Cold War Era

The story of the Israeli F-4 crew that attacked an Egyptian warship with an AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile during the Yom Kippur War

“I remembered that I once read in Aviation Week that during the Vietnam War, Americans utilized an AIM-7 to sink a ship. We were armed with Lavid [ILAF name for AIM-7 Sparrow], so we decided that we give it a shot,” F-4 Kurnass navigator Micha Oren.

In the years that preceded the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel invested heavily in the creation of a heavy attack force of four F-4 Phantom/Kurnass squadrons. They would fly 3.000+ sorties, claim 80+ kills, and suffer 30+ losses during the nineteen days of one of the most intensive, savage wars in modern military history.

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:

“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. We were 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.

“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.

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“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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