The first Israeli strike was aimed at Egyptian forces in the Gaza strip and Sinai desert. This attack by Lieutenant Colonel Natke Nir’s Centurion battalion on the Sinai front provides something of the flavor of the battle. The unit was part of Major General Ariel Sharon’s division which was charged with seizing the key Abu Ageila crossroads and neutralizing Egyptian reserves. An official Israeli Defense Force history of the war details the battle:
“Nir never hesitated at the dreadful odds he faced. Positioning his reconnaissance troop in the lead, he headed his Centurions across the international border into the barren desert. They soon encountered an Egyptian patrol, which fired sporadically – and inaccurately – on the Israeli column before fleeing northwards. Nir’s tanks rolled on towards the blocking position. This locality, defended by a two company force, was flanked by impassable sand dunes, and its forward approaches were protected by a dense minefield.
“Splitting his battalion into three companies, the commanding officer ordered one group of tanks into the minefield from the right and another from the left, leaving the third to support the attack, as the battalion’s support vehicles had not reached yet the area. However the combination of mines and increasingly dense artillery fire rapidly immobilized many of the Centurions, as well as preventing any attempt at repair work. Nir pulled the remaining mobile tanks out of the minefield and reconnoitered with his late arriving support vehicles behind the sand dunes, all the while planning a new ‘set –piece’ approach. Using a helicopter, he had a look from above and found a way around the enemy position.
“Nir now moved one company in a wide outflanking drive, bringing them around to the rear; a second company would do its best to engage the position from the right, while the rest of the battalion with air support would mount a frontal attack. Place his 2-in-C in charge of the outflanking company, Nir directed the main attack himself. The air support, arriving right on schedule, rained napalm and rocket fire on the main Egyptian defensive position. Next, the tanks charged in, firing guns and coaxials. Finally, Nir’s armored infantry swept into the frontal defense. The tanks swiftly pushed through the blocking position, wiping out the nearby tank encampment before it had a chance to fire, and leaving the infantry to mop up while Nir reorganized his Centurions for an immediate move onwards, into the Abu Ageila fortifications themselves.
“Near the main road, the tanks encountered heavy fire from well-emplaced Egyptian armor. Ordering counter fire, Nir soon overwhelmed Egyptian tanks and pressed his forces on in what was now near total darkness. Once more Nir split his troops into three: one task force would block the El Arish axis, while a second held of the eventual approach of the Egyptian 4th Armored Division along the Suez road. Nir himself commanded the main mission, smashing the stronghold of Abu Ageila.
“As Nir’s task force rolled towards the intersection it encountered a column of Egyptian forces. Firing point-black, the Centurions turned the enemy column into a pyrotechnic display of exploding trucks and armor personnel carriers (APCs). The battalion commander led his group through an Egyptian encampment, firing at anything that moved and creating havoc in their wake. Finally, the Centurions plowed through confused enemy forces to reach the Abu Ageila position itself. In a fierce battle which ensued, Nir was seriously wounded in both legs by an Egyptian shell. Nevertheless, refusing evacuation, he retained command until reinforcements arrived to assist his heavy engaged force”.
Source: Anon, Israel’s Armor in Action, pp 53-55.