Six days in June: First strike


“The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold”

Lord Byron ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’


The jets from the Israeli Air Force were low, almost skimming across the surface of the flat calm Mediterranean Sea and travelling in excess of 500 mph.

It was the pre-dawn hours of Monday the 5th of June, 1967, and Israel was going to war.

It was just before 7:00 am when the first air raid sirens began to be heard throughout the towns and cities of Israel, followed by the sound of rushing feet.

Major General Mordechai Hod, commander of the Israeli Air Force, had given the final order for Operation Focus to begin.

The preparations for this massive undertaking had begun several years before and both pilots and ground crew (trained vigorously in their respective parts), each?locked into the patterns and habits which had come to resemble their day to day lives, in an atmosphere of efficiency and unspoken understanding.

Due to the relatively small size of the Israeli Air Force, it was not possible to attack on a broad front, so a carefully conceived plan for a pre-emptive strike had been devised.

Only 12 out of a total of 212 French made strike aircraft were held back for local defence.

The backbone of this first of three waves, comprised of the Super Mystere, which had been purchased in the mid-1950?s alongside a few of the newer model Mirages.

In addition to this, Israel and France had worked closely together in the intervening years to produce the first ever anti runway device.

This missile, used a parachute for initial balance which was then followed by an internal rocket device, to accelerate a projectile to sink beneath the earth?s surface, before exploding.

This not only created a crater in an enemy?s runway which could soon be filled in; but also a sinkhole, which rendered the affected ground completely inoperable.

The skies were clear as the first strike flew low?(close to 18 meters above sea level and at high speed) in order to avoid Egyptian Radar, before climbing and rolling over, for the final run in and attack.

This precautionary low-level approach was armed with Israeli Intelligence on the ground which had provided timely information about the Egyptian High Commands orders to disable its air command and defence system.

This directive had been put into place in order to protect the ruling Egyptian establishment, from a possible popular internal uprising amongst its own troops, due to the movements of Field Marshall Amer and Lieutenant General Sidqi Mahmoud, enroute to visiting army positions in the Sinai Peninsula.

At a little, before 08:00 am the first strike force?opened their throttles and climbed to?a little under 9,000?feet, before turning over and pulling into a dive towards the?targets which had been memorised and studied for so long.

Each vector of every runway had been closely scrutinised, and each?target was hit with a precision rendering all future use impossible.

The closest enemy runway, El Arish, was unharmed as this would prove to be of use to the Israeli forces in the coming days. Eleven others were neutralised in this initial strike.

As the first wave returned, the true genius of the Israeli planning took full effect.

This was the quick turnaround on the ground which had been maximised to 7 minutes and 30 seconds. Four sorties a day: well above anything NATO or the Arab States could achieve.

While the second wave was in the air, heading towards their prearranged targets, reports came in of Syrian and Jordanian countermeasures which were aimed at Israeli civilian targets.?These were the opening shots of the coming battles?in the days ahead, but for?the time being?Egypt was the main focus. Fourteen more runways were destroyed.

The third and final wave broke off into a display of total air dominance over the entire?region, striking targets near and far and ensuring the complete annihilation of any organised resistance.

Due to the success of the first and second waves, this third wave was ordered to hit runways in Syria, Jordan and Iraq.

A total of 452 Arab aircraft had been destroyed on the ground, but just as importantly no enemy runways remained operable.

The not so tiny nation of Israel had?effectively?wiped out?its aggressive enemy?s air power, in a little over three hours.

The opening round of what would prove to be known as the Six Day War had begun.

Now the focus would shift to the troops?on the ground.

Read the earlier instalments of this series below:

  1. Six days in June: betrayal, endurance and victory
  2. Six days in June: prelude to war
  3. Six days in June: Two reluctant leaders