BEFORE THE introduction of the MiG-29 in 1986, the MiG-23M, ML and MLD successively provided the backbone of the Soviet Frontal Aviation air defence forces in East Germany for around ten years. Based at Wittstock, 33 IAP, which was the presentation unit of the 16th Air Army, became the first regiment to relinquish its MiG-23Ms for the new fighter. In all, eight regiments converted to the MiG-29 prior to the reunification of East and West Germany.
During the final years of the Soviet occupation and subsequent withdrawal from Eastern Europe, two regiments were equipped with MiG-23MLDs, one in East Germany and one in Poland.
833 IAP — 16th Air Army
Based at Altes Lager in what was East Germany, 833 IAP was the last 16th Air Army unit to operate the fighter and these were withdrawn to Totskoye in Russia on May 13, 1992, where the unit was subsequently disbanded. Prior to the main withdrawal, one squadron returned to Russia in November 1990, while 26 MiG-
23MLDs and seven UBs departed in May 1992. Known details of those aircraft which served with 833 IAP in its last two years of operations are as follows:
781 IAP — 4th Air Army
Stationed in Poland under the control of the 4th Air Army, 781 IAP was involved in a much-publicised incident when the regiment was based at Kolobrzeg near the Baltic coast. On July 4, 1989, one of its yellow-coded MiG-23MLDs experienced problems shortly after takeoff from Kolobrzeg and was subsequently abandoned by its pilot. It flew pilotless over Poland, Germany and Holland, then crashed in Belgium, killing two people on the ground. Following this incident, the regiment was moved to Brzeg in southern Poland before being withdrawn on June 10, 1991 to the Smolensk area in Russia.
Bulgaria was the first former Warsaw Pact country to receive MiG-235 in 1978. Both the MiG-23MF and MiG-23ML were delivered, plus a limited quantity of MiG-23UBs, these being supplemented by five ex-Russian Air Force MiG-23MLDs delivered in return for the grounded MiG-25Rs in 1992. Dobroslavtzi, near the capital Sofia, currently houses two squadrons of MLs and MLDs under the control of 18 Iztrebitelei Aviopolk (18 Fighter Air Regiment), while MiG-23s are also deployed to Gabrovnitza, some 62 miles (100km) north of Sofia, near the Romanian border. Known details of individual aircraft are as follows:
Deliveries of the MiG-23MF began on August 24, 1978 to Bechyne. Three examples (serial numbers 3641, 3645 and 3646) arrived to equip 1 SLP, temporarily based at Bechyne while runway maintenance was carried out at Ceske Budejovice. The unit eventually moved to its intended base shortly after the last batch of MiG-23MFs was delivered in December 1979. These were replaced by the MiG-23ML from November 1981, the MiG-23MFs moving to Zatec to equip 11 SLP
After the division of the Czech and Slovak Republics in January 1993, it had already been decided that the Czechs would retain all the MiG-23MFs and MiG-23MLs. After reorganisation, the MiG-23MF was withdrawn and placed in store, while 17 MiG-23MLs and eight MiG-23UBs form the current equipment of 41 Stihaci Letka (41 Fighter Squadron) at Caslav.
As it is not known what precisely what to call the additional fivedigit number allocated to MiG-23s, where known, they are shown after the construction number.
Prior to the reunification of East and West Germany, all the MiG-23 fighters were based at Peenemunde with Jagdfliegergeschwader 9 Heinrich Rau. Some 45 MiG-23MFs were initially received, the first of these arriving in July 1978, while at least 30 MiG-23MLs were acquired from June 1982 onwards. After reunification, nine MiG-23MFs, 28 MiG-23MLs and eight MiG-23UBs were allocated Luftwaffe serial numbers and subsequently grounded, apart from a small number of airframes that were evaluated by the Luftwaffe at Manching.
Hungary acquired 12 MiG-23MFs and three MiG-23UBs. Based at Papa and operated by 47 ‘Stromfeld Aurel’ Honi Vadaszrepulo Osztaly (47 Stromfeld Aurel Air Fighter Wing), only nine single-seaters remained on the inventory when one of these, MiG-23MF tactical number 07, ‘c/n 12406′, became the first to be retired from service in May this year. Another two, 08 and 12, are currently grounded and are awaiting new engines. Of the three MiG-23UBs delivered, two have been lost in accidents, however, compensation for this was partially offset when MiG-23UB, 20 (c/n 19015091) was apparently left behind by the departing Russians and subsequently taken on charge with the unit at Papa on March 11, 1991.
All the MiG-23MFs were delivered in late 1979 and are batch 17 aircraft. However, only the alternative five-digit number which currently defies an explanation has been acquired from those airframes closely examined. A study of these numbers obtained from various examples of European-based MiG-23s do appear to be more consistent than the ‘famous last five’ of the construction number. Using the Hungarian MiG-23s as an example, one is tempted to suggest that these numbers are consecutive and are issued in multiples of ten, providing a better reflection of production figures. Initial batches (such as those delivered to the Czech and East German Air Forces) contained 20 aircraft, reducing to ten as production switched to the MiG-23ML.
Poland received the first of 36 MiG-23MFs and six MiG-23UBs in 1978 and all were delivered to 28 Pulk Lotnictwa Mysliwskiego (28 Fighter Aviation Regiment) at Slupsk. Delivered from batches 17, 20, 21 and 24, the MiG-23MFs are finished in several different schemes, from air defence grey to at least three variations of camouflage. Another feature is the different unit markings carried by these aircraft. No less than 11 markings, identifying the regiment, two squadrons and the four flights within each squadron, are displayed on the airframe. Current strength of the unit is thought to be 31 MiG-23MFs and six MiG-23UBs.
Some 48 MiG-23MFs and MiG-23UBs were delivered to Romania. Two regiments currently operate the type, 57 Regiment de Vinatoare at Mikhail Kogalniceanu (two squadrons) and 93 RegtV at Timisoara-Giarmata (one squadron). Reorganisation of the Air Force in May 1995 resulted in the old regimental numbers being allocated to identify each air base — Timisoara is now known as Air Base 01981, while Mikhail Kogalniceanu is 01941. Whether this has, however, affected their current individual regimental identities is unclear.