Havraga & Zrakor – 9th October 1973

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.

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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 Personnel 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 bartery 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.

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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.

Scenario Design

Over recent years I worked on the development of a Scenario Generation System for use with the Spearhead and Modern Spearhead rules. Interestingly there still seems to be some perceptions on what the aims of the system are. I therefore thought a short post may be of interest to those people that have heard about the Modern Spearhead Scenario Generation System but who do not understand the background.

Modern Spearhead is a rules systems that is designed for scenario based play. That is, players are encouraged to play scenarios where a certain tactical situation is outlined and players then allocate their resources to achieve the outcome. In the Modern Spearhead rule book three scenarios are outlined. This concept is very different to rule systems that are designed to produce evenly balanced games for competitions, often found for example in the Ancient period.

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When I began playing Modern Spearhead I almost immediately found myself developing scenarios for my games. In part as I could not fall back on a published scenario books, as there were none for Modern Spearhead. In addition I did not have an experienced Modern Spearhead non-playing umpire, indeed I was often both organiser and one of the players.  As a result I found myself developing scenarios and playing. Frustratingly this meant that I had significant knowledge of the forces available and therefore there were few surprises for me.

A good scenario should provide challenges to the participants. It need not be perfectly balanced, as individual player ability will impact scenario balance, but both players should have a number of decisions to make where poor ones will result in defeat and good ones success. Therefore to provide an interesting game, and to model a military training exercise, a scenario should have a degree of balance. Further, just as actual commanders do not have a full understanding of the enemy composition, or its dispositions, neither should a wargamer. Further, wargame scenarios should have a basis on historical situations, much as military training operations do, or likely operational siuations. Not surprisingly I tried to model aspects of my study of historical engagements into the scenarios I was developing.

Interestingly, I soon realised that the scenarios I was developing were based on a formula. Indeed, if you look at the scenarios on this site you will see some of these formulas in action. As an example the defender is typically tasked with covering a number of objectives with a limited force. The attacker will have a number of possible avenues he can approach these objectives from. His forces will be limited, though he may have an ability to concentrate his forces. Victory conditions where defined in each of my scenarios, but often they too had a degree of similarity, another formula.

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So why did I use a formula? Well firstly it was not a deliberate action on my part, but rather I was nervous I would put together a “poor” scenario and as a result provide an uninteresting game for my opponent. Of course I tried to introduce variety, as without this the tactical problems would become limited. But it was always a balancing act.

Once I realised I was following a formula it occurred to me that I may be able to formalise the process. If I could, I could perhaps build a scenario on the fly. As I explored this one of the interesting aspects was the increased variety I found in the scenarios produced. Indeed an early success was developing the battlefield, such as the one below. Rather than the battlefield being limited to my own “restrictive” mind I had two players working together to produce a different battlefield that had more variety than those I had produced myself.

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However, perhaps the most significant success was in the force structure variation. Players were no longer aware of the enemy force structure. Now both players may have an idea what their opponent was likely to have but they needed to consider other possible situations and how these may be countered. I felt I was on to something and continued to invest time in expanding expanding the formulas.

One of the formulas that I needed was a means of calculating the forces capabilities. For Modern Spearhead this meant the development of a points system. However, more importantly was the development of a points budget with which to provide attack and defence ratios. Some people seem very negative about points systems. To me they are just a tool to quantify some basic differences between different force capabilities. That said I was not interested in equal points based games. So while any  scenario designer makes these calculations, I mealy formalised them. So while points values feature in my formulas they are a small part of a much larger equation.

Putting all the formulas together has resulted in the Scenario Generation System which can be found on this site. If this system provides you with an interesting tactical situation on your wargames table then I will be immensely pleased. It certainly has provided many enjoyable games for my opponents and I.

The Arab-Israeli Wars

My first use of Modern Spearhead was for wargaming engagements of the Arab-Israeli Wars. Indeed, I have had an interest in these conflicts for many years. The wars provide both an interesting mix of equipment, ranging from old World War II vintage hardware, through to modern hardware supplied by the West and the Soviets and their allies.

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However, for many years my Arab and Israeli miniatures collection languished in storage. I had long been frustrated with earlier rule sets. These earlier rule sets either were focussed on low level engagements or too complex. However, on my discovery of Modern Spearhead the models were drawn out of storage and reformed for action.

As I slowly reorganise my wargaming pages I have started to revisit the Arab-Israeli war information. First up is a short article on wargaming the Arab-Israeli Wars and articles on the Jordanian, Syrian and Egyptian armies during the 1967 Six Day war. These articles can be found in the Arab-Isaeli Wars Section.

The Falklands War

My interest in the modern wargaming is not limited to hypothetical combats in Cold War Europe. For many years I have been interested in the Falklands War. At the time the war I, like many my age, found myself glued to the television each evening listening to reports of the war. Over the years my interest has not really reduced.

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Now, a number of people argue that the Falklands conflict is too small to be modelled with Modern Spearhead. To a point I would agree as many of the battles are small affairs. However, the British campaign to retake the Falklands, when converted to Modern Spearhead format, looks interesting. Basically there is a reinforced Divisional Level engagement, something that Modern Spearhead is designed for, in a limited geographical area with all the elements of modern warfare in play. As way of a summary the main campaign sees some nine Argentine battalions, organised in roughly three Brigades, fighting against eight British battalions in two reinforced brigades. Of course the air and naval aspects can not be forgotten, the former being especially well catered for in the base Modern Spearhead rules. The main British land operations of Falklands War seem an ideal candidate for an interesting mini-campaign.

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The historical Argentine invasion is more one sided of course. With some British reinforcements however even this could translate to an interesting scenario, perhaps re-fought as a solo game, where two reinforced Argentine battalions conduct an assault on a reinforced British defence of Stanley and it’s surrounds.

As part of my Falklands project I have today uploaded Orders of Battle and the conversion of these to Modern Spearhead for both the Argentine and British forces. They can be found in the new Falklands War section. I’ll need to see how the project progresses…

Cold War Scenarios

The reorganisation of my Modern Spearhead website continues, slowly, and this evening I have finally sorted out and uploaded several Cold War scenarios.

The first scenarios are provided as a set and cover a series of actions between British and Soviet forces in the first few days of 1982. The scenarios are “Blunting the Bear”, “Engagement at Einbeck” and “Beyond Breaking”.

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Each scenario involes a reinforced brigades, or in some cases two brigades, and can reasonably be played in an afternoon, or possibly evening, of gaming. The scenarios can be found here.

Panzers at Innsdorf – 1982

As I reorganise my websites it seemed a shame that many of the battle reports would be lost so in the interests of keeping one or two of the classics I thought I would repost a couple. This one, Panzers at Innsdorf, seemed a good place to start…

The recent Soviet offensive had stalled and in one sector, which had not been fully consolidated by Soviet second line formations, West German forces were ordered to undertake a limited probing attack. The engagement used the Modern Spearhead rules while the scenario was generated using the Scenario Generation System. A portion of the battle can be seen below with the Soviets advancing from the right.

The West German forces were centred around a 13th Panzer Grenadier Brigade from 5th Panzer Division. The brigade was understrength and comprised two Panzer Grenadier battalions, the 131st & 132nd and the 134th Panzer battalion. These battalions were formed into composite battalions each with a panzer company, and reinforced by AA and recon elements. The West German commander’s staff completed a hasty assestment of the situation which would form the basis of the brigade’s plan. They were aware of one Soviet battalion around 3km from the FEBA already with further battalions, comprising some two regiments, likely to reinforce it. It was expected the reinforcements would operate on each flank, in an effort to seize multiple objectives, with the largest thrust on the German right. The formations were suspected to be armour heavy with significant artillery and SAM support. Based on this assesment the West German commander issued the following orders.

The 131st PG Battalion was to advance in the centre of the area of operations and hold the centre and halt attacks from the right flank. These attacks were expected to be armour heavy. This battalion was reinforce by light AA and the regiment’s Jagdpanzer Kanone company. The 132nd PG Battalion was to advance on the left flank and probe the enemy defences 3km distance. This battalion probe was to be covered by the Regimental Recon company. This battalion was also to act as the brigade’s mobile reserve. It was expected the Soviets here would be on the defensive and light opposition would be encountered initially. Finally, the 134th Pz Battalion was to conduct a deep flanking movement and attack the rear of any advancing Soviet formations and the flank of the defending battalion. This battalion could expect close air support and would receive close AA cover from a Gepard platoon. The brigade’s M109s were available for indirect fire support for all battalions and a battalion of FH-70s were available for enemy SAM suppression and counter-battery fires. Finally, division provided further AA protection for the brigade by the allocation of a number of tracked Roland systems.

The Russians undertook a general advance with two regiments, heavy in armour, advancing across a broad front. This included the German left flank where the already deployed BTR battalion immediately advanced to secure a wood to it’s front. Above this battalion can be seen engaging the 132nd West German PG Battalion. With an inadequate recon screen 132nd PG Battalion suffered heavy casualties despite its heavy artillery support from M109 and FH-70 artillery. The FH-70 proving particularly effective, at least initially, in the counter battery role.

Meanwhile in the centre the 131st PG Battalion took up defensive positions for the expected attacks in the centre and from the far right. Above, Lopard 1A1A1s and Marders can be seen deployed. The Battalion and Brigade HQs were in the town to the left rear. Additional troops were deployed in other terrain including the Jagdpanzer company. With the enemy having secured the high ground, and the 132nd PG under heavy pressure, a series of air strikes were called in to neutralise Soviet forces on this high ground. This included attacks by Phantoms as shown below. However, having been unable to suppress heavy Soviet SAM systems the Phantoms were unable to press home their attacks. This meant that the 131st was now effectively pinned and therefore prevented from supporting the 132nd PG.

With a rapidly deteriorating situation the 13th PG Brigade commander was faced with a difficult situation. The 134th Pz Battalion had been significantly delayed in it’s flanking movement and had still not arrived. The 132nd PG Battalion advance had stalled and was suffering heavy casualties forcing it to break contact. While the 131st PG Battalion was holding its position this position was now clearly compromised. Further, with enemy SAM screens remaining unsuppressed any significant air support would be limited. Reluctantly the order was issued for the battalions to break off the probing attack and fall back, at least for the moment…