Lebanese Air Force

 

 

 

Combat Engagements

 

 

 

Since its independence in 1943, Lebanon has been rocked by many bloody armed conflicts.  It has been constantly harassed by its two neighbours, Syria and Israel even though has never made provocative moves against either.
The Lebanese Air Force has been involved in more than a few instances from the day of its creation to date.  The clashes between the Lebanese Army and Palestinian armed groups in 1973 and against the Fateh el-Islam militants in the Naher el-Bared refugee camp in 2007 are considered the largest involvements of the air force's history.
In the early years of its creation between 1949 and the earls 50s, the air force flew limited combat sorties against tribal militias in the north east of the country, in the Hermel region north of the city of Baalbek.  More and heavier engagements were ahead in the years to come.

 

 

 

The 1958 Events

 

 

 

Tensions in Lebanon were already high since 1956 because of President Kamil Chamoun's position regarding the Suez Canal crisis and when he rejected to join the United Arab Republic (UAR) proposed by Egypt's Abdel Nasser in 1958, the muslims in Tripoli revolted and mass unrests soon spread to Sidon, Beirut and Baalbek and soon afterwards, Syrian troops started infiltrating by crossing the border into Lebanon, in support of the uprising.
President Chamoun fully mobilized the army and in June, heavy fightings broke out in Tripoli and around Beirut.  The air force was called into action and de Havilland Vampire jets executed air raids in support of the army.  The Vampires used the heavy 20 mm cannon and unguided rockets.
The crisis ended when President Chamoun called upon the US for help which reacted promptly and only within hours on July 15 of 1958, the 6th fleet was off the shores of Lebanon and US marines were landing south and north of Beirut.  The US reaction was so prompt that some sailors of the 6th fleet were left behind in Athens for not being able to react on time to the urgent call.

 

 

 

Lebanon-Israel

 

 

 

Lebanon has had little involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict but has been a constant target of Israeli intrusions, aggression and heavy bombings which have claimed thousands of innocent civilian lives.
Since their introduction in 1953, the de Havilland Vampire jets of the Lebanese Air Force have carried out numerous reconnaissance flights over northern Israel without suffering any losses.  During the 60s, the Hawker Hunters have scrambled with Israeli jets a few times over Lebanon.  John Thomson of The National Interest in his article "The Bekaa Beckons" writes:
"during 1967's Six Day War, I drove from Beirut through the Bekaa, heading for Syria's Golan Heights, soon to fall into Israeli hands.  As we paused in the centre of the Valley, a roar from behind us turned out to be a flight of four Lebanese Air Force Hawker-Hunter jet fighters.  Moments later, swooping in from the southeast came four much faster Israeli Mirage fighters.  As the Lebanese "fighters" flew overhead, the pilot in the lead aircraft "waggled" his wings in an internationally recognized peaceful salute and veered north; the lead Israeli Mirage returned the greeting and banked eastwards towards Damascus".
However, the real events of that day were far from friendly as described above.  During the first day of the Six Day War, a force of four Lebanese Hawker Hunter fighters ambushed 4 Israeli Mystere jets that were returning from the Golan Heights and one of the Mystere jets was brought down near the town of Nabatiye and its pilot was captured.  Israel retaliated by sending four Mirage III jets and shot down a Lebanese Air Force Hunter.
This has been the only air-to-air combat between Lebanon and Israel and Lebanese Air Force equipment have not been targeted by numerous Israeli devastating bombing campaigns.  However, in July 2006, Israel destroyed the runways of Beirut International airport, Kleyate and Rayaq Air bases.

Other Lebanese Air Force-Israel Incidents

On November 19, 1959, Israeli jets believed to Mysteres intercepted a Lebanese Air Force SM.79 (L-112) and forced it to land in Haifa.  The plane and its pilots were released after about one week and returned to Lebanon.

On May 28, 1987, a Lebanese Air Force Fouga Magister which was on a routine reconnaissance mission was intercepted by Israeli jets and forced to land at Ramat David air base.  Lebanon filed a former complaint at the UN and both pilots and the unarmed Fouga Magister were released returning to Halate air base.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above left:  The Lebanese Air Force SM.79 (L-112) pictured here at Haifa, forced by Israeli jets.

Above right:  Photo taken by Israeli jets of the same SM.79 being escorted to Haifa.

 

 

 

The Cairo Agreement

 

 

 

During the 60s, the Palestinian armed presence in Lebanon was growing and the PLO was conducting raids into Israel from the southern border.  These usually resulted in counter Israeli strikes which mostly affected the Lebanese villages in the border areas and anti-Palestinian sentiments started to surface.  As a result, heavy fightings broke out between the Lebanese Army and the Palestinian armed groups in 1969 during which the air force was again involved.  An Alouette III (L-223) was brought down by Palestinian fire but this was reportedly repaired and put back into service.  Hostilities ended when the Cairo Agreement, also known as The Cairo Accord, was signed in November 1969 between Yasser Arafat (PLO) and Lebanese Army commander General Emile Boustany amid strong opposition from many Lebanese lawmakers.  The agreement authorized PLO's right to arm itself to liberate occupied Palestine from the Israelis.  However, the agreement proved to be catastrophic for Lebanon as it lost its full sovereignty over its territories and Palestinian armed presence became an annoyance to most Lebanese.
The most tragic event of the period was the mysterious loss of an Alouette III (L-226) in July 1971, near Ehden killing Army Commander General Jean Njeim with a number of high ranking officers.

 

 

 

May 1973

 

 

 

In May 1973, the Lebanese army went into action against the PLO by launching a major offensive around most of the Palestinian refugee camps.  In the battles that lasted for around two weeks, the air force was fully mobilized for the first time.  The Mirage III, Hawker Hunter and Fouga Magisters launched successive air raids, targeting fortifications around the Cite Sportif in Beirut.  This was the first and only instance that the Fouga Magisters were used in combat.  The air force armed these trainer jets with 12.7 mm machine guns.  Lacking total support and giving in to heavy pressures by Arab states, the Lebanese army failed to reach its goal of disarming the PLO and accepted a cease fire by the signing of the Melkart agreement (accord) on May 17, 1973. 

 

 

 

Damour 1976

 

 

 

On January 9 1976, the Palestinians sieged the Christian town of Damour south of Beirut by cutting off water, food and electricity supplies and banned the Red Cross from entering the town to evacuate the wounded.  Heavy shelling of the town followed and the situation became catastrophic. Defence Minister Kamil Chamoun, who was also trapped in the area, called upon the air force for support.  In the morning of January 16, Mirage III and Hawker Hunter jets raided on Palestinian and Muslim militant positions but the operation was called off by Prime Minister Rachid Karami and the town fell on January 20, 1976.
This was the last combat sortie by the Lebanese Air Force Mirage III jets.

 

 

Above: A photo dating from the early years of the Lebanese Civil war shows a Hawker Hunter T.66 at the Rayaq AF base.  The Air Force had only minor involvements between 1975 and 1990.

 

 

 

The War Of The Mountains 1983-1984

 

 

 

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon controlling the South, Mount Lebanon and the northern suburbs of Beirut.  In the summer of 1983 the Israeli forces started to withdraw from the mountains overlooking Beirut and the Baabda presidential palace creating a vacuum and soon afterwards the PSP militias backed by Palestinian factions and the Syrian army started making advances towards Beirut.  Heavy fightings broke out between the Lebanese Army and the Syrian backed militias at the Souk el-Gharb front.
By this time, the air force had already moved all its equipment to the satellite Halate air base after the Beirut air base came under heavy fire totally damaging the Shrike Turbo Commander.  Sandbags were put to protect the planes until their transfer to Halate.
On September 16 of 1983, the Lebanese Air Force started air raids on PSP and Syrian positions, in defence of the Souk el-Gharb front.  They were met with heavy anti-aircraft fire and one was shot down on September 17 (L-281), pilot ejected safely and rescued by US forces.  Another sustained damages on the nose gear and flew directly to Akrotiri in Cyprus and after being repaired there, both the Hunter and its pilot returned back to the Halate base.  The air raids however continued and the Hunters were using the heavy 30 mm Aden cannons together with 68 mm anti-armour and conventional rockets.  During this same period, a Scottish Aviation Bulldog was shot down over the Shouf mountains during a reconnaissance mission killing both pilots.
By the end of September, a cease fire was brokered but didn't last long as fightings erupted once again in February 1984 and the Hunters were called back into action once again executing raids mostly in the Shahar region with little success due to poor planning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left:  A Lebanese Air Force Hawker Hunter captured on tape during a raid in September 1983 over the Chouf Mountains.  In this period, the air force made extensive use of air power in support of the Souk el-Gharb front.  The Hunters were operating from the Halat satellite base in Byblos north of Beirut and one of the jets was brought down by ground fire from Syrian backed militants who were trying to take over the front and continue their way to the Baabda Presidential palace.  The Lebanese army held on to its positions but the Syrians succeeded with their plans in October 1990 after heavy battles that last for almost one year.

 

 

 

 

 

Nahr el-Bared 2007

 

 

 

In May 2007 fightings broke out between the Lebanese Army and the al-Qaida inspired Fath el-Islam militants in and around the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared.  In June, Gazelle helicopters went into the battle for the first time firing from heavy machine guns and air-to-surface rockets and missiles.  During the course of the battle, the militants started to withdraw slowly and became confined to underground fortified bunkers.  The field guns of the army were incapable of destroying the bunkers and the air force modified its UH-1H Huey helicopters to carry heavy bombs.  At least 4 helicopters were modified and beginning on August 16, dropped 93 heavy 227 kg (Mk 82), 250 kg (locally produced) and 400 Kg (T-200) bombs.  The helicopters were also equipped with GPS devices which enabled all weather bombing missions.  The air force claims to have had great success of hitting its targets.  The militants abandoned the bunkers on September 3, 2007.
The air force's involvement in Nahr el-Bared was the largest in its history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left:  Lebanese Air Force Huey with a belly mounted 400 kg bomb takes off from Kleyate AF base at dusk on a bombing mission.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force



Below left:  A Huey dropping a 400 kg (T-200) bomb on militant bunkers in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force



Below right:  A Huey releases a locally made 250 kg bomb on militant targets in the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above:  A Gazelle SA-342L approaching from the sea front opens heavy machine gun fire towards militant positions taking cover in the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr el-Bared, north of the city of Tripoli.  The Gazelles were mostly used to hunt snipers positioned on rooftops of buildings.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left: A Huey prepares to take off for another bombing mission from a specially designed pad from the Kleyate AF base, which was the centre of operations during the Nahr el-Bared battle.  It is seen here carrying a locally made 250 kg bomb.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force


Below left:  French made T-200 400 kg bomb being pulled to the helicopter.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force


Below right:  The French T-200 400 kg bomb during loading to the UH-1H Huey which is seen here with a belly mounted pylon for carrying the heavy load.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left:  This UH-1H Huey is seen modified with 2 side mounted pylons carrying two MK.82 500 pounds (227 kg) bombs taking off for yet another bombing mission.
Some of these missions were carried out by night thanks to GPS devices which were also adopted for all weather operations.
Photo: Lebanese Air Force

 

 

 

 

 

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