Some little tinny things may create great moments
From Bruce’s Quarrie book – Tank Battles In Miniatures
…In the Six Day War the position is relatively clear-the Israelis were attacking in a blitzkrieg manner which would have made Rommel or Patton happy, and the Egyptians and Syrians were predominantly on the defensive. Israeli armoured doctrine at this time had been heavily influenced by the 1956 Sinai campaign, in which their tanks had proved themselves for the first time. It was, indeed, very similar to that of one of the great World War 2 armoured leader’s, relying on concentration against a selected point, and a rapid breakthrough into the enemy’s rear echelons, leaving the mopping-up process to the following infantry. Outflanking and encircling manoeuvres were also, of course, a firm part of Israeli armoured theory, but they were largely unable to use them in the Sinai in 1967 because of the Egyptian dispositions.
The Egyptians at this time used the Soviet linear system, alternating fortified positions to block the passage of armour with natural obstacles-soft dunes, etc-and artificial ones, ie, minefields. The fact that Yaffe’s force succeeded in passing over ground which the Egyptians considered impassable to tanks was a major contributory factor in the Egyptian defeat, just as French complacency regarding the Ardennes virtually sealed their fate in 1940. ‘Linear’, in Soviet parlance, does not mean a single thin line, it merely indicates a tactical disposition which cannot, theoretically, be outflanked. It is, in fact, a defensive system of great depth, consisting of three main sections:a front line where the majority of the tanks, guns and anti-tank weapons are concentrated; a central tank killing ground; and a rear support line designed to hold if the front line gives way and provide a secure base for counter-attacks. Both the front and rear lines are deeply entrenched and fortified with anti-tank and machine-gun bunkers protected by extensive minefields, providing a formidable challenge to an aggressor, who can only attack frontally. In 1967 a variety of circumstances combined to render these preparations useless: the sheer speed and ferocity of the Israeli assault, which led to the unexpected appearance of Israeli tanks in the Egyptian rear echelons almost before they knew war was upon them; lack of co-ordination between Egyptian forces, in particular between their tanks and their infantry; and poor Egyptian morale due to the low quality of the raw human material and bad leadership. The Egyptian soldier is as brave as any but the majority in1967 came from peasant backgrounds with little or no education and lacked the sophistication to fight a modem war. By 1973 things were radically different. However, the officer material was, by and large, little better-if at all-and the campaign revealed several instances of Egyptian officers simply abandoning their men in order to save their own skins. Lacking leadership, what could the Egyptian soldiery do except flee or surrender?
The three Israeli armoured commanders, Tal, Yoffe and Sharon, each adopted dHferent tactics for dealing with the Egyptian linear dispositions. Tal, as we have seen, utilised a combination of frontal breakthrough coupled with outflanking tactics; Yaffe succeeded in a hidden manoeuvre through ‘impassable’ terrain and achieved the same objective; while Sharon used a classic three-pronged tactic-a pinning force to the front, a wide outflanking manoeuvre by armour and mechanised infantry, and a surprise helicopter landing in the Egyptian rear. Wargamers, in my experience, are rarely so sophisticated!Israeli tactics are, and always have been, firmly grounded in the basic assumption that war must be carried into the enemy’s territory, since Israel is too small a country to allow an invader a foothold. Their tactics, in offence and in defence, therefore, are based on high mobility, high firepower concentration and high morale. After the Six Day War, both the Egyptians and the Syrians realised that they would have difficulty in beating the Israelis at their own game-although the Syrians were to try, with disastrous results. In both countries a great deal of thought was devoted to methods of defeating the Israeli tactics; training and education methods were brought up to date, ‘political’ appointments in the officer corps were weeded out, and especial attention was devoted to ways and means of defeating Israeli armour since it had become so abundantly clear that Soviet AFVs were inferior to the Israeli Centurions and Pattons in a stand-up fight. The Israelis, on their part, were guilty of a degree of complacency following the 1967 war. Its results bad been so devastatingly swift and so unexpectedly rewarding that the IDP became blinded to its own shortcomings.
The Egyptian answer to the lessons of the Six Day War relied on a variety of factors. First, they bad learned the supreme advantage of surprise and initiative.The next war had, therefore, to be fought at a time and place of their own choosing. Secondly, they acknowledged their own limitations in mobile armoured warfare-a difficult thing for an army to come to terms with, and to their credit that they managed it. Their plan was therefore based on a fast surprise attack on a broad front which would overwhelm the thinly spread Israeli defenders on the east bank of the Suez Canal, followed by consolidation into a strong defensive line against which the Israeli armoured forces would, hopefully, batter in vain, wearing themselves down in a battle of attrition. To counter the Israeli armour, the Egyptians placed heavy reliance on the new generation of anti-tank guided missiles-ATGWs-in the hands of infantry formations, massing their armour in reserve for a later breakthrough when the Israelis had worn themselves out.
These tactics were sound in principle and initially, as we have seen, the campaign went very well for the Egyptians. As they had hoped, Israeli armoured forces threw themselves vainly against the ATGW positions, with heavy casualties. The Israelis had, of course, been aware for some time of the Arab acquisition of ATGWs but, lacking experience of their effectiveness, had decided on an erroneous and often fatal method of dealing with them-the massed high-speed tank charge to close the range quickly, followed by machine-gun fire to eliminate the infantry.The sensible wargamer will avoid such tactics! After their initial failure, Israeli armoured units evolved a new system, popularly known as ‘watch and dodge’. One tank in each platoon is given the sole task of observing for missile launches. Immediately one is sighted, an alert is radioed to the rest of the platoon, who scatter, using the terrain to block the ATGW operator’s line of sight and high-speed evasive manoeuvres to throw off his aim. At the same time, the ‘watchdog’ tank lays down rapid HE fire on the observed ATGW operator’s position, to distract if not kill him.Firing at the observed launch site of an ATGW is not always effective, since the operator can be comfortably installed several metres away, but it is difficult for the most highly trained and motivated soldier to concentrate on steering his missile towards an elusive and rapidly jinking target while tons of high explosive are falling all around him.
Laying smoke is another obvious counter-ATGW tactic to further confuse the operator’s aim. Salvoes of missiles are, of course, far harder to dodge than a single rocket, and the chances of a hit-deliberate or accidental-are increased, so the Egyptian operators soon adopted this tactic. By this time, unfortunately for them, it was too late, because the Israelis were already across the canal.
Syrian and Iraqi tactics in 1973 were far less sophisticated than those of the Egyptians, relying on the Soviet ‘steamroller’ to eliminate resistance, using numerical superiority to counter technical superiority. This is, naturally, very wasteful in terms of both men and machines, and the tactic was further rendered impotent because of the difficult terrain and the height advantage which the Israelis enjoyed. Jordanian forces fought more scientifically but their efforts were negated by lack of co-ordination and co-operation from their allies. What tactics a future conflict will bring to light remain to be seen although, of course, one hopes that such an eventuality will not come to pass. President Sadat’s unprecedented speech to theKnesset (the Israeli parliament) gives one hope despite the difficulties encountered in subsequent talks, but the Israeli attack on PLO bases in the Lebanon shows that they are not prepared to be pushed around even while negotiating a settlement. Arab ‘hawks’ certainly deny the impression that peace will be easy. Military journalist Mahmud Azmi has been widely reported as saying that every future conflict ‘will necessarily be a total confrontation. It should be prepared on the assumption that it will be a prolonged and comprehensivewar …Our cities, villages, industries, agriculture, communications-aU should be ready for a prolonged war.’ Similarly, another leading Arab strategist, Haytham al-Ayubi, has stressed the need to force Israel by negotiation to give up strategically important terrain advantages which would ‘considerably strengthen the Western [ie, Suez Canal] Front. In order to strengthen the Eastern Front we must organise reinforcements by Iraqi and Saudi troops and open a third front by the incorporation of Jordan.’ It hardly sounds promising, does it?…