Witness Israel's Surprise-Attack During the Six Day War Through the Eyes of Egyptian MiG Pilots

By Oren Rozen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9149126

Witness Israel's Surprise-Attack During the Six Day War Through the Eyes of Egyptian MiG Pilots

What a story.

The Mirage Hafez attempted to attack was probably involved in attack on another major UARAF MiG-17 base: Cairo West. That airfield was hit precisely at 09:00 hrs, by a formation from No.101 Squadron IDF/AF, which claimed hits on at least three MiG-17s. Nevertheless a few MiGs still remained operational, since Wg Cdr Zohair Shalabi scrambled with two wingmen immediately afterwards. After remaining on a CAP for some time, he decided to divert to Helwan AB, in order to disperse his aircraft, arriving there around 09:30 hrs.

Bir Thamada was hit for the third time in such quick succession that the UARAF pilots there believed they had been under a continuous assault for 15 minutes. The airfield ceased to be an active fighter base around 09:00 hrs, Mystéres of No.109 Squadron having destroyed the last intact MiG-17 on the ground. Flight Lieutenant Hashim Mustafa Hassan on No.25 Squadron recalled the strange situation that developed when another Israeli formation appeared overhead only a few minutes later:

`Some 30 seconds from the end of the attack, a second wave of planes arrived… We ran about the desert, looking for cover, but the planes didn’t shoot. They merely circled, their pilots surprised that the base was completely destroyed and that no targets remained. We were the only targets… weak humans scurrying in the desert with handguns as our only means of self-defence. It was a sad comedy… pilots of the newest and best-equipped jets fighting with handguns. Five minutes after the beginning of the attack, the planes disappeared and a silence prevailed that encompassed the desert and the noise that destroyed our planes and the airbase and the squadron. They completed their assignment in the best way possible, with a ratio of losses —100 percent for us, 0 percent for them.’

Meanwhile, the third Israeli strike on Kabrit struck around 09:10 hrs, followed by another at 09:25 hrs. This time, Super Mystére B.2s of No.105 Squadron and Mystére IVAs of No.109 Squadron IDF/AF respectively, claimed a total of up to 18 MiG-15s and MiG-17s destroyed on the ground, bringing the total to 30 since the war began. But their claims were almost certainly exaggerated, since Wg Cdr Mamdouh Taliba described an entirely different situation when MiG pilot Tahir Zaki called him, sometimes after 09:00 hrs local time:

‘I called him to ask what was happening. He answered, “It’s fantastic, they are attacking the dummy planes on the old runway! The real planes, which had been hidden under cover, weren’t attacked. None of these were hit during the first two attacks. But there were about eight or nine open pens and these had one aircraft in each of them. Some of these were attacked.” These were the only real planes that the Israelis attacked. We also had very big hangars at Kabrit, so we put four MiG-17s in each, one in each corner of the hangar where they were less likely to be hit. And they weren’t.’

For their part, the Israelis believed that most of Egypt’s dummy aircraft were made of inflatable rubber rather than wood and they only admitted being fooled by them at Abu Suweir and Cairo West.

Nevertheless, the later attack on Kabrit caused Mustafa Hafez to scramble for second time under most dangerous circumstances:

`Very soon afterwards I took off again in a different aircraft. This was a MiG- 17PF [serial number 2803]. There had been no time for me to report or to be debriefed. I merely changed aircraft. As I started the engine the airfield came under attack again, perhaps it was the second or third attack. I was still inside the hanger, in the cockpit, when I heard the attack. I cleared the hanger doors at full throttle and afterburner. The aircraft was swerving and rocking from side to side as I turned, first to the left to clear another hanger which was facing my hanger, then to the right along a taxiway, then to the left again to cross a small railway line which ran between the hangers and the main sub-runway, then sharp right onto that sub-runway. I was afraid the wingtips would hit the ground. I took off without a pause and climbed as steep as I could, but the enemy had gone. Taliba had also taken off during the attack.’

Once airborne, Hafez was joined by Wg Cdr Taliba, and the two established a CAP over Kabrit, remaining airborne until about the time the fifth Israeli raid on Kabrit came in, around 09:40 hrs:

‘He [Taliba] joined me and told me to accompany him as his Number Two (wingman). As I was joining him I saw a SAM coming towards us. We avoided it but Taliba ordered me to land as I only had 450 litres of fuel left. Taliba had landed and I was on my final approach at a height of about 15 to 20 metres when Taliba shouted over the radio, “Hafez! You have aircraft ahead of you!” So I retracted my undercar-riage and flap, gave the aircraft full throttle and afterburner. The Israelis were about 100 metres ahead of me. I counted them, one, two, three, four; so I pulled up and tried to follow the last one. But this meant leaving the turn a bit late. I should have turned earlier. The Israelis were a bit lower than me. All five of us started circling, then one came at me head on and opened fire. This made me so angry that I swore out loud. The Israeli turned to the right. I turned first to the left and then to the right to try and follow him. A head-on attack is very difficult.

‘That was when I was hit in the right wing. We were all flying at about 200 or 300 metres. My right aileron was damaged and I continued turning right, unable to straighten out, so I gained height. The Israeli couldn’t keep with me as a MiG-17 is better in a climb. My aircraft juddered several times and almost went into a spin. I thought it odd that it tried to spin under those conditions [this was perhaps when his aircraft was hit a second time, in the tail and rear fuselage]. While three of the Israeli aircraft attacked our airfield, the fourth one followed me. After the three have strafed the field, the fourth one did the same, then they all flew home.

Meanwhile I was still turning to the right, unable to straighten up. As I lined up on a runway I used the aileron trim to straighten out. This wasn’t standard procedure. I don’t know if I invented it or maybe it just came by instinct, but it worked. I had no communication with the ground, but I landed OK. The MiG had been badly damaged. The right wing was damaged, the lower part of the rudder had mostly been shot away, the main control rod to the stabilizer was much damaged. The rear fuel tank had also been hit but fortunately it had been almost empty and although there had been a fire in the tank, and the alarm had been set off in my cockpit, I had used the fire extinguisher and this did the trick as there hadn’t been enough fuel to cause a big fire.’

Although none of the Israelis saw Mustafa Hafez’s MiG-17 actually hit the ground, Major Asaf Ben-Nun of No.105 Squadron claimed a kill. Interestingly, he remained the only IDF/AF pilot whose claim to have downed an Egyptian MiG-17 on the first day of the 1967 War was subsequently considered as “confirmed” by the Israeli Air Force. The exact reason for this Israeli conclusion remains unknown, since the UARAF did not lose a single MiG-17 in air combat on Jun. 5, 1967.

However bolstered by this success, the Israelis then broadened their operations to cover the Jordanian and Syrian, and the Iraqi fronts. In the course of few hours they annihilated the RJAF (Royal Jordanian Air Force) and then inflicted such losses on the SyAAF (Syrian Arab Air Force) that thereafter it took virtually no active part in the war. In regard to effectiveness and significance for the outcome of the entire campaign and the future of the Middle East, no operation in history stands comparison with the IDF/AF attack on that day.

This article by Dario Leone originally appeared on The Aviation Geek Club in 2018.

Image: Wikimedia.