirt on the first day of the war.

The Egyptians assaulted the Bar-Lev Line with two field armies and forces from Port Sa'id and the Red Sea Military District. The Second Field Army covered the area from north of Qantara to south of Deversoir, while the Third Field Army was responsible for the area from Bitter Lakes to south of Port Tawfiq.

The Egyptians began their simultaneous air and artillery attacks by flying 250 Egyptian planes, MiG-21s, MiG-19s, and MiG-17s, attacking their assigned targets in the Sinai. Meanwhile, 2,000 artillery pieces opened fire against all of the strongpoints along the Bar-Lev Line, a barrage that lasted fifty-three minutes and dropped 10,500 shells in the first minute alone, or 175 shells per second.

Within the first hour of the war, the Egyptian Corps of Engineers tackled the sand barrier. Seventy engineer groups, each one responsible for opening a single passage, worked from wooden boats. With hoses attached to water pumps, they began attacking the sand obstacle. Many breaches occurred within two to three hours of the onset of operations — according to schedule; engineers at several places, however, experienced unexpected problems. The sand from the breached openings in the barrier was reduced to mud one meter deep in some areas. This problem required that engineers emplace floors of wood, rails, stone, sandbags, steel plates, or metal nets for the passage of heavy vehicles. The Third Army, in particular, had difficulty in its sector. There, the clay proved resistant to high-water pressure and, consequently, the engineers experienced delays in their breaching. Engineers in the Second Army completed the erection of their bridges and ferries within nine hours, whereas Third Army needed more than sixteen hours.

Of the 441 men in the sixteen forts on the Bar-Lev line at the start of the War, 126 were killed, and 161 captured. Only Budapest, in the extreme North near the Mediterranean city of Port Said, would hold out for the duration of the war, while all the rest would be overrun. (The Yom Kippur War, Rabinovich, 351)

Remarks

According to the historian Rabinovich, strategically, the Bar-Lev line was a blunder — too lightly manned to be an effective defensive line and too heavily manned to be an expendable tripwire. Moreover, some say the idea of the line was counter-intuitive to the strengths of Israeli battle tactics which in their core relied on agile mobile forces moving rapidly through the battlefield rather than utilizing a heavy reliance on fixed defenses.

Ariel Sharon, who was appointed in 1969 to the commander of the southern frontier, criticized the static defense of the Bar-Lev line, and proposed an agile and mobile defence, instead. Still, he fortified the line to provide better defense to the IDF troops in the War of Attrition.

According to Lt. General Saad El Shazli's account of the Yom Kippur War, in a book titled "The Crossing of the Suez", the plethora of Western military experts who visited the Bar-Lev Line, deemed it insurmountable.

The area of the Bar Lev Line currently falls in a restricted Egyptian Army zone, next to the Suez Canal. Several of the positions have been made available to the public as museums though. They are: Nozel, Lakekan, Notsa and Tzeidar. The best way to get to Nozel and Lakekan is via the No 6 Ferry at Ismailiya. Tzeidar and Notsa can be reached through the car tunnel underneath the Suez Canal at Suez City. The entrance fees are in the 2-3 dollar range.

ee also

* Maginot Line
* Siegfried Line
* Atlantic Wall
*Taunton Stop Line

References

*"The Yom Kippur War : The Epic Encounter That Transformed the Middle East" by Abraham Rabinovich. ISBN 0-8052-4176-0

*"The 1973 Arab-Israeli war: The albatross of decisive victory" by Dr. George W. Gawrych. Leavenworth papers US ISSN 0195-3451


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