The IAF was a unique Air Force in three respects – it was born at the same time as the State of Israel in May 1948; it was born in the heat of battle; and over 95% of the combat-trained air crews were World War II veterans who came as volunteers from 16 foreign lands, mainly from the Anglo-Saxon countries, to help Israel in its War of Independence.
The forerunners of the Israel Air Force were the Palestine Flying Service created by the Irgun Zvai Leumi (Etzel) in 1937, and “Sherut Avir” (Air Service) which was established by the Haganah in November 1947. These were the early flying entities in the Yishuv (Palestine), in anticipation of a future Air Force.
No. 1 Squadron, based at Sde Dov airfield near Tel Aviv was the IAF’s first squadron. Its small inventory of Piper Cubs and Austers was augmented at an early stage by a Bonanza, three Fairchilds, and a Dragon Rapide, which were smuggled out of South Africa mainly through the initiative of Boris Senior, and flown across the whole of Africa to Israel. On the afternoon of Friday 14th May 1948, at the very time that Prime Minister Ben-Gurion was declaring the establishment of the State of Israel, Boris Senior as pilot, with Smoky Simon as navigator and Shmulik Videlis as aerial photographer, carried out the IAF’s first air reconnaissance mission over enemy territory in a Bonanza to report on the enemy forces that were converging on Israel from Transjordan (now known as Jordan) – hundreds of vehicles, tanks, trucks, armored cars, and many thousands of troops. The Etzion Bloc had already been overrun by the Jordanian Army led by British officers, and Kibbutz Kfar Etzion was burning.
At that time, Israel had neither combat aircraft nor effective anti-aircraft weaponry to defend itself from air attacks mainly by the Royal Egyptian Air Force (REAF). In fact, already at first light on 15th May (the day after the declaration of the State), the REAF was bombing and strafing targets mainly in Tel Aviv with impunity – the Reading Power Station, Sde Dov airfield, the central bus station, etc. On the same day, an Egyptian Spitfire which was doing a low-level attack on Sde Dov airfield was hit by a very lucky shot from a 20 mm machine-gun manned by Sam Rose, a British Machalnik, and the Spitfire crashed on the beach at Herzlia. The pilot was badly shocked and became a prisoner-of-war. Parts of his crashed aircraft were subsequently used for constructing the IAF’s first Spitfire which was built out of junk left by the Royal Air Force (RAF) when the British Forces were evacuated from Palestine.
In the early days of the war, No. 1 Squadron employed its light civil aircraft – Austers, Piper Cubs, Fairchilds, Bonanzas, and a Dragon Rapide as “Bombers”, dropping 25 and 50 pound bombs and incendiaries on targets mainly in the area surrounding Jerusalem. “Bomb-chuckers” as they were called, carried these bombs on their laps, and on reaching the target the safety pins were released and the bombs were manually dropped onto the target.
ACQUISITION OF THE IAF’S FIRST COMBAT AIRCRAFT
Israel succeeded in acquiring 25 Avia S-199 aircraft from Czechoslovakia. In the second-half of May 1948, the first batch of four Avia S-199s were dissembled and packed into crates and transported in C-46 Curtiss Commando aircraft from Czechoslovakia to Israel. On arrival in Israel the aircraft were hastily re-assembled and inducted into 101 Squadron. The Avia S-199, which was manufactured in Czechoslovakia was a very inferior version of the German Luftwaffe’s Me-109 aircraft. (The Role of the Czechoslovakian Avia S-199 - the IAF’s First Combat Aircraft).
On 23rd May an Air Transport Command C-46 Curtiss Commando aircraft which flew from Czechoslovakia to Israel with the fuselage and engine of the first S-199 to be assembled in Israel, crashed as a result of heavy fog which covered Tel Nof and Sde Dov airfields. The navigator Moshe (Moses Aaron) Rosenbaum was killed. Ed Styrack the radio operator was badly injured, and both the aircraft and its cargo were destroyed. Sadly, this first and very precious S-199 was lost even before flying under its own power.
On the battle front, the IDF was under tremendous pressure from the Egyptian Army. Thousands of Egyptian soldiers and hundreds of vehicles and tanks had already advanced up to Isdud (Ashdod), 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of Tel Aviv. The IDF was in a desperate situation and called for air support. On 29th May, a formation of four S-199s led by Lou Lenart, together with Modi Alon, Ezer Weizman, and Eddie Cohen, each aircraft carrying 2 x 70 kg bombs, cannons, and machine guns, attacked the Egyptian Forces from multiple directions. Each aircraft made three runs, and in the teeth of withering 37 mm anti-aircraft fire Lenart’s aircraft was badly hit. Nevertheless, Lenart as well as Alon and Weizman succeeded in returning to their base at Tel Nof. Unfortunately, Eddie Cohen’s plane was hit by ground fire and the burning aircraft crashed and Eddie was killed. On touching down at Tel Nof, the brake on Modi Alon’s left wheel failed and his aircraft ground-looped. The right wing struck the ground, the right tire burst, and the aircraft was a write-off. This first operational mission of 101 Squadron had cost the life of Eddie Cohen, plus the loss of two aircraft, and a third aircraft was damaged. Although the IAF’s bombing and strafing attack did only limited damage to the Egyptian Forces, the revelation that Israel could now field real fighter aircraft came as a great shock to the Egyptians. This daytime attack was followed-up by a night bombing attack by a C-46 aircraft, and by light aircraft of the Tel Aviv squadron, and the Egyptian column never advanced any further into Israel.
Early the next morning Ezer Weizman and Milton Rubenfeld in their S-199s attacked an Iraqi column which was advancing towards Kfar Yona, just west of Tulkarm. In this battle, Rubenfeld landed hits on an attacking enemy aircraft, but his own aircraft was badly hit and he baled-out over the sea near Kfar Vitkin, whose residents assumed that he was an enemy pilot and fired at him as he descended in his parachute. Fortunately they missed hitting him, and in order to identify himself as a Jew, Rubenfeld ran towards the advancing Moshavniks with his hands raised above his head, and as he knew no Hebrew at all he kept yelling “Shabbes, Gefilte Fish”, “Shabbes, Gefilte Fish”. Having established his identity as a Jew, the Moshavniks took Rubenfeld to hospital in Netanya. His aircraft which had crashed into the sea was a total write-off. To celebrate Rubenfeld’s rescue, the squadron had a drinking party in the Yarden Hotel in Tel Aviv, and on his way back to the base Ezer Weizman fell off his motor cycle and broke his left hand. Two days after this episode Rubenfeld left the squadron, and so with Eddie Cohen having been killed in action and Ezer out of action with a broken hand, 101 Squadron was left with only two operational pilots – Modi Alon and Lou Lenart, and with only one serviceable S-199.
On 3rd June, Modi Alon was on a twilight patrol over Tel Aviv. He spotted a formation of four Egyptian aircraft approaching the city – two Spitfires escorting two Dakota C-47s. Alon swung out to sea to get the sun behind him and then swept in on the bombers. The Spitfire escort fled, and the citizens of Tel Aviv were able to watch as Alon made two passes and scored hits on both bombers - one bomber crashed into the sand dunes south of Bat Yam, and the second bomber crashed just south of Tel Nof Airfield. Tel Aviv was ecstatic. The country now felt that it had a real Air Force. Egyptian bombers never attacked Tel Aviv again, although Spitfires continued to harass the city.
In the succeeding months additional pilots completed their conversion course on to the S-199 in Czechoslovakia, and additional aircraft had also been inducted into the Squadron, and the time had come for a squadron logo.
Winged SkullTwo U.S. pilots, Stan Andrews and Bob Vickman, both of whom had been art students in Los Angeles, designed 101 Squadron’s famous logo, the “Winged Skull in a Flight Helmet”.
AIRCREW AND GROUND CREW PERSONNEL
As the war progressed the IAF was expanding its capabilities. Many more qualified volunteer aircrews kept arriving from abroad, and there was a steady intake of additional S-199 combat aircraft. Over the period of the war from 15th May 1948 to the cease-fire on 7th January 1949 (Israel’s longest war), a total of 607 flying personnel served in the IAF and in Air Transport Command (ATC). It must be noted that not all the flyers served at the same time. Some joined the IAF as late as October and November 1948, and many Machalniks who had flying qualifications were assigned to important ground duty functions.
The flying crews included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, air-gunners, radio operators, flight engineers, aerial photographers, and “bomb-chuckers”, and the countries from which they came were as follows:
Israel 181 (see note 3)
South Africa 80
Not Determined 12
Total Number 607
1. The total number of 607 flying crews was made up as follows:
Machal fliers from 16 countries with World War II
combat experience 426
* Israel fliers without World War II combat experience 181
2. The total number of Machal fliers included 92 non-Jewish aircrew, representing 21.6% of the foreign volunteers.
3. The number of 181 Israeli flying personnel was made-up as follows:
(a) 22 Israeli pilots got their wings in the Royal Air Force (RAF), but as the British did not encourage Palestinian Jews to become pilots, their training started only in 1943 and later, and as the war against Germany terminated in May 1945, very few of these pilots had combat experience.
(b) 69 other Israeli pilots had their training and flying experience only on light civil aircraft.
(c) Then there were 78 Israeli “bomb-chuckers” who had no flying training. As many aircraft had not been not fitted with bomb-racks, the bomb-chuckers had to throw the bombs out manually onto the targets.
4. Modi Alon, Ezer Weizman, and Alexander (Sandy) Jacobs, were the most experienced Israeli pilots. It will also be noted that by far the largest number of volunteer aircrews came from the Anglo-Saxon countries. In fact, English was the “Air Force Language” until September 1950.
5. Full credit and recognition must be given to the outstanding work done by the ground crews. Whilst the majority of the experienced ground crews were Machalniks from abroad, there were a number of excellent Israeli mechanics who had served in the Royal Air Force in World War II. Yosef Leshem and Joe Schmeltz were crucial key-men who constructed the IAF’s first two Spitfires out of scrap. Harry Axelrod, an American Machalnik and a highly experienced technician was the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at Ramat David air base. Tev Zimmerman, Chaim Grevler, Abe Nurick, Louis Taitz, and Leo Schneider and others were outstanding South African mechanics.
6. When the Avia S-199s arrived in Israel from Czechoslovakia in crates, the planes were re-assembled by Czech mechanics who also trained the Israeli ground crews including Shabtai Katz, who was an outstanding mechanic. In a workshop at Sarona, Israeli and Machal technicians succeeded in assembling the IAF’s first Spitfire which was built from junk abandoned by the Royal Air Force when the British Forces were evacuated from Palestine. Other parts and components were salvaged from the Royal Egyptian Spitfire which had been shot down in the attack on Sde Dov airfield on 15th May. Other parts were salvaged from 4 Royal Egyptian Spitfires which had been shot down by the RAF when the Egyptians mistakenly attacked Ramat David air base whilst it was still occupied by the British. The first reconstructed Spitfire was successfully test-flown by Boris Senior in July 1948 and inducted into 101 Squadron. A second Spitfire was also rebuilt out of junk and salvaged parts. A mechanic, Sachol Zakai succeeded in assembling a working engine out of scrap for the second Spitfire which became operational in October 1948.
With the passage of time, dynamic changes in the IAF’s inventory of planes were taking place. On 12th June 1948, three B-17s (Flying Fortresses) were smuggled out of the U.S., flying from Miami to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The B-17 was a famous and iconic high-altitude heavy bomber which became well known especially in attacks against German targets in Europe. After filing flight plans for Brazil, the three B-17s left for the Portuguese Azore Islands off the west coast of Africa. From there they flew on to Zatec in Czechoslovakia, refueling in Corsica (Ajaccio) in the Mediterranean Sea. Under pressure from the U.S. Government the fourth B-17 flown by Swifty Schindler via USA and Canada, was impounded by the Portuguese Authorities in the Azores, and the airplane never made it to Czechoslovakia or to Israel.
At Zatec in Czechoslovakia the B-17s were fitted with bomb racks and guns and bombed-up for action. It was decided that on the flight from Czechoslovakia to Israel on 14th July the B-17s would carry out attacks on three targets in Egypt – the Royal Palace in Cairo, the Egyptian airbase at El-Arish, and Gaza. Cairo was bombed, but due to difficulties in locating the El-Arish and Gaza targets, the other two aircraft bombed Rafah. The arrival of the three B-17s in Israel on 15th July gave the IAF a tremendously enhanced attack capability. The new aircraft were assigned to the newly-formed 69 Squadron and were known as “Hapatishim” (“The Hammers”), and based at Ramat David Air Force base. On 16th July, their first day in Israel, the new bombers went into action, and in the military operations of “Yoav” and “Horev” each aircraft flew up to three sorties per day. The night attack on Cairo by just one B-17 caused tremendous panic and thousands of Cairenes left the city. The IAF had now acquired quite a significant attacking capability.
In July 1948, two ex-South African Air Force officers, Cecil Margo and Trevor Sussman, were invited by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion to do an inspection/investigation of the Israel Air Force and to submit their recommendations to him. Lt.-Col. Cecil Margo DSO and DFC, enjoyed a tremendous reputation as an experienced, skillful, and courageous bomber pilot and combat leader with an outstanding record in the South African Air Force (SAAF). In World War II Margo had flown about 150 operational sorties, in which he personally led most of the bomber formations.
Margo was given carte blanche to inspect and to interview, and to come up with his analysis and recommendations in regard to the IAF. In brief, Margo concluded that despite the IAF’s relative successes within the context of its very limited resources, there was a grave lack of organization in the Air Force. He presented a very sophisticated and professional program for improvement and reconstruction. He covered personnel, equipment, air fields, armaments, maintenance, training, logistics, tele-communications, intelligence, radar, navigational aids, budgets, etc. etc. Inter alia, he appointed Dov Judah who had served under him in the South African Air Force as Director of Operations, and Smoky Simon (also ex South African Air Force) as Chief of Air Operations.
Margo based his recommendations on a wealth of experience that he had acquired as a senior officer in the South Africa Air Force in World War II. In Smoky Simon’s opinion, although Margo’s concepts were most impressive, several recommendations were operationally unrealistic in terms of the IAF’s resources – paucity of fighter and bomber aircraft, armaments, equipment, spare parts, etc., due mainly to the U.N. embargo on arms exports to the Middle East. Parts of Margo’s plan were implemented, and whilst Ben-Gurion accepted the overall program in principle, it was found not to be practical in terms of overall budgets and other pressing priorities. Margo declined to accept Ben-Gurion’s invitation to take command of the Israel Air Force, and it could be said that he left Israel as a rather discouraged man. However, on his return to South Africa Margo continued to support the training of Jewish pilots for future service in the IAF. (At the time of Margo’s visit to Israel, he was a very successful barrister at the Johannesburg Bar, and was subsequently appointed as a judge of the Transvaal Supreme Court).
As mentioned previously, the acquisition of aircraft and spare parts was an ongoing process. Following World War II, the USA became a huge storehouse of surplus aircraft. However, in March 1948 President Truman issued a directive that as from 15th April 1948 all exports of aircraft and aircraft parts from the U.S. would have to be cleared by the State Department. Prior to that directive there was no difficulty in purchasing large transport aircraft and flying them out of the USA, and so in order to overcome President Truman’s directive, the parties involved in acquiring aircraft for the future IAF established bogus airline companies such as SA Service Airways in the USA, and LAPSA (Lineas Aereas de Panama) in Panama. Fortunately, a number of Central as well as South American and European countries were sympathetic towards Israel, and allowed these airlines to use their airfields – Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. In all, eleven Curtiss C-46 Commandos, two Douglas C-54s, and one Constellation were flown out of the US. With the help of volunteer aircrews, Yehuda Arazi and Al Schwimmer, who were responsible for acquiring the aircraft succeeded in having the planes flown to Israel via circuitous routes, but at great risk to the crews. Amongst the early pioneers who started flying these aircraft in March 1948 were pilot Leo Gardner with navigator Irwin “Steve” Schwartz and a non-Jewish wireless operator Eddy Styrack; Sam Lewis flew a Constellation, Arnold Ilowite and Canadian wireless operator Jack Goldstein flew a C-46; “Swifty” Schindler (owner of Service Airlines), Sam Lewis, William Cohen, and others flew five C-46s out of Burbank to Mexico City to escape the 15th April export deadline. On 21st April 1948, William Gerson and his flight engineer Ernest “Glen” King were killed when one engine failed in an overloaded C-46 Commando plane which crashed on take-off from Mexico City. Gerson and King were the first Air Force Machalniks to be killed in the course of duty.
OPERATIONS VELVETTA I AND VELVETTA II (Spitfires over Israel)
Following the purchase of the Avia S-199s from the Czechs, 50 Spitfires at a cost of $23,000 per aircraft were also subsequently purchased from the Czechs. Velvetta I and Velvetta II were the names of the two operations related to ferrying the Spitfires from Czechoslovakia to Israel in September and December 1948. Due to British intervention, the air bridge from Czechoslovakia to Israel was stopped in August 1948, which meant that the only possible solution was to fly the Spitfires from Czechoslovakia to Israel. To accomplish this daunting task it was necessary to find a stop-over in Europe for refueling purposes. Fortunately, landing rights for refueling were arranged with Yugoslavia at Niksic airfield. But the more daunting element was the five-and-a-half to six hours flight from Yugoslavia to Israel, considering that the Spitfire had an average fuel range of one-and-a-half to two hours. This is where the ingenuity of Sam Pomerance, an American pilot/engineer, came into the picture. The Spitfires were stripped of their guns, cannons, armor plating, oxygen cylinders, cameras, and radios, and then fitted with additional fuel tanks under the belly and wings of the airplane and behind the pilot in the plane, which increased the fuel capacity from 85 to 379 gallons (600 liters). Sam’s team consisted of himself, Jack Cohen who test-flew the aircraft, and mechanics Bob Dawn, Norman Novak, and Czech ground crews.
Under Velvetta I only three of the six Spitfires which left Czechoslovakia on 24th September reached Israel. One Spitfire had crashed on landing in Yugoslavia, and then due to fuel system problems on the flight to Israel, two pilots were forced to land on the Greek island of Rhodes. The two pilots, Boris Senior and Modi Alon, were arrested as suspected communist sympathizers. They were imprisoned and released after two weeks, but the two Spitfires were impounded by the Greeks.
By mid-December 1948 additional Spitfires were ready for delivery. The first flight of six Spitfires which left for Yugoslavia had to return to base due to a very severe snow storm. Two Spitfires were lost in the storm. Sam Pomerance, who had orchestrated the Velvetta operations was killed when he flew into a mountain in the severe storm, and the second Spitfire which was piloted by Bill Pomerantz landed on a beach in Yugoslavia. Subsequently, in four Velvetta II flights on 19th, 20th, 23rd, and 26th December, 22 Spitfires reached Israel. Each formation was led by a C-46 “mother ship” which did the navigation and monitored the flights as the Spitfires had been stripped of their radios. A second C-46 was equipped with air-sea-rescue dinghies in case one or more of the pilots had to ditch their aircraft whilst flying over the sea. As an extra precaution an Israeli naval vessel patrolled the route, and as the formations neared the coast of Israel IAF fighters were on standby to protect the unarmed formation+ in case of intervention by the Egyptian Air Force.
With this significant reinforcement of combat aircraft, the IAF very quickly established air superiority over the battle zones, which was of pivotal importance in “Operation Horev” - the IDF’s final thrust to expel the Egyptian forces out of the Negev and back into the Sinai.
ACQUISITION OF AIRCRAFT
Acquisition of the Auster Aircraft
In January 1948, 21 single-engine lightweight Auster planes were purchased from the British. The aircraft were surplus Royal Air Force planes which were in very poor condition. They were bought for the “Aviron” Flying School. Alex Ziloni, who had been an engineer in the RAF during World War II negotiated the deal. A number of these aircraft were cannibalized as a source for spare parts. When the Foreign Office in London heard of the sale of the aircraft there was an immediate and very angry reaction. Whilst Britain had imposed an embargo on the shipment of planes and equipment to Palestine, it continued to supply armored cars, machine guns, artillery, fighter planes, anti-tank guns and anti-tank shells to Egypt, Iraq, and Trans-Jordan in preparation for the conflict to come. Britain also maintained the 7,000 strong Trans-Jordanian Army which was led by British officers.
The light plane Austers were deployed in No. 1 Squadron at Sde Dov airfield; in No. 2 Squadron (Galil) based at Yavniel; and in No. 3 Squadron (Negev) based at Dorot. These small aircraft did a great job. Manned by a pilot and bomb-chucker, they were used for bombing the enemy with small bombs dropped onto the targets manually; for aerial reconnaissance; communications; for transporting food and medicine; and for transporting sick and wounded personnel.
Acquisition of the Avia S-199s: Israel’s First Combat Aircraft (IAF - Avia S199)
Acquisition of the C-46 Transport Aircraft (The Flights of the C-46s and B-17s from the United States to Czechoslovakia)
Acquisition of the B-17 Bombers (The Flights of the C-46s and B-17s from the United States to Czechoslovakia)
Acquisition of the Spitfire Combat Aircraft (Spitfires over Israel)
Acquisition of Bristol Beaufighter Bombers (link to the article on The Acquisition of Planes)
With the help of Freddy Fredkens, Emanuel Tzur (a top-level Haganah operator), purchased seven Bristol Beaufighter fighter-bomber aircraft in scrap condition for £1,500 each. On 1st August 1948, under the ruse of making a movie on the role of New Zealand Beaufighter pilots and planes in World War II, four Beaufighters took off from an airfield in England ostensibly to do several fly-pasts for the cameras, but the aircraft were next seen refueling in Ajaccio, Corsica. Unfortunately, on the day prior to the take-off of the Beaufighters on 1st August, one Beaufighter had crashed whilst being test-flown, and the pilot (Julian Verschoyle-Campbell) was killed. As a result of the enquiry into the accident, the remaining two Beaufighters were impounded in England. As the four Beaufighters lacked armaments and spare parts, these items were surreptitiously flown to Israel in a Halifax bomber which had been converted as a civilian cargo carrier. On landing at Sde Dov airfield the Halifax crashed, and although the aircraft was a write-off, the crew members were unscathed and the cargo was recovered. The Beaufighters were assigned to 103 Squadron based at Ramat David, and the first commanding officer of the Squadron was Jimmy Blackwood (non-Jewish).
On 20th October, in a low-level bombing attack on the strategic Egyptian-held fortress of Iraq-El-Suweidan, one of the Beaufighters was shot down, killing Len Fitchett, Dov Sugarman, and Stanley Andrews.
Acquisition of a Mosquito Fighter Bomber (link to the article on The Acquisiton of Planes)
On 7th July 1948, Emanuel Tzur was also able to purchase a Mosquito aircraft for £4,500. After taking-off for Israel, the pilot John Harvey was forced to abort his flight due to a serious fuel leak, and on landing back in the UK the plane was grounded and Harvey was placed under arrest, but due to Tzur’s intervention, Harvey and the plane were released. On route to Israel Harvey landed at Ajaccio in Corsica, and once again the British tried to catch up with him but were unsuccessful. To add to Harvey’s gripping experiences, upon arrival at Haifa Airport he was fired upon by ack-ack guns as his arrival had not been notified to the airport, but happily he managed to evade the ground fire. The Mosquito also entered service with 103 Squadron at Ramat David.
Acquisition of the Noordyn Norseman Aircraft (link to the article on The Acquisiton of Planes)
Freddy Fredkens a Machalnik from the Belgian Congo who had served in the RAF in World War II, acquired 20 Norseman aircraft in Germany. These aircraft had been used extensively and successfully for transportation work during World War II, and were particularly useful for supplying kibbutzim which had been entirely cut-off by the Egyptian Army. On 20th May, top Canadian World War II fighter ace George “Buzz” Beurling, together with a well-known ex-RAF pilot Leonard Cohen, were killed while test-flying one of the Norsemans in Rome in preparation for ferrying the aircraft to Israel. Three Norsemans on their flight from Rome to Israel ran out of fuel in adverse weather conditions and had to force-land in Sinai, and the five crew members were taken prisoners-of-war. Six other Norseman aircraft reached Israel successfully. On 10th May, on a mission to bomb Beit Machsir, a Norseman piloted by Yariv Sheinbaum (an Israeli pilot) crashed into the side of a hill killing the two crewmen and three bomb-chuckers. Due to the intervention of the U.S. Government, all further deliveries of Norsemans from Germany were stopped. Thus, only 5 out of twenty of those aircraft became ultimately operational in No. 35 Flight, based at Ekron (Tel Nof Air Base).
Acquisition of AT-6 Harvard Aircraft
The AT-6 Harvard was a well-known training aircraft used extensively by the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was a single-engine monoplane, built for a crew of two. In the summer of 1948 a batch of Harvards had been bought by an Ontario scrap dealer. With the invaluable help of Alex Skelton, a senior employee in the Department of Trade and Commerce in Canada, a scheme was devised for the export of these aircraft to Israel. Alex Skelton, a non-Jew, had a close personal relationship with two Zionists – Moe Appel and Sam Zacks. Alex conceived an ingenious idea of shipping disassembled Harvard planes in crates to a fictitious “Tel Aviv Spring Fair”, and an export license was obtained. In Israel the planes were re-assembled, equipped with bomb racks, and used as dive-bombers in 35 Flight based at Tel Nof. The first commander of the Squadron was Phil Marmelstein, followed by Ted Gibson, son of a Southern Baptist Minister.
Acquisition of Avro Anson Aircraft
In a further acquisition, Emanuel Tzur purchased 5 Avro Ansons in Europe. Unfortunately, because of pressure from the British Consul in Greece all five aircraft remained impounded in Greece – two of the aircraft were held in Athens and three on Rhodes Island. The Ansons were released only in January 1949 after the final cease-fire in the War of Independence came into force.
OPERATIONAL STRUCTURE OF THE IAF
AS AT 29TH OCTOBER 1948 (A REPRESENTATIVE DATE)
Remez, Aharon (Israel) - Chief of Air Force
Shamir (Schechtman), Hyman (Israel) - Deputy Chief of Air Force
Ben-Zvi (Baron), Dov (Britain) - O.C. Ramat David Base
Boneh, Binyamin (Israel) - O.C. Tel Nof (Ekron Base)
Cohen, Sydney (South Africa) - O.C. Chatzor (Qastina Base)
Kropinsky (Keren), Yosef (Israel) - O.C. Sde Dov Base
Moster, Ralph (Canada) - O.C. Dorot Base
Ra’anan (Reisman),Joseph (Joe), (Israel) - O.C. Haifa Base
Department of Operations
Judah, David (Dov) (South Africa) - Director of Operations
Simon, Harold (Smoky) (South Africa) - Chief of Air Operations
Cohen, Nat (USA) - Chief of Intelligence
No. 1 Squadron
Commanding Officer Zvi Treuherz. Squadron based at Sde Dov airfield, Tel Aviv.
Communications, Transport, Bombing, Reconnaissance, Ambulance Missions.
At peak strength the squadron had 22 light and medium aircraft – Austers, Piper Cubs, Norsemans, Bonanzas, Miles Aerovan, Dragon Rapides. In early 1949, No. 1 Squadron absorbed the Negev and Galil Squadrons and became No. 100 Squadron.
No. 2 “Negev” Squadron
Commanding Officer Ralph Moster.
Squadron started off with two Austers at isolated Kibbutz Nir-Am in the Negev. Moved to Dorot and acquired several Piper Cubs. Its bombing and reconnaissance missions contributed substantially to the success of “Operation Yoav” in October. Integrated into No. 1 Squadron in 1949, which became No. 100 Squadron.
No. 3 “Galil” Squadron
Commanding Officer Nachum Rapaport. Squadron based at Yavniel, with 7 Austers and Piper Cubs. Communications, light transport, bombing missions, and reconnaissance. Very active in “Operation Hiram” which routed Kaujki’s Arab Liberation Army from the Galilee. In early 1949 integrated into No. 1 Squadron which became No. 100 Squadron.
Commanding Officer Ted Gibson.
Squadron based at Ekron (Tel Nof). Started as a transport squadron with 5 Norseman aircraft, airlifting supplies mainly to Sdom (1200 feet below sea level). Also used for bombing in “Operation Yoav”. A sub-unit was formed in late November with 8 North American AT-6 Harvards manned by 8 Machal pilots experienced in dive-bombing. Very active in “Operation Horev”.
No. 69 Squadron (“The Hammers”)
Commanding Officer Bill Katz.
A heavy bomber squadron formed in July 1948 with three B-17 Flying Fortresses smuggled out of the USA and flown to Zatec, Czechoslovakia. On 15th July, the B-17s on their ferry flight to Israel bombed Cairo and Rafah. Based at Ramat David the squadron was very active in all ensuing campaigns. 69 Squadron was the only IAF squadron made up exclusively of dedicated bombers.
101 Squadron (See links to “The Role of the Avia S-199, Israel’s First Combat Aircraft” and “Spitfires over Israel”
Commanding Officer Sydney Cohen.
Israel’s first dedicated fighter squadron. Started operating from Ekron (Tel Nof) with its first four Avia S-199s (the Czech version of the Me-109), which were airlifted in crates from Czechoslovakia by Air Transport Command and re-assembled in Israel. With additional S-199s and reinforced with Spitfires, 101 Squadron achieved air superiority over the much larger and better equipped air forces of Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. In its first operational action on 29th May, four S-199s stopped the massive Egyptian Army which had advanced up to Isdud (Ashdod), about 30 kilometers from Tel Aviv. Subsequently, 101 Squadron acquired 2 P-51 Mustangs, one of which piloted by Wayne Peake shot down a Royal Air Force Mosquito spy plane which had regularly been photographing IAF bases. The squadron moved from Tel Nof to Herzlia, and then to Chatzor, so as to be close to the battlefront in “Operation Horev”, in the successful final push to expel the Egyptian Forces from the Negev. 101 Squadron’s pilots scored significant air-to-air victories over the Royal Egyptian Air Force and Britain’s Royal Air Force.
Commanding Officer Danny Rosin.
The squadron was formed in June 1948 at Ramat David with three C-47 Dakotas which were used for transport as well as for bombing missions. The squadron airlifted supplies nightly to Negev settlements which were cut-off by the Egyptian forces, having to land on makeshift airstrips. Later, two Mosquitos were acquired, one of which was used for photo reconnaissance and the second for spare parts. Subsequently, the squadron acquired a Lockheed Lodestar and four Bristol Beaufighters. During “Operation Yoav” the squadron lost six flyers and two airplanes – a Beaufighter and a C-47. The transport and bomber planes were operated as two separate units within the squadron.
ATC and 106 Squadron
Commanding Officer Munya Mardor (non-flying).
106 Squadron was a successor to Air Transport Command (ATC). Based at Tel Nof (Ekron) with seven C-46 Commandos and two Douglas C-54 Skymasters, ATC operated the crucially important air-bridge between Israel and Czechoslovakia. In December 1948, 106 Squadron was formed with five C-46 Commandos. In March 1949, the Squadron played a crucial role in “Operation Fact”, airlifting troops and supplies to Sde Avraham, a makeshift airfield north of Eilat. The squadron was disbanded in May 1949, and its aircraft and crews were transferred to 103 Squadron.
During the War of Independence, pilots were being trained at Urbe in Italy; at St. Jean in Israel; in Czechoslovakia, and in South Africa. About 12 IAF pilots supervised the flying instructors. 13 aircrew personnel – pilots, navigators, radio operators and flight engineers were responsible for ground school instruction.
The Aerial Photography Unit
Commanding Officer Lee Goodwin.
As at 29th October 1948, there were 7 qualified aerial photographers in the IAF.
5 aircrew personnel served as flying controllers.
Aircrew Personnel in Other Ground Units
About 40 aircrew personnel served in various ground units, including planning, administration, signals, engineering, navigation, research, intelligence, etc.
Women Flyers in the War of Independence
There were two women pilots. Zahara Levitov who flew in No. 1 Squadron was killed in the course of duty. The second woman pilot was Sara Makleff (nee Guberman), who also flew in No. 1 Squadron.
IAF Prisoners-of-War in Egypt on 29th October, 1948
Name Trade Country of Origin
Curtiss, Hugh Navigator Britain
Fine, Robert Daniel Pilot U.S.A.
Goldberg, Monty Aerial Photographer South Africa
Makleff, Paltiel Pilot Israel
Malpine, William Pilot U.S.A.
Trop, Al Pilot U.S.A.
Wijnberg, Victor A. Pilot Holland
IAF Aircrew Personnel Killed or Missing – “Their Last Mission”
Trade Country Date in 1948 Aircraft
Pilot Israel October 16 Avia S-199
Pilot USA October 20 Beaufighter
Pilot Israel July 7 Auster
Beurling, George Frederick
Pilot Canada May 20 Norseman
Bloch, Lionel Morris
Pilot So Africa July 10 Avia S-199
Boyd, Spencer Andrew Pilot USA July 19 Aerovan
Bukstein, Daniel Pilot Israel May 10 Norseman
Canter, Wilfred Pilot Canada October 25 C-47
Cohen, Edward Solomon
Pilot So Africa May 29 Avia S-199
Pilot Britain May 20 Norseman
Radio Operator Israel May 10 Norseman
Fisher, William "Willy"
Navigator Canada October 25 C-47
Pilot Canada October 20 Beaufighter
Pilot USA April 21 C-46
Holton, Oliver Garfield
Pilot USA December 7 Widgeon
King, Ernest "Glen"
Flight Engineer USA April 21 C-46
Pilot Israel August 3 Auster
Flight Engineer USA December 7 Widgeon
Lightman, Leon Radio Operator Britain October 25 C-47
Pilot Canada December 7 Widgeon
Pilot USA December 19 Spitfire
Rosenbaum, Moses Aaron
Navigator USA May 23 C-46
Rothman, Yacov Radio Operator USA December 31 Not Recorded
Rothstein, Emanuel Pilot Israel August 3 Auster
Rothstein, Shlomo Bomb Chucker Israel May 10 Norseman
Shakelnowitz, Itschak Bomb Chucker Israel May 10 Norseman
Sheinbaum, Yariv Pilot Israel May 10 Norseman
Sprinzak, David Pilot Israel June 4 Fairchild
Bomb Chucker Israel May 10 Norseman
Stein, Benjamin Flight Engineer USA June 6 Fairchild
Stevenson, Fred Pilot Canada October 25 C-47
Navigator Britain October 20 Beaufighter
Sukenik, Matitiyahu Pilot Israel June 4 Fairchild
Tannenbaum, Israel Bomb Chucker Israel June 6 Fairchild
Troyen, Leonard Flight Engineer USA July 19 Not Recorded
Vickman, Robert Lester Pilot USA July 9 Avia S-199
Zivel, Zvi Pilot Pilot Israel December 282 Piper
INTERESTING DATES IN THE ISRAEL AIR FORCE’S CALENDAR
31ST MARCH, 1948
A C-46 cargo plane of Air Transport Command (ATC) made the first flight from Zatec in Czechoslovakia to Aqir (Tel Nof) in Israel. The C-46 which transported weaponry and diverse military material was the first aircraft to fly in “Operation Balak”. This “Air Bridge” between Zatec and Aqir was of vital importance as it was the only channel of transportation between Israel and the outside world. Due to pressure from the United States and Britain the Air Bridge was terminated in August 1948.
Israel purchased its first combat aircraft for the IAF – 25 Avia S-199s from Czechoslovakia. The aircraft were dissembled and packed into crates which were flown in C-46s and Skymasters from Czechoslovakia to Israel.
14TH MAY, 1948
On the same afternoon as Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was proclaiming the establishment of the State of Israel, the Israel Air Force flew its first operational mission over Jordan on a reconnaissance to observe the invading Jordanian Army. The flight was in a Bonanza piloted by Boris Senior, Smoky Simon as navigator, and Shmulik Videlis as photographer.
15TH MAY, 1948
In a low-level attack on Sde Dov airbase (Tel Aviv), the first Royal Egyptian Air Force Spitfire was shot down by a Machalnik Sam Rose manning a 20 mm machine-gun. The aircraft crashed on Herzlia Beach. The pilot was taken as a prisoner-of-war and parts of the aircraft were used for constructing the IAF’s first Spitfire.
29TH MAY, 1948
A formation of four Avia S-199 aircraft (the Czech version of the German Me-109) led by Lou Lenart, together with Modi Alon, Ezer Weizman and Eddie Cohen, attacked and stopped the Egyptian Army which had already advanced up to Isdud (Ashdod), 30 kilometres south of Tel Aviv. Eddie Cohen’s aircraft was hit by ground fire and crashed, and Eddie was killed.
30TH MAY, 1948
Milton Rubenfeld and Ezer Weizman attacked an Iraqi column which was approaching Kfar Yona. Rubenfeld’s aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and started to smoke. He flew out to sea close to the shore in order to bale out. Moshavniks from Kfar Vitkin who assumed that he was an enemy pilot fired at him, and in order to identify himself as a Jew, he ran towards them with his hands raised above his head and as he didn’t know any Hebrew he kept yelling, “Shabbes, Gefilte Fish; Shabbes, Gefilte Fish”.
1ST JUNE, 1948
The Israel Air Force’s first attack on an Arab capital, on Amman in Jordan. It was a night attack in a Bonanza led by Boris Senior, together with a Dragon Rapide and a Fairchild.
3RD JUNE, 1948
Three small aircraft, a Bonanza piloted by Boris Senior, together with a Rapide and a Fairchild, attacked three Egyptian ships led by the Amir Fauzia on their way to attack Tel Aviv. On being attacked by the aircraft the ships turned back, but the Fairchild was shot down and Moti Sukenik and David Sprinzak were killed.
3RD JUNE, 1948
Whilst on a twilight patrol over Tel Aviv, Modi Alon in an S-199 spotted two Egyptian Spitfires escorting two C-47 bombers on their way to attack Tel Aviv. When Modi attacked the formation the Spitfire escort fled and Modi shot down the two bombers. Tel Aviv was of course ecstatic.
8TH JUNE, 1948
Whilst on patrol in S-199s, Modi Alon and Giddy Lichtman (on his first flight in Israel) met four Royal Egyptian Air Force Spitfires. Giddy shot one down. The other three got away and bombed Tel Aviv.
10TH JUNE, 1948
In a night attack on Damascus in a DC-3 Dakota with Captain Cyril Katz and Smoky Simon as navigator, 16 x 80 kg bombs and incendiaries were dropped on the city. Next day all the foreigners left Damascus.
9TH JULY, 1948
Bob Vickman an American Machalnik attacked the El Arish airbase In an S-199. Unfortunately, Bob seems to have suffered the same fate as Lionel Bloch by shooting and damaging the propeller of his aircraft which caused him to crash, and he was killed.
10TH JULY, 1948
In an air battle over Mishmar Hayarden which had been occupied by the Syrians, two Israeli S-199s fought a battle with two Syrian AT-6 Harvards. One Harvard was shot down by Maurice Mann, but Lionel Bloch appeared to have shot and damaged the propeller of his own aircraft when his guns went out of synchronization, causing his aircraft to crash and Lionel was killed.
15TH JULY, 1948
Three B-17s heavy bombers on their maiden flight from from Czechoslovakia to Israel attacked Cairo and Rafah in the Gaza Strip, each aircraft dropping 20 x 500 lb bombs. On the following day, thousands of Cairenes left the city.
18TH JULY, 1948
A B-17 captained by Norman Moonitz carried out the first daylight attack on an Arab capital – Damascus, attacking the town and a nearby airbase.
18TH JULY, 1948
On the last day of the 10-days of fighting between truces, (8th to 18th July), Modi Alon in an S-199 shot down an Egyptian Spitfire, which gave Modi his third kill against the Egyptian enemy.
23RD JULY, 1948
Boris Senior test-flew the first Spitfire which was built by the IAF out of junk left by the Royal Air Force when the British Forces were evacuated from Palestine. The aircraft was flown from the Herzlia air strip to the strip at Ma’abarot.
23RD SEPTEMBER, 1948
Giddy Lichtman on patrol in an S-199 intercepted an Arab Airways De Havilland DH-98 which was flying in Israeli air space. When the aircraft refused to comply with Giddy’s instruction to land, he shot it down and the aircraft crashed on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. All the passengers were killed.
27TH SEPTEMBER, 1948
Velvetta I – Out of six Spitfires which left Czechoslovakia on 24th September via Yugoslavia, only three aircraft arrived in Israel on 27th September and were immediately pressed into service in 101 Squadron. One Spitfire had been damaged on landing in Yugoslavia, and two Spitfires had to force-land on the Island of Rhodes due to fuel system problems. The two pilots, Boris Senior and Modi Alon were under arrest for a few weeks and the Spitfires were impounded. (Link “Spitfires over Israel”).
15TH OCTOBER, 1948
“Operation Yoav” (also known as “Operation Ten Plagues”) started on 15th October. Three 101 pilots - Rudi Augarten, Syd Cohen and Jack Cohen in Spitfires carried out a very successful attack on the El Arish airbase having destroyed several Egyptian aircraft on the ground and in their hangars, and putting the airfield out of action. An excellent example of a low-flying attack.
On the same date, a Beaufighter of 103 Squadron attacked the strategic Egyptian Fortress of Iraq-el-Suweidan. On its second low level run the Beaufighter was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Len Fitchett, Stan Andrews, and Dov Sugarman were killed.
16TH OCTOBER, 1948
On returning to base from an attack on Egyptian ground forces, Modi Alon in his S-199 had a problem getting his right wheel down in order to land. In his effort to get the wheel down Modi maneuvered his aircraft violently, as a result of which it appears that he was overcome by glycol fumes and his aircraft crashed. Modi’s 3-months pregnant wife witnessed this tragedy. Sydney Cohen was appointed C.O. of 101 Squadron as Modi’s successor.
16TH OCTOBER, 1948
Rudy Augarten in an S-199 shot down an Egyptian Spitfire.
17TH OCTOBER, 1948
In an attack on Egyptian ground forces, Giddy Lichtman’s S-199 was damaged by anti aircraft fire. As Giddy was forced to jettison the canopy, hot oil flew into the cockpit and burned his face, but he managed to do a belly-landing at Tel Nof with his engine on fire.
21ST OCTOBER, 1948
Rudy Augarten in a Spitfire shot down an Egyptian Spitfire.
22ND OCTOBER, 1948
Escorting a B-17 bombing mission, Rudy Augarten and Giddy Lichtman flew the Avia S-199’s last operational sorties. In “Operation Yoav” Beersheba was captured on 21st October and Iraq-el-Suweidan fell on 10th November. Close air-to-ground co-operation between the Air Force and Army proved to be very effective in this operation.
28TH – 29TH OCTOBER , 1948
In “Operation Hiram” the Israeli Army with active air support routed Kaujki’s Arab Army of Liberation completely, and the entire Galilee was liberated.
4TH NOVEMBER, 1948
Rudy Augarten in a Spitfire and Boris Senior in a Mustang P51 jointly shot down an Egyptian C-47, and each pilot was credited with a “half-kill”.
17TH NOVEMBER, 1948
Whilst on a photo reconnaissance in a P-51 Mustang, Rudy Augarten challenged three Egyptian Spitfires and shot one of them down.
20TH NOVEMBER, 1948
Wayne Peake in a 101 Squadron P-51 Mustang shot down a Royal Air Force photo-reconnaissance Mosquito which had regularly been photographing Israel Air Force bases.
VELVETTA II: 18TH TO 26TH DECEMBER, 1948
Six Spitfires left Czechoslovakia en route to Yugoslavia but were forced to return because of a severe snow storm. Two Spitfires were lost. Sam Pomerance crashed into a mountain in the storm and was killed. Bill Pomerantz had to force-land on a beach.
As the weather improved, six Spitfires left Czechoslovakia on 19th December; six more on 20th December; four more on 23rd December, and six more on 26th December. The last two Spitfires which had been left in Czechoslovakia were disassembled and packed into crates and transported by C-46 Commandos to Israel. The entry of the new Spitfires rapidly ensured the IAF’s complete air supremacy over the battle zone.
(Link to “Spitfires over Israel”)
22ND DECEMBER, 1948
“Operation Horev” - Syd Cohen and Slick Goodwin escorted a flight of Harvard AT-6s about to attack Khan Yunis. On testing his S-199 guns, Slick shot and damaged two of his propeller blades and had to do an emergency landing.
22ND DECEMBER, 1948
Rudy Augarten in a Spitfire damaged a Macchi at El-Arish air base.
28TH DECEMBER, 1948
Jack Doyle and Gordon Levett flying Spitfires were escorting a formation of Harvards on a bombing mission on the Faluja pocket. The Israeli formation encountered two Egyptian Macchis and two Spitfires. Doyle shot down one Macchi and damaged one Spitfire. Levett hit the remaining Macchi and Spitfire but did not succeed in shooting them down.
30TH DECEMBER, 1948
Jack Doyle and John McElroy shot down two Macchis which were strafing IDF ground forces. One kill was awarded to each pilot.
31ST DECEMBER, 1948
A three-plane Spitfire formation piloted by Syd Cohen, Jack Cohen, and Denny Wilson, attacked Bir-Hama air strip. Syd Cohen and Jack Cohen destroyed two Macchis on the ground, and Wilson shot down a third Macchi in a brief air battle.
5TH JANUARY, 1949
Seymour Feldman in a Mustang and Boris Senior in a Spitfire engaged three Macchis one of which was shot down by Feldman. Boris damaged a second Macchi but didn’t bring it down.
7TH JANUARY, 1949
The final cease-fire of the war was due to go into effect at 2 p.m. on 7th January 1949. Four Royal Air Force Spitfires were dispatched to do a low-level armed reconnaissance over the Israeli lines on the battlefront. An IDF tank manned by a Machal crew shot down one of the Spitfires. Two IAF Spitfires which were on a patrol engaged the three other RAF Spitfires mistaking them for Egyptian planes. Canadian John McElroy shot down two Spitfires, and American Slick Goodwin shot down the fourth Spitfire. Later in the day, a patrol by Denny Wilson and Arnie Ruch encountered eight Egyptian Macchis. Wilson engaged five of the Egyptians fighters, and although his plane was damaged he successfully returned to Chatzor base. At about 1 p.m., a formation of four 101 Squadron Spitfires engaged a 19-strong British RAF formation consisting of 4 Spitfires and 15 Tempests, which had been dispatched from the Suez Canal zone to look for the four missing RAF Spitfires. In the aerial battle that developed, American Bill Schroeder shot down one of the RAF Tempests, and Ezer Weizman damaged a second Tempest but did not bring it down. Thus, five RAF aircraft were shot down on 7th January 1949 – the last day of fighting in the War of Independence.
DECISIVE AIR SUPERIORITY (The Israel Air Force – Spitfires over Israel)
Consequent to the induction of the Spitfires in late September and late December 1948, 101 Squadron established decisive air supremacy.
101 Squadron’s score card showed 24 enemy aircraft were shot down from the air – 16 Egyptian aircraft, 6 British, 1 Syrian, and 1 Jordanian. At least 5 aircraft were damaged – 4 Egyptian and 1 British. The breakdown of aircraft destroyed included 9 Spitfires, 8 Macchis, 3 C-47s, 1 Tempest, 1 Mosquito, 1 Harvard, and 1 Dragon Rapide. Several Egyptian aircraft were destroyed on the ground when the Egyptian air bases were attacked at El-Arish and El-Hama.
The top-scoring pilots were: John McElroy 4; Rudy Augarten 3.5; Modi Alon 3; Boris Senior 2.5; Jack Doyle 2; Gordon Levett 2, and 7 pilots had 1 kill each.
The hectic air activity which took place on 7th January 1949 in the clashes between the IAF and the Royal Air Force represented a grand finale to the role of the IAF in Israel’s War of Independence which ended on such a high, dramatic, and victorious note.