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The Air Battle of El Mansoura was one of the largest air battles of the Yom Kippur War. The battle took place over the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) base near the town of El Mansouramarker, in the Nile Deltamarker region, where the EAF's 104th Air Wing was primarily stationed. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) conducted a large air strike on October 14 against the Mansoura air base, with the aim of destroying the 104th Air Wing to achieve complete air supremacy on the Egyptian front.

Israeli aircraft involved in the air strike were spotted by Egyptian Air Defense Command approaching from the Mediterranean Seamarker, and the 104th Air Wing scrambled its fighters, receiving additional reinforcements from other air bases. The air battle that began at 15:15 that day lasted 53 minutes, although the actual engagement only began after 15:30, ending in the retreat of IAF aircraft without accomplishing their objective.

Background

From the beginning of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, the 104th Air Wing, commanded by General Ahmed Abdel-Rahman Naser, had been heavily engaged in combat operations, providing air cover and conducting ground attack missions, as well as defending the air space of the Mansoura air base. The 104th Air Wing had three squadrons equipped with MiG-21MF fighters; two squadrons were stationed at Mansoura, tasked with interception and air defense, and the third was stationed at the Tanta air base to defend both air bases. The IAF had made several attacks on the Mansoura air base from October 6 onwards, but failed due to dense Egyptian SAM defenses.

At dawn on October 14, when Egyptian forces made their advance towards the Sinai Mitla and Gedy Passes, the ground forces were given ground support by MiG-17s, Su-7s, Su-20s and Mirage III fighter bombers. These in turn were given fighter cover by the 104th's MiG-21s. Although the Egyptian offensive on October 14 was a failure and culminated in heavy losses, the IAF was determined to destroy the 104th Air Wing's capabilities and thus regain the unchallenged total air supremacy it had in the Six Day War. A massive air strike would be launched against air bases in Salihiya, Mansoura and Tanta.

During the War of Attrition the Israelis would often penetrate Egyptian airspace and lure pursuing EAF fighters into ambushes by waiting Israeli aircraft. Following an ambush the Israelis would follow up with fighter-bombers that would attack air bases and air defenses on the ground. After falling victim to this tactic several times, the Egyptians resolved to instruct their pilots not to pursue enemy aircraft unless as part of a tactical plan worked out beforehand. After that, ambushes became significantly less successful.

In the aftermath of the Six Day War, when the EAF lost almost all its aircraft on the ground to an Israeli preemptive strike, the Egyptians constructed 500 concrete shelters on 20 major airbases to prevent the EAF's aircraft from being destroyed on the ground in a future conflict.

Initial contact

On October 14, when the Egyptians advanced from their bridgeheads along the Suez Canal, an Israeli air strike was expected to come against the Mansoura air base sooner or later, and consequently a number of MiG-21s were kept at full alert at the end of the runway with their pilots, ready for immediate take-off. As of 15:00, there was still no indication of an impending enemy attack.

At 15:15, air observation posts on the Mediterranean Sea notified EAF command that 20 Phantoms were approaching in south-west direction towards the Delta, flying over Port Saidmarker. The commander of the EAF, Air Marshal Hosni Mubarak ordered General Naser to scramble 16 MiG-21s. The EAF command believed the enemy aircraft were only a decoy meant to lure the MiG-21s away from the airbase, so that further waves of aircraft could attack the air base uninterrupted. Hence the fighter pilots were ordered to create a protective umbrella over the air base. Most importantly, they were instructed not to pursue and engage enemy aircraft before they had reached their target.

The pilots were puzzled by the order, not knowing the reason behind it, as they expected to immediately engage the enemy after scrambling. In the event, the Israeli fighters continued to fly in broad circles for some time until, when it became clear the Egyptians would not leave the vicinity of the Mansoura air base, the Phantoms withdrew back to the sea.

Battle

Sometime around 15:30, the Egyptian Air Defense Command (a military arm independent of the army and the air force), issued a warning that around sixty enemy aircraft were approaching from the Mediterranean Sea in three directions; one wave approached from Port Saidmarker, another from Damiettamarker, and the third from Baltimmarker, to the west of Damietta. Mubarak ordered his pilots in the air to intercept all three enemy formations, in the process demonstrating his reason for declining engagement of the initial Israeli fighters. The Egyptian strategy and execution was as follows: The 16 MiG-21s forming the air umbrella over Mansoura moved against the Israeli aircraft, with the objective of breaking the enemy formations and forcing them to disperse; this made them more vulnerable to the following waves of fighters. Meanwhile Naser proceeded to issue specific interception courses. 16 MiG-21s took off from Mansoura air base to support those in the air, and they were supported by another eight fighters from the Tanta air base, located west of Mansoura. The MiG-21s intercepted the Israeli formation a few dozen kilometers north of Mansoura.

At 15:38, Egyptian radar installations informed the EAF command that a second wave of around 16 Israeli aircraft was coming from over the Mediterranean at very low altitude. The Egyptians scrambled a final eight MiG-21s at Mansourah, while eight MiG-21s from the Abu Hamad air base were called upon to assist (Abu Hammad was located south east of Mansoura). The ensuing air battle was intense, involving large numbers of aircraft; at one point, the battle involved 62 MiG-21s and some 120 Phantoms and A-4 Skyhawks. A few Israeli fighter-bombers managed to reach their target and proceeded to bomb the runway and the air defenses around the air base. While the final eight aircraft from Mansoura took off, Israeli aircraft were approaching to make their bombing run. Nasr Mousa, piloting one of the eight MiG-21s, managed to bring an enemy aircraft in his sights, but then looked at his mirror to check his tail. Mousa spotted an Israeli Phantom lining up against him. Mousa made a sudden, hard right-hand turn that put him on the Phantom's tail. He shot down the Phantom with cannon fire, and no parachutes emerged. Medhat 'Arafa, an Egyptian pilot, recalls that the battle "was a frightening sight because I had never seen so many aeroplanes in one area. We were not only dogfighting, but also warning other pilots that they had an enemy on their tail..." The Israeli Phantoms had to abandon their bomb-loads in order to dogfight with the more maneuverable MiG aircraft. Egyptian pilots had to land their aircraft, re-arm, refuel and take-off again within a period of seven minutes. Take-off usually took three minutes, but according to Naser, the pilots were able to accomplish it in one-and-a-half minutes during the air battle.

At 15:52, radars detected another wave of enemy aircraft, estimated to incorporate up to 60 Phantoms and Skyhawks. They had the objective of destroying any remaining targets missed by previous Israeli aircraft. Eight MiG-21s from 102nd Air Wing were scrambled from Inshas air base, near Cairomarker, to intercept this latest wave of Israeli aircraft. Around 20 MiG-21s that had landed, refueled and re-armed at Mansoura air base were also en route to intercept the Israeli aircraft. An air battle was raging over the Nile Delta village of Dekernis, where Israeli aircraft retreating eastward were being pursued by Egyptian aircraft. A dogfight ensued over this village between the latest Israeli wave and intercepting Egyptian MiG-21s. The commander of this final wave of Israeli aircraft, realizing that the previous waves had failed in their objectives, and that there were more Egyptian aircraft in the air than expected, decided to withdraw. The last Israeli aircraft left Egyptian airspace at 16:08, and the air battle was over.

Aftermath

At 22:00 local time Cairo Radio broadcast “Communiqué Number 39”, announcing that there had been several air battles that day over a number of Egyptian airfields, the most intensive being over the northern Delta area. It also claimed that 15 enemy aircraft had been downed by Egyptian fighters for the loss of three Egyptian aircraft, excluding Israeli aircraft shot down by air defenses near the Suez Canalmarker.

The following morning, October 15, Israel Radio claimed that the IAF had shot down fifteen Egyptian aircraft, a figure later reduced to seven.

Following the war, the EAF conducted a detailed study of the battle, and concluded that 17 Israeli aircraft had been shot down for the loss of six MiG-21s; three of them were shot down by Israeli aircraft, two crashed after running out of fuel before the pilots could land, and one was destroyed after sustaining damage from an exploding Israeli Phantom. The pilot of the MiG-21 was Lieutenant Mohamed Adoub. Adoub shot down the Phantom with several accurate bursts of 23 mm cannon fire. His aircraft however suffered fatal damage from the debris. Adoub and the surviving Israeli pilot parachuted almost alongside each other. The Israeli pilot, upon landing on the ground, was assailed by angry farmers who nearly killed him, but Adoub arrived in the scene in time to stop this. The Israeli pilot went into captivity and was hospitalized for his wounds. In all two Egyptian pilots were killed in action, and the remaining four ejected safely.

The IAF gave up targeting major air bases by October 15, although there was another significant air engagement over the Nile Delta that day.

According to historian Lon Nordeen, the IAF lost only two aircraft on October 14. According to Kenneth Pollack, throughout the war "there were fifty-two major dogfights between the Egyptians and Israelis. In all, the Egyptians succeeded in shooting down 5-8 Israeli aircraft while losing 172 of their own to Israeli fighters". Pollack may have been referring to a 172 aircraft lost over the course of the war.

Commemorations

Egypt's "Air Force Day" was changed from November 2 to October 14 to commemorate the air battle.

References

  1. Saad El Shazly, The Crossing of the Suez p.20
  2. Saad El Shazly, The Crossing of the Suez p.81-82
  3. Saad El Shazly, The Crossing of the Suez p.19


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