Sword of Israel:
Israeli Pieces, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
In Panzer Grenadier (Modern): 1967: Sword of Israel, there’s not a whole lot that can stand up to the Israel Defense Forces out in the open - at least when the numbers are even. And that’s pretty much how it went in the actual war; when the Arab armies made an effective stand, they generally had terrain on their side and fixed fortifications. A popular misconception remains that the Israelis were underdogs in 1967, but the Israelis outnumbered the Arabs on the key fronts and in game terms their morale is sky-high with outstanding leadership and, in most cases, superior weaponry.
Here’s a look at the Israel Defense Forces as portrayed in 1967: Sword of Israel:
As in other armies, Israeli paratroopers were (and are) the IDF’s elite light infantry, and extensively used in that role during the Six Day War. They performed no mass parachute drops; in fact, despite the parachute branch’s prestige within the IDF they’ve only done so once (a nearly-disastrous assault on Mitla Pass in 1956). An emphasis on jump training detracted from their effectiveness as infantry, as shown when the airborne elite were pressed into service supporting armor during the Six Day War.
Israeli paratroopers carried the famous Uzi submachine gun, giving them enormous potential firepower at short ranges; not so much at a distance. By 1967 it had been in service for over a decade, and was considered a very reliable weapon – but vulnerable to clogging from the dust and sand of the Sinai and Golan Heights. To give a little ranged firepower, a few troopers in each platoon carried the Israeli-modified Mauser 98K, re-chambered for the 7.62mm NATO round.
The IDF staff considered itself an infantry-based force at the start of the Six Day War; only during the course of the conflict would the Israelis acquire a reputation for skilled use of armor as well. Despite the dash of the tankers, the infantry brigades did the heavy lifting in 1967.
Israeli regular infantry (and many reservists) carried the Belgian-designed FN FAL automatic rifle, a NATO-standard weapon used in many armies of the time firing a 7.62mm round. Two versions were produced in Israel under license: the “Aleph” standard semi-automatic infantry rifle (the FAL design allowed for selective fire, but the Israelis found this to cause too many failures) and the “Beth” “heavy barrel” squad automatic rifle used as a light machine gun. Many Israeli soldiers did not like the FAL, criticizing its weight and length (the rifle proved particularly cumbersome when clambering in and out of half-tracks) and a number re-armed themselves with AK47 weapons found on the battlefield.
Both regular infantry and paratroopers had the Belgian-designed RL-83 Blindicide shoulder-fired anti-tank rocket. One of the big differences between Panzer Grenadier games and Panzer Grenadier (Modern) is that infantry can be very dangerous against armor if the tanks get too close.
The standard Israeli heavy machine gun, the FN MAG, came to the IDF in the same deal as the FAL rifles. It fires the same NATO round as the FAL, and served in many nations’ armies (and is still used by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps under the designation M240). While every other Israeli firearm gave a good deal of trouble in the gritty conditions of the Sinai desert, the FN MAG remained serviceable. The FN MAG could be found one per platoon in the support squad, and in the heavy weapons platoon of each company (along with 60mm mortars; sometimes the Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun was used instead).
Israeli combat engineers served in independent battalions, attached to the IDF’s unique division-sized task forces known as “ugdahs.” They distinguished themselves repeatedly: at Abu Agheila in the Sinai, in the capture of Jerusalem, and in the storming of the Golan Heights. In addition, each brigade had a company of engineers, and brigade commanders often broke them down further to attach engineer platoons to companies and battalions to assist in specific tasks.
The IDF’s switch of emphasis to mechanized operations required that each armored brigade receive a reconnaissance element. A brigade reconnaissance company had a platoon of jeep-mounted infantry, another mounted in M3 halftracks, and one of jeep-mounted M40 106mm recoilless rifles, a highly-potent anti-tank weapon. In the days before easily-available satellite imagery, the IDF counted on its recon troops to reveal enemy positions – sometimes, as at El Arish and Rafah Station in 1967, by drawing their fire.
Israeli “divisions” (known as “ugdah” in IDF parlance) only existed on an ad-hoc basis, with brigades brought together for a specific task. Only one of them (Ariel Sharon’s, committed to the central Sinai) had a division-level recon element, a battalion that also included AMX-13 light tanks. Gen. Yisrael Tal. Commanding the crack “Steel Division” in the northern Sinai, grouped his brigade recon companies into an ad-hoc battalion that he sent racing ahead on a wild ride behind Egyptian lines to the Suez Canal.
Israeli recon troops were an elite, but their platoons were small and lightly armed – hence their comparatively low firepower in game terms. Their jeeps have the anti-tank firepower to make an Arab player hesitate to engage with his or her tanks.
To aid in scouting out enemy positions, and to spot for their own artillery, the Israelis also deployed French-made Alouette II helicopters. This light copter had next to no weapons, but could be very effective as a spotter given the total domination of the skies by the Israeli Air Force. Israel had no helicopter gunships at the time of the Six Day War; the big French-made Super Frelon helicopter fulfilled the heavy transport role with the Sikorsky S-58 also taking part. Under the IDF’s organization, helicopters (then as now) came under the IAF rather than the Ground Arm.
The Israeli Defense Forces field fewer support weapons (anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns etc.) than one might expect, relying on their tanks to deal with enemy tanks and their infantry to protect itself with their own shorter-range weaponry. And they really don’t miss them: with the IAF enjoying total control of the skies, there’s little danger of an enemy air attack (though it can and does occur in the game) and Israeli off-board artillery is both powerful and plentiful. But there are a few additional weapons in play.
The ubiquitous 81mm mortar of World War II still remained a potent weapon in 1967, but sported a much better range than earlier models. Soltam, an Israeli firm, manufactured long-range mortars locally, with a much longer tube than other 81mm weapons. The IDF arsenal also included a number of American-made M29 81mm mortars.
When the artillery comes on the board, it’s mobile. The M52 is the standard Israeli 105mm self-propelled gun, in a large boxy turret on the chassis of an M41 Walker Bulldog light tank. The vehicle was considered a failure in American service, since it required a crew of eight yet only five could ride in it – three of the crew had to follow along in a dedicated ammunition vehicle. At least it has a nice drawing on the game piece (I drew it myself!).
Anti-tank missiles are in their infancy in 1967; they've been around for a while, but they haven't been terribly effective. They'll have their coming-out party six years later in the Yom Kippur War. The ENTAC, a French-made missile, isn't much better than the infantry's anti-tank rockets but can do some serious damage to fortifications, which is how the IDF used them in 1967.
And that wraps the first half of Sword of Israel’s Israelis. Next time, it’s the tanks!
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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.