Egyptian National Military Museum

statue of Ibrahim Pasha

The Egyptian National Military Museum is located within the Cairo Citadel, a walled complex of fortifications and various types of buildings which is on a promontory overlooking Cairo.

When you enter the museum area you'll see this statue of one of Egypt's historic military heroes called Ibrahim Pasha, who was the son (possibly adopted) of Muhammad Ali, who is generally considered the founder of modern Egypt.   Muhammad Ali and Ibrahim Pasha weren't Egyptian by birth, they both came from a part of the Turkish Ottoman empire which is now within the borders of Greece.

About 20 years after Muhammad Ali became ruler of Egypt he sent Ibrahim Pasha in an ill-conceived attempt to put down a native Greek rebellion which was being supported by Great Britain, France and Russia.   Against Ibrahim's advice, he was ordered to join battle against the combined navies of the European powers, and the entire Ottoman fleet was destroyed.

Ibrahim had considerably more success fighting against the Wahhabis in the Arabian peninsula (though the unpleasantly rigid Wahhabi brand of Islam is now dominant in Saudi Arabia), and he also did very well fighting against the Ottomans in Syria.   However, continual interventions by European countries prevented him from making lasting conquests, and he eventually retreated to Egypt, which he ruled briefly before his death in 1848.

Although he wasn't really Egyptian, and although he certainly had his failures, Ibrahim's successes make him an appropriate candidate for national hero in Egypt.   He certainly looks noble up on his horse, but contemporary accounts describe him as short, very obese and deeply scarred by smallpox.

The museum is very much a celebration and glorification of Egyptian military history.   Although it pays a little attention to the Pharaonic age (which was really the golden age of Egyptian militarism), most emphasis is on the period from the "modern age" to the "present age".   You can see here a cannon and cannonballs from the 1800s, there was more stuff beyond this wall but unfortunately it was closed off during my visit.

wall with plaques

Here's one of the few exhibits relating to the Islamic age, a replica catapult which the accompanying plaque says is of the same type used by the Prophet Mohammed to besiege the city of Elta'ef.

The plaque further describes the purpose of the catapult as being to throw arrows, throw rocks to destroy citadels, throw the fire balls, and throw scorpions or dusty baskets.   It isn't really explained how dusty baskets will cause your enemy to capitulate, and personally I think the use of scorpions as weapons of war is grossly over-rated; if they're not squashed on landing then they're pretty easily squashed under your shoes.   In fact it's probably far more dangerous for your own people to collect the scorpions than for the people you're throwing them at.

Here's a 33 centimeter mortar from the reign of Mohammad Ali, who did a tremendous amount to modernize and industrialize Egypt.   There was no information anywhere describing how this mortar was used.

Nothing like a bit of nice carnage to keep the masses entertained.   This delightful scene is located at one end of the wall which you saw earlier and commemorates the Egyptian crossing of the Suez canal during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.   The Israelis had held the eastern bank of the canal since seizing it during the Six Day War in 1967, and erected huge sand banks on their side of the canal to slow down any Egyptian attack.   The Egyptians surprised everyone by making a very ingenious and rapid breakthrough of these defenses and overwhelming the Israeli defenders, however soon afterwards the Egyptian attack completely lost momentum and they had to fall back to their own side of the canal.   However Egypt was able to claim this as a great moral victory, and it's become the main military accomplishment celebrated at this museum.

'crossing carnage' plaque

There's more of the same congratulatory stuff inside, though much of it will have limited appeal to most visitors.

display hall

Here's a diorama showing some rather one-sided and over-stated victories by the Egyptian air force over the Israeli air force.   The current military dictator of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, is given very fulsome praise.   Part of the large brass plaque in Arabic and English says, "The history has recorded the name of the commander of air force during October war Major General Mohamed Hosny Mobarak with very shiny letters because of his good planning, organization, selection of his staff and air units commanders, and his excellancy of managing the combat missions of his forces which led to the victory and accomplish the air superiority during the days of operations".

air battle diorama

And here's part of the wing of an Israeli fighter which was shot down by the Egyptians.   It's certainly genuine, though the Star of David insignia looks rather odd, very poorly painted and quite crooked.

Israeli aircraft wreckage

The museum is a fun place for the whole family, a chance to let your hair down and enjoy the sights, such as these amphibious vehicles which were used to transport troops and equipment like tanks across the canal.   In the late 1950s Egypt decided to court the Russians, who were eager to establish a foothold in the Middle East, which had previously been entirely the province of the British, French and Americans.   Egypt was very successful in playing these rivals off against each other, and received a lot of financial and military assistance this way.   The Russian equipment certainly was cheaper than Western equivalents, but it wasn't as good and after the fighting with Israel had died down Egypt happily started buying American equipment with the aid money that America poured in, making Egypt the second biggest recipient of American aid money in the world, after Israel itself.   Egypt became shamelessly promiscuous in courting foreign finances - there's a sign on the wall behind here describing how the murals were put up as "a symbol of the mutual co-operation" between Hosni Mubarak and "his excellency Kim Il Sung, the president of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea", that is, North Korea!

amphibious vehicles

A whole row of Soviet tanks which were used in the various wars against Israel.   A couple of nice young fellows who spoke good English asked me to take a photo of them standing in front of these tanks, for some reason I thought they were Israelis, but actually they were Egyptians revelling in their country's victories.

captured Israeli tanks

According to the sign, this is "Ayogoslav jet Torped" produced in 1956.   I'll take that to mean that this is Yugoslav torpedo.   The head is a very interesting shape, I don't think I've seen anything like that.


The museum also has this Russian designed SA-2 surface to air missile (SAM) on a standard launcher.   The NATO code name for this missile is "Guideline", but Egypt technicians cheekily reverse engineered the missile and manufactured a version called "Tayir as Sabah" ("morning flight").   Egypt got 400 SA-2s from the Soviets and also built quite a few Tayir as Sabahs which were positioned defensively both against the Israelis and the Libyans on the western border.   Depending on the model, this SAM has a range of 35 to 50 kilometers, a speed of Mach 4 and a kill radius of 65 meters, meaning that anything within 65 meters when it explodes will almost certainly be destroyed.   The nuclear variant can carry a 15 kiloton warhead and doubtless has an even larger kill radius!

surface to air missile (SAM)   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

I really wouldn't have bothered spending time at the museum, except that I'm interested in military aircraft.   The collection here isn't spectacular by any means, but for an avid fan like myself it's interesting enough to justify spending time here, particularly since there are plenty of other things to see within other areas of the citadel.   It's also interesting because the aircraft are all from the former Soviet bloc, so they're not types which are commonly seen in the West.

This somewhat ugly beastie is a Czech designed Zlin Z-226 "Trener", it has a six cylinder 160 horsepower engine and fixed undercarriage, and was used for training pilots.   Apparently there's also a Campbell Cricket and a Heliopolis Goumhouria around someplace, but I didn't see either of those two aircraft.

Zlin Z-226 'Trener'

Another trainer, this time a Russian designed Yak-18 (NATO reporting name "Max"), which originally entered service in 1946, though this is a slightly later version Yak-18A with a slightly larger engine than the original.   This type of aircraft has been used by many different air forces in the former Soviet bloc, in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.   In all, 6670 of this basic configuration of the aircraft were built, and the design was then updated by the Russians to become the Yak-18T and the Yak-52.  The Yak-18 was also manufactured in China as the Nanchang CJ-5 and was further developed there as the Nanchang CJ-6.   Since they're cheap and durable, many Yak-18s, Yak-52s, and Nanchangs are now operated in the west as entry-level warbirds.

Yakovlev Yak-18 trainer

This odd-looking aircraft is a Polish designed PZL104 Wilga, which is a tough little short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft, able to lift off after a run of just 80 meters.   First developed in the 1960s, updated models were still in production until 2009.   It's so versatile that different models of the Wilga have been fitted with wheels, skis or floats, and used for applications as diverse as flying ambulances, glider tugs and agricultural chemical appliers.   It's been a very successful aircraft, with well over a thousand built, making it the most numerous Polish aircraft ever developed.

PZL-104 Wilga

Here's a much more potent aircraft, Russia's first supersonic fighter the afterburner equipped MiG-17, which has the NATO reporting name "Fresco".   They're usually seen in pure fighter form, but this MiG-17F "Fresco C" is more interesting because it's fitted with underwing rockets and even has a couple of small bombs under its belly.   This type of aircraft entered service in Egypt in 1957, very soon after they entered production.   The MiG-17F was also used by the communist Vietnamese air force and because of its maneuverability it was quite successful against much more technologically advanced American designed fighters.   MiG-17s served on well into the 1970s with various air forces around the world, and today there are even several examples on the American airshow circuit.

MiG-17 'Fresco' jet fighter

Here's a closeup of those missiles, which I assume are Egyptian designed 76mm "Sakr" unguided missiles used for ground attack.   This arrangement was later phased out in favor of more typical rocket launcher pods.

closeup of MiG-17 rockets

You can see one of these rocket pods under the wing of this Russian designed Sukhoi Su-7 "Fitter".   Like the MiG-17, the Su-7 was originally intended as a fighter, but it proved more effective in the ground attack role.   With two 30mm cannon in the wing roots, a 1000 kilogram ordnance load and a top speed of Mach 1.6, it was a very potent machine, though as you can see the pitot tube at the front of this particular aircraft has taken quite a beating!   Like most MiGs, the Su-7 had very short range, which greatly limited its usefulness, and the afterburner took six or seven seconds to light, which could be fatal in combat conditions.

Sukhoi Su-7 'Fitter' fighter-bomber

The MiG-21 "Fishbed" was introduced shortly after the Fitter, and since it was a much more capable aircraft, it spelled the end for the Su-7 in the fighter role.   The MiG-21 has been extremely successful, with more built than any other post world war two military aircraft except the C-130 Hercules.   They were a favorite of the Arab nations surrounding Israel, however they were outclassed in combat, particularly by Israel's F-15 Eagle, which is at least a generation more advanced.  Nevertheless, many MiG-21s are still in service today, like these Vietnamese air force MiG-21s which I was lucky enough to see in action in late 2004.

MiG-21 'Fishbed' jet fighter