Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fate of the Fourth Armored Division

Long the mainstay of Egypt's strategic reserve, the 4rth fought with tenacity and valor. In his memoirs, Sadat praised Kabil, the division commander, as a man of consummate tactical skill. With one armored division, Sadat wrote, Kabil did the work of three. The need for such skill, however, mirrored  desperate circumstances late in the war, for which Sadat was largely responsible. His first blunder was to order the October 14 attack. Together with other units, the Fourth complied with Sadat's order, to the detriment of itself and its country.
Consisting of at least three brigades, the 2nd and 3rd armored and 6th Mechanized, the Fourth was at first kept in reserve, around Obeid mountain, west of the Geneifa hills. When the order for the ill-starred offensive came, only one of the brigades, the 3rd, was to participate. Because the terrain west of the waterway, in the Third Army sector, was well suited to armored warfare, the Egyptians decided to keep two of the brigades on the west bank. Good tank ground would favor the enemy, so it was prudent to keep two thirds of the division in that area.
At 12:30 AM on October 12, Kabil informed the commander of the 3rd of his mission. He was to enter Sinai and reach the Mitla pass. Around 1300 on October 13, the brigade crossed, and entered the El Shatt/Un Moussa crossroads assembly area. Firing from the Mitla area, enemy artillery caused some losses.
The main road leading to the objective, the El Shatt Mitla, was blocked by Israeli armor concentrations. Consulting local Beduoins, the 3rd's commander learned of an alternate route. He decided to go south before heading east. Leaving one of his three battalions in reserve, the commander neared his objective via the Wadi Mabouk and wadi El Mour. Advancing 25 kilometers, the 3rd bypassed the Israeli first line of defense but was spotted and faced a second about 6km west of the entrance to the Mitla.
The defenders there had tanks, guns and ATGMs. When the 3rd's leading elements came within range, they opened fire, destroying the vanguard companies of the two advancing battalions along with the command vehicles. Others were also hit. Some T-55s managed to fire back, and claimed to have blasted 13 enemy tanks. An Egyptian officer, Nour Eldean el Aziz, tried to organize the tanks but perished. Surprisingly, survivors said most losses were due to ATGMs. They seemed to have a longer range than SS-11s known to be in Israeli service. The Egyptians suspected the Israelis were using TOWs supplied by the US.
Soon, the 3rd faced another threat. Moving beyond SAM cover exposed it to air attack. Enemy jets began pounding the brigade. They targeted mainly artillery and support vehicles. The Egyptians had to pull back.
The battle of Wadi Mabouk is said to have cost the 3rd 50-60 tanks. If true, that would imply the virtual destruction of both attacking battalions. The brigade's final battle line on the 14th was just 2km east of the Third Army's 19th division. There the 3rd established defenses and recovered damaged vehicles; just after the 14th it had 58 tanks.
Soon, as Israeli forces poured across the canal, action shifted to the west bank. Around the 18th, the 3rd  was ordered back west (save for a battalion--probably depleted--left behind with the 7th infantry division). But the 2nd armored was already on the west bank and saw action sooner.
The 2nd armored brigade sent one of its battalions, the 207th, to the Deversoir area. There the battalion attacked repeatedly into the flank of Israeli forces at the Uri position, close to the canal. Advancing from cover of trees, the 207th's T-55s inflicted and sustained losses. By this time, Adan's division had crossed in that area. It was a mistake to confront it with a single battalion (said to number only 25 or so tanks). Adan ordered a subordinate, Lapidot, to head south along the Test road, along the canal, and then strike the 207th in the flank. The Israelis claimed to have set half its tanks aflame, while the rest became mired in mud and were abandoned.
The next day, the 19th, the Israelis broke out of their bridgehead and penetrated deep into Egypt. Sadat's insistence on sending units east of the canal had forced Kabil's depleted command to spread out far and wide to try to stop them. There weren't many other units. As related, Kabil sent the 2nd's surviving battalions, the 208th and 209th, to Om Habara and a nearby dune area. Another battalion, possibly the remnants of the 207th, was guarding the Geneifa hills. The 3rd was moving back west. The 4rth's other brigade, the 6th Mechanized, was at Kilometer 109 north of Jebel Ataka.
On the 19th, the 2nd knocked out about 20 of Adan's tanks and other vehicles. On that day, however,  Kabil received an order to prepare an offensive against Deversoir. He instructed all elements of the 4rth, save a few, to assemble at Gafra for this attack, scheduled for noon the next day. *
The speed of Adan's advance disrupted Egyptian plans. After the battalion guarding the Geneifa hills was pulled out, Adan overran the hills with scant resistance and threatened to cut the Cairo-Suez road. On the 20th, a battalion of the 3rd armored and a battalion from the 113th brigade (the latter not part of the 4rth) attempted to replace the battalion sent to Gafra. But the Israelis now held the hills and their fire forced both battalions to withdraw. Meanwhile, the enemy thrust south had caused the attack on Deversoir to be cancelled. Forced to bolster the Third Army's line of communications, Kabil now sent his units south of the Geneifa hills.
On the 20th, enemy progress proved rapid. One of Adan's brigade commanders, Natke, effectively cut the Cairo-Suez road with long range tank fire. The 4rth did however, stop the Israelis farther east. The 3rd armored stopped the advance of another commander, Aryeh, around the southeastern part of the Geneifa hills near the Egyptian camps at Odeda. Targeted by tanks, artillery and missiles, Aryeh suffered losses. He resumed his advance the next day, toward Metzila, but encountered more tough resistance.
October 21st saw elements of the 4rth and another unit attempt to restore the situation in Natlke's area. Forty Egyptian tanks, with infantry, attacked the site of SAM base 5122, then held by the enemy, and reached its center. According to Adan's account, they knocked out five Israeli tanks but lost 15 of their own then, and ten more soon afterwards. Israeli progress remained slow, however.
The next day, one of the 4rth's tank battalions, advancing from the west, attacked an Israeli force moving on the Arish track toward the Cairo-Suez road. The Israelis claimed to have hit a few tanks and the rest withdrew. This was probably the depleted 3rd brigade, which Dupuy wrote had fought stubbornly until, greatly reduced in strength, it fell back westward toward Kilometer 101.
When General Wassel, commander of the Third Army, realized the Cairo-Suez road had been cut he ordered Kabil to attack with the 6th brigade to reopen it. In view of enemy superiority in armor and in the air, Kabil and Shazly were very reluctant to comply. Kabil cited lack of SAM cover as a reason not to attack. By the 22nd enemy air activity had greatly increased, and the Egyptian SAM network had been disrupted.
Ultimately the 4rth did try to open the road. On the morning of the 23rd, after the first cease fire broke down, its tanks attacked Magen's forces on the Cairo-Suez and Asor roads. Adan wrote that Magen contained these attacks and inflicted high losses. This wasn't the full truth. The Israelis were forced to retreat a few kilometers, and request air support. To the end of the war, and despite all its losses, the Fourth remained a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, losses in fighting power sapped the division's effectiveness. Egyptian sources say it had 170-180 tanks right after the war, on the 25th. But that figure almost certainly includes tanks from the 27th and replacements, from the 1st Army. It's noteworthy that Kabil, right after the war, was still reluctant to try to reopen the road. One source said by then Egypt had only 46 tanks left between the Israeli army and Cairo. It is stark testimony to the 4rth's courage and the ineptitude of the president.

* According to Shazly, before the war the Egyptians anticipated a possible Israeli crossing at Deversoir.  If it materialized, they planned to use the 4rth division, and 25th brigade, to launch a counterattack toward the area. It's not surprising, therefore, the 4rth actually received an order to do this. But by October 19th the 25th had been wrecked and the 4rth depleted.


On the Banks of the Suez  Adan
The Crossing of the Suez   Shazly
Elusive Victory              Dupuy
No Victor no Vanquished O' Ballance
And writings by Jamal Hamad translated by Egyptian forum members

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Obscure Battle 1973

Most of the October war is well documented. A great deal has been written about the Golan battles, the October 14 attack, the destruction of 25th armored and other clashes. One aspect of the war, however, has been neglected. Jebel Um Katif, or Mitznefet, has received scant attention from historians. Engagements fought there from October 19-22 were a sideshow. The main Israeli effort was directed south, toward Suez City. Nevertheless, Mitznefet saw major fighting. The tendency to gloss over it invites suspicion. Did the Israelis cover up a serious setback?
Mitznefet, or Om Habara, is a hill west of Fayid (an airbase near the western shore of the Bitter lake). Jebel Um Katif is a larger area of high ground immediately to the west of Mitznefet. After the Israeli crossing of the canal on October 16, the area witnessed troop deployments and combat. Fighting erupted when Israel's advancing forces encountered elements of Egypt's 4rth Armored division.
 Kabil, commanding the 4rth, had only part of one brigade, the 2nd armored, in the vicinity. Originally consisting of three tank battalions, the 207th, 208th and 209th, by October 19th 2nd armored had been reduced to two. Kabil ordered the surviving battalions, the 208th and 209th, to Om Habara and the Om Kathib dune area. So grave was the emergency the battalions had to be reinforced by 14 tanks from the training school, and RPGs.
On the 19th tankmen atop Om Habara saw Israeli armor passing below them. They were part of Adan's 162nd division. The Egyptians opened fire, knocking out ten tanks and other vehicles. T-55s north of Mitznefet inflicted additional looses. Adan's division continued southward, however. Another Israeli division, Magen's 252nd, soon arrived in the area.
Soon, Kabil had to pull out. After overrunning the Geneifa hills, Adan threatened to cut off the Third Army. Kabil was forced to take the 4rth south to try to shore up defenses there. Meanwhile, another brigade, the 27th Armored, was ordered to Jebel Um Katif. Attached to the command of the 4rth, the 27th probably had 90 or so T-55s. On the morning of October 21, it deployed for action.
By then, Magen's division had reached Mitznefet. According to the Israeli version, part of the 252nd was ordered to protect the flank there while the rest of the division continued southward. For the next three days, the tanks left behind are said to have battled a brigade of Egyptian tanks and inflicted heavy losses on them.
It appears the Israelis were also mauled. For many of their vehicles and men, Om Habara became a graveyard. After a period of fighting a brigade commanded by Shomron left Jebel Um Katif. Racing to Adabiya, it completed the encirclement of the Third Army. By then, however, Shomron had only 17 tanks left. Of the 80 tanks that crossed with Magen, only Shomron's force and a few others (on the Cairo-Suez road) remained. West of the canal, the original total seems to have fallen to around 30, perhaps even fewer. The Israelis admit the 252nd had been reduced to 50 tanks, and that figure probably includes newly arrived vehicles. On October 22, Magen was informed that an understrength brigade would reinforce him. Commanded by Ran Sarig, this brigade was rushed from the Golan front, arriving in just 33 hours.
What had happened? Despite official silence, a reconstruction of events is possible. The 252nd  attempted to do more than contain Mitznefet, or bypass it. Magen tried to capture the hill. Adan originally planned to do this and made some preparations, but decided to move south. Apparently the task was left to Magen. Dupuy hinted at his effort when he wrote that on the eastern slopes of Mitznefet, an Israeli battalion got into a firefight with Egyptian tanks. If the mission was just to guard the flank, why were Israeli tanks fighting on the slopes of the hill i.e. climbing it? Given the greater range and accuracy of their guns, why didn't they just fire at the enemy from the plain below? But while hinting at the truth Dupuy, or his Israeli source, downplayed it. A single battalion wouldn't have been committed against a brigade. The entire 252nd must've participated.
 By throwing in every tank, Magen believed, he could quickly crush the enemy, obviate any need for a flank guard, and then advance with all his armor. On the basis of easy victories on the 14th and 17th, Magen underestimated the 27th. To his great surprise, the attack was smashed. The presence of tanks and instructors from the training school meant Egyptian gunnery skill was well above average. T-55s picked off dozens of vehicles ascending the hill; those which reached the top were blasted at close range. Stunned by the massacre, Magen sent an SOS to his superiors, urgently requesting replacements. Remnants of his division then advanced to the Cairo-Suez road. Initially, Sarig's brigade, after arriving   at Mitznefet, stayed there to contain the 27th. Part of Sharon's force then came and freed the brigade to go south with the others. But the advancing 252nd was gravely depleted.
 Available figures suggest the 27th destroyed over half of Magen's original force. Apparently, fifty tanks had been wrecked; conceivably the Egyptians hit sixty. Sarig's brigade had just 30 tanks. It raised the total (for the time being, around the 23rd) to 50. The addition of 30 to reach 50 would imply all but 20 of the original 80 were lost. Certainly the speed with which reinforcements were sent hints at a serious setback. So does the Israeli tendency to gloss over the battle, in contrast to so many others.*
On October 21, the same day the Israelis got a bloody nose at Mitznefet, they were repulsed at Missouri. This was a fairly minor setback; only 22 tanks were lost. Interestingly, the minimum possible loss at Mitznefet, around 30 tanks (80-50 remaining without addition of new units) is not much more than the Missouri toll, yet the latter is well known, whereas Om Habara is not. This suggests the 252nd's setback wasn't marginally worse than the one at Missouri, but far worse, hence was concealed. Unofficial Israeli sources tend to confirm this. For the most part, though, the Israelis provide very little or misleading information.
 No Israeli author ever provided a detailed account of Jebel Um Katif actions; some omit the subject altogether. In On the Banks of the Suez, Adan mentions 2nd brigade battalions on Mitznefet, but not the losses he took on the 19th or those incurred there later. Rabinovich, who also wrote from an Israeli perspective, mentioned clashes with Egyptian armor during Adan's drive south, but provided no details. The truth seems too awful to be revealed.
If the Egyptians won at Om Habara, why didn't they tout it as a great victory? That may be due to the eventual fall of the hill. Elsewhere in the last days, Egyptian successes prevented the capture of Ismailia, Suez City and Kabrit fort. There were other issues like high losses and lack of strategic significance.
After the Third Army was trapped, the 27th was ordered to help other units break through to it. Kabil and Shazly were reluctant to comply because of Israeli tank superiority. The 27th is said to have left its hills without a fight and established defenses some distance away. Overall, the brigade may have availed little. But it still accomplished something.
In his memoirs, Gamasy wrote the 27th had a successful battle and prevented the Israelis from extending their bridgehead farther west. Magen's main intention was to head south, to encircle the Third Army. It appears likely, though, the 27th made his victory a pyrrhic one.

* It is true that Magen's forces fought at other places besides Mitznefet, notably Tsach, near the canal, and Fayid. Nether battle, however, was likely to have been costly. After being softened up by airstrikes, Tsach was attacked from the north and west, whereas its defenses faced east. And Fayid wasn't strongly defended.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Sinai Battle Revisited

For decades, the October 14 attack has been shrouded in myths. "The Battle of the Sinai" has been called the biggest tank battle since Kursk, a veritable armageddon pitting a thousand Egyptian tanks against 700 Israeli, and ending in a catastrophic rout of the attackers. According to the standard narrative, the desert became a vast graveyard of Egyptian armor.
Historians have long accepted Israel's claim to have knocked out 250 tanks. Some authors even provide statistics for each attacking unit:
  •  O'Ballance wrote the Israelis knocked out 110 of the 21st Armored division's T-55s. The defenders also claimed 93 tank kills in the vicinity of Galan, and others elsewhere. The final tally came to about a quarter of a thousand.
  •  Dupuy is more detailed, and clearly indicates the same total. He wrote that Egypt's northernmost forces lost 50 tanks. Farther south, in the Second Army sector, two brigades of the 21st armored division lost 30 T-55s each. In the Third Army front, failed thrusts toward the Giddi and Mitla passes cost a total of 60 tanks. The southernmost assault toward Sudr incurred the greatest loss, almost 90 tanks. Combining all these figures yields, again, about 250.
  • Adan arrived at a similar total, albeit suspiciously, with a mix of different numbers. According to him, the Israelis destroyed fifty tanks of the 3rd Armored brigade (Fourth Armored Division) at Wadi Mabouk, an unspecified number west of the Mitla pass and twenty near the Giddi. Farther north, the 21st armored division's 14th brigade suffered "forty smashed tanks." Another of the 21st's brigades, the 1st, also lost 40 T-55s. East of Kantara the 15th Armored brigade lost 30 T-62s. Elsewhere in the Second Army area, the Israelis set 40 more tanks ablaze. Altogether, Adan wrote, the Israelis eliminated 200. His own figures, added up, come to 220, or actually 250, given the probable claimed toll, not indicated, for the Mitla battle.
  •  Pollack's account was not as detailed but his final number is essentially the same--264-267.
Various other authors such as Chaim Herzog, and even the Egyptians Shazli and Gamasy, have also accepted the figure of approximately 250. However, discrepancies in the various accounts raise doubts about its accuracy. Dupuy, for example, wrote the 3rd brigade lost "almost 90" tanks whereas Adan said it lost 50. The two authors also gave different figures for the 21st division. Dupuy indicated it lost 60 tanks, Adan said 80. And no other writer includes O'Ballance's story of 93 tanks wrecked around Galan on the 14th. Galan is the Chinese Farm, which didn't see action until late the next day. Not surprisingly, newer works have cast doubt on the standard narrative, or openly challenged it:
  • Rabinovich repeated Adan's version of the northermost action, including the alleged destruction of thirty T-62s. But he didn't embrace the oft repeated figure of 250. Rabinovich put the total Egyptian loss at "between 150 and 250 tanks." Some of his other information can be taken as evidence for an inflated, standard figure. 
Interestingly, Rabinovich  indicated some Israelis were skeptical the attack was the Egyptian plan's Phase 2, the advance to the passes. Dayan didn't believe it was and while Elazar did, he thought it was on a "smaller scale" than anticipated. Since the offensive didn't appear very big to the Israelis, their claim of  inflicting huge losses is dubious. Furthermore, Rabinovich indicated the Israelis were dissatisfied with the outcome. Sharon hinted at the brief and limited nature of the attack. He said the 21st division came, got hit and ran. Hoping to destroy more forces, Sharon and other generals put out disinformation. By portraying the Israelis as beaten or desperate, radio messages sought to trick the Egyptians into attacking again. This wouldn't have been necessary had Cairo's forces really received the drubbing Israel claimed they did.
  • Asher rejects the figure of 250. He considers Emanuel Wald's figure of 150 tanks destroyed (out of only 300 that tried to advance that day) "more realistic."
  •  Cooper et al cite Asher, and a US Intelligence report stating that Egypt lost only 76 tanks.The authors do not correctly quote Asher (who accepts Wald's figure of 150 tanks wrecked, not 100 with 50 more damaged which Cooper attributes to Asher). The authors do however, indicate the standard narrative is wrong. In view of significantly lighter, real losses, how did the battle get blown out of proportion?
Cooper et al clearly explain the reasons for the exaggeration. Eager to claim a big victory after a week of costly fighting, the Israelis hyped Cairo's losses. Ironically, the Egyptians also needed to exaggerate the magnitude of the battle, and their sacrifices. The offensive had resulted from Syria's plea for help, so Cairo wished to appear to be doing its utmost. In reality the Egyptian generals, as Cooper noted, were only putting on a show.
Shazli and his colleagues were appalled by the order to attack. This order stemmed from the ineptitude of Sadat. He was deluded enough to expect a great victory, but professional military men knew better. Indeed, if an offensive were pressed with determination, it would result in catastrophe. Unable to evade the order, Shazli and others devised a plan to minimize the scale of the defeat. They attacked with the smallest possible force and disengaged as soon as possible. That they succeeded to a considerable degree is indicated by Israeli dissatisfaction with the outcome.
The October 14 battle may have been less of a disaster than was long thought. Nevertheless Shazli was right to point to it as a watershed--a serious setback which turned the war in Israel's favor. The ultimate result was the entrapment of the Third Army. Egypt may have lost fewer tanks on the 14th than Israel claimed. But by sending key armored units into Sinai, Sadat deprived the west bank of reserves needed to stem the Israeli tide.


No Victor No Vanquished   O'Ballance
Elusive Victory    Dupuy
Arabs at War    Pollock
On the Banks of the Suez Adan
The Yom Kippur War   Rabinovich
The Crossing of the Suez   Shazly
The Egyptian Strategy for the Yom Kippur War Asher
ARAB MIGs Volume 6             Cooper

Friday, November 25, 2016

Alternate Mideast Scenario 1980s

Imagine Badawy and 13 other senior officers eating breakfast before their fatal copter ride of March 2, 1981. What might've happened had some of them gotten suspicious, averted their fate and taken action against their would-be killer? Here is how things might've gone differently on that fateful day, and subsequently:
Badawy  "Isn't it odd that all of us are to board the copter, just to watch these maneuvers?
General X "Indeed, what is so important about these exercises that all of us were sent here? There's nothing so special about this. Just last year, there was a key test of our defenses at the eastern entrance to the Mitla pass. It's hard to imagine something more important, but not half of us were there."
Badawy "What's really odd is, why is the President so keen on getting the views of those whom, just a short while ago, he wanted thrown out of the army? He wanted me to get rid of most of you here."
General Y "So what might the answer be?"
Badawy "Gentleman, I have a strong suspicion the President wants to get rid of us. He doesn't want us dismissed. He wants us dead."
General X "He wants to kill us??! Then why send us here?"
Badawy  "Gentleman, I think we should be very careful about that copter. It could be sabotaged. Here are all the officers he wants to get rid of, and all of us are supposed to get into that copter..."
General Y "You think Sadat arranged to have a bomb placed aboard?"
Badawy "I'd strongly advise we inspect that copter before taking off in it."
General Z "I'll order the aircrew to test fly it."

So with fourteen senior officers watching, the pilot took off on a test flight. Sure enough, the helicopter quickly became unstable, fell, crashed and exploded.

General X "Field Marshall Badawy, you just saved our lives!"
General Y "That new guy on the maintanence staff(!!). I wondered what he was doing with the copter last night, and why he left."
Badawy "He was doing Sadat's bidding! Our lives are saved only for the time being. Sadat will crush us, unless we get him first! The die is cast, gentlemen! We must assume command of our units immediately, and oust Anwar before he tries again!"
General Z "Field Marshall, I have an idea. To keep blackass (Sadat) in the dark as long as possible, I'll have them report the helicopter came down with all fourteen of us aboard, in an area of dunes not far from Siwa, and troops are trying to locate the crash site."
Badawy "Excellent! As soon as that message goes out those commanding troops near Cairo will board the plane here and fly back to their units. Hit the Presidential Palace as soon as possible, and report back to me. The rest of us will take command of troops here, and send them back east. "

And so Sadat, who thought he had wiped out all the officers he disliked, was overthrown and killed along with Mubarak. To avoid the appearance of a military junta, Badawy elevated former foreign minister Fahmy to the Presidency. Badawy remained Defense Minister, although he was the de facto head of state. Shazly was recalled from exile and given his old job of Chief of Staff. His skill, and popularity among the soldiers, were key assets. Badawy's reputation as a war hero made most Egyptians willing to support his regime.
The fall of Sadat led to greatly improved relations between Egypt and other arab states, and Iran. Few of them had liked Sadat's peacemaking. The Kremlin was also delighted. Brezhnev could now resume his role as Cairo's chief backer, reversing the work of Kissinger.
Publicly, Fahmy and Badawy said they wouldn't abrogate the peace treaty with Israel. They knew the Egyptian masses preferred peace and they didn't want to provoke Washington and Tel Aviv too soon. Privately, however, the Egyptians told the Syrians, Saudis, Iranians etc the treaty would be dumped eventually--sometime after Israel withdrew from all of Sinai in April 1982. The rise of Fahmy, who resigned during Sadat's 1977 trip to Jerusalem, made the new regime's promise quite credible.
Skeptical that Israel would make the concessions necessary for a comprehensive settlement, Fahmy and Badawy resolved to apply the necessary military and economic pressure. The Saudis and other rich arabs were to provide funding for massive new arms purchases. Badawy's shopping list included Mirage 2000s, TU-22s, MIG-25s, T-72/80s etc, all in lavish abundance.
While preparing for a showdown with zionists, Cairo fostered peace among muslims. To maximize arab capability against Israel, Egypt sought to end the Iran-Iraq war. Rather than openly siding with Iraq, Fahmy contacted Iran and attempted to mediate the conflict. At first Teheran resisted his efforts. However, after its failure near Basra in July 1982, Iran accepted a peace in which its territory was returned in exchange for peace.
Badawy's government also meant peace in North Africa. Given the prospect of a new jihad against Israel, Ghadafy refrained from meddling in Chad, and a terrible misadventure was avoided.
Unwilling to take the onus for the breakdown of peace, Israel completed its withdrawal from Sinai in April 1982. The new Egyptian regime did not, however, deter the Israeli strike on Osirak in July 1981, nor the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982. The latter proved costly to Syria and the Palestinians.
Fahmy and Badawy claimed Egypt was not ready for war and could not help Syria and the PLO. But the Israeli invasion gave Cairo the pretext it needed to dump the peace treaty. This preserved Cairo's new influence in the region. By late 1982 Syria and Egypt were in the midst of massive rearmament, while Iraq, now at peace, was making plans to send forces to Syria.
Badawy knew that Egypt shouldn't mass forces close to the Israeli border. That would invite a rerun of 1967. In 1982, Egypt needed about five years to become fully ready, and Israel was planning a preemptive war. For the time being, most of Cairo's army was deployed along the line of the passes.
In 1983, both sides continued their feverish buildups. Seeking to revive the peace treaty, Washington halted aid to Egypt until it recommitted itself. But Libyan and Gulf aid more than compensated for the the loss. Needless to say, the US continued to arm Israel, but demanded that it not launch a preemptive attack.
Nevertheless, Israel was determined to crush the Arabs. It seemed the best time to attempt this was the election year 1984. In order to get Jewish money and votes, US politicians would have to back Israel no matter what.
In September 1984, the Israeli blitz began. The Arabs were, however, forewarned, and had learned much from the debacle of 1982. SAM and interceptor forces were much improved, so the IAF strikes were unsuccessful. On the ground Israeli forces launched a holding attack near Kuneitra while masses of armor poured into Lebanon. The IDF sought to overwhelm Syria's right flank, and take the Syrian forces near the Golan from the rear. Meanwhile, armored columns raced deep into Sinai.
Soon, Israel's offensives ran into trouble. The thrust into Lebanon bogged down in the Bekaa. Iraqi and Jordanian forces helped contain the attacks. Egyptian troops repulsed the enemy at the passes, including the Jiradi. Soon Israel became mired in a war of attrition. Fighting in static positions proved futile and  costly.
Jerusalem's attempt to exploit the elections backfired. Bailing Israel out in a war it had started cost the US billions of dollars. Millions of Americans resented the expense and the lobby behind it. In addition, the US economy began to suffer from a new oil embargo imposed, like that of '73, in retaliation for US aid to Israel.
After the cease fire that fall, Israel had more territory but overall was in worse shape than ever. Eager to end the embargo, the US agreed, by 1985, to pressure Israel out of Sinai and Lebanon. The excellent performance of his forces, and the fact Jerusalem got virtually no concessions from the arabs, enabled Badawy to proclaim a victory. An even bigger political victory soon followed.
Demoralized by the outcome of the war, and fearing a new one that decade, Israel finally agreed to withdraw from all of the territories seized in 1967.
We can't really know what would've happened had the tragic event of March 1981 been averted. It is entirely possible, though, that the outcome for the whole region would've been far better. And even though this scenario is fantasy, I believe some of it will ultimately come true.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

The Martyrdom of Defense Minister Badawi

On March 2, 1981, fourteen Egyptian officers perished in a helicopter crash. Among the dead was the Defense Minister, Ahmed Badawi. The aircrew survived but Badawi, nine major generals, one brigadier general and three colonels lost their lives. The tragedy was officially called an accident. In reality it was a purge, aimed at wiping out all vestiges of opposition to Sadat.
There appears to have been some confusion, or obfuscation, about the cause of the "accident." Reports said that soon after takeoff, the helicopter hit "an iron barrier" or "lamp post," or that its rear became "tangled in wire." Those actually present, however, blamed the machine, not some obstruction. The pilot claimed the copter's engine suddenly lost power. A survivor heard an officer cry out "there's something wrong with this plane!"
There were ample grounds for suspicion. Why was the Defense Minister and so many officers on the same aircraft? How could the pilot blunder into an electric wire (or lamp post) in broad daylight? The pilot, who told a version at odds with the official one, was shot at his apartment a few months later. He was probably slain for failing to keep quiet.
Determined to ensure Egypt adhered to his new policy toward Israel and Washington, Sadat sought to neutralize the October war heroes who might challenge it. Foremost among those heroes was Badawy.
Born in Alexandria in 1927, Badawi studied at the Frunze Academy, and in 1958 became a senior lecturer in Egypt. He participated in all of Cairo's wars with the Jewish state, and distinguished himself in the October war.
In 1973, Badawi commanded Egypt's 7th Infantry division. On October 8, one of Israel's foremost generals, Sharon, led a division of IDF reserves against the the 7th. The result was a little known but major Israeli defeat. It was even worse than the setback near Firdan that day. Sharon withdrew after losing forty tanks. Several days later, Badawi attempted to outflank Israeli forces near the Giddi pass. His tactics were in marked contrast to the frontal attacks of other arabs. Badawy was the division  commander most respected by the enemy.
Even after the disastrous encirclement of the Third Army bridgehead, Badawi proved his worth. He was given command of the entire force stranded on the east bank i.e. the 19th infantry division besides the 7th, and other forces. Keeping this force intact under the most trying circumstances testified to Badawi's dedication and skill.
Badawi's performance led to his promotion after the war. On May 14, 1980, he became Egypt's Defense Minister. It was not an auspicious time for a dedicated patriot, however.
Under Sadat, Egypt had embarked on a course totally different from the one Badawi and his colleagues could relate to. After his flight to Jerusalem in 1977, Sadat soon negotiated a peace deal with Israel. Committed to his new course, Sadat felt the military was no longer so vital, and should be downgraded and sidelined. Inevitably, this caused friction with those who thought otherwise.
In an address to Parliament some time before his death, Badawi made controversial remarks. Peace, he insisted, "should not lead to any change in the nature or mission of the Armed Forces."
After Badawy's demise, Alwy Hafez, a member of Parliament and close friend of the deceased, accused Sadat and Mubarak of murdering him and his 13 colleagues. Badawy was killed, Hafez thought, because he threatened to expose corrupt arms deals with Washington. Marginalization of the military had led to nefarious activity.
Just two weeks before his fatal crash, Badawi confronted Sadat about the corruption but the President ignored him. Sadat said more purges were needed to keep the military loyal. Infuriated, Badawi refused, saying that the men Sadat wanted removed were Egypt's best officers. According to Hafez, the Defense Minister soon concluded that Sadat must be overthrown. Assuming Badawi expressed this view only to his closest friends, the President probably never heard of it. Badawi's fate, however, was sealed.
Unable to induce Badawi to carry out a purge, Sadat did it himself. With the ruthlessness and cunning of Stalin, he decimated his general staff. In view of the potential threat posed by Badawy and his colleagues, it wasn't enough to fire them. They were to be slain. Evidently, two weeks was enough time for Sadat and his henchmen to plot the murders. The President ordered Badawi and the others to Siwa, ostensibly to review exercises. He had a sabotaged copter ready for them, or saboteurs among the maintanence staff. Sadat was almost certainly responsible for getting all fourteen officers into the copter. Only the President had the authority to order them all in. He probably claimed he needed as much professional opinion as possible, so they should all go on the "inspection tour." A cover story and a eulogy were readied in advance....
For many years, Badawi had faithfully served his country, often at great personal risk. He prevented the disintegration of the Third Army at the start of the war and for months afterwards. Israel's vaunted war machine couldn't kill him. What ultimately proved fatal was his integrity--when Sadat was in power. Not satisfied with ignoring his generals, Sadat had many of them dismissed, exiled, even murdered. Badawy's death was referred to as a martyrdom, and that's exactly what it was.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Communication Breakdown '67

The memoirs of General Mohammed Fawzi, in Reconstructing a Shattered Egyptian Army, provide insight into the failure of Egyptian communications during the 1967 war. Years after the disaster, Fawzi wrote:
"Sixteen communications battalions needed for the deployed Egyptian infantry corps and reserves remained behind on the west bank of the Suez Canal on the Egyptian side and therefore had not been set up to communicate in the field." Fawzi indicated this was the situation on the morning of June 5, 1967, when war broke out. From the start, Cairo's forces in Sinai lacked vitally needed communications equipment and personnel. Of course there must have been some means of communication already in place. But it probably didn't amount to much and soon succumbed to the stresses of combat. Fawzi's recollections suggest the problem was not so much a breakdown of communications but a lack of sufficient communications in the first place. Evidently, there just weren't enough radios and radiomen to adequately convey situation reports and orders. When the minimal existing capability, east of the canal, broke down, each unit was effectively on its own. Under the circumstances, the withdrawal order led to disaster. Although the frontier divisions were overrun before the order was issued, reserve forces suffered grievously from lack of command control. Some just disintegrated, and none could be employed in an effective, coordinated fashion. The withdrawal became a rout.
Can we be sure the 16 battalions mentioned by Fawzi played no role in the war? Couldn't they have  crossed the canal after the war began, and aided their assigned units? This doesn't seem likely.
After the Israelis neutralized the Egyptian Air Force in their initial strikes, they targeted Egyptian infrastructure in the canal zone. No doubt their goal was to hinder resupply and reinforcement of the Sinai force. Since the Egyptians could not provide air cover, it is likely the Israeli mission succeeded. Few if any communications units may have crossed, and it was probably too late anyway. Fawzi didn't say why the units weren't where they belonged at the start. But once the conflict erupted, the situation couldn't be rectified, and catastrophe was the result.
Failure to ensure proper command and control wasn't the only communications failure during the war. Another egregious error involved intelligence. Fawzi described how a chance to thwart Israel's surprise attack was squandered:
"The Egyptian War Ministry in Cairo received two warnings from military intelligence in Arish....This message was the result of the Jordanian listening post at Ajloun, where it began to detect Israeli movements at 0400 and where it then sent warnings to Egyptian posts in Arish. The Egyptian intelligence officers did not forward this 0400 message urgently, issuing it at 0700. This nonurgency meant the message arrived at the General Staff at 0940; the Israeli attack began at 0800...."
Had the 0400 report been forwarded right away, the General Staff could've gotten it three hours before 0940, or at 0640--leaving ample time to alert the EAF. A timely warning might not have prevented the destruction of Egypt's air force but it could've cost the Israelis a lot more and tied down their air force longer.
Failure to ensure proper communications and convey a key message cost Egypt much of its armed forces, and the Sinai. Fawzi and his colleagues faced the daunting challenge of rebuilding the army and avoiding its past mistakes.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Alternate Scenarios Iraq 1980-91

Iraq's defeat in 1991 was probably the most lopsided in military history. Estimates of Iraqi tank losses range from 3,200 to 3,900. In contrast, the US lost just half a dozen tanks, all to mines. Marine M-60s destroyed hundreds of Iraqi T-62s, but the latter didn't score a single hit on any US vehicle. Saddam also lost up to 800 of his best tanks, the T-72s. Their gunners hit only seven M-1 tanks. None of those hits proved fatal, and most failed to penetrate M-1 armor. Baghdad's losses in troops, aircraft, SAMs etc were also staggering. Seldom if ever has one side prevailed so overwhelmingly at such minimal cost. Coalition forces wiped out a vast army while losing only a few hundred dead, many of them due to friendly fire accidents.
Was this catastrophic rout inevitable? Could Saddam have tried to dominate the Persian Gulf without incurring such a fate? A number of changes, on both the strategic and tactical levels, might've achieved his dream.
First, Saddam should've better timed his move. The invasion of Kuwait occurred in August 1990. By then, the Cold War was over, and the USSR had disintegrated. Iraq no longer had a superpower backup to restrain the US. As the sole remaining superpower, the US was now free to batter Iraq without fear of Soviet intervention. American and other coalition forces were no longer tied down in Europe to face the Soviets. They could be redeployed to face Saddam.
Had Iraq tried to takeover Kuwait much earlier, while the USSR was still viable, the risk of major western opposition would've been greatly reduced. Few American forces could be spared for the Gulf and their freedom of action would've been limited. Washington did not want to provoke a nuclear war.
An earlier move south required that Saddam avoid war with Iran. It was foolish to attack Iran in 1980, and become bogged down in a war which drained Iraq's resources and strength. Had the money and personnel wasted fighting Iran been invested in more and better military technology and training, Iraqi performance might've been significantly--perhaps even decisively--enhanced.
As Iraq's early performance against Iran showed, it probably wasn't ready to invade the gulf monarchies had it targeted the latter in 1980. Saddam would've been well advised to build up his country's capabilities for about five years, until c November 1985, before moving south. With a much stronger force and a superpower backup, he could've rolled over Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, with hardly more than a protest from Washington. (Of course since its 1979 revolution Iran was no longer willing to defend the arab monarchies.)
There would've been an added benefit to avoiding war with Iran. Without an Iranian front, Iraq's air defenses around Osirak, its nuclear facility, would've been much stronger. They could've prevented the destruction of the facility in 1981, by deterring or repelling Israeli attackers. An intact nuclear program might've granted Saddam the Bomb by the mid '80s, the hypothetical time of his big attack southward. Possession of even a small nuclear arsenal would've made outside powers even more hesitant to oppose Iraq.
But let's assume Iraq made all of the mistakes it did historically down to August 1990. Was it doomed to defeat the moment its forces invaded Kuwait?
Quite possibly not. No doubt, had the Iraqis known the US and its allies would ultimately launch a fullscale military operation against them, they would've gone allout to prevent it. Apparently thinking the West would soon accept his fait accompli in Kuwait, Saddam refrained from invading Saudi Arabia. He could easily have taken the oil rich kingdom. It took days, or weeks, before enough coalition forces had arrived ("Operation Desert Shield") to preclude this option. Had Iraq invaded Saudi Arabia in force right after taking Kuwait, it could've overrun the country's key oil region, exporting facilities, airfields and gulf ports. Most were within reach of Iraqi divisions in Kuwait. The Iraqis could've alleviated the logistical problems of such an operation simply by plundering food and fuel etc in captured areas--which were undoubtedly lucrative.
Had the objectives been taken, Iraq would've accomplished two important goals. First it would've deprived the Coalition of ports and airfields to bring in forces. Second, by seizing Saudi as well as Kuwaiti oil, Iraq would've had too large a share of world oil production for sanctions to be feasible. Either the oil continued to flow or there would've been a critical shortage. Saudi Arabia historically made up for Kuwaiti production, by pumping more oil, but no state could make up for both Kuwaiti and Saudi output, had they both been taken (and exports been stopped by the Coalition). The West probably would've had no choice but to accept Saddam's conquests, and pay him for the needed crude.
But what if Iraq had missed this last great chance, so that Operation Desert Storm was looming? Was it not then condemned to humiliation (withdrawal from Kuwait) or disaster?
Almost certainly yes. By that point, it was essentially too late. Iraq should've just pulled out, by December 1990. It would've been a humiliation, but with its armed forces intact, it would've been in a fairy good position to exert influence after the bulk of coalition forces had gone home.
But in arab eyes, a humiliation is worse than a defeat, so Saddam felt he had no choice but to fight. Could he have done so more effectively? This was possible. Strategically and tactically, the Iraqis could've taken a number of steps to mitigate the disaster, perhaps considerably.

  • The Iraqi navy might've disguised its handful of small vessels as dhows, armed them with torpedoes and had them sneak up to US carriers in the gulf at night. When a prearranged signal was given, they'd torpedo the carriers. Even a single hit would probably put a carrier out of action for the duration of the war. If two or three were torpedoed, it would've significantly reduced Coalition airpower arrayed against Iraq.
  • The Iraqis should've known that the US had the means to suppress and knock out their SAM radars, with EF-111 airborne jammers and HARM missiles, respectively. Saddam's SAM crews should've made widespread use of optical backup systems of the kind used by North Vietnam. Had its SAMs remained effective, Iraq would've saved more of its ground forces and further reduced coalition airpower.
  • Saddam might've considered forming a special force of camel borne commandos. Disguised as beduoin, the force could've infiltrated Saudi Arabia via a circuitous route and moved toward the main coalition airfields. When a prearranged signal was given--same time as the torpedo attacks--the camel corps would've race to the airfields and destroyed as many aircraft as possible. Or, at least stopped takeoffs for a few hours. While the airfield or airfields was disrupted, around dawn, Iraqi MIG-23BNs and SU-24s, armed only with gun ammunition, could've struck the airfield(s) giving priority to destroying AWACs and other key assets. Heliborne troops might've also participated.
  • As for the army, the Iraqi infantry should never have been deployed in southern Kuwait, or along the Iraq-Saudi border. It should've been obvious that Iraq could not adequately supply large forces in southern Kuwait. They were at the end of a long logistical tether largely exposed to air attack. The divisions in Kuwait should've been moved farther north, shortening their lines of communication. Many could've been positioned in Kuwait City, threatening the Marines with a Stalingrad if they tried to root them out.  Infantry forces along the Iraq-Saudi border should've been moved to the north and east, along the Medina ridge. There they would've been less vulnerable to logistical strangulation and better able to counter the coalition offensive against the Iraqi right flank in Kuwait. Some infantry units, though, could've been left in scattered positions along the presumed coalition path of advance, to report US movements and attack logistical units after the armor had passed. 
  • Like the infantry, the Republican Guards should've anticipated that the main coalition attack would come from the west toward Kuwait, not through Kuwait itself. The Tawakalna and other RG divisions should've been more alert, and better deployed. In theory they were in a reverse slope position along the Medina ridge, but apparently not well positioned. The T-72s could've aimed their 125mm guns at the ridgeline from a short distance below, so that they could hit the underside of M-1s and other vehicles cresting the ridge. Since M-1 front armor was impenetrable to Iraqi rounds, it was vital to employ some tactic to overcome this difficulty. Firing at vehicles atop the ridge from positions just below was one possibility. Infantry units should've had their RPGs ready for a similar tactic, while other infantry forces alerted the RG of the approaching enemy.
  • There was another ambush tactic the Iraqis might've tried. In the months before the war, they might've flooded large areas of southern Kuwait with oil. Together with mines--used, like the infantry, farther back from the border--the flooded areas could've channeled coalition armor into  kill zones. In this scenario, hundreds of Iraqi tanks would be hidden behind dunes, or dug in and covered by sand colored camouflage netting, a few hundred meters from the presumed path of the ingressing enemy. When coalition forces passed nearby, the Iraqis could've diverted their attention by shooting from the opposite direction. Turning to face that direction would've exposed the weakly armored sides and rears of US tanks to fire from scores or hundreds of Iraqi T-62s. In theory, this approach would've solved the problem of impenetrable M-1 front armor, or boxes of reactive armor, installed on the turrets and fronts of M-60s. In addition the close ranges would've enabled even poor Iraqi gunners to hit their targets. Many coalition tanks might've been destroyed.
More realistic and imaginative measures might not have prevented defeat. By making the US pay a higher price, however, Saddam might've made the US public more reluctant to stay in the Gulf, or invade in 2003.