1967: Sword of Israel
Scenario Preview, Part 2
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Part One of this scenario preview can be found here.
When I designed the game system that became Panzer Grenadier, I was pretty sure it could be modified to cover conflicts that came both earlier and later than World War II. And I intended, among my many grandiose plans, to do just that. Infantry Attacks handles the First World War very well, and now Panzer Grenadier (Modern) has tackled more recent conflicts. John Stafford’s 1967: Sword of Israel is a fine start to this new series; here’s a look at more of the scenarios:
5-6 June 1967
While part of Aluf Mishne Shadmi’s 200th Armored Brigade maneuvered to engage a radar station on a fortified hill, the rest of the force rolled another three kilometers north and attacked the main defensive force at Bir Lahfan. Control of the crossroads would split the Egyptian defense of Sinai into three parts and block reinforcements from reaching the front lines.
The Israelis fought until a little after dark, but realized the enemy force could not be easily routed. Aluf Mishne Shadmi’s men then maneuvered around the enemy, set up a blocking position to guard their rear, and moved on to the west.
Only two boards are in play, but the forces are huge considering the restricted area: two dozen Centurion platoons on the Israeli side plus supporting arms; a full regiment of Egyptian infantry with generous anti-tank support. And the Egyptians are dug in. The Israelis have all the usual advantages in morale, leadership and air power, though they have no artillery this time. The Egyptians are well entrenched, and the Israelis have to come to them, exposing their tanks to close infantry assaults. This one’s a short-range bloodbath of a scenario.
Night Tank Ambush
6 June 1967
After maneuvering around the Egyptian force at Bir Lahfan, an Israeli Centurion company was sent down the road toward Jebel Ligni to establish a delaying position and prevent or slow Egyptian reinforcements. Late that night the Sinai Field Army’s “Sword,” a greater portion of the 4th Egyptian Tank Division, came rolling north blissfully unaware of the Israeli ambush.
The Israeli ambush caused great consternation in the Egyptian ranks, and though they outnumbered the Israelis, they pulled back and waited until dawn. The Egyptians then formed up and charged, but were immediately attacked by IAF fighters. About an hour later, the lead elements of the Sela 520th Armored Brigade hit the Egyptians in the flank. The combined pressure eventually led to a southern withdrawal of the remainder of the Egyptian brigades, but they did so in good order.
It’s another scenario with lots of tanks brawling on a small piece of ground, but Egyptian morale is more fragile than it looks – the baseline morale is pretty good, but every time a loss is suffered everyone nearby must take a morale check. Lose enough men and tanks, and those dice rolls will add up. On the other hand, the Israeli force is made up solely of tanks (Centurions, no less, with the awesome L7 cannon) while the Egyptians have a balanced force that can do some damage if they get close enough to assault.
Umm Katef: The Infantry Fight
5-6 June 1967
The hilltop fortresses of Umm Katef and nearby Umm Sheham guarded the critical east-west highway from Nitzana to Abu Agheila and the branch road south to Kusseima. Beginning at 0815 on June 5, the IAF and 96 IDF artillery pieces began pummeling the forward outposts of the Umm Katef position. Later that day, Israeli Super Sherman tanks moved up and began long-range sniping at observation posts and fortified locations along the front. Under the cover of all these attacks, Aluf Mishne Adam’s 99th Reserve Infantry Brigade dismounted about 12 kilometers from the Egyptian position and began walking through the sand around the northern flank of the position to move into attack position. At 2230, all hell broke loose.
The Israelis attacked down the artificial ridges between the Egyptian trench lines, and signaled with their colored flashlights to help observers and fire support note the progress of each battalion and adjust artillery fire. It took the better part of the night and some tough fighting, but the trench lines were cleared by 0400. Had the IAF not been called off to help against the Jordanians, the task may have been easier, but the massive artillery park Gen. Ariel Sharon had amassed to support the attack provided adequate support.
This one has one of the more unusual setups in the Panzer Grenadier family, with the Egyptians arrayed rigidly in three lines of entrenchments manned by infantry and supported by a strong contingent of 85mm anti-tank guns (nine batteries!). The Israelis have no tanks or air support, but do deploy a truly massive array of off-board artillery (likely the most in the Panzer Grenadier family, topping even the naval bombardment in Beyond Normandy), and have to clear all three lines to win.
Umm Katef: The Artillery Fight
5-6 June 1967
At the same time the assault began on the infantry lines, a small group of paratroopers attacked the Egyptian artillery park. There were supposed to be 300 of the Paras, but the helicopters that were flying them in were drawn off to support another fight with logistics deliveries, so only half the force went in.
The fighting raged brutally, at close range, embroiling the Egyptians in chaos. The surprise of the attack slowly wore off but with the infantry and tanks tied up with their own fight, no relief was forthcoming. However, eventually the Egyptians directed enough firepower at the Israelis to force them to break off. The paratroopers continued to provide distractions by shooting up several truck convoys, some loaded with artillery ammunition that provided an impressive display.
This is an unusual scenario, with a weak force of very-high-morale Israeli paratroopers causing havoc amidst a huge array of Egyptian artillery. The Egyptians do have massive firepower, but they’re caught by surprise and have no infantry or tanks on hand to help defend the guns.
Umm Katef: The Tank Fight
6 June 1967
While the Egyptian Infantry and artillery were engaged at Umm Katef, the Israelis made a diversionary attack on the tank park to keep the Egyptian “sword” in its sheath. Later, a second force would attempt to destroy the Egyptians by striking from the rear: Natke Nir’s tank battalion had crossed through the “impassable” sand dunes to the north of Umm Katef.
The initial attack by the Centurions bogged down, especially when Egyptian infantry that had been presumed destroyed began filtering into the tank fight firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. However, the arrival of the Super Shermans and the counterattack by the Reserve Infantry eventually routed the Egyptians who fled into the desert.
It’s a mass tank fight on a relatively small board. This time both sides bring a powerful infantry force along with their relatively huge tank forces (25 Egyptian tank units against 23 Israelis). It’s a melee battle, with inflicting (and avoiding) casualties the only objective.
Rearguard Action: Abu Agheila to Jebel Libni
6 June 1967
By the morning of June 6th, approximately 24 hours after the start of the war, the will of Field Marshal ‘Abd al-Hakim ‘Amr, commander of the Sinai Field Army, had been broken. Breaking out of a nearly catatonic funk, he issued simultaneous orders to every unit down to the brigade level to retreat across the Suez Canal. This became a rout in many instances as units dropped their equipment and ran or drove for the canal en masse. However, some better-led units began an orderly withdrawal, fighting rearguard actions as required against the oncoming Israelis. In the late afternoon that day, the lead elements of the IDF’s Shadmi and 7th Armored Brigades encountered remnant Egyptian armored units trying to delay their advance.
The Egyptians successfully held off many of the probing attacks. However the IDF leadership was able to run significant forces past the fleeing Egyptians and get them into blocking position in many key chokepoints, allowing the Israelis to eliminate a large portion of the Sinai Field Army.
On just one board, the Israelis cram 28 tank units plus supporting infantry and transport while the Egyptians fight back with 28 tanks of their own, plus infantry and transport. The Israelis want to cross the board, while the Egyptians want to stop them and inflict casualties. It’s another armored brawl, probably fought out at close range.
6-7 June 1967
The Israelis had raced past miles of demoralized and fleeing Egyptians along the roads heading west. Their goal was to seize the key passes and cut off the Egyptians’ retreat, thereby ensuring the destruction of the Sinai Field Army. A small IDF force managed to set themselves up on a hill near the mouth of the Mitla Pass, attempting to staunch the escape of the fleeing Egyptians.
The small force grimly held the mouth of the pass. Running low on fuel, they fought to stem the fleeing tide, destroying vehicle after vehicle. Occasionally flights of aircraft helped, sowing carnage with napalm and other munitions. The wreckage eventually stopped the flow of traffic until the next morning when sufficient IDF forces arrived to permanently block the pass.
An unusual situation, with a dog-leg board arrangement to show the pass’ configuration and random waves of Egyptians threatening to overwhelm a small Israeli force in their panicked flight. The Israelis get piecemeal reinforcements to help stem the tide. The Egyptians only care about escape; the Israelis about inflicting casualties.
West of Jebel Libni
7 June 1967
In the morning, elements of Aluf Mishne Aviram’s heretofore untested 60th Armored Brigade and the tired and somewhat depleted Tank Battalion 82 of 7th Armored Brigade would lead the advance down the Jebel Libni-Bir Gifgafa road. Egyptian tanks were dug in along a wadi across the road and had bravely fended off the Shadmi Armored Brigade the previous day. IAF airstrikes opened the battle.
The Egyptian tankers fought well, but they lost the one-on-one matchups with Israeli Centurions. When they finally quit the field, the supporting infantry were long gone, fleeing toward Bir el-Hassne.
Another one-board scenario, with some determined Egyptian defenders trying to stop the Israelis from bopping their way past. Israeli morale is probably a little overrated and should be the same as the other reservist units and not that of the first-line armored brigades – which is still really, really good.
And that wraps Part Two. There’s more to come – Jordanian and Syrian action is in there, too!
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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.