The S-75 aka SA-2 Guideline Missile
The Soviet Union began deploying the S-75 missile in 1958 and exported it to China within the year.[i] The S-72, given the NATO identification SA-2 Guideline, missile soon established itself as a threat to Western aircraft. The S-75 proved flying over airspace under its protection was dangerous. It led to a belief in some circles that missile defense would overcome aircraft offense. After 60 years it is still an active surface to air missile system.
[i] Federation of American Scientists, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/airdef/v-75.htm, last accessed 12/15/19.
The first S-75 success was on October 7, 1959. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) fired a salvo of three S-750(1D) missiles at a Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) RB-57D. One missile destroyed the RB-57. The RB-57 pilot, Wang Ying Chin, died.[i] The S-750 was a Chinese variant of the Soviet S-75. Officially China credited its fighters with downing the RB-57. This was to keep the S-75’s deployment secret.
On May 1, 1960 a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Lockheed U-2C, flown by GS-12 Francis Gary Powers was flying over the Soviet Union. The U.S. believed the U-2 flew too high to be shot down. He was near Sverdlovsk when a S-75 Dvina missile battery, commanded by Mikhail Voronov, fired three missiles at the U-2. The first missile struck the U-2. Powers ejected and was captured. Another 11 missiles were launched at the U-2. One missile shot down a Soviet Air Force MiG-17 and killed its pilot Sergei Safronov. [ii] Capturing Powers and recovering the U-2 wreckage caused a major international incident. It set back talks between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
On November 6, 1961 a PRC S-75 shot down a ROCAF RB-69A killing all 13 crew members.[iii] In March, 1962 a PRC S-75 system achieved a radar lock on a ROCAF U-2. The U-2 pilot, Tai-You Wang took evasive action and his aircraft was not damaged. On September 9, a S-75 shot down a U-2. The pilot, Chen Huai Sheng, was captured and died from his injuries.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a S-75 shot down a USAF U-2A over Cuba. The pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson, died. This incident heightened the intensity of the conflict. It also highlighted the Communist missile capabilities. Their Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs) could shoot down any aircraft in the U.S. arsenal.
PRC S-75s shot down ROCAF U-2s on November 1, 1963, July 7, 1964, and January 10, 1965. Another ROCAF U-2 was almost shot down by a barrage of S-75s. The U-2C pilot, Wang Shichuen was temporarily blinded by returned safely to base. After losing a U-2 on September 9, 1967, the pilot Hwang Lung Pei was killed, the Republic of China withdrew the U-2 from service.[iv] The S-75s caused the Republic of China to withdraw their U-2s from service.
[i] Aircraft Downed During the Cold War and Thereafter, http://sw.propwashgang.org/shootdown_list.html, last accessed 12/15/19.
[ii] Aircraft Downed During the Cold War and Thereafter, http://sw.propwashgang.org/shootdown_list.html, last accessed 12/15/19.
[iii] Aircraft Downed During the Cold War and Thereafter, http://sw.propwashgang.org/shootdown_list.html, last accessed 12/15/19.
[iv] Aircraft Downed During the Cold War and Thereafter, http://sw.propwashgang.org/shootdown_list.html, last accessed 12/15/19.
The North Vietnamese scored their first S-75 kill on July 24, 1965. A S-75 shot down an F-4C. Three days later the USAF sent 46 F-105s against two S-75 sites. The North Vietnamese had their missile sites ringed with anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). The USAF lost six F-105s and many more received AAA damage. The North Vietnamese had moved the S-75s.[i] North Vietnamese S-75 crews could move their battery within 4 hours.[ii] The U.S. air forces didn’t destroy a S-75 site until December 22. This successful mission against a SAM site highlighted another difficulty in destroying an S-75 site. The S-75 was hidden under a thatched hut.[iii]
In 1965 North Vietnamese S-75s shot down 13 fixed-wing aircraft. This included 4 F-4 Phantom IIs and 3 F-105 Thunderchiefs. The aircraft altitudes ranged from 1,500 feet (460 m) to 33,000 feet (10,000 m). In 1966 the number increased to 35. The lowest shootdown was an A-1H Skyraider at 1,000 feet (30 m). S-75 claimed another 62 aircraft in 1967. Bombings of North Vietnam were limited, then halted, in 1968. The United States resumed the bombing of North Vietnam in 1972. The U.S. lost about 75 aircraft to S-75s from 1972 to the ceasefire in January, 1973. These losses included 17 B-52 Stratofortresses. These losses do not include damaged aircraft that returned to base and were subsequently written off. The North Vietnamese also used the radar data from the S-73 systems for their anti-aircraft artillery. North Vietnam used fighters to relay the altitude of B-52s to the S-73 batteries. S-73s accounted for almost 1/3 of the North Vietnamese shoot downs. North Vietnamese fighters claimed less than 10% of the U.S. fixed wing losses. North Vietnam fired at least 5,200 S-73s during the conflict. They may have lost almost half of their 98 S-73 systems to U.S air strikes.[iv]
[i] National Museum of the United States Air Force, First In, Last Out: Wild Weases vs. SAMs, published May 19, 2015, last accessed 12/17/19.
[ii] National Museum of the Air Force, SA-2 Surface-to-Air Missile, Published May 18, 2015, https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196037/sa-2-surface-to-air-missile/, last accessed 12/17/19.
[iii] How the U.S. Military Went to War against Vietnam’s Radar and Air Defenses, by Warfare History Network, https://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/how-the-us-military-went-war-against-vietnams-radar-air-25034, last accessed 12/17/19.
[iv] Air Force Magazine, Take It Down! The Wild Weasels in Vietnam by John T. Correll, June 28, 2010, https://www.airforcemag.com/article/0710weasels/, last accessed 12/20/19.
The Middle East
On the eve of the 1967 Arab-Israeli was the Egyptians had 200 S-75 launchers. Syria didn’t have surface to air missiles.[i] In the Six-Day War the Israeli Air Force (IAF) lost 46 aircraft and had 24 more heavily damaged. About 10 of these were lost to enemy fighters. Most of the losses were to AAA.[ii]
After the Six-Day War there was The War of Attrition. It involved a series of strike and counter strikes. In six weeks in the summer of 1969 IAF flew over 1,000 sorties. The IDF lost three aircraft. IDF aircraft attacked an S-75 site on September 10.[iii] On October 22 the IDF used their newly supplied F-4 Phantom IIs to attack a S-75 site. The IDF knocked out most of the Egyptian S-75 positions near the Suez Canal. [iv]
On June 30, 1970 an Israeli F-4 patrol was attacked by upgraded S-75 and S-125 missiles. The Egyptians had moved these SAM sites into position the night before. The upgraded S-75 missiles shot down two of the Phantoms. The IDF repeatedly attacked these missile sites. The Egyptians rapidly repaired the battle damage to these sites. Within a week the IDF destroyed or damaged 7 of the SAM sites but lost an F-4 in the process. The IDF was unable to eliminate the missile threat along the Suez Canal.[v]
Egyptian and Syrian forces planned to attack Israel on October 6, 1973. The Israeli Air Force wanted to launch preemptive strikes as they successfully did in 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir didn’t authorize the strike because world opinion would view Israel as the aggressor. When the Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked, the Israeli Air Force had to strike advancing ground forces that had a formidable missile shield. The enemy air forces also had to be dealt with in the air. On the first day the IAF lost 6 aircraft and 4 aircrews. Israeli Air Force Colonel Yallo Shavit put the cost of destroying SAM sites as 1 aircraft per site. The SAMs by their presence made attacking the enemy ground forces more difficult and less effective. The IAF lost 22 aircraft on the second day of the war. This was the highest single day loss during The Yom Kippur War. The IAF flew almost 100 sorties against 4 SAM batteries near Port Said. The IDF neutralized 3 of these sites.[vi]
On 7th and subsequent days of the war daily IDF aircraft losses were in the single digits. On October 22nd a squadron of F-4s attacked 6 S-75 and S-125 missile sites. The Phantom IIs destroyed them all without loss. The last Israeli aircraft losses, 3 aircraft, occurred on the 16th day of the conflict. Despite flying 1,271 sorties there were no Israeli aircraft losses on the last 3 days of the conflict. [vii] Air defenses did damage 6 IDF aircraft.[viii] The IDF lost 103 fixed wing aircraft and 6 helicopters. S-75 and newer SAM batteries shot down 41 Israeli aircraft. Arab ground defenses shot down 58 of their own aircraft.[ix]
Despite the more sophisticated SAM systems, and the tactical disadvantage of being on the defensive during the opening stages of the conflict, the IDF loss rate was less than ½ the loss rate it suffered during The Six Day War.[x]
In 1982 Syria had two S-75 and 17 more modern SAM batteries in the Bekaa Valley. On June 9 the IDF attacked these sites. The IDF damaged or destroyed 17 of the sites. A SAM and AAA fire heavily damaged an F-15 Eagle which made it back to base.[xi]
[i] Intelligence Report, The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: Overview and Analysis of the Conflict, SR IR 75-16 September 1975, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/1975-09-01A.pdf, last accessed 12/20/19.
[ii] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990, P. 86.
[iii] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990, P. 98.
[iv] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990, P. 99.
[v] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990, P. 111.
[vi] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990.
[vii] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990.
[viii] Intelligence Report, The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: Overview and Analysis of the Conflict, SR IR 75-16, September 1975, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/1975-09-01A.pdf, last accessed 12/29/19.
[ix] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990.
[x] Intelligence Report, The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: Overview and Analysis of the Conflict, SR IR 75-16, September 1975, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/1975-09-01A.pdf, last accessed 12/29/19.
[xi] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Robert Sacchi