Egyptian Order of Battle in the 1956 Arab-Israeli War

During the 1956 Arab-Israeli War the Egyptian army might have been big and well equipped but it was a bit of a mess. The Egyptian troops were poorly trained and led, and had little incentive to fight. Motivation was low as the Egyptians used conscription but didn’t pay any allowances to the family if a soldier was killed or incapacitated. Possibly worse still the predominantly upper class Egyptian Officers considered it beneath them to train their men. Finally communication between the field and HQ was poor. Field commanders invented successes and/or exaggerated enemy numbers, and then ignored orders from above as they knew these orders were based on fabricated reports like their own.

Until 1954 the Egyptian army was largely trained and equipped by the British. However, after the disasters experienced in 1948 the Egyptians looked elsewhere for military ideas, hence during from 1950-57 a small number of German instructors were used to impose German doctrine on the army. For example, German instructors trained the new parachute and commando units in the early 1950s. When the British evacuated the Suez Canal in 1954-55 the Egyptians turned to Czechoslovakia for equipment (basically Soviet), and possible turned to military Soviet doctrine as well although this might have occurred after the 1956 war.

Egyptian Organisation

Some general notes before looking at the distribution of forces:

Zaloga (1981) says the Egyptian Infantry in Sinai had about 300 Bren carriers.

Zaloga (1981) gives a Armoured Brigade organisation as:

  • 1 x tank battalion
  • 1 x motorised infantry battalion (BTR-152s)
  • 1 x battery of SU-100s

Most Brigades given in Dayan (1965) seem to have only 2 Infantry Battalions; the only exception I’m aware of is the 86th Palestinian Brigade which had three (11th, 32nd, and 43rd Battalions). The Egyptian order of battle in Dayan mentions that the reconnaissance company of 6th Infantry Brigade was assigned to Kusseima , which I’ve assumed is the Jeep company that Herzog (1982) lists for Kusseima. Other Infantry Brigades may have had such jeep based reconnaissance companies, although perhaps not for the National Guard or Reservists. A glance at the organisation below also suggests that each Infantry Brigade had anti-tank support along with artillery or heavy mortars. All of this suggests that a typical Infantry Brigade comprised:

  • 2 x Infantry Battalions
  • 0 or 1 x Reconnaissance Company in Jeeps
  • 1 x Anti-tank battery (11 guns)
  • 1 x Artillery or heavy mortar (8 tubes) battery

The Egyptian force in the Sinai comprised 30,000 men (Van Creveld, 1998) distributed as follows (primarily from Dayan, 1965; Herzog, 1982):

Gaza Strip

  • 26th * National Guard Brigade (Lt. Col. Gamal e-Din Ali)
    • 2 x Battalions National Guards
    • 20th Mortar Battery
      • 8 x 120mm mortars in three troops
    • 4 x six pounder anti-tank guns
    • 1 x troop of coastal artillery from 4th Battalion
      • 2 x three inch guns
    • 2 x motorised Border platoons
  • 8th Palestinian Division (Maj-Gen. Youssef el Agroudi)
    • Palestinian 86th Brigade ** (Lt. Col. Lutfi el-Burini)
      • 11th Battalion
        • 4 companies
      • 32nd Battalion
        • 4 companies
      • 44th Battalion (attached from 87th Brigade)
        • 4 companies
      • Heavy Mortar Battery (presumably 120mm mortars)
    • Palestinian 87th Brigade ***

* Van Creveld (1998) says the 6th National Guard Brigade, but both Herzog (1982) and Dayan (1965) say the 26th.

** Van Creveld (1998) cites Dayan as saying the Palestinians had not been issued heavy weapons by their Egyptian masters. I assume this refers to battalion assets, as the order of battle in Dayan (1965) also lists the Heavy Mortar Battery shown above. Dayan also says one Battalion of the 86th Brigade was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division

*** Dayan (1965) implies that only the 44th Battalion – attached to the 86th Brigade, was combat ready as the task of the remainder of the Brigade was “organisation and training in Rafah camps” (p.214).

Northern and Central Sinai Sector

The reinforced 3rd Infantry Division (Brigadier Anwar abd Wahab al Qadi) was responsible for the Northern and Central Sectors of the Sinai.

Herzog (1982), says all the following, except the 4th Brigade, were under the 6th Brigade Brigadier Gaafer el Abd. This is at odds with Dayan (1965) who gives Brigadier-General Sami Yam Boletz as the commander of the 6th.

  • Rafah outpost
    • 5th Brigade ** (Col. Jafr el Majid)
    • 1 x battalion of 25-pounder field artillery
    • 1 x AT battery with 17 x Archer Tank Destroyers *
    • Czech 105mm recoilless anti-tank guns
    • Anti-aircraft weapons
    • 1 x tank company of the 3rd Armoured Battalion. 16 Shermans.
    • 2 x Frontier Force companies (presumably with armoured jeeps and troop carriers) from 1st Mortorized Border Battalion
    • 43rd Battalion of Palestinian 86th Brigade ***
  • Umm Ketef – Abu Aeila hedgehog
    • 6th Brigade
      • 2 x Infantry battalions
    • 9th Reserve Brigade ****
      • 295th Reserve battalion
      • 297th Reserve battalion
    • 1 x National Guard Brigade
      • 2 x Battalions National Guards
    • 1 x Battery field artillery
      • 24 x 25-pounder guns
    • 1 x jeep company (Listed separately by both Dayan and Herzog, so presumably not integral to 6th Brigade)
    • 78th AT Battery with 14 Archer Tank Destroyers (Capt. M. D. Zohdy) *
    • 94th AT Battery with 9 Archer Tank Destroyers *
    • ZiS-2 57mm AT guns
    • Anti-aircraft guns,
    • 33mm cannon – might be the AA guns.
  • El Arish Head Quarters / Reserve
    • 4th Infantry Brigade (Col. Saad ed-Din Mutawally)
      • 11th Infantry Battalion (Lt. Col. Selim Makor Bashchara) – assigned to defend El Arish *******
      • 12th Infantry Battalion
    • 3rd Armoured Battalion
      • 1 x tank company of 16 Sherman IIIs (M4A2s with 75mm)
      • 1 x tank company of 16 Sherman M4/FL10s
      • (the other company of the 3rd was at Rafah)
    • 1 x AT battery with Archer Tank Destroyers *
  • Kusseima outpost
    • 1 x National Guards Brigade *****
      • 2 x Battalions National Guards
    • 1 x Infantry company *****
    • 1 x Reconnaissance company of 6th Brigade in Jeeps ******
    • Archer Tank Destroyers *
    • Other anti-tank weapons


* Zaloga (1981) says the Egyptians had at least 4 AT batteries with Archer Tank Destroyers each with 11 vehicles. He explicitly says the 78th stationed at Um Katef-Um Shehan crossroads in the Abu Ageila hedgehog was reinforced up to 14. Herzog (1982) states a total of 23 at Abu Ageila so I’ve assumed the 94th was under-strength. Herzog has another 17 at Rafah, and this accounts for 40 of Zaloga’s 44 possible vehicles so I suspect there were more than 4 batteries. Anyway, assuming the reserve at El Arish was depleted to reinforce other posts, then the outpost at Kusseima had at most 4 vehicles.

** Dayan (1965), Van Creveld (1998), and Zaloga (1981), say the 5th Brigade, however Herzog (1982), says the 6th but then also has elements of the 6th scattered all over the place thus undermining his statement further.

*** Herzog (1982) says elements of the 87th Brigade, but the Egyptian order of battle in Dayan (1965) says an entire battalion of the 86th Palestinian Brigade was attached to the 3rd Division and I assume they are referring to the same guys. In either case, like the Palestinian units in the Gaza Strip, they would have lacked integral heavy weapons (Van Creveld, 1998).

**** Dayan (1965) mentions the numbers of 3 reserve battalions attached to the 3rd Division: 289th, 295th and 297th. The later two were in the 9th Brigade, but otherwise it isn’t clear where they were assigned. As two Reserve Battalions were stationed Umm Ketef – Abu Aeila hedgehog I assume these were the two from the 9th Brigade.

***** Van Creveld (1998) says only 1 Battalion was at Kusseima. Dayan (1965) says a National Guard Brigade, which given the size of the 26th National Guards Brigade in Gaza, suggests 2 battalions. Herzog (1982) gives 2 Battalions of Egyptian Border Guards plus one Infantry company. I’ve compromised using elements of Dayan and Herzog. I assume the additional company was from the 6th Brigade.

****** Herzog (1982) says a jeep company and Dayan (1965) says the reconnaissance company of the 6th Brigade; I assume they are one and the same.

******* Dayan (1965) lists the 11th Battalion as the defender of El Arish, but given this was in the sector of the 4th Brigade and Dayan only gives the 4th Brigade one other Battalion – the 12th – it seems reasonable that that 11th was actually part of the same Brigade.

Southern Sinai Sector

The Battalion of Egyptian National Guard totaled 250 men (Dayan, 1965), so each company would have been under-strength.

  • Nakhel Head Quarters (Lt. Col. Fuad Hakla Jerajes)
    • 1 x HQ of 2nd Motorised Border Battalion
    • 1 x motorised company of 2nd Border Guards Battalion
    • 2 x companies Egyptian National Guard
  • Themed and Kuntilla positions (Maj. Mahmad Abd el-Mejid Mari)
    • 1 x motorised company of 2nd Border Guards Battalion
    • 1 x company Egyptian National Guard
  • On patrol
    • 1 x motorised company of 2nd Border Guards Battalion

Gulf of Akaba sector

(Col. Raif Mahfouz Zaki)

  • 21st Infantry Battalion
    • 3 or 4 companies
    • 2 x sections of 81 mm mortars
    • 2 x platoons of medium machine guns
  • 1 x National Guards Battalion
  • 2 x 6-inch coastal guns
  • 4 x 3-inch H.A.A. guns
  • 6 x 30 mm L.A.A. guns
  • 1 troops of 57 mm anti-tank guns (presumably ZiS-2)
  • 2 platoons of Border Guards
    • Motorised platoon (armoured jeeps, troop carriers)
    • Camel mounted platoon
      • 30 men
      • 45 camels

Suez Canal and Command Reserves

Reserves beyond the canal (north to south):

  • 1st Motorised Infantry Division – based at Kantara
  • 2nd Infantry Division – based at Ismailia
  • 1st Armoured Brigade (Col. Talat Hassan Ali)
    • 4th Armoured Battalion with T-34/85 tanks
    • 1 x Tank Battalion with T-34/85 tanks (mentioned by Herzog, 1982, but not Dayan, 1965)
    • 53rd Artillery Battery (Herzog, 1982, says 1 company)
      • Soviet SU-100 tank Destroyers
    • 65th Armoured [ Infantry] Battalion on Soviet troop carriers
  • 2nd Infantry Brigade – based at Suez *
    • 5th Infantry Battalion
    • 6th Infantry Battalion
    • 2 x batteries of heavy mortars
    • Border Guards
    • Egyptian National Guards
    • 1 light anti-aircraft regiment (54 pieces)
    • 1 heavy anti-aircraft battery
    • 2 troops of coastal guns

* The 5th Battalion were the boys who fought the 202nd Parachute Brigade at Mitla Pass. I assume the Brigade was independent of the the Divisions on the Canal.

Egyptian Equipment

It is a bit trickier finding out about the Egyptians. The lists of material captured or destroyed by the Israelis gives an indication. The Israelis captured British, American and Soviet armoured vehicles and I’ve noted how many the IDF “got” in the list below.

  • Soviet T-34/85s (IDF got 27)
  • Shermans of various types (IDF got 46)
  • Self propelled guns of unknown types (IDF got 60)
  • APC of unknown types (IDF got 60)
  • Soviet 122 mm guns with 6 man crew.

Herzog (1982) mentions

  • Soviet T-34 Tanks
  • Soviet SU-100 Tank Destroyers
  • British Archer Tank Destroyers (WWII vintage)
  • Troop carriers of unknown types
  • Recoilless anti-tank guns
  • Czech 105mm recoilless anti-tank guns
  • 25-pounder Artillery
  • 57mm guns
  • 33mm cannon
  • Anti-aircraft guns
  • Heavy machine guns

Zaloga (1981) mentions

  • 3 x battalions of British Sherman IIIs (M4A2)
  • 41 x British Centurians
  • 200 x British Archer self-propelled 17-pdr anti-tank guns
  • British Sherman III
  • French Sherman with FL10 turrets
  • Soviet T-34/85 (most of the 230 soviet vehicles acquired)
  • Soviet IS-3s
  • 200 x Soviet BTR-152 armoured troop carriers
  • 100 x Soviet SU-100 self-propelled guns
  • ZiS-2 57mm AT guns
  • 25-pounders
  • Valentines

Dayan (1965) mentions

  • 300 x revolvers
  • 1,170 x sub-machine guns
  • 4,300 x Rifles
  • 550 x light machine guns
  • 290 x medium machine guns
  • 220 x Mortars (from 2-inch to 81 mm)
  • 18 x 120 mm Mortars
  • 260 x 85 mm Bazookas
  • 320 x Anti-tank rifles
  • 200 x Czech 82 mm Recoilless guns
  • 55 x British 25 pounders
  • 6 x Coastal guns
  • 110 x Anti-tank guns – British 6 pounders and Soviet 57 mm
  • 100 x Anti-aircraft guns
  • 26 x Soviet T-34 tanks
  • 1 x Soviet T-34 command tank
  • 6 x Soviet SU-100
  • 40 x Sherman tanks
  • 12 x Sherman tanks with special turrets, presumably FL10 turrets
  • 1 x Sherman tank recovery vehicle
  • 1 x Sherman dozer
  • 16 x Dummy Sherman tanks
  • 16 x Dummy guns
  • 15 x Valentine tanks without guns
  • 40 x ‘archer’ anti-tank guns
  • 60 x Soviet armoured troop carriers; Dayan says fully tracked & covered, but such vehicles didn’t exist in 1956, the best the Egyptians/Soviets had was the BTR-152 which was an opened topped armoured truck.
  • 260 x Bren carriers

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