On 17 January 1991, in the midst of the Gulf War, 12 French Jaguar aircraft attacked the strategic Iraqi air base of Al-Jaber (Kuwait). Operation Desert Storm got underway. Captain Jean-François Hummel of the 11th Fighter Squadron was one of the pilots.
When and in what circumstances did you take part in Operation Daguet?
I was a Jaguar fighter pilot at Toul air base when the air force was deployed over Saudi territory in September 1990. Iraq had invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990 and France was part of the international coalition from the start of the conflict. The Jaguars began arriving to constitute a fully operational air base at Al-Asad. I flew out there on 1 January 1991. The coalition had issued Iraq with an ultimatum of 15 January 1991, so it was clear that my squadron would be involved in military operations, if they took place.
How did you spend your first days at Al-Asad?
We gradually settled in and began putting together a training routine. From 5 January, we were flying practically every other day. We had to get our bearings in a theatre of operations that was unfamiliar to us, as we were accustomed to flying in Central Europe, in particular. On the first day of the war, there were nearly 2 500 combat aircraft movements in what was basically a very limited area. There could be no doubts over who were friends and who were enemies.
17 January 1991 marked the start of the offensive, which you took part in from the word go...
We took off from Al-Asad around 7.30 am and headed for the combat zone. The Iraqis had dug deep trenches, which they had filled with oil and set alight. Visibility was very poor. We were to attack our target, the Al-Jaber air base, in two waves. The second patrol of six Jaguars, myself included, soon realised that the assigned target could not be taken care of. So we turned our attention to other targets. I had noticed heavy vehicle caterpillar tracks in the desert. I followed them and came upon a heavily armed convoy, and decided to drop my payload on it. I had had to gain more altitude in advance of the drop, because the retarded bombs we were carrying have to be dropped from a certain height. On my descent, I was hit by a missile. Under the impact, the right-hand side of the aircraft exploded and it pitched over. The wing nearly touched the ground, which would have caused the machine to disintegrate. I was able to level off, but I saw it had lost its right engine and its second engine was on fire. I managed to fly the aircraft for 45 minutes back to Saudi soil, with the runway of the US Navy in Dubai as an emergency airfield.
Thirty years after this episode, on 17 January 2021, your aircraft joined the collections of the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace. What does that represent?
The aircraft which is today on display at the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace itself embodies a collective memory, and illustrates the work of all the French servicemen and women who took part in this highly airborne conflict: mechanics, soldiers, cooks, air-traffic controllers, etc. Together they made the detachment operational from day one of the war and on all its missions. By bringing back its pilot and bearing witness to the intensity of the fighting, this aircraft also gave confidence to those who were due to fly out the next day. It is worth bearing in mind that political objectives must be committed to absolutely. This was achieved not only through our training, but also through the hardware which, as shown by this aircraft, did all that was expected of it, and more. Ultimately, this presence in the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace represents a genuine feat of aeronautical and operational expertise.
Présentation du Jaguar A91, avion emblématique de l’opération Daguet, au musée de l’Air et de l’Espace
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