The following is an after action report from a Arab-Israeli War wargame fought using Modern Spearhead and 1/300th miniatures. The game was played on an 8′ x 6′ table which with the reduced ground scale of 1” equals 125 metres. The area of battle was thus 12km in width and 9km in depth. The wargame involved three players. Two commanded the Egyptian divisional sized formation while a third commanding two under strength Israeli brigades. The wargame was fought to a conclusion in five hours following game set-up.
The engagement was based on a situation on the 9th October ’73 when Adan’s (Israeli) division was advancing towards the “Artillery Road” which was some 12km from the Suez Canal and runs parallel to the canal. Forces available, as well as the scenario, have been altered to correspond to the Israeli expectation at the time of an Egyptian armoured breakout around this date. The following narrative is from the perspective of Maj. Gen. Avraham “Bren” Adan…
My briefing with Southern Command was completed at 0300 hours and by 0600 my briefing with my brigade commanders was well underway. The coming day was to be a critical one as intelligence reported massing of Egyptian Armour in my sector.
Some 3km west from the Israeli forward edge of the battle area the Artillery Road snaked it’s way north to south. Two significant sandy hills rose up west of the Artillery Road, commanding the Artillery Road as well as the Ma’adim and Spontani roads that ran from behind the Israeli lines west to the Suez. These later two roads were some 8km apart. The larger of the two hills was named the Havraga, which was situated in the south. The other, but equally critical, was the Zrakor. Some 5km separated these features. A number of other areas of raised ground were to be found in the operational sector.
The operational orders set down by Egyptian High Command called for the Egyptians to expand their bridgehead to the Artillery Road driving the Israeli’s back from it. Significant armoured elements, some 240 tanks, had been allocated to the Egyptian commander. This allowed him to follow Soviet doctrine, which required an early breakout.
I was ordered to keep the Artillery Road open and my two weak brigades in this sector were able to operate some 50 tanks each. Gonen however, stuck to the concept of capture of an Egyptian bridge across the canal. For this reason my orders where clear, that if a strike could be launched on the canal I was to be open to it. However, after the costly battles of the 8th we were all aware this was likely to be a battle of containment with little chance for armoured breakthrough.
The Egyptian forces engaged in our sector included the 4th Infantry Brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division. This formation consisted of three infantry battalions and one tank battalion. Support included a Sagger ATGW company from divisional assets. This brigade was initially deployed 4km west of the Artillery Road, where it had been located overnight. The Egyptian infantry brigade’s tank battalion, some 40 T-55’s remained in reserve. This primary formation was in turn supported by two armoured brigades.
The first was the 15th Independent Armoured Brigade with three tank battalions and one mechanised infantry battalion with a total strength of some 100 T-62 tanks. These vehicles had only recently joined the Egyptian army and were deployed in limited numbers, the 15th being one of only two brigades equipped with them. Their 115mm guns were to prove a significant improvement on the 100mm guns in the T54 and T55, but their limited numbers were to limit their battlefield effectiveness.
The second Egyptian armoured brigade deployed in my sector was the 23rd Armoured Brigade, from 24th Mechanised Division, with three tank battalions with it’s attached mechanised infantry battalion. This formation also fielded a total strength of some 100 tanks, but this time older T-54 and T-55 tanks. Finally additional support was provided by 120mm mortars as well as 122mm and 152mm artillery from the 2nd Infantry Division.
Those elements of my division operating in the sector were made up of two under strength brigades. The first brigade was that of Natke’s and consisted of two Centurion battalions each with an attached mechanised infantry company.
The second brigade was that of Gabe’s with two Magach battalions each with an attached mechanised infantry company. Other brigades were held in reserve or operating in other sectors. I was however able to allocate limited artillery support and Gonen had advised that air support would be made available as the day progressed.
The battle started with the 4th Egyptian Infantry Brigade advancing forward, from the positions they held overnight, towards the Zrakor and part of the Havraga. From this position they were to support the advance of the armoured formations. Critically, only part of the Havraga feature was to be secured initially. The Egyptian commander expected this hill to be held in strength by Israeli troops delaying his advance for too long. We however had been abandon this following yesterday’s battles. Unlike the Egyptian bridgehead our doctrine allowed the use of a flexible defence. Terrain and ground was less important than the use of movement in defence.
As stated before two brigades were available for the operations in my sector. Natke’s was equipped with Centurions, and Gabe’s Brigade equipped with new American M60A1 Patton tanks. By mid morning our advance was well under way as we approached the forward edge of the battle area. My forward command post, moving in four Zelda armoured personal carriers, moved to a vantage point with a good view of the battlefield before halting in a swirl of dust and sand. My brigades continued forward carrying out a cautious advance along the front operational zone from the east at four points.
One battalion from Natke’s brigade advanced and took up a defensive position on the Israeli right flank while the brigade’s second battalion took up a reserve position in the centre. Both were east of the Artillery Road. A number of the Centurions were deployed forward on a small hill.
Gabe’s brigade, on the left flank, was deployed in a similar way. Though one battalion, with the brigade recon, pushed forward to one end of the Havraga – the opposite end of which was held by Egyptian infantry. This advancing Patton battalion, under Ehud, was spotted by elements of an Egyptian infantry battalion and some infantry were moved to counter this move while recoilless rifles were hastily deployed to protect the flank.
The Egyptian commander at this stage released two of the three T-62 battalions from the 15th Independent Armoured Brigade who were held in reserve on the Egyptian right flank. These advanced with great speed towards the Havraga in an attempt to seize this dominating terrain feature and thus deny it to Ehud’s advancing battalion. However, Ehud’s battalion continued to move forward, seizing the ground only minutes before Egyptian tank battalions entered effective range on the plain below. The ensuring battle on this flank was to last for several hours.
The Egyptian infantry were initially able to cause some disruption to the Ehud’s advanced battalion. Each Egyptian Infantry Brigade includes an anti tank battery of 107mm recoilless rifles. These found the range of Ehud’s recon platoon Zeldas as they drove back an advanced RPG equipped infantry company. Several Zeldas burst into flame as the recoilless rifles opened fire at 750 metres. Platoon commanders requested covering fire from the brigade’s 120mm mortars to silence the advanced recoilless rifle platoon and allowing the Zeldas to retire out of range. The battle around Havraga now entered it’s second phase.
This was to see several attacks by the T-62 battalions of the 15th Armoured Brigade with supporting mechanised infantry in BTR-50 APC. Israeli electronic warfare missions allowed radio location finders to locate the main Egyptian artillery FO in the area and silence him with a counter battery strike while the Magach tanks cut through company after company of Egyptian T-62 tanks. The engagement taking place at ranges from a few hundred metres to some 2000 metres as the lines of Egyptian tanks and supporting infantry moved up to engage the Ehud’s battalion. After some 4 hours of fierce fighting the 15th Armoured Brigade was spent, while the Ehud’s battalion was down to almost 50% effectives. The Havraga was secure.
On our right flank and simultaneously with the advance by the 15th Armoured Brigade, a second Egyptian armoured brigade was ordered forward. This brigade, 23rd Tank Brigade, was equipped with T-55 tanks and was drawn from the 24th Mechanised Division. This brigade, like the 15th Armoured Brigade, had crossed on the night of the 7th October. Also like the 15th, it advanced with two battalions in front and a third held in reserve. As before the infantry was allocated in support to the tank battalions.
As Natke’s Centurions opened up the Egyptian commander realised his Saggers, while deployed on high ground of the Zrakor, were not able to engage the Centurions due to the distance to the Israeli positions. Our forces were indistinguishable from the Egyptians in the area. Frantic efforts were made by the Egyptian commander to get the infantry battalions moving, but with no results. The infantry were to remain uncommitted for the duration of the battle. The 23rd Armoured Brigade was now engaged in a deadly battle with Natke’s advanced Centurion battalion without the pinning attacks of the Egyptian infantry that his original plan called for.
As the Egyptian T-55s rolled forward Natke, whose forward command post was with the advanced battalion, requested a series of air strikes. The Skyhawk pilots streamed low in twos and threes over the next two hours as the armoured battle raged below. However, heavy AA cover from SA6 missile systems across the canal as well as ZSU-23-4 self propelled AA guns advancing with the Egyptian tanks, resulted in heavy losses to the attacking aircraft for little result.
Natke, still concerned his position would be overrun or outflanked, requested reinforcement. Ordering his reserve battalion to move from the centre and swing right with an aim of hitting the Egyptian 23rd Armoured Brigade in the flank. This battalion had significant ground to cover and was to arrive some two hours later as the battle in this sector was all but over. In the meantime the advanced battalion was to hold on by itself.
As the battle progressed Egyptian casualties continued to mount. The commander of the 23rd Armoured Brigade ordered forward his own reserve battalion just as his supporting artillery was finally silenced by further Israeli counter battery fire. This final battalion was to have little effect on the battle however. As they moved into range so did Natke’s second Centurion battalion, sealing their fate. Eventually the Egyptian 23rd Armoured Brigade broke off after heavy fighting.
Meanwhile fighting on the Havraga continued. Israeli casualties mounted after another T-55 battalion was committed to the fighting. It was only a matter of time now before Ehud’s Battalion would be over run, having faced no less than five Egyptian battalions in rolling attacks over the course of the day. But the valley below and the slopes up the Havraga were a stark testament to the quality of Israeli troops against these modern Soviet supplied tanks. It had been a hard fought battle at great cost to both armies.
At this stage the pace of battle slowed and both forces began to disengage. The Egyptian infantry remained within 1.5km of the Artillery Road and began to dig in. The armoured thrusts had been contained and blunted with heavy Egyptian casualties. However, the Egyptian commander could be pleased the bridgehead was, at least for now, secure.