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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Egyptian pilot: We felt humiliated
Israel wiped out much of the Egyptian Air Force on the morning of June 5, 1967, the first day of the war. Egyptian pilot Mustafa Hafez was stationed at one of the 11 Egyptian air bases that were targeted.

He told military historian and BBC website reader, David Nicolle, what happened that day.

Mustafa Hafez
Mustafa Hafez in 1973, by which time he was squadron commander

In the build-up to war, I was sent to a squadron based at Kabrit, flying MiG-17Fs and MiG-17PF night fighters.

We didn't really think that there would be a war, and if there was one, I was confident that Egypt would win.

I was then a Flight Lieutenant and I was 26. Our confidence was not based on anything specific, but our morale was high.

On the first day of the war, 5 June, at about 8.20am I was in the mess, since I was due to fly later that day. No particular aircraft had been allocated to me. This was normal in our air force; we flew what was available.

Suddenly I heard explosions and went outside the mess; I asked people what was going on.

That was when I saw an Israeli aircraft attacking, very low from south to north, coming in towards the runway. It was a Super Mystere.

My first instinct was to run towards a ditch, but when I got there I thought, what am I doing here like an idiot? So I ran to the squadron bus so I could get to the squadron headquarters.

I didn't have any plans, only to try to defend the airfield. I hadn't even cleared my take off with the control tower, I just took off

There I found the Regimental CO who was heading for his car; so I got in too. The CO drove to the nearest available aircraft, and I helped strap him in, though we weren't absolutely sure the aircraft was ready to go.

I think he took off on a sub runway as the main runway had already been hit.

Then I tried to find another aircraft. They were all either damaged, or being serviced, or weren't ready to go. Then I went to a hangar. By this time the mechanics were starting to come back after having run away as the first bombs fell.

That was when I took off in an available MiG-17F. I didn't even check if it was armed, but only asked if had been fuelled.

I didn't have any plans, only to try to defend the airfield. Once I was up in the air I could see the smoke from other airfields which had been attacked. I hadn't even cleared my take off with the control tower, I just took off. Nor did I have any idea what the rest of the squadron were doing.

Then I saw something flying very low. It was a n Israeli Mirage going west to east, so I half rolled in behind it. It was probably doing a reconnaissance as it was on its own and was not attacking targets on the ground. As I followed it I tried to cock my guns three times, but my plane was too slow to keep up and after a while the Mirage just flew off.

Lack of training

Of course I was angry and frustrated because I was unable to shoot down that Mirage. There was a switch in the cockpit that changed the armament from rockets to guns, but I had not been trained for that particular modification.

And I wasn't the only pilot to make the same mistake.

Then I landed safely.

Very soon afterwards I took off again in a different aircraft. There had been no time for me to report or to be debriefed. I merely changed aircraft.

As I started the engine the airfield came under attack again, for perhaps the second or third time. I was still inside the hangar, in the cockpit, when I heard the attack. I cleared the hangar doors at full throttle and afterburner. The aircraft was swerving and rocking from side to side; I was afraid the wingtips would hit the ground.

I took off without a pause... the Israelis were about 100m ahead of me. I counted one, two, three, four, so I pulled up and tried to follow the last one.

A MiG-17PF night-fighter plane
The MiG-17PF Mustafa flew on 5 June, damaged in combat

All five of us started circling, then one came at me head-on and opened fire. This made me so angry that I swore out loud. The Israeli turned to the right. I turned first to the left and then to the right to try and follow him. A head-on attack is very difficult.

That was when I was hit in the right wing. We were all flying at 200-300m. My right aileron was damaged and I continued turning right, unable to straighten out, so I gained height.

The Israeli couldn't keep with me as a MiG-17 is better in a climb. My aircraft juddered several times and almost went into a spin. I thought it odd that it tried to spin under those conditions.

While three of the Israeli aircraft attacked our airfield, the fourth one followed me. After the three had strafed the field, the fourth one did the same, then they all flew home.

Meanwhile I was still turning to the right, unable to straighten up. As I lined up on a runway I used the aileron trim to straighten out. This wasn't standard procedure. I don't know if I invented it or maybe it just came by instinct, but it worked. I had no communication with the ground, but I landed OK.

Humiliated

It was about twelve o'clock when I finally landed. There was no further activity after that... we were mainly concerned to disperse and save whatever aircraft we could.

The air force felt very angry and humiliated by this war. Once, during the war, two of my fellow officers had to stop me banging my head repeatedly against a pair of concrete pillars at our air base.

Another time, still during the war, I and some others were sent to stay in a hotel in Cairo, but the waiter in the hotel was too sympathetic and even placed his hand on my shoulder to comfort me.

This was so embarrassing, we asked to be taken back to the base.

This interview was conducted in Cairo in 1999. Mustafa Hafez died two years later.




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