49 years have passed since the “Six Day” War. The IAF site reveals rare diary excerpts that pilots wrote during the war from the IAF’s transport helicopter and fighter squadrons. The first moments of the war, the ejections, the extractions and the quiet after the storm – in first person
Tal Giladi | Translation: Ohad Zeltzer Zubida & Ofri Aharon
Feels like War
June 4, 1967: Evening, the late Maj. Gen. Mottie Hod, IAF Commander, assembled all the airbase and squadron commanders in IAF Headquarters and briefed them that the following day Operation “Moked” (Hebrew for Bonfire) was to be carried out, during which combat squadrons would attack airports in enemy countries. Maj. Amichai (“Shumi”) who commanded the “First Jet” Squadron from Ramat David AFB recreated the first day:
“We woke up in the morning, everyone came to the squadrons and didn’t know a thing. I stood in the crowded briefing room and said: ‘Gentleman, a war is starting today’. It doesn’t happen every day and I could tell not everyone understood. I gave updates about changes in formations and emphasized the importance of sticking to the rules and paying attention to the rest of the IAF aircraft that would be going with us. One of the main problems was the radio silence – dozens of aircraft would be taking off and everyone had to stay in the preset order. I told the mechanics in the hangar: ‘I won’t be returning with these missiles’. They also didn’t comprehend, it’s very strange to tell someone that today there is war”.
June 5, 1967: Abu-Swer Airport in Egypt was attacked by seven formations in the first wave that were constantly interrupted by Egyptian MiGs. Yoram, a “Mystere” pilot from the “Defenders of the South” Squadron that flew in the fifth formation, writes about the moment he understood it was war:
“First sortie, first battle, I’m still not used to this feeling of war. Mentally, it still felt like this was just another training exercise, later, when Danny ejected, I got into the war mentality and realized just how serious this is, like a painful shot in the right place. Immediately afterwards, I got the feeling that we had to do everything in order to fill in for those who ejected their aircraft”.
On the first day of the war, the “Scorpion” Squadron executed a record number of 131 sorties, a quarter of all the IAF airports attack sorties. Arik, a pilot, wrote about the moment he understood that it was a war:
“I will never forget the way my legs were shaking before taking off. You are on the runway, turn on your engine, stand in place and check your engines, release your breaks and open the after burner. I didn’t have the strength to hold the aircraft and it started veering off the runway. Not just for me, for everyone. The breaks worked perfectly, so why were the aircraft veering? We simply didn’t have enough strength in our legs. To drive the aircraft until the last meter on the asphalt, in order to take off at the exact speed, otherwise you could stall. It requires a great amount of attention, a lot of mental strength. We didn’t know the state of the Egyptian bases up until the first sortie’s debriefing. And then the intelligence report came in and said that most of the bases were destroyed”.
IAF Magazine Archive
Ejecting, Surviving and Rescuing
June 7, 1967: a quartet of aircraft from the “Valley” Squadron took off to attack Syrian tanks in the Golan Heights. Pilot Asaf Ben-Nun was hit by anti-aircraft fire and ejected himself from his aircraft west of the Jordan River. That evening, the Squadron commander assembled the pilots for a debriefing, Asaf suddenly appeared, pale and weary. He was given something to drink and started sharing:
“During the sortie, I felt an explosion, near the engine and immediately the fire signal went on. I started pulling west and by the end of the turn, the cabin started filling with smoke. The aircraft was burning but I decided to keep going west even after passing the border. The warning signals were activated, I reported to the formation and started gliding until the controls jammed, the aircraft’s nose lowered and started spinning to the right – I decided to jump, I threw the canopy and ejected. The parachute opened immediately. Since I never went through a parachuting course, I worked hard on pulling the right strings, I floated downwards for four minutes while being pulled east and I wasn’t sure if I would land in Syria or Israel. I eventually landed very close to Jordan, in a deep trench. The Syrians shot at me constantly from the west, I heard the bullets whistle. I ran 100 meters in the trench, climbed out and ran in the woods. I got to a road that led to the ‘Daughters of Jacob’ Bridge. At this point I lost all my strength. I took cover under the road and waited with my pistol drawn. All of a sudden, our soldiers arrive and help me and then a jeep came and took me to the post”.
June 5, 1967: Maj. Yehonatan Shahar, commander of the “Defenders of the South” Squadron took off for an attack sortie of Faid Airport on the Suez canal bank. He bombed an aircraft in the airport and his aircraft is hit from the explosion, which later caused him to abandon his aircraft. He walked 15 kilometers.
“A cold wind came. I hid behind a bush and dug a small hole, went into it, lied on my back and fell asleep. I woke up from the sound of a helicopter. When I saw the shadow of the ‘Super Frelon’, I immediately turned on my watch and flashed my flash light. At that moment I felt like I was in the middle of our AFB.
The rescue was performed by a “Super Frelon” from the “Leaders of the Night” transport helicopter Squadron that miraculously escaped two SA-2 missiles that were fired at it. Dr. Yizhar, that was on the helicopter, writes about the meeting with the ejected pilot:
“We were flying over the sea. Total darkness. We were flying low. Two pilots, two mechanics and our medical team. We arrived at the northern border of Sinai peninsula. We began moving south… The tension and anxiety reached their peak. The navigation conditions were very poor. The ground beneath us was a terrifying black abyss. Our pilot lowered, turned the lights on and suddenly illuminated the desert. On our left side, about 50 meters away, we notice the pilot we were looking for. The excitement was breathtaking. A tall man, wearing a flight suit, running towards us with all of his might… We released a metal ladder, he climbs up. We look at him and don’t know what to do. A meeting like this, a million kilometers from base. We jumped on him, kissed him more and more, without stopping. I made him drink three canteens of water”.
IAF Magazine Archive
Committed to the Mission
5.6.1967, Operation “Moked”. A pilot from the “Valley” Squadron experienced the campaign as a young father.
“My formation attacked in the morning, in the beginning of the war, we began with Bir Tamada and Al-Hama bases and soon after attacked Cabarit and Fayid. The flight to the Egyptian airports was in ideal conditions – quiet, beautiful weather, summer. The day before, my son was born and I had to promise his existence. A powerful feeling of performing my obligation. My formation flew to Bir Tamada. Ohad was the leader. We attacked runways and immediately afterwards sniped Egyptian aircraft. Just like we learned. From my vast experience I can testify that flights of uncertainty were the most burdensome, mostly when flying to places we never visited. That wasn’t the feeling in the ‘Six Day’ War”.
The “Knights of the North” Squadron that then operated “Vautor” bombers, that were already senior aircraft in the IAF, were known to be problematic and tended to malfunction. But in the moment of truth, they proved otherwise.
“The ‘Vautor’, they say in the squadron, is a bomber with soul, a saying that was proved beyond doubt in the war. Upon its first takeoff, on the morning of June 5, the number of malfunctions reduced immediately. The bomber was very well behaved. It understood that there was a war going on and that it couldn’t we problematic now, that it can’t delay the next sorties”.
IAF Magazine Archive
The end of the War
From the “Defenders of the South” Squadron Book:
“The net was back in its place, volleyball was once again being played on base. Permission to exit was granted and we were on minimal ready alert. You suddenly saw everyone wearing service dress like on every other day. The transition from battle dress to civilian-like dress was sharp. The smell of tranquility spread through the air, over the lawn, on the illuminated base. Who could remember that the same lawn was threatened by enemy fire a few days ago?”
Taken from the IAF Squadron Heritage Books:
The “Defenders of the South” Squadron Heritage Book, Meir Amitay, 1987.
The “Knights of the North” Squadron Heritage Book,
The “Leaders of the Night” Squadron Heritage Book,
The “Valley” Squadron Heritage Book,
The “First Jet” Squadron Heritage Book,
The “Scorpion” Squadron Heritage Book.
IAF Magazine Archive