Sword of Israel:
Egyptian Pieces, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The so-called Arab-Israeli Wars of the last century might more accurately be called the “Egyptian-Israeli Wars.” Syria fought the Israelis in 1967 and 1973 (unwillingly in the first instance) and Jordan fought in 1967, but in each conflict the bulk of the combat power deployed by the fractured Arab alliance came from the Egyptian Army.
Following the 1956 debacle, the Egyptian Army ejected its failed German advisors and most of its British military heritage. By 1967 the Army followed Soviet organizational tables to match its Soviet-designed (though often Czech-made) weaponry. Let’s have a look at Egypt’s Army, as seen in Panzer Grenadier (Modern): 1967: Sword of Israel.
Following Soviet practice, the Egyptian infantry platoon had a paper strength of 28 men: three squads of nine men each, and a platoon commander (who operated alone, with no runners or assistant). Each squad had a single RPD light machine gun and a grenadier with an RPG-2 or RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher (or one of the unlicensed copies the Egyptians had begun to manufacture); everyone else (including the squad leader and the platoon commander) carried an AKM assault rifle or the Misr Egyptian-made copy. One man acted as the machine-gunner’s assistant, and the other as the grenadier’s (the Soviet Army eventually removed the assistant grenadier). Mechanized rifle platoons also included a driver and gunner for the squad’s armored personnel carrier (usually a BTR-152), though these men generally did not dismount and fight unless their vehicle was disabled.
Soviet doctrine had moved toward the PK general-purpose machine gun, but the Egyptians retained a large number of SGM older heavy machine guns and still issued these to front-line units. The SGM is an extremely reliable weapon, and the Egyptian Maadi Factory Number 54 produced these under license (as well as the Misr AKM clone). The machine-gun platoon had three weapons, which could be employed together or doled out to the rifle platoons as the company commander desired.
In the early days of the Egyptian intervention in North Yemen, the Egyptians had attempted to wage a conventional war against the Yemeni royalists. Those early failures caused the Egyptian Army to greatly expand its commando battalions - highly trained and motivated light infantry, intended for special operations but often deployed in the line (much like the Israeli paratroopers). Two battalions of commandos fought alongside the Jordanians on the West Bank, the only Arab reinforcements Jordan received. The commandos also carried the AKM automatic rifle and either the RPG-7 rocket launcher or Belgian-made Blindicide bazooka, but appear to have had the lighter PK machine gun.
Following Soviet practice, each infantry regiment (foot or mechanized) had an engineer company, with another battalion of engineers held at the division level. Egyptian engineers earned a good reputation in the 1967 war and an outstanding one six years later, playing a central role in forcing the crossings of the Suez Canal.
Many Egyptian infantry battalions still retained the M37 82mm mortar in their weapons companies. The Egyptians had received a huge number of the tubes from the Soviets, had manufactured more of them on their own (produced by Helwan Machine Tools, without the benefit of a license). A new and greatly improved mortar round had given the weapon much better range and extended its service life; it can still be found in many of the world’s arsenals. By 1967 the B10 82mm recoilless rifle had replaced the venerable mortar tubes in some Egyptian units, as it gave equal punch against soft targets and impressive anti-tank capability as well.
Egyptian battalions included a large heavy mortar battery with six 120mm/M1943 mortars, another veteran of the Great Patriotic War. Like the smaller M37, the big mortar’s service life had been extended thanks to improved ammunition. And like the 82mm mortar, the Egyptian firm of Helwan Machine Tools manufactured it without a license. The mortar soldiered on in Warsaw Pact armies until the 1980’s, when it gave way to the 2B9 Vasilesk 82mm automatic mortar and an improved, lightweight conventional 120mm mortar.
The Soviet tables of organization called for each infantry regiment to include a battery of 122mm howitzers, with three more batteries held by the divisional artillery regiment for a total of 36 such weapons in the division. Some Egyptian regiments appear to have replaced the howitzers with the M160 160mm heavy mortar, and 2nd Infantry Division included a number of them in its divisional artillery regiment as well.
The big mortar tossed a bomb of impressive explosive power a good distance, but could not match the range of a true artillery piece. However, it was cheap to produce and easier to operate than a howitzer, both important considerations for the Egyptians.
In the 1956 war with Britain, France and Israel, British carrier planes had smashed the Egyptian Air Force in the conflict’s first hours. Afterwards, enemy aircraft had ranged almost unchallenged over the battlefield and British and French airborne units had landed along the Suez Canal by parachute and helicopter.
As a result, the Egyptians considered their great cities, Cairo and Alexandria, to be extremely vulnerable to attack by the Israeli Air Force in the event of a new war, as well as the Suez Canal and the port cities at either end of the channel. Having lost faith in the Air Force, the Egyptian Army maintained a huge anti-aircraft establishment with hundreds of Czech- and Soviet-made anti-aircraft guns backed by missile batteries.
For the field army, anti-aircraft protection chiefly came from the standard Soviet towed anti-aircraft gun of the time, the 57mm AZP S-60. A Grom air defense radar, carried in a truck, coordinated their fire. The towed gun gave way in the Soviet Army to the extremely effective ZSU-23 quad 23mm self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, which included its own tracking radar aboard the same vehicle, but these do not appear to have reached the Egyptian Army until after the end of the Six-Day War.
The divisional anti-aircraft regiment included eighteen of the guns, with each infantry regiment fielding six more in its own organic anti-aircraft battery. A few Egyptian divisions appear to have had 85mm heavy anti-aircraft batteries as well, though these may have belonged to independent units attached to them.
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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.