An unknown story from the Yom Kippur war: Israeli F-4s vs North Korean MiG-21s

Jun 24 2013 - 15 Comments

Even if the McDonnell Douglas F-4 was developed as interceptor in response to the need of the U.S. Navy to protect their aircraft carrier, the ultimate version of the Phantom II was the USAF F-4E, a multi role fighter which was also sold to several air forces around the world. One of the countries to receive the F-4E was Israel that bought the first examples in 1969 and later made the Phantom the mainstay of its Air Power bringing the F-4 in all the major Arab-Israeli conflicts.

In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the Israeli Air force (IAF) found itself facing an Arab Air Forces coalition which was composed not only by Egyptian and Syrian fighter squadrons, but also by units from Algeria, Iraq, Libya and … North Korea, that deployed a MiG-21 squadron to Bir Arida to protect Egypt’s south.

Obviously, at the time,  IAF pilots didn’t know that some of the MiGs they would face were from North Korea. However the first engagement between North Korean pilots and Israeli pilots took place on Oct. 6, 1973 when two F-4 Kurnass (Sledgehammer) pairs from 69 and 119 Squadrons were scrambled from Ramat David Air Base for a patrol over the Gulf of Suez sector.

The F-4s of the two squadrons were teamed together and the 69 pair (which had their crews formed by Shadmi and Gur on board the first aircraft and Shpitzer and Ofer on the other one)  leading the mission.

F-4

Image credit: IAF

It was only after a long patrol, when the jets were already low on fuel, that the F-4s were vectored towards Egypt’s west-northwest: although the high altitude, between 20,000 and 25,000 feet, Gur was able to detect with its radar a pair of bandits down below, very hard to lock. Thanks to the GCI (Ground Control Intercept) the crews could track the two enemy aircraft and enter in the range for an AIM-7 shot, despite the ground clutter. But due to the bad weather they were unable to see their wingman, so Shadmi and Gur decided not to lunch the Sparrow.

Just few seconds later the two F-4s’ crews identified the two bandits as a couple of MiG-21s and immediately engaged them: one of the MiG disappeared, while the other Fishbed stayed for a 1 vs 2 combat. The North Korean pilot was very good and, despite the fact it was alone against the two Kurnass (plus the two 119 Squadron F-4s which were flying overhead), tried to slow the speed in a dogfight attempting. But the two Israeli fighters maintained high speed, they got into missiles launch position and Shadmi and Gur launched an AIM-9D. After a second, they launched another Sidewinder which was followed by a third AIM-9D launched by Shpitzer and Ofer from the other Kurnass.

All the missiles exploded very close to the MiG, but the Fishbed continued flying. At this point, the Israeli Kurnass were already low on fuel and they turned east heading home. Gur looked at the MiG and while it turned west, he noticed the Fishbed was leaving a white smoke trail. Suddenly after the F-4s crossed the coastline, Gur saw the trail of a SAM and then an explosion at 20,000 feet, where before there was the MiG-21: Egyptians shot down one of their aircraft!

The pilots knew only when the war ended that the MiG-21 belonged to North Korea, while after the Kurnass landed, Shadmi and Gur shared the kill with Shpitzer and Ofer because they were notified that the MiG had crashed. But the crews told what they saw and in fact later it was confirmed by the IAF Intelligence that the Egyptian Air Defense Force shot down one of their Fishbeds.

F-4 formation

Image credit: IAF

Today the 69 Squadron Hammers is based to Hatzerim Air Base flies and it the powerful F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) which replaced since 1998 the mighty F-4 Kurnass.

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  • Lama glama

    Surely you mean October 06, not December 06?

    • Mikey

      He probably did a typo and stop calling him shirley :)

    • Dario Leone

      I have tried to search all the best and confirmed info before writing this article and I can say it was on 6 December. However if you have got more details, they are most welcomed!

      • Lama glama

        Dario,

        The hostilities started on 06-Oct. and ended on 25-Oct. If the encounter took place on 06-Dec., it didn’t take place during the war but shortly thereafter.

  • Tom Demerly

    A usual, this was a great story. Thanks for sharing!

  • humphrey

    I guess there’s no restrictions when you have to fire a AIM-9 from a F4 but when I see the picture I wonder if the fully deflected flaps could be a problem as they clearly interact with the plume of the missile.

    • ST0RM

      Thats because the photo in question was taken from the rear of a C-130 and not in combat.
      In regards to the story, how were the MiG-21s positively identified as being flown by NK pilots? Were they flying their own jets too?

    • phuzz

      Do they not drop a meter or two before igniting?

  • Egyptian Pilot

    that is not true

    the only role they had is to defend Cairo, they never had dogfights combat with anyone in Egypt, and also some of them were low quality pilots not as the article declared . the only NON Egyptian pilots were IRAQI

    • Ivan

      Can you show some pictures of Libyan Mirage 5DE from the war in in 1973.

    • Ronnie Fairley

      he doesnt know his own history lol

  • anonymous

    Sources of this story?

    • cencio4

      The book “Hammers: Israel’s Long-Range Heavy Bomber Arm: The Story of 69 Squadron” contains details about the NK involvement in the War.

  • Martin

    Would love to know the camo scheme of the NK Migs

  • VFA41_Lion

    The only time David can be guaranteed of a comment response in his articles is if it has to do with Israel. :p