Arab MiG-19 & MiG-21 Units in Combat (Combat Aircraft) Paperback – 25 Mar 2004
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About the Author
David Nicolle worked in the BBC Arabic service for a number of years, before gaining an MA from SOAS and a doctorate from Edinburgh University. He later taught at Yarmuk University, Jordan. He has written many books and articles on Islamic warfare. Tom Cooper is an aviation researcher based in Austria. He has excellent contacts in the Arab world, and is presently working on a series of titles for Osprey on military aircraft in Iranian service during the Iran-Iraq War. Mark Styling has illustrated several books in the Aircraft of the Aces and Combat Aircraft series. He has recently switched mediums from airbrush to Mac art, and has produced some of the best profiles Osprey has used to date.
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The first chapter, "The Arabs go Supersonic," covers the introduction of the Mig-19 and MiG-21 fighters into Arab (Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi) service in 1961-1966. While background on the early Arab MiGs is fairly short, it seems that the USSR dumped several hundred MiG fighters on the Arab air forces without providing all the necessary equipment or training to transform these aircraft into fully-functional combat assets (also beginning the Arab tendency to blame the Soviets for their own military short-comings). While the MiG-21 seemed like a major step forward for the Arab air forces, the authors note that "prior to the Six Day War, Egyptian MiG-21FLs did not have guns....the MiG-21FLs actually came to be seen as a disaster.." for the Egyptian Arab Force. Consequently, the early MiG-21s were armed with only two unreliable "Atoll" missiles, which put them at a disadvantage against the better-armed Israeli fighters. This introductory section also covers the 1967 Six Day War (the section is clearly from the Arab point of view, with no references to Nasser's numerous provocative acts that caused the war), in which the Egyptian and Syrian MiGs were mostly destroyed on the ground by some of the best-coordinated attacks in aviation history. The authors point out that the lack of Egyptian combat air patrols on the morning of 5 June 1967 remains a mystery, given the high level of tensions. In any event, only about 10-15% of the Egyptian MiGs survived the first strike, and readers will be interested to see that some Arab fighters did indeed get airborne. After a week of fighting, the Arabs had lost most of their MiGs while claiming about ten Israeli aircraft in air-air combat (about 6 by Egypt and 2 each by Syria and Iraq).
The second chapter, "Fighting Back," covers the War of Attrition in 1968-1970. This was a rough period for both the Arabs and Israelis, with frequent small-scale raids and clashes inflicting considerable loss on both sides. While the Soviets replaced the MiGs lost in the Six Day War, the models delivered were essentially the same as those exported before the war. This section is interesting because it details that the Arabs were able to start developing both the skills and the tactics to challenge Israeli air superiority at least some of the time. Egyptian MiG pilots like Samir Aziz Mikhail, Ahmad Nur el-Din and Ahmed Atef were able to score 2-3 victories each, thereby providing the Egyptian Air Force with a small nucleus of skilled veterans. A unique tactic developed by Egyptians was to ferry MiG-21s by night underneath Mi-6 heavy-lift helicopters to remote airstrips near the Suez Canal, then to ambush returning Israeli strike aircraft who were unaware of the deployment. Syria was also able to develop a small cadre of skilled veterans, including Captain Bassam Hamshu, who became the highest scoring Arab fighter pilot with seven 'kills' before he himself was shot down in 1982. In this period the Arab air forces were able to triple the number of trained jet pilots, but their technical edge slipped even further as the Israelis began to introduce better US-made aircraft like the F-4 "Phantom."
The third chapter covers the 1973 War. This is perhaps the best chapter in the volume, with a great many combat anecdotes on dogfights and bombing missions. The final two chapters cover the 1977 Egyptian-Libyan border war, the Israeli-Syrian fighting over Lebanon, the Iran-Iraq War and Desert Storm - all of which are quite interesting. Obviously, the MiG-21 fighter designed in the late 1950s performed more and more poorly in each succeeding war as it started going up against F-14s, F-15s and F-16s. The Soviets denied the Arabs improved MiGs and missiles until the 1980s, and never again provided the quantities to make a difference. The authors also provide an appendix on Arab air units (thank you!) and 16 pages of color plates. Unfortunately, there is no bibliography, no technical data on the MiGs, no summaries of Arab aerial victories claimed in any of the conflicts and no information provided on sources (just where did they get some of this info?). It is also apparent that the authors had to incorporate a certain amount of "Arab propaganda" into this volume (e.g. tired accusations that American "volunteer pilots" were actually flying Israeli aircraft - can't the Arabs ever accept that they have been bested by Israelis?) in order to gain access to these secretive organizations. It is not always clear if the authors have carefully scrutinized all aerial claims (notoriously exaggerated by pilots from all nations) or just accepted them at face value. Obviously, what is needed is an appendix that lists Arab claims day-by-day and an appendix that lists Israeli admitted losses day-by-day. Finally, there is essentially no attempt to "tie it all together" and produce a comprehensive picture of Arab air operations; rather, this volume mostly consists of interesting but unconnected fighter pilot yarns.
by Carl Gould.
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