War Machine, Volume 6

Air War in the Middle East During theY om K ippur War o f1973 the Egyptians did not suffer as badly as they had in 1967 and scenes such as this MiG-21 dispatching an Israeli Phantom were not uncommon despite the overall air superiority held by the Israelis. These two aircraft types have seen many combats against each other. The First Supersonic Fighters The aircraft developed b y France and the Soviet Union clashed spectacularly over the Suez region in 1967 testingout all the developments o f the previous decade. The next few years saw these aircraft and newcomers from America, locked in battle time and time again. Since its creation in May 1948 the state of Israel has spent much of the time in a state of near­ war with its Arab neighbours the uneasy peace that prevails in this troubled part of the world being shattered on numerous occasions by full-blooded conflict. Inmost of these periods of hostility the Israeli Defence Force/ Air Force has been at the very heart of the action usually demonstrating superior ability to that of its adversaries and gaining a well- deserved reputation as being amongst the best-trained air arms in the world. This ele­vated status is perhaps best illustrated by examining the IDF/AF's part in the so-called ‘Six-Day War' of June 1967 when in a matter of just a few hours it all but wiped out aerial opposition by a series of'well-planned and bril­liantly executed pre-emptive strikes. The build-up to open warfare in 1967 took place over a period of months but appears to have been largely prompted by Egypt's Presi­dent Nasser who directed Egyptian troops to occupy the Sinai peninsula during May of that year. Since this inhospitable tract of land served as a ‘buffer between the two nations it was hardly surprising that Israel responded with a partial mobilization but the situation worsened almost immediately when Nasser ousted troops of the United Nations Organiza­tion undertaking the peace-keeping function in Sinai. At the same time Syria and Jordan each mobilized which meant that Israel was now threatened from virtually all Asides further factor in the worsening situation was the clos­ure of the Straits of Tiran to sea-going traffic bound for Israel. Thus by the end of May 1967 it was evident that it was just a matter of time before the rapidly-increasing tension erupted into full-scale warfare and the only real ques-tion being asked at the time was concerned with who would strike first. At this time Israel stood totally alone facing the armed forces of Egypt Jordan and Syria which were backed up by air and ground ele­ments from Algeria Iraq Kuwait and Lebanon. In terms of air power the Arab nations could muster about 650 fighters whilst Israel posses­sed only 196 many of which were of inferior performance when compared with the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-19s and MiG-21s, Sukhoi Su-7s and Hawker Hunters of their hos­tile neighbours. In a war of attrition it was evident that Israel would almost certainly be overwhelmed and the Israelis were thus left with little alternative but to opt for a pre-emptive strike: if they could thus succeed in eliminating the threat posed by enemy air power and so gain control of the skies they could then turn their attention to ground forces insecure the knowledge that the opposing armies could not call for aerial pro­tection. Such a course of action did at least holdout the prospect of averting eventual defeat, although it was quite clearly a gamble for the very highest stakes namely the matter of sur­vival of Israel as a sovereign nation. On the morning of 5 June 1967 the IDF/AF swung into action its onslaught being directed initially against Egypt's large well-and equipped air force. Within an hour of the attacks beginning airbases at Beni Sueif Bir Tamada Fayid Gabel Libni Inchas and Kabrit had been rendered inoperative whilst Egypt’s fleet of 30 Tupolev Tu-16 'Badger' bombers at Cairo West had been wiped out thus removing at a stroke one of the greatest threats to Israel. In the initial phases of the aerial assault which was accomplished mainly by Dassault Mirage IIICJs Dassault Super Mystere B-2s Dassault Mystere IVAs and Sud-Ouest Vautour IIAs vir­tually the entire IDF/AF inventory was commit­ted to action just eight fighters being held back for defensive purposes. But the flawless execu­tion of the plan meant that within three hours of hostilities beginning the Egyptian air force had virtully ceased to exist as an effective fighting force close to 300 aircraft at 17 airfields being destroyed on the opening day. Hard work for the pilots With only a limited number of combat air­craft available intensive flying was demanded of all and many Israeli pilots completed up to eight sorties per day using conventional 250- kg (551-lb) and 500-kg 102-lb) (1 bombs on their initial pass before returning to strafe ground targets with cannon armament. With ammunition expended the Israeli aircraft then headed back to home base in order to refuel and rearm the efforts of the pilots being more than matched by those of the ground crews who routinely accomplished turn-round justin seven or eight minutes permitting the fighters to return to the fray within the hour. With the Egyptian air force effectively out of commission for the duration attention then switched to the airfields of Iraq Jordan and Syria and within another hour eight of these had also been reduced to a state of inoperability, approximately 50 aircraft and helicopters also being destroyed. Thus justin four hours the IDF/AF had scored a crushing victory over the numerically superior forces of its adversaries and far more importantly had paved the way for the battleground to be won. Once again the Arab nations possessed far larger forces up to 500000 troops being supported by nearly 2,000 armoured vehicles Israel on the other hand, could muster just 50000 troops plus 200,000 reservists and approximately 850 armoured vehicles many of which were of World War II vintage. Happily for Israel the availability of air pow­er did more than just balance the equation and for much of the remainder of the 'Six-Day War' IDF/AF aircraft were concerned mainly with close air support of the army flying repeated missions against enemy armour strongpoints and troop concentrations with rockets napalm, bombs and gunfire as they helped soldiers of the Israeli army in the advance across Sinai. In addition to the principal types already de­tailed other types used in the support were the Dassault Ouragan and the Fouga Magister the latter type being piloted mostly by reservists and proving quite ineffective this its first expo­sure to combat The success of the pre-emptive strikes of the morning of 5 June was such that encounters between oppositing fighters were relatively few but in the small number of engagements which did occur Israeli pilots again demons­trated superior qualities claiming victories over Egyptian MiG-2 Is and Su-7s and Jorda­nian Hunters amongst others most of these falling victim to the Mirage IIICJ's twin 30-mm DEFA cannon installation. By the end of the brief but bloody conflict, Israel had decimated Arab air power des­troying more than 350 aircraft and helicopters. This remarkable achievement was not accom­plished without loss however for some 40 IDF/ AF aircraft fell foul of the enemy. Included in this tally of attrition were three Ouragans eight Mystere IVAs three Super Mystere B-2s six Mirages five Vautours and six Magisters all of which represented a great blow but more se­rious still was the loss of 20 invaluable pilots. Not surprisingly losses were heaviest during the first couple of days of the war when the IDF/AF was concerned principally with attack­ing airbases and other ground targets within the territory of its neighbours. Most of the casualties were caused by ground-based anti­aircraft artillery the Egyptian bases being par­ticularly well-defended in this respect. In the event the stunning success of the ‘Six- Day War' did succeed in bringing back an uneasy state of peace in this part of the Middle East for several years. However the IDF/AF's brilliant strategy was soon rendered more lessor void by the Soviet Union which very quickly set about the task of making good the losses suffered by the Arab nations. Within just a few weeks of the initial strike Egypts air force had been rearmed on a guite massive scale the 90 MiG-2 Is that were lost being re­placed on a one-for-one basis by new aircraft. Further the number of MiG-19s on hand had virtually doubled to 120 whilst the original fleet of 30 Tu- 16s (all destroyed on 5 June) had been largely made good with the arrival of 24 more aircraft of this type. In subsequent years modernization further improved Egypt's capability with regard to aerial warfare and when war broke out again during October 1973 the Egyptian air force gave afar better account of itself although, once again Israel did eventually emerge victorious. The death of an Egyptian MiG-21 at the hands of an Israeli Phantom is dramatically caught in a camera-gun film sequence over the Suez Canal battlefield. 12041205
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