Raid on Entebbe: Part three

The floors of the four Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft were simply awash with vomit, as the roughly 100 Israeli soldiers struggled against the constant noise and shuddering amid the open bellies of these flying beasts.

Operation Thunderbolt was underway.

At the last stop of Sharm el Sheik, one soldier had even been removed after becoming completely incapacitated through airsickness.

They followed a flight path which took them down the entire length of the Red Sea, all the while travelling below radar in order to avoid detection from hostile neighbours.

The planning and preparation for this arduous endeavour had begun as soon as news had come through about the hijacking.

Many ideas had been floated, including one in which Israeli special dive forces would have been dropped into Lake Victoria. This had been discarded however after further investigation uncovered the presence of crocodiles which would have posed an undue risk.

In the proceeding days after the initial taking of hostages, Mossad had been actively pursuing information and friends within central Africa.

A notable contact in Kenya who was wishing to help was Bruce McKenzie, the Kenyan Minister for Agriculture. McKenzie had the ear of the ailing Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta and had been pushing for Kenyan support with resolving the situation in neighbouring Uganda.

Kenyan support, while not vital, would, however, provide the mission with some much-needed leeway if an option was open for refuelling after the hostages had been freed.

At this stage, no commitment from the Kenyan government had yet been received by the accompanying Air Support Unit who surmised that the request for entry into Kenyan airspace would only be received once the success or failure of the proposed mission had been established on the ground.

Without this support, the refuelling aspect of the mission: one of the most vital problems to overcome, would need to be carried out at Entebbe, whose security could very easily be compromised if things went badly.

Logistically the mission had proven to be an absolute nightmare for all involved in its planning and preparation.

Transporting 100 army personnel on a round trip of some 5000 miles, almost entirely flown during darkness over hostile terrain with an unknown element of enemy forces awaiting them upon arrival.

Rather unprecedented.

What could possibly go wrong?

The force had been divided up into 4 parties:

The leading assault element comprised of a 29 man unit from the Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli equivalent of the S.A.S, and would be commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, the older brother of Benjamin who would go on to become the 9th Prime Minister of Israel.

This leading force would employ the use of a black Mercedes Benz vehicle which they hoped would fool hostile forces into thinking they were being visited by the Ugandan president.

The second unit comprised of an Israeli Paratrooper force, commanded by Colonel Matan Vilnai, whose responsibility was to secure the local airport and protect Israeli aircraft.

The third unit was a force drawn from the highly experienced and venerated Golani Brigade, under the command of Colonel Uri Sagi. Its primary objective was in the protection and safe boarding of freed hostages. It would also act as a reserve unit to be called upon if required for additional duties.

The fourth and final unit was another force of Sayeret Matkal, led by Major Shaul Mofaz, who were tasked with destroying the Ugandan Air Force Migs on the ground, and also dealing with any aggressive ground incursions from locally stationed troops.

As the aircraft neared the Bab al-Mandab Straits they were to alter course, taking them over the Ogaden area of Ethiopia before turning onto a westward track towards Kenya.

One of the two Boeing 707 aircraft which were transporting medical facilities landed at Nairobi while the second followed the assaulting force into Uganda. It would circle above Entebbe during the operation in order to provide communication services and intelligence to the ground force.

The timing of the assault had largely been determined by the fast-approaching deadline which was due to run out at 12 pm, however, some thought had also been given as to how to mitigate the risk of landing on a potentially unlit runway late at night.

A scheduled international arrival by a British airliner would be closely followed in and used as cover by the first of the four Israeli C-130?s who proceeded unto finals for landing with its cargo bay doors open.

Last minute checks were made to gear and weapons as the first assaulting party entered into the vehicles, making ready for departure once the aircrafts taxiing had been completed.

At 11 pm (Israeli Standard Time) the Black Mercedes Benz carrying Yonatan Netanyahu, rolled down unto the African tarmac and proceeded towards the Old Terminal. The remaining men of this initial assaulting party followed close behind in several Land Rovers.

As they approached the terminal two Ugandan sentries hailed for them to stop.

The order was given to shoot the sentries with silenced rounds, however, one of the sentries was only wounded.

A burst of unsuppressed fire was used to kill this guard and fears were raised that the hijackers would be alerted prompting the assaulting force to quicken its planned assault.

Leaving their parked vehicles they ran towards the Old Terminal building and upon entering a megaphone was used to announce their presence in both English and Hebrew:

?Stay down! Stay down! We are Israeli soldiers!?

Two of the hostages were mistaken for hijackers and fatally shot: 19-year-old Jean-Jacques Maimoni and 52-year-old Pasco Cohen.

In addition, a third hostage, 56-year-old Ida Borochovitch was killed in the crossfire between the assaulting party and the hijackers.

In a matter of minutes, the entire building was secured and all hijackers who were present neutralised.

While the remaining hostages were bustled off to awaiting aircraft, a search was made for the PFLP-EO leader Wadie Haddad but he was not to be found.

As the surrounding airfield was secured and Ugandan jets destroyed, a firefight broke out between Israeli forces and units of the Ugandan army who had been ordered into the fray.

It was at this point that the sole fatality for the Israeli forces fell when Yonatan Netanyahu was shot by sniper fire, presumably from the terminals control tower.

With all hostages secured the C-130?s began to taxi for their final departure.

Word had finally been received from the Kenyan government that the aircraft would be allowed to refuel in Nairobi.


The entire operation had lasted no more than 53 minutes.

When Amin heard about the raid he was incensed with rage. His anger was such that he ordered the killing of one of the hostages, who had been taken to a Ugandan hospital a few days previously after choking on a chicken bone.

Dora Bloch was 74 when she was murdered by officers of the Ugandan army, alongside some of the doctors and nurses who had tried to intervene on her behalf.

In a bizarre twist of irony, her stay at the hospital had been extended by the staff who had feared for her safety if she had returned to the terminal building.

Her body was dumped in the back of a car which was reported to have Ugandan Intelligence Services number plates.

Her remains would be recovered near a sugar plantation 20 miles east of Kampala in 1979.

Amin?s revenge did not stop at the murder of an unarmed elderly woman however with the week following the raid seeing the killing of up to 245 Kenyans in Uganda, including airport staff at Entebbe.

Thousands more Kenyans fled Uganda in fears of further reprisals.

Bruce McKenzie would be assassinated on the 24th of May 1978, when a bomb exploded on an aircraft he was flying in. The bomb was apparently secreted inside of a gift which Amin had just presented to McKenzie prior to the flight.

In memory of McKenzie, Chief Director of Mossad Meir Amit would plant a forest in Israel in his name.

Shortly after the hostages returned home, Operation Thunderbolt would be renamed Operation Yonatan in memory of the commander of the assaulting party who did not survive the raid.

Wadie Haddad would meet his end in the German Democratic Republic on 28th March 1978.

According to some sources he was eliminated by agents from Mossad who had coated some Belgian chocolates with a slow-acting and undetectable poison. Others say the poison was put into his toothpaste.

The Raid on Entebbe stunned not only those who it was directed against, but also the world in general.

No one alive at the time misunderstood this ‘High Water Mark’ of intention.

Amid the celebrations breaking out throughout Israel a decisive note had also been announced to anyone who held ill intentions towards its citizens.

The message was very clear.

No matter where you are and how many you may be; as far as the east to the west, from the north to the south; Israel would fly to the ends of the earth to protect its citizens; and it would pursue this promise vigorously, with total belief in its purpose and responsibility.

Because when something needs doing: its best done by those who believe in the impossible.