EVEN MORE AIR COMBAT IN ISRAEL - YET ANOTHER TRUE STORY
There's a word in Hebrew, Zanek, usually seen as "Zanek!!" It basically means go.
It was a word I heard a lot during my time in the Middle East, controllers used it as a fast way to wake up quick reaction alert crews and get them rolling. There was even a book written in the early seventies that used it as the title. Not a very good book, but it did get across the pressures of flying during the war of attrition rather well. In particular keeping Arab recon aircraft from getting too much information on what and where everything was, and elint intelligence of our comms.
The following story is in that book, but from a very different perspective to my experience of a particular day.
Being part of a rather unusual squadron, something I can't say a lot about even now, we didn't use Hebrew much, not everyone was fluent, and all of our controllers spoke good English, but Zanek was one word we all understood....
Ok, okay, I'm going already.
I tossed the book I was reading over the side of the Mirage and pushed the throttle of the already running Atar turbo jet up whilst closing the canopy. I had a glimpse of an airman getting blown off his feet by my jet wash as he retrieved the book. He wasn't going to be too happy, especially when he found I was reading Mein Kampf. It had happened before, the guys were so willing, but apart from probably having an unscheduled bumpy landing up against the revetment walls he'd live.
Out on the runway now, Duv alongside me, slightly behind, we roll, full military power and through into burner. A Mirage doesn't like being on the ground, ungainly, they always want to fly. When you give the lady her head that's exactly where she goes, quickly. We're airborne in half the runway, and as per the way we like it stay low and level to build speed, gear away, lift a minor sandstorm from a dune a mile or so off the end, pulling into a zoom to altitude whilst I get a brief from control.
Usually we are vectored North, Jordanian to Syrian border, but not today, other units are busy and a bogie has appeared out over the Med north of Port Said.
That's not a short trip from where we are starting, but its a slow bogie. Get off burner to preserve fuel and set up a predictive course. One thing I miss in Israel are tankers, if this was the UK I'd be looking to plug in right now, just as well the Mirage is not as thirsty as a Lightning. If I have to I can run out about 650 miles, but not a lot left to fight with if I do. Fortunately that's alleviated by being able to recover to bases much closer than home. Not too concerned....yet.
We run across Sinai at around 25,000, the Bar Lev line is out there on the left, had a little artillery duel this morning, but all quiet now. It's a place we try to avoid, too many SAMs with slant range to reach us over "safe" territory if they decide to, are pulled up close on the Egyptian side of the canal.
It's a perfect day. A little hazy, dust off the Sahara, but not a cloud in the sky, just a bright sun throwing stark shadows as it climbs towards noon.
I'm busy getting comfortable, straps where I want them, mask settled in, helmet snug, visor clean, nothing loose in the cockpit, that's why I tossed the book, then check the bird again. She's fine, everything green, as it almost always is in this magic airplane.
Getting the picture now. What is probably a TU-16 Badger out of Cairo West is heading east along the coast Of Sinai, in International air but a threat we need to check out. Usually those guys are doing Elint snooping, but they are capable of carrying a pair of Kelt stand-off missiles and if they point those even vaguely in the direction of Israel from within their roughly 100 mile range they will need water wings....
First priority - see if it's a missile carrier. Second - get it out of the area regardless.
Over the radio net comes:
"Be advised, Damascus Express airborne."
Someone needs to do something about that. Most days for a couple of weeks now a Mig-25B, the recon version, has lifted out of Cairo West, hopped up to 80,000 feet and zoomed across Israel at Mach 3, clicking away, landed at Damascus, turned around and gone back doing the same thing. We can't even get near him, twenty five thousand feet higher than we can manage, and half as fast again. Even if we had the rocket assisted Mirage version, which we don't, we still wouldn't be able to reach him.
Well, not my problem. We are over the coast now, the air clearing a little, the Badger is out there to our left somewhere, 5,000 feet below us. Not a very suspicious altitude, I'm betting no missiles, but we need to go look.
Duv moves in closer to me now and we turn in on the controller's call. There's the Badger, emerging from the haze, a big rumbling beast, although nowhere near as large as the TU-95 Bears I was intercepting over the North Sea last year.
Two things happen together, as Duv and I zip past him on either side, checking him out, Control calls:
"Cain One. Contact! four from below, fast movers, just came on scope!"
Well now, the bad guys want to play cute today.....
"Roger that, Bogie one confirmed Badger, no missiles, repeat NO missiles. Get someone to escort him off, we're busy."
Duv and I both roll and pull, go check these guys out, light up the radar and head straight for them.
It's the only way, but aggression is obviously not what they are expecting, we pass straight through their rapidly climbing formation and as they scatter in surprise, pull immediately into a zoom and turn, looking back to keep the picture.
Odd. Two new looking Mig 21's, the MF version, and two Sukhoi SU-9's, the larger all-weather fighter, didn't know Egypt had any of those.
Maybe they don't. The Migs are being flown very ineptly, all over the sky, no threat. The Sukhoi's though...As we go over the top they roll out a little above and behind and start to turn in. Pretty crisp. Duv and I break left, loading up the Gee, shake them off our tails before they get acquisition.
That's Duv calling a launch from one of them.
Premature, probably doesn't have a good lock, but it's still heading Duv's way. He unloads, reversing his turn, getting his hot exhaust hidden from the seeker. Looking back I see the missile go straight past him, wobble for a second then curve toward me. I pull the same rolling reversal, wanting to keep Duv covered and whatever lock the Atoll had it looses, passes me by heading out over the water.
Ok. So what has you guys all trigger happy? That's the first time we've been fired on in weeks, and the first time ever when not in Arab air.
Our evasions have kept us in the fight, neither Duv nor I are the passive types. Now we go burner and barrel up, get a little altitude here, and one Sukhoi makes a mistake.
Perhaps he really thought he was going to hit one of us, but either way he goes past, turning tail on us. His wing is heading the other way, just starting to turn. I'm better positioned than Duv, roll back and get my nose locked on the errant SU-9. My pair of Shafrir infra-red homers wake up and growl at me, range a little over a mile, right on azimuth, about as good as it gets.
The deadly little missile drops off the rack, ignites, seems to sniff the air for a second and is gone, straight as an arrow for the -9.
Holding course, confident that Duv will have my tail covered, I follow and see the missile fly clean up the tailpipe of the fleeing Sukhoi.
Three things in rapid succession.
The back of the aircraft explodes, knocking the nose down, the canopy flies away as the pilot ejects and Duv calls: "Launch one."
Pull immediately left and down, out of burner for a tighter turn, head back, looking to see what's going on. Hope you knew where I was Duv....
Just in time to see the second Sukhoi take a hit and flame out, spinning towards the sea, Duv sweeping by, in burner and turning to shadow me.
No time to see what happens to the Sukhoi, where are those Migs?
"Control, splash two Su-9's, got a bearing on the Migs for me?"
"Bugged out to the southwest Cain One, you're clear."
(Yeah? Looked down low lately? We were clear 90 seconds ago too.)
"Boss, I'm Bingo."
Pull my head in and check fuel.
"Me too. Control, is El Arish our closest for recovery?"
"Confirm Cain One, steer one five zero, sixty klicks."
Ok, that we have fuel for.
Phew. That was a little different. We sweep out of the area at 10,000, nothing around to threaten us, keeping radio silence now and letting the shakes subside.
A straight in clearance to El Arish and we are on the ground with maybe 5% fuel remaining.
On final there's a burst of chatter in the net, confused, but from the sound of it others are having a busy morning as well.
Leaving the Mirages in good hands we hop a jeep for a ride to debrief.
An Israeli inteligence Major greets us, unshaven and sloppily dressed the way these guys always seem to be.
As we give our account of the mornings' activity we get filled in.
It seems the bad guys were trying for a double, but picked the wrong day.
As we had started our turn on the Badger behind and high above us a specially modded F4 had clawed his way to 75,000 feet and fired a burst of 20mm Vulcan right in the path of Damascus Express. The recoil stalled him out and he fell 50,000 before he could recover, but it didn't matter, he had put the shells where the Mig driver least wanted them.
A couple of hits unzipped the Mig like a can of corned beef and dumped the pilot out on his seat, sitting on nothing with Israel laid out below him. He survived, a Russian, and gave intel a lot of information before they let him go home.
It seems the Sukhois were also Russian piloted, Egyptians in the Migs. The plan had been to use the Badger to get useful Elint by listening in as Israel fruitlessly snarled at the Foxbat, and if anyone came after the Badger the fighters would keep them busy. Well they sure did that, but when the Mig was hit their control had authorised the fighters to engage us. Whilst we were dealing with that a pair of F4's had chased the Badger away. Control had had to scrabble, the Phantoms were from a base up north and had been close to patrol's end when vectored. They were here at El Arish as well.
Duv also filled me in on what had been going on behind my back whilst I nailed the Sukhoi. The second one had kept turning hard, trying to lock me up from maybe four miles away, ignoring my wingman. Not a good idea doing that around Duv. He had had time to get in a high Gee barrel roll that dropped him out behind and to the left of the Sukhoi, got his nose over and showed his Shafrirs enough heat that he launched. His missile had been off my tail by a good thirty degrees and not on boresight to the Sukhoi either, but close enough.
Quite a morning.
We heard later that both the pilots survived, the second one had gotten out very low down. No doubt they went back to Russia a little wiser in the ways of dogfighting.
We transitted back to our own base and remembering the way the day had started I went to find the airman I'd blown away.
He was ok, a little abraded, and most unimpressed with my choice of reading material. I never did finish Mein Kampf......