The volunteers who established the Israel Air Force

David Ben-Gurion during War of Independence

Thousands of volunteers from abroad came to Israel during the War of Independence to fight for the new state

Date: 28/11/2011, 2:46 PM     Author: Tal Michael, IAF Website

Harold Simon, or “Smoky” as he has been known in the past seven decades, was born in South Africa in the 1920s.

“I was a normal child,” Harold, 91, said as he reminisced about the old days, the days before he was “Smoky”. Harold has many stories to tell, the battle legacies of hundreds of motivated and adventurous young people who came to Israel during the time around the establishment of the state in 1948. These volunteers from abroad were known as “Mahalnikim”. None thought that in the future they would become known in the history books as among the founders of the Israel Defense Forces.

“Thousands of volunteers from abroad came to Israel to fight during War of Independence,” Harold said. “They were young, highly motivated and from all over the world. I am one of the Malhalnikim . Perhaps I should tell you a bit about myself first.”

“In January 1941, I joined the South African Air Force after completing my first degree in accounting,” Harold said. “During the year, I completed the South African Air Force flight course as a bombing navigator.”

“Soon after the course was over, I was sent to the battle front in the Western Desert (in Northern Africa).”

In the Western Desert, Allied forces were battling General Erwin Rommel’s Nazi forces.

Until the end of World War II, Harold took part in missions hunting Nazi submarines.

In 1948, Harold gathered his belongings and moved to Israel, like many other Zionist volunteers were doing.

“Many emigrants from Europe arrived in South Africa, bringing with them horror stories from the Holocaust. As we heard the stories, the fire of vengeance began to burn within us. We felt as Jews the need for revenge.”

A day after they arrived in Israel, Harold and his friends were directed to the Air Force headquarters and enlisted in the army as pilots and navigators.

“It wasn’t long after Ben Gurion had declared the establishment of Israel that we went out on our first mission. While everyone was celebrating the new state, we knew that the Jordanian Legion would soon take action and come our way. We didn’t have the option of denying reality and celebrating.”

Harold said that he took off with a pilot and a photographer and that the view that they saw below astounded them. “Based on military information, we flew toward Kibbutz Eilon in the north and we noticed a large fire. The Jordanian forces were coming in from one side and from the other side we saw a hostile Spitfire approaching us.” Harold and the rest of the crew flew towards the sun and succeeded in evading the enemy pilot.

Many volunteers were involved in developing new tools of war, like Israel’s first radar. Others continued to fight on the battlefield.