1967: Sword of Israel
Scenario Preview, Part 1
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
1967: Sword of Israel kicked off a new game series for us, Panzer Grenadier (Modern). The look is very similar to Panzer Grenadier, and the rules are also similar at first glance. But they’ve been thoroughly updated, and include many new features: logistics, missiles, helicopters, extended assault (you can leap into battle from your helicopter or APC), infra-red night vision, chemical weapons and all sorts of other new features.
At the heart of the game are its scenarios, 50 game situations from the 1967 Six Day War. John Stafford has designed not only a great game system, but provided a world of fun inside the box. Here’s a look a some of them:
5 June 1967
After weeks of increasing tension, Israel launched a surprise post-dawn attack on Egyptian airfields, crippling their air force. Shortly thereafter, the ground attack began. In the southern part of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) 7th Armored Brigade under the command of Aluf Mishne Gonen opened the Israeli attack from Kibbutz Nahal Oz to break into Khan Yunis, destroy the majority of its defenders, seize the coastal highway, and then force its way southward through the town in the direction of Rafah in preparation for the drive on El Arish. Brave Palestinian and Egyptian defenders would attempt to thwart them.
Although many Palestinian troops initially surrendered to the Israeli tank crews, the Israelis did not have a plan to deal with captives so they let many of them go. Thereafter, the Palestinians fought well, providing stiff resistance against the Israeli onslaught, though their Egyptian comrades fared less well. The Israeli armor, after having run through the town several times, declared the enemy suppressed and massed at the south end of Khan Yunis for the subsequent assault on Rafah.
We start off with a scenario that has just one board, but lots of units including an overwhelming Israeli tank force. Time isn’t on their side, and that’s about the only thing the Palestinian/Egyptian defenders have working for them: slow down the Israelis and force them to make mistakes.
5 June 1967
After successfully breaking through Khan Yunis, Aluf Mishne Reshef’s Gaza Task Force’s Armored Infantry Brigade assaulted Gaza City from the south, catching the defenders facing the wrong way. Whether the Egyptian command of "Palestinian"20th Infantry Division was unaware of the Israeli advance, or reluctant to order its troops to re-orient themselves lest they give in to panic once outside their fixed defenses, is unclear decades later.
The Palestinians and Egyptians were caught completely by surprise. Some units – uniformly, those able to fight from fixed positions - put up stout resistance and inflicted unexpectedly high casualties on the Israelis. But elsewhere the IDF’s carefully-planned advance went forward exactly as expected.
Though sometimes described as a Palestine Liberation Army outfit, the 20th Infantry Division was part of the Egyptian National Army, with mostly Egyptian officers and a rank-and-file recruited in the Gaza Strip. In this scenario the Israelis don’t have quite the firepower advantage, but they do still sport morale second only to the Norse Einherjar and a longer time span in which to work. They’ll need to pretty much wipe out the Palestinian/Egyptian forces without taking too many casualties: and it’s not the relative loss ratio that matters, so the Israeli has to be careful since the Arabs can lose every unit on the board and still win the game.
5 June 1967
The Israeli 7th Armored Brigade made a brief stop to reorganize after the battle at Khan Yunis. Considered the elite of Israel’s armored forces, the brigade spearheaded Gen. Israel Tal’s assault on the strategic town of Rafah north of the El Arish highway. The Egyptians were waiting, with a number of strong points not immediately obvious to the attacking Israelis.
Rafah was a tough nut to crack for the Israelis. Although the advance from the north bypassed most of the fixed defenses that were oriented toward the east, the Egyptian troops fought well, holding the critical road junctions for several hours until the combined assaults from the north and south broke their will.
The Israelis have a tough mission here, but they have their heroic morale and overwhelming armor support on their side. The Egyptians are seemingly doomed, but this is not Panzer Grenadier: in Panzer Grenadier (Modern), infantry is much more of a danger to unsupported armor. The Egyptians have a large advantage in foot soldiers and they can hurt the Israeli armor badly if it goes charging off by itself.
5 June 1967
The Israeli “Baron” Force consisting of two parachute battalions and a battalion and a half of tanks swept west from Kerem Shalom then drove north and east to catch the Egyptian 16th Mechanized Brigade before it could help its sister unit fighting in Rafah north of the El Arish road. The avenue of attack was guarded and mined but not the expected direction, while the challenging sand dunes and rocky patches made for tough going.
Several Israeli units got lost or temporarily stuck in the sand dunes and rocky areas leading to a piecemeal attack against the Egyptian. Only the lack of aggression by the Egyptian commanders and the combined pressure of attacks from north, south, and west allowed the Israelis to successfully take Rafah after a difficult fight. The paratroopers performed well as the most aggressive infantry units in the IDF, but they had little training in the armored infantry role which would hamper their effectiveness throughout the campaign.
Once again the Israelis have a massive tank force (thirty M48A2 platoons!) and stratospheric morale. They also have parity with the Egyptians in infantry, but the Israeli paratroopers are not “efficient,” a new concept in Panzer Grenadier (Modern). Without this label, the paras can’t cooperate with the tanks nearly as effectively as trained armored infantry. It’s a hallmark of sound game design: with one small rule in the series rulebook, John has made a point that some games require scads of special rules to get across far less effectively. That’s designer efficiency.
5 June 1967
Seren Amos and his Armor School Patton company were to lead one battalion of the halftrack-mounted paratroopers on a wide western hook through Kafr Shan and into Rafah South from the west. The trek across broken hardpan and sand dunes would take quite a while. About a kilometer west of Kafr Shan the Israelis ran across the first Egyptian defenders.
The Egyptian infantry and antitank guns were caught facing the wrong way and routed fairly quickly with almost no casualties, but the T-34’s put up a stiff fight. Eventually the tactical prowess of the Israelis gained the upper hand and the remaining T-34’s pulled out of town to the north and escaped.
The Egyptians have parity in numbers but this time lack the benefit of fortifications, and are once again facing Israeli morale of Biblical proportions. But the Israelis have a lot of ground to cover and not a lot of time in which to do it, which means the outgunned Egyptian tank battalion can knock them off schedule if skillfully handled.
5-6 June 1967
The Jiradi Pass is a 14-kilometer-long defile leading northwest into the south side of El Arish along the coastal road. This position was strongly defended in three-deep lines by a reinforced Egyptian infantry brigade, dug in with barbed wire emplacements, minefields, and fortified pillboxes. At 1430, elements of Israeli Tank Battalion 82 rolled down the center of the defile, past unaware/unbelieving Egyptians. Only at the last minute did they open fire on the tail end of the Israeli column as it raced past, inflicting few casualties despite the overwhelming Egyptian numbers. At 1630 elements of Tank Battalion 77 rolled up and got a different sort of welcome, being driven back after two attempts. The Israelis tried twice more to forge ahead through the hail of fire and failed, falling back to cover until nightfall and reinforcements arrived. At midnight they tried yet again.
Despite the darkness, the Israeli forces charged in boldly, while IAF aircraft bombed and strafed marked targets. They met solid resistance, as for once the Egyptians did not have to contend with Israeli tactical mobility they could not hope to match. Finally outflanked, the Egyptians still would not yield until the next day when Israeli paratroopers cleared every defensive post in hand-to-hand combat.
The Egyptians are caught in a vise, with one Israeli force attacking them from the east while the force they let through the pass earlier has turned around to hit them from the rear. But the Israelis have to clear Jiradi Pass for the advance to continue, so all the Egyptians have to do is hold on somewhere.
5 June 1967
Aluf Mishne Shadmi of General (Tat Aluf) Yoffe’s Ugdah (31st Armored Division) led his 200th Armored Brigade down the twisting and boulder-strewn Wadi Haridin toward Bir Lahfan. Egyptian staff officers believed the area impassable to vehicles, and neither 7th Infantry to the north of the wadi or 2nd Infantry Division to its south spread their front to cover the gap. Israeli scouting reports from the 1956 war claimed that the area could be penetrated, though only with great difficulty, and just before the war began Israeli Gen. Ariel Sharon found (or at least later claimed to have found) the sketches buried in the IDF’s archives. Shadmi expected to encounter no defenders, but to the Israelis’ surprise they found some Egyptians waiting at the end of the wadi.
The wadi might as well have been left undefended: the Israeli Centurions drove straight at the Egyptians, shrugging off their fire. In fairly short order, the Israeli column was rolling onward toward Bir Lahfan to form the southern arm of a devastating pincer attack.
This is an odd little scenario, with an unusual board configuration and unbalanced mix of forces: the Israelis only have tanks, while the Egyptians have little more than a bunch of anti-tank guns. The Israelis have to wipe out the Egyptians, who only need survive to win. That’s going to be a tough order, since the Israeli Centurion tanks are pretty close to indestructible.
5 June 1967
In the late afternoon of June 5th, Sgan Aluf “Natke” Nir’s Centurion 226th Tank Battalion of Aluf Mishne Zippori’s 14th Armored Brigade sighted the critical road junction at Abu Agheila. It did not look heavily defended, so he requested and received permission to press the attack, though he was ordered not to sacrifice his unit in the attempt. Zippori was wise to include that cautionary order.
Natke was surprised by the stiff resistance, though he should not have been. Abu Agheila had been the site of fierce fighting in 1956, and the Egyptians had spent the past 11 years fortifying the area. The Israelis had spent the same period studying the crossroads and wargaming how to capture it – never assuming the Egyptians would leave it undefended. Natke’s battalion fell back into the dunes for cover, to await nightfall and try again.
The Egyptians are much better here, with good tank support and morale, but those Israeli Centurions are just waddling fortresses. Once again the Egyptians are going to need to separate them from their infantry and try to destroy them in close combat. The Israelis are very short of foot soldiers, so that’s not an impossible task.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.