Air Force History 1960s

On November 13, 1966 the Israelis launched a reprisal raid on the border village of Samu in the Hebron mountains of the West Bank. Two pairs of Hunters took off from the King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq and engaged with the Israeli Mirages.
Extract from No 1 Squadron’s Diary of November 13, 1966.

“It was a lovely morning and at 0700 hours everybody was in the squadron on duty. Our OC Flying was giving a briefing when a phone call came through reporting heavy activity over Hebron area. All operational pilots were called and two minutes later it was ‘SCRAMBLE’. Everybody rushed to the aircraft and Salti and Shurdom got airborne, followed later by Zayyad and Abdeen. All other pilots were trying to find a serviceable aircraft to strap in. A few minutes later it was heard that Red Section had engaged. Blue Section was almost in the area, they engaged also. A third pair was scrambled........Blue Section returned followed shortly afterwards by Red 2 alone. Around 0930 hours everybody was back on ground except for Red Leader. So far Red Leader is missing and overdue.”

It was not until late in the afternoon that an Air Force helicopter found the body of Lieutenant Salti near the shore of the Dead Sea. He had been shot down by an Israeli Mirage III, managed to eject but did not survive.

There were two claims from the battle and later on it was confirmed that one Israeli Mirage III landed damaged and the other crashed short of the runway out of fuel. The photograph below shows an Israeli aircraft in the gunsight of a RJAF Hunter.
The pilots taking part in the battle were – Lieutenant Muwaffaq Salti (killed in action); Captain (Lieutenant General) Ihsan Shurdom (Commander of the RJAF, 1983-93); Captain Jasser Zayyad; Lieutenant (Brigadier) Farouq Abdeen.

The RJAF planned to acquire refurbished F104A and B Starfighters. A USAF training detachment of four F104B two seat trainers and two single seaters arriving early in 1967. The F104s based at the KHAB Mafraq, were flown out of Jordan just before the war by their US pilots who were training the RJAF.

Before the 1967 War the Jordanian Armed Forces came under a unified Arab Command whose headquarters was based in Egypt. The commander over Syria, Jordan and Iraq was General Abdul Moniem Riad of the Egyptian Army.

RJAF pilots attending conversion courses to the F104 in the USA were recalled and arrived in Jordan on June 3. They had to quickly convert back to the Hunter. RJAF equipment, at that time, was almost entirely of British origin with one fighter squadron of Hunters (24 aircraft) at the King Hussein Air Base Mafraq.

On June 5 1967 the Israeli Air Force made pre-emptive strikes on Egypt, destroying the bulk of the Egyptian Air Force in the first few hours of the war. This disastrous set back was not known to Jordan until late in the afternoon. There were plans for support from neighbouring countries but these did not come together and Jordan was left virtually alone, except from Iraq whose aircraft did arrive on time.

Meanwhile at KHAB Mafraq where the only fighter squadron was based, two pairs of Hunters were continuously airborne from early morning on June 5 for station cover. The RJAF made two sorties on Israel. They penetrated Israeli air space and attacked one airfield and other targets. The Iraqi Air Force flew over Jordanian territory in Hunters for their attack.
The Israeli Air Force then attacked Mafraq at approximately 1300 hours with Super Mysteres, Ouragans and Magisters. Major Firas Ajlouni was killed in his aircraft while preparing to take off.

The Jordanian (and one Pakistani) pilots coming back to the Base called for clearance to land which was given, but one of them suspected something was wrong and spoke in Arabic to check the identity of the controller and to ask what was the name of his dog - it had been an Israeli trying to deceive them into landing on a destroyed runway.

After some combat between the RJAF and IAF the Jordanians claimed four Israeli aircraft, two falling in the airfield area and two to the west. The IAF destroyed some twenty Hunters of the RJAF aircraft on the ground and one in the air, the pilot ejecting safely. One Hunter had been pushed into a hanger and survived the attacks. Three managed to land in Amman where the Israeli Air Force destroyed two of them. Other aircraft lost included a UN aircraft. Ajlun radar station was also demolished.

The pilot of the third aircraft to land at Marka was trying to find a safe area as the Israelis attacked, he chose to put his Hunter next to the UN aircraft thinking that it would not be attacked, but they were all destroyed.

The pilots returned to Jordan, after a coup in Iraq, at the end of 1968 and were re-equipped with Hunters to replace those destroyed in 1967.
During 1969, conversion to F104s began again in the USA. The RJAF had regained some of its combat strength with the Hunter in No 1 Squadron (operational) and No 6 Squadron (training and operational) at KHAB, Mafraq and in August 1969 twenty two F104s and four F104Bs joined No 9 Squadron at Prince Hassan Air Base, H5.
In June 1969, the Israeli Air Force again destroyed the radar station in the Ajlun hills, which had been rebuilt after the 1967 war, as it was a threat to their operations over Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

The Israeli Air Force operated freely over the skies of Jordan after the 1967 War as the RJAF did not have any aircraft or a credible air defence system. Jordan was virtually defenceless in the air until 1969.

In 1969 the runway at Mafraq was being repaired so No 1 Squadron (equipped with Hunters) deployed to Amman but due to operational limitations it was decided to move them to Dumeir in Syria for some months.