Air Strike - The Six Day War

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In it’s short history Israel was no stranger to war. The Arab-Israeli War of 1948-49 challenged the creation of the state of Israel, and in 1956 Israel had to fight a war against Egypt. Neither war, however, led to any sort of peace or stability for the Arabs or the Jews in the Middle East.

Israel suffered from two major disadvantages. Firstly it was surrounded by hostile countries. Israel shared borders with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. All were Arab countries and regarded the mere existence of Israel an outrage.

The second disadvantage was the fact that Israel enjoyed no natural frontiers. At its narrowest point it measured only 21km. The entire country covered only 36,360 square km. It lacked the depth in which to manoeuvre and it also lacked space in which to fight defensively.

By May 1967 tensions in the area were once again at fever pitch. Since the end of the war in 1956 a United Nations force had occupied the Sinai, acting as a buffer between Egypt and Israel. As long as the UN force was there, Israel was safe, Then Egypt had demanded the withdrawal of the UN force by 16 May. On 17 May seven Egyptian divisions, five infantry and two armoured, had moved into the Sinai.

The Egyptians then closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping and the creation of a unified Arab command posed a threat that the government of Israel could not ignore.

By occupying the Sinai, closing the straits, and forming a unified command with Jordan and Syria the Egyptians had backed Israel into a corner.

The Israelis immediately began to call up its reservists and by 20 May it was completed. With such limited manpower and financial resources Israel could not afford to keep her citizen army mobilised for more than two weeks. Any longer would cause severe damage to the economy.

Israel was limited to two choices - go to war within two weeks of 20 May or stand her forces down.

Egyptian President Abdel Nasser did not expect an Israeli attack, but he was confident that if one did develop his forces would win. He was wrong on both counts.

All Israeli intelligence reports indicated that an attack by the Arabs was imminent. Israel felt she had no other choice but to launch a preemptive strike.

Plan of Attack

Israel was outnumbered. The Arabs had more men, tanks and aircraft. They knew that for their attack to have any chance of success it was vital that they achieve air superiority.

Egypt was regarded as the main threat and the initial Israeli air strike would be against eight Egyptian airfields in Sinai, on the Suez Canal and around Cairo.

The timing of the attack was sheer genius. Military doctrine dictates that the best time for an attack is at first light. The Israeli air strike was planned for 08h45 Egyptian time.

The relative lateness of the hour was chosen for a number of reasons. First of all the Egyptians would be hit when they least expected it. By that time the early morning mist in the Nile Delta had lifted. Most importantly, the Egyptian air patrols and radar surveillance had been stood down with the passing of the time for a classic dawn attack. More over the change-over of watches within the Egyptian air command was taking place.

In another move that went against the norm, the Israelis chose not to make Arab radar stations their first priority. To achieve surprise in the strikes against the airfields around Cairo the Israelis flew deep into the Mediterranean before they turned to attack the air fields from the rear.

And it wasn’t just a quick ‘hit-and-run’ strike either. The Israelis kept successive waves of attacking aircraft over the major targets until resistance was totally broken. For 80 minutes the Israelis kept up a continuous attack on airfields housing the cutting edge of Egyptian air power. At the end of the first day’s operation about 300 Arab aircraft had been destroyed with the Israelis losing only ten of their own.

As can be expected the Israeli intelligence was spot on and the target identification by the pilots was outstanding. Dummy installations and aircraft were ignored while the real targets were destroyed.

That the Israelis were able to keep waves of attacking aircraft over the target was due to careful calculation of flight times and an allowance of ten minutes time-over-target for each attacking wave before the next wave arrived to take over.

Once the eight original airfields had been dealt with the Israelis extended their operations to cover a further nine Egyptian airfields. They then moved on to cover the Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian fronts. On the first day they annihilated the Jordanian Air Force and inflicted such heavy loses on the Syrian Air Force that it took virtually no active part in the war. The fact of the matter is that the Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces had been destroyed within the space of 25 minutes.

Most of the damage from the Israeli aircraft was inflicted by cannon fire against aircraft caught on the ground. Some Israeli pilots actually lowered their undercarriage to reduce speed and increase the accuracy of their fire.

Yet the Israelis did not rely on cannon only. A variety of bombs had been developed to make runways unuseable. Some were set on long time delay fuses to discourage ground crews from trying to repair the runways. Installations and runways in Sinai were relatively lightly attacked because the Israelis planned on using them for themselves.

In the end the war lasted only six days and became known as the Six Day War. A total of 418 Arab aircraft were destroyed for the loss of 27 Israeli aircraft.

While the war lasted for six days it was, for all intents and purposes, over after three hours. In that time the Israelis inflicted a huge defeat on the Arabs from which they could never hope to recover. Once the Israelis had secured air superiority the outcome of the war was never in doubt.

In the history of air warfare no operation stands comparison with the Israeli Air Force attack on 5 June 1967 with regard to the expertise in execution and significance for the outcome of a campaign.

WATCHFUL EYE: Israeli Dassault Mirage III aircraft patrol over the battlefield. With total air supremacy they were able to attack ground targets at will.

Check avionics

Change pilot

Refill oxygen

Replace brake parachute

reload with ammunition, missiles and film for gun camera

Refuel

Load bombs

Check flying surface for battle damage

check tyres and hydraulics

It took a mere seven minutes for the Israelis to get an aircraft back into the air.

Turn around procedure

Crew: 1

Length: 15.03 m

Wingspan: 8.22 m

Maximum speed: 2,350 km/h

Combat range: 1,200 km

Guns: 2× 30 mm 552 cannon with 125 rounds per gun

Missiles: 2× AIM-9 Sidewinder Air to Air missiles (AAM)

Dassault Mirage III

Mig-21 (Fishbed)

Crew: 1

Length: 14.7 m

Wingspan: 7.154 m  

Maximum speed: Mach 1.05

Combat range: 1,470 km

Guns: 1 × internal 23 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L autocannon with 200 rounds

Various air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles

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