10 Most audacious military raids

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Raiding, also known as depredation, has been around for as long as there has been warfare.

Among many tribal societies, raiding was the most common and lethal form of warfare. Taking place at night, the goal was to catch the enemy sleeping to avoid casualties to the raiding party.

Used as a military tactic, raids usually have a specific purpose and are not normally intended to capture and hold terrain.

A raiding group may consist of specially trained troops, such as special forces, or as a special mission assigned to any general troops.

The purposes of a raid may include:

We will be looking at ten raids that were audacious, effective and far reaching.

These ten raids have been placed in alphabetical order.

Operation Barras

The civil war in Sierra Leone, a former British colony in West Africa, had started in March 1991. In the later half of 2000, nearly ten years later, the war was still going strong.

On 25 August 2000, a patrol from the Royal Irish Regiment were returning from a visit to Jordanian peacekeepers attached to the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) at Masiaka.

When the patrol turned off the main road and drove down a track towards the village of Magbeni, they were overwhelmed by a large number of heavily armed rebels.

The 11 members of the Royal  Irish Regiment patrol, along with their Sierra Leone Army liaison officer, were taken prisoner and move to Gberi Bana on the opposite side of Rokel Creek.

The rebels were a group known as the West Side Boys, under the leadership of Foday Kallay. They were well armed and particularly vicious. Their frequent use of cannabis, cocaine and local palm wine made their behaviour erratic at the best of times

The British Army negotiated the release of six of the eleven men on patrol, but were not able to gain the freedom of their Sierra Leone Army liaison officer and the other men before the West Side Boys’ demands became increasingly unrealistic.

The negotiators concluded that the demands made by the West Side Boys were delaying tactics rather than an effort to resolve the crisis.

By 9 September the soldiers had been held for over a fortnight.  There was a fear that the soldiers would be killed or moved to another location from which it would be more difficult to extract them. The British government authorised an assault on the West Side Boys’ base to take place at dawn the following day.

The ground operation, code named Operation Barras, would be carried out by D Squadron, 22 Regiment Special Air Services and elements of 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment.

The SAS would carry out the assault on Gberi Bana to extract the Royal Irish. 1 Para would launch a diversionary assault on Magbeni.

SAS observation teams had been in the area for some time, keeping Gbeni Bana under close observation.

The two Chinook helicopter carrying the SAS assault team took up a holding position about 15 minutes flying time from the West Side Boys’ camp. This meant that they were out of visual and hearing range.

This gave the observation teams time to get into position to prevent the West Side Boys from attacking any of the captives before the assault teams were on the ground.

As the assault teams came into position, two Lynx attack helicopters strafed the village to make the landing zones as safe as possible. The observation teams engaged West Side Boys in the vicinity of the captives to prevent the gang members from attempting to kill them.

The assault teams fast-roped to the ground and swept through the village, engaging targets.

Less than 20 minutes after the arrival of the SAS assault team the five Royal Irish solders were freed, as was Lieutenant Musa Bangura, the patrol’s SLA liaison, and had been evacuated from the area. 22 Sierra Leonean civilians who had been held captive by the West Side Boys were also released.

One SAS member, Trooper Bradley Tinnion, was killed in the raid. At least 25 West Side Boys were killed, although this number was probably much higher.

Eighteen West Side Boys, including the gang’s leader, Foday Kallay, were taken prisoner and later transferred to the custody of the Sierra Leone Police. Many West Side Boys fled the area during the assault, and over 300 surrendered to UNAMSIL forces within a fortnight.

Several decorations were awarded to the personnel who took part in Operation Barras, including two Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses, five Military Crosses, and five Distinguished Flying Crosses. Bradley Tinnion received a posthumous Mention in Despatches.

BEHIND ENEMY LINES: Some of the raiders that freed POWs at Cabanatuan.

Raid at Cabanatuan

After the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during 1942, tens of thousands of American troops surrendered to the Japanese.

Following the Bataan Death March, most of the prisoners were transferred to other areas. Just over 500 American and other Allied POWs, along with some civilians, were sent to the Cabanatuan prison camp.

The conditions in the camp were horrific. They included disease, torture and malnourishment. Prisoners were executed for the slightest offence.

When the Americans, under General Douglas MacArthur, invaded the Philippines, the prisoners feared that they would be executed by their captors before the invading force could arrive at Cabanatuan.

In late January 1945 a plan was developed by Sixth Army leaders and Filipino guerrillas to send a small force behind enemy lines to rescue the prisoners.

A group of over a hundred US Army Rangers and Scouts and a couple of hundred guerrillas were tasked for the mission. They would travel 48 kilometres behind the Japanese lines to reach the camp.

Using a P-61 Black Widow aircraft as a distraction and under the cover of darkness, the raiders surprised the Japanese forces in and around the camp.

Hundreds of Japanese troops were killed in the 30 minute coordinated attack, with the American’s suffering minimal casualties. The POWs were then escorted back to American lines.

The rescue allowed the prisoners to tell of the death march and prison camp atrocities, which sparked a new rush of resolve for the war against Japan. The rescuers were awarded commendations by MacArthur, and were also recognized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A memorial now sits on the site of the former camp.

Operation Chariot

On 24 May 1941, the Battle of the Denmark Strait was fought between the Royal Navy ships HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Hood and the German ships Bismarck and Prinz Eugen.

HMS Hood was sunk and HMS Prince of Wales was damaged and had to retire. The Bismarck was also damaged and she headed for the French port of Saint-Nazaire, which was the only port on the Atlantic coast with a dry dock able to accommodate a ship of her size. She was intercepted by the British and sunk en route.

When the dry dock at Saint-Nazaire was completed in 1932 it was the largest dry dock in the world.

When the German battleship Tirpitz was declared operational in January 1942, the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF) were already drawing up plans to attack her.

Planners from Combined Operations Headquarters were looking at potential scenarios if Tirpitz escaped the naval blockade and reached the Atlantic. They decided the only port able to accommodate her was St Nazaire, especially if, like the Bismarck, she was damaged en route and needed repairs.

They came to the conclusion that if the dock at Saint-Nazaire were unavailable the Germans were unlikely to risk sending Tirpitz into the Atlantic.

Combined Operations examined a number of options, including a bombing attack by the Royal Air Force, a sabotage by agents of the Special Operations Executive, and an attack by the Royal Navy. All were ruled out for various reasons. An attack by a Commando force was decided upon.

The obsolete destroyer HMS Campbelltown was stripped down to make it lighter and it was packed with delayed-action explosives that were well hidden within a steel and concrete case.

Accompanied by 18 smaller craft, the HMS Campbelltown crossed the English Channel to the Atlantic coast of France.

At 00h30 on 28 March 1942 the convoy crossed over the shoals at the mouth of the Loire estuary, with Campbeltown scraping the bottom twice. Each time she was able to pull free, and the group proceeded on up toward the harbour in darkness.

At 01h28, with the convoy 1.6 km from the dry dock gates,  the commander of HMS Campbelltown, Lieutenant Commander Stephen Halden Beattie, ordered the German flag they were flying to be lowered and the White Ensign raised. The convoy immediately came under intense German fire.

At 01h34, only three minutes later than scheduled, the HMS Campbelltown struck home. The force of the impact drove the ship 10 metres onto the gates.

The Commandos on the HMS Campbelltown and the smaller craft disembarked and headed for their objectives. Their task was to secure the Old Mole and eliminate the anti-aircraft positions around the southern quays. They were then to move into the old town and blow up the power station, bridges and locks for the new entrance into the basin.

Heavy German gunfire sank, set ablaze, or immobilised virtually all the small craft intended to transport the commandos back to England; the commandos had to fight their way out through the town to try to escape overland.

Almost all were forced to surrender when their ammunition was expended and they were surrounded and captured by the Wehrmacht defending Saint-Nazaire.

At noon, while being inspected by a group of 40 senior German officers and civilians, the HMS Campbelltown exploded.

Just before the explosion, Lt Commander Beattie was being interrogated by a German naval officer who was saying that it wouldn’t take very long to repair the damage the Campbeltown has caused.

Just at that moment, she went up. Beattie smiled at the officer and said, ‘We’re not quite as foolish as you think!’

Not only were the dry docks put out of action for the rest of the war, they remained so until five years after the war had ended.

After the raid, only 228 men of the force of 611 returned to Britain; 169 were killed and 215 became prisoners of war. German casualties were over 360 dead, some killed after the raid when Campbeltown exploded.

To recognise their bravery, 89 decorations were awarded to members of the raiding party, including five Victoria Crosses.

Lt Commander Beattie was one of those awarded the VC.

After the war, Saint-Nazaire was one of 38 battle honours awarded to the Commandos.

SET TO BLOW: HMS Campbelltown after it had rammed the dry dock at Saint-Nazaire.

The Doolittle Raid

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941 had brought America into the war.

Since then the country had suffered a number of defeats and setbacks. Morale in America was at a low. Something needed to be done and Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle of the United States Army Air Forces believed he had just the plan - bomb Japan!

There were, however, a problem with this plan. The Americans had no aircraft capable of getting even close to Japan from any Allied base. Doolittle believed he had the solution.

His plan was to take an aircraft carrier within flying distance of Japan, and then launch B-25B Mitchell bombers from the carrier. As it was impossible to land a medium bomber on a carrier, the bombers would then continue westward to land in China.

On 18 April 1942, sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers took off from the US Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) deep in the Western Pacific Ocean.

Without any fighter escort the bombers flew to Japan and attacked the capital Tokyo and other places on the island of Honshu.

Fifteen aircraft reached China, but all crashed. The 16th aircraft reached Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. It was confiscated and its crew were interned for more than a year.

All but three of the 80 crew initially survived the mission. Eight were captured by the Japanese Army in China. Four of them died in captivity - three were executed and one died of disease. Fourteen complete crews, except for one crewman who was killed in action, returned either to the United States or to American forces.

The raid caused little material damage to Japan, 50 Japanese were killed and about 400 injured (including civilians). But it achieved its goal of raising American morale and casting doubt in Japan on the ability of its military leaders to defend their home islands.

Doolittle, who initially believed that the loss of all his aircraft would lead to his court-martial, received the Medal of Honour and was promoted two ranks to brigadier general.

IL DUCE IS FREE: Benito Mussolini along with Otto Skorzeny.

Operation Eiche (Oak)

On the night of 24 and 25 July 1943, mere weeks after the Allied invasion of Sicily and the bombing of Rome, the Italian Grand Council of Fascism voted a motion of no confidence (Ordine del Giorno Grandi) against Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

On the same day King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy had Mussolini arrested and replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio.

Mussolini was being transported around Italy by his captors. First to Ponza, then to La Maddalena, both smalls islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In the meantime Hauptsturmführer (SS Captain) Otto Skorzeny was tracking him. Skorzeny had been personally selected for the mission by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the  RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt - Reich Main Security Office).

Skorzeny intercepted a coded Italian radio message. Using reconnaissance provided by agents and informants of SS-Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler, he was able to determine where Mussolini was being held.

Mussolini was being held high in the Apennine Mountains at Campo Imperatore Hotel, a ski resort at Campo Imperatore in Italy’s Gran Sasso massif.

An airborne operation to free Mussolini was planed by Major Otto-Harald Mors, a battalion commander with the  Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers).  The plan was approved by General Kurt Student and given the go ahead by Hitler personally.

On 12 September 1943, 26 of Skorzeny’s SS troopers joined a team of 82 Fallschirmjäger to rescue Mussolini in a high-risk glider mission.

The raiding group landed their dozen DFS 230 gliders on the mountain. One glider crashed, causing minor injuries.

Mussolini was being guarded by 200 well-equipped Carabinieri (Italian military force charged with police duties) guards. They were quickly overwhelmed without a single shot being fired.

This was helped by the fact that General Fernando Soleti of the Polizia (police) flew in with Skorzeny and told the guards to stand down or be executed for treason.

Skorzeny attacked the Carabinieri radio operator and his equipment, then he formally greeted Mussolini with “Duce, the Führer has sent me to set you free!”, to which Mussolini replied “I knew that my friend would not forsake me!”

Escorted by Skorzeny, Mussolini was flown first to Rome, then to Vienna, and finally to Berlin.

Although the operation had been planned by the Luftwaffe Fallschirmjäger (German air force paratroopers), at the behest of  Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, Skorzeny and his Special Forces of the Waffen-SS were granted the majority of the credit for the operation.

Mussolini was made leader of the Italian Social Republic (a German puppet state consisting of the German-occupied portion of Italy). Otto Skorzeny gained a large amount of success from this mission; he received a promotion to Sturmbannführer (assault unit leader), the award of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross and fame that led to his “most dangerous man in Europe” image. Winston Churchill himself described the mission as “one of great daring”.

As it turned out, however, this was one of the last of Hitler’s spectacular gambles to bear fruit.

COCKLESHELL HEROES: Major Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler (right) and a marine during training.

Operation Frankton

The Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment (RMBPD) had been formed on 6 July 1942. Based at Southsea, Portsmouth, it was under the command of Royal Marines Major Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler with Captain J. D. Stewart as second in command.

The Bay of Biscay port of Bordeaux was a major destination for goods to support the German war effort, and Hasler came up with a bold plan to attack it.

The initial plan called for a force of three canoes to be transported to the Gironde estuary by submarine then paddle by night and hide by day until they reached Bordeaux 97 km from the sea, thus hoping to avoid the 32 mixed Kriegsmarine (German Navy) ships that patrolled or used the port. On arrival they hoped to sink between six and 12 cargo ships then escape overland to Spain.

Chief of Combined Operations, Admiral Louis Mountbatten, granted permission for the raid. He increased the size of the force from three canoes to six.

Initially Mountbatten ordered that Hasler could not take part in the raid. However Mountbatten was forced to reconsider as Hasler was the chief canoeing specialist. His experience would be vital to the mission.

The RMBPD started training for the raid on 20 October 1942, which included canoe handling, submarine rehearsals, limpet mine handling and escape and evasion exercises.

They practised for the raid with a simulated attack against Deptford, starting from Margate and canoeing up the Swale.

On 30 November 1942, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Dick Raikes DSO the Royal Navy submarine HMS Tuna (N94) sailed from Holy Loch in Scotland with the six canoes and raiders on board.

The mission was scheduled to start on 6 December 1942, but bad weather and the need to negotiate a minefield en route meant that it started a day later.

The Mk II compassable canoes were given the code name ‘Cockle’. The hull of one of the canoes was damaged while being passed out of the submarine hatch, leaving just five canoes to carry out the raid.

On the first night, 7/8 December, one of the canoes was lost while battling strong winds and cross tides. Later on a second canoe capsized in high waves and was lost.

Another canoe and its crew had been captured at daybreak near Pointe de Grave lighthouse.

The original plan had been to attack on 10 December, but Hasler changed the plan. Because of the strength of the ebb tide they still had a short distance to paddle, so Hasler ordered they hide for another day and set off to reach Bordeaux on the night of 11/12 December.

The two canoes split up and Hasler placed eight limpet mines on four vessels. The other crew placed eight limpet mines on two vessels, five on a large cargo ship and three on a small liner.

The two canoes met up downriver and, after sinking their canoes, the two teams split up and set out on foot for the Spanish border.

One of the teams was captured, while Hasler and his crew member, Marine Bill Sparks, finally made it to safety.

Six vessels were damaged by the limpet mines. For their part in the raid Hasler was awarded a Distinguished Service Order and Sparks the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM). They were the only two of the 10 men that set out on the raid that survived. Six were captured and executed, and two died of hypothermia.

The RMBPD would later go on to form the Special Boat Service.

FINAL APPROACH: A computer-generated image shows the compound were Osama bin Laden was killed.

Operation Ivory Coast

The briefing given by US Special Forces Colonel Arthur “Bull” Simons was simple.

“We are going to rescue 70 American prisoners of war, maybe more, from a camp called Son Tay. This is something American prisoners have a right to expect from their fellow soldiers. The target is 23 miles (37 km) west of Hanoi.”

By the spring on 1970 there were more than 450 known American POWs held in North Vietnam. Another 970 American servicemen were listed as missing in action.

Some of them had been in captivity for more than five years, the longest period in any war in American history.

Intelligence reports told of brutal conditions, torture, and even deaths of the POWs.

In May 1970 aerial reconnaissance photographs revealed the existence of two prison camps west of Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam.

At Son Tay, one photograph showed a large ‘K’ drawn in the dirt. This was the code for “come and get us”.

The other camp, at Ap Lo, showed a photograph of the letters SAR (Search and Rescue) spelled out by the prisoner’s laundry. An arrow with the number ‘8’ indicated the distance the men had to travel to the fields they worked in.

Air Force Brigadier General LeRoy J. Manor and Army Colonel Arthur D. “Bull” Simons began to plan an operation to rescue the prisoners from Son Tay.

Reconnaissance photos taken by SR-71 “Blackbirds” revealed that Son Tay “was active”. SR-71 reconnaisance aircraft took most of the Son Tay target photos from above 24,000 metres while streaking over North Vietnam at more than three times the speed of sound.

There were numerous obstacles that had to be considered. The camp itself was in the open and surrounded by rice paddies. In close proximity was the 12th North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment totaling approximately 12,000 troops. Also nearby was an artillery school, a supply depot, and an air defense installation.

500 metres south was another compound called the “secondary school”, which was an administration center housing 45 guards. To make matters more difficult, Phuc Yen Air Base was only 32 kilometres northeast of Son Tay.

The raiders would have to get in and out very quickly, before anyone could react to the situation.

Simons recruited 103 personnel from interviews of 500 volunteers, mostly Special Forces personnel of the 6th and 7th Special Forces Groups at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.[22] USAF planners selected key Air Force commanders, who then picked personnel for their crews. Helicopter and A-1 Skyraider crews were put together from instructors at Eglin and personnel returned from Southeast Asia.

On 21 November 1970, 56 US Army Special Forces soldiers, led by Bull Simons, landed by helicopter in and around Son Tay prison. A-1 Skyraiders provided air support.

The plan was executed to near perfection. The raiders suffered two lightly wounded and the loss of one aircraft and one helicopter. The loss of the helicopter, which was crash-landed in the compound of Son Tay, had been planned from the start. 42 guards at the camp were reportedly killed.

The helicopter returned to the extraction landing zone and the raiders were airlifted back to safety. The entire raid had taken only 27 minutes.

While the raid had gone according to plan, there was one major problem - there were no POWs in the camp, it was empty.

There had been 65 prisoners at Son Tay, but they had been moved on 14 July because the well for drinking water had been contaminated by flooding.

Criticism of the raid, particularly in the news media and by political opponents of the Vietnam War and the Nixon Administration, was widespread and of long duration. Not only was the failure denounced as the result of poor or outdated intelligence, but charges were made that the operation caused increased mistreatment of the prisoners.

However, as a result of the raid, the North Vietnamese consolidated their POW camps to central prison complexes. An area of the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” formerly housing civilian and South Vietnamese prisoners became “Camp Unity”, a block of large communal areas housing 50 POWs each. After their repatriation, many POWs said that being in close contact with other Americans lifted their morale, as did knowledge of the rescue attempt. Some POWs said that food, medical care, and even seemingly basic things like mail delivery vastly improved after the raid.

For their actions, members of the task force received six Distinguished Service Crosses, five Air Force Crosses, and at least 85 Silver Stars, including all 50 members of the ground force who did not receive the DSC.

GOING IN: As the world watches on television, the SAS carry out their assault on the Iranian embassy.

Operation Neptune Spear

After claiming responsibility for the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the founder and first leader of the Islamist group Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was a prime target for the US military.

For ten years the United States had been searching for bin Laden. Now, the Americans had strong evidence that bin Laden was in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The US began intensive multiplatform surveillance.

The commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, was briefed about the compound in January 2011.

McRaven said a commando raid would be fairly straightforward but he was concerned about the Pakistani response.

He assigned a captain from the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) to work with a CIA team at their campus in Langley, Virginia. The captain, named “Brian”, set up an office in the printing plant in the CIA’s Langley compound and, with six other JSOC officers, began to plan the raid. The raid was given the code name ‘Operation Neptune Spear’.

The raid was carried out by approximately two dozen heliborne US Navy SEALs from DEVGRU’s Red Squadron shortly after 01h00 on 2 May 2011.

For legal reasons (namely that the U.S. was not at war with Pakistan), the military personnel assigned to the mission were temporarily transferred to the control of the civilian Central Intelligence Agency.

The SEALs operated in multiple teams, and were equipped with a variety of gear and weaponry.

Osama bin Laden was killed in the raid and initial versions said three other men and a woman were killed as well: bin Laden’s adult son Khalid, bin Laden’s courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, al-Kuwaiti’s brother Abrar, and Abrar’s wife Bushra.

After the raid bin Laden’s body was taken to Afghanistan for identification, then buried at sea within 24 hours of his death in accordance with Islamic tradition.

The US lost one helicopter during the raid when it crashed landed in the compound. There were no other casualties.

Operation Nimrod

When six armed men stormed the Iranian embassy in South Kensington, London, on 30 April 1980, it set into motion a series of events that would become world-wide news.

The  gunmen were members of Arabs of KSA Group. They were campaigning for Arab national sovereignty in the southern Iranian region.

They took 26 hostages, mostly embassy staff, but also several visitors as well as a British police officer who had been guarding the embassy.

The gunmen made a series of demands as well as wanting safe passage out of the United Kingdom. Margaret Thatcher’s government quickly resolved that safe passage would not be granted and a siege ensued.

The police did their best to negotiate, but by the sixth day of the siege the gunmen were becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in meeting their demands. That evening, they killed one of the hostages and threw his body out of the embassy.

As a result the government ordered an assault on the embassy. The police handed over control of the situation to the military.

A group from Britain’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) had been on standby since the start of the siege and had already drawn up plans and carried out rehearsals.

At 19h23 two SAS teams, Red Team and Blue Team, abseiled from the roof of the building and forced entry through the windows.

The raid, which was watched live on television, took only 17 minutes. All but one of the remaining hostages were rescued and five of the six gunmen were killed. The sole remaining gunman was prosecuted and served 27 years in British prisons.

Operation Thunderbolt

On the afternoon of 27 June 1976, Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv, Israel, was hijacked by two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - External Operations, and two Germans from the German Revolutionary Cells.

The plane was first diverted to Benghazi in Libya were it was refueled. Then it took off for its final destination - Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

It soon became obvious that not only was the Ugandan government supporting the hijackers, they were expecting them. They were personally welcomed by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. The four original hijackers were met at Entebbe by at least four others.

Over the following two days, 148 non-Israeli hostages were released and flown out to Paris. Ninety-four, mainly Israeli, passengers along with the 12 member Air France crew, remained as hostages and were threatened with death.

The hijackers issued a list of demands and threatened that if these demands were not met, they would begin to kill hostages on 1 July 1976.

While the Israeli government negotiated for the release of the hostages, the military was told to prepare an operation to rescue them.

This was no simple matter. First of all, Entebbe was more than 5,000 km away from Tel Aviv and they would have to cross the airspace of at least three countries to get there.

The plan that was adopted was simple. Fly a rescue force from Israel to Entebbe, rescue the hostages, and fly back to Israel. It was given the code name ‘Operation Thunderbolt’.

The task force was made up of approximately 100 men. A 29 man assault unit, led by Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, was composed entirely of commandos from Sayeret Matkal (The Unit), and was given the primary task of assaulting the old terminal and rescuing the hostages.

The securing element included a paratroopers force led by Col. Matan Vilnai – tasked with securing the civilian airport field, clearing and securing the runways, and protection and fuelling of the Israeli aircraft in Entebbe.

The Golani force led by Col. Uri Sagi – tasked with securing the C-130 Hercules aircraft for the hostages’ evacuation, getting it as close as possible to the terminal and boarding the hostages; also while acting as general reserves.

The Sayeret Matkal force led by Major Shaul Mofaz – tasked with clearing the military airstrip, and destroying the squadron of MiG fighter jets on the ground, to prevent any possible interceptions by the Ugandan Air Force; also with holding off hostile ground forces.

The task force took off from Sharm el-Sheikh in Hercules C-130 aircraft and flew along the international flight path over the Red Sea. They flew at a height of no more than 30 metres to avoid radar detection by Egyptian, Sudanese, and Saudi Arabian forces.

Following the C-130s were two Boeing 707 jets. One contained medical facilities and it landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya. The commander of the operation, General Yekutiel Adam, was on board the second Boeing, which circled over Entebbe Airport during the raid.

The first C-130 landed at Entebbe on 3 July at 23h00 with their cargo bay doors already open. The control tower had turned the landing lights on. The aircraft stopped at the end of the runway and three vehicles were driven out. One was a black Mercedes Benz that looked like Idi Amin’s personal vehicle. It was accompanied by two Land Rovers that usually acted as his escort.

The raid was a stunning success. During the raid, which lasted 30 minutes, all seven hijackers were killed, as were between 33 and 45 Ugandan soldiers. Eleven Soviet-built MiG-17 and MiG-21 Ugandan Air Force fighter planes were destroyed on the ground at Entebbe Airport.

Of the 106 hostages, three were killed, one was left in Uganda, and approximately 10 were wounded. The Israeli casualties were one dead and five wounded. The Israeli soldier that was killed was Lt. Col. Yonatan ‘Yoni’ Netanyahu.

After the raid the task force flew to Nairobi Airport in Kenya where the planes were refueled before returning to Israel. Operation Thunderbolt has been described as one of the most audacious military operation executed.

AMIN’S WHEELS: The black Mercedes Benz used during the raid stands in front of one of the C-130s that took part.

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