Cold War Era

The story of the Israeli F-4 flight that dodged (at least) 20 Syrian SAMs in a single mission during the Yom Kippur War

“During this flight, we really felt like missile hunters, though we were not sure who would hunt first: the missile or us,” Haim Katz, F-4 Kurnass navigator.

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 the Kurnass were tasked to perform a wide array of missions. As explained by Shlomo Aloni in his book Ghosts of Atonement, Israeli F-4 Phantom Operations during the Yom Kippur War, the major Israel Air Force (IAF) missions flown during the conflict were:

  • RAM: air base attack offensive against air bases in Egypt or in Syria.
  • MODEL: SEAD offensive against Syrian SAM batteries east of the Golan Heights.
  • CHALLENGE: SEAD offensive against Egyptian SAM batteries west or the Suez Canal.
  • DOMINIQUE: strategic bombing campaign against high value targets.
  • SCRATCH: defensive and offensive operations in a scenario of a surprise Arab attack.

On Oct. 11, 1973 (Day 6 of the war), a flight of Kurnass (EMPLOYEE 1 Snir/KatzA in F-4 165 EMPLOYEE 2 Knaan/ EMPLOYEE 3 Sagi/KatzH in F-4 163 EMPLOYEE 4 Aaronov/) of 119 Squadron were tasked to SEAD a SA-3 battery south of Khan Alsheh, Syria. The attackers penetrated at low altitude in the face of poor weather conditions and intense AAA fire, so they pressed ahead with the mission from medium altitude. Former Kurnass navigator Haim Katz wrote:

119 Squadron F-4 Kurnass

“We approached from the north, from Mount Hermon. AAA fire opened at us, so we pulled up earlier than planned and SAM launches followed. We broke from three missiles; many more missiles were launched, but we only broke from missiles that risked us. During break we split from Aaronov. Each of us fought for his life against “his” missiles. We were already too slow when the fourth missile to risk us approached, so Sagi smoothed the aircraft with the panic button. We managed to accelerate a little and pull up. The missile followed, so we wildly pushed down while the missile continued to zoom upwards to 30,000 feet.

“We continued to break; our intention was to fly west, but breaks drew us east. While breaking, we heard Aaronov messing with his missiles but still managing to pinpoint the target and bomb it.

“Finally, we succeeded in returning to our territory after some 20 missiles—in conservative evaluation—were launched against us. During this flight, we really felt like missile hunters, though we were not sure who would hunt first: the missile or us.

“This mission was considered successful, even though we did not bomb, if only because the Syrians “wasted” so many missiles; then again, the Russians continued to supply Syria with many more missiles.”

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

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-4E Phantom II 32nd TFS, CR 68-446

Photo credit: Biton Hey’l Ha Avir and U.S. Navy

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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