Airdrop of supplies to the beleaguered settlements
Most of the guerrilla operations which the Palestinian Arabs had initiated, following the UN’s resolution in favor of a partition of the country, had failed. Their place was now taken by the actions of the ‘Army of Salvation’, made up of volunteers from the Arab League member countries. The ‘Army of Salvation’ was involved in a series of hostile exchanges with the Jewish settlements in central and northern Eretz Yisrael, which necessitated the deployment of Sherut Ha’avir.
On March 16th 1948 an eight-man patrol from kibbutz Keshet was attacked. The other kibbutz members heard the gunfire from afar but were unable to assist them. Heavy rain slowed down the arrival of reinforcements on the scene. Of the eight men, only one survived. Three of the men who were called in as reinforcements were also killed, and nine wounded.
The next day, an RWD-13 was scrambled to help look for the missing men. The crewmen could not locate the MIAs, but spotted a concentration of 300 Arabs near ‘Ein Mahal. The pilots overflew the regional headquarters at Yavne’el and threw down a note reporting the Arab force’s existence, before returning to base.
On March 21st, a unit from the ‘Alexandroni’ Brigade raided the Arab village of Kakun in the Shomron (Samaria) area, south of kibbutz Hama’apil. A force from the ‘Army of Salvation’ gave chase to the unit, following it all the way to kibbutz Hama’apil, where it was trapped by fire from the kibbutz.
A Sherut Ha’avir plane was scrambled when reports of the battle came in. It flew over the area and spotted an Arab force headed towards Kakun. Inside the village itself there was a concentration of about 100 Arabs, some of whom shot at the plane but missed. The pilot, Daniel Buchstein, wrote down what he had seen on a piece of paper, stuck the note in a small bag of sand, and threw it down to the kibbutz’s defenders. Buchstein tossed similar reports down to kibbutz Giv’at Hayim and Netanya, and returned to kibbutz Hama’apil, where the members signaled him that the danger had not yet passed. He flew back towards Kakun and observed 150 Arabs in the village center. However, the men were not showing any sign of moving towards Hama’apil, and Buchstein flew back to Sde Dov.
Sherut Ha’avir’s planes also flew supplies to kibbutz Yehi’am, which was surrounded on all sides by Arab villages. On March 17th an Arab weapons convoy was destroyed near the entrance to Kiryat Motzkin. The Arabs retaliated by blocking the way to the western Galilee, and Yehi’am was completely cut off. On March 23rd equipment was airdropped to the kibbutz. On March 29th packages of food and penicillin were dropped from a Rapide plane, which carried out ten runs over the kibbutz in order to complete the mission.
Two other cut off settlements that were supplied by Sherut Ha’avir’s planes were ‘Atarot and Neveh Ya’akov, north of Jerusalem. ‘Atarot’s defenders used three white bedsheets to mark the drop point, and the first few packages fell just a few meters away from them. Some of the other packages fell further from the mark, landing on the roof of a shack. In another sortie, the pilot did not fly low enough and the packages fell apart when they hit the ground.
On March 11th packages of supplies, ammunition and food were dropped on Kfar Uriah, which had been cut off completely, along with nearby Hartuv. In the following days additional supply sorties were carried out, thus easing the plight of the settlements and helping them stand firm. When Hartuv was attacked on March 20th, an Auster – flown by Moddy Alon and Tzvi Ziebel – was sent to patrol the area. The pilots managed to make radio contact with the defenders, and relayed messages between them and the headquarters in Tel Aviv. The plane also gave them advance warning of the movement of large Arab forces in their direction.
Between March 20th and March 24th, 16 additional sorties were carried out for supplying Kfar Uriah and Hartuv with food, weapons and other equipment.