Sword of Israel:
Egyptian Pieces, Part Three
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
The Egyptian Army’s first tanks were a platoon of Vickers light tanks received from the British Army just before the Second World War. Like the rest of the Egyptian Army (other than its anti-aircraft gunners) they saw no combat during the Second World War, and do not seem to have still been in service for the 1948 operations against the newly-declared state of Israel. The Egyptians operated some Matilda tanks salvaged from the battlefields of the Western Desert, a handful of M4 Shermans purchased from the British, and a battalion of M22 Locust airborne light tanks. By 1967 only the Shermans still remained in the Egyptian inventory; the massive 1955 purchase of Soviet- and Czech-made weaponry, and subsequent additional orders, had given Egypt a large tank park primarily of Eastern Bloc origins. Let’s have a look at them, as seen in Panzer Grenadier (Modern): 1967: Sword of Israel:
While the Egyptians only sent three Shermans into Palestine in 1948, they obtained more after Western arms embargo ended, vehicles that had been stored in British depots since the Second World War. Most these were lost in the 1956 war against Britain, France and Israel.
The Egyptians hoped to re-build their Shermans, much as the Israelis did with their Super Shermans, but had much less success. They apparently did upgrade the engines and suspensions of their surviving tanks, and when they grew frustrated at fitting the French-made 75mm FL-10 cannon and fitted the entire oscillating turret from the AMX-13 light tank on some of their vehicles. By 1967 all of the surviving Egyptian Sherman tanks had been assigned to the tank battalion attached to the 20th “Palestinian” Infantry Division (and Egyptian Army, not Palestine Liberation Army, unit) and almost all were lost in the Six-Day War.
1967: Sword of Israel includes Egyptian Shermans with modified engines and drive trains, but not the FL-10 gun and oscillating turret.
Great Patriotic Warriors
Starting in 1955, the Egyptians took delivery of Soviet-designed armor. The T-34/85 medium tank had appeared at the front in early 1944 and continued in production, with a few interruptions, until 1958 with nearly 22,000 of them built (and another 26,000 T-34/76 models). That gave the Soviet Union plenty of tanks to trade for influence with potential allies.
The tanks received by the Egyptians, like those sent to Syria, came from the Czechslovakian factory CKD, which had produced the LT38 light tank before World War II (better known as the Panzer 38(t) in German service). The first Czech-produced models were assembled from Soviet-made parts, and shared many of the flaws of Soviet production - poor welding and weak suspensions and gear boxes. The Egyptians purchased 820 T-34/85 tanks from the Czechs (about one-quarter of all Czech production), all of them brand-new machines that came from the end of the production run and featured much better workmanship. By that point, production had moved from CKD to Skoda.
The Czech-made tanks had the road wheels intended for the new T54 tank that had not yet entered series production, a new gearbox and suspension and new radios. The 85mm ZIS-S-53 main gun received a new breech, new-model armor-piercing rounds and improved optics. But as new T54 and T55 tanks arrived in the Egyptian inventory, the older T-34/85’s went to the organic tank battalion included in each regular army infantry brigade (National Guard brigades appear to have had no tank element in 1967).
The Egyptians had much better luck up-gunning their T-34/85’s than they experienced with their Shermans. They produced a version with a Soviet-made 100mm gun in a modified turret, and another with a 122mm weapon in an even more heavily-modified turret. Neither of these variants appears in 1967: Sword of Israel.
The SU100 tank destroyer emerged from the Great Patriotic War as a seemingly outdated weapon, a massive cannon wrapped with thick armor and squatted on a T-34 chassis, with no other role but to destroy German Panther and Tiger tanks. Soviet factories churned out 3,200 of them by the time production shut down in 1947; all of 13 were lost in combat, most of those in street fighting.
During the 1950’s, Czech factories produced another 771 vehicles, and Egypt bought 100 of them in the 1955 arms deal. While the Soviet models had been built under wartime, rushed conditions by mostly unskilled workers, the Czech machines were carefully made by well-trained craftsmen. As built the tank destroyers were otherwise very similar to the Soviet-made vehicles, but the Egyptians upgraded them with the same road wheels, suspension and gear boxes that had been installed in their T-34/85 tanks by the Skoda factory.
More important for the SU100’s increased lifespan, the Soviets introduced a very effective high-explosive round which gave it desperately-needed flexibility. The Egyptians initially formed their SU100’s into battalions within their armored brigades, but by 1967 most of them filled out the anti-tank companies in mechanized formations.
In 1955 the Soviet Army had not yet removed heavy tanks from its order of battle (that came in 1967) and the Egyptians purchased 100 JS-3 tanks out of Soviet production. This tank had appeared at the very end of the Great Patriotic War, in time to rumble through Berlin in the victory parade but not in time to see actual combat. As a result, all of their meaningful combat experience came in Egyptian hands.
The JS-3 was a big tank, protected by thick, sloped armor with a huge 122mm D25 gun - a modified version of the M1931 artillery piece - in the “inverted frying pan” turret that became the standard for Cold War Soviet tank design. The Egyptian tanks were all modified JS-3M models, and while the Egyptians tried to further modify them for desert operations they never performed well in the heat and sand of Sinai.
The tank’s tough hide made it nearly impervious to Israeli infantry anti-tank rockets and any Israeli tank gun except the L7 105mm gun of Centurion tanks and some M48 Pattons. But it moved very slowly and broke down often, overheating under the desert sun. The 122mm rounds could in theory penetrate even the Centurion’s thick armor, but they came as two-piece rounds, resulting in a horrifically slow rate of fire, while the tank had at best primitive optics with which to fire them and it only carried 28 rounds of all types.
The Egyptian heavy tanks formed two battalions, one with 7th Infantry Division and the other with 6th Mechanized Division. Between them, the two battalions lost more than 70 machines in the Six-Day War; the Israelis did not think the JS-3M worth taking into their own service afterwards.
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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.