Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tal Division at Rafah - June 5, 1967

Continuing my study of the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the last half of the 20th century, I picked up Middle East '67 from John Tiller Software. I've actually had this title for my Android tablet for awhile, but hadn't played it much. I think the PC versions are superior in any case.

For a first try, I decided to play scenario 67_05: Gaza and Beyond. This scenario depicts the attack of the Tal Division on the fortified area of Gaza around Rafah Junction on June 5th, 1967. This attack was a necessary prelude to the attack into the Sinai.

Jump-off positions of Tal Division. All of the 202 Parachute Brigade is fixed at the start, as is Baron Force (blue symbol backgrounds) 

Fairly quickly in the morning my two lead brigades make contact with the Egyptian 7th Infantry Division around Rafah Junction and the PLA 20th Division outside of Khan Yunis. Rafah Junction is also protected by mines and obstacles. I need to quickly smash through these formations.

My plan is to attack Rafah Junction with the Aviram Armored Brigade while simultaneously attacking Khan Yunis in the north with the 7th Armored Brigade. I know this area is fortified and suspect that there's a zone of obstacles across my front guarding Rafah.

Ok, I'll admit it. I peeked. I also read about the battle. Tal historically chose to attack this way specifically due to the obstacles. I think it's justifiable that I would know about those from pre-battle reconnaissance. Everyone is lined up to do it this way, anyway.

A pet peeve of mine are scenarios that hide important information from you, but then have time limits so constrained that you can't do any reasonable recon. It's pretty unreasonable to assume that the Israelis didn't know about those obstacles and mines in reality, so why hide them from me in the game?

From sixdaywar.orgTal’s strategy was to avoid the minefields and attack from the rear – his forces approached Rafah from the north-east, through the town of Khan Yunis, which fell after a bitter tank battle. Tal’s forces then launched a pincer attack on Rafah junction, and a reinforced paratroop brigade, led by Colonel Rafael Eitan (who would later become Chief of Staff of the IDF), took a southerly route around Rafah then turned northwards, through sand dunes that the Egyptians had assumed impassable to armor. Surprising the defenders, Eitan’s brigade soon penetrated into the Egyptian artillery park south-west of Rafah, wreaking havoc. After reducing these positions Tal’s forces headed southwest taking other defended positions, and by the morning of June 6 El Arish and its approach road were firmly in Israel’s hands.

By 2100 on the first day I've captured both of my initial objectives with minimal loses. Both Baron Force and the 202 Parachute Brigade have been released. I will use these forces to reinforce my effort at Khan Yunis, which will turn and drive south for Rafah. The Aviram Armored Brigade will rest in place and defend Rafah Junction from 7th Infantry Division counterattacks, if any.
This is a fourteen turn scenario. In Middle East '67 day turns are three hours and night turns are six. Hexes are one mile. These are longer turns and bigger hexes than in the Tiller Panzer Campaigns series games, giving Modern Campaigns a bit more of an operational feel, I think. I find I'm much more prone to concentrating forces in big stacks in this game than in Panzer Campaigns games. This means you also have fewer turns in a day, so there's no time to dawdle.

Elements of both the Egyptian 7th Division and the PLA 20th Division stubbornly defended Rafah. It has taken most of the second day for 7th Armored Brigade, 202nd Parachute Brigade and Baron Force to push down the five miles from Khan Yunis. At 1800 Rafah falls and most of the Arab forces in the area have been broken. Meanwhile, the Aviram Armored Brigade has smashed the tanks of 7th Division and started pushing down the road toward the Jiradi Defile.
Where in many cases Panzer Campaigns scenarios seem to often involve frontal attacks against fortified positions (at least on the Eastern Front) Modern Campaigns scenarios, particularly the ones in Middle East '67 seem to lean more toward battles of maneuver. Weapon systems are also more lethal, airpower is more effective, and  - probably the biggest difference - armor leads the charge. Combined arms are vital, however! Never attack dug in infantry with an armor-only stack; you'll come to regret it.

The more mobile formations of the Aviram Brigade along with most of Baron Force move south along the coast road during the night and attack an Egyptian battalion dug in at the Jirardi Defile and secure it. Across the Area of Operations the Arab forces are in retreat.
 Overall, these scenarios seem to involve fewer units than Panzer Campaigns. I'm sure that the full campaign scenarios are huge; I've yet to give any of those a try yet. The individual operation scenarios are fairly quick plays, however, without an oppressive amount of chit shuffling. This is aided somewhat by the tendency to concentrate units in large stacks to gain local superiority. I may have to try a Sinai campaign scenario to see if this continues to hold true in the open spaces of the desert.

As was historically the case, it wasn't a banner day for Arab arms.
I definitely recommend this game for anyone interested in gaining an understanding of the larger operations of the 1956, 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli conflicts. There are scads of scenarios of all sizes and difficulties, accompanied by the usual exhaustive JTS/HPS Designer's Notes. Further, players have extended the game with add-on scenarios and graphics for the 1982 Lebanon war and beyond. There's a lot here to play.

Next up: Arab-Israeli wars tactical combat courtesy of WinSPMBT.