Churchill Crocodile in Action

Yet another Churchill variant was to join the79th Armoured Division after the invasion of Europe. This was the Crocodile, a flamethrower version of the tank that was to prove to be the best such AFV fielded by any combatant during the war. It will be remembered that an earlier flamethrowing version of the Churchill had been deployed at Dieppe. Although Crocodiles landed in Normandy on D Day they were not under control of 79th Armoured Division. Operated by 141st Regiment RAC, formerly 7th Buffs, they passed to Hobart’s command in July 1944, the logic of their being part of what was already known as Hobart’s ‘menagerie’ having been recognized. The Buffs had only begun their training on 20 March in Eastwell Park, Ashford in Kent. John Smith, who served in the regiment, wrote that

The fuel was the most secret part of the whole contraption and we did not know what it contained. In appearance it was a congealed milky-white jelly. The Germans used Diesel oil but our fuel had the great advantage of remaining a compact ‘rod’ and thus reducing the amount burnt up in flight. Its consistency was such that the flame could be ‘rolled’ along the ground into slit trenches or bounced round corners. In addition, it stuck to the target.

At Crépon, two miles inland from Asnelles, elements of 79th Armoured Division fought alongside Churchill Crocodiles of 141st Regiment RAC (The Buffs) for the first time. This was also the first time that Crocodiles were used in action, although some had landed on D Day. Two Crocodiles under Lieutenant John Shearman of the Buffs were engaged along with C Squadron Westminster Dragoons. The action began when C Squadron’s harbour came under shellfire from close range; small arms fire was also directed at the Dragoons. All but one member of the Squadron Leader’s tank were wounded by shell splinters as they were outside the tank when the shelling began. Only Sergeant Whybrow, the gunner, escaped injury. He was quick to climb back into the Sherman and begin returning fire, although he had to load the gun himself. However, Corporal Adcock, the driver, then joined Whybrow and, in spite of being wounded and in pain, assisted with loading the weapon. When the German gun that had fired on the C Squadron harbour was knocked out by the 75 of Lieutenant Hoban’s Crab, the Squadron withdrew from the vicinity. Lieutenant Shearman was overseeing the maintenance of his troop of Crocodiles when the shelling began and it was he who

quickly planned and carried out an attack, leading it himself, having organized RA and R Sigs personnel as infantry. As a direct result of his prompt action the guns were silenced and several, including two 75mm and one 88mm, were destroyed, and 150 PW taken.

In that counter-attack, the Crabs fired their main guns on the enemy positions before the Crocodiles flamed the area while the Royal Artillery and Royal Signals soldiers put down small arms fire. This prompted a German surrender at which point the strength of the position they had held could be assessed: as well as the 150 prisoners and the destroyed guns, a 100mm field gun, an 88 and four 75s were captured. One soldier of the Westminsters was killed and five wounded. This was the first of two actions that earned John Shearman the Military Cross; the second occurred a month later, on 9 July.

As 21 Army Group fought to expand the Normandy bridgehead, units of 79th Armoured Division were involved in many small but important engagements. On 12 June, the Westminsters lost two Crabs to a German anti-tank gun screen as they advanced unsupported in the Bocage country. However, they gained some vengeance when they later played a successful part in the capture of Cheux.

By the end of June much of the Division was in France and Hobart had moved his main headquarters across the Channel; he had first insinuated a small tactical HQ on to a DUKW for which Hobart had managed to obtain space on a ship bound for Normandy on 8 June. Refused shipping space for his HQ, he had plagued the movements staff until they gave in and allowed him to take the DUKW, on which he loaded a jeep, a motorbike, much radio equipment and personnel for a skeleton HQ. He made his presence known to his units quickly: at Brécy, on the 11th, he visited the Westminster Dragoons. During the month, 141st Regiment RAC (The Buffs) came under divisional command, according to the divisional history, and most of the regiment’s Churchills were in Normandy by the last week of June. (However, the regiment did not become part of 79th until September; in the intervening time it was, from 21 July, under the umbrella of 31 Tank Brigade, which later joined Hobart’s command.) Still in Britain, however, were the CDLs of 35 Tank Brigade as well as the Crabs of 1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry. The Lothians sailed from Gosport for Normandy on 13 July with the CDLs following later in the month.

As with the other ‘Funnies’ the Crocodiles were often used in penny packets and without proper support. On 14 June, at la Senaudière, one was lost when unsupported Crocodiles took part in an attack with 1st Hampshires; however, the enemy lost a Panther and a Mk IV tank. Next day, Crocodiles of B Squadron helped 51st (Highland) Division clear enemy troops from Escoville. When given good support the Crocodiles were extremely effective as was demonstrated at Escoville. The same was true of le Bon Repos which had been captured and then retaken by the Germans. In the fresh assault by 53rd (Welsh) Division on 23 July, two Crocodile troops of A Squadron 141 RAC advanced on the town, preceded and flanked by gun tanks and with covering artillery fire. The Crocodiles advanced either side of the road to the village, flaming the hedges and flanks before they saturated their objective with flames and their action, which saved many lives amongst the infantry of the Welsh Division who suffered no casualties, drew the personal congratulations of Lieutenant General Ritchie, Commander XII Corps. At Saint-Germain d’Ectot, on 30 July, C Squadron Crocodiles overcame a machine-gun position that had already beaten off three battalion attacks. On this occasion the troop leader dismounted from his tank to lead the infantry, who had not worked with flamethrowers before, ensuring that they advanced as soon as the target was flamed. A day later in the same area, an assault force that included both AVREs and Crocodiles supported a successful infantry attack on a house and orchard.

Although Hitler ordered that his armies should stand along the Seine to resist the Allies, and defend Paris, the speed of the Allied advance made the Führer’s plan redundant while the forces at his commanders’ disposal would not have been capable of sustained resistance in any case. To the men of 21 Army Group the weeks immediately after the breakout from Normandy became known as the ‘great swan’ as formations and units raced across France to the frontiers of the Low Countries. Paris was liberated on 25 August by French troops under American command. On the same day, Second Army crossed the Seine at Vernon and, on the 31st, reached Amiens and seized intact the bridges across the Somme. On 1 September, British troops were at Arras and on the 3rd, four years to the day since the outbreak of war, Guards Armoured Division liberated Brussels. Next day, 11th Armoured Division was at Antwerp.

Such was the speed of the Allied advance that there was no real role for units of 79th Armoured Division. Since the Germans had not had time to prepare defensive lines, there were no manned concrete defences needing the attention of AVREs nor had extensive minefields been laid. Although some AVREs, Crabs and Crocodiles followed the leading armoured units, they were not required and nor were the Class 50/60 rafts that the Division brought forward for the Seine crossing. But, behind the advancing armies, there were still German garrisons locked up in some of the Channel ports. Dieppe’s garrison was quick to surrender but Dunkirk’s held out. Since the port was not logistically important for the Allies, it was simply besieged and remained so until the war ended. But Boulogne, Calais and le Havre were to be attacked and 79th Armoured Division had the weapons needed to break into those ports. And from the Americans, who had declined ‘Funnies’ for D Day, came a request for Crocodiles. General Simpson requested a squadron of Crocodiles to support the US VIII Corps’ attack on Brest, which housed a German submarine base, in the Breton peninsula.

I Corps had the task of capturing le Havre

a place of some natural strength with a pre-war port capacity of about 20,000 tons daily. It was protected by outlying forts, a deep anti-tank ditch and extensive fieldworks, covered by minefields and flooding; it was garrisoned by over 11,000 troops and well equipped with artillery.

At places the defensive belt was up to a mile deep while defending troops had concrete accommodation and the artillery was deployed behind and under concrete. Moreover, the German commander was determined to fight to the last: he had lost his wife and children to Allied bombing on Berlin and the fact that he was cut off from supply and reinforcement did not diminish his determination.

Since le Havre lies on the Seine estuary’s north shore, the approach of any attacker was restricted to the east or north with many obstacles to be overcome before closing with the garrison. I Corps HQ proposed that 49th (West Riding) Division should attack from the east with 51st (Highland) Division coming in from the north. Major General Tom Rennie, GOC Highland Division, suggested an alternative.

Since the Germans had obviously considered that the most likely approach by an attacker would be from the sea, the defences were at their strongest close to the coast and Rennie proposed a diversionary attack from the north but that 51st Division’s main effort be made from about Montivilliers, today almost a suburb of le Havre, on the Lézarde river.

Near Montivilliers were two gaps in the anti-tank ditch, one measuring some 400 yards wide and the other half that width. These provided convenient crossings via which the assault could be directed. Fifteen Crabs of A Squadron, commanded by Major Renton, were to sweep three lanes on the right while ten Crabs of B Squadron, under Major Ackroyd, were to sweep two lanes. The other troop of B Squadron and the troop from C Squadron were to clear a road, and lanes to either side of it, for the AVRE bridgelayer that was to bridge the ditch and its accompanying Snake,* which would supplement the Crabs in gapping the minefields. The road ran north-south between the gaps. Thus eight lanes, each at least twenty-four feet in width, were to be cleared.

Ian Hammerton’s 1st Troop of B Squadron was flailing the lane on the extreme left, which he had reconnoitred beforehand in heavy rain with the help of French Resistance men. As his tank moved off to make the two-tank-wide gap Mary, its wireless was tuned to the BBC Home Service and a programme of dance tunes including ‘This is a lovely way to spend an evening’. Lieutenant Hammerton’s route was a dog-leg, the knee of which was at the end of the anti-tank ditch, and as the Crabs advanced slowly they were surprised to find no mines. They had flailed on a gap in the minefield and it was assumed that the German engineers had ruled out the possibility of an attack close to the edge of a small cliff. The complete lane was cleared within forty minutes and

I called up the Churchills of 7th Royal Tank Regiment to tell them that lane Mary was all clear, and they began to move through our flailed path. Most of them had got through when one went a little off to the right and, BANG! up went a mine; it was about a yard to the side of our lane.

The infantry began swarming through in their carriers and, before long, the tank crews were rounding up Germans who seemed all too eager to surrender. None appeared to share their commander’s ‘to-the-last-round’ attitude; most were found in their slit trenches, their kit packed for the trip to the PoW camp.

Not all German soldiers showed similar desire for the comfort of a PoW camp. Lieutenant Shaw of 3rd Troop, also working on lane Mary, was operating with four Crabs but the leading tank became a casualty through smashing its jib just after crossing the start line when it struck the bank of a sunken road. Both following tanks, advancing on the forward edge of the minefield, came to grief on an unexpected outer minefield. This left the breaching team with but a single Crab although the gap was open. However, ‘as soon as vehicles started to use the gap some were knocked out and the breach was blocked’. Shaw then left his tank and

in the face of heavy enemy shelling and fire ran to the remaining operational flail tank in his troop, took command and flailed a route round the blown up vehicles thus re-opening the lane and permitting the infantry and tanks to pass through onto their objective.

While moving to the lane cleared by 1st Troop this tank also struck a mine and was knocked out. By 7.00pm tanks, Crocodiles and infantry were advancing on their objective, a German strongpoint, which fell ninety minutes later. William Shaw was awarded the MC.

Hazel, the central gap, was one that provided many headaches and had to be abandoned as a failure. This gap was left of the north-south road and 2nd Troop B Squadron, under Sergeant Redmond, had two Crabs pass through the minefield to the anti-tank ditch without any hindrance. However, as they made their turns at the ditch the picture changed dramatically. The ground was heavy which slowed down the ‘strike’ of their chains and both tanks fell victim to mines, one losing its jib and the other both tracks. Redmond’s third Crab was disabled halfway across the minefield. Nonetheless, they had cleared a twenty-foot-wide lane, along which an AVRE of 222 Assault Squadron with a Snake advanced. All went well until the AVRE was pushing the Snake over the ditch. Its head struck a mine and the resulting heavy explosion converted ‘the already battered flail at the ditch’s edge … into a wreck of curious shape’. Fortunately, there were no casualties. Then, as the AVRE reversed out, it set off another mine, putting the tank out of action. The second AVRE, the bridgelayer, detonated yet another mine that the Crabs had passed safely. Thus was Hazel abandoned.

That bridgelayer lost in Hazel was one of two from 222 Assault Squadron to be lost but the third bridgelayer completed its task under heavy fire and its lane was declared open, having been cleared by Lieutenant Thwaites of C Squadron 22nd Dragoons. However, Thwaites’ mission had begun badly with all three Crabs out of action within ten minutes of entering the minefield. One was crippled by a mine while the other pair had their cutter blades jammed by a rapid series of mine explosions that prevented their drums revolving. Regardless of considerable mortar fire, the crews stripped the blades and were on the move again by 6.40pm. Their lane was clear forty minutes later, the bridgelayer dropped its bridge and carrier loads of infantry went forward.

On the right flank, gap Laura was being swept by A Squadron with a troop assigned to each of its three lanes. The Crabs advanced with their guns laid on the enemy strongpoint in front and with 7th Royal Tanks providing covering fire. Although the assault began well, the Crabs came under fire from the right flank when halfway through the minefield. Their tormentor was a gun sited below a ridge crest and which could not be seen as it tried to pick off the slow-moving Crabs at a range of about 400 yards. Although smoke was laid quickly, the gun took its toll of the Crabs, hitting the lead tank and blowing off its turret; the entire crew became casualties. The second tank struck a mine but, fortunately, came to a stop hulldown to the enemy gun, the rounds from which passed overhead. The remaining three Crabs continued with their task, sweeping through the minefield and right up to the enemy strongpoint. At that stage, the troop leader’s tank was hit and caught fire immediately. Second Lieutenant Charles Neil, aged twenty, died with his crew.

The two surviving Crabs were ordered back to widen the lane but one blew up en route leaving a single Crab to return to the start line. Even so, a lane sixteen feet wide had been created by 6.45pm. In the circumstances this was a considerable achievement. Similar opposition met those working on the other two lanes of Laura. Shot at from the flank and dealing with thickly-strewn mines in very soft ground, Lieutenant Mundy’s 2nd Troop lost two Crabs to mines. In spite of this the attack was pressed home, even though there were delays caused by the heavy German wire jamming rotors, and by 7.00pm a thirty-feet-wide lane was open.

On the left Sergeant Smyth with his four Crabs pushed through almost to their objective before two Crabs were knocked out by mines and another was hit by an armour-piercing shell from that gun on the flank. Shortly afterwards, this tank was also hit by a squirt of flame from a Crocodile but the crew escaped with no serious injuries. Smyth turned his Crab around to widen the lane which, at 7.30pm, was open for the follow-up troops.

Meanwhile 617 Assault Squadron’s role was to pass through the lanes thus created to support 49th Division’s infantry as they attacked the enemy strongpoints.

In doing so they had several AVREs knocked out by 88mm fire and mines, but the surviving AVREs carried out their tasks, silencing enemy guns and petarding concrete pillboxes. During the first night of this action, Lance Sergeant Finan, with three men of his AVRE crew, worked dismounted for six hours clearing mines and roadblocks from a road that was vital to the advance. They were under small arms and mortar fire for most of the time, and set a fine example of courage and enterprise. Lance Sergeant Finan received the MM for this exploit.

Just over a month later Lance Sergeant Charles Finan would earn a Bar to the MM he earned that day.

By nightfall 49th Division’s battalions had overcome the south plateau’s defences and strongpoints in the Harfleur area to begin an advance eastwards through le Havre. By then the two squadrons of 22nd Dragoons had been ordered to rally, ‘an order easier to give than to carry out’ since twenty-nine Crabs and three command Shermans had been knocked out or damaged badly while nine men had been killed and seven wounded. For their actions that day, ‘their resolution in pressing home the assault and for their gallantry in getting the wounded back under shellfire’, Major Renton and Captain Thomas Barraclough were awarded the Military Cross, ‘decorations that also honoured the squadron as a whole, which had refused to be shaken at a moment critical for the success of the whole operation’.

The Highlanders’ attack used three lanes cleared by teams of 1st Lothians and Border Yeomanry and AVREs but their H Hour was 11.00pm and although they used artificial moonlight to light their way it proved of little use. As well as the Lothians’ Crabs, AVREs used Snakes to clear gaps in minefields for the infantry: two troops of 16 Assault Squadron and one of 284 Squadron deployed to support the Division in making three gaps. On each gap the order of march was an AVRE followed by the Lothians’ troop commander, two AVREs with Snakes, an SBG AVRE, and the remaining Crabs and AVREs.

Bomb craters made direction keeping difficult, and, although coloured lights and tape had been put out, so inaccurate was the Bofors tracer that the right hand column (with AVREs from 284 Assault Squadron RE) overshot the salient of the ditch and had to come in around the corner. The other two columns (with AVREs from 16 Assault Squadron RE) also veered to the right.

All succeeded in reaching the ditch, although progress was slow. One AVRE was lost when it toppled into the ditch. The leading battalion was 5th Seaforth, who set off from a start line about a mile east of Fontaine la Mallet and made for their objective, a German strongpoint on high ground north-east of Fontaine. Under heavy enemy shellfire they advanced, crossing the ditch without the aid of a bridge. However, with the Snakes blown and a bridge across the ditch by 2.40am, as well as fascines dropped, Lothians’ Crabs were able to cross and begin flailing. Four out of five Crabs in the right lane were lost to mines with a similar picture in the centre lane. However, the left lane was cleared successfully although all five Crabs later fell victims to an unexpected minefield. The surviving Crabs made two complete gaps through which the infantry were able to advance, in spite of considerable shellfire. Major Ronald Watson, who had flailed a 500-yards-long path, found himself under fire from a position that had not been known about. Realizing that its guns and machine guns could hold up the infantry advance, he attacked and destroyed the strongpoint with his 75mm, later moving forward on foot to take the surrender of some 250 Germans. Watson was awarded the MC. By dawn the Seaforth were on or close to their objectives and the other battalions of the brigade had equal success. At the same time, Major J. D. Henderson, commanding B Squadron, took stock of the state of his squadron.

All my tanks were casualties – two of them, Mertoun and Monteviot, were presumed ‘write-offs’, but the other three seemed to be repairable.

Recovery started at once.

The battle continued on the 11th with further support from heavy bombers as well as rocket-firing Typhoon fighter-bombers. On their front 49th Division wrested the southern plateau from its defenders before taking strongpoints in the Harfleur area and then pushing through le Havre itself so that by nightfall the leading troops had reached Fort de Tourneville. C Squadron 22nd Dragoons had cleared a lane through a mined orchard by mid-morning and when the infantry attacked again fifteen minutes after noon the Crabs created two gaps, blowing some fifty mines. When Crocodiles of A Squadron 141st Regiment RAC began flaming the enemy decided that they had taken enough and surrendered before 2.00pm. Meanwhile the Highlanders cleared Montgeon forest, captured Octeville and the high ground almost as far as Cap de la Hève, as well as pushing into the outskirts of le Havre to attack Fort Ste Adresse. A troop of Crabs from C Squadron Lothians, three AVREs and half of C Squadron 141st Regiment RAC captured the north-east gun position while the other half of C Squadron 141 RAC, three other AVREs and infantry took the southern gun position.

At Harfleur, the scene of Henry V’s famous siege-breaking six centuries earlier, Crabs gapped a minefield for an infantry attack on a hill position codenamed Oscar. H Hour for the attack was noon and two AVREs and an armoured bulldozer supported infantry down Route B (Left). Wade charges were used to destroy three roadblocks while craters were filled in and a road junction that had been barricaded was opened. With the dozer dealing with a large double excavation, the AVREs supported tanks as they smashed enemy positions across the valley, opening the way to Harfleur for the force. Meanwhile, on Route C, and under heavy shell and mortar fire, AVREs brought down trees with Petard fire to fill in a ditch before moving into Harfleur.

On the morning of the 12th Fort de Tourneville surrendered and Fort Ste Adresse followed suit in the afternoon. AVREs had played an important part in actions during the morning with two moving into town by the left route and clearing the way for the infantry by filling craters, demolishing one roadblock and, nearing the docks, using a Petard round to remove another roadblock. They also took 300 prisoners and their barracks. On the southern plateau a strong position continued to hold out but surrendered at noon with another 300 prisoners. An AVRE of 617 Squadron was lost in the attack, and its crew all perished, to 88 fire before another troop outflanked the position, leading to its surrender. By the time mopping up was complete some 11,300 Germans were in captivity. However, their demolition work in the harbour had been so effective that it was 9 October before it could be brought back into use.

This operation was the first large-scale example of the Assault Team technique put into practice. In spite of very bad going, and by virtue of great gallantry on the part of Crab, Crocodile and AVRE crews alike, it succeeded. The lives of many infantrymen were saved (a fact much appreciated by the Corps and Divisional Commanders in letters of appreciation), and this well-planned operation enabled the object to be achieved in the shortest possible time.

The enemy reactions were interesting: the Crabs came as a novelty to them, they thought it madness when they heard tanks entering the minefields and were later dismayed at the results. Crocodiles they condemned as ‘unfair’ and ‘un-British’ – a nice compliment. One officer prisoner reported that a whole platoon, caught in the open, had been burned to death. Had the guns been more stoutly manned there is no doubt that Crab, AVRE and Crocodile casualties would have been much higher.

Two officers of 42nd Assault Regiment – Major John Alexander MC and Captain Ambrose Warde, were decorated for their part in the operation with Alexander receiving the DSO and Warde an immediate MC. However, Alexander’s award was periodic and included his later work during operations at Overloon–Venray in October.

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PANZERGRENADIER TACTICS

I thought this article on PANZERGRENADIER TACTICS might prove of some interest, as probably the German Motorised/Panzergrenadier divisions were amongst the most versatile of the War.

Guderian always accepted that tanks could not operate alone effectively. Despite anti-infantry weaponry-usually machine guns-a tank was always vulnerable to small groups or even lone infantrymen if they were determined enough. This vulnerability was increased if the infantry had access to decent anti-tank guns or devices, but even poorly-equipped foot soldiers could prove a real danger if they had the requisite courage. Finnish tank-killing infantry destroyed about 1600 Soviet AFVs/Tanks during the Winter War of 1939-40, mostly using Molotov cocktails or even petrol filled vodka bottles. Tanks proved particularly at risk in broken terrain, such as forests and urban areas and the Finns exploited this.

When Tanks were fighting through defensive lines or moving through landscape that provided the enemy with good cover, they needed accompanying infantry to go in first to clear the way or make a breakthrough in the enemy line so the Tanks could then exploit. Thus the Panzergrenadier might very often have to fight like a conventional infantryman. Conversely, in a fast-moving advance that usually characterised German Blitzkrieg tactics he might find himself carried by a halftrack, lorry or motorcycle, or in extreme circumstances, hanging from the tank itself, ready to dismount and engage anything that slowed the Tank. Whenever tanks bypassed points or ‘pockets’ of stiff enemy resistance, it was the job of the Panzergrenadier to clear up these pockets.

Although the classic image of the Panzergrenadier is intimately associated with the SdKfz 251 half-tracked armoured personnel carrier, there were never enough of these vehicles to equip panzergrenadier formations to full strength. The concept of a carrier-borne attack into the heart of the enemy’s defences accompanying the tanks was the ideal, but the reality was somewhat more mundane. Most Panzergrenadiers were transported in soft-skinned vehicles like trucks and motorcycles. These were very vulnerable and thus caution was required when following tanks. There were no half-tracks available in the Polish campaign, and later in the War very few Pazergrenadier divisions had a full complement of these vehicles. Even within the Panzer divisions, only 1 battalion in 2 would be so equipped.


Therefore instead of driving into the midst of the enemy position, the Panzergrenadiers. normally debussed at a forming-up point or start line away from the enemy’s line of sight. They then attacked in the conventional manner of infantry supporting tanks. The key tactical advantage was that because of their motorisation, they could be brought into battle as soon as they were needed.

It was only at the time of Barbarossa in 1941 that large numbers of SdKfz 251s became widely available and enough to equip full battallions of Panzergrenadiers within a Panzer division. Now, the Germans could experiment with fighting directly from their half-tracks. Although the SdKfz 251 provided decent protection against small arms fire, they only had 13mm of armoured plate. Thus they became vulnerable to even the smallest calibre anti-tank weapon and suffered accordingly. Due to heavy losses suffered amongst half-tracks when accompanying Tanks into the heart of a battle, the Germans fairly quickly resorted to debussing at least 400m or so in front of enemy positions, when using the SD KFZ 251. Nonetheless, under certain tactical conditions, the half-track could provide a useful firing position.

At the lowest level, the basic Panzergrenadier unit was the gruppe or squad, usually about 12 men mounted in a half-track or often a truck. The squad was led by a squad leader, usually a junior NCO eg a corporal, who was armed with a machine pistol and was responsible for the squad to the platoon commander. On the move, he also commanded the vehicle and fired the vehicle mounted machine gun, usually an MG 34/42. His rifle-armed assistant was normally a lance-corporal and could lead the half squad if it was divided. The squad contained 2 light machine-gun teams, each of 2 men, four rifle-armed infantrymen and the driver and co-driver. The driver was also responsible for the care of the vehicle and expected to remain with the transport. A Panzergrenadier platoon was made up of 3 squads, with the platoon HQ in a separate vehicle. The HQ troop consisted of a platoon commander, usually a junior officer but sometimes a sergeant, a driver, a radio-operator, 2 runners, a medic and usually some form of anti-tank gun.

When the squad was transported by a half-track, the vehicle was mounted from the rear. The deputy squad leader was responsible for closing the door, thus he would sit towards the rear of the vehicle and the squad leader would sit at the front.


These vehicles were open-topped, and on the move it was usual for one man to scan the skies constantly for aircraft, whilst others kept a watch on both sides of the vehicle. When a platoon was driving together, close order, for the convoy was usually 5-10m apart in column or even abreast in open country. In combat, however, the gaps were extended to beyond 50m, and ragged lines or chequered formations were used. If the whole battalion was deployed, the preferred formation was often an ‘arrowhead’. On the whole, troop-carrying vehicles rarely averaged more than 30km per hour road speed. Even under ideal conditions, a panzer division was not expected to advance more than 20km in a day.

The SdKfz 251, drivers were prepared to simply ignore or drive through small arms fire, but the presence of enemy artillery or anti-tank guns usually saw them seek cover. The squad’s machine-gunners might well engage targets on the move, as could the rest of the squad if necessary from the sides. Often when advancing, the SdKfz 251s, could utilise a motorised version of fire and movement, advancing, stopping and firing to cover other half-tracks. A halted half-track provided a good firing position but was vulnerable. As a result, it was not recommended to stop for more than 15-20seconds in hostile terrain. The normal dismounting procedure was via the rear of the vehicle. However, in emergencies, the squad might well jump over the side as well as out of the back. This was often performed on the move at slow speeds. Once dismounted, the Panzergrenadiers fought as normal infantry. Improvements in Soviet anti-tank defences as the war advanced meant that the Panzergrenadiers often had to precede the tanks, or a mixed force of tanks and soldiers might move forward to clear enemy defences.

One of the most important German formations developed during the Soviet campaign was the PULK, a contraction of Panzer und lastkraftwagen, meaning tanks and trucks. This was a hollow wedge of tanks inside which moved the mororized infantry. The point of the wedge was formed by the best tanks and the sides by other tanks and self-propelled guns. When the wedge pierced the enemy defences, it widened the gap as it passed through. The Panzergrenadiers were then able to spread out and attack remaining areas of resistance from the flanks and rear. If the enemy’s weakest point had not been identified, the PULK could advance as a blunt quadrangle. Once a weak spot was found, the formation could incline left or right, its corner becoming the ‘point of advance’.

Although the Panzergrenadiers key role was co-operation with Tanks they could fight on their own. The very flexibility was a vital component of their value. They could fight as infantry offensive and defensive actions, assault vital strongpoints, seize bridges and clear urban or wooded areas in which the Tanks were at risk. Essentially the Panzergrenadiers was part of an all-arms team. His role grew out of the German acceptance that the Tank could not win battles alone. To quote Wilhelm Necker in 1943: ‘The Germans at an early stage in the war and even before the war understood the special weakness of the tank: its dependency on terrain and the fact it cannot occupy, but can only strike hard and break through lines. For this reason, the actual tank force was cut down to the minimum and the division reinforced with various other units, the most important being the Panzergrenadier.’

First German vehicle picture I saw as a child.

Fleischer, Wolfgang: “Die motorisierten Schutzen und Panzergrenadiere des deutschen Heeres, 1935-1945. Waffen-Fahrzeuge-Gliederung-Einsatze”, Podzun Pallas Verlag, Wolfersheim, 2000,

Riemann, Horst: “Deutsche Panzergrenadiere”,

Mittler & Sohn Verlag, Herford, 1989,

Scheibert, Horst: “Panzergrenadiere, Kradschutzen und Panzeraufklarer 1935 – 1945”, Podzun Pallas Verlag, Friedberg, ca. 1984,

Lucas/Cooper: “Panzergrenadiere im 2.Weltkrieg”,

Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 1.Auflage, 1981,

Redmon/Cuccarese: “Panzergrenadiers in action”, Broschur, Squadron/Signal Publications, (engl.) Carrollton, Texas, USA, 1980,

Senger-Etterlin,F.: “Die Panzergrenadiere, Geschichte und Gestalt der

mechanisierten Infanterie 1930 – 1960″, Lehmanns Verlag, Munchen, 1961

The Entwicklung series

The Entwicklung series, more commonly known as the E-series, was a late-World War II attempt by Germany to produce a standardised series of tank designs. There were to be standard designs in six different weight classes, from which several specialised variants were to be developed. This was necessitated by the extremely complex tank designs that had resulted in poor production rates and mechanical unreliability.

The E-series designs were simpler, cheaper to produce and more efficient than their predecessors, however their design involved only modest improvements in armour and firepower over the designs they were intended to replace, such as the Hetzer, Panther G or Tiger II, and would represent the final standardisation of German armoured vehicle design where the American M26 Pershing, the British Centurion Mk 3 and Soviet T-44 tanks, which would have been the Entwicklung series’ contemporaries and likely opponents.

E-5

The E-5 was supposed to be 5-10 tonnes in weight and form the basis of a family of light tanks, reconnaissance vehicles, tank destroyers and armored personnel carriers.

E-10

The E-10 design was developed as a replacement of the Panzer 38(t) and the designs based on it. The 38(t) chassis was enlarged and redesigned. This new design was to be called PzKpfw 38 (d), d standing for deutsch (“German”) as opposed to (t) for tschechisch (“Czech”). The designs based on this new chassis would all be in the 10 to 25 tonnes weight class.

The intention was to create several new light tank destroyers as a replacement for the Jagdpanzer 38(t), as well as a new family of Waffenträger armed with heavy anti-tank guns.

E-25

The E-25 designs, in the 25-50 tonnes weight class, were to be the replacements of all Panzer III and Panzer IV based designs. This family would include medium reconnaissance vehicles, medium Jagdpanzer and heavy Waffenträger.

E-50 Standardpanzer

The E-50 Standardpanzer was intended as a standard medium tank, replacing the Panther and Tiger I and the conversions based on these tanks. The E-50 hull was to be longer than the Panther, in fact it was practically identical to the King Tiger in overall dimensions except for the glacis plate layout. Compared to these earlier designs however, the amount of drilling and machining involved in producing these standardpanzers was reduced drastically, which would have made them quicker, easier and cheaper to produce, as would the proposed conical spring system, replacing their predecessors’ complex and costly dual torsion bar system. As indicated by its name, the weight of the E-50 would fall between 50 and 75 tonnes. Its maximum speed was planned as 60 km/h.

Other sources shows that the E-50 Standardpanze Schmalturm would have been used, with a variant of the 88 mm L/71 gun. Either a higher velocity round or a higher caliber cannon. The turret would be a variant of the early panther Turrets. The Engine was an improved Maybach HL234 which had 900 hp to 1200 hp with supercharging. Maximum speed was supposed to be 40 km/h. In many respects it was almost identical to the Panther II besides with the conical spring system.

E-75 Standardpanzer

The E-75 Standardpanzer was intended to be the standard heavy tank to be used as a replacement of the Tiger II and Jagdtiger. The E-75 would have been built on the same production lines as the E-50 for ease of manufacture, and the two vehicles were to share many components, including the same Maybach HL 234 engine. The E-75 would have had much thicker armour however, and in fact compared to the Tiger II the E-75 had improved hull armour all round. As its name indicates, the resulting vehicle would have weighed in at over 75 tonnes, reducing its speed to around 40 km/h. To offset the increased weight, the bogies were spaced differently than on the E-50, with an extra pair added on each side, giving the E-75 a slightly improved track to ground contact length.

According to some sources, the similarities between the E-50 and the E-75 went further; they were to be equipped with the same turret and 88mm L/71 or L/100 gun, along with an optical rangefinder for increased long range accuracy (German scientists and engineers had successfully designed a ‘schmal’ or narrow turret and infra-red lighting and sights for use on the prototypes of the Panther F as the war drew to a close). Other sources however, indicate that the E-75 was to be fitted with the much larger Tiger II turret, which could be adapted to accommodate an even more powerful high velocity 10.5 cm gun.

Many sources indicate that the E-75 had 185mm – 80mm of armor. The original complex suspension by torsion bars was simplified with bogies. The standard Tiger II turret was equipped with 12.8cm KwK 44 L55 gun. The Engine was an improved Maybach HL234 which had 900 hp to 1200 hp with supercharging. Maximum speed was supposed to be 40 km/h. with these impressive facts, no allied tank or anti-tank gun could defeat this tank unless if shot several times at the 80mm are.(like the Vk.1602 leopard or the Sd.Kfz. 121 Pz. Kpfw II Ausf L. “Luchs(Vk.1301)light tanks).

E-100

The E-100 was to be a superheavy combat tank like the Maus, developed from an enlarged Tiger II chassis. It was to be fitted with the same turret as the Maus, although plans are also existed for two further turret designs. Development and building of a prototype E-100 started in 1944 but was largely abandoned after Adolf Hitler ordered an end to the development of the Maus.

Only the chassis was finished. It was taken to the United Kingdom for evaluation purposes and eventually scrapped.

The turret of the tanks had three versions. One was a Tiger II version, another was the Maus turret, and the last one was the Krupp turret. The Maus turret housed 150 or 170 mm KwK gun + secondary 75 mm KwK gun. The Krupp turret housed the deadly 128 mm KwK gun + secondary 75 mm KwK gun. The Tiger-Maus Variant only had a 128 mm KwK 44 L/55 (75 rounds). Amour was 240mm-40mm.

Development drawings have been circulated for E-100 variants including an E-100 with a twin 55-mm anti-aircraft turret (Alligator) and a tank destroyer mounting a 152/170mm gun (Krokodil). Although the subject of models and much discussion, it is not clear whether these would have proceeded to production with the E-100 itself.

THE HUMBLING OF THE TANK I

Two members of an Egyptian Army Sagger missile team prepare to fire their missiles from positions in the Sinai Desert, October 1973. Typically, a Sagger team consisted of two or more commonly three men, one acting as the guidance-control operator and the others serving to transport and set up the missiles. This plate shows two 9M14 missiles connected to a single 9S415 joystick control unit, although up to four could be arranged. It was uncommon, however, to see that many missiles linked up, as after one or two missile shots it was likely that the Sagger team would have to move position as they attracted incoming fire from alerted enemy armour and infantry. The operator here mans a small trench, while a second soldier from the team occupies a slit trench nearby; once the missiles were set up, other members of the team would act as observers to identify targets but would also serve to protect the operator from infantry threats. One of the key challenges for the Sagger teams was deciding on the locations of their positions on the battlefield. If they chose highly covered positions, the terrain or other obstructions could prevent a clear long-distance view through the periscope. Conversely, positions that were too exposed would be more easily identified by enemy forces, and would quickly attract small-arms, mortar, tank and artillery fire.

In the tank staging areas along the Artillery Road, company commanders were giving final briefings when a wailing on the radio net signaled enemy air penetration. Bombs struck the compounds before the tanks could get away but none was hit.

Speeding toward the canal, they covered the distance in twenty to thirty minutes but in most cases lost the race. The sand barriers behind which they were to take up firing positions—the “fins”—were already covered by figures in sand-colored uniforms. From observing Dovecote exercises, the Egyptians knew exactly where the tanks would be heading.

“Infantry to the front,” shouted tank platoon commanders. “Attack.” It was a drill they had rehearsed repeatedly—racing forward to shoot, stampede, and literally crush the enemy. The Egyptians, however, had prepared a scenario of their own. Commandos rising from shallow foxholes with RPGs on their shoulders hit the lead tanks. Some of the commandos were cut down but others held their ground. Surprised at the resistance, tank commanders pulled back beyond effective RPG range, about three hundred yards. It was not far enough.

A platoon commander saw a red light waft lazily past him and explode against a nearby tank. The commander of the impacted tank was propelled from the turret by the pressure, like a cork from a bottle. Other lights floated in from the Egyptian rampart across the canal. The platoon commander had no idea what they might be. The answer came over the radio net. “Missiles,” said the company commander, the first to recognize the Sagger. Their three-thousand-yard range was ten times that of the RPG and their impact more deadly.

For the first time since tanks lumbered onto the battlefields of the First World War, the greatest danger they faced was not from enemy tanks or antitank guns but from individual infantrymen. Bazookas had been used by infantrymen in previous wars but never in such quantity as the RPGs were being used now or with the range and lethality of the Saggers. The Egyptian troops had been provided antitank weapons in prodigious numbers. At Shazly’s orders, Saggers were stripped from rear units and transferred to the spearhead forces. Each of the five attacking divisions had 72 infantrymen armed with Saggers and 535 with RPGs. In addition, 57 antitank guns and 90 recoilless weapons added a more conventional but no less deadly tank-killing capability. This added up to close to 800 antitank weapons per division apart from the 200 tanks attached to each division. Never had such intensive antitank fire been brought to bear on a battlefield. In addition, Israeli tank commanders, who rode with their heads out of the turret for better visibility, were vulnerable to the massive Egyptian artillery fire and to rifle and machine gun fire from infantrymen all around them. The profusion of fire was stunning. So was the grit with which the infantrymen defied the charging tanks.

The decision by Israel not to raise the embankment on its side of the canal to mask the Sinai bank from the Egyptian ramparts severely aggravated its situation. Tanks, Saggers, and antitank guns on the ramparts opposite dominated not only the Israeli forts but an area up to two miles inland from the canal. Israel’s idea of neutralizing the ramparts with long-range fire from the shelter of the fins had no validity now that Egyptian RPG teams were dug in all around them.

The air force, on which Elazar had rested his confidence, was unable to stem the Egyptian tide. Because of the SAMs, the planes could not circle over the battlefield and choose targets. Where defenses were heavy the planes resorted to “toss bombing,” in which the aircraft pulled up sharply at a calculated distance, speed, and angle to release their bombs without overflying the target itself, which could be as much as four miles away. The IAF carried out 120 sorties on the Egyptian front this day and lost four planes but the snap attacks had little impact. The Egyptian infantrymen were more vulnerable to artillery but the IDF had only a few dozen artillery pieces along the hundred-mile-long front and these were under heavy counter-battery fire.

The Bar-Lev strongpoints proved virtually useless as a defense line. For the most part, the boats simply crossed between them, out of view. The Egyptian high command had been prepared for 10,000 dead in the crossing operation but the number killed, according to the final Egyptian count, would be 280.

Defense of the Suez front fell in the opening hours on Colonel Reshef’s 91 tanks, constituting the forward brigade of General Mendler’s Sinai Division, and the 450 men in the sixteen Bar-Lev forts. Mendler’s two other brigades were at their base in central Sinai, fifty miles away, and would not reach the front for three hours.

The four northern forts on the canal were strung along a causeway between the canal and a lagoon. The northernmost, Orkal, was because of its remoteness the only one to have tanks permanently assigned—a platoon of three. With the onset of firing, pairs of tanks were dispatched by the northern battalion commander, Lt. Col. Yom Tov Tamir, to the three other causeway forts via a road through the lagoon. The pair rushing to Fort Lachtsanit, just below Orkal, were ambushed. An RPG hit the lead tank, killing its commander, but the driver bulled through and reached the entrance to Orkal. There the tank was ambushed again and another crewman killed. Soldiers came out of the fort and led in the two surviving crewmen. The second tank reached Lachtsanit but was destroyed there.

Pairs of tanks managed to reach the two causeway forts south of Lachtsanit but each pair was ordered in turn to proceed to Lachtsanit, whose radio had gone silent. All four tanks were ambushed. One crew managed to escape on the road through the lagoon on foot. The crewmen came across a downed Israeli pilot with a broken leg who refused to be carried so as not to slow them down. He was taken prisoner before a rescue vehicle reached him.

Battalion commander Tamir led the rest of his force toward two forts south of the lagoon. Several tanks bogged down in marshes, difficult to discern because they were covered by sand. Others were disabled by surface mines or hit by RPGs or Saggers.

Responding to distress calls from Fort Milano, Tamir dispatched three tanks to its assistance. Milano lay alongside the ghost town of East Kantara, abandoned in the Six Day War. Egyptian soldiers, who had now returned to the town, knocked out two tanks.

As dusk approached, Tamir was ordered to send tanks again to Lachtsanit. He sent almost all his remaining tanks together with infantrymen on half-tracks. This force too was ambushed. The war was only four hours old and Tamir’s battalion was almost entirely wiped out.

The fortunes of Reshef’s two other battalions on the line were better, but not by much. In the central sector, where most of Egypt’s Second Army was crossing, Israeli tanks scored some initial successes. Destruction of four Egyptian tanks on the enemy ramparts sent a surge of optimism along the radio net. At 4 p.m. Egyptian infantrymen were spotted already three miles east of the canal. A small armored force stopped them just before darkness and drove them back.

In the southern sector, where Egypt’s Third Army was crossing, Lt. Chanoch Sandrov halted his tank company six hundred yards from Fort Mafzeah and surveyed the terrain. There was no enemy in sight and no sign of activity on the rampart across the canal. As the company started forward again, RPG squads rose from the sand and set the lead tank afire. Sagger missiles erupted from the Egyptian rampart and an artillery barrage descended.

A rescue tank approaching the burning tank was hit by a Sagger which killed the loader. The tank’s commander was cut down in the turret by bullets. The gunner rose to take his place and was hit too. The driver turned back with his three dead or dying comrades.

Sandrov was blinded in an eye by shrapnel and pulled back briefly to have a crewman apply a bandage. Resuming command, he ordered his deputy, Lt. Avraham Gur, to comb the area south of the fort with half the tanks while he swept north with the rest. When Gur passed close to the Israeli embankment, an Egyptian with an RPG rose on the slope above. Gur, standing in the open turret, ordered his driver to turn right. As the tank swung, throwing up a cloud of dust, the RPG shell exploded alongside. “When the dust settles,” Gur shouted, “fire.” A moment later the gunner said, “I see his face,” and fired. Gur saw the Egyptian soldier lifted into the air and disintegrate.

Gur rejoined Sandrov’s force just as a missile coming off the Egyptian rampart struck the company commander’s tank. Gur ran to it and found Sandrov and his loader dead. The lieutenant took the other two crewmen, both wounded, into his own tank. A tank fifty yards away was struck by a missile and Gur climbed onto that too. The tank commander was slumped inside. Gur took his wrist but there was no pulse. Calling for artillery cover, he began evacuating the wounded.

In late afternoon, the canal-side embankment began to fill again as Egyptian infantry clambered up from boats. Lt. Col. Emanuel Sakel, commanding the southern battalion, formed armored personnel carriers into line with Gur’s remaining tanks and led a charge. The Egyptians broke, many of them throwing away their weapons. The waterline had been regained in this sector but only two tanks remained in action, Sakel’s and Gur’s. Sakel told Gur to begin towing damaged tanks to the rear. The battalion commander’s tank remained near Mafzeah to cover the fort against infantry attack.

Five miles south, another of Sakel’s companies, commanded by Capt. David Kotler, broke up an infantry attack on Fort Nissan. But no matter how many Egyptians were hit, others sprouted in their place. Kotler’s deputy, Lt. Yisrael Karniel, saw a Sagger wafting toward his tank just as he was shot in the shoulder. Falling back into the turret, he shouted “hard right” and passed out. The tank swerved sharply and the missile exploded harmlessly beyond it. A platoon leader went to Karniel’s aid but his own tank was struck a blow that brought it to a shuddering halt. A Sagger had hit just above the gun, where the metal was thickest. It did not penetrate and the driver was able to restart. Reaching Karniel, the officer tied a stretcher to the hull of his own tank and strapped him on it. As they started toward nearby Fort Mezakh, the tank was hit again, this time by an artillery shell. The stretcher was lifted into the air and slammed back down. The platoon leader was certain that Karniel was dead until he heard him groan. They reached the fort without further incident.

Toward evening, the doctor at Mezakh asked for urgent evacuation of the wounded. The fort, the southernmost on the Bar-Lev Line, was located on an artificial spit of land projecting into the Gulf of Suez. Kotler headed there together with Lt. David Cohen. As they approached, Cohen’s tank hit a mine. The commandos who had placed it rose from foxholes and fired at the stricken tank. Kotler drove them to ground with machine gun fire and closed up behind Cohen’s tank. At Kotler’s signal, Cohen and his crew leaped aboard while Kotler kept the Egyptians’ heads down. At a rear staging area, Cohen took over a tank whose commander had been wounded. By now, all that remained of the eleven tanks Kotler had started out with three hours before were his and Cohen’s.

#

Reshef’s brigade was being relentlessly eroded as it tried to enforce Elazar’s dictum of “killing them on the canal.” The aim was to deny the Egyptians territorial gain and thus discourage future attacks. But this was turning out to be a grievous miscalculation, particularly in view of the enormous disparity of forces. Instead of demonstrating the power of armor, the Israeli tanks were engaging in a wild brawl they could not win. They were up against masses of infantry armed with weapons that could kill a tank as easily as a tank could kill them.

A report half an hour before sunset of bridge sections being assembled in the water near Purkan was the first clear indication to Reshef that the Egyptians were intending to put their army into Sinai. He dispatched a newly arrived company led by Lt. Moshe Bardash to attack the bridging site. The setting sun was in Bardash’s eyes as his eight tanks approached the canal. There was an indistinct vision of infantrymen on the road, then a hail of RPGs. Several tanks were hit. The tankers fired blindly into the haze. Bardash, wounded, ordered his tanks to pull back.

At a safe distance, the tanks halted and Reshef’s operations officer, who had been guiding Bardash’s force to the bridge site, assembled the tank commanders to explain what they were up against—the copious use of RPGs, the boldness and overwhelming number of enemy infantry, and, particularly, the Sagger missile.

Such impromptu lessons were going on all along the front as new units took the field alongside tank crewmen who had survived the day.

Saggers, the “veterans” explained, were a formidable danger but not an ultimate weapon. They could not be used close-up since they required several hundred yards of flight before they “acquired” their target. They could be seen in flight and were slow enough to dodge. It took about ten seconds for a missile to complete its flight—at extreme range it could be twice that—during which time the Sagger operator had to keep the target in his sights as he guided the missile by the bright red flare on its tail. From the side it was easy for the tankers to see the flare. As soon as anyone shouted “Missile” on the radio net all tanks would move back and forth in order not to present a stationary target. The movement would also throw up dust that would cloud the Sagger operator’s view. Simultaneously, the tanks would fire in the operator’s presumed direction, which in itself could be sufficient to throw him off his aim.

The RPG would prove deadlier this day than the Sagger. As long as the Israelis were fighting near the water’s edge, the Saggers were fired during daylight from the Egyptian rampart. But RPG teams lying in shallow foxholes were a close-up threat day and night as the tanks attempted to reach the canal-side forts. The profusion of RPGs took the Israelis aback. Tank commanders learned to examine the terrain for possible ambushers before moving forward. There could be no such precaution at night.

#

Even before the sun set on Yom Kippur day, it was clear to the tank crews on the front line that something revolutionary was happening—as revolutionary, it seemed, as the introduction of the machine gun or the demise of the horse cavalry. Tanks, which had stalked the world’s battlefields since the First World War like antediluvian beasts, were now being felled with ease by ordinary foot soldiers. It would take time before the implications of this extraordinary development were grasped by higher command. Meanwhile, the tankers were figuring out for themselves how to survive.

#

Emerging from a rabbit hole when the shelling lifted, Sgt. Shlomo Shechori saw soldiers trying to get through the barbed wire surrounding his outpost near Fort Lituf. He thought they were reinforcements from the main fort until he noticed the sand-colored uniforms and heard shouts in Arabic. When the Egyptian squad was ten yards away in the winding trench, he rose and emptied his magazine at them before slipping through a hole in the fence. Halfway to the main fort, he dropped to the ground. Lituf was surrounded by an Egyptian company pouring fire into it.

Shechori made his way to the nearby road and saw three Israeli tanks racing toward the fort, firing as they came. His dark uniform identified him as Israeli and the lead tank stopped alongside. Capt. Boaz Amir beckoned Shechori aboard. The officer, who commanded the northernmost of Sakel’s three companies, posted the sergeant in the turret alongside him. Shechori tried to hug him but the officer stopped him. “Save the kisses till this is over,” he said, handing the sergeant a grenade. Other grenades were stashed within reach. “Anyone you see is Egyptian,” said the officer. “Throw grenades and use your Uzi.”

The tanks swept through the fort compound, spewing fire and running over enemy soldiers who tried to hit them with RPGs. Within minutes, the surviving Egyptians had pulled back. Amir decided that he too would have to withdraw because of fire from the Egyptian rampart.

As he left the compound, he saw three Soviet-make APCs. Soldiers aboard them waved in greeting. The IDF had units made up of Soviet vehicles captured in the Six Day War but these vehicles were the sand color of the Egyptian army. On the other hand, the Egyptians could not have put up bridges across the canal this quickly. Captain Amir radioed headquarters and reported what he saw. Is there any Israeli unit with Soviet-made APCs in the vicinity? he asked. “No,” came the reply. A moment later the three APCs were smoking hulks.

Lifting his gaze, the company commander saw a mass of APCs and tanks approaching. They constituted the southern wing of the amphibious brigade which had crossed the Bitter Lake. Amir was moving his tanks into firing positions when Lituf called again for assistance. He sent two tanks to the fort and with the four remaining opened fire. In the ensuing exchange, twenty-six Egyptian vehicles, mostly APCs, were set aflame, with the loss of one Israeli tank.

The Egyptian infantrymen who escaped the APCs deployed with Saggers and RPGs. His ammunition depleted, Amir ordered the three remaining tanks to fire short machine gun bursts to keep the infantrymen at bay until reinforcements arrived.

The Israeli command would conclude that the amphibious force was intended to link up with commandos landing at the Gidi Pass in order to block Israeli reserve forces on their way to the front. The large number of personnel carriers may have been intended to bring the commandos back after completing their mission. But most of the helicopters had been shot down.

The sounds of Amir’s battle reached 1st Sgt. Haim Yudelevitz on the roof of a building in the Mitzvah staging area, several miles to the rear, where he was keeping lookout. A dozen soldiers, mostly technicians and medics, sheltered in a bunker from the intermittent shelling. A tank had returned from the front earlier with its wounded commander. A second tank arrived now from a maintenance workshop at the rear. It had no machine guns and no crew except for the driver, Sgt. Moshe Rosman, who joined Yudelevitz on the roof. Toward evening, the pair saw a cloud of dust heading in their direction. As it drew closer, the sergeants identified ten Egyptian amphibious vehicles, including at least one tank.

Sergeant Rosman told the crew of the wounded officer’s tank that he was taking command. He removed the tank’s two machine guns for use by the men at Mitzvah to defend the post and set out in the tank with the rest of the crew to meet the approaching force. Yudelevitz had meanwhile gathered two nonfunctioning machine guns from a storeroom and, cannibalizing parts from one, made the other operable. He hauled it up to the roof along with ammunition belts. The Egyptian APCs halted a mile away. Officers formed the soldiers into line and then advanced, first slowly and then at a trot. Yudelevitz opened fire at two hundred yards. Many Egyptians went down, either hit or taking cover. Others began to edge around to the flank. Yudelevitz descended and deployed the men along the perimeter fence, ordering them to fire short bursts at random in the gathering dusk from the machine guns Rosman had provided.

Rosman meanwhile spotted a line of APCs at 1,500 yards. His gunner hit two. The others dispersed among the dunes. Rosman took up pursuit and hit two more. Yudelevitz returned to the roof and ranged him in by radio on a tank a mile away which Rosman’s gunner set aflame.

Darkness now descended. It seemed that the Egyptian force, what was left of it, had pulled back. Rosman and his crew remained in their tank seven hundred yards from the compound. After half an hour, Yudelevitz reported that he could hear vehicles nearby. Rosman turned and saw two armored personnel carriers at the entrance to the compound. His gunner dispatched them with two shells. Flames from the burning vehicles briefly lit the area.

Rosman positioned the tank at the compound entrance and remained there with the engine off, the better to hear. Half an hour later, he sensed movement to his front. Thirty Egyptian soldiers appeared out of the darkness, the closest only three yards away. They plainly regarded the silent tank as incapacitated. In a whisper, Rosman told the driver to start the engine. As it sprang to life, he tossed grenades and shouted, “Run them down.” Those Egyptians left alive pulled back into the desert.

Two tank maintenance sergeants, acting on their own initiative with a pickup team of soldiers, had broken the Egyptian drive in this sector.

#

Anticipating an Arab air strike well before dusk, Air Force Commander Peled had ordered patrol planes aloft at 1:30 p.m. His move quickly paid off. A reservist Mirage pilot patrolling over the Mediterranean shortly after 2 p.m. saw what seemed a MiG heading toward the coast. It moved sluggishly and when he fired at it and sent it spinning into the water, it blew up with a ferocious bang. He had hit a Kelt air-to-ground missile fired from well offshore by an Egyptian Tupolev bomber which had already turned back to Egypt. A Kelt fired by a second Tupolev had fallen into the sea. In lieu of Scuds, the Egyptian command was using the Kelt, homing on a radar in the center of the country, as a warning that it could retaliate in kind if Israel struck its hinterland. With the sounding of the sirens, some planes at air force bases still armed with bombs were ordered to take off immediately and drop their bombs in the sea so that they could move into their patrol sector.

The most notable air battle this day took place at Sharm el-Sheikh, the remote southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where Israel maintained small military bases. The IAF had allocated only two Phantoms to its defense. The two pilots and two navigators, all fresh out of flight school, were in their cockpits on the runway at 2 p.m. when the flight controller reported numerous aircraft approaching. The Phantoms took off and plunged into a formation of twenty-six MiGs from opposite ends. Within half an hour, the rookies had together downed seven planes, far better than any of the numerous aces in the Israeli Air Force would do this day. Although the runway had been holed by bombs, the pair managed to land safely. The Egyptians had succeeded in firing Kelt missiles which destroyed the naval station’s radar and damaged communications.

THE HUMBLING OF THE TANK II

Two M60A1 tanks of the IDF’s 87th Armored Reconnaissance Battalion come under an enemy Sagger attack during the assault on Chinese Farm. The tank to the right has already been hit and destroyed by two Sagger strikes – the penetration holes are clearly visible on the rear turret, the metal surrounding the holes rippled with the sheer heat and blast of the hollow-charge warhead cutting through. Fuel and ammunition have ignited, the fire consuming the vehicle. The surviving tank is taking evasive action, steering hard left even as another Sagger missile zips past, the control guidance wire still spooling out from behind it. (One sign that a tank had been hit by a Sagger might be long lengths of the control wire snaking around the outside of the vehicle, and coiled up on the ground.) The tank is also laying down fire from its main gun onto the suspected Sagger positions, aiming to kill the exposed teams or at least disrupt the concentration required to keep the crosshairs on target during flight. The M60A1’s .50-calibre and .30-calibre machine guns would also be used to put down heavy suppressive fire.

Col. Oded Marom, a former Phantom squadron commander recently transferred to a desk job at air force headquarters in Tel Aviv, found himself superfluous Yom Kippur afternoon and drove to an air base in search of gainful employment. Two Mirages on standby were waiting at the end of a runway when his car passed. The pilots recognized him and one, who had to attend to a call of nature, signaled him to take his place. Marom did not recognize either of the pilots because of their helmet visors but he hurried to a dressing room to don flying gear and returned to relieve the pilot. The latter had just disappeared from view when the control tower ordered the Mirages to take off. The air controller started the pair toward Sinai but then ordered them to turn north on full power. Over the Golan, the Mirages jumped four MiGs attacking Israeli ground forces, shooting down one apiece. Marom only now recognized his wingman from his voice as Mirage squadron commander Avi Lanir. Twenty minutes after taking off, they were back at base where Marom handed over the plane to the original pilot, who was furious at having missed his first chance at a combat sortie. (Marom would continue flying for a few days with his old Phantom squadron, scoring more kills, before being recalled to duty at air force headquarters. Lanir would be shot down within a few days over the Syrian lines. He would die under interrogation.)

The main contribution of the air force to the ground battle in Sinai this day was the downing of helicopters trying to land commandos. Of forty-eight commando-bearing helicopters that crossed into South Sinai, twenty would be downed by the IAF and by ground fire, many loaded with troops.

A photo reconnaissance plane, flying at thirty thousand feet well inside Sinai to keep out of range of the SAMs, took photographs of the Canal Zone and beyond for AMAN. Although the air force took the photos, it was military intelligence which decided on distribution.

The canal photos taken on Yom Kippur afternoon were not seen by General Peled until two weeks later. To his astonishment, they showed Egyptian tanks and other vehicles lined up for miles, virtually bumper to bumper, waiting to cross the bridges. Had he known of this stationary target in real time, Peled would say, he would have attacked despite the profusion of SAMs in the area. It would have meant the loss of two to four planes, he estimated, but it would have wrought greater destruction than the fleeing Egyptian army had suffered in Sinai in 1967. It was precisely this picture that Motti Hod had envisioned in drawing up Srita, the plan that was never executed.

#

Reshef’s battered brigade had been holding the line alone for more than three hours when Mendler’s two other brigades reached the battlefield shortly before dusk. Dan Shomron’s brigade took over the southern sector from the remains of Sakel’s battalion. Gabi Amir’s brigade, made up of staff and cadets from the Armored Corps School, moved to Reshef’s northern flank, where Yom Tov Tamir’s battalion had been destroyed. Each of the brigades detached units to reinforce Reshef’s depleted force in the center.

Shomron had been unable to make radio contact with division headquarters while traversing the Gidi Pass. Emerging, he telephoned Mendler from a small army base.

“What’s the situation?” he asked.

“Grave,” replied Mendler. “The Egyptians are crossing along the entire front. Do the best you can.”

The brigade commander pressed for details. What was the status of Sakel’s battalion, which was now to come under Shomron’s command? How deep had the Egyptians penetrated?

Mendler said he didn’t know. “Do the best you can,” he repeated.

Shomron ordered one battalion under Maj. David Shuval to continue to Fort Lituf, near where Boaz Amir was still holding out. Emerging from between high dunes, Shuval’s battalion came on a score of Egyptian APCs and tanks, the northern wing of the amphibious brigade. The Israeli tank commanders were surprised to encounter Egyptian armor already more than six miles inside Sinai and made quick work of them. Captain Amir’s three remaining tanks were down to their last machine gun bullets when they saw Shuval’s battalion topping a rise two miles to their rear with lights on. Shuval continued past them and engaged more than a score of intact Egyptian APCs closer to the shore of the Bitter Lake. By 9 p.m. all were burning and Shuval’s tanks stood at the water’s edge, without having suffered a loss. The sense of easy victory would not last long.

Shomron’s other battalion had meanwhile proceeded south along the Lateral Road for an hour in the darkness and then turned west toward Mezakh, the southernmost fort on the Bar-Lev Line. Surface mines and RPG teams blocked the way.

At Mafzeah, a newly arrived company linked up with Sakel, who had been maintaining lone vigil for hours. Sakel led the tanks forward in a sweep of the embankment.

What concerned Reshef most was the unmonitored gaps between the forts. Some were wide enough to put an army through, which was precisely what was happening. At dusk, he ordered a newly arrived company to reconnoiter the twelve-mile gap between Matsmed and Purkan in the center of the line. Reshef sent one of his officers as a guide. It was almost dark when the guide, in the lead, called out, “Infantry to the front. Break right.” The day’s experience had already amended the standing order of “Infantry to the front, charge.” Infantry now merited a respectful distance.

The company commander, Maj. Avraham Shamir, saw figures rise from foxholes. His tank was hit glancing blows by RPGs three times but none penetrated and he kept pressing westward. The fourth time, he was wounded. Reshef contacted him to ask what was happening. The company commander was too dazed to respond coherently. The officer guiding them was dead, the tanks were scattered, and radio contact had been lost with most. Reshef ordered him to pull back. Shamir retired a short distance and lit his projector. The remaining tanks, all with wounded aboard, assembled on him. Scorched by this baptism of fire, the company moved off to the rear. With the failure of the patrol, Reshef ordered a tank platoon guarding Fort Matsmed to reconnoiter northward. It too was driven back, its commander wounded.

A newly arrived company commanded by Lt. Zeev Perl resumed the attack toward Hizayon. Drawing fire, the tanks charged toward the source. Most were hit, including Perl’s. He was temporarily blinded and the gunner took his place in the turret. Perl ordered his tanks to pull back but the driver lost his direction. The tank was still traveling toward the canal when it was hit again. Perl called to the loader and the gunner but got no response. Reaching out, he touched their bodies. When the driver slowed to get his bearings, Egyptian soldiers leaped on the tank in an attempt to drop grenades through the open turret. The driver swerved sharply, throwing them off, and then ran over them. The tank stopped only when it went into a bog. The driver extricated Perl, who told him to take the maps and canteens. They proceeded east on foot, the driver leading the blinded officer by the hand for eight hours. Close to dawn they reached a staging area where Perl was evacuated to an aid station. (His sight would return.)

As the night wore on, units were ordered to disengage and tow disabled tanks to the rear. Repairs were imperative if there was to be anything left of the division in the morning.

#

Meanwhile, in South Sinai as night descended, Israeli forces braced for more Egyptian commando landings along the two hundred miles of coastline south of the Suez Canal. The commander of naval forces at Sharm el-Sheikh, Capt. Zeev Almog, kept patrol boats at sea in anticipation of an Egyptian attempt to land supplies and reinforcements for the commandos helicoptered across the Gulf of Suez. At 10 p.m., two of the vessels picked up radar images of dozens of small craft approaching across the gulf. In the light of flares dropped by a patrolling plane, they saw rubber boats filled with commandos and opened fire. The rubber boats fled into an area of reefs where the Israeli vessels could not follow and succeeded in making their way back to the far shore.

The MiG attack in the afternoon had knocked out radio communications between Almog and two patrol boats at the northern end of the gulf. At 10 p.m., the patrol commander, Ensign Zvi Shahack, was startled to be called directly by the commander of the navy, Adm. Binyamin Telem, speaking from the navy’s war room in Tel Aviv. Intelligence had reported Egyptian plans to transport commandos to the Israeli-held shore this night in fishing boats. The admiral ordered the ensign to cross the gulf and attack any craft he found.

Feeling his way down the dark desert coast, Shahack entered a small anchorage at Marse Telemat while the other patrol boat remained outside. Switching on his projector, he saw fishing boats anchored around the rim of the bay. In the center was a large patrol boat attached to a buoy. Two rubber boats alongside it were filled with commandos in wet suits. Shahack and his crew opened fire as they moved counterclockwise around the anchorage, setting boats ablaze. Points of light showed where Egyptians were shooting back.

The boat shuddered to a stop when it ran onto a reef. Shahack switched off the projector and summoned the other boat to sweep the harbor. Shahack’s chief mechanic, taking off a boot and shoving his sock into a hole in a water pipe, managed to get the engine started. Shahack worked the boat off the reef. The other boat also hung up briefly on a reef but freed itself. The two vessels left the anchorage with half their crews wounded and one man dead but the sky behind them had turned red from burning boats.

#

Although beginning to grasp the magnitude of the Egyptian attack, the Israeli command had still not absorbed the disastrous nature of its preplanned response—Dovecote. The Egyptians had converted an offensive initiative—the crossing of the canal—into a defensive battle, with the odds on their side. The Israeli tank crews and commanders were fighting with exceptional bravery but their erosion was inevitable as they hurled themselves again and again at the masses of Egyptian infantry waiting for them to do precisely that. The concept of armor shock had been reversed by the Egyptians’ new weapons and tactics—it was armor that was being shocked by infantry.

At 6:30 p.m. Elazar held his first staff meeting of the war. The IDF, he noted, had never before begun a war on the defensive, something it knew about only in theory. Zeira said that according to the Egyptian plan they would push eastward the next day with their armored divisions and hope to reach the Sinai passes in three to five days. The intelligence chief made no mention of the revised plan that the Mossad had passed on from Marwan to AMAN which called for an advance of only five to six miles, not forty miles.

Elazar authorized Gonen to evacuate canal-side forts that were not an impediment to a major canal crossing. However, Gonen did not issue evacuation orders. Instead of pulling back to reorganize, Mendler and Gonen continued to try to stop the Egyptians on the waterline in adherence to a political directive whose wisdom was dubious when conceived and which made no sense at all now. Unlike the tank crews who were adjusting to the Saggers, neither the division nor front commanders were coming to grips with the new realities. They clung mechanically to Dovecote when it should have been clear that a single division could not hold the waterline against a five-division crossing and that the air force could not take up the slack.

#

The surprise attack had a paralyzing effect on much of the Israeli command. “You break into a cold sweat and your mind freezes up,” a deputy division commander would later say. “You have difficulty getting into gear and you react by executing the plans you’ve already prepared, even if they’re no long relevant.” Mental circuits shorted as commanders tried to simultaneously grasp what was happening, how it could have happened, and what had to be done.

The men in the field, soldiers and officers, were spared these excruciating deliberations. They only had to figure out how to stop the enemy and stay alive. Battalion commander Emanuel Sakel would relate that his men went through the difficult battles “like Prussians,” without despair. “If your men see you in your turret, everything is all right.” A brigade commander would later say that officers in his category, even when they continued to function and seemed unaffected, generally needed two days before the shock wore off.

General Gonen, still at his headquarters in Beersheba, more than 150 miles from the front, tried to discern from the reports pouring in where the main Egyptian crossing points were. Around midnight, he asked Elazar for permission to attack an Egyptian position half a mile north of Orkal. He was oblivious to the fact that the causeway leading to Orkal was a death trap that had consumed every tank that reached it. His proposal, which would have put Israeli forces in a better position to attack Port Said, was totally irrelevant to the desperate defensive battle under way along the canal. Permission was not granted.

At 1:30 a.m., with most of Mendler’s tanks already knocked out, Gonen told the journalists attached to his headquarters that the Egyptian crossing was a failure since they had not moved their armor across the canal. In fact, several hundred Egyptian tanks attached to infantry divisions had already crossed, although they would not go into action until the morning. “Gonen arrived at conclusions without taking counsel,” General Adan would write. “Instead of having his staff officers take part in the process of assessing situations, he relied on his intuition, based on his previous experience with the Egyptians, whom he held in deep contempt.” Not until 2 a.m., twelve hours after the war’s start, did Gonen fly by helicopter to his forward command post at Umm Hashiba.

Division commander Mendler did not share Gonen’s illusions but he too did not draw the necessary conclusions from the picture unfolding before him. In the war room of the Sinai division, General Mendler sat quietly to the side, his eyes fixed on the large wall map which his staff was constantly updating. Having issued his brigade commanders their marching orders—basically, to defend the canal line—he gave hardly any further instructions and rarely spoke on the radio net. His injunction to Shomron—“Do the best you can”—was the last directive the brigade commander received from him this day. To an officer in the room, Mendler seemed to wear a thin, bitter smile as he stared fixedly at the map. “I said to myself,” the officer would later recall, “why doesn’t the man talk? A whole world that he built and trained for is collapsing in front of him and he keeps silent.” The red circles and arrows his aides drew on the map were a parody of Dovecote, showing Egyptian bridgeheads expanding and Israeli units being pushed back. Periodically, Mendler would disappear into his office until the next staff meeting. He did not have the authority to order the evacuation of the forts but he did not request it.

The garrisons on the Bar-Lev Line could not understand why they were being asked to remain in the beleaguered forts when the circumstances were clearly hopeless. The decision not to evacuate them would prove calamitous for both the garrisons and the tanks trying to reach them. In some forts, most of the men were already casualties. Those who weren’t were mostly service personnel, not combat troops. They pleaded with the tankers who reached them to take them out. The request was passed up the command chain but the response was negative.

Darkness provided cover for the Egyptian tank hunters who were now covering all approaches to the forts. Capt. Yaron Ram, commanding a force at Lituf, sent two tanks to locate a disabled tank. The rescue tanks were ambushed and communication with them lost. Shortly before dawn, one of their gunners came on the radio. Keeping his voice low, he said that only he and another crewman were still alive. They had been fending off Egyptian soldiers for more than an hour but ammunition was almost gone and they were now using grenades whenever enemy soldiers drew close. Captain Ram asked him to indicate his whereabouts by firing a shell. A moment later, a flash could be seen two miles away.

Three tanks were sent to the rescue. As they drew close, one was disabled by an RPG and the others driven back. Ram asked Major Shuval for permission to go himself with the three tanks remaining. Shuval refused. Ram’s tanks were the only force blocking the road to the Gidi Pass. Ram told the trapped gunner that his only chance was to play dead when the Egyptian soldiers climbed aboard. Two minutes later, the tank’s radio went silent. When the tank was recovered the next day, the gunner and his comrade were dead inside.

Reshef received the last of the division’s reserves at 1 a.m., a battalion under Lt. Col. Amram Mitzna. On its way toward Hizayon, fire was opened from the side of the road. The tanks’ projectors revealed several dozen soldiers firing from shallow foxholes. “Attack,” ordered Mitzna. The Egyptian infantrymen rose with RPGs as the tanks charged. They were tall black men, apparently Sudanese. Some managed to get off shots but all were cut down. One tank officer was killed.

Close to the canal, the battalion passed between two rows of stationary tanks, some of whose crews were sitting on the ground drinking coffee. It was an encampment of Egyptian T-55 tanks which had just crossed. The surprise was mutual. After a brief exchange of fire, Mitzna broke contact.

#

Air attacks on the bridges were called off at midnight. It was more dangerous flying at night because the pilots could not gauge the distance of the SAMs fired at them in the dark and thus could not outmaneuver them.

Twice during the night, Israeli tanks broke through to the canal and inflicted damage on bridges and ferries. “Through the night, commanders of [Israeli] sub-units, even individual tanks, fight on,” General Shazly would write in his war diary. “They are evidently made of better stuff than their senior commanders.”

A battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Amir Yoffe was ordered to link up with Forts Mifreket and Milano in the northern sector. The thirty-three-year-old Yoffe, nephew of a distinguished general, had a reputation as a hard-bitten, punctilious professional—the kind of officer, General Adan would say, whom you would not want to serve under in peacetime but to whom you would readily entrust your life in war. During the hasty organization of combat formations at the armor school the day before, he had not noticed that his younger brother, Eyal, a cadet in an officer’s course, had been assigned to him as a tank commander.

Yoffe was guided through the boggy terrain by Yom Tov Tamir, whose battalion had been destroyed a few hours before. Yoffe first proceeded with half his tanks to Mifreket where they engaged RPG teams swarming over the approaches. Entering the fort, Tamir found that the radioman was now in command. Tamir’s request by radio that the garrison be evacuated was denied.

Firing at a bridge north of the fort, a tank stalled on the canal embankment but continued shooting even though it was now a sitting target. The gunner, Sgt. Yadin Tannenbaum, a flautist, had been hailed before his army service as a musical prodigy. The nineteen-year-old had been singled out for praise by conductor Leonard Bernstein. After hitting the bridge, Tannenbaum knocked out a bulldozer widening a passage through the Israeli rampart and then hit an Egyptian tank coming through the opening. A shell hit his tank, killing him and his tank commander.

Sgt. Eyal Yoffe’s tank followed that of his platoon commander, Lt. Michael Vardi, through a narrow, S-shaped entrance into the Mifreket compound. He could hear shouts in Arabic in the trenches. He and his men fired into the darkness around them with their machine guns and Uzis. As they approached the main bunker, members of the garrison ran out and climbed atop Vardi’s tank. The officer descended and led them back to the bunker. He had orders, he said, to evacuate only wounded. He tried to assure the remainder that rescue would shortly come. Eyal Yoffe, in his tank outside, heard his brother on the radio ordering Vardi to join him north of the fort. Without identifying himself, Eyal said he would pass on the message.

It was difficult for him to grasp that this was reality, not an exercise. Darkness added to the disorientation. As Eyal followed Vardi northward, he saw an Egyptian tank thirty yards away. In his excitement, he forgot the protocol for issuing a fire command. “Ehud,” he shouted to his gunner. “Quick. A tank to the right. Fire.” The first shot hit. In the light of the burning tank, its four crewmen descended and ran toward his tank. Eyal stopped them with his machine gun. His tank hit an Egyptian bulldozer and fired at the bridge. Reality had begun to disentangle itself.

From time to time, Eyal Yoffe and Vardi reentered Mifreket to strike at Egyptians who had returned and to encourage the men in the bunker with their fire. Before dawn, the garrison’s wounded, together with wounded tankers, were placed aboard Eyal’s tank for evacuation. One man had lost both legs and an arm. Eyal saw his brother issuing orders nearby. The battalion commander did not recognize him in the darkness until he heard his voice. He was startled to discover that his kid brother was serving under him.

“How you doing, Ili?” he asked.

“Doing fine,” responded Eyal, taking off his tanker’s helmet for this moment of intimacy.

Transporting the wounded to the rear, he returned to Mifreket as it began to dawn. Lieutenant Vardi, he discovered, was dead. Most of the remaining tanks were either mired in marshes or trying to extricate others which were.

The Yoffe brothers, together with another tank commander, fired on enemy vehicles moving inland until Eyal’s tank was hit by a Sagger. His brother placed him inside his own tank. Eyal had suffered burns on his face and could not speak but nodded to indicate to his brother that he would be all right.

As Tamir had done, Yoffe requested evacuation of the Mifreket garrison. Colonel Shomron was likewise asking permission to evacuate the forts in the southern sector. “If we don’t do it now we won’t be able to do it in the morning,” he said. Mendler said he had not been authorized to evacuate the forts.

Tamir had gone back to guide brigade commander Amir and the rest of Yoffe’s battalion to Milano. The fourteen-tank column moved through East Kantara, a ghost town since its abandonment in the Six Day War. But Egyptian troops had now returned. Two tanks became lost in side streets and were destroyed by RPGs.

Reaching Milano, Colonel Amir found the situation surprisingly calm. The fort commander, Captain Trostler, said they had beaten off several attacks during the day and had sunk a number of boats crossing the canal. He had lost four men but the defenses were intact and he was not in need of help. Tamir led the tanks out before first light by a route that avoided Kantara. Of the fourteen tanks, only five returned. Of the eighteen tanks Yoffe had brought to Mifreket, another five returned. Had they been authorized to evacuate the forts there would have been purpose to their sacrifice.

In the southern sector, the commander of a lone tank reported that he had stalled. He was told to put his gear into reverse and fire a shell. The recoil succeeded in starting the engine and the tank rejoined the remnants of Shomron’s brigade, which had fallen back to the Artillery Road.

Mendler finally received permission late Sunday morning from Gonen to evacuate the forts, more than twelve hours after Elazar had authorized evacuation of most of the Bar-Lev Line. But it was too late. All the forts were surrounded now by masses of Egyptian infantry, and tanks as well. Mendler asked Shomron if he was able to evacuate the forts in his sector. “Any attempt will cost a battalion,” replied the brigade commander. “It’s your decision.” The decision was negative. The battle for the waterline was over and the Egyptians had won it.

#

The conceptual failure of the Bar-Lev Line had been brutally exposed. By the early hours of Sunday, the import of the past day’s events was beginning to be absorbed by the IDF command. In twelve hours, almost two-thirds of the Sinai Division’s tanks had been knocked out, the bulk by Egyptian infantry. Of the division’s 280 tanks, only 110 were still operational. Reshef’s brigade had only one-quarter of its tanks left.

Virtually every assumption by the Israeli command about the nature of the coming war had proven wrong—that AMAN would provide ample warning, that the air force would somehow cope with the SAMs and save the day, that the IDF could get by with limited artillery and infantry, that “armor shock” would stampede the enemy, that the Arab soldier was a pushover and the Arab military command inept.

The Israeli command had permitted itself to believe that given the nature of the enemy—“we’re facing Arabs, not Germans,” as one officer put it—Dovecote could somehow cope with a five-division crossing. The General Staff failed to think through the implications of the massive amount of antitank weapons known to be in the hands of Egyptian infantry. Duels at fifty paces between tanks and individual soldiers wielding RPGs was not what armored warfare was about.

The tank crews, conscripts mostly aged nineteen to twenty-one, and their field commanders had fought with supreme courage and exemplary skill. But they had been thrown into a meat grinder. The Bar-Lev garrisons, including those of the Jerusalem Brigade, had fought outstandingly but their situation was hopeless from the start.

Of all the fuzzy thinking in the high command, reliance on air support was the fuzziest. Air Force Commander Peled had made clear that he would need the first forty-eight hours of war to deal with the SAMs. Yet Elazar and his generals permitted themselves to believe that the air force, still wreathed with the magical aura of the Six Day War, would somehow find a way to deal with enemy ground forces as well. Compounding the problem, the IDF deployed only a few dozen artillery pieces and heavy mortars on a hundred-mile-long front because it relied on the air force. Without meaningful artillery and air support, the IDF lacked firepower even more than manpower.

AMAN’s failure went deeper than the failure to warn of war. It failed to prepare the IDF for the kind of war that might overtake it. It failed to suggest the innovative tactics the Egyptian army would employ or point to the motivation and training that would make the Egyptian soldier of 1973 different from the soldier of the Six Day War. A common factor behind all these failings was the contempt for Arab arms born of that earlier war, a contempt that spawned indolent thinking.

The surprise of the Arab assault would be a staggering psychological blow for Israel that would impact on the rest of the war. However, it was not surprise that was most responsible for the debacle on Yom Kippur day but basic unpreparedness and inept generalship on the southern front. Even if there had been no surprise, the IDF was not prepared to cope with the Egyptians’ new antitank tactics, the air force was unable to provide assistance to the ground forces in areas dominated by SAMs, and Dovecote would still have been a suicidal response.

For Israel, there was one bright spot—the performance of the tank crews and their field commanders despite the disastrous tactics imposed on them.

The Sinai Division had been mauled but not destroyed. Most of its damaged tanks would be returned to action, some within a day, and its command structure was largely intact. Many of the wounded would return to duty, replacements would fill the gaps, and appropriate lessons would be drawn.

The reserve divisions now approaching the battlefield would have to learn these lessons for themselves.

#

Exhausted by the day’s battle, the surviving tank crews pulled back before dawn to refuel and rearm. The men had hardly eaten since the onset of Yom Kippur, which seemed a lifetime ago, and they had not slept. Thinking about what they had been through and what the morrow might bring, thinking about their dead and wounded comrades, they fell into a brief and troubled sleep.

In the Egyptian lines this night, soldiers who could doze off did so on the wings of euphoria. There had not been a feat of Arab arms like this since Saladin defeated the Crusader army near the Sea of Galilee in the twelfth century. No matter what was yet to come, Egypt’s soldiers had restored Arab honor.

Puma

In 1940 German army planners issued a requirement for a new 8 x 8 armoured car series to be based on the SdKfz 231(8-Rad) series but having a monocoque hull (i,e. one in which the basic hull structure is made up of the plates themselves rather than a framework on which are fixed the armour plates) and an engine installation more suited to operations in hot climates The resultant vehicle was built by the parent firm Būssing-NAG with other firms under its control, and the basic hull and chassis was known as the ARK. It was delivered in July 1941, but the original engine installation proved troublesome and was replaced by another. A different engine installation was intended for vehicles used in North Africa, but with the end of that campaign early in 1943 the project proceeded slowly and it was not until 1944 that the first tropical’ version was delivered.

The new series of vehicles was designated schwerer Panzerspähwagen SdKfz 234 and was much lower and more streamlined than the earlier SdKfz 231(8-Rad) series. The vehicles had thicker armour, increased internal fuel capacity and a more powerful engine bestowing a better all-round performance to the extent that it is now generally acknowledged that the variants of SdKfz 234 series were probably the best all-round vehicles in their class to be used during World War IL Most of the mechanical attributes of the SdKfz 231(8-Rad) vehicles were carried over, and there were four basic versions of the SdKfz 234. By the end of the war about 2,300 had been produced after the type had entered full production during 1943.

In designation order, the first version was the SdKfz 234/1, a commander’s vehicle with a 20-mm KwK 30 or KwK 38 cannon in a small open-topped turret along with a co-axial 7.92-mm (0.31-in) MG 42 machine-gun. The mountings for these two weapons could be elevated to provide a degree of anti-aircraft protection, but normally the turret was covered by a wire screen to prevent the ingress of hand grenades, The most famous of the range, however was the SdKfz 234/2 Puma, a superb armoured car with a turret enclosing a 50-mm (1.96-in) KwK 39/1 gun, The turret had originally been intended for the Leopard light tank, which was cancelled, and when reworked for the Puma the result was powerful enough for the vehicle to counter the increasing use of light and other tanks in Soviet army reconnaissance units. The turret had an excellent ballistic shape and also mounted a coaxial MG 42 machine-gun. So good was the vehicle that by 1945, when German industry was being drastically reorganized to maintain war production outputs, the Puma was the only reconnaissance vehicle to be kept in Production (along with a Skoda light tank). But there were times when the 50-mm (1.96-in) gun of the Puma was unable to cope with enemy tanks, and the SdKfz 234/3 was placed in production to replace the earlier SdKfz 233. It too mounted the short 75-mm (2 95-in) tank gun of the SdKfz 233, and was placed in production at the direct order of Hitler who by 1944 was concerning himself directly with such matters as fighting vehicle armament. The last variant of the SdKfz 234 series was another placed in production as the result of a direct order from Hitler. This was the SdKfz 234/4, which mounted a 75-mm (2.95-in) PaK 40 anti-tank gun in an open compartment in place of the turret. Only a few trial models were produced but by the time they appeared things were becoming so desperate for the Germans that they were rushed into operational use and some were subsequently captured by the Allies.

Push/Pull SdKfz 234/1 turret operation

The one wheel performed both the elevation and traverse function at the same time. Traverse was obviously by turning the wheel to the left or right and had a high/low ratio.

To elevate and depress the gun one simply pulled the wheel towards oneself.

One full pull of the wheel (about 200mm movement) elevated the gun approximately a third of its capability. One simply clutched off the gun pushed in the wheel re-clutched the wheel and pulled the wheel again to gain more movement. (Or pushed it back to depress the guns).

The clutch lever in the 234/1 turrets was the ‘bent’ lever highlighted in the 1st issue of AFV Modeller as being responsible for the elevation. It’s not actually bent, the handle flips up when in use, see Museum Ordinance Special #24 on the 234 series for more turret photographs.

To fire the guns the gunner had ‘butterfly’ levers behind the wheel connecting the weapons via Bowden cables to their respective weapon. The R/H lever fired the 2cm and the L/H one the MG42.

The traverse/elevation wheel system was the same in the earlier 8 rad 231 except in that vehicle the weapons were operated from foot firing pedals actuating hydraulic cylinders.

These vehicles first saw combat with the campaign against Poland and in the Battle of France. The radio communication cars proved their ability in infantry support, especially during street fighting. Later they saw use in both Russia and North Africa. Extreme climatic conditions in both these areas proved too severe for the vehicle. In Russia, adverse ground conditions immobilized 150 Sd.Kfz 232s during the first wet season of the campaign. In the desert, heat and sand created some maintenance problems. Still, the eight-wheeled cars turned out to be the best vehicles that Rommel had for long raids in across the wide desert territory.

The Sd.Kfz. 234 series were completely new designs, of a similar size and appearance to the Sd.Kfz. 232/3 series which they replaced. They were powered by a Tatra diesel. The most obvious external difference is the single-piece mudguards compared to the two-piece mudguards on the 232 series.

There were four main variants.

    234/1 – 1 x 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 autocannon, 1 x MG34 Machinegun. This design featured an open-topped turret. Around 200 were produced.

    234/2 “Puma” – 1 x 5 cm KwK 39 L/60, 1 x MG34. Employed a fully enclosed turret originally designed for the VK1602 Leopard light tank. The turret front was protected by 30 mm armor set at an angle of 20° from the vertical. The sides and rear had 10 mm armor set at 25°, and the top plate was 10 mm armor. The gun mantlet was rounded and was 40 to 100 mm thick. 101 were produced between September 1943 and September 1944.

    234/3 – 1 x 7.5 cm K51 L/24 in open-topped superstructure replacing the turret. 88 built between June and December, 1944.

    234/4 “Pakwagen” – 1 x 7.5 cm PaK 40 L/48 in open-topped superstructure replacing the turret. 89 built between December 1944 and March 1945.

Germany’s Panzerspähwagen SdKfz 234 (8 rad) armored cars

*Be careful with the statement/name “Puma”. Apparently German veterans called all 8-wheeled Armoured Cars “Puma’s”. Even the Sd.Kfz.231! Thus you get confusion with some modern authors converting the name ‘Puma’ to mean that SdKfz 234/2 are present. A prime example of this is SS-Captain Viktor Graebner, the 30 year-old Commander of the Hohenstaufen’s Reconnaissance Battalion, charge across Arnhem Bridge. His unit did Not have any SdKfz 234/2s in it, though many a wargame will have them in [mind you I’ll keep them thanks, you need all the help you can get as German force].

Post-WWII Soviet Experimental Heavy AFVs

A T-10M [at bottom left] showing its losef Stalin parentage. The tank had a crew of four and the gun mantlet an armour thickness of 250mm (9.8in). The big rifled D-49T gun had 30 rounds, of which 20 were HE and the remainder one of three types of antitank round. The size of the rounds meant that the crew could only achieve a rate of fire of two to three rounds a minute.

In the Allied victory parade British and American officers saw for the first time the awesome Iosef Stalin IS-3 Shchuka or ‘Pike’. The superbly angled armour and 122mm (4.8in) gun made it a formidable vehicle. The IS heavy tank series would develop through the IS-4 and end with the T-10, or IS-8.

Soviet IS-6 Heavy Tank – Plan

Two versions of a prototype WWII Russian tank destroyer based on the ISU-152 assault gun. The goal was to field an anti-tank gun heavy enough to deal with the heavier German tanks like the Tiger II, Jagdtiger and any potentially larger tanks the Russian thought might be in the works with the Germans. The first prototype ISU-152-1 (Object 246) was developed in April 1944 and mounted the BL-8 long barrel gun. Performance did not meet expectations so the gun was reworked. In August 1944 a second prototype ISU-152-2 (Object 247) replaced the BL-8 with the improved and slightly shortened BL-10. It was not accepted into service because the barrel’s service life was still not what designers wanted it to be. The penetrating power and accuracy still did not meet expectations so the gun was again sent back for improvements but the war ended before this was ever completed.

The Object 704 self propelled gun was a prototype tank utilising elements both the IS-2 and IS-3 tanks. It was designed to carry the 152.4 mm ML-20SM model 1944 gun-howitzer, with a barrel length of over 4.5 metres (29.6 calibers) and no muzzle brake. It had a maximum range of 13,000 metres. The self-propelled gun carried 20 rounds of two piece (shell and charge) armour-piercing and high explosive ammunition. The armour-piercing round, weighing 48.78 kg, had a muzzle velocity of 655 m/s. The rate of fire was 1-2 round/min. The secondary armament of the fighting vehicle consisted of two 12.7 x 108 mm DShK machine guns, one anti-aircraft and one co-axial.

In many ways it was superior to the ISU-152 with thicker and more well angled armour, without sacrificing much in terms of mobility which was comparable to the ISU-152. In some places, especially the mantlet, the armour thickness could reach 320mm making it the best protected Soviet Assault gun of WW2. Built in1945 at the Chelyabinsk Kirovsk Plant. One prototype was developed of Object 704, which is housed today at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia.

However, there were numerous issues that came with the tank. Notice in the picture that the gun lacked a muzzle brake. This noticeably increased the recoil of the gun. Combined with the sloped armour which reduced space in the fighting compartment, it significantly complicated the work for the crew.

This was the primary reason the tank wasn’t used. Although on paper, the tank looked superior to the ISU-152, it gained those advantages at the cost of ergonomics.

The Soviet Army continued to develop heavy tanks with even thicker armour. The most significant of them was the IS-3, which stemmed from the experience of the 1943 Battle of Kursk. This battle emphasized the importance of frontal armour and led to the design of the IS-3, which was in effect an IS-2 but with a ballistically much better-shaped turret and hull front. The armour of IS-3 was actually 120mm thick at the front of the hull, but because of the way it was angled it was equivalent to about 330mm against conventional armour-piercing projectiles, which was more than the armour of any tank produced before its appearance.

The development of the IS-3 started in 1944 and it was put into production with remarkable speed at the beginning of 1945. But only a few were completed by the time the war ended and so none saw any action in it. Production of it continued until 1959 and totalled 2,311 tanks.

The existence of the IS-3 was revealed to the outside world when 52 took part in the Allied Victory Parade in Berlin in September 1945. After the parade Marshal Zhukov, the Soviet commander in Germany, is reported to have told Stalin that IS-3 made a great impression on Western observers. In fact, the IS-3 came to be considered the principal threat to Western armies during the early days of the Cold War, and as `Stalin tanks’ they became something of a bogey. However, they suffered from various shortcomings including cracking of the welded joints between their armour plates, some of which was due to them being rushed into production, and they had to undergo a number of modifications that went on until the late 1950s. When they were eventually used in combat, they also proved less formidable than was expected. This was the case in 1956, when some were destroyed in the streets of Budapest during the Hungarian uprising, and when the Israeli forces destroyed or captured 73 of the 100 IS-3s the Egyptian Army employed during the Six Day War of 1967.

The IS-3 was followed after the Second World War by the development of other heavy tanks. First came the IS-4, which was also armed with a 122mm gun but had thicker frontal armour, as a result of which it weighed 60 tonnes compared with the 46.5 tonnes of the IS-3. It was produced from 1947 to 1949 but only about 200 are believed to have been built. Next came the IS-6, which was essentially an IS-4 but with an electric instead of a mechanical transmission. It proved a failure. The third tank to be built was the IS-7, which was armed with a more powerful 130mm gun based on a naval gun. It weighed 68 tonnes, which made it the heaviest tank built in the Soviet Union. Design of the IS-7 was begun in 1945 and a series of four was completed in 1948, but after accidents during trials further development of it was abandoned.

There was one more heavy tank that was originally called IS-8 but which after Stalin’s death in 1953 was re-designated T-10, breaking the connection of the heavy tanks with the Soviet dictator. In essence, the T-10 was an improved version of the IS-3, and it was armed with a similar 122mm gun but it had thicker armour as a result of which it was heavier, weighing 50 tonnes. In 1953 the Soviets introduced into service their last heavy tank, the T-10 Lenin. The successor to the KV/IS series of World War II heavy tanks, the T-10 was basically an enlarged IS with a heavier gun and more powerful engine. It had a stretched hull with a total of seven road wheels. The Lenin weighed some 114,600 pounds, had a 690- hp engine that provided a maximum speed of 26 mph, and had a crew of four. It mounted a 122mm main gun and three machine guns, with maximum 270mm armor protection. Expensive to build, heavy, and difficult to maintain logistically, the T-10 was phased out in the mid-1960s in favor of the T-62. It equipped a number of Warsaw Pact armies and was exported to both Egypt and Syria.

It began to be produced in 1950 and continued to be built until 1957, when it was succeeded by an improved T-10M version that was produced until 1962. By then the number of T-10 and T-10M that were produced amounted to about 8,000 tanks.

Four more heavy tanks were developed by 1957, three of them armed with 130mm guns and all weighing between 55 and 60 tonnes. However, none was adopted and further development of heavy tanks was discontinued as a result of a decision taken against it in 1960 by Nikita Krushchev, who came to power in the mid-1950s and who doubted the future of tanks because of the appearance of anti-tank guided missiles.

According to US estimates, the total post-war production of heavy tanks was about 9000 vehicles; about 1000 were IS-3M and IS-4, and the remainder were T-10 and T-10M.

Heavy tanks, from the IS-3 to the T-10 (1959)