This was a really rare Israeli air-to-air “friendly fire” incident and the only such incident that resulted in a “friendly kill” of one IAF aircraft shooting down another IAF aircraft.
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.
As explained by Shlomo Aloni in his book Ghosts of Atonement, Israeli F-4 Phantom Operations during the Yom Kippur War, during the conflict the Israel Air Force (IAF) positioned Combat Air Patrol (CAP) formations over the Mediterranean Sea during Kurnass operations over the River Nile Delta. On Oct. 14, 1973 (Day 9 of the Yom Kippur War) air base attack missions against Mansoura and Tanta prompted a strong backup of two 4-ship CAP formations. However, in line with IAF policy to avoid insertion of delta fighters into the River Nile Delta, Squadron 101’s and 113’s CAP formations were not vectored to assist Squadron 201 and 119 crews as they disengaged—successfully and without losses—from Mansoura and Tanta, respectively, primarily because MiG-21s engaged the Kurnass crews over the River Nile Delta but did not pursue Kurnass crews over the Mediterranean Sea. It was the IAF’s belief that the presence of CAP formations over the Mediterranean Sea deterred Egyptian Air Force (EAF) from ordering MiG-21 pilots to continue the pursuit of Kurnass crews over the Mediterranean Sea as Kurnass crews climbed for their flight back home.
During disengagement of Squadron 107 Kurnass crews, the MiG-21 pilots continued pursuit over the Mediterranean Sea, but even then Nesher pilots were not vectored to engage MiG-21s and once disengagement had been accomplished, Squadron 101 CAP was ordered to return to base, thus flying towards Israel ahead of the Squadron 107 crews.
Reportedly, this situation was falsely analyzed as MiG-21s—actually Kurnass crews—intercepting Squadron 101’s 4-ship formation. By then, the fuel state of all crews and pilots involved in the air base attack mission to Tanta was too low for air combat, so Regional Control Unit (RCU) vectored a Squadron 144 Nesher CAP—a routine north Sinai CAP unrelated to the Mansoura and Tanta air base attack operation—to intercept enemy aircraft that were intercepting the retreating Squadron 101 CAP.
Squadron 144 Nesher pilots flew a perfect interception pattern, positioned themselves right behind “enemy interceptors in pursuit of Squadron 101 Neshers”—these were in fact retreating Squadron 107 Kurnass crews—and launched an air-to-air missile that shot down Kurnass 176, call sign BUFFET 2. The Squadron 107 crew ejected from the aircraft and was rescued from the cold October waters of the Mediterranean Sea after a few tense hours.
This was a really rare Israeli air-to-air “friendly fire” incident and the only such incident that resulted in a “friendly kill” of one IAF aircraft shooting down another IAF aircraft. In light of the many questions surrounding the Mansoura and Tanta air base attack missions, and if the aforementioned, seemingly absurd ruse theory is accepted, is it possible that the “friendly fire” incident that resulted in a Nesher pilot shooting down a Kurnass crew was not an accident?
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: PC via Schiffer Publishing and Israel Defense Forces