The June, 1967 Six Day War between Israel on one side and Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq on the other was over 50 years ago now, but it continues to spark discussion and argument among political, legal, and military historians to this day. Who was in the right and who was wrong can be debated endlessly, but it’s hard to argue that Israel’s victory changed the way military organizations around the world looked at how a modern war is fought. Among the most shocking actions of the war was the Israeli Air Force’s lightning attack on Egyptian; and then Jordanian, Syrian, and Iraqi airfields on the very first day of the war, 5 June, 1967. Generally considered one of the most successful aerial strikes in history, the action known as Operation Moked, or Focus, demonstrated convincingly that seizing air superiority early in a conflict and holding on to it can heavily affect the eventual outcome of any war.
Osprey’s Air Campaign number 10, "Six-Day War 1967: Operation Focus and the 12 hours that changed the Middle East” zeros in on the aerial action on the first day of that war. Written by Shlomo Aloni, a name very familiar to those interested in the Israeli Air Force, this 96-page book is obviously written from the Israeli point of view, but since Focus was an Israeli operation that doesn’t really detract from the work’s value. As usual with Osprey books there are lots of photos of the men, locations, and machines involved as well as maps, tables, diagrams, and some very nice artwork by Adam Tooby, including three two-page paintings of a Mirage, Vautour, and MiG-21 in action.
Attacker’s Capabilities 13
Defender’s Capabilities 23
Campaign Objectives 27
The Campaign 32
Analysis and Aftermath 86
Further Reading 93
The introduction describes in a few pages the history of the Arab-Israeli military confrontations up until June, 1967. It’s a pretty quick run-through, but enough to bring the reader up to date. Not included is any real discussion of the genesis and development of the operational plan for Focus, which is a bit unfortunate. Also, here is where I first ran into a choice that sort of surprised me. Throughout the book the names of some of the major players have been anglicized. This first hit me with the Chief of Staff at the time, who is referred to as Isaac Rabin rather than Yitzhak. Given that Aloni is Israeli, I’m guessing this was an editorial decision, but since many of the other names remain in the more recognizable Hebrew and Arabic forms, it’s a bit jarring.
The book then moves to the standard Osprey chronology of events from March 16, 1967, when the IAF operations branch distributed the plan, through June 4, 1967 when the Israeli cabinet authorized the IDF to attack Egyptian forces to remove the military threat to Israel and open the Straits of Tiran, which Egypt had declared closed to shipping to and from Israel. Given the short time frame, this list is rather more detailed than you often see in these chronologies; which I consider to be a good thing. You get a lot of quick info in these three pages that helps you realize how fast things were happening.
Here we start to get into the technical nitty-gritty of the story. Explained in text, photos, diagrams, and tables are the weapons and aircraft were available to the Israeli Air Force, how they were deployed, and what the plan was for the various attacks. This is very well laid out with lots of information and some interesting tables to help the reader understand how the raids were expected to play out. Additionally, some well-done diagrams showing how the different airfield attack plans are presented. Apparently, each squadron was allowed to choose the tactics they would use given their specific target, which was assigned well in advance so the pilots could train. Each of those attack plans are shown. One thing I liked was that all the different types are explored, not just the star of the show, the Dassault Mirage III. I did notice that the specially developed runway buster bombs are not discussed much here, though you do hear about them later. Earlier exercises by the IAF, named Lance and Sting, are described and their impact on Focus is examined. Finally, the Focus plan itself is fleshed out a bit.
Here Aloni goes into the doctrine, equipment, and infrastructure of the Egyptian Air Force. This section is necessarily shorter than his discussion of the Israeli Air Force due to the relative lack of resources available to him, but it does serve to outline what the IAF was up against and the weaknesses of Egypt’s air defense plans.
The subtitle of this section: “Securing air superiority” rather gives away the question inherent in the title. Of course, the whole idea of Operation Focus was to eliminate the Egyptian Air Force as a serious threat to the ground campaign and to Israel itself. This part of the book includes tables showing Orders of Battle, diagrams of typical EAF airfields, and some discussion of how Israel expected the air forces of the other Arab states to react. Given the detail included in the previous sections, this one is fairly short and to the point.
Here, of course, is the meat of the book. Over the next 53 pages Aloni details the actual attack strike by strike, frequently including information on specific aircraft and what they did. There are a number of quotes from participants as to their experiences and full descriptions of each mission, including how much damage was done to runways, facilities, parked aircraft, and any air-to-air action. Tables of which squadrons were assigned to which Egyptian bases, when they were to attack, and what equipment they used are included, as are many photos and a two-page map of the routes of each mission. While other Arab forces are given relatively little coverage earlier in the book, the strikes on Jordan, Syria, and Iraq are included here in some detail.
That Aloni has done a great deal of research into Operation Focus is fully revealed here. The amount of information he includes on each specific strike is very impressive, and really gives a picture of how the day unfolded. While there’s a lot of pretty technical information here, the reader never feels overwhelmed and there are enough first-hand accounts of action to keep one engaged. Here is where you really see how the Israeli Air Force conducted this revolutionary campaign, and how it was the exception to the rule that no plan survives contact with the enemy.
Analysis and Aftermath:
With the amount of information in the preceding section, this part of the book is relatively short. It does include a detailed table of the number of aircraft destroyed by type and air base and has a short discussion of the rest of the war in the air. What becomes clear is Focus was one of the rare plans that actually delivered more, with less damage to the attacking force, than was predicted. The hope was that the attacks would give the Israeli Air Force air superiority over the upcoming ground campaign. The reality was that it had delivered air supremacy.
A nice bibliography is included and shows that Aloni did his background reading as well as having done at least some research on Arab air forces. Not surprisingly, four of his own previous books are listed, including one called “Israeli Air Force Air Campaigns: The June 1967 Six-Day War Volume A: Operation Focus The Israeli Pre-Emptive Strike of June 5, 1967” an IsraDecal book published in 2008. I have that book and it covers in 205 pages what this one does in 96 pages. On the other hand, that one’s no longer available and this one is. While Volume B covering the rest of the war is advertised in the back of Volume A, it’s never actually be published to my knowledge.
Osprey’s Air Campaign 10, “Six-Day War 1967: Operation Focus and the 12 hours that changed the Middle East” by Shlomo Aloni is really an excellent book on the subject. Given how short the campaign was, he’s able to cover it in considerable detail thus giving the reader an in-depth look at how this revolutionary event took place. In one day the balance of air power in the Middle East shifted to Israel, and in many ways it has stayed there ever since. If you have an interest in Middle Eastern military history, or in the history of air power in general, this would be a good book to have in your library. While it is certainly tilted towards the Israeli view, it is not a polemic but a detailed description of how they ran their campaign. Highly recommended.
Highs: Very detailed information about this seminal air campaign with a number of very helpful tables, diagrams, etc.Lows: Not much discussion of the development of the plan.Verdict: Very highly recommended to those interested in Middle East military history or the history of air power.
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About Michael Satin (MichaelSatin) FROM: COLORADO, UNITED STATES
I started modeling before I was 10 and have been going ever since. Oddly, I don't seem to be getting any better. Hmm... I do mostly WWI and WWII aircraft and early jets but I also emphasize Israeli subjects. I've been known to branch out into armor and ships as well as an occasional spacecraft o...