MIRAGE IIICJ, No.768, Avraham Salmon, 119th Tayeset, Tel Nof Air Base, Six Day War, 1968 On this aircraft, pilots of 119th Tayeset gained a total of eleven kills between 1967 and 1970. Among them was Abraham Salmon, Israel’s second most successful fighter ace with 14.5 kills to his credit, four of which were in this bird. Two of them were flamed on June 8th, 1968.
Jet fighters in which pilots have achieved ten or more kills, are relatively few in the world. Even among aircraft in the Israeli Air Force (Heyl Ha’Avir), some of which were involved in a large number of dog fights, there were only seven that surpassed this number. Included in the seven are Mirages IIICJ No.58 and No.59 (13 kills), No.68 (11), No.62 and No.79 (10), and two IAI Neshers numbers 10 (13 kills) and 61 (12). In the shadows of the better known Mirage Nos 58 and 59 is Mirage No. 68 that was lost in a crash in 1973. In the cockpit of Mirage 68, sat several aces who contributed to its success including: Israel’s second leading ace Avraham Salmon, with 14.5 kills, Asher Snir Israel’s third leading ace with 13.5 kills, and Amos Amir with seven kills.
Mirage IIICJ No. 68 one of 72 single seat Mirage IIICJs and four two seat Mirage IIIBJs delivered to Israel and was assigned to No.119 Tayeset Ha’Atalef (Bat Squadron), stationed at Tel-Nof. The Mirage IIICJ was given the Hebrew name ‘Shahak’ (Skyblazer) due to its very inspirational Mach II performance and highly polished metal finish.
First known combat use of Mirage 68 came in Operation ‘Moked’ (Focus) which was launched by the on June 5th, 1967. During that operation which culminated in the Six Day War, Heyl Ha’Avir sent majority of its fighter, attack and jet trainers to attack airfields and other targets in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. The waves were composed of several formations of threes and fours. Shahak equipped units were also earmarked for protection of the airspace over Israel.
Operation Moked’s first wave of attack, 119 squadron formation ‘Lintel’ took off from Tel Nof air base at 0727h, and was comprised of Oded Sagee (Shahak 80), Arnon Lapidot (Shahak 68), Eelan Hight (Shahak 79) and Itamar Neuner (Shahak 19). The formation reached their objective, Cairo-West air base at 0800h. Using 500kg bombs, they destroyed the airstrip, one bomber (a Tu-16 or Il-28), two MiG-21s and two decoy MiG-17s.
The same formation (‘Lintel’), with a slightly altered roster – Oded Sagee (Shahak 79), Shlomo Egozy (Shahak 19), Eelan Hight (Shahak 80) and Itamar Neuner (Shahak 68), took off at 0948h as part of the second wave of attack on Egyptian air fields. This time the target was the distant Egyptian airfield at El Minya. In this attack the formation cratered the runway and destroyed between six and eight Il-14s on the ground. The third wave of Israeli aircraft switched its focus to Syrian and Jordanian air bases, even though some of them were initially directed for attacks on Egyptian targets. The change in plan affected Formation ‘Floor’, flown by Avraham Salmon (Shahak 07), Omri Afek (Shahak 79), Ja’akov Agassi (Shahak 41) and Menachem Shmul (Shahak 68), originally assigned to attack Gardak in Egypt, and was diverted to Jordan’s Base H-5 at Amman. Again, the aircraft dropped 500kg bombs on the runways and in subsequent attacks, hit aircraft on the ground, and base equipment.
Shahak 68’s final mission of Operation ‘Moked’ came in the fourth wave with Formation ‘Fence’. This was flown by Eitan Karmi (Shahak 68), Giora Romm (Shahak 43), Eliezer Prigat (Shahak 20) and Asher Snir (Shahak 32), and they attacked the Syrian Base T-4. The formation was jumped by two Syrian MiG-21s, which were shot down by Giora Rom and Asher Snir.
A big day for our subject Shahak came on June 8th (the fourth day of the war), when two Egyptian MiG-19s were flamed by Avraham Salmon over the Sinai Peninsula, and the second pilot in the formation to down another MiG-19 was Menachem Shmul (Shahak 78). Avraham Salmon thus opened his own account, and also that of Shahak 68.
The Six Day War ended on June 10th, but the situation in the Middle East didn’t quiet down much. Air to air combat engagements erupted as soon as replacement fighter planes were transferred from the Soviet Union to Egypt. Mirage fighters of 119th squadron began engaging Egyptian MiGs in air to air combat as soon as July 15th, 1967. On that day, two Egyptian MiG-17s were downed by Asher Snir (Shahak 85), and a MiG-21 by each of Ran Ronen (Shahak 83) and Eliezer Prigat (Shahak 68). From October 21st, 1967, tallies rose in the so-called War of Attrition, which didn’t end until August, 1970.
An interesting kill was gained in the cockpit of Shahak 68 by Reuven Rozen on April 14th, 1969. For the first time in the history of the Heyl Ha’Avir, a kill was gained using the American air-air missile, the AIM-9B, known in the Israeli Air Force as the ‘Barkan’ (Thorn), and the victim was an Egyptian MiG-21. These missiles were pressed into service by the Heyl Ha’Avir a short time prior, as a component of the purchase of the American McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, known in Israel as the ‘Kurnass’ (Sledgehammer). Combat with Egyptian MiG-21s was also in the cards on May 21st, when a group of them attempted to infiltrate over Israeli held areas of the Sinai. Opposing them was the pair of 119 squadron Mirages; Asher Snir (Shahak 68) and Eliyahu Menachem operating out of the Sinai forward base of Refidim. This pair was quickly joined by another pair of 119 squadron Mirages lead by Ran Ronen (Shahak 03) and Reuven Rozen (Shahak 58) who took off out of Tel Nof. During the ensuing combat, three of the Bat squadron pilots downed a MiG-21 each (Ronen, Snir and Rozen) and a fourth MiG-21 was downed by a Hawk anti-aircraft battery.
Over the next year, Shahak 68 raised its total by another four kills, which were progressively added by Amos Amir, Asher Snir, and two by Avraham Salmon.
Mirage 68’s final documented kill came on July 30th, 1970, when Asher Snir took part in the trap to down Soviet flown MiG-21MF pilots operating out of Egypt. The 119th squadron was represented by Amos Amir, Asher Snir (Shahak 68), Avraham Salmon (Shahak 78) and Avraham Gilad. From the total of five Soviet MiG-21MF’s downed, the pilots of the Bat squadron accounted for 2.5.
Bat squadron Mirage operations ended in October 1970 as the squadron began reequipping with the F-4 Phantom II. 119 squadron personnel that opted not to continue on to operate and fly the Phantom were distributed among the remaining Shahak units – the 101st and 117th squadrons. Shahak 68 was assigned to the No. 117 Tayeset Ha’Silon Ha’Rishona (First jet squadron) based at Ramat David. Mirage 68 was lost on January 9th, 1973, when, during a low level flight it crashed into the Sea of Galilee killing the pilot Ran Meir.
Sources: Shlomo Aloni: Israeli Air Force – Tayeset 119, AiDOC 2007 Shlomo Aloni: The June 1967 Six-Day War, Isradecal Publications 2008 Shlomo Aloni: Israeli Mirage and Nesher Aces, Osprey Publishing 2004 Yoav Efrati: Colors and Markings of the IAF, Isradecal Publications 2005 Acknowledgements: I would like to extend my sincere thanks for their help with photographs and in the preparation of this article to Yoav Efrati and Ra’anan Weiss of Israel.