ACIG Special Reports
ACIG Database
ACIG Books, Articles & Media
Former USSR-Russia Database
Middle East Database
Indian-Subcontinent Database
Indochina Database
Far-East Database
LCIG & NCIG Section

Middle East Database

War of Attrition, 1967-1972
By Tom Cooper
Jan 23, 2003, 03:25

Email this article
 Printer friendly page

After the end of the Six Day War, the Israelis tried to establish good positions in the newly conquered areas, while Arabs - especially Egypt, still under the shock of the severe defeat - tried to hit back. Initially, the Egyptian Air Force, re-named back from UARAF in 1968 - was foremost trying to shake-down the sad memories and also the wrong teachings from its Soviet instructors, which teached Egyptian pilots to prepare for air combats at high levels and without any hard maneuvering. This process caused very intensive operations over the Suez Channel and the Sinai, and was soon to become a very painful one, as the intensity of operations was such, that the EAF was soon not only losing more pilots in training than in clashes with the Israelis, but also because the Soviets were simply not ready to deliver aircraft and armament which would be equal to that of the Israelis. Therefore, the EAF entered the „War of Attrition“ - „officially“ announced by the Egyptian President Nasser in 1968 - not only undermanned, but also undergunned and undertrained.

The IDF/AF, on the other side, has suffered some pretty painful losses in aircraft and pilots during the Six Day War, and was hit even harder by the French embargo on arms deliveries introduced because the French President de Gaulle felt personally insulted by the Israelis initiating the war despite his warnings not to do so. This was soon to change, however, as the friendship with the USA was reinforced due to Washington’s concerns about the increased presence and influence of the Soviets in the Middle East.

The third actor in this drama, the Syrian Air Force, was the one which saw the greatest development in these six years. From a relatively small force, capable only of local air defence and badly damaged by Israeli raids in June 1967, the SyAAF was now - especially after the former SyAAF fighter-pilot and officer, Assad, climbed to power during the coup in 1968 - to develop into a highly professional force, fully organized according to Soviet air defence doctrine, and with a highly-integrated air defence system, organized to cover the front at Golan and Damascus.

Other Arab air arms were not to take part in the War of Attrition.

Egyptian MiG-21PFV, which have got camouflage colors after the shock of the Six Day War, as seen between two training sorties. Arab pilots realized they have much to learn and were constantly improving their capabilities during the Attrition War, paying every lesson in heavy losses. (Tom Cooper collection)

Interestingly, despite their ferocity, the air combats during the War of Attrition have not influenced the development of new weapons in the way this was the case with the air warfare during the subsequent war in 1973. It must be said, namely, that foremost the clashes between the Israelis and Egyptians have not only confirmed classic theories about the methods of fighting for air superiority, but have also seen the introduction of many new weapons.

The possible reason for this is, that neither side was actually fighting for some kind of a clear air superiority, as much as there were tries to simply cause losses to the other side. The air-to-air battles were characterized by high tempo and swift maneuvers, in which each side tried to inflict as much damage to the other as possible within the shortest period of time possible. Neither side possessed the distinct initiative, even if - due to its advantages in technology - the IDF/AF was usually able to operate according to own ideas, and thus inflict heavy losses to the Arabs. The Israeli operations were characterized by:

n Operations in reinforced strike and demonstrative groups, consisting of aircraft flown by hand-picked highly experienced pilots;
n The elements of demonstration groups would fly at different levels, trying to lure the opponents in front of strike groups which usually waited under the radar horizon, or behind terrain obstacles which disturbed the radar picture of the opponent;
n Introduction of a high number of improved guided air-to-air missiles, starting with the K-13s (a number of which was captured at el-Arish, in 1967, and were then mated to Israeli Mirage IIICJs), over AIM-9Ds and Shafrir 1 & 2s, to AIM-7Es, used exclusively by F-4E Phantom IIs.

Due to their extensive testing of MiG-17s and MiG-21s captured earlier, the Israelis knew the weaknesses of their opposition’s armament, and their best pilots developed highly effective tactics for flying Mirage IIICJ in dogfighting - theoretically - more nimble MiGs. This tactics mainly dependent on the fact, that original K-13s the Arabs used were very poor and frequently malfunctioned, as well as that the MiG-21FL/PFs mainly flown by the Egyptians and the Syrians lacked guns. Therefore, the Israeli pilots were able to enter turn in which their Mirages would lost speed and energy due to their large delta-wing, and stay aloft foremost due to the use of afterburner, but which were needed in order to outmaneuver their opponents while fighting at such critically short distances as at the times (the engagement distances for most air combats between 1968 and 1972 were seldom beyond 400 meters, and guns were still the main air-to-air weapon at least until late 1969).

Mirage IIICJ - called "Shahak" in the Israeli service - claimed over 100 air-to-air victories between 1967 and 1972. Flown by a group of highly-experienced pilots, and armed with a mix of French 30mm guns, US and even Soviet air-to-air missiles, after initial problems with the engine, fuel pumps, radar and hydraulics, the aircraft proved to be an excellent and reliable dogfighter. The "758" seen here later during the War of Attrition (also seen as "458") was one of the two top-scoring Shahaks. (IDF)

The MiG-21s, to contrary, proved much better than Mirage IIICJs in maneuvering at levels over 10.000ft (3.000m), while - just like Mirage IIICJ - frequently suffering stalls at critically low levels and speeds - which were the usual result of air combats in which turning as tight as possible was a rule. By engaging afterburner in order to recover their speed and height, however, Arab pilots often presented excellent targets for IR-homing AAMs of their opponents.

The air-to-air weaponry used during the War of Attrition was relatively simple: guns (which most of Arab MiG-21s were lacking) were used - usually with deadly results - from distances of 50 to 100 meters; air-to-air missiles at distances from 700 to 3.000 meters. Interestingly, even after the introduction of the F-4E in the IDF/AF, in September 1969, the AAMs were not to become the main air-to-air weapon, and even Sparrows were usually used from within the visual range (apparently, Israelis deployed AIM-7s only once from beyond the visual range, in a well organized and pre-planned engagement against two MiG-21s).

In the Beginning...
The War of Attrition was actually started years before even being officially declared, with a raid of Egyptian commandos against an Israeli armored formation near Ras al-Ushsh, on 1 July 1967.

Most of the EAF bases heavily damaged during the Six Day war were actually fully operational by the 8 June 1967, however, the air force was now to go through a series of reorganizations, as for some times its remaining aircraft were pooled in large formations according to the type, while the Soviets were fast to deliver a high number of replacement MiG-21s, Su-7s and MiG-17s. Actually, the Egyptians preferred MiG-21s and MiG-17s to anything else, while also asking Soviets for more powerfull aircraft, which would increase their offensive capability. Moscow refused to deliver anything similar (like Yak-25s and Yak-28s), instead preferring to develop and train the EAF in a purely defensive air arm, capable only of defending the air space over the Nile Delta. This lead to a sort of contradiction, as Egyptians tried to use their air power in a manner similar to that of the Israelis, while lacking the technology, firepower, and experience. Under such circumstances, the EAF was clearly on the best way to suffer extensive losses.

On 4 July 1967, the EAF flew the first offensive operation of this conflict, striking several targets in Sinai, but losing one MiG-17 in the process. A MiG-21RF sent into a recce mission over Israeli positions near el-Qantara on 8 July was also shot down by Israeli air defences, but the Egyptians remained stubborn and dispatched two Su-7s equipped with recce cameras into a new mission on the next morning. The Sukhois did several turns over the Sinai without facing any opposition, and in the afternoon the mission was repeated by two other Su-7s. This time, however, the Israelis waited for them, and one fighter was shot down by Mirages.

The EAF reacted to this by placing all its flying units at alert, and then starting a series of strikes against different Israeli positions. The situation culminated between the 11 and 15 July, when the IDF/AF deployed two squadrons of Mirage IIICJs to stop Egyptian attacks. In numerous air combats, the Israelis downed a total of two Su-7s, one MiG-17, and several MiG-21s, in exchange for one Mirage.

Another top-scorer: Mirage IIICJ "778" finished its career with no less but eight kills against Egyptian and Syrian MiG-17s, and MiG-21s. (IDF)

Subsequently, the Soviets forced the Egyptians to stand down, and continue the reorganization of their armed forces. But, in mid-October 1967, the EAF was back again, and new strikes against Israelis on Sinai were flown. The IDF/AF used the short break to develop two forward bases - at Bir Gifgafa, now called Refidim, and Ras Nisrani, now called Ophir. On each airfield at lest four Mirages and sometimes also other aircraft were placed on temporary dutty, with their crews on constant alert in order to be able to react to any Egyptian attack. In their first operation out of Refidim, on 12 October, for example, Israeli Mirages downed four Egyptian MiG-19s. On 21 October 1967, however, it was the Egyptian Navy which hit back, when ist fast missile crafts sunk the Israeli destroyer Eilat with three SS-N-2 Styx surface-to-surface missiles. This was a turning point in the developement of the naval warfare, as from that moment on, all the larger navies around the world started to arm their ships with anti-ship missiles.

The Siege of Israel
By late 1967 and early 1968 the situation on the Suez quietened down, but now the Palestinian fighters became active with a series of attacks against Israeli troops, staged out of Jordan. Because of this, on 21 March 1968, the IDF initiated the operation „Inferno“ - a joint-forces strike against Palestinian bases around the city of Karameh, inside Jordan. The operation was initiated by helicopters deploying paras around the city, and then an armored force attacking the bases. But, disturbed by the bad weather, the helicopters were late, and in the following battle the coordination of the Israeli forces was poor, which caused heavy losses to the IDF.

On 8 September 1968, the Egyptian Army opened artillery fire against all Israeli positions along the Suez, killing ten Israelis and injuring 18, and the Israelis tried to respond, bombarding Suez and Ismailia. Two day later, EAF MiG-17s hit two Israeli posts in Sinai, loosing one plane to Israeli Mirages, and on 31 October another Egyptian artillery strike killed 14 Israelis. This time, the IDF responded again with commando attack, and in the following night the helicopters of the 123rd Sqn were used to deploy commandos at two Egyptian dams at Nil, the transformator station at Naj Hammadja, and the Qeena Bridge. All four targets were heavily damaged, and the operation caused a shock in Egypt, as it was clear now, that the Israelis can strike all around the country. The EAF responded by another MiG-17-strike, on 3 November, and this time Israeli interceptors were less successful, as during the ensuing combats with escorting MiG-21s no Egyptians were shot down, but one Mirage damaged.

EAF Su-7B; Egyptian pilots initially disliked the type, and before 1967 a decision was taken not to purchase any. But, the Soviets insisted and refused to deliver any other fighter-bombers, therefore the EAF was forced to buy at least 72 examples by 1968. In service, the Su-7B proved to be incapable of carrying any significant combination of weapons and fuel, but also dependable and stabile gunnery platform, capable of surviving damage. Although unable to dogfight with Israeli Mirages, Su-7s seldom suffered losses in air combats during the War of Attrition. (via US DoD)

After replacing the old S-58 helicopters of the 124th Sqn. by newer Bell 205s, on 1 December 1968 the IDF/AF started another commando operation, „Iron“, against four bridges near Amman. This was a highly successful enterprise, in which all targets were destroyed without causing any losses to Jordanian or Palestinian civilian population. Two days later it was turn on PLO-bases in Jordan to be attacked, and while the strike flown by four SMB.2s was successful, one of the Israeli fighters was subsequently damaged during a brief air combat with RJAF Hunters.

After two new air combats, one with Egyptians, on 12 December, in which one MiG-17 was shot down, and one with Syrians, on 24 December, in which two MiG-21s were destroyed, the next Israeli heliborne commando raid was undertaken on 28 December against the Beirut International Airfield, by a force flown in Super Frelons and Bell 205s. Within minutes, the Israelis blocked the roads to the airfield, and then destroyed 13 airliners of the Lebanese Middle East Airline.

Meanwhile, by the late 1968, the EAF was completely reorganized into two separate arms. The EAF was now to control foremost the strike assets, like Su-7s, MiG-17s, and MiG-21s, while the air defence of the Egyptian air space was taken over by the EAF/Air Defence Command, which controlled two brigades of manned interceptors (MiG-21s) and several units equipped with SAMs and radars. The EAF/ADC was now to ease the burden of the EAF, and concentrate on fighting for air superiority over the Suez Channel, along which meanwhile no less but 150.000 Egyptian soldiers were deployed, while the EAF (now counting something like 50 MiG-21s, 80 MiG-19s, 120 MiG-17, 40 Su-7s, 40 Il-28s and a dozen or so Tu-16s) would try to damage Israelis on the Sinai. The Syrian Air Force was also back on the line, boasting a total of around 60 MiG-21s, 70 MiG-17s and 20 Su-7s by January 1969. In both air forces, newer MiG-21PFs have partially replaced the older MiG-21F-13s in interceptor units, and Su-7BMKs have taken the role of primary strikers from MiG-17s. Nevertheless, the Egyptians have upgraded their MiG-17s by adding new hardpoints and making them capable of carrying more weapons. While still heavily dependant of the Soviet help and instructions, both the EAF and the SyAAF have re-started their cooperation, as well as cooperation with numerous other air forces, foremost the Iraqi, Pakistani, Indian, Saudi and some others.

Mirage IIICJ "779" was also a highly successful "Shahak", with which at least eight kills were scored. It is seen here, armed with two Shafrir 2 AAMs, waiting for another mission. (IDF)

The Israelis, on their side, have meanwhile built a series of fortifications along the Suez, which became known as the „Bar-Lev Line“. This Line was actually established foremost to make any Egyptian try to swiftly cross the Canal and break deeper into Sinai before the Israeli Army could be mobilized, not to completely prevent or stop any such efforts. However, with the time, misreporting about the Bar-Lev Line lead to the Israeli public developing a feeling about these fortifications similar to that in the France in connection to the Maginot-Line. This was later to have severe repercutions for the Israelis during the war in 1973.

During February 1969, the IDF/AF bombed several targets inside Syria, and when Syrian interceptors reacted new air combats developed in which two MiG-17s and two MiG-21s were shot down. The Israeli Air Force was actually still in a bad shape, as the acquisition of new aircraft was initially slow. This changed rapidly from early 1969, with US help. As first, Washington finally started to deliver first of 48 ordered A-4 Skyhawks, and agreed to deliver also 44 F-4E Phantoms. Very soon and again with the US help, the cooperation with France was re-established in a clandestine operation, which saw the deliveries of 50 „embargoed“ Mirage 5Js in crates to Israel with the help of US C-5 Galaxy transports. These aircraft were put together by the IAI during late 1969 and 1970, and then presented to the public as an „indigenious“ Israeli fighter, called Nesher, officially made possible by a Swiss ingenieur which „revealed“ the secrets of Mirage 5 to Israel (and was even sentenced to several years of prison for doing this!). The whole operation had to be organized in such manner because French were now officially „Arab-friends“, and - after the coup against the Emperor Idriz of Libya, which brought Col. Qaddafi to power - supplying Mirage III and 5 fighters also to Libya (where these were actually flown by Egyptian pilots)! The clandestine US-French-Israeli connection was finally so far developed, that it lead to a project in which Mirage 5 was to be mated with a US-supplied J-79 engines by the IAI, in a project lead by US designer - Gene Salvay. Thus the „Kfir“ came into being, which, however, entered production only after the war in 1973.

The Wild West
On 8 March 1969, a large Egyptian formation that flew a strike against Israeli positions in Sinai was intercepted by IDF/AF Mirages, and two MiG-21s were shot down. One of Egyptian pilots was captured. Several hours later, the Egyptian artillery opened a massive barrage against the Bar-Lev Line, and President Nasser declared on radio, that the „War of Attrition“ was started. The IDF/AF now changed the tactics according to which its interceptors operated. Bearing in mind that the EAF was flying over the Sinai every day, and that Egyptian pilots were obviously eager to engage, the Israeli interceptors were not to wait any more for the Egyptians to come but to be used offensively, by trying to drag enemy into pre-selected areas where these could not operate with the help from their GCI. Further air combats followed into April, with the EAF losing a MiG-21 or two from time to time, for almost no gains in exchange, except the Mirage IIICJ shot down by Capt. Mikhail, on 14 April. On 21 May, the Israelis almost completely destroyed two sections of four Egyptian MiG-21s each, downing four of them in air combats and one by MIM-23A Hawk SAMs.

From June 1969, the Israelis intensified their operations, starting with a demonstration flight of four Mirages over Cairo, on 17th of the month. Three days later the Operation „Rimonim“ was initiated, with the objective of dragging Egyptian interceptors into an area south of the Suez City, which was not well covered by the EAF/ADF. In a series of battles provoked here by the Israelis by the 7 July, a total of nine MiG-21s and one MiG-17 were shot down, in exchange for a single Mirage IIICJ, lost on 26 June. In another - completely unrelated - air combat, caused by the activity of Israeli recce aircraft over Syria, on 8 July 1969, seven Syrian MiG-21s were shot down as well.

Nevertheless, Israeli pilots were not to get any rest. After an Egyptian commando attack against IDF installations in Sinai, on 18 July 1969, the IDF/AF was chosen to answer and three days later the Operation „Boxer“ was initiated. In 171 combat sorties, the Israelis dropped something like 200t of bombs on Egyptian SAM-sites and artillery positions. The EAF reacted only in the afternoon of 20 July with a strike against Israeli SAM-sites, but the strike package was intercepted while over the target and four aircraft were shot down by Mirages. Because of this, the IDF/AF intensified the operation Boxer for a full week, during which a total of over 700 combat sorties was flown. The result was a complete break-down of the EAF/ADF’s net of SAM-sites and radars along the Suez, massive destruction of the artillery positions, and the loss of eight MiGs. „Boxer“ was the first operation in which the IDF/AF flew pre-planned and well coordinated strikes against integrated air defences including SAM-sites, and it proved highly successful, especially as the SA-2bs could not target the low-flying Israeli aircraft.

Still, due to swift Soviet deliveries of new weapons, the EAF/ADF was fast to recover, and the IDF/AF was - now in the role of Israeli „flying artillery“ - compelled to start another massive operation, „Drizzle“, which was initiated in the night from 9 to 10 September. This started with commando attacks against Egyptian missile crafts, and a landing of a commando-party, equipped with captured T-55 tanks and BTR-50 APCs near the port of Ras el-Sadat. The raiders drove between the SAM-sites, destroying one after the other, and causing havoc in Egyptian organization, and in the morning the IDF/AF followed with a series of heavy strikes, during which one SMB.2 was lost, together with the pilot.

In six weeks since the start of „Boxer“, the Israelis flew over 1.000 combat sorties, destroyed two dozens of SAM-sites, and shot down 21 Egyptian aircraft, in exchange for three own fighters. Nevertheless, already on 11 September, the EAF hit back, deploying over 100 fighter-bombers against Israeli SAM-sites. Near el-Qantara four Mirages tried to cut off a formation of eight MiG-17s, several Su-7s, and eight MiG-21s, causing an air combat, in which the Mirage of the Israeli „ace“ Capt. Giora Rom was shot down by one of the more successful Egyptians, Capt. Mikhail, albeit in exchange for foru MiG-21s, two Su-7s, and one MiG-17.

Subsequently the Egyptians even increased the pace, and on 28 October their Mi-8s deployed a commando-party near an enemy base almost 100km east of el-Qantara, causing surprise and losses to the Israelis. Such operations caused concerns on the Israeli side, which tried to downplay the Egyptian successes, explaining that these are not capable of causing any damage, while superimposing feats of the IDF/AF’s aces. The fact was, that the EAF and the EAF/ADF suffered extensive losses in the summer of 1969, and that they were not especially successful against the Israelis in the air, but also that the EAF was also hitting back very hard, causing losses and damage too. Therefore, the War of Attrition was continued, and on 6 October 1969, the IDF/AF was again in action, deploying 200 fighters to attack Egyptian SAM-sites along the Suez. During these operations, Israeli aircraft - foremost A-4 Skyhawks - were carrying ECM-pods for the first time, and were apparently also supported by a Vautour or two, equipped for supporting strike packages with electronic countermeasures, but also monitoring the enemy emissions. Due to this, even if the Egyptians had more SAM-sites, and were now firing many more SAMs, only one out of at least a hundred of SA-2s exploded near one A-4, causing some damage. When the EAF tried to strike back, two Su-7s were shot down, and the strike package was forced to abort.

Even if they would not admit this in public, by the time the Egyptians were now definitely on the end of their capability to continue the war at the same pace. Between July 1967 and November 1969, the EAF and the EAF/ADF have suffered a loss of 51 combat aircraft, of which 34 in air combats, nine to AAA, and eight to Israeli MIM-23 Hawk SAMs, at least 30 own SAM-sites and over 1.500 soldiers.

Israeli Hammers
The situation was now to change, as the IDF/AF was short or introducing a new weapon in the War of Attrition: the powerfull, fast, and lethal McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II. The Phantom was the aircraft which was to fascinate not only the Israelis, but also their enemies so much, that in the future these were prone to declare any Israeli aircraft they saw for a „Phantom“. The arrival of the F-4E in Israel was foremost important because the type was so powerfull, that it could fly over 300km deep into Egypt, carrying more bombs almost a squadron of SMB.2s, at a speed of Mirage III, albeit at a much more comfort (especially in the low-level ride) and security for the crew. The F-4E was also to change the behaviour of Israeli pilots in air combats: the early Phantoms they have got were still un-slated, and thus slightly less maneuverable than the MiG-21s or Mirages, albeit, they were much better armed. Therefore, initially after their introduction, the IDF/AF was apparently reluctant to use them for air combats, and rather tended to deploy them in demonstration groups which would initiate any operation by either attacking some target on the ground, or dragging enemy interceptors towards places where smaller and more agile Mirages waited in ambush.

Formation of early IDF/AF F-4E Phantom IIs during a training flight over the Sinai. The F-4E caused a small revolution in the air warfare, due to its capability to carry huge bomb-loads over extended ranges at very high speeds, and also defend itself with air-to-air missiles and gunfire. (IDF)

The Phantom introduced also more modern, built-in, ECM-systems to the IDF/AF, which were not only showing the threat to the pilot, warning him to start evasive maneuvering, like standard RWRs, already introduced on Skyhawks and upgraded SMB.2s, but also automatically jamming enemy radars.

Neither the Egyptians nor the Soviets could purchase anything similar like the F-4E: the Soviets would not supply them any of their more modern or powerfull fighters (not that they have had many at the time, as the new generation with MiG-23s and MiG-25s was still in the development phase), and the Libyan deal for Mirage III/5s was still in its early stages. What Moscow made available were Su-20s, which at the time were a simple derivative of the Su-7B, albeit with wings which outside parts could be swept, thus simplifying operations, while increasing the payload and range. However, it would take the Egyptians at least six months longer until their first Su-20s would be available.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Phantoms flew their first combat missions during the Operation „Pirkha“, initiated on 22 October 1969, with a strike of four Phantoms against two Egyptian SAM-sites near Abu Suweir AB. On 4 November, Phantoms were also „shown“ to the citizens of Cairo, when four of them thundered low over the Egyptian capital, and on 11 November, they downed their first MiG-21, during an air combat over Jebel Ataka, after another ambush was set up south of Suez. From that time on for the next two months, the two IDF/AF-units equipped with Phantoms were targeting one Egyptian SAM-site after the other, destroying at least three dozens of them by late December, including no less but eight on 15 December. As if this would not be enough, on 23 December the Israelis mounted a commando raid, which captured an Egyptian P-12 radar recently placed some 200km south of the Suez City. The radar and the support equipment were subsequently loaded under two CH-53 helicopters, and then flown out to Israel (some say, via a US aircraft carrier, waiting for the helicopters in the Red Sea).

The year 1970 was to start very bad for the EAF. On 4 January, Mirages dragged several MiGs into another ambush and downed two of them. This caused the EAF to become very careful, as the IDF/AF was now seemingly constantly mounting such operations, while, actually, the Israelis had something else in mind: three days later two Phantoms thundered in low level over the Suez, but instead of attacking some SAM-site, they continued straight towards Cairo, and then attacked the training center at Bilbeis. The surprise on the Egyptian side was complete: since the Six Day War, the IDF/AF flew no similar attacks so deep into Egypt. This was now to change, however, as this attack signalized the initalization of the Operation „Blossom“, in which the IDF/AF was to go offensive and establish a sort of air superiority along the Suez Canal. Three days later several ammunition depots near Cairo were hit. On 18 January, also the bases near Helowan, and the Camp Watza were attacked and severely damaged. Each time, Egyptian interceptors were not able to react, as the fast and powerfull Phantoms were back over Sinai before they could be scrambled.

The Soviet Intervention
The Operation „Blossom“ was obviously too successful: it clearly illustrated the whole Egyptian military and civilian population, that the IDF/AF could strike all over Egypt and cause tremendous - sometimes shocking - damage and losses, without even being disturbed. The war was thus brought directly to Egypt, and the leadership in Cairo decided to ask the Soviets for help. Moscow was not especially interested to increase the Egyptian capability to fight, but, in the context of the Cold War, an increased presence of Soviet instructors in the country was always welcome, just like the Soviets had a feeling they have to show the Egyptians and the world the actual might of their weapons.

Before the first units of the Soviet Air Defence Force (V-PVO) were so far to be shipped to Egypt, however, the Operation „Blossom“ was continued, with new attacks against targets deep inside Egypt being flown at least two or three times a week. By 26 February, when the EAF/ADF MiG-21s managed for the first time to force four Phantoms to abort their mission (albeit, losing three aircraft in an encounter with escorting Mirages), the F-4Es of the 69th and 201st Sqns. IDF/AF flew a total of 118 combat sorties deep into Egypt. In addition, Mirages equipped with reconnaissance equipment flew several dozens of recce missions over all the Egyptian main bases. In early March, some of these produced photos showing the first Soviet troops which landed in Egypt.

: Egyptian Fansong radar - as used in dozens - in position. Note support equipment, mounted on the trucks to the left, and a SA-2 missile in the background. (US DoD)

An Egyptian SA-2 surface-to-air missile ready for operations. The SA-2 was the main surface-to-air weapon the Israelis were confronting in increasing numbers and improved versions during the War of Attrition. It never became espeically successful, but this foremost because of being respected by the Israelis, which evaded areas defended by the Egyptian SAMs, or flew bellow levels on which the SA-2 was effective. Note the camouflage painting. (both via US DoD)

Initially, the V-PVO deployed a regiment-sized unit of new MiG-21MFs (which could not only carry four K-13s, but also have got a 23mm gun mounted under the fuselage), and at least three SAM-brigades to Egypt, taking over several bases between Suez and Cairo from Egyptians. The first Soviet SAM-site was declared operational on 15 March 1970, and the Soviet pilots were scrambled for the first time on 18 April 1970, when two RF-4E were underway on another reconnaissance mission. The Israelis have listened to Soviet communications, and knew very well who was sent to intercept their recce planes; as no confrontation with the Soviets was intended, the Phantoms have got an order to abort the mission and come back. Instead, from that moment on, the IDF/AF tried to evade any contacts with the Soviets, while concentrating on operations against areas defended only by Egyptians. BY late April, a total of over 3.300 combat sorties were flown during the Operation „Blossom“, and over 8.000 bombs dropped on different targets.

A pair of MiG-21MFs in Egyptian markings seen during take-off. The type appeared in the Middle East when the Soviets deployed 72 examples to Egypt, in spring of 1970. All the survivors of several fierce air combats with Israeli Mirages and Phantoms were subsequently sold to the EAF. (via US DoD)

By now, the Soviets troops in Egypt aclimatized and - after their first „operational“ missions - became bold as well, trying several times to intercept Israeli fighters which were operating against the EAF/ADF. Within several days, the Israelis started to feel the Soviet presence - and the presence of their weapons: first a Skyhawk was shot down, then two Phantoms, and subsequently Russian pilots flew two MiG-21s which pursued a formation of Skyhawks deep over the Sinai, damaging one of them.

Therefore, on 30 July, the IDF/AF staged another trap, this time purposedly flying over the area controlled by the Russians - in order to sandwich their MiG-21-formations as these would be scrambled to intercept. The plan worked and five Russians were shot down one after the other after being hit by Mirages and Phantoms successively. Except for damaging one Mirage, the Russians were teached a perfect lection in modern air-to-air combat, the outcome of which consists not only from excellent and combat proven pilots or good aircraft, but also of lots the whole support behind them, as well as the tactical methods according to which these are used. At latest now it became completely clear who controls the air over the Suez Canal.

Not that the Egyptians were very sorry for their often arrogant Russian „instructors“, but the EAF was in action only days later, again attacking Israeli SAMs and causing several air combats. The Soviets tried now several times also to set traps for the Israelis, but with exception of one Mirage being damaged in a dogfight with MiG-21s, and one Phantom by SA-3s (the pilot managed to land the badly damaged aircraft at Refidim; if this Phantom was indeed written-off, then it was the 16th Israeli loss since 1967) they obviously came away with empty hands.

Another formation of Israeli F-4Es, this time loaded with six Mk.82s each, carried under the centreline, obviously underway towards some target inside Egypt. Beside 250kg heavy Mk.82s, Israeli Phantoms often carried 907kg heavy Mk.84s, which could destroy even underground facilities. (IDF)

Thus the „official“ part of the War of attrition came to an end by a cease-fire, at Midday of 4 August 1970. By that time, both sides were actually on the end of their strengths: the Egyptians have suffered a loss of between 101 and 113 aircraft, of which 25 to Hawk SAMs, but their human losses were at least ten times higher; the Israelis suffered a loss of 594 dead (including 33 IDF/AF personnel) in addition to 115 or 16 aircraft. Both sides could actually not push for much longer, even if both sides knew they actually would have to.

Together with the F-4E, an increasing number of A-4E Skyhawks were the „war horses“ of the IDF/AF during the later stages of the War of Attrition. (IDF)

The „War of Attrition“ was the first armed conflict in the Middle East in which truly modern technology was used - and of decisive importance for success. Continuous battles between SAM-sites, fighter-bombers and interceptors, and frequent changes of the tactical situation forced the Israelis and Arabs to use more sophisticated and complicated equipment, and thus constantly train for maintenance and combat. The battles also became more sophisticated, after all, both sides trained each other intensively by their operations for years. Especially the involved air forces needed a quiet period of time to reorganize, train replacements for so many losses - which were felt badly on both sides, prepare reserves, better study their opponents, and understand the situation. There was, however, hardly enough time for this.

The conflict, namely, was far from over, and it was clear that both sides were not satisfied with the situation. The Egyptians wanted Sinai back, just like Syrians wanted Golan, but the Israeli political leadership lacked the will to negotiate feeling safe after the huge success of the Six Day War, in 1967, and the successes of the IDF(AF during the War of Attrition. Israeli Air Force, however, knew that the situation was different.

Not only have the Egyptians established a powerfull SAM-belt between the Canal-zone and Cairo, but they now also had a free hand to move their SAMs closer to Suez, and thus disturb IDF/AF aircraft in their operations there. The Israelis, namely, needed the freedom of operation to do reconnaissance of the area, and also hit back if needed, so to pre-empt any Egyptian surprise-attack. If the EAF/ADF could control the skies over the Canal, however, the IDF/AF could not do its job, and it was clear that the Egyptian Army could also cross it without being disturbed by Israeli Air Force. Exactly this was now to happen and therefore influence heavily the outcome of the next round.

Orders of Battle

1 APIB/ 55. Sqn. with Su-7B/BMK at Giancalis
/ ? Sqn. with Su-7B/BMK at Giancalis

9. APIB ?/ ? Sqn. with Su-7B/BMK at Beni Sueif
/ ? Sqn. with Su-7B/BMK at Beni Sueif

? APIB/? Sqn. with Su-7B/BMK at Giancalis
/? Sqn. with Su-7B/BMK at Giancalis

2 APIB ?/ ? Sqn. with MiG-17F at Kabrit?
/? Sqn. with MiG-17F at el-Mansura
/? Sqn. with MiG-17F at Bilbeis

12 APIB ?/? Sqn. with MiG-17F at el Minya
/? Sqn. with MiG-17F at Inchas

65 BAP /95. Sqn. with Tu-16KS/K-11-16 at Cairo West
/? Sqn with Tu-16 at el-Mansura, Bilbeis

61 BAP/8. Sqn with Il-28 at Helwan
/9. Sqn with Il-28 at Helwan

EAF/ADF (founded 1 July 1968)
5 IAP/ ? Sqn. with MiG-21F-13/MiG-21FL at el-Mansura?
/ ? Sqn. with MiG-21MF at Komm Amshim?

7. IAP/26 Sqn. with MiG-21RF at Cairo West?
/? Sqn. with MiG-21 at Inchas?

9. IAP/? Sqn. with MiG-21 at el-Mansura?
/ ? Sqn. with MiG-21 at Kutamiyah?

15. IAP/? Sqn. with MiG-21 at Hurghada?
/? Sqn. with MiG-21 at Abu Sueir?
/ ? Sqn. with MiG-21 at Jebel Basar?

? IAP / ? Sqn. with MiG-21MF at Beni Sueif
/ ? Sqn with MiG-21MF at Beni Sueif
/? Sqn. with MiG-21MF at Komm Amshim
/? Sqn. with MiG-21MF at Komm Amshim
/? Sqn. with MiG-21MF at Kutamiyah
/? Sqn. with Su-15 at ?

63. ORAE with MiG-25R („X-500“) at Cairo West
? with Be-12 at Alexandria

69. Sqn Ha’Patishim Sqn. with F-4E, RF-4E at Ramat David (from 1969)
110. Sqn with Vatour IIN/IIBR, A-4E at Ramat David (A-4E from 1970)
117. Sqn with Mirage IIICJ/Nesher at Ramat David (Nesher from 1972)
109. Sqn with Mystére IVA, A-4E at Ramat David (A-4E from 1968)

119. Sqn Bat Sqn. with Mirage IIICJ, F-4E at Tel Nov (F-4E from 1973)
113. Sqn Wasp Sqn. with Ouragan, RF-4C?, Nesher at Tel Nov, Etzion (Nesher from 1972)
116. Sqn with Mystére IVA, A-4E at Tel Nov (A-4E from ?)
12. FS Magister Tel Nov

101. Sqn with Mirage IIICJ/Nesher at Hatzor
105. Sqn Scorpions Sqn. with SMB.2 at Hatzor
107. Sqn Zanav Katom with Ouragan, F-4E at Hatzor (F-4E from 1971)
201. Sqn Ahat Sqn. with F-4E, RF-4E at Hatzor (F-4E from 1969)

100. Sqn with Piper L-18 at miscellaneous
103. Sqn with Noratlas at Tel Nov
123. Sqn with CH-53D/S-65C-3, Super Frelon at miscellaneous
124. Sqn with Bell 205 at miscellaneous
131.Sqn with C-97, C-47 at Tel Nov and Lod

© Copyright 2000-5 by

Top of Page

Latest Middle East Database
Damascus Calling
Israeli - Syrian Shadow-Boxing
Disaster in Lebanon: US and French Operations in 1983
Syrian Tank-Hunters in Lebanon, 1982
GD/L-M F-16A/B Netz in Israeli Service
Dassault Mirage III & Mirage 5/Nesher in Israeli Service
Early MiG-23M/MS Floggers in Action
Syrian Air-to-Air Victories since 1948
Egyptian Air-to-Air Victories since 1948
Different Middle Eastern Air-to-Air Victories since 1964
Israeli Air-to-Air Victories since 1974
Israeli Air-to-Air Victories in 1973
Battle of el-Mansourah
War of Attrition, 1969-1970
Israeli Air-to-Air Victories July 1967 - September 1973
Arab Air Forces on 5 June 1967
Israeli Air-to-Air Victories in 1967
Operation Moked: Destruction of Arab Air Forces
Lebanon and Jordan, 1958
Canberra Down!
Suez Crisis, 1956: The War of Stripes
Suez Crisis, 1956
Israeli Air-to-Air Victories in 1948-1966
Syria's Fighting Texans
Egypt’s Forgotten Lysanders
Stirlings in Egypt