69 Squadron - The Hammers
In July 1948 the "Flying Fortress" Squadron, which consisted of three B-17 bombers, was established on Ramat David Airbase. The 69 squadron, known as The Hammers, saw its first action on July 15, 1948 when Israeli fighters bombed targets in Cairo, Egypt. For its first twenty years of operation, the 69 squadron was composed of former US Air Force B-17 aircraft, beginning with three B-17s in 1948 and receiving two additional B-17s in 1956.
In 1949 the IAF was completely restructured and the squadron was transferred to Tel Nof (at the time known as Ekron Airbase). At the start of the Fifties the squadron flew many photography and patrol sorties, taking advantage of the aircrafts' high altitude (30,000 feet) and long distance (3,000 kilometer) capabilities. The B-17 bombers from the 69 squadron were included in squadron 103 in 1954 and were placed in storage for several months in 1956. In October 1956, squadron 69 was reactivated for the Sinai Campaign. During the Sinai campaign the squadron carried out eight sorties (33 hours of flight time) and dropped 96 50kg bombs and 80 250kg bombs. On 1st April 1957 the squadron was disbanded. Two aircraft were sold abroad, and the third was transferred to Israel Aerospace Industries for use as scrap metal. Very few B-17 remain today.
Thirteen years later in 1969, the 69 squadron was reformed as a second F-4E Phantom group of fighters. On 5th September 1969, the first Phantoms reached Israel and formed "The First Phantom" Squadron, on Hatzor Airbase. On 1st November 1969 the second Phantom squadron was formed, and was known as the "Hammers". On 11th November 1969, the Phantom scored the first downing of an Egyptian MiG. Four days later the Squadron transferred the first aircraft from Hatzor to Ramat David. On 28th November the squadron carried out its first air strike. The target was an SA2 missile battery. The mission was carried out successfully. In addition to the usual challenges faced when absorbing a new aircraft, the War of Attrition during which the aircraft arrived created additional problems for the five person aircrew and the roughly hundred person ground crew. The 1970 War of Attrition cost squadron 69 and squadron 201 the loss of nine aircraft, but Israel received eight addition F-4E Phantoms in July 1970.
In 1971, the Israeli Air Force retasked several F-4E fighters into reconnaissance roles, changing their designation to RF-4E. However, after several years of service the reconnaissance planes returned to their combat roles. During the Yom Kippur war the squadron flew 850 sorties. 2 of the aircrew were killed, 4 were captured and a total of 9 aircraft were lost. In March 1978, in the wake of a terrorist attack on a bus travelling along the coastal road, the IDF carried Operation Litani in southern Lebanon. The IAF took a central role in the IDF's operations, and between 15th March and 20th March the squadron carried out 50 sorties over Lebanon. Their operations included strikes during the day and at night, missile operations using Maverick Missiles (known in Hebrew as "Penguins") and bombs, photography operations and interception patrols. During the Yom Kippur war of 1973, Israel lost a number of F-4E Phantoms while conducting attacks against Egyptian SAM sites.
On 4th June 1991 the squadron was transferred to Hatzerim Airbase as part of the transfer of IAF bases to Southern Israel. On 27th January 1994, the Minister of Security, Yitzchak Rabin, decided to acquire the F-15 as the IAF's new fighter plane. On 9th May 1996, Major General Herzl Bodinger, who was then Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, decided that the F-15I would be received by the "Hammers" Squadron. In the late 1990s, the 69 squadron was restructured once again to include Israel's new F-15Is, removing the F-4E Phantoms from the squadron. The 69 squadron was based at Hatzerim.
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