Six Days War: The Sinai (May 5-7)

Figure 1.--The Soviet Union had supplied Egypt and Syria with masive quantaties of advanced aircraft and miliatry equipment. The stunning Israeli destruction of the Egyptian Air Force along with swift ground advances in the Sinai stunned the Egyptian High Command. The Egyptian Army lost importatant positions, but fought well and units were still in tact. Gen. Amer in Cairo, however, lost his nerve. He ordered a general retreart without any coordinated plan. It turned into a rote. Important Egyptian commanders abandoned their troops and fled to Cairo. Men were left without vehicles. Some died of thirst in the desert. Most of the Egyptian casualties occurred during the chaotic retreat. Thousands of men were killed. The Israelis took far fewer prisoners than they could have and simply pointed Egyptian s troops toward the Canal. They tended to take officers so they could exchange them for a few pilots captured by the Egyptians. The Israelis also took large numbers of tanks, APCs, and artillery pieces-- much of it in perfect working condition, along with vast stores of munitions and supplies. Here the IDF has set up a display so civilians can see some of the captured equipment. The tank is a modern T-54/55, much more modern than anything in the IDF inventory. A reader tells us, "It is presumably the T-55 which was the Soviet export variant of the T-54. There were only subtle differences. Actually the T-62 and T-64 which the Soviets also supplied the Egyptians and also captured and on display were also very similar, the primary differences being the barrel."

The Arabs had a substantial force of modern Soviet tanks. The Israelis were still using many World War II Shermans, albeit with upgrades. The Arabs has 1,400 tanks compared to 650 Israeli tanks. (We have seen varied estimates here, but all the estimates give the Arabs a substantial preponderance of tanks and other weapon categories, both in numbers and quality) Egypt had the largest Arab military and had led the preparations for the War, especially by closing the Straits of Tiran. As a result, the outcome of the War would be settled in the Sinai or southern Israel. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) struck first at the Egyptians (May 5, morning). The Israeli Air Force hit Egyptian air fields and tanks began a coordinated offensive into the Sinai. The open territory of the Sinai was perfect for tank and air warfare. The Egyptians had heavily fortified the Sinai and formulate a defense following the advise of Soviet military advisers. Gen. Moshe Dyan coordinated r devetaing air strikes with aggressive attacks in the Sinai, this time focusing on the north and central sectors rather than the south which the Egyptians were expecting. Nassar and Egyptian radio reported glorious victories in the Sinai and urged the Syrians and Jordanians to join the war with Israel. In fact, the IDF had destroyed the Egyptian Air Force and Israeli tanks had seized important positions in Sinai and were moving toward Suez. Egyptian forces which had heard the radio reports that the Israeli Air Force had been destroyed were puzzled when they not only saw no Egyptian planes supporting them, but were being attacked by the Israeli Air Force. The Egyptian put up a stiff defense but the Israelis achieved one objective after another. The Egyptian High Command with the Israelis seizing the strategic mountain passes and importnt crossroads, lost its nerve. Egyptian Arny Chief of Staff, Mohamed Abdel Hakim Amer, saw clearly what was happening and cracked (May 6, afternoon). Amer began issuing orders, many contradictory, to his field commanders. Basically he ordered an immediate retreat of all forces in the Siani. Nasser concurred. The Egyptian soldiers had fought well and most units were still in tact, but at this point some important commanders semsing disaster abandoned their troops and fled back to Cairo to save themselves. There was no planned retreat or effort to organize a fighting withdrawl. Every Egyptian unit was on its own. And in the resultung pandominium to reach Suez, the Egyptians lost far more men than durung the fighting. The retreat turned into am uncontrolled rout. Many men persished in the desert dying of thirt. The Isrealis monitoring Egyptian military communications instead of attacking the very substantial and well armed Egyptian armor, moved to cloes off the passes and road bottlenecks, thus trapping much of the fleeing Egyptian army. Large numbers of Egpytian tanks, APCs, vehicles, and artillery were destoyed or captured--much of it in perfect working order. Vast quantities of supplies and aquipment and thousands of prisoners were captured.


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Created: 6:05 PM 12/11/2017
Last updated: 6:05 PM 12/11/2017