Sword of Israel:
Egyptian Pieces, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The Egyptian Army went to war in 1967 with a great deal of combat experience gained in the North Yemen Civil War. At one point in 1965 about one-third of the Army had been deployed in the effort to defeat the Yemeni royalists. The war brought the Egyptians a great many casualties, but did little to improve the Army’s combat efficiency outside the elite commando battalions.
To a great extent the Egyptian failure stemmed from rigid adherence to the newly-instituted Soviet tactical doctrine. The Egyptian Army had been designed to fight a conventional campaign against the Israelis, not to conduct counter-insurgency against fellow Arabs - even those who rejected socialism. Columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers made little impact on the lightly-armed, highly-mobile opposition.
Despite that drain on manpower, materiel and morale, Egypt fielded a respectably modern army in 1967, almost entirely equipped with Soviet-designed weaponry. Let’s continue our look at how Panzer Grenadier (Modern): 1967: Sword of Israel displays them.
While the Egyptians had some leftover British weapons, most of them assigned to the 20th “Palestinian” Infantry Division (which stood at the end of the line for both officers and materiel), the Soviet-made 122mm howitzer formed the backbone of Egyptian artillery regiments.
A few front-line divisions had received the excellent D30 model introduced to the Soviet Army in 1963, but most Egyptian batteries fielded the M1938 of Great Patriotic War vintage. These had been modernized, and had new high-explosive, fragmentation and anti-tank rounds developed in the 1950’s (some of which could also be fired by the D30). The M1938 may be the most-produced artillery piece of all time, and over three hundred of them remain in the Egyptian Army’s inventory.
The Egyptians had also begun to receive the awesome M1954 130mm M46, a weapon with enormous range and accuracy and outstanding anti-tank capability. Like their Soviet mentors, the Egyptians mostly deployed these guns in the counter-battery role and they don’t receive their own playing pieces in Sword of Israel.
Egyptian infantry battalions (foot or mechanized) included an anti-tank platoon, with an additional anti-tank company at the regimental level and an anti-tank battalion at the division level. When Israel attacked in June 1967 the Egyptian Army was in the midst of a transition from heavy anti-tank guns to more missiles.
The Soviet Army still fielded the very large and powerful 100mm DT smooth-bore anti-tank gun, and had sold the weapon to Egypt. The big gun had a very long barrel that made it difficult to deploy in action, but it had outstanding performance. The 100mm doesn’t appear in Sword of Israel, but the more common 85mm D44 is present in large numbers.
The D44 had been developed in the last years of the Great Patriotic War, based on the M1939 85mm anti-aircraft gun. In the post-war years, Soviet factories pumped out thousands of them, and they equipped Soviet allies including the Egyptians. New ammunition introduced in the 1950’s vastly increased the gun’s potency.
While effective, like the T12 and D48 the D44 had a long barrel that made it awkward to transport and deploy. At the time of the Six-Day War, the Soviet Army had begun new anti-tank weapons reflecting a new, more mobile anti-tank doctrine. The first layer of defense would be provided by anti-tank missiles, the mid-range second layer by the very effective SPG-9 “Spear” 73mm recoilless rifle, and the third, close-range layer by the RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher carried by infantrymen.
The Egyptians had received large numbers of RPGs and produced still more of them, and also had a great many SPG-9 recoilless rifles, though this weapon does not appear in Sword of Israel. They had just begun to take delivery of the 9M14 “Malyutka” (“Little One”) anti-tank missile, more widely known by its NATO code name AT-3 “Sagger.”
The Sagger was a wire-guided missile, and as a first-generation weapon had a number of flaws that would later be exploited by the Israelis to limit its effectiveness. Three guide wires trailed behind it to the “suitcase” controller, where the operator guided it to its target with a game-like joystick controller. The missile moved with appalling slowness, taking up to 30 seconds to reach its target at maximum range, and it had to be controlled for the entire flight path. Those 30 seconds allowed the potential target to shoot at the controller; just forcing him to take cover would cause the missile to plow into the ground. Israeli tankers later learned that they could also charge right at the slow-moving missile and disrupt its flight.
The missile operators also required a great deal of training, not only initially but regular practice. While Egypt had a growing middle class, the Army still could not really spare the thousands of men needed to operate the missiles from its officer and NCO corps or technical branches. The program went forward all the same, as the missiles provided tactical flexibility that the ever-enlraging anti-tank guns simply could not match.
The Egyptian inventory also included several hundred Soviet-made 57mm M1943 and some of the very similar British-made 6-pounder. These don’t appear to have been used in Sinai, though they would have still had effectiveness against the large numbers of modified and unmodified Sherman tanks deployed by the Israelis. They would have been useless against the modern Centurions and Pattons. These older weapons don’t appear in Sword of Israel, nor do the handful of more-effective 17-pounders still held by the Egyptians.
Egypt’s Military Academy, established by Mehmed Ali in 1811, actually pre-dates the foundation of the Egyptian Army. It built a good reputation, and most of the Egyptian political elite attended. After decades of catering solely to Egypt’s rich and privileged, in 1936 it began to admit the sons of middle-class families and that opened to door to men like Nasser, Sadat, Amer, Mubarak and Riad, all of whom knew each other as young cadets and graduated just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The academy couldn’t provide all of the necessary officers, and many of the most able young leaders had been killed, wounded or simply burned out fighting the brutal counter-insurgent campaign in North Yemen. Egyptian leadership in 1967 proved more capable than that of her Syrian and Jordanian allies, but that’s a very low bar: the Syrians deliberately promoted incompetent officers to allay fears of a military coup, while the Jordanians had purged their British cadre in 1956 and still had not recovered from the loss of skilled staff. Egyptian officers, despite or perhaps because of their middle-class origins, cultivated a deep class divide with the conscripted fellahin and urban poor who fleshed out the Egyptian ranks. Israeli assessments noted an absolute disregard for flank defense and counter-attacks, and a penchant for abandoning their men in dire situations.
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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.