1967: Sword of Israel
Scenario Preview, Part 6
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
For some reason, we ended the scenario preview of Panzer Grenadier (Modern): 1967 Sword of Israel after the West Bank section and never went on to the Golan Heights. I’ve no idea why we didn’t resume; the last section pits the Israel Defense Forces, flush from victory over the Egyptians and the Jordanians, against the truly crapulent Syrian Arab Army. The Syrians had a sophisticated program to identify promising young officers who showed intelligence and initiative, and then execute them. Promotions and key postings instead went to officers judged too stupid to plot and execute a coup against the quasi-fascist Ba’ath regime. Surprisingly, such an army did not perform well when called on to fight the Israelis.
Let’s have a look at the first half of the Syrian scenarios. You can see the rest in Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four and Part Five.
The Road to Qala and Zaoura, Phase 1
9 June 1967
The Israeli attack eastward into the Golan Heights commenced with Aluf Mishne Avraham Mendler’s 8th Independent Armored Brigade trying to capture the fortified town of Qala near the top of the ridge. The attack’s lengthy artillery and air attack preparation produced little result on the well-entrenched defenders. This was the most heavily defended and fortified sector of any of the war’s three fronts. The plan called for an attack via a number of parallel avenues on the towns of Ukda, Na’amush, and Gur al-Askar followed by a swing through Sir Adib and further northeast before coming in around Jebel el-Mis to take Qala from the rear. The escarpments in this region rise very steeply and the roads wind through narrow and rocky defiles. The Syrians augmented this formidable terrain with heavy minefields and fortifications, backed up by significant artillery. This attack was going to be tough and costly.
The Syrian defenders put up a good fight, while the difficult and confusing terrain continued to hamper the Israeli advance. After pushing through Gur al-Askar and Na’amush despite some losses and misdirection, the advance was checked by strong resistance from Ukda and flanking fire from Sir Adib and Qala.
This is a big scenario, with four boards in play but fewer forces than some of the massive tank battles of the Sinai front. The 8th Brigade had actually fought in Sinai and rushed north to join the forces on the Golan; it’s filled with confidence if not with the IDF’s best tanks. The IDF has a lot of armor and that sky-high morale, but they have a lot to accomplish and a lot of confusion on their part on how to get it done.
The Road to Qala, Phase 2
9 June 1967
After seizing their initial objectives on the Golan Heights, 8th Independent Armored Brigade split its force to capture its two final objectives: the fortified town of Qala near the top of the ridge, and the key town of Zaoura with its commanding view. The terrain had not gotten any more forgiving; nor had the Syrians in their trenches.
The Israeli Centurions suffered near complete destruction and, in the end, needed air support to finish the conquest of Qala. The Syrian defenders had put up a good fight, but their leaders had not expected such a heavy attack in this sector, and did not reinforce their defenders. In addition, a large portion of the artillery in this sector spent its time firing on Jewish settlements rather than supporting the defenders: a critical error.
The Syrian defenses include German-made PzKpfw IV tanks, 22 years after the Red Army took the Reichstag. That alone sums up the state of the Syrian defenses, but they do occupy a natural fortress even if the Israelis do command overwhelming morale and firepower.
The Road to Zaoura, Phase 2
9 June 1967
While the bloody attack on Qala proceeded, the rest of 8th Independent Armored Brigade surged uphill to seize the key town of Zaoura. Unsure whether the position in front of them was actually Zaoura or Qala, the Israelis decided to attack it anyway. As elsewhere in this zone, the forbidding slope was strewn with boulders and dug-in Syrians. Despite the Israelis’ obvious confusion, the Syrians remained in their positions and refused to counter-attack.
Zaoura cost the IDF half the tanks committed but the Syrian defenders, who put up a good fight, were finally overcome. Once again, the Syrian leadership had not expected such a heavy attack in this sector, and did not reinforce the defenders or order the counter-attacks that were the backbone of Syrian pre-war planning. That might not have helped: at the tactical level the primarily Alawite and Druze officers refused to lead their mostly Sunni troops into action and often left them to fend for themselves.
Once again, the Syrian defending force is of unequalled crapulence. But they’re on top of the forbidding heights, and they greatly outnumber the attacking Israelis who have split their forces perhaps once too often.
9 June 1967
Tel Fakhr, an imposing hill, glowered over the northern end of the Golan plateau. The Syrians honeycombed the entire hill with concrete bunkers and communications trenches, sprinkled liberally with minefields and barbed wire, not to mention a lot of armed and determined Syrians. Just getting to the hill to start the attack, the Israelis would have to cross more than two kilometers of open but very rough terrain under a hail of artillery fire from the Syrian heights all around the area. To help, the Israelis began softening up the hill at daybreak with the nearly continuous aircraft and artillery attacks. But in the end, the poor bloody infantry would have to do the job alone.
The road was narrow, in terrible condition, and mined, and none of the supporting tanks made it to the hill. The few halftracks that did make it were unable to join the infantry in their climb to the top due to the ruggedness and steep grade. The aircraft and artillery attacks had done some damage but not enough to make it easy. The Syrians fought back fiercely, holding off the Israelis until nightfall and inflicting serious casualties. Under cover of darkness, the remaining brave defenders slipped away to fight another day.
The Syrians have yet another rocky fortress, and though the Israelis will eventually have a strong edge in numbers they show up piecemeal. That’s not a good look, since in order to win they pretty much have to wipe out the Syrians, who get to fight back.
9 June 1967
If Tel Fakhr was a fortified hill, Tel Azzaziyat was a nasty ridge-like steep hill just to the west with similar fortifications. Local farmers appropriately called the basaltic pile “the Monster.” In addition, another precursor position guarded its western approach, called Burj Babil (Tower of Babel). Another battalion of Israeli infantry would have to assault the dug-in Syrians.
Once again, the infantry had a tortuous climb across wire, minefields, and steep hillsides, and the hours of air and artillery preparatory bombardment did not do much to make it easier for the attackers. While a few halftracks made it to the top of Burj Babil, none made it up “the Monster.” As on Tel Fakhr, the Syrian foot soldiers, despite their fairly cowardly leaders, held their ground stubbornly until nightfall, then slipped away under cover of darkness to fight again another day.
This is a fairly small scenario, and it’s a brutal infantry fight at close quarters. The Syrians don’t really want to be here, but they have the high ground and enough automatic firepower to give the IDF a serious defeat if they’re not at their best.
The Road to Rawye
9 June 1967
Somewhat south of the 8th Independent Armored Brigade’s attack zone, more IDF engineers pierced the mine and barbed wire belts at Notera to allow another force to penetrate into the Syrian interior of the Golan. An AMX-13 recce company teamed with a motorized infantry battalion to press forward and capture the town of Rawye, just south of the critical juncture at Kuneitra. The Syrians had a couple of surprises in store for them.
The Israelis captured Rawye just before dusk, but it took prodigious amounts of airpower to dig out the Syrians blocking the way. Syrian anti-tank fire claimed three AMX-13 tanks, but despite heavy casualties the Israelis had achieved a narrow breach in the Syrian main line of resistance.
This time the Syrians have reasonable morale, numbers nearly equal to the Israelis, and an edge in armor. Plus, they get to defend on the Golan. The IDF’s going to have to work to win this one.
9 June 1967
A couple kilometers southeast of Notera, the IDF selected another track leading up the heights as a breakthrough point. This time, a resolute reinforced company of Syrian reservists defended that location, and they greatly complicated the mine-clearing operations and delayed the Israeli attack. When the Israelis finally moved forward, the Syrians were ready for them.
The mine clearing took quite a while under the hail of Syrian fire. Eventually, once again, IAF airpower suppressed enough of the Syrian positions for the IDF ground force to get into knife-fighting range. Despite having a reputation as a ragtag militia, the Syrian force held its ground and gave a good fight.
The Syrian reservists holding this sector are actually more willing to fight than the regulars encountered elsewhere. But they still can’t match Israeli morale or draw within the same zip code, and the Israelis have a massive edge in numbers and firepower. But there’s a reason the Israelis haven’t given up the Golan in the past five decades - it might have been designed as a fortress, and the Syrians have decided to treat it as one.
And that wraps Part Six. Next time, we wrap it all up.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects.
People are saying that a few of them were actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold has played this game.