Sherut Ha’avir is sent to aid Gush Etzion – a cluster of Jewish settlement to the south of Jerusalem.

 

At dawn on Wednesday, January 14th 1948, large Arab forces launched an all-out assault on Gush Etzion. When the first reports of the attack came, the Sherut Ha’avir squadron began intensive preparations for an assignment that would involve close support of ground forces and an airdrop of supplies to the encircled Gush settlements. Four planes were assigned to this mission, which was the first in the flrdgeling Sherut’s history in which several planes were to operate concurrently.

The tandem seat Tiger Moth was to arrive first on the scene, and its crew were to arrest the attckers’ advance with machine gun fire and grenades. The crews of two other planes – an Auster and an RWD-13 – were to drop bundles containing ammunition and medical supplies into the Kfar Etzion courtyard. In the course of the briefing the pilots were told that, should they be discovered by the British, they should land at Be’erot Yitzhak in the Negev, get rid of anything that could reveal the true nature and purpose of their assignment, refuel, return to Sde Dov – and then get out of there before they could be arrested and interrogated by the British. The fourth plane, a Taylorcraft, was to carry the fuel to Be’erot Yitzhak and await the possible arrival of the others, should the contingency plan go into effect.

The Tiger Moth took off before dawn on January 15th. One of the two pilots, Eli Feingersh (Eyal), tried the machine gun, only to discover that it jammed after firing one bullet. He tried to fix it, but to no avail, and failed even in his attempts to explain what had happened to Boris Senior, who was piloting the plane from the front seat (the pipe that served for speech communication between the two cabins was a problematic device to begin with; what made things worse was that Senior spoke no Hebrew – and Feingersh knew no English).

The Tiger Moth arrived in the theater of operations and found that it was covered by low clouds. Senior managed to find a gap in the cloud cover and dove down through it. It flew very low over the rocky terrain but discerned no Arab forces. When they flew over Kfar Etzion, the pilots saw the defenders standing upright and waving – a clear sign that the Arabs had not renewed their onslaught.

Shortly thereafter, the two other planes managed to make their way through the cloud cover and began to carry out airdrop runs. They did their best to drop the bundles directly on the pile of tires that Kfar Etzion’s people had prepared, but despite their efforts, many of the supplies dropped were badly damaged.

While this went on, a British Auster was flying over the area. Eventually, it spotted the Sherut planes and approached them. The Sherut pilots noticed him and headed towards Be’erot Yitzhak as briefed, dumping the bullets and grenades from their planes on the way. At Be’erot Yitzhak they refueled and took off for Tel Aviv. Following a harsh complaint filed by the British, it was decided to send ‘Ezer Weitzmann – whose family background earned him the British authorities’ respect (his uncle was Hayim Weitzmann, a highly esteemed Zionist scientist who later became Israel’s first president) and who had a valid pilot’s license – to take responsibility for the action. Weitzmann duly reported at the North Tel Aviv police station, and said that his friends at Kfar Etzion had asked him, in a private manner, to supply them with medical supplies urgently. He spent the night under arrest and was released after the Jewish leadership intervened on his behalf.

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