This incredible event occurred at the end of 1969, in Egypt, at the height of the so-called “war of attrition”. On the night of 26 on December 27, on the Red Sea coast, a group of Israeli commandoes managed to capture an Egyptian Soviet-made radar station and fly it to the Sinai Peninsula with helicopters. Thirty years later, the editorial board managed to find one of the direct witnesses of this emergency ...
For me, a student of the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, sent to Egypt as a military translator, this Arab-Israeli war began on November 30 of the year 1969. On that day, early in the morning, together with Major Taras Panchenko, an adviser from the 3 Mechanized Division, we left Cairo for the front. Our path lay in a distant, as it seemed, romantic Red Sea military district * [* - in the Armed Forces of Egypt, the territory was also divided by districts]. Like the Suez Canal, it was also considered a war zone, although less active.
Zaafarana. Suez Bay First day at the front. November 30 1969 of the year
By the evening, having overcome almost 300 km, we safely reached the location of the 19-th separate infantry brigade, stationed on the coast of the Gulf of Suez. With her defensive positions she blocked the wide Zaafaran Valley, which stretched deep into the Arabian desert almost to the Nile.
In September and early October, the brigade was brutally bombed. During one of the raids our adviser was killed. Now it was relatively calm here. The tragic events of those days were reminded only by the skeletons of burnt machinery and huge craters from thousand-pound Israeli bombs. This remote area, like the entire coast of the Red Sea, was not covered by the Egyptian air defense, and the Israeli pilots felt very confident here, as on the range.
Considering the half-meter length and the finger-thick saber fragments from bombs, I realized that I probably would not have to swim, sunbathe and break corals for souvenirs. Calm Cairo life with all the exotic big eastern city somehow immediately left in the past, and the immediate prospects of our new life no longer seemed so rosy.
504 TH BATTALLON
At the brigade headquarters, it turned out that the 504 Infantry Battalion, where we were to work, was redeployed 145 km south to the area of Ras Garib, a small village of Egyptian oil workers.
Arriving at the site and listening to an energetic briefing by the senior adviser to the brigade, we stopped for the night in the “Habir” dugout * [* - the Egyptians called all the Soviet advisers and specialists]. In the morning they began to prepare for departure.
For work, we were given a GAZ-63 truck that looked like it. Two simple soldiers' beds with mattresses full of bedbugs were placed in its covered body, all whipped by shrapnel. Thus, for the first time, we had a vehicle and even a roof over our heads. After tasting a kvass track made from dry Egyptian flatbread, and saying goodbye to the brigadier advisers, we set off.
Honestly speaking, while watching the road landscapes in a completely wild, but in our own way beautiful nature of the Red Sea coast, we did not feel dark forebodings. However, they did not feel the particular joy of being at this “resort”, which is now being lured by Russian tourists. The battalion was to act in isolation from the main forces, in the event of a sharp deterioration in the operational-tactical situation, the brigade could not be counted on.
Along the way, black-brown corpses of burned-out equipment stood by the sides of the road. I especially remember the Egyptian BTR-152. He stood, buried in a roadside cliff. In the back board there was a large jagged hole from an Israeli NURS, released by Skyhawk or Mirage aircraft. It was clear that the professional pilot was working. I remembered the farewell to one of our colleagues from Zaafaran: “If something happens, throw the car and run in different directions into the desert. According to a single person, they will not allow rockets. ”
The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Zibib, and other Egyptian officers greeted us cordially. The battalion only recently came to Ras Garib and now was engaged in engineering equipment positions. The dugouts here, as in Zaafaranu. not yet - well, just did not have time to dig. Therefore, for some time we had to spend the night under an awning removed from our truck. On top of the tent, we covered camouflage net. It immediately became clear that we do not have many things that are essential for life in the field. In this regard, the Egyptians helped us a lot at first. Another surprise for us was the then started Ramadan * [* - in the days of Ramadan, Muslims are forbidden to take food from sunrise to sunset].
Breakfast was brought only late in the evening. Already in the dark, sitting on the beds under our awning, we ate unusual Arab food, which, moreover, was pretty sprinkled with sand. As for lunch and dinner, for the sake of sleep, we chose to give them up altogether. So we had to fast involuntarily, like all faithful Muslims.
On the second day, we began to get acquainted in detail with the situation, the forces and the means at our disposal, as well as the area in which the 504 battalion was to operate.
The battalion was responsible for covering the coast - 120 km along the front and 80 km in depth, which did not fit into any tactical standards. According to the combat mission, this Egyptian unit was intended to prevent the possible landing of an enemy amphibious assault on the coast and to ensure the security of “important facilities” in the sector. Particular attention was paid to ensuring the security of the radar station. To strengthen the battalion from the brigade, additional forces were given: tanks T-34, a battery of 120 mm mortars and a mixed anti-tank battery of 57 mm guns and recoilless B-11 guns. However, to repel raids aviation the enemy had only three DShK machine guns.
In addition to our infantry battalion, in the area of Ras Garib there was a battalion of “People’s Defense”, staffed with soldiers of pre-retirement age. This kind of “vokhra” was engaged in guarding the facilities of a local oil company, and, frankly speaking, there was little real benefit from such fighters.
Oil and everything related to it didn’t cause much concern to us. According to our information, there was a tacit agreement between Egypt and Israel - not to touch such objects. Moreover, the same Egyptian company extracted oil together with the Americans in Shukeyr.
The real "headache" for us was a radio engineering company. More precisely, not the company itself, but its radar station, which the Arabs simply called “radar”.
Located on the hills in 8 km from the coast and in 5 – 6 km from our battalion, the radar reconnaissance aircraft in the central sector of the Gulf of Suez. The station’s security is a dozen soldiers for whom no trenches were even opened. The company commander himself was in the position of the so-called “false radar”, closer to the coast, approximately 2 km from the present station.
The false radar was a bulky knoll with a piece of iron stuck into it, apparently depicting a radar antenna. The object was covered with rows of barbed wire with signal mines and five batteries of paired anti-aircraft machine guns of Soviet and American production.
This position housed more than 400 personnel. It was believed that in this way the enemy would be misled about the true location of the radar.
Such a “wise” plan of the company commander was accordingly decorated on a large sheet of drawing paper and approved by the ornate list of the commander of the Egyptian radio-technical forces. Naturally, we immediately reported our categorical disagreement with this situation to the senior adviser of the brigade, who promised to investigate.
By that time, almost the entire territory of the Red Sea Military District was a zone of active operations not only of Israeli fighter-bombers, but also of helicopters. It was the helicopters that posed a real threat, as they flew at low altitude, out of sight of the radar.
I must say that in Zaafaran, in the vicinity of the brigade, there was a second such radar station. The Israelis bombed it several times, but they could not destroy it - the Egyptian anti-aircraft artillery forced Israeli pilots to rise to two to three thousand meters, because of which the accuracy of the bombardment sharply decreased. We have not been bothered by the enemy aircraft yet. But for some time after dark, and especially on moonlit nights, helicopters began to appear in our sector.
Entering from the sea, between Zaafarana and Ras Garib, they entered the depths of the desert and returned back to Sinai only at three or four in the morning. The purpose of their appearance in our country and the nature of possible actions could only be guessed at. It was considered quite probable that the landing of the enemy helicopter assault in the area of the location of the radar station in order to destroy it. In order to prevent such an operation, we made it possible for one of the battalion’s mouths to advance to the position of “radar”. Soon, in the presence of the chief of staff of the brigade, they even conducted a training session with the personnel of the company.
From morning until late evening, we were engaged in the so-called organization of the battle: we carried out reconnaissance, clarified the tasks for the units on the ground, determined the firing positions for the guns and mortars. At night, when the enemy helicopters reappeared, they sat in the battalion of the battalion commander and were anxiously awaiting reports of their actions. At dawn, making sure that the helicopters left our area, tired, went to sleep under their awning.
For several weeks, the situation in the sector remained virtually unchanged. At night, I had to think not only about the possible reflection of the landing, but also about my own security. For us already prepared dugout. True, the door in it was not locked, besides there was no security. Every night I had to take an automatic machine from our driver, Suleiman, just in case. It was funny to remember how, even in Cairo, before leaving for the Red Sea, some important rank of political workers frightened us with his parting words: “Just try to be captured by the Jews — put the party membership cards on the table ...”
After some time, a reconnaissance aircraft began to appear in the sky quite often. All said that the Israelis are carefully studying the area. However, the situation on the coast remained calm.
In the evening, December 26, after dinner, as always came to the battalion's dugout. It was necessary to discuss the work plan for the next day. About twenty-two hours a telephone message arrived that two enemy helicopters had penetrated 50 km north of the battalion’s location into our territory. This has happened before, so unfortunately we did not attach much importance to this message. During a conversation on current affairs, Major Panchenko unexpectedly suggested that the battalion commander raise the first company of an alert and conduct a night training session on advancing the enemy’s conditional landing to the intended landing site.
Honestly, even today, thirty years later, it is difficult for me to say with absolute certainty what then was the best for us: to conduct or not to conduct this training. If such a doctrine really took place, we probably would have thwarted the operation to the enemy. Another question: “What consequences would have expected us?” Probably the next day, the Israelis would have mixed the battalion with sand with their air strikes.
In this assumption there is no exaggeration. A familiar battalion adviser, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, who actually learned in practice the full power of the Israeli bombardments on the Suez Canal, somehow compared the exchange of blows from the Egyptian and Israeli troops: Arab house window frame.
Later, I became convinced that the Israelis ’response was indeed always more powerful and larger in its consequences. Of course, we were ready to fulfill our military duty and solve the tasks set by the command, but nobody wanted to die in these wild Red Sea sands.
One way or another, but fate decreed in its own way. Lieutenant Colonel Zibib, having learned about our intentions to hold a training session, expressed his displeasure.
I think the battalion commander simply did not want to do this: the training would have ended only by morning.
The discussion ended with the fact that we were shown a formal instruction, which forbade the conduct of any classes in the event of the declaration of a certain degree of combat readiness. The battalion at that time really was in the second degree of such readiness. New reports of the appearance of enemy helicopters have not been received, and everyone calmed down.
Before midnight, the battalion commander suggested everyone go to bed, which we did. Zibib himself and the chief of staff remained on duty in the dugout.
Tired of the day, I immediately fell asleep. Taras, as it turned out, did not sleep. Later he said that then he had some kind of bad feeling. In the middle of the night, he unexpectedly woke me up: “Igor! Do you hear? Airplane rumble. Go outside. Look what is there? ”
Half asleep, I reluctantly got out of bed, put my foot in my shoes and in some shorts and t-shirt came out of the dugout. It was chilly. A cold wind blew from the sea. Bright full moon. In the distance, there was indeed an unusually strong roar of the jet engines of several aircraft.
- This is probably a scout! - I shouted, without even thinking: “What kind of such aerial reconnaissance can be at night?”.
The buzz was getting stronger. One of the aircraft was somewhere very close, although it was not visible. When I was about to descend the stairs, a strong explosion rang out two hundred meters from me, and a second later, a second one. Bright flashes marked the places of breaks.
Started an air raid. Hours showed twenty five minutes of the first.
- Anxiety, bombed! - I shouted and rolled head over heels into the dugout.
Quickly dressed and jumping out, they ran to the side of the battalion of the battalion commander, to which there were three hundred meters. The roar of jet engines tormented the air. Right and left bombs and missiles fired from aircraft were torn.
In the dugout, where, besides the battalion commander, were the chief of staff, an intelligence officer and a liaison officer, we first asked to report the situation.
“What could be the situation,” answered Lieutenant Colonel Zibib nervously. - Do not you see that we were bombed?
- What is reported from the "radar"? - asked Taras.
- They are also bombed.
We also knew that the radio engineering company was being bombed, because we saw red strings of anti-aircraft missile tracer - the batteries of the false radar fired. Our machine-gun platoon was silent. Combat explained this by the fact that the aircraft in the dark is still not visible and firing is inappropriate.
“If we open fire, the enemy will bomb even more,” said Zibib.
The Arabs, fearing that the light in the dugout could be seen from the air, turned off the lamps. By telephone they contacted the companies and the commander of the radio engineering company. On the radio, they tried to establish contact with our “ambush” platoon, which, even before the raid, at twenty-two hours, should have taken its position near the radar station.
It turned out that all this time the platoon, in violation of the order, was not in ambush, but in the position of a false radar. The platoon commander, as we learned later, drank tea with the company commander. By the same radar platoon began to move only with the beginning of the air raid. The last message of the platoon commander: "I can not move on." I'm bombed. ” In the future, our senior lieutenant did not respond to our calls.
After a couple of days, during a thorough survey of the area on the platoon advancement route, we did not find a single crater.
The intensity of the airstrike was increasing. At some moments it seemed that we would not reach the morning. One of the bombs exploded between the battalion’s dugout battalion and the battalion’s communications center. Somewhere in the middle of the second night the commander of a radio-technical company contacted us. He said that he sees a fire at the position of the radar. According to him, “the station itself was apparently destroyed by a bomb hit, since there is no connection with it”. After that, the connection was interrupted. Soon the wired connection ceased with all other companies. The battalion commander refused to send signalers: "Soldiers may die."
At half past four in the morning one of the rank and file, exposed by the battalion commander for observation, reported a strange sound. Running upstairs, we heard a very powerful and characteristic rumble of helicopter engines. The first assumption: “The enemy, under the cover of aviation, intends to land a landing party!” Running up to the top of the nearest hill, from where for some seconds they noticed dark silhouettes that were moving towards the desert. Then we did not know why the company did not open fire on these helicopters ...
Soon there was silence. Only the single hum of an approaching plane is heard. Standing on the top of the hill, we did not even have time to discuss what we saw. Everything happened unexpectedly. With some hiss and a whistle, the missiles fired from the aircraft flew over us when we rushed headlong away.
After releasing the ammunition and turning on the afterburner, the plane went in the direction of the Sinai Peninsula. Silence again.
With difficulty moving our legs for fatigue, we trudged into our dugout. Our driver was sitting there.
- Well, Suleiman, was it scary? - I asked as fun as possible. In response, the soldier just smiled crookedly:
Without undressing lay down on the bed. After about thirty to forty minutes, the telephone rang.
“Mr. Igor,” the battalion commander turned to me. - The Jews stole the radar.
From surprise, I did not even understand right away.
- How was it stolen? What exactly was stolen? The answer was unintelligible: whether they stole some important part, or a radar block, or something else ...
A few minutes later we were again in the dugout of Lieutenant Colonel Zibib. Things were very bad. This we understood immediately, we barely saw the upset face of the battalion commander. From Zibib's confused explanations, it followed that "the position of the radar station no longer exists." She just disappeared! This was announced by radio platoon commander, who only now finally got to the place of his "ambush".
We decided that we would go to the radar at dawn and see for ourselves. They learned that as a result of a raid in the battalion, two soldiers were killed, more than a dozen were injured.
Having agreed that the battalion commander will inform us about the time of departure, we returned to our dugout. A little nap. However, at nine in the morning we were awakened by a major, who had arrived from the brigade headquarters to investigate the incident.
Investigation of what happened before the new year. We have not received an absolutely accurate picture of the operation carried out by the Israelis, but some details were found out.
They recalled the frequent appearance of Israeli helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft - the enemy was carefully preparing for the operation. Interestingly, ten days before the incident, a ciphered message came to the battalion through military intelligence channels about training Israeli paratroopers at Sinai - they were practicing the seizure of some object. Kombat then told us nothing about this cipher telegram.
It turned out that before the start of the air strike, about twenty-three hours or a little later, two heavy French-made Super Frelon helicopters (the most heavy-lifting helicopter in the Israeli Air Force of that time) with a hijacking group flew to the radar position. It is about these helicopters and told us the post of air surveillance. We found the tracks of the wheels of one of them at the landing site, in a deep ravine at 300 m from the station. Following specific tracks in the sand, the type of helicopter was determined.
The radar station did not work at that moment, and the calculation itself was engaged in maintenance in the equipment room, so that the approach of the enemy’s helicopters went unnoticed. Later, I accidentally learned from the sergeant of our hozvvod that he personally saw the flight of two helicopters before the bombing began and even reported it to the battalion commander by phone. But he said to him: “You all had a dream. You're just a coward. ” I still don’t know why Zibib didn’t tell us about his conversation with the sergeant.
One way or another, but by midnight the position of the radar was already captured by the enemy. In the footsteps of Israel’s landing shoes in the sand, it was possible to establish routes to their station. Nearby found the position of machine gunners, covering the actions of paratroopers. Two soldiers of the guard radar were killed, the survivors fled into the wilderness.
The main part of the operation was carried out under the cover of air strikes. The enemy, apparently, allowed the detection of the landing of the landing force and, therefore, undertook an airstrike: to press the battalion to the ground, not to allow it to advance to the radar. In any case, the Israelis even bombed the exit from the Zaafaran Valley to the road to Ras Gharib. All in all, on this night, Israeli aircraft made 36 sorties.
After capturing the position of the radar, three more heavy helicopters arrived there. Their appearance was also noticed by aerial surveillance posts. Having cut the fastening brackets with an autogen, the Israelis dismantled both parts of the radar station very professionally: the hardware and antenna mast radar devices - and on the external suspension system of the two “Super Frelons” they transferred them to the Sinai Peninsula. Only the chassis of two ZIL-157 vehicles remained lonely in the position.
The diesel generator, powered radar, paratroopers blew up. It was this burning diesel generator that the company commander saw from a false radar.
Together with the station, her crew was captured and abducted. Before leaving for Sinai, the Israelis carefully mined their position: there were time bombs and ordinary anti-personnel mines. In the cabins of ZILs, the sappers discovered “surprises” mines.
This whole dark epic with the theft of the radar made a lot of noise. Among our advisers and specialists in Cairo, the only talk was about "how the Jews stole the radar on the Red Sea."
Later, with great surprise, we learned more and more new details of that Israeli operation. One of these “experts” of all the events taught us: “Since you knew that the enemy landing had landed, you had to get on the tank and personally head the nomination of the company to the radar. By destroying the landing, you could earn on the "Red Star" ... "
Later, as if responding to this monologue, Taras angrily remarked: “It’s better not to have these“ stars ”at all, than to get them on the scarlet pads”.
Too serious were the consequences of what happened. The enemy managed to steal a completely modern radar P-12PM, which was at that time armed with not only Egyptian, but also Soviet air defense. The station worked in the meter range and had a detection range of about 200 km. In the troops, it was used not only for detecting air targets and issuing target indications to various air defense weapons, but also for interfacing with the air defense systems of the country's Air Defense Forces.
With the seizure of the station, the enemy was able to get acquainted in detail with our system of identification of the nationality of the aircraft "Silicon-1" installed on the radar.
WHO NEEDS A STATION?
The Israelis themselves chose not to advertise the operation. In any case, the “Voice of Israel” from Jerusalem in Russian, who liked to comment news about the success of the Israeli army, on this issue stubbornly silent. Only a couple of months later, BBC Radio reported that "there is a group of American specialists in Israel who are studying the Soviet radar station abducted by Israeli paratroopers on the Red Sea coast." Thus, the confirmation that our specialists from the radio engineering troops expressed was confirmed: “The station was needed not so much by the Israelis as by the Americans.”
In the meantime, clouds continued to thicken over our heads. They said that the case was allegedly under the control of President Nasser himself. And the conclusions really soon followed. All the main participants in the events — the commander of our 504 battalion, the commander of the radio engineering company, the platoon commander of the ambush, the commander of the RTV, the commander of the radio engineering battalion that included the company, and eight runaway soldiers were put on trial. The commander of the military district was removed from his post and was dismissed from the army.
On the personal orders of Nasser, one of the best Egyptian generals of that time, Major General Saad al-Din Chazley, who participated in the six-day war 1967 of the year and fighting in Yemen, was appointed the new district commander. As part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Corps, he commanded special forces and was considered a great connoisseur of the tactics of Israeli paratroopers. Later, on the eve of the October 1973 war, he will be appointed chief of the General Staff.
The meeting of the military tribunal took place in January. It took place in one of the premises of the headquarters of the Red Sea Military District in Al-Gardak. Taras and I were also there. The battalion commander took us as witnesses. However, we were never invited to the court, only to talk with one of the staff officers.
At first we thought that everything would be fine and the sentences would not be too harsh. However, everything turned out to be much worse, especially for Zibib. Until now, I remember how this middle-aged lieutenant colonel, in his last meeting with us, even before the end of the trial and the announcement of the sentence, wept bitterly, repeating only one word: “iadam” (the death penalty). Apparently, he already knew his fate.
Indeed, the next day the tribunal sentenced Lieutenant Colonel Zibib and two other races of Garib officers to be shot. The commander of the radio engineering troops and the commander of the radio engineering battalion received twenty-five years in prison. Such a harsh decision of the court then caused a great resonance among Egyptian officers, who in general sympathized with the convicted. In connection with the incident in Ras Gariba, the Minister of War issued a special order, which was communicated to all officers of the Egyptian armed forces.
A month later, a new radar station was brought to Ras Garib. Now she was surrounded not only with barbed wire and anti-aircraft batteries, but also prepared for the explosion, although it was unlikely that the Israelis were going to “steal” the same station again.
Two years later, during the second trip to Egypt, I accidentally met in Cairo a former commander of a machine-gun company from our battalion. I learned from him that the new Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had pardoned the convicts and Lieutenant Colonel Zibib is in good health. By that time, in the Soviet Union, stations of this type were modernized, with a dozen years they stood in service with the internal air defense districts.