Israel Air Force: In the Six-Day War
Arab hostility toward Israel reached a fever pitch in the days preceding the Six Day War. Egypt's President Nasser once again closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and expelled U.N. peacekeeping forces from the Sinai. As Moslem leaders called for jihad (Holy War), the IAF quietly prepared for what would become its finest hour.
The outcome of the war was determined during its first hours, as the result of a devastating attack against Egyptian air bases. Later that morning, as additional Arab states entered the war, the IAF quickly responded by striking Syrian, Jordanian and even Iraqi airfields. By day's end, IAF Commander Mordechai (Motti) Hod proudly announced that the Arab air forces had been destroyed.
From this point on, the IAF turned its attention to the land battles raging on three fronts. Fighters provided close air support, wreaking havoc on enemy armies which had been stripped of their air cover. The Mitla Pass became a graveyard for Egyptian armor. Helicopters and transports moved troops and equipment in support of the rapidly advancing forces. Helicopters evacuated wounded and rescued downed pilots far behind enemy lines. The daring use of choppers as assault transports enabled paratroopers to conquer the southern half of the Golan Heights in the waning hours of the war. By ruling the skies, the IAF guaranteed Israel's smashing victory.
A few statistics reveal the extent of Israel's air superiority: with only 200 fighters, the IAF destroyed 391 enemy planes on the ground and 60 in dogfights. The IAF generated over 3,300 sorties, many times more than the combined Arab air forces. However, the victory was tempered by the loss of 46 Israeli planes and of 24 pilots, who gave their lives in a war that changed the face of the Middle East.
Operation Moked: Destruction of the Egyptian Air Force (June 5, 1967)
In three hours in June, 1967, the IAF achieved one of the most spectacular victories in the history of modern warfare. During these fateful moments, Israeli fighters struck a crippling blow to the Egyptian Air Force by destroying most of its aircraft on the ground. During the tension-filled weeks that preceded the war, all efforts were focused on the operation. As Arab leaders whipped their populations into a militant frenzy, IAF maintenance forces whipped their aircraft into shape.
The planners concentrated on Egypt, the leader of the Arab world. They risked nearly all of the IAF's 200 fighters on the attack. Only 12 planes were held back to protect Israel's skies. The first wave struck precisely at 07:45, the daily change-over time at Egyptian air bases. Eleven fields were initially targeted. Special emphasis was placed on destroying the Tupelov and Ilyushin bombers which posed a strategic threat to Israel.
As the attack began, fighters dropped bombs designed to crater the runways, preventing enemy aircraft from taking off. This was followed by an intricate pattern of strafing runs, which caught scores of planes trapped on the ground. The perfect execution of this difficult aerial “choreography” was the result of countless hours of training. The first wave was a brilliant success: 189 planes, nearly half the Egyptian air force, lay burning. The second wave pressed the advantage against Egypt. Fourteen bases were hit and 107 more planes destroyed.
Later that morning, Syrian Migs and Jordanian artillery attacked Israel. Within one hour, Israeli planes were on their way to these countries, catching Migs and Hunters on the ground and in the air. By the end of the first day, the IAF controlled the skies, paving the way to victory. Not since the Battle of Britain had so many owed so much to so few.
Sources: Israel Defense Forces