Jaguar sur Al Jaber (2) capitaine Alain Mahagne's story

Former capitaine Alain Mahagne (right), a French Jaguar pilot with EC 2/11 Vosges with a copy of his account of the sortie flown on 17 January 1991 against the Kuwaiti base of Al Jaber and displaying his flight helmet which was pierced by a Kalashnikov round at high speed and low altitude. Amazingly although knocked out by the impact the pilot survived with just a 10 centimetre long wound to his scalp and demonstrated the presence of mind and courage to be able to fly his aircraft home.....

17 January 1991 - it was still night-time that morning on the base at Al Ahsa, the principal operating platform assigned to the French air contingent participating in 'Desert Storm' or “Daguet” as it had been dubbed by the French. Forty Jaguar fighter bombers and thirty 30 Mirage F-1CR jets. With their 9mm MAC-50 automatic pistols holstered and a gas mask hooked onto their belts, twelve pilot officers leave their mobile home and make their way by bus out to their aircraft, sand-camouflaged Jaguars carrying a full load-out. The machines were lined-up on the tarmac and had been fussed over for hours by their mechanics. One by one each pilot carries out his pre-flight check and pulls the safety pins from his ejection seat. The aircraft are all similarly configured; four 250kg bombs, an electronic counter-measures pod, a Matra air-to-air missile and a jettisonable drop-tank of 1200 litre capacity .-"Jupiter 01, check" calls the ‘leader’, having lit his two Adour MK-10 jet engines. The flight leader was commandant Jean-Luc Mansion, call-sign "Schnapy", 36 years old, 3700 flying hours.-"Jupiter 2,... Jupiter 3, 4, 5,..." respond his wing men.-"Al Asha, Jupiter 01, okay to taxi". On the order from the control tower the Jaguars roll out to the runway. The first four jets line up in echelon formation and roar off down the runway, afterburners lit. Thirty seconds separates each aircraft. Jaguar n° A-108, n° 11, flown by capitaine Alain Mahagne call-sign "Charly" gets airborne in turn and climbs blindly into the morning haze. With gear and flaps now safely tucked away he forms up with his four wingmen. At around 5,000 feet the cloud deck thickens up and the pilots flying in tight formation catch only momentary glimpses of the other aircraft. Twenty minutes later they rendezvous with four Boeing C-135FR tankers flying a race-course track. The Jaguar in two sections of six peel off two-by-two and extend their retractable refuelling probes. Capitaine Mahagne hooks up with the basket in turn and four minutes later, tanks now full, pulls away for capitaine Hummel call-sign "Mamel" to take his place. With his tanks full in turn the two Jaguars break off to reform with capitaine Pacotel call-sign "Paco", n°7 and flight leader of the second group. They turn together on a northerly heading and head down into the murk.

Capitaine Pacotel breaks radio silence "Bidon Secours – reserve tank 1. Armed, jettison tank!", On Pacotel’s command the twelve drop tanks tumble down from the jets one-by-one.-" Is my tank still hooked up ?" asks one pilot-"yep, still there..." responds Lieutenant Bonnafoux call-sign "Bonaf". A few gentle shakes later and the tank tumbles away.-"Counter measures on, armament safety on Off, check your IFF" orders Pacorel. From now on things are likely to get serious – the Jaguars accelerate to 480 kt, altitude 100 feet. The time is 8h46 as the 12 Jaguars over-fly the Kuwaiti border.

Having fanned out into attack formation the Jaguars hurtle across the Iraqi front lines: a divisional command post distinguished by a series of large white tents. Suddenly a little off to the right of the heading being followed by the Jaguars, a self-propelled anti-aircraft armoured vehicle with four 23-mm automatic cannon, probably a ZSU-23-4, opens up, followed by another on the left in concert with the heavier calibre twin barrel 30 mm cannon of a ZPU-30-2..flashes of light spurt from the barrels. -"Draw head into shoulders ..very low and very fast, it’s our only chance" . Suddenly a white trail appears ahead of Mahagne – a "Strela" – a Russian-manufactured man-portable anti-aircraft missile with a passive infra-red homing guidance system. It must have been launched by someone on the ground and is heading directly for the aircraft of the leader n°7.-"Missile port" called one of the pilots-"Ne bouge pas -do not move" orders capitaine Pacorel. The propellent charge of the Sa-7 runs out at around two metres from its target n°7 and falls away to the ground. "Visual on target". Suddenly - "I’m hit ! Oil warning light lit" calls Lieutenant Bonnafoux. He felt the impact on the fuselage as an SA-7 slammed into the aircraft without exploding – the result, a fire alarm in the starboard jet engine. He tries to keep up but the Jaguar is losing speed and altitude. He had soon lost sight of his comrades. "Nothing for it but to eject" he reasons, but the Jaguar struggles gamely on so the pilot elects to stay with it to bring the aircraft home. Having first deactivated his weapons he jettisons his bombs and turns for home. The eleven remaining Jaguars press on.

It is  8h49 - the Jaguars are one minute from their target.  Still at very low altitude the jets turn onto heading 300 now moving directly into the target - the air base of Al Jaber in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert and a hangar full of Scud missiles. There is a moment of confusion as the pilots realise that they are too far south of the runway at Al Jaber, before Pacoral calls ' attack on sight'. By now the Jaguars are caught in a maelstrom of anti-aircraft fire, tracers and small arms fire.. searching right and left out of the cockpit Mahagne is powerless in the barrage of fire of fire - suddenly spotting a command post he is flying too low and too fast to line up on this potential target. Ahead of him he can see a series of large dark shapes half-buried in the sand. Tanks ! Pulling on the stick he releases his four 250 kg bombs. Like a thin telegraph pole a SA-7 missile tears the darkness apart followed by a second which streaks past his port wing -"Hit, I'm hit"  shouts n°12, capitaine Hummel, flying just ahead of Mahagne who instinctively makes himself smaller in his cockpit. Suddenly his canopy is shattered by an explosive impact, the pilot feels a terrible blow to his head and is rocked back in his seat...Mahagne takes up the story in his account 'Jaguar sur Al Jaber' ;

" ..I was blinded ..instantly ..but only for a matter of seconds. I pulled back instinctively on the control column. After a moment my sight returned. I could see my visor shredded in front of my face, so I pulled the pieces off as best I could. The pain was horrendous, it felt as if my head was going to explode. I'd obviously been knocked out and was coming around slowly. First thing I did was to check my engines - still delivering full thrust. There was some cockpit noise, but nothing of any major concern so I pushed the stick forward again until I was at around twenty feet. I was evidently no longer over hostile forces. Then looking carefully to my right and to my left I noticed two holes in the canopy - an entry hole and and an exit hole, with my helmet between them both- a Kalashikov round had gone through the canopy and my helmet. It was then that I realised that I was injured. Fuck! A warm sticky liquid was starting to spread down my neck. I wasn't frightened or unduly concerned and remained in full control. Mamel was worse off than myself  with his starboard jet engine on fire and his aircraft rapidly becoming unstable. I calmly reported my problems over the radio; - .-"Charly. Je suis touché. J'ai un trou dans la tête et je pisse le sang - I'm hit!, I have a hole in my head and there's blood running down !" 

"Tu confirme Charly ?" requested commandant Mansion.-"Yes I confirm my message - I'm hit, there's blood. Climbing now ! -"Non, Non !" responded several voices "Charly, get out now!" shouted the leader.

"JAGUAR SUR AL JABER" by Alain Mahagne, former Jaguar pilot of EC 2/11 Vosges, the only French pilot to be injured on operations in the first Gulf Air War is a 127-page account of flying the Jaguar in combat and description of the sortie flown on 17 January 1991.

With Alain's permission I re-wrote and completed this piece in a three-page feature that was published in the September 2011 issue of Airfix Model World  for book orders

Popular Posts