Thursday, July 20, 2017

Suspicious character

Back in March 2001 a Bulgarian woman sent me a letter with two of her photos enclosed. Dated June 2000, the photos are shown here. The person said she was 32, from Rousse (on the Danube), university educated, a nondrinker and nonsmoker. She mentioned no occupation, however. I suspected she was involved in the "world's oldest profession."
I replied but never received an answer. Some time later, on an epal site, I encountered a young Bulgarian guy. When I mentioned the woman, and asked if Rousse was a center of prostitution, he confirmed that it was. He explained that Rousse is the site of a bridge on the Danube and is exposed to a lot of international traffic such as truck drivers.
Curious to see if her address was a truck stop, I searched online. It was close--a truck driver academy. Building 10 (part of her return address) may be for extracurricular activity....

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Old Sculptures

Some time ago, I stored old art objects in the basement. Surprisingly, the arrangement, and lighting, made them look rather good, so I decided to photograph them and present them here.
On the left is the bust of the mythical Perseus, which I've had since 1987. I got the alabaster eagle, right, that same year. The ruined columns, from Design Toscano, is more recent.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Alternate Scenario Wadi Mabouk

I'd like to revisit the role of the Fourth Armored division's 3rd brigade on October 14, 1973. Previously, I suggested it would've fared better had it advanced through Wadi Mabouk at night and taken the Israeli armor from the rear, using night vision equipment. I don't know if the 3rd's T-55s had such gear. In any event, it may not have been necessary. Moonlight might've sufficed.
The date of full moon was October 11; last quarter occurred a week later, on the 18th. On the night of October 13-14, the time of the 3rd's advance, in this alternate scenario, the moon was intermediate between full and last quarter. It was then waning but still very bright. Rising between sunset and midnight, it would've illuminated the path of the 3rd toward its objectives.
After entering  the "Vadi Mabuk" (see map, lower middle) around 9 PM October 13, the 3rd's two advancing battalions would've reached the Mavdil road before midnight, and headed north along it.
The Israeli armor was probably positioned west of the Mavdil road, and mostly south of the Atifa road. There it would've been best able to defend the western entrance to the Mitla pass. In this scenario, the 3rd's leading battalion would've reached the Atifa-Mavdil junction but most of the battalion would've stayed south of it. The entire following battalion would've halted farther south. After forming a line parallel to the enemy, the 3rd's battalions would've headed west within range. With luck, the Israelis would be either unalert or would mistake the approaching battalions for reinforcements or supply vehicles. Aided by moonlight, the T-55 crews would halt at an appropriate distance, sight their targets and open fire. Assuming most Israeli tanks were facing west, their vulnerable rears and sides would've been exposed to fire. Dozens might've been knocked out or set ablaze. If the enemy was routed and the survivors fled, the two battalions could've returned to Egyptian lines directly, by heading southwest toward Nisan. If some Israeli tanks still blocked that route, the Egyptian commander could've either returned via Wadi Mabouk or ordered the reserve battalion to advance, take the remaining Israelis from the rear and clear a path for the two battalions to withdraw.
While the T-55s were battling, mechanized infantry might've carried out another mission--destroy Israeli artillery at the Mitla. Unlike the tanks, which would've headed west from the Mavdil, some mechanized infantry could've headed east, reached the Mitla, and assaulted gun positions. They might've killed, wounded and captured scores of artillerymen and touched off their ammunition dumps. A raid like that would've also enabled the 3rd's commander (and the 4rth's commander, Kabil) to claim they "attained their objective of reaching the Mitla," even if the infantry, like the rest of the brigade, would've pulled back before dawn i.e. back within SAM cover, before enemy jets pounded them as happened in real life.
So, even without night vision equipment, the 3rd brigade might've won a spectacular victory. Moonlight may have been adequate. One potential problem is it could've been a double edged sword. Moonlight might've enabled Israeli lookouts to spot the advancing 3rd, spoiling its attack, as actually happened, albeit in daylight when enemy air power was also a factor.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Postwar situation 1973-74

This is from an old article by Drew Middleton appearing in The New York Times on January 3, 1974. I have a number of questions and comments.
Middleton wrote that west of the canal, facing the Israeli bridgehead, Egypt deployed a full strength infantry division of 11,800 men, an artillery brigade and "probably an armored brigade" (the 35th? 27th?)
"An Algerian armored division, deployed to the south of these forces along the shoe of the Gulf of Suez, is under the operational command of the Third Army."
As for the Second Army, besides 23,00 men east of the canal, with independent armored brigades (15th, 24th?) it had "another division in reserve on the west bank, between Tantara (sic) and Ismailia."
Several questions arise: Why was the Algerian armored division sent to the gulf of suez, where was the Fourth Armored Division, why was there a big gap between the 2nd and 3rd army west of the canal, and why wasn't the second's reserve division positioned to face the bridgehead?
Regarding the first question, the Algerians may have been sent south to guard the right flank of the Third Army, SW of Suez. But I doubt that. Although the Israelis kept over 20,000 men and three armored brigades west of the canal after November (when other units went back east) they contemplated attacking the 3rd Army in Sinai, not its positions west of the canal. Nevertheless, the Algerians were sorely needed where they were. If war resumed it was vital to reach the trapped divisions quickly. They were doomed, unless Cairo was able to resupply them, send reinforcements and reestablish SAM cover. The Algerian deployment reflected the importance of this mission. While the 4rth attacked via the Cairo-Suez road, Algerian armor might've broken through from the south.
The third and fourth issues remind me of what Sharon told Dayan after the war. Sharon, whose division fought in the northern part of the bridgehead, claimed there were gaps in the Egyptian deployment, so it would be easy to infiltrate through them and take the Egyptians from the rear. But I doubt there was a gap as large as the map seems to indicate. I assume the Second Army reserve was deployed to prevent a further northward advance, to Ismailia and beyond. Maybe the Egyptians feigned weakness in this area, to tempt the Israelis into deploying their armor there instead of guarding the Cairo-Suez road. But that's pure speculation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fate of the 21st Armored Division

Egypt's 21st armored fared as poorly as the 4rth. Unlike the latter, all of the 21st was sent to Sinai. Repeatedly squandered in futile attacks, the division was soon a shadow of its former strength. Even worse, it was unable to stave off disaster on the west bank. Misuse of this division, as well as others, doomed Egypt to defeat.
Like the Fourth, the 21st had two armored brigades and one mechanized brigade. Kabil's counterpart, General Oraby, was the division commander. Armored units were equipped with T-55 tanks.
In the 1973 war, the 21st was deployed in the northern, Second Army sector. In that sector, the terrain west of the canal was less suitable for tanks, hence more defensible than that farther south. It was therefore deemed safe to send a brigade of the 21st (the 14th armored) to Sinai at the start, to bolster the 16th Infantry division, just north of the Bitter lake. Also, whereas just one brigade of the 4rth was sent east, all three brigades of the 21st soon found themselves in Sinai. Naturally the 14th armored was the first to see action.
Early in the war, the 14th missed a golden opportunity. After arriving at the canal front on October 8, Sharon left the Second Army area and headed south to battle the Third Army. His departure left the high ground at Hamadia almost undefended. The 14th could easily have seized it on the 8th but didn't.  The Egyptian leadership had failed to issue timely orders. When the brigade, which had up to 120 tanks, finally attacked on the 9th, the opportunity had passed. Sharon was back. One of his brigade commanders, Tuvia Raviv, ambushed the 14th's approaching armor. The Israelis claimed thirty tanks destroyed with hardly any loss of their own.
This setback foreshadowed a worse one on the 14th. On the 12th the 21st's two reserve brigades, the 1st armored and 18th mechanized, were ordered to cross the canal, to participate in the October 14 attack.
On the afternoon of October 13, Mamoun, the commander of the Second Army, explained the attack plan to Oraby. The 1st armored brigade was to assault Hamadia while the 14th, farther north, was to advance along the main road to Tasa. The 18th mechanized (the last to cross, on the morning of the 14th) was to follow up these assaults. Oraby said the 21st could fulfill its mission but needed mechanized infantry from the second division to guard its left flank.
Oraby was hindered by lack of clear information on Israeli deployments. He had only 30 minutes before last light on the 13th to scout his path. Battalion commanders didn't have time to gather intelligence.
The attack got underway at 6:30 a.m. Engineers removed mines from the 21st's path. There was a massive barrage, and units advanced into battle.
From the start the 1st faced serious problems. The brigade endured blasts from 175mm guns, while Israeli tanks and ATGMs atop strong point 118 (Hamadia) rained fire down on the 1st. Brigade commander Abu Shady was killed. In the first 15 minutes, the head of the left tank battalion perished along with the brigade artillery commander.
Israeli armor from Kishf ridge, to the south, then struck at the 1st's right flank. The brigade retreated.  Sharon made his disparaging remark about the 21st ("they came, got hit and ran"--probably according to a secret, actual plan).
Following Shady's death, the 1st's Chief of Staff took over command. He tried to regroup the brigade but the destruction of the commander's tank cut communication with his units. Some T-55s moved north to avoid fire, and were beside the 14th's tanks. At 8:30 a.m. Mamoun had a heart attack and Oraby tried to help reorganize the 1st.
The 14th performed somewhat better. It managed to destroy strong point 14 in front of it, then advanced around 5km. The next strong point, number 146, halted the brigade.
Around 10 a.m. the 14th was still at strong point 146. Oraby then ordered 18th mechanized into action. Seeking to clear the enemy at point 146, the 18th was to pass the 14th's right flank and hit the enemy's left. After the blocking force was removed the 14th could resume its advance. The 18th was to be assisted by infantry, air strikes and artillery.  The 18th began assembling at Talia.
At 13:30 (1:30 p.m.) the 21st's situation was critical. Intense strikes from enemy guns and jets battered its units. Shazly ordered Oraby to pull back and reorganize. The 21st did so during the night of October 14-15.
By then, the 14th brigade's losses totaled 75 tanks. Only 45 remained by the 15th. Equally serious was the weakening of the Egyptian rear.
The absence of the 1st and 18th brigades from the west bank were to have serious consequences. After the Israelis crossed at Deversoir on the 15th-16th, there wasn't much between them and Ismailia. Had the two brigades stayed in reserve they could've halted Sharon's advance before it neared Ismailia. Instead all remaining elements of the 21st were thrown into the cauldron of the Chinese farm.
By then the division had been depleted. According to Egyptian sources, by the 16th, the 1st armored had 66 tanks left, the 14th 39 and the 18th 31. The 21st had been reduced to 136 tanks, about half its original total. The 14th had lost its commander and additional tanks battling the enemy during the night of October 15-16.
More losses soon followed. On October 16, the 21st armored was ordered to attack the Israeli corridor to the canal. Against the better judgement of Shazly and others, the division complied on the 17th. Its fate was not unlike that of the 25th. Israeli tankmen spotted bumps on Missouri ridge. The "bumps" turned out to be T-55s. With 53 tanks, 1st armored was moving south. After a battle, it withdrew with 33 T-55s. The Israelis claim to have knocked out 48 tanks.
The Egyptians say the 1st struck again the next day. With its 33 tanks and a battalion from 18th mechanized, it destroyed 13 Israeli tanks. The 1st, however, lost all but 9 of its T-55s.
By October 21, the entire 21st division had been reduced to just 40 tanks. These vehicles formed half the Egyptian tank force defending Missouri. The defense was successful. After ATGMs had taken a toll on Raviv's armor, counterattacking Egyptian tanks drove him back.
When the war ended the 21st had just 16 tanks left. Like other Egyptian units it fought valiantly, but largely in vain, as Sadat wasted it.


The Yom Kippur War      Rabinovich
From the Sinai to the Golan  Jamal Hamad

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Methane on Mars

In 2003, studies of the Martian atmosphere revealed an enormous increase in methane. The discovery is of considerable interest, as it hints at the presence of life. Most methane on Earth results from biological activity. The Martian methane eventually dissipated but there was a similar occurrence a decade later.
Before the fall of 2013, the Curiosity rover used its Tunable Laser Spectrometer to test the atmosphere. It determined that methane levels were extremely low--just 1.3 parts per billion, or a tiny fraction of what was detected a decade before.
In November 2013, however, Curiosity detected a spike. Methane levels shot up from 0.7 parts per billion to about 5 parts per billion. A week later, there was a further increase, to 7 ppb. Three weeks after that, it went up again, to 9 ppb. Six weeks later, the methane had vanished.
Why do methane levels suddenly spike at long intervals and what is the source of the gas? The fact that releases of methane occur several years apart and, in 2013, during the local fall and winter, argue against a biological origin. Subsurface life, however, may explain the facts.
Mars has many caves. Some may be very deep and extensive. In the distant past, vast quantities of liquid water existed underground. Huge outflow channels attest to the storage capacity of the Martian interior, and internal heat sources which kept water in liquid form. Bodies of underground water may persist in some areas. Any life they harbor relies on planetary heat not sunlight. Methane may be a byproduct of biological activity, but even if it is produced at a steady rate it does not enter the atmosphere continually, but in bursts. This is because underground lakes have upper ice covers. Most of the time, they prevent methane from entering the atmosphere.
After it is produced, methane (a light gas) rises to the top of the lake habitats and accumulates under the ice. As more accumulates pressure builds up. Finally pressure reaches critical mass; methane forces its way up through the ice. The sudden release of several years of accumulated gas causes the spikes. After the pressure falls the ice settles back down, resealing holes or cracks, and the cycle starts over again.
Someday robots may explore Martian caves to test this hypothesis.

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's commander. He had 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 to blame. 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 attack 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 favored 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 area. Enemy artillery, firing from the Mitla area, 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 El Mour and Wadi Mabouk. 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 battalions sent into action. 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 (initially its reserve battalion was attached to the 7th Infantry to replace the 25th but it went back west with the 3rd's other units on the 19th). 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 claim to have set half its tanks ablaze, while others 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 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.
Despite the odds the 4rth tried to break through. 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, the Fourth remained a force to be reckoned with.
Unfortunately, losses in fighting power sapped the division's effectiveness. Egyptian sources say on the 25th, right after the war, it had 170-180 tanks. 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. "My men are prepared to die to reach the Third Army" Shazli recorded him as saying. "But if we fail, the road to Cairo is open." One source said Egypt had only 46 tanks left between the Israeli army and its capital. 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.


Anwar El-Sadat In Search of Identity An Autobiography Sadat
On the Banks of the Suez  Adan
The Crossing of the Suez   Shazly
Elusive Victory              Dupuy
No Victor no Vanquished  O'Ballance
The Yom Kippur War   Rabinovich
From Sinai to the Golan  Hamad