OPERATION NICKEL GRASS

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M60 tank unloaded from a USAF C-5 Galaxy during Operation Nickel Grass.

Whilst the victory over Egypt and Syria was founded on the sacrifice of the IDF, they needed some external assistance. Within days their expenditure of weapons and specifically their losses of A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantom jets were critical so when Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meyer appealed to US President Nixon his reaction was swift and without reservation.

`Operation Nickel Glass’ was one of the largest airlifts of supplies conducted in history, surpassed only in scale by the Berlin Air Lift and the flow of supplies into Saudi Arabia in the days following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. At its height over 40 missions a day flown by C-5 Galaxys and C-141 Starlifters moved hardware from the USA to Israel but many countries, mindful of the impact the Arab oil embargo had on their economies, refused requests for overflights. Portugal however did grant the USA permission to route through Lajes in the Azores.

The aircraft were very vulnerable and required fighter escort in the form of both Grumman F-14 Tomcats (flown from US aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean) and Israeli Mirage and Phantoms jets.

The air bridge was also used to ferry replacement A-4 Skyhawks and F-4 Phantoms to Israel, the A-4s requiring aerial refuelling by tankers flying off the USS John F Kennedy that was steaming in the area of the Strait of Gibraltar. The jets would then land on the USS Franklin D Roosevelt aircraft carrier just off the coast of Sicily for an overnight stay before launching again. The Skyhawks would then head to another air-to-air refuelling point off the coast of Crete where they were met by tankers flown from the USS Independence. From there on they completed their delivery and upon landing were quickly armed and flown into combat. Not a single aircraft routing through the air-bridge was lost.

The corridor was in place for 32 days and saw 145 Galaxy flights and 422 C-141 Starlifter sorties deliver 22,395 tons of military equipment into Israel. A similar seaborne operation moved 33,210 tons of additional equipment at the same time.

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