The big rumble in the sky

The first 12 Mysteres arrived in Israel in April 1956, on the eve of the Sinai Campaign. On October 30th 1956 - the second day of the war - the French jets went into battle for the first time, and in a big way: they shot down a MiG-15 - the first MiG ever shot down in the Middle East. It was also the first aerial victory scored by the pilot, Lt. Yosef Tzuk, and by his Mystere.

Six Mysteres were hurriedly scrambled towards the Mitleh. Tzuk was flying as Number Three in the first trio, alongside Lt. Shai Egozi and Cpt. "Yak" Nevo. Tzuk recounts it thus:

"The whole matter of air warfare (methodology) was in its infancy back then. It was a Wild West type of Air Force then - no resemblance whatsoever to today's Air Force. The methodology of air combat was incoherent, the cannon were not calibrated, there was no central control. I, myself, was one of a group of pilots that had only chalked up 12 previous hours of flight on the Mysteres.

"When the war sirens of war sounded at the squadron base, the initial order issued by the Operations Secretary was for all of the planes to take off immediately. Benny Peled, Squadron Commander, cancelled the order once our six planes were airborne. We flew towards the Mitleh Pass and from there to Kabrit. Egozi had been there two hours earlier and he noticed that a few MiGs that had been on the runways were no longer there. We flew at 20 thousand feet when we saw six MiG-15s coming up at us. I was inexperienced, and made the mistake of closing the throttle and deploying the air brakes. In hindsight, though, the fact that I slowed down gave me an advantage going into the run.

"We each shot at a different MiG, from very long range. Egozi and Nevo, who were flying at a very high speed, were not able to hit their MiGs. I shot off two very long bursts until I saw a long flame coming out of 'my' MiG. This is the point at which the real dogfight began.

"Yak flew home and Egozi and I took on a MiG quartet. We opened fire on them from a range of 250 meters. When they started shooting bursts at us, we veered hard to the side and threw off the detachable fuel tanks. The second Mystere trio also went into action. It turned into a messy rumble, everyone was shooting at everyone at very low altitudes and the radio was full of shouting.

"When I had recovered a bit from the initial shock, I discovered to my amazement that there was a hole in my right wing. The bullets were armor-piercing, but they had missed the plane's systems. The MiGs saw that I had been hit, and were angered by the fact that I had not gone down. Two MiGs sat on my tail and tried to 'hold me close'. I looked at my fuel gauge: I was under the minimum required for flying home.

"I started a series of sharp turns with a general eastwards nose-direction. Theoretically, the MiGs were not supposed to be good at rightward turns. Well, so much for theory: in reality, they turned after me quite well. The biggest problem was not being able to identify each other: we were all afraid we'd hit one other by mistake. We identified ourselves on the radio, one by one, while the MiGs regrouped in an ordered formation. The MiGs on my tail were apparently fazed by the number of Mysteres in the air and they let go of me. When we were about five km. east of the Canal, I joined a formation. We flew low to the Sea of Bardawil, climbed upwards and then coasted home. We landed - and the engines immediately ran out of power.

"All in all, the battle was totally unlike any of the expectations I had built up. We were scrambled in an unorganized way, there was no briefing, no control, we were far away from home and did not have sufficient knowledge about where we were going and what we were supposed to do. It was more a case of us fighting for our lives than trying to shoot down MiGs. This first kill can be chalked up largely to the credit of my lack of experience: if I hadn't closed the throttle going into the run, I wouldn't have been able to hit the plane. In any case, the glory of victory was much more modest in those days, and my kill sort of got 'swallowed up' among all of the others".