65 years ago today, three airplanes of the “Air Service” headed out to their first operation in the history of the up and coming country. The successes and difficulties of those pilots paved the way to the IAF we know today
The extensive operational activity of the IAF wasn’t always the well-oiled machine we know today. In fact, it all began with one small step: 65 years ago, the “Air Service” (Sh’erut Avir), the aerial arm of the ‘Hagana’ organization–later the IAF, completed its first aerial mission.
Advanced operations planned in a formation structures and completing missions under pressure are the central efforts in the IAF. During the Independence War, in the morning of January 15 1948, three Israeli planes took off–A very unusual sight at the time. It was the largest “Air Service” operation in history and the first time when multiple airplanes took part in the same mission.
The Mission: Helping Besieged Citizens
The operation’s mission was to assist the citizens of Gush Etzion who were under Arab forces’ attack. The whole operation demanded ultimate secrecy and preparation. Late at night, various units snuck into the Sde Dov airport located in Tel Aviv and hid grenades, machine guns, and other equipment that would help rescue the besieged citizens.
The first one to take off was the “Tiger Moth” a dual seat airplane that was one of the seven “recruited” to the IAF. Its mission was to delay and confuse the enemies by aerial attacks and throwing grenades, in order to create a safe pathway for the two other airplanes. Following it were the Auster Autocrat and the RWD13, both light cargo aircrafts with the goal of providing supplies to the area. A “Tyler Craft” came along carrying fuel barrels in case of need to stopover and refuel.
As they passed over Gush Etzio dropping the supplies, the pilots saw the area’s defenders waving their hands to alert that the Arab forces had backed down despite the concerns. It was probably the hand of fate, since the pilots discovered after the first test shooting that the machine guns were faulty and they would not have been able to protect themselves in time of need. Even after the supplies were dropped and the operation was over, a new problem appeared: The British had discovered the airplanes in the skies.
In the last moment, the pilots began throwing the grenades and bullets from the plane in order not expose their operation. They even stopped in order to “clean” the airplanes and get rid of the ammunition before getting back to Tel Aviv. And so, under the watchful eye of the British and the ground threat over the settlements, the first operational mission was declared a success and became the first of many in the hands of the IAF.