1948: The War of Independence

The Sherut Avir (Air Service) was organized under the aegis of the Haganah two weeks before the U.N. vote for partition in November, 1947. Starting with fewer than a dozen light airplanes, most of them borrowed from “Aviron”, the Jewish airline, Sherut Avir barely made a ripple in the swirling current of events. It did succeed, however, in accomplishing a number of missions: it maintained contact with besieged settlements, accompanied convoys and occasionally helped to beat back attacks. More importantly, it laid the foundation on which a real force could be built.

As independence – and the Arab invasion – drew near, an effort was made to acquire “real” aircraft and find the men to fly them. Dummy companies were set up on several continents to buy a wide variety of planes through incredible means. At the same time, a call went out which attracted a most unusual cadre of seasoned World War 11 pilots: Jews and Gentiles, idealists and adventurers, volunteers and mercenaries. Together, they created an Air Force with a unique flavor.

On May 14, 1948, Israel became a reality. The next day, Arab forces invaded by land and bombed Israeli cities by air at will. Against this desperate backdrop, the First Fighter Squadron was formed. On its two initial missions, it stopped an Egyptian advance and put an end to the bombing of Tel Aviv. Additional aircraft soon began to arrive. Spitfires and Mustangs provided real muscle. Harvards dive-bombed. B-17’s arrived via Czechoslovakia, bombing Egypt on their way to Israel. The IAF then brought the war to Arab cities. Gaza, El-Arish, Cairo, Amman and Damascus were now within reach.

When the southern settlements of the Negev were cut off, a makeshift airstrip was readied near Kibbutz Dorot, and Operation Avak (Dust) was born. The IAF helped regain control of the Negev in Operation Yoav. During Operation Horev, IAF pilots shot down five RAF planes in two dogfights on January 7, 1949. In all, 15 Egyptian and 2 Syrian planes were downed during the War of Independence. Yet the glory of aerial combat did not come cheaply: 31 fliers gave their lives during the war. Most fell from ground-fire, some to the dangers of flying machines of questionable airworthiness. Yet the bottom line was that Israel’s skies were now secure … and would remain so.