Cold War Era

Israeli Air Force F-4 Navigator recalls when he and his pilot attacked an Egyptian warship with an AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile during the Yom Kippur War

The F-4 Kurnass

Despite the ability of the American manufactured F-4 to perform both the air-to-ground and air-to-air roles with equal success the Israeli Air Force (IAF) reliance on the Mirage III and Nesher delta fighters meant that the Phantom II was used most regularly in its air-to-ground role.

During the Yom Kippur War, protection from the air of the sector from Ras Sudar to Ophir, along the east coast of the Gulf of Suez, was emphasized during the night of Oct. 6-7, 1973, because the Israel Defense force (IDF) presence in this area was limited to mostly second line units. Until the arrival of the first line reserve forces, the Ras Sudar to Ophir sector was extremely vulnerable to Egyptian airborne or seaborne assaults.

As the IAF’s nighttime interception force, it fell on the shoulders of Kurnass crews to defend the Ras Sudar to Ophir sector during the first night of the war. Squadron 107— the fourth Israel Air Force (IAF) Kurnass Squadron, which had already defended Ophir at noon and Ras Sudar at dusk—maintained a presence of CAP crews over the Ras Sudar to Ophir sector throughout the night from Day 1 to Day 2. Kurnass navigator Micha Oren recalled in Shlomo Aloni’s book Ghosts of Atonement, Israeli F-4 Phantom Operations during the Yom Kippur War:

Attacking an Egyptian ship with an AIM-7 Sparrow

“We flew a CAP over the Gulf of Suez when we were ordered to attack an Egyptian ship that shelled Ophir. Trouble was, we were in air-to-air configuration and had no bombs. We flew there—scary pitch-black night—and we saw the ship shelling. What kind of ship was it? Was it armed with SAM? Nobody knew.

“We hesitated to get closer, but then I remembered that I once read in Aviation Week that during the Vietnam War, Americans utilized an AIM-7 to sink a ship. The aircraft was armed with Lavid [IAF name for AIM-7 Sparrow, pronounced la-vid, translation Plywood], so I suggested to Gordon that we give it a shot.

“We leveled at 20,000 feet and dropped the nose down. Over land, echo from the ground would have blinded radar, but over sea, the returned echo was weaker and we acquired the ship on our radar screen. I was afraid the missile would home on the echo of the sea so I planned dive angle and speed in such a way that the missile would lock onto the ship. We flew two or three practice passes, decided that we were ready, then entered another pass and launched a missile.

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The missile hits the water

“The missile hit the water some ten to fifteen miles from the ship; maybe we scared a shark, but the ship panicked, or maybe not, and turned away, so we felt like heroes—like a dog chasing a running cat—and started to pursue the ship, strafing it from long range.

“While we were playing with the ship, RCU notified us that an unidentified radar contact was crossing the Gulf of Suez from west to east, in the north sector of the gulf. We rushed over there really quick and I managed to spot on radar an echo of a slow-flying object: a light aircraft or a helicopter. I requested permission to open fire, but RCU hesitated and by the time permission was granted, the flying object had completed the crossing of the Gulf of Suez and entered Sinai.

“For as long as it flew over water, we had a fair chance to shoot it down, but once it was over land, the prospects of a successful interception were slim. Still, somehow I managed to accomplish a radar lock and we flew five, maybe six passes, but during all passes the missile did not launch; luckily for all involved because it was an Israeli helicopter.”

Ghosts of Atonement, Israeli F-4 Phantom Operations during the Yom Kippur War is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Israeli Air Force, Bukvoed and AHMED XIV own work via Wikipedia 

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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