1956: The Sinai Campaign

Increasing Arab militance provided the background for the 1956 Sinai Campaign. A massive arms deal with Czechoslovakia threatened to flood Egypt with new Soviet equipment. Fedayeen (terrorists) struck Israeli civilian targets. Egypt escalated the tension by preventing Israeli shipping from using the Red Sea port of Eilat.

Israel was allied with France and England, which had decided to take action after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. French Mystere fighter squadrons were deployed at both Ramat David and Lod air force bases. A French F-84 squadron was ordered to neutralize Egypt’s long-range threat by destroying the IL-28 bombers based at Luxor. Shortly before the war, Israel had strengthened itself by purchasing Ouragan and Mystere fighters. The war plan called for Israel to race across the Sinai while the British and French forces took control of the Canal.

Propeller-driven Mustangs opened the campaign by cutting Egyptian telephone wires, which hampered Egypt’s communications in the Sinai. Soon afterwards, a formation of 16 Dakotas dropped paratroopers to secure the Mitla Pass, preventing the flow of reinforcements to the front. The IAF struck Egyptian convoys and took part in the land battles by giving close support along the front. Modern fighters and ancient war horses, such as the B-17 and Harvard, took part in the bombing. IAF fighters also acquitted themselves well in dogfights, downing seven enemy planes with no losses.

Of special interest were the achievements of light planes. Piper pilots played an active role in communications relay, rescue and observation missions. In one incident, 2 Migs attacked a defenseless Piper. The pilot, Captain Binyamin Kahana, led them on a chase which distracted them from a nearby Israeli ground force. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valor. Several other Piper pilots were decorated for acts of bravery. The Air Force also distinguished itself by helping to capture an Egyptian destroyer which had been shelling Haifa. In all, the IAF lost 15 planes during the conflict. However, it emerged from the war as a central pillar of Israel’s military strength.