Golden Journal No. 32:
Royal Marine Scenarios
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Our new-model Golden Journal (which we’ve done for a couple of years now) is built around a set of “real” die-cut and silky-smooth playing pieces, and we include some scenarios so you can play with them.
Golden Journal No. 32: Four-Five Commando adds the British Royal Marines to Panzer Grenadier (Modern): 1967 Sword of Israel, based on the claims of Egyptian officers that they fought British Royal Marines in the Gaza Strip. Even if the British had wished to help the Israelis, and the Israelis had risked compromising their operational security to receive such aid, the IDF had no need for one more battalion of elite light infantry. Their own paratroopers were more than adequate to fill the role, and their line infantry fought almost as well during the campaign, even the reservist units. The complications added to Israeli plans would not have been worth the result.
Much more useful to the Israeli cause would have been a diversion. Egypt had 60,000 troops in North Yemen at the time of the Six-Day War (down from 70,000 a year earlier, with a target level of 40,000), fighting a civil war against royalist insurgents backed by British mercenaries. Intensifying the struggle in North Yemen could keep those 20,000 troops scheduled to return to Egypt a thousand miles to the south-east instead - a far more useful contribution to the Israeli cause.
Our first four scenarios, therefore, are set in North Yemen, as 45 Commando takes on the Egyptian occupation forces. The final two are set in Jordan, with the Royal Marines fighting alongside their long-time Arab allies against the IDF. British officers founded and trained the Arab Legion, the precursor of the Royal Jordanian Army, and led it into battle during the 1948 war. The king did away with his British officers in 1956, but the kingdom retained its ties to Britain, and much of the kingdom’s military equipment came from British suppliers: Hunter jets, Centurion tanks, Enfield rifles, 25-pounder artillery and even the steel pots worn by the troops.
South of San’aa
With Britain switching from silent to open intervention in North Yemen, Wessex helicopters inserted 45 Commando atop a key crossroads south of the Yemeni capital to block an Egyptian advance. Their royalist allies had no notion of operational security and little staying power in combat, and so the Royal Marines would be ready to stop the Egyptians all on their own.
After years of fighting against slippery insurgents, the Egyptians had learned to travel in large formations along well-patrolled roads. They would not have expected to encounter battle-hardened enemies in the midst of the Yemeni desert, and only their numbers and firepower would give them a chance of success.
It’s an infantry attack, the Royal Marines sneaking up on a good-sized Egyptian garrison in the middle of nowhere - the sort of thing that Commandos do.
The Egyptian presence in Yemen depended on holding the port of Hodeidah, where supplies and reinforcements arrived in the war zone. That alone wasn’t enough to secure the Egyptian/republican position, as those troops and trucks had to snake their way up the N3 “highway” to the capital of Sana’a. One of several choke points along the way was the fortified village of Manakhah.
The Yemen War became known as “Egypt’s Vietnam,” though given the timeline many have pointed out that in truth Vietnam was “America’s Yemen.” The Egyptians, unlike the Americans, never had to face hardened regulars. It likely would not have gone well for Nasser’s men.
The Egyptians have a large garrison holding this chokepoint, including a handful of tanks. The Royal Marines are out-numbered and out-gunned, and ordered to take a series of very strong hilltop positions against an alert enemy. Pity the enemy.
Counter-Attack at Manakhah
The Egyptians could not allow their enemies to interrupt traffic along Highway N2. If the Royal Marines held a blocking position there, then the Egyptians would have to deploy their best units to try to eject them. This would not be an easy task.
The Egyptian National Army had performed poorly against the royalist insurgents, reacting far too slowly against hit-and-run operations organized by British mercenaries. Against a fixed position they usually did much better, but they had never met opponents like the Royal Marines, at least until the Six-Day War.
The Egyptians have their own elite light infantry, which here they deploy to eject the Royal Marines from their just-seized blocking position. They also have elements of a tank brigade, which isn’t a very good unit but hey, it’s got tanks.
Commandos Strike at Dawn
The Egyptians established a fortified camp at Al Miskrah to control the southern approaches to the city of Taizz, still held by their republican allies. The somewhat isolated pot stood out as a potential target for a Royal Marine surprise assault, opening the road to Taizz for the royalists opposing the Egyptian occupation.
The best Egyptian troops had already been withdrawn before the Six-Day War erupted, and another 15,000 followed immediately afterwards to make good the losses inflicted by the Israelis. The royalists had not been able to knock off larger Egyptian outposts, but the Royal Marines were far more capable opponents.
There are a lot of Egyptians guarding this firebase, and they’re going to need every one of them. The Egyptians actually left some good units in Yemen despite the looming war with Israel. The 117th Infantry Brigade wasn’t one of them.
North of Aqaba
Israeli plans targeted only the Jordanian-ruled West Bank and not the remainder of the kingdom. On the day the war began, the Herut Party, which advocated Israeli conquest of “both banks of the Jordan,” joined the government for the first time. A move into Jordan would have sparked international condemnation and perhaps even intervention. Britain had long-standing ties to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, by 1967 the only remnant of the British attempt 50 years earlier to establish the Sharif of Mecca as ruler of an Arab kingdom.
While the Israelis had a numerical advantage over the combined forces of their Arab enemies, they did not have the spare troops to occupy Aqaba and perhaps engage in street fighting with the Royal Jordanian Army or the city’s angry residents. Breaking Highway 47 leading to the capital of Amman would have to suffice for the moment. The 8th Armored Brigade, a reservist outfit positioned at the southern end of the IDF’s Sinai front, would have also been in position to turn to the east instead and isolate Aqaba.
The Israelis might be able to stampede the Egyptians, but the Royal Marines are dug in and hidden and they can put the hurt on the Israeli modified Shermans if they get too close - and they’re going to have to get close if they hope to win this one.
Road to Amman
Any Israeli advance over the River Jordan at Allenby Bridge and up Highway 437 toward the capital of Amman would meet determined resistance from the Jordanian Royal Guards, deployed there to face either the Israelis or mutinous Palestinian brigades of the Royal Army.
While many Jordanian officers, especially in the senior ranks, had been trained in Britain, the Royal Marines had not trained with the Jordanians and would have had to manufacture joint operating procedures on the fly. The Jordanian rank and file fought well in 1967, though their officers did not. The Royal Guard Brigade did not see action; King Hussein retained them on the East Bank to guard against a Palestinian uprising.
This time the Royal Marines have to fight alongside the Jordanians, who actually aren’t that bad (even if badly-led). They can’t cooperate in any meaningful way, and that’s going to be a problem since the Jordanians have all the heavy weapons in this scenario and the Marines just have their Marine-ness.
And those are the scenarios of Four-Five Commando.
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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 over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold approves of this message.