There are few places in history where you see a stand unto death by western militaries that rivals that of the Spartans at Thermopylae. It takes a very special kind of “morale” and “moral” character for any military unit to fight effectively until killed. In 1973, on the Golan Heights, the IDF Armored Corps did just that.
In western military writings you hear a great deal about Avigdor Kahalani’s 77 Regiment of the 7th Armoured Brigade holding off the Syrians with fewer than 25 tanks and almost no ammunition at the end on the Golan Heights. What you don’t hear about is the 188th (Barak) Brigade, which held the southern Golan Heights and was wiped out, but did the following before it died, from this link:
The Syrian 1st Armored Division was advancing up the route toward the Golan HQ at Nafakh. Colonel Yitzhak Ben-Shoham, the Barak Brigade’s commander, realized his brigade was for all intents and purposes destroyed. He therefore organized and led a small group of surviving tanks in a holding action that slowed the Syrian advance on his HQ for several hours until he and the rest of the defenders were killed. With the brigade commander dead, no reserves in sight and two Syrian brigades advancing toward the Golan HQ–and with some units having bypassed the base on both flanks–the situation could only be described as grave. Lead elements of the Syrian brigades actually reached Nafakh and broke through the base’s southern perimeter. One Syrian T-55 crashed into General Eitan’s HQ, only to be knocked out by the last operational tank in Gringold’s platoon.
At that point, Eitan evacuated his headquarters to an improvised location farther to the north. Those left to defend the base manned two trackless Centurions from the camp repair depot and fired bazookas in a final stand that knocked out several Syrian tanks until those last Israeli tanks were destroyed.
The 188th Barak Brigade was no more.
That was very much a “Thermopylae” any way you cut it. There is a reason the “Valley of Tears” happened in 1973 as it did.
The Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Moshe Dayan, initiated the practice of holding the swearing-in ceremony of soldiers who have completed their tironut (IDF basic training) on top of Masada. The ceremony ends with this declaration: “Masada shall not fall again.”
To quote Napoleon “The moral is to the physical as 10 is to one.”
The “moral” character and the “morale” of an army are very closely related for fighting militaries, if not two sides of the same coin.
You can have a military organization with high moral fortitude have very low morale and an immoral organization that has very high morale.
In the end, in protracted conflicts, defeats will shatter immoral/corrupt militaries and hone the fighting power of military organizations of high moral standards.
A moral organizations expects and promotes for competency and gets loyalty. It learns from its mistakes and the mistakes of others.
An immoral organization demands and promotes for “loyalty” and gets neither competence nor loyalty…and only sometimes learns from its own experience.
The moral military institution prevents the spread of corruption that hollows out the fighting power of a military.
An immoral one is a petri dish for corruption that hollows out its own fighting power and makes its troops atrocity-prone besides.
The competition between two such organizations in wartime is very Darwinian with the moral institutions winning in the end, barring huge disparities in combat power. (See Finland versus the Soviet Union circa 1940.)
In 1973, the disparity in combat power was not that great, and the IDF Armored Corps kept the oath its officer’s swore.
Masada did not fall.
See this link for photos of the battlefield: