Operation Shock

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Operation Shock
מבצע הלם
Part of War of Attrition
Super Frelon Hatzerim 28042004.jpg
Super Frelon helicopter
Date October 31, 1968
Location Egypt
Result 1. Mission successful:
  • Qena bridge irreparably damaged
  • Nag-Hammadi dam damaged
  • 7/9 transformers destroyed
2. Egyptian shelling on IDF positions along the Suez canal halted for four months.[1]
Belligerents
 Israel  Egypt
Strength
14 paratrooper commandos,
4 Super-Frelon helicopters
Casualties and losses
None

Operation Shock(Hebrew:מבצע הלם) was a commando operation executed on October 31, 1968 by Israeli paratroopers. Targets of the raid were the new Qena bridge 280 miles south of Cairo, the Nag Hammadi bridge 35 miles west of Qena span and the Nag Hammadi transformer station near the bridge. The station provided electricity to the area and was described as a switching station on a high tension line between Cairo and the Aswan Dam. [2]

Background[edit]

The War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt lasted from 1968 to 1970 and was fought along the cease-fire lines that ended the 1967 Six Day War.

Both sides intended the war of attrition to weaken the other as much as possible in hopes of gaining advantages in subsequent negotiations. Egypt in particular sought to regain territory it had lost in 1967. Egypt's leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, calculated that by waging a low-grade war on Israel over territory belonging to Egypt, international pressure would force Israel to withdraw. Nasser was also intent on redressing the humiliation he and Egypt had suffered in the 1967 war. Israel, for its part, attempted to solidify its hold on Sinai as some members of the Israeli cabinet and Knesset believed the Peninsula should be annexed to Israel--a step toward achieving the old Zionist vision of Greater Israel.

Planning[edit]

In response to two heavy artillery bombings conducted by the Egyptian army on IDF positions along the Suez Canal, which killed 25 soldiers, the IDF initiated a long series of operations against deep military and strategic targets in Egypt. Operation Shock was the first which targeted Egypt's electricity infrastructure.

The paratrooper commando unit was allocated the mission, and Matan Vilnai was given five days to plan Operation Shock, which was set for October 31. The General Command considered an airdrop of the paratroopers at Nag Hammadi and a pickup by helicopters, but Matan felt that their chances of coming home alive from such an airdrop were minimal, and that any navigational error in the heart of the Nile Valley could doom them. He pressured the IAF to provide him with helicopters in both directions. The Super Frelon squadron, commanded by Chaim Naveh, was the only one that could fly such a long-distance mission. Chaim and his pilots had experience with long flights in the squadron's seven helicopters, having brought them over in a direct flight from France, flying via Rome and Athens, with a refueling stop in Rhodes.

The round trip between Israel's Ofir airfield in the Sinai and Nag Hammadi was approximately seven hundred kilometers, similar to one leg of the distance from Marseilles to Tel Aviv. The success of the flight depended on conditions in the territory and the weather information that the intelligence network would provide. In the initial plan, the helicopters were to skip to their targets, and would defend themselves while refueling. Chaim did not like the idea, feeling that once an engine was shut off, there was no guarantee that it could be restarted. He preferred a direct flight, even though it necessitated precise calculation of every drop of fuel. The entire squadron would be used for the mission. Two helicopters, commanded by Zevik Matas and Shaul Shefi, would lead Matan's force to the switching station. Two others, led by Nehemiah Dagan and Chaim, would carry the bombs to the Qena bridge and the dam at Nag Hammadi. A fifth helicopter was placed on rescue alert, and the two remaining helicopters stayed at Ofir, one as reserve and the other loaded with fuel tanks for emergency refueling if need be.

Preparations continued until the day of the operation. At midday they flew to the Ofir airfield. Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan came to bid them farewell, along with Chief of Staff Chaim Bar-Lev and Ezer Weizman, who exuded distress and concern. Vilnai recalls that they made him feel as if his force were departing on a one-way trip. Dinner was eaten in silence, "like the last meal of those sentenced to death," in Vilnai's words. Three hours had been allocated for the round-trip flight and another ninety minutes for the operation itself. Where Operation Iron, the destruction of the Jordanian bridges, had been executed using "sprinkler" bombs flown under the bellies of the Bell 205s and operated by paratroopers, the 500-kilogram bombs would be treated differently in Operation Shock. They would be packed into the helicopters and lowered by a special crane operated by the flight mechanic as the helicopter hovered over the target.

Operation[edit]

As evening fell, Matan's force set out first and other helicopters with "sprinkler" bombs shortly thereafter. Matan's landing spot was several kilometers from the switching station, and the commandos would make their way there on foot. The assault on the station was set at 2200 hours. Five minute earlier, the bombs were to be loaded on the dam and the bridge. Zevik's helicopter was the first to land, and Matan and his team jumped out. Matan pulled out his flashlight and signaled for Shaul's helicopter, carrying the second team of commandos and the explosives on a hand cart, to land. The paratroopers ran to the switching station, pulling the cart with its explosives. Near the outside wall, they performed as trained. While Matan climbed on the shoulders of one of his men and attached a rope ladder, he saw the station's security guard sitting directly below them. Matan tensed, for time was working against them. They were already fifteen minutes behind schedule, and the bombs would soon be activated on the dam and the bridge, destroying the element of surprise. He jumped down and decided to kill the guard. The Egyptian shouted, "Min hada?"—"Who's there?"—and Matan answered him, "Ta'al hone." "Come here." His accent sounded strange to the guard, and he cocked his gun. Matan fired and missed, and the Egyptian took off screaming.

The commando force burst into the switching station and found itself facing four guards who they shot with Uzis. Then they began to attach their explosive charges. Far from there, Chaim and Nehemiah were hovering over their targets, counting the minutes to 2155 hours when they would place the "sprinkler" bombs and activate the detonators. Five minutes later, if all went according to plan, darkness would encircle the area. Every second had been calculated. At 2200 hours exactly, when two explosions shook the ground below the helicopter, the paratroopers kilometers away had still not finished attaching their explosives.

The syncopation between the two operations had failed. The dam and the bridge had been destroyed, and the noise had woken everyone. The guard who had fled returned with four comrades, and they began to fire on the paratroopers, who immediately returned fire and killed them from a range of five meters. Gunfire began to fall on the commandos from inside the station as well. Matan was amazed. The intelligence report had spoken of three or four guards at most. The final part of the operation was executed in the midst of a battle for their lives. The delay fuse of fifteen seconds was attached. Matan checked the connections, and they dove over the wall. As they ran, the explosion went off behind their backs, throwing them to the ground. A sea of flames soared over their heads.

Several minutes later the evacuation helicopter arrived. Hovering, it lowered its ramp and swallowed up the commando team. The flight mechanic dropped the two reserve fuel tanks, and at exactly 0200 hours they took off toward Israel. When they arrived with no dead or wounded, they were received as if they had returned from the dead.

Aftermath[edit]

The following day, the Mirages took off on a reconnaissance sortie to Upper Egypt. The photographs revealed that seven of the nine transformers had been destroyed or severely damaged. Cairo's southern suburbs were disconnected from the electrical system, and the Qena bridge was irreparably damaged. Though the dam had been less damaged, Egypt was forced to transfer large forces to defend the Nile Valley, and recruited a special militia for this purpose. The construction of the Israeli fortifications along the border continued unmolested for four months. When the shelling along the canal commenced again, more airborne missions, of a more sophisticated nature, were executed in the Nile Valley. Israel hit the dam at Nag Hammadi again, and attacked other bridges as well as electric and telephone lines in the region.

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Cohen, Col. Elizar (October 26, 1993). Israel's Best Defence (1st American edition ed.). Crown;. ISBN 978-0517587904.