Bitter Heights, Battle of Mitla Pass, 29-31 Oct, 1956

A simple explanation of a very complicated war "The Sinai Campaign, 1956"...

Sept 1955...
President Nasser in September 1955, in violation of international agreements and in what amounted to an act of war, sealed off access to the Israeli port of Eilat, effectively stopping Israel's sea trade with much of Africa and the Far East. Also, Nasser had set up and was aiding his terrorist funded "Palestinian fedayeen" organization that was used to conduct terror raids on Israel from the Sinai.  

On 26 July 1956, Nasser announced Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez canal, most of whose shares were held by Britain and France. With no help from the U.N. regarding the fedayeen terrorists, the closed shipping, and diplomacy failing to reverse Nasser's decision concerning the Suez canal, Israel, along with Britain and France, embarked on preparations to stop the terrorists, open shipping, and regain control of the Suez canal.

The conflict...
29 October 1956, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai with a para-drop on Mitla Pass, along with attacks along the Israeli-Sinai border. Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum for a cease fire, which was ignored by both sides. All was going accordingly to plan for the 3 allies. On 5 November 1956, Britain and France landed paratroopers along the Suez Canal. The Egyptian forces were defeated, but they block the canal to all shipping by sinking 40 ships along the canal (the Suez Canal was closed from October 1956 until March 1957 when the last of the shipwrecks were cleared.). 

Heavy political pressure from the United States and the USSR led to a withdrawal by all 3 allies. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had strongly warned Britain not to invade; he threatened serious damage to the British financial system by selling the US government's pound sterling bonds. Historians conclude this crisis "signified the end of Great Britain's role as one of the world's major powers". I guess they didn't wear "I like Ike" buttons. 
Note: Eisenhower years later admitted that not supporting Eden over Suez had been his greatest foreign policy mistake.

As a result of this conflict, the United Nations created the UNEF Peacekeepers to police the Egyptian–Israeli border, with 3,300 United Nations troops. 

Israel fulfilled some of its objectives, such as attaining freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran, which Egypt had blocked to Israeli shipping since 1950 and at least 10 years of freedom from terrorists, while Britain and France did not (regaining the Suez). British Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned, France remembered this embarrassment from the US years later, Canadian Minister of External Affairs Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Soviet Union was able to invade Hungary without worry from the UN or the US. And Nasser came out of this in a very favorable political light, having secured a new level of prestige among Arab peoples as a leader who had defied European empires and survived a military invasion by Israel.

What and where is Mitla Pass?
Mitla Pass is a 480 meter-high, 32 km-long snaky pass in the Sinai of Egypt, wedged between mountain ranges to the north and south, located about 50 km east of Suez and has been the site of numerous battles thru out the ages. During the Sinai Campaign of 1956, many have said that the battle for Mitla Pass was unnecessary, that it was a political objective and not a tactical or strategic objective. However, it is a natural bottleneck on two of the three major east-west highways crisscrossing the Sinai Peninsula.

Paratrooper landing
The beginning...
At 17:00 on 29 October 1956, Israeli units parachuted into the eastern approaches of the Mitla Pass at the start of the Sinai Campaign 1956. There were only enough C-47 Dakota transport aircraft in the Israeli Air Force to drop the bulk of one parachute battalion, 395 men in all, east of the pass. 

Given the high state of readiness the paratroopers of the 1st Battalion, 202nd Brigade had achieved, not to mention their proven combat prowess, a battalion was thought to be sufficient to achieve the straightforward goal of creating a diversion in the rear of the Egyptian forces in Sinai. 

To ease the isolation of this small force, the rest of the parachute brigade was to rush overland to Mitla Pass by way of the southern road, from Kuntilla via Themed and Nakhle. If successful, the paratroop battalion—and later the entire brigade—would be in position to block an important Egyptian line of reinforcement and retreat.

Due to a navigation error, the C-47's landed Eitan's 395 paratroopers three miles away from Parker's Memorial, their intended target. Eitan marched his men towards Jebel Heitan, where they dug in while receiving supplies of weapons dropped by French aircraft. At the same time, Aluf-Mishne (Colonel) Sharon's 202nd Paratroop Brigade raced out towards the Mitla Pass.

As the paratroopers were being dropped into the Sinai, the Israeli 9th Infantry Brigade captured Ras al-Naqb, an important staging ground for that brigade's later attack against Sharm el-Sheikh. Instead of attacking the town by a frontal attack, they enveloped the town in a night attack, and negotiated their way through some of the natural choke points into the rear of the town, surprising the Egyptians before they could ready themselves to defend. The Egyptians surrendered, with no Israeli casualties sustained.

The 4th Infantry Brigade, under the command of Colonel Josef Harpaz, captured al-Qusaymah, which would be used as a jumping off point for the assault against Abu Uwayulah. Colonel Harpaz out-flanked al-Qusaymah with two pincers from the south-east and north-east in a night attack. In a short battle lasting from 3:00 am to sunrise, the IDF stormed al-Qusaymah. 

Paratroops at Parker's Memorial, dug in.
The portion of the paratroopers under Aluf-Mishne (Colonel) Sharon's command continued to advance to meet with the 1st Brigade. En route, Sharon assaulted Themed in a dawn attack, and was able to storm the town with his armor through the Themed Gap. Sharon routed the Sudanese police company, and captured the settlement. On his way to the Nakla, Sharon's men came under attack from Egyptian MIG-15s. On the 30th, Sharon linked up with Eytan near Nakla.

The Battle for Mitla Pass...
Dayan had no more plans for further advances beyond the passes, but Sharon decided to attack the Egyptian positions at Jebel Heitan. Sharon sent his lightly armed paratroopers against dug-in Egyptians supported by aircraft, tanks and heavy artillery. Sharon's actions were in response to reports of the arrival of the 1st and 2nd Brigades of the 4th Egyptian Armored Division in the area, which Sharon believed would annihilate his forces if he did not seize the high ground. Sharon sent two infantry companies, a mortar battery and some AMX-13 tanks under the command of Mordechai Gur into the Heitan Defile on the afternoon of 31 October 1956.

The Egyptian forces occupied strong defensive positions and brought down heavy anti-tank, mortar and machine gun fire on the IDF force. Gur's men were forced to retreat into the "Saucer", where they were surrounded and came under heavy fire. Hearing of this, Sharon sent in another task force while Gur's men used the cover of night to scale the walls of the Heitan Defile. During the ensuing action, the Egyptians were defeated and forced to retreat. A total of 260 Egyptian and 38 Israeli soldiers were killed in the battle.

Although the battle was an Israeli victory, the casualties sustained would forever haunt Sharon.  In particular, Sharon was criticized for ordering the attack on Jebel Heitan without authorization, and not realizing that with the Israeli Air Force controlling the skies, his men were in not such danger from the Egyptian tanks as he believed. While Dayan himself maintained that Sharon was correct to order the attack without orders, and that under the circumstances, Sharon made the right decision; he criticized Sharon for his tactics of attacking the Egyptians head-on, which Dayan claimed led to unnecessary casualties.

The game...
game cover
Bitter Heights, The Battle of Mitla Pass, October 29-31 Oct, 1956 is another game from High Flying Dice Games, designed by Paul Rohrbaugh with graphics by Bruce Yearian. Published in 2012 and is up for review.  

1.0 Game components consist of  the following:
  • a 11"x17" game map
  • 90 double sided counters (unmounted)
  • one 8.5"x11" player's aid card
  • and a set of rules that are 4 pages in length
The game does require a little work to get it ready for play (just mounting and cutting out the counters). It's cost is very reasonable at $11.95 plus shipping. This is a lot of bang for the buck in this inexpensive game.  The origins for Bitter Heights comes from Paul's design of Operation Kadesh game (the 1956 Sinai Campaign still  available from High Flying Dice Games, along with the game's card set).  One thing about High Flying Dice Games is the artwork is impeccable, the rules are all there, and very inexpensive. To get the best value, order 3 or 4 games (they would set you back far less than say one game from any other company) for the same price of mailing. Check High Flying Dice Games web site for other games. 

Bitter Heights card set
The players will need to furnish one D6, a deck of cards, in addition to mounting and cutting out the counters, as mentioned before. Also available is mounting of the counters for an additional fee.

Of course a card set is available for this game  for an additional amount. (note - if you order four or more games at the same time, you can choose this card set for free.).

Otherwise, a regular card deck is used. Remove all the 6 to 10 cards (6, 7, 8. 9, 10) from the card deck, make sure there are two jokers, and  shuffle, shuffle shuffle. Draw one card - on a red card draw, the Egyptian player plays and on a black card draw, the Israeli plays. 

The game, depending on the scenario selected (section 7.0) can have up to 20 turns with many rounds, which actually makes for a long game.

Game Errata:
There is a small slip of paper dated Sept 2012 for 2 important pieces of game errata, oops, excuse me, I mean game addenda. (I have not found any other EXCEPT one)
    • PAC (Player's Aid Card) Interdiction (correction): A unit firing out of an interdicted area has a -1 DRM (not +1 DRM).  The rule 4.3.1 is correct.
    • 4.2 Combat Resolution (correction): An attack succeeds with a modified DR of 4 or more. It is ineffective with a modified DR of 3 or less.
    •  Other errata I have spotted:
      • there is on page 2, under 5.0 Rally, at the end of the 2nd sentence a "(?)". Mark it out if you want too (I used white out). 
If you find something is not "just right" and/or you have a question when you start to play, read the rules again and go by what the rules say. I have found that everything, even if it isn't in a section of the rules where one would think it should be, is always in the rules.   And of course, Paul will answer questions on any of his games. Cheerfully I add. 

2.0 Sequence of Play:
Sequence of play is one of the easiest I have seen.  Five steps is all there is, with two steps, one preformed at the beginning of the game turn and one performed at the ending of a game turn with the drawing of the second joker. Otherwise per round there are only three steps used.
  • 2.1 Air Determination Phase: (performed only at the beginning of a turn). Both players roll a die for air support. Highest die roll wins, with the winner getting a number of air strikes equal to the difference between the 2 die rolls. (example - Egyptian rolls a "1", while the Israeli rolls a "6".  The Israeli player receives 5 air strike markers to be used for the game turn (not per round). Also, each side, depending on the game turn track, will receive a +1 to their die roll (Israeli gets +1 from Game Turns 3 to 10, while the Egyptian gets a +1 from Game Turn 13 to 20.). Rolls that are tied, result in neither player receiving any air support. The max amount of air strikes is 5 for the Israeli player and 6 for the Egyptian. 

  • 2.2.1 Card Draw: A card is drawn and whether it is red or black, determines who plays that round.
    • Red for Egyptian, Black for Israeli. 
    • an odd number card gives 1 activation,  
    • an even number card gives 2 activations,  
    • and a face card gives 3 activations, or  
    • the player may elect to pass on the card draw. 
    • The first time a joker is drawn, roll 1D6 twice consulting the "Random Events Chart" to see which, if, a random event occurs.  
    • The second time a joker is played, the game turn is immediately over, and section 2.3 is followed. 

  • 2.2.2 Activation: The winner of the card draw can choose one of the four types of activations each round. The following can be performed - 
    • move a unit up to it's movement allowance (section 3.0 - 3.1 and 3.2), 
    • hold position (not move) and attack (section 4.0 - 4.1, 4.2), 
    • attempt to rally a disrupted unit (section 5.0), and/or 
    • performed an air strike (both players can do this) or artillery strike (Israeli player only) (section 4.3 and 4.3.1) or 
    • elect to pass any or all of their activations.

  • 2.2.3 End of Activation Cycle:
    • If the 2nd joker wasn't drawn, then return to section 2.2.1 - Card Draw to continue on the next round. 
    •  If the 2nd joker was drawn, proceed to 2.3 End Phase.
  • 2.3 End Phase: If the second Joker was drawn, the game turn ends and players do the following  -
    • If the turn marker is on the last game turn, game ends and the victor is determine. 
    • If the turn marker is not on the last space, advance the turn marker one space and:
      • Remove all interdiction Air Strike markers from the map.
      • Reshuffle the card deck.
      • Continue with the game starting with 2.1 Air Determination Phase. 
3.0 Movement:
Units can move from one contiguous area to another. Units can move into an area with an enemy unit(s), but not out of or thru an area, if the enemy isn't disrupted (has a "D" counter on it).

Roads: (section 3.1)
If both areas are connected by a road, then units can move up to two areas.

Elevations: (section 3.1)
Elevations are represented by the various shades of white for level 1 to 2 and browns from 3 to 4.  Only area ids 1, 2, and 3 are level 1 (each little area has a round circle that shows the area id and a factor modifier.). The rest are level 2, level 3 and level 4. If an area has any level 4 in it, then it is consider to be level 4 (only areas 13, 19,24, and 31 are level 4)    
  • Each type of terrain affects units and movement:
    • Level 1 and Level 2 - all units may enter and move.
    • Level 3: No Armor or Half Track units allowed to enter, all others can enter and move into.
    • Level 4: No Armor, Half Tracks or Heavy Weapon units allowed to enter, all others can enter and move into.
  • Each area has an area id number in black and a combat DR terrain modifier from 0, -1, and -2 in red.
  • Terrain affects the combat DR modifier.
Stacking:(section 3.2)
Either up to five friendly units or all units of the same battalion plus 3 armor units can occupy an area.  Half Tracks when paired up with their parachute infantry do not count towards the stacking limitations.

Game Scale and LOS:
I love this game map, NO HEXES. It uses area movement with beautiful various shades of brown. Even with the red used, I can see most everything. Bruce really outdid himself back in 2012 on this one.

Scale of the game map is 1 inch equal to 2 miles.   Also, there are small dots in each center of each area that one uses to trace LOS (these are not black, but a darker shade of the gray-brown color used to show level 4 terrain. I colored in those dots with black ink to make the dots stand out better.). 

4.0 Combat: (sections 4.0, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.3.1)
All undisrupted infantry, heavy weapons, parachute, and armor can attack enemy units up to two area away. Arty units can attack up to 3 areas away.

Egyptian infantry and armor
I also like the graphics used on the counters and the different sides coloring. No fancy graphics, but good gaming graphics, easy to see and understand. Yes, they may be considered old school, but sure beat the crap we see now.

Israeli Paratroops
Each of the various counters have the standard unit size, ID, and type, with both a normal and a reduced side, with disruption being a counter with a "D" on it. The combat factors listed is for attack and defense, as movement is standard for all (1 area at a time, unless using the road).  Disrupted units cannot move or attack. Remember, if a unit is disrupted and takes a loss (flipped to reduce status) it is still disrupted until rallied.
    • All non disrupted units, have a 2 area range for combat, except Artillery which has a range of 3.
    • All ranged artillery (arty) counters have a small circle in the upper right (the number is in red and is the units range for attacking enemy units).
    • Disrupted units cannot attack or move.  
    • Units can attack one enemy unit provided it is in the attacking unit LOS (i.e. no higher level of elevation between the two units). 
    • Artillery does not require an LOS to the target as long as another friendly unit can trace a LOS to the unit being attacked.

6.0 Special Units: 
The game has a few special units in the game  consisting of Half Tracks (section 6.1) (Israeli player only), for movement of Israeli paratroopers, artillery units (section 6.2, both players,) and entrenchments (Egyptian player only) (section 6.3). Be sure to read the rules on Half Tracks.

There is one counter, I would like to make a special mention of. It is the counter used for the Israeli off board artillery marker (under section 4.3).  It doesn't look like any type of an off board counter, and is not marked as so, but this is it.  :D   It enters play with the arrival of the Israeli 771st Battalion. There is another, but to be honest, I haven't figure it out.  This being the Israeli "Enhance Air Support Marker".  If any of you fine folks have found where this is located in the rules, please let me know and thanks in advance.

7.0 Game length and setup: 
There are 3 scenarios with various variants for each.  These are "Snake Bit" (section 7.1), "Viper's Den" (section 7.2), and the full campaign "Snake's Lair" (section 7.2.5), the longest at a whopping 20 turns).

possible setup of Scenario 7.1 Snake Bit

Time for the buns ratings:
    • Complexity of the game = I found it to be low-intermediate level
    • Solitaire = Medium to high (a little bit of work is needed)
    • Enjoyment Level = High (imho)
    • Nail Biting = 8 fingers worth. It can go down to the last play of the game.  
    • Historical Level = Very High - this game has a very solid historical reference background and a very solid OOB (Orders of Battle).   
    • Length of typical full game = About 2 hours for the smaller scenarios and with the full campaign game, 3 or more hours.
An extensive bibliography is included, however, I would like to add a few that are not mention, but do qualify. (note: These may be hard to find)
    • Bregman, Ahron - Israel's Wars: A History Since 1947. London: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-28716-2.
    • Bromberger, Merry and Serge - Secrets of Suez Sidgwick & Jackson London 1957 (translated from French Les Secrets de l'Expedition d'Egypte by James Cameron)
    • Dayan, M. - Diary Of The Sinai Campaign. New York, Harper & Row 1966
    • Herzog, C. - The Arab-Israeli wars: War and peace in the Middle East. NY: Random House. 1982
    • Katz, S. M. - Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars 2. Men-at-Arms Series, 194. Oxford, UK: Osprey. 1988
    • Laffin, J. - Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars 1948-73. Men-at-Arms Series, 128. Oxford, UK: Osprey. 1982
    • Marshall, S.L.A - Sinai Victory : Command Decisions In History's Shortest War, Israel's Hundred-Hour Conquest of Egypt East of Suez, Autumn, 1956. New York: Battery Press. ISBN 0-89839-085-0. 1958
    • Zaloga, S. -  Armor of the Middle East Wars 1948-78. Vanguard Series 19. London: Osprey. 1981
Second Thoughts:
How does the game play?  Good question. With simple rules and low counters It is actually a low-intermediate complexity game, not introductory. Depending on the scenario selected and variant played, both players have a limited amount of resources, requirements to capture certain areas and for both players, to hold down the amount of units either lost or disrupted to win is not as simple as it sounds.   

Paul in his designer notes states that the Israeli player will feel a lot of pressure thru-out the game. This is very true. He also states that the Egyptian player can't just sit there and expect to win. True again. They have to inflict as much losses as possible to the Israeli player to even have a chance to win (not just garner a tie-game).  

I was able to play the game solo with a just little work. Two player is the way to go for this one, though. Unfortunately, my gaming partner doesn't like the card draw system (I do), so he was constantly harping about it and I only got in five games after becoming disgruntled with him.  I like the card draw system. IMHO, it simulates the fog of battle very well, much better than the archaic u-go, i-go system of play. I like it so well, I use it even in games that don't have it (modifying that gaming system of course). 

Out of the five 2-player games played, the game was enjoyable, gaming partner was a pain in the butt. The 5 solo games were enjoyable, too, just having a live opponent made me think harder. 

But the question remains, will one return to this game to play it again?  I would say yes. With area movement, armor, arty, infantry in several flavors,  low counters, and a hellacious card system for combat and movement, what more could one want?


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