Book Review
Israeli Phantoms: 1969-1988
Israeli Phantoms: The
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by: Bill Cross [ BILL_C ]


It's rare to find a hobby book that combines excellent research, compelling writing, abundant action photos, full-color profiles and detailed photos of cockpits, armaments and markings. Double Ugly Book's Israeli Phantoms: The "Kurnass" in IDF/AF Service 1969-1988 is one of those rare books.

Israel wanted to purchase the Phantom after France embargoed further sales of Mirage IIIs following the Six Day War (the Mirage was a spectacular interceptor and was both more lethal in cannon combat and could out-maneuver the Phantom). But the US State Department blocked the sale, fearing it would complicate and already tense standoff in the Middle East between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Pentagon also opposed the sale, fearing Israel's "unknown" pilots might lose one over enemy air space. That would be a gift to the Russians, though the Air War in Vietnam resulted in numerous wrecked Phantoms making their way to Moscow.

President Johnson pushed the sale through, and by 1969 the Israeli IDF/AF was training pilots and ground crew in the US while receiving the first shipments of the new fighter-bomber they nicknamed Kurnass (Hebrew for "sledgehammer"). Double Ugly Books has released a two-volume set about the F-4E's service in the IDF/AF, and anyone who plans on building one of these aircraft should find the money to buy at least one of these volumes.

what you get

The hardcover book is a large A4 format with 160 pages, and includes over 100 color profiles, over 350 B&W photos (many never published before), along with 26 B&W line drawings in 1/87 scale.

the review

Unlike most guides to airplanes, this book actually has a compelling storyline: the authors, Andreas Klein, Shlomo Aloni and Lee R. DeHaven, take the reader through the history of the F-4E in Israeli service beginning with the first planes ferried to Israel in time for the "War of Attrition," one more segment of the nearly non-stop hostilities that have plagued Israel since its creation.

The book is divided into five chapters and five appendices:

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: The War of Attrition
Chapter 3: The Yom Kippur War
Chapter 4: Peace for Galilee
Chapter 5: f-4 Yom Kippur - Cockpit & Armament

Appendix 1: Scale drawings
Appendix 2: Camouflage schemes
Appendix 3: Cockpit layout
Appendix 4: Kurnass serial lists, aces, kills & losses
Appendix 5: Abbreviations

The text is very readable, if a bit less-than-perfect in places because of some grammar and word choice mistakes (but much better than my Hebrew, which is non-existent). Every page has 2-3 outstanding B&W photos, often of planes in action, including some gun camera stills and wrecks. The photos are quite crisp & clear, and those in color vivid and even stunning. I would have liked some accompanying photos of the other planes mentioned, especially enemy aircraft, so you smart phone users will be looking up MiG-25, SAM-7, etc. Unlike most books about aircraft aimed at modelers, the camouflage schemes are not bunched all together, and instead are scattered throughout the text. This will be annoying for some, who just want to have a quick comparison of modeling options; however, I found it kept the various paint jobs rooted in the exploits of actual air crew on real missions (some of them ending badly).

The Kurnass had only two camo schmes: a four-tone factory paint job supplied by McDonnell-Douglas, and the same four-color SEA scheme applied to USAF planes operating in Southeast Asia (Israeli pilots dubbed it the Karpada or "toad" color pattern). Some of the planes sent to Israel were USAF airframes that had already seen service in the skies over Vietnam.

The narrative is obviously highly-favorable to Israel, but Klein and Aloni don't overlook the tragic accidental bombings of an Egyptian factory and a school. War is hell and collateral damage isn't pretty. Notes identify areas where controversy exists (usually over kill claims by Arab air forces), along with details about downed pilots, some of whom spent long stretches as POWs, some were fatalities. A scattering of very lively personal accounts by the pilots involved helps to give the story life and realism.

The discussion about the aircraft and tactics is often somewhat technical, with quite a bit of "jet jargon." Fortunately a handy list of abbreviations is provided at the end of the book to explain all of the acronyms, including esoteric ones like ARM (anti-radiation missile), DACT (dissimilar air combat training), LOROP (long-range oblique photography), and QRA (quick reaction alert). The usual acronyms like SAM, AAA and CBU (cluster bomb unit) are listed, too.

The IDF/AF built its Phantom units one squadron at a time, and Klein & Aloni do a creditable job of telling briefly the rise of these four elite units (the various squadrons are described in more detail in Vol. 2):

201 "The One"
119 "The Bats"
107 "The Knights of the Orange Tail"
69 "The Hammers"

The authors also bring to life the evolution of IDF/AF doctrine, especially as Russian-made SAMs began to dominate the skies over Sinai. This reflects the same challenges the USAF faced with North Vietnamese SAMs, resulting in the development of the "Wild Weasel" system. While Israel eventually received WW technology, it had to develop its own methods for SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) on the fly. It was clear to both sides that the Arab pilots were nowhere near as good as the Israeli ones, so both Egypt and later Syria leaned heavily on the surface-to-air batteries supplied by (and later manned by) Russian "advisers." Russian pilots also flew many of the MiG-21s shot down by the IDF/AF.

Because of the Phantom's phenomenal payloads and excellent electronics, the "Kurnass" was tasked with taking out the SAM batteries and (later) networks. The Egyptians and their Russian advisers were highly-skilled at luring Phantoms into traps where hidden batteries and even shoulder-mounted SAMs were unleashed on the heavily-laden Phantoms. Plus the air spaces available for dogfights and SEAD were narrow, and both sides had to invent new doctrine specific to their operational needs.

Volume One is not the "walkaround" source that Volume Two is, but one of the richest treasures of the first volume is Appendix 3: the cockpit layout. Photos of on-board electronics are all well & good, but having a breakdown of all the switches & gauges is a step up from most modeling books I have used in the past.

My one quibble with Volume I is it lacks "walkaround" photos of areas like the wheel wells showing the wiring and hydraulics. A few photos of things many modelers want to add to their builds (especially in older kits like the Tamiya F-4E) would make this book a "don't need nuthin' more" purchase. Those sections are reserved for Volume II (not reviewed here). I appreciate it that the authors want you to buy both books, but at around $45 each, that's a hefty investment for some.


I haven't often come across very often one book that so thoroughly fills the needs of most modelers, but this one is one of those books. Super-detailers, especially in larger formats like quarter scale and 1/32nd scale, will want to purchase both volumes in order to get the walkaround photos mostly missing from Volume I (as well as the full story of each Phantom squadron). Since I already own another Double Ugly Books publication: The Modern Phantom Guide: The F-4 Phantom Exposed, by Jake Melampy, I did not purchase the second volume.
But I wish I had. Otherwise, this volume will be more than adequate for all but more insane modelers like myself.

To read a review of Volume 2, click here.
Highs: Page after page of great photos, lots of information, a compelling narrative and full-color camo schemes.
Lows: It would have been nice to have some wheel well photos showing wiring, hydraulics, etc. The English could use a bit of editing here & there, but nothing serious.
Verdict: THE definitive book for anyone building the F-4E Phantom II in Israeli service.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 978-3-935687-81-2
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Sep 16, 2014

About Bill Cross (bill_c)

Self-proclaimed rivet counter who gleefully builds tanks, planes and has three subs in the stash.

Copyright 2021 text by Bill Cross [ BILL_C ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


Thank you for getting this one "live." You earned your salary today, Miss.
SEP 16, 2014 - 06:17 AM
Bill, Just an outstanding in depth review. I don't often buy aircraft books, but I need to purchase this book. Now the search begins as to who has it in stock. Joel
SEP 17, 2014 - 03:09 AM
Thanks, Joel, I got mine from Roll Models. While it's a big outlay, I'd highly recommend BOTH volumes, as the "walkaround" features in the second book will be a super-detailers dream come true. I hope to secure Vol. 2 and review it in a few weeks.
SEP 17, 2014 - 03:28 AM
Bill, Thanks for the led. Heading on over there now. Joel
SEP 18, 2014 - 06:29 AM
Bump this since Volume Two is getting a lot of love.
FEB 04, 2015 - 12:16 AM

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