September is here. The students have gone back to school and we are going back in time: for the beginning of the new school year we went back to September 1, 1955, to the first jet era shoot-down in IAF history. “The shoot-down was of a tremendous symbolic and moral significance. Our pilots’ training and abilities were proven”
“The shoot-down was of a tremendous symbolic and moral significance and it established the IAF’s advantage. It proved to the Egyptians that the Israeli Air Force has the ability to shoot down their planes and deterred them from penetrating Israeli airspace”, said Maj. Gen. (Res.) Dan Tolkowsky, then Commander of the IAF. “We weren’t surprised because we knew our pilots were good and that they knew how to make the best out of their aircraft. Our pilots’ training and abilities were proven in that battle”.
It was a tense period in Israeli-Egyptian relations, a tension which was also manifested in the air. After a number of penetrations of Egyptian “Vampire” jets which reached Ekron and Hazor IAF bases in late August 1955, the IAF indicated the difficulty of the ATC system to provide sufficient warning of enemy aircraft penetration.
“It was a very tense time because of enemy aircraft penetration of Israel”, shared Maj. Gen. (Res.) Tolkowsky. “We knew that the Egyptian enemy wanted to penetrate our airspace, but we didn’t have early knowledge of reconnaissance or attack targets”.
Illustration: Yaakov Margalit
A True Celebration
On the morning of September 1, 1955, an alert that four “Vampire” jets had penetrated Israeli airspace north from Gaza was received from the central ATC Unit. At 06:25 a pair of “Metor” jets was scrambled from Hazor AFB, piloted by Aharon Yoeli and the late Yoash (Chatto) Tsiddon from the “First Jet Squadron”.
Col. Yoash Tsiddon, an IAF fighter pilot, later wrote in his memoir: “The hour was 07:00 AM and we were scrambled. We were well trained and in less than five minutes we were in the air. ATC reported four unidentified aircraft, probably Egyptian ‘Vampires’ that the radar identified over the Mediterranean, flying toward Israel facing Hazor AFB”.
“The Air Traffic Controller directed us to the area in which the aircraft were last seen”, described Aharon Yoeli, the second pilot. “Tsiddon identified two ‘Vampires’ flying at 2,000 meters first. I got behind one of them and fired my 20mm cannons from 150 meters away. The jet exploded, I immediately broke left and pulled up after the second ‘Vampire’, that in the meantime had turned to the south and began to escape. I flew full throttle behind him and we approached the border. The ‘Vampire’ rolled and I opened fire from 200 meters away and hit the cockpit. The jet crashed into the ground. The remaining two Egyptian jets escaped towards Al-Arish and we were commanded not to follow them. These were the IAF’s first jet era shoot-downs”.