Friday, January 18, 2019

Fantasy Scenario 1968-1973

At the start of 1968, Nasser and his inner circle received some unusual visitors. Alien beings secretly arrived with an unusual proposal. They were willing to give Egypt weapons more advanced than any others at the time, and in lavish abundance. All they asked in return was Cairo's full cooperation, to ensure it made the best use of the weapons.
To meet Egypt's air defense needs, the aliens would supply 120 MIG-31 fighters and 200 SU-27s, plus a few dozen modern SAM batteries. For ground attack missions, Egypt would get 250 SU-25s.
The Egyptian Army was to receive 2,000 T-72 tanks modernized to Soviet standards c 1987, plus 2,000 T-80s. It would also get 1,000 pieces of artillery like those sold by Austria to Iraq in the '80s, several thousand modern APCs, 4,000 TOW launchers, many thousands of good trucks, RPGs etc. The aliens were to provide ample spare parts, replacements and ammunition, first for training on all systems and then enough for ten weeks of peak intensity fighting.
To facilitate the crossing of the canal, the ETs sent bridges, boats and ferries similar to those actually used (although Egyptian engineers basically need no help in this area).
Lastly, to deter Israeli use of nuclear weapons, Cairo was to receive 20 medium range ballistic missiles with 300 kiloton warheads.
All of the new gear arrived in Egypt from the spring of 1968 to the fall of 1969. The country had 4-5 years to get ready for war.
In exchange for the armament, Cairo was keep the deliveries as secret as possible, and concentrate on training and absorbing the weapons. There was to be no war of attrition. Egypt was to break its close relations with the USSR, which it no longer needed anyway, and feign an inability to fight. As part of the deception, diplomacy was to be emphasized, however futile.
The aliens delivered weapons at night to Egyptian camps and bases via giant, silent craft with exteriors designed to absorb both light and radar (i.e. practically invisible). All Egyptians receiving the new equipment were warned to keep quiet. There was never any public announcement of deliveries, just deceptive complaints about old gear. New aircraft were to be kept in aircraft shelters (when not in use) while older ones were either sold to foreign governments or kept in plain sight. New tanks were hidden by camouflage netting when satellites passed over. Most training took place west of the Nile, not near the Suez canal or the Mediterranean.
Some security breaches were inevitable. But when a MOSSAD agent reported that creatures from another planet were supplying Egypt with advanced arms, he was forced into retirement. Generally, MOSSAD and the CIA analysts tended to dismiss reports of an arms buildup, because there was no evidence of weapons being unloaded at Alexandria or flown in from other nations. 
Syria meanwhile, had become the USSR's number one Mideast client and recipient of arms aid. Deliveries were substantially greater than in real life because the Soviets no longer sent anything to Egypt. Without divulging its source of arms, Cairo assured Syria that it was more than capable of fighting Israel effectively.
Finally on October 6, 1973 Egypt and Syria struck. How would the October war have gone, with Syria  and particularly Egypt far better armed than in real life?

Modern Soviet armor for Cairo, compliments of ET.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Post 1973 Uniforms

The above pic, taken in April 1979, shows Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Egypt, reviewing troops. Note the goose stepping officer (judging by his medals probably a hero of the October war). Note also the uniforms of the soldiers. Their helmets look like WWII German helmets.
Cairo's new style contrasts with that of the '73 war, when Egyptian dress was rather plain. In part that reflected the quasi egalitarianism of a socialist state under Soviet influence. Apparently, increased pride after the war, and an end to Soviet ways, caused the shift in style. Partly in defiance of the Soviets, the Egyptians of the late '70s began to relate more to their old enemies, the militarily proficient Germans. Hence the goose stepping and old headgear.
But with regard to this specific occasion, more may have been involved. Knowing that Begin was in nazi-occupied Europe during WWII, the Egyptians probably intended he see something which brought back bad memories and even proved a bit intimidating. With their German-style uniforms and helmets, the new Egyptian army may have sought to convey a subtle message: even though there's now peace, just like your old enemies we're now confident and capable.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Panic 1973

There have been many accounts of the October war from an Israeli, Egyptian or American perspective. Not many have been written from a Russian perspective. There is, however, a notable example of the latter. Published about a decade ago, Primakov's book (above) gives the Soviet version of events. Among other things, it casts doubt on Sadat's sanity.
Many times, I and others have painted Sadat as inept, and prone to err. His delusional thinking led to the October 14 attack, the refusal to send forces back to the west bank of the canal, the rejection of  Kosygin's cease fire request and the senseless squandering of the 25th brigade. To this awful record, Primakov's book may add something:

If this account is true, it is a grave indictment of the Egyptian President. How could he have been that clueless? Surely there was a misunderstanding--when he said "surrounded by Israeli tanks" he was referring not to Cairo, but the Third Army? Or did the expansion of the Israeli bridgehead at the end of the war, to a point fairly close to Cairo, cause "a clearly panicked Sadat" to lose his mind?
In light of Egypt's break with the USSR after 1973, this whole episode might be a Soviet invention, to discredit Sadat. He himself claimed that Shazli had suffered a breakdown around October 19--a claim rejected not only by Shazly but Gamasy. But in view of Sadat's delusional thinking during the war and the desperate circumstances at the end, I consider the Soviet version slightly more probable.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Amargasaurus cazaui was among the last of the dicraeosaurids. It lived in what is now Argentina. The remains of A. cazaui were found in the lowest, Puestal Antigual member of the La Amarga formation. This unit is thought to be early Barremian in age c 129 Ma. Amargasaurus was a rather small sauropod, about 9-10m in length. It shared its habitat with theropods, the bigger dicraeosaur Amargatitanis, the rebbachisarid Zapalasaurus, unnamed titanosaurs and the only ornithiscian known from the La Amarga, a stegosaur informally named Amargastegos.
Amargasaurus is best known for its spiny neck, a feature unique among sauropods. The spines may have evolved to attract mates, or as a means of defense. An abelisaur, Ligabueino, lived alongside A. cazaui as did another theropod, possibly a carcharodontosaur.
Like a stegosaur's plates, cervical spines made a defender appear more formidable. No doubt, theropods often targeted the neck of a sauropod, so spines may have deterred such attacks. They may  even have been used as horns, to impale predators. By lowering its head, Amargasaurus could point its spines at an attacker. But the uniqueness of this defense, and lack of any later dicraeosaur, suggests it was not particularly effective.

Monday, August 27, 2018

MIG-23s in Action

Tom Cooper's latest book is about the MIG-23 in arab air forces. Code named Flogger, the MIG-23 appeared in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya. From 1980 to 1991 Floggers saw much action. Generally, because of technical issues, lack of integrated air defense, and insufficient training, the MIG-23 was a failure. But there were some fascinating encounters, and occasional successes.
Perhaps the greatest performance of arab MIG-23s was not in combat, but mock combat, against the US Navy's best--F-14 Tomcats. I was astounded to learn that, in February 1986, Libyan Floggers  maneuvered well against them. In one engagement, MIG-23s got on "their 6," or behind the Tomcats, causing them to flee. Pollack regarded Libyan pilots as among the worst in the arab world, so it was a remarkable account.
In actual combat, Iraqi airmen achieved the most. On two occasions, in January and June 1984, MIG-23MFs fired R-24 missiles at Iranian Phantoms. Although neither enemy jet was destroyed, both were hit and badly damaged. On other occasions, Iraq's Floggers killed Iranian F-5s. The greatest victory was in August 1984.
 Determined to eliminate F-14s patrolling over the northern Persian gulf, the Iraqis sent two MIG-23MLs to ambush them. By this time, the Iraqis were employing the "Giraffe" tactic--fly low toward the target, then zoom up and attack from behind. Despite the best efforts of ground controllers, the MIG-23MLs ascended to find themselves improperly positioned. One, piloted by Lt. Rahman, was too close for a missile attack, and was ordered to fall back. After doing so, Rahman fired an R-60 missile, which went right into the right engine of a Tomcat, destroying it. The downing of an F-14 was undoubtedly the best combat success ever achieved by a MIG-23, in any air force.
Rahman soon faced an Iranian F-4, vectored toward him and his leader. He got a radar lock on it and fired a R-24R and then an R-24T heat seeking missile. The Phantom evaded both. Nevertheless, Rahman saw more action that day than any other Flogger pilot.
Syrian pilots fared worse than Iraqis, because they were facing a more capable enemy and were slower to acquire the best variants and weapons. The massacre of Syrian MIGs over Lebanon in June 1982 is well-known. But even then, Syrian airmen did what they could to mitigate the disaster.
On June 7, 1982, four MIG-23s left as-Se'en airbase (AKA Tsakal) and headed toward Lebanon. Seeking to evade detection, the jets descended between Lebanese hills. One pair, in front, stayed low while the rear pair rose to act as bait. Alerted by radar, the Israelis surprised them. While F-16s attacked the low flying MIGs, the higher pair encountered four F-15s. Yet remarkably, despite being greatly outnumbered by superior warplanes, only one MIG-23MF was downed.
Could the Syrians have done better with a somewhat altered plan? After descending between the hills, they could have slowed down so the Israelis--if they assumed the Syrians were maintaining the same speed--wound up in front of them. But even then the MIGs might've been hampered by faulty weapons, notably the R-23 missile.
In 1985, Syrian Floggers, even the newer variant, the MIG-23ML, still had the R-23. Again success would've been questionable even had their jets been better positioned to fight.
On November 19, 1985, four Syrian MIG-23MLs attempted to ambush a pair of Israeli F-15s over Lebanon. Attempting to emulate the "giraffe" tactic, one pair got beneath the Eagles, and climbed to attack. Unfortunately, a mistake by the ground controller caused both MIGs to end up in front of the F-15s, which shot them down.
It is unclear exactly how that happened. The MIGs may have ascended at too shallow an angle, so they appeared in front of the enemy. It is more likely the error resulted from the difficulty of positioning jets behind an enemy flying in a circular or racetrack pattern. As the Iraqis found out, this could be tricky.
Would the outcome have been different had the MIG-23MLs attained the right position? R-23s were not likely to be effective and in any event, using radar probably would've alerted the Israelis. The Syrians could've kept their radars off and tried to get close so they could use their 23mm guns. But even the guns were said to "lack the punch" of comparable Western weapons. This was a serious drawback when fighting F-15s, which were big and tough to kill. A MIG-23 probably would've had to approach very closely and fire into the Eagle's engines--rather dangerous if the Eagle exploded.
The last actions involving MIG-23s occurred in the Gulf war of 1991.Two Iraqi Floggers apparently hit US F-111F bombers with R-24Ts. Despite a "huge ball of fire" resulting from one of those attacks, there was no confirmed kill.

An R-23 missile.

Monday, August 13, 2018

How Many Men Deserted in 408?

In his work on the fall of Rome, Peter Heather rejected a claim of Zosimus, an ancient historian. Zosimus wrote that 30,000 men deserted the army of the Western Roman Empire in 408, and joined the army of Alaric. The figure of 30,000, Heather opined, is "impossibly high." In Heather's view, the true number was around 10,000. However, available evidence suggests Zosimus was nearer the mark.
To arrive at a reasonable estimate of the number of deserters, we must determine the size of the army of Italy before the barbarian soldiers departed, and the number of soldiers remaining after they had decamped.
Available figures, although scanty, suggest Stilicho, the Roman commander in Italy, had approximately 30,000 soldiers just prior to the desertions. Very few remained afterwards.
In 406 CE, when the barbarian horde of Radagaisus was attacking Italy, Stilicho mobilized thirty numerii, or regiments, totaling about 15,000 men. In addition, he called in soldiers from the Rhine, perhaps 5,000 men. He also had a force of goths (commanded by an ally, Sarus) and some Huns. The latter two groups added perhaps another 5,000.
It is unlikely that Stilicho had fewer than 25,000 troops. He probably needed that many to beat the invaders. Even after losing a third of its troops, the army of Radagaisus still had 12,000 good fighters and perhaps 10,000 others who were sold into slavery (and later joined Alaric). To overcome such a force, by besieging it in the vicinity of Florence and Faesulae, Stilicho must have had at least as many soldiers, or 25,000 plus. And he retained most of his army after the battle.
Roman casualties were probably light because Stilicho relied mainly on trapping the enemy and starving him into submission. He might have lost a few thousand men at most, leaving him with over 20,000 of his original force. But after Radagaisus surrendered with his army, 12,000 of the best survivors were conscripted into the army of Stilicho. By late 406 it probably numbered over 32,000 troops. The events of 407 did not cost it many of these.
After the Vandals, Alans and Suevi invaded Gaul by 407, Constantine, a Roman general, crossed from Britain to the continent. He drove the barbarians back but lacked the strength to subdue or eject them. Constantine was proclaimed emperor (Constantine III) hence became an enemy of Honorius, the emperor Stilicho served under. To deal with the usurper, Stilicho sent Sarus to Gaul. Despite some initial success, Sarus was forced to flee back to Italy. We know little for sure, but it seems likely Sarus brought the goths he had commanded the previous year. This army was probably not very large and was not annihilated. Therefore, by 408 the army of Italy (or Stilicho) probably still had around 30,000 men.
Stilicho fell out of favor in 408, and was killed. The anti-barbarian faction responsible for his fall included native Roman soldiers. These men launched pogroms against barbarian women and children, who were quartered in Roman cities. The civilians were slaughtered wholesale. It is noteworthy that the native troops didn't attempt to kill the barbarian soldiers, just defenseless civilians. And they did so in cities, presumably safe within their walls. The native elements could not have been very numerous or strong, or they would've been more ambitious and courageous, instead of cowardly. This is good evidence that most of the army by then consisted of barbarian recruits.
Apparently there was little the barbarian soldiers could do to save their families or retaliate directly. But they were extremely angry. Since the Roman troops probably killed all barbarian civilians, regardless of whether they were Goths or something else, just about every barbarian soldier would've felt incensed and completely unwelcome. They could not trust the Romans and would no longer fight for them. Ergo, they left. Not all may have joined Alaric; many could've gone to Gaul or elsewhere. But virtually all would've abandoned their posts. But what evidence do we have that the deserters totaled nearly 30,000 (perhaps 26-27,000)? That would require the near total loss of the army of Italy.
In fact, that is exactly what seems to have happened. There is clear evidence that 408 CE was a watershed. Almost overnight, the Western Roman Empire went from military power to near  impotence:
  • In 409, the year after the mass desertion, the government had to call in a force of 6,000 troops from Dalmatia to try to garrison Rome. Apparently the army of Italy couldn't spare that many soldiers--if it had that many--for the defense of the most important city.
  • In order to defend Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the eastern empire had to send 4,000 soldiers. Again the army of Italy appears to have been woefully short on troops. 
  • Honorius negotiated to get 10,000 Huns to fight Alaric. Hunnic reinforcements would hardly have been necessary if the western empire still had a decent army of its own.
  • Three times Alaric besieged Rome. It would've been quite risky for him to spread his forces out along the circumference of a big city if a Roman field army were still present. The attenuated besiegers could be attacked with concentrated force. If Heather is right, and only 10,000 men deserted, there still would've been an army of 15,000 available. Apparently quite confident, Alaric faced no army worth mentioning.
The conclusion seems inescapable: The army of Stilicho, which probably had around 30,000 men prior to his fall, evaporated soon afterwards. For that to have happened, the vast bulk of the men, or most of the 30,000, had to have quit the army. I think Zosimus exaggerated only slightly, if he exaggerated at all. His figure is the most accurate we're ever likely to have.
The weakness of the WRE, following alienation of barbarians, highlights the fundamental problem--loss of citizen support for the empire. The day the barbarians quit the army was the day the army nearly ceased to exist. Few citizens would serve anymore. Alienating barbarian troops, without a good alternative source of recruits, was an awful blunder.

Roman guard.

Heather, Peter. The Fall of the Roman Empire a New History of Rome and the Barbarians. 2006

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Mission Cancelled 1967

An Egyptian SU-7.

According to an account by Tashin Zaki, on July 15, 1967, after Israel began shelling the Suez refineries, he was asked to plan an attack on a fuel dump in the Israeli port of Eilat. This mission was to be carried out by four SU-7 fighter bombers based at Inchas. A Major Wafai arrived with orders to proceed with the mission. However, the Egyptians determined that it would be impossible to reach Eilat from Inchas while flying at low altitude (necessary to avoid detection and interception). It would only be possible if each SU-7 carried four external fuel tanks and attacked with only its 30mm guns. Any bombs would reduce their range too much. In addition, the airmen calculated that they would have to land at Gardeka (Hurghada?) air base on the way to their target and at Helwan on the way back. Eventually they agreed to fly the mission but it was cancelled "at the very last minute."

I have a number of comments on this account.
First, I have some doubts about an order to attack occurring as early as July 1967. If the mission was in retaliation for shelling of Suez refineries, which occurred in October 1967, it most likely wasn't ordered until the fall.
Second, I assume Gardeka air base is Hurghada. It would certainly make sense to use Hurghada as a base for striking Eilat. Following loss of Sinai bases, Hurghada was the Egyptian base closest to Eilat. In addition, attacking from Hurghada would've enabled the UARAF to maximize its chances for surprise. Israel did not expect an attack from the south, as Egyptian jets were deployed to the west. The Israelis did establish a base near Sharm el-Sheik, called Ophir, but it may not have been operational in 1967.

I note Helwan is south of Inchas. Presumably the SU-7s were to return to Hurghada after hitting Eilat, them fly north to Helwan before returning to Inchas.

No doubt 30mm guns would've sufficed to set a fuel dump ablaze. (I wonder, btw, if a night mission, launched while Israeli pilots were asleep, would've enabled the SU-7s to fly at higher altitude, improving their range).
Third, I assume cancellation of the mission was due to Egypt's inability, at the time, to deal with massive Israeli retaliation. A strike on Eilat would've embarrassed Israel, which had just boasted of wiping out the UARAF. Determined to demonstrate their superiority again, the Israelis would've done enormous damage to Egypt's infrastructure. They might even have hit the Aswan dam. In the fall of '67, the Egyptian Air Force was just getting back on its feet and the SAM network was nowhere near as effective as it would be later. The country could not provoke massive retaliation because it was still too vulnerable.