Squadron Journeys Down Memory Lane

Almost 60 years of operations, combat and kills 12 Enemy kills during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, 337 takeoffs throughout the Six Day War, attacking targets in operation “Blue and Brown”: veterans of the “First Combat” squadron reminisce

Shir Cohen

“During my first battle I had an odd feeling, like something was out of order, I felt it throughout the whole battle but I couldn’t place my finger on the reason”, reminisces combat pilot Brigadier General (Res.) Israel Baharab, Medal of distinguished Service winner and Ace of Aces on the MiG 21. “Only after I landed did I realize that during the entire time I was flying I didn’t look once at the speed and altitude meter. It’s extremely dangerous not knowing how fast you’re going and what altitudes you reach. An airplane can’t reach all heights”. Since then, Baharab has taken off into countless operational takeoffs and is credited with 12 enemy aircrafts kills.

Combat stories like this are not as common as they used to be, but in a special evening conducted for the “First Combat” squadron veterans, stories flowed from all sides of the room. This might be expected from the first squadron in the force that operated combat airplanes: Its repertoire is filled with nostalgic and heroic tales that the squadron’s veterans will never forget. “It’s very emotional for me to be here”, said Major General (Res.) Amos Lapidot, who was commander of the squadron and later commanded over the entire air force. “We’re talking about almost 70 years of nostalgia”.

Five Generals, One Squadron

Amos Lapidot isn’t the only IAF Commander who commanded the First Combat squadron: Major General Ezer Weitzman, Hertzel Bodinger, Motty Hod and Benny Peled also operated in both campacities. Giora Eben Apstien- a different sort of ‘General’ (The Ace of Aces who accumulated no less than 17 enemy kill), is also an icon of the first combat squadron as well. The impressive statistics also include Danny Shapira, graduate of the first Pilot Training Course in the history of the IDF and the first experimental pilot pf the force, Lou Lenart, one of the leading men of the first IAF attack in 1948.

Although aerial crew members are known for their accomplishmenst, the nostalgic evening was planned by the people of the technical squadron. “Without the ground force we can’t do our work”, said Brigadier General Ran Peker, another well-known pilot who was bred in the squadron. “We might fly and kill airplanes but they work on the ground, and their job is irreplaceable”.