Article - War of Independence Aircrafts
War of Independence Aircraft: B-17 Flying Fortress, Spitfire, Dragon Rapide
The beginnings of defense aviation in Israel go back to the twenties. Former members of the Shomer organization sought a way to form an air force, but aviation only really got off the ground in the thirties, when Flying Clubs wre set up around the country and young men participated in flying courses.
In 1936, the Hagana, under the cover of the General Worker’s Union, set up the “Aviron” aviation company, which purchased airplanes and trained pilots.
In 1939, the first two pilot courses were conducted, one by Betar and Etzel at Lod airport and the other by “Aviron”, at Kibbutz Afikim in the Jordan Valley.
World War II led to a breakthrough. Dozens of volunteers from Eretz Israel were trained by the Allied air forces, as pilots and for several other aviation positions (some of these trainees were destined to become leaders in the Israel Air Force). The Palmah Aviation Department was set up at the same time.
On November 10, 1947, the Hagana headquarters decided to set up the Air Service. At that time there were 35 licensed pilots in Israel, with varied experience and about 12 light aircraft (only one was a dual engine, a Dragon Rapide).
During the early months of the war, Israel Air Force planes were busy transporting goods, delivering mail, maintaining contact with new and distant settlements in the Negev and Gush Etzion and conducting air reconnaissance, attack and bombing missions.
Light aircraft was also used in safeguarding convoys to Jerusalem. The light Auster planes, purchased as junk form the British and renovated, took on the majority of the missions.
The real change occurred when the regular Arab armies entered the war, after the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel (May 14, 1948). Tel Aviv and many settlements were attacked from the air, with no ability to defend themselves. During one of the attacks, on May 18, 1948, over forty civilians were killed and over one hundred injured, in an attack on the then central bus station in Tel Aviv.
During this time, attempts were being made abroad to purchase more sophisticated aircraft for the Air Force. Negotiations come to fruition in Czechoslovakia and a few dozen Messerschimitts were acquired. The aircraft began arriving towards the end of May 19948 and it was these aircraft that brought about the change – on May 29, the First Quartet (the only one at the time) of Messerschmits conducted its first air attack. They attacked the arrowhead of the Egyptians forces that had reached the Ashdod area (the “Ad Halom”, or “To This Point” bridge) and aided in stopping their movement towards Tel Aviv. One plane was downed in the attack and the pilot, an immigrant from South Africa, was killed.
On June 3, the first commander of the first fighter squadron downed two Egyptian Dakotas in an air battle in the Tel Aviv skies. The first Israeli air battle.
The most impressive flights of the War of Independence include the air attack on Arab capitals. Amman was attacked by three light aircraft, including the Dragon Rapide. Later Damascus and Cairo were attacked. Cairo was bombed on July 15, 1948 by a B-17 Flying Fortress plane, which had arrived in Israel from Czechoslovakia. This was one of the three heavy bomber planes clandestinely smuggled out of the United States.
The transportation planes were very active during the War of Independence. The arms so vital to the Nahshon Operation, to break through the road to Jerusalem, arrived in a direct nighttime flight from Czechoslovakia. This was followed by an airlift from Czechoslovia to Israel, bringing both aircraft and arms. The transport planes were able to maintain contact with the besieged Negev (Operation Dust).
In September 1948, following a long and dangerous flight, the first Spitfires, purchased in Czechoslovakia, arrived in Israel. These were employed in combat immediately. On January 7, 1949, the Israeli Spitfires succeeded in downing five British aircraft in air battles above Northern Sinai.
The Air Force commander at the start of the war was Israel Amir (May-July 1948). His place was taken by Aharon Remez, who was to command the force with his deputy Hayman Shamir for the remainder of the war. Dozens of airmen fell during the war, many of them volunteers from abroad.
The three planes depicted on the background of Israeli landscapes: B-17 Flying Fortress – the south of Israel, Spitfire – the central region of Israel, Dragon Rapide – the hills of Jerusalem. The first day cover shows an Auster over an isolated settlement.
The designer, Tuvia Kurz, born in Holon in 1947, has been working for several years as an illustrator and promotional and training film animator, as well as for children’s educational television programs. Kurz focuses on the technical and scientific, mainly in the fields f the military and nature.