The aftermath of the bombing of Cairo The ‘Ten Day’ Battles
On July 8th 1948, after a one month lull in the battles of the War of Independence (known as ‘the first lull’) fighting between Israel and the Arab coalition began anew. The renewed battles lasted for ten days, with both sides trying to achieve a decisive victory on all fronts.
In the northern front, the IDF did its best to push the Syrian army eastwards. On the Jenin front, the Iraqi army managed to push Israeli forces out of the city limits. On the central front, Operation ‘Danny’ was aimed at crushing the threat that certain Arab population centers posed to Tel Aviv and the surrounding area. In the south, a pitched battle was fought over the junction where the Negev’s most important routes met. The IAF was intensively involved in all of these battles.
On July 10th, at 04:30, an IAF Dakota took off on a mission aimed at bombing the Syrian Army’s important forward base at Kuneitra. On his way back after completing the mission, the pilot dropped four bombs on enemy concentrations near Nazareth.
The same day, two Messerschmitts were scrambled to intercept enemy planes which were attacking IDF positions on the northern front. The two planes encountered a pair of Syrian Harvards and a dogfight ensued. One of the Israeli pilots, Maurice Mann, managed to hit a Syrian Harvard, which fell and crashed. The second Israeli pilot, Lionel Bloch, chased the second Harvard towards Syria. Bloch crossed the border in his plane – and went missing.
A subsequent investigation revealed that Bloch’s plane was hit over Syria. He was injured in the course of executing a crash landing. He was taken captive and died of his wounds in a Syrian hospital.
Bloch’s body was returned to Israel without being identified as his, and he was buried as an unknown soldier. It was only in 1994 that the body was identified, and a military funeral was held for Bloch, 46 years after his first burial.
On July 13th 1948, an IAF Dakota was sent to bomb Mishmar Hayarden, which was under Syrian control. Due to a shortage in air personnel, the assignment was given to a crew that had just come in from a protracted, tiring flight. The plane was loaded with two tons of bombs, and took off after dark.
At 21:25 the Dakota reached its target and dropped six bombs. The tail of the seventh bomb, however, was accidentally caught in the Dakota’s door, causing the pilot to momentarily lose control over the plane. After recovering and being informed of what had happened, he gave the order to try and dislodge the bomb – but the crew’s attempts to do so were unsuccessful. At this point, the pilot contacted Ramat David and notified them he was coming in for an emergency landing. On the way back to base, the crew dropped the remaining bombs without releasing their safety catches.
When the Dakota was only a few meters above the runway, the bomb became unstuck. It fell and exploded, damaging the plane in such a way that forced its removal from service. The crew was unhurt.
On July 14th 1948 IAF planes caried out bombing raids defined as ‘softening’ operations against Syrian army positions around Mishmar Hayarden. The next day, three B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’ bombers that had been bought in the US reached Israel. On July 16th, two of the Fortresses already made their debut appearance in the Galilee’s skies, and dropped 5 tons’ worth of bombs on Mishmar Hayarden and Kuneitra without encountering any resistance.
The next day, Dakotas bombed Damascus twice and returned safely to base, while the Fortresses dropped about 5 tons of bombs on Tulkarm and Nablus, in the West Bank. On July 18th a B-17 was sent to bomb Damascus again. On its way, the plane overflew Al-Mazeh airfield in Syria and bombed it, seriously damaging the planes which were parked on the runways. The same day, Dakotas and B-17s attacked Kalkilyah and Tulkarm, hoping that the raids would have a deterring effect on the Iraqi Army camped nearby.
The IDF’s Operation ‘Danny’ was intended to push the Arab threat farther away from Tel Aviv by capturing Lod and Ramleh. On the eve of the operation, IAF planes dropped leaflets over the area, calling upon the inhabitants to lay down their arms. Throughout the operation, the IAF’s light planes flew over the area under attack, ‘softening’ the more stubborn enemy positions by bombing them.The light planes also transported equipment, as well as government ministers and military officers, to and from Jerusalem. In the end, Lod, Ramleh and several adjoining villages were captured, and the threat to Tel Aviv was largely removed.
There was also much aerial activity in the Southern and Negev districts during the ‘Ten Day’ battles. On July 8th an IAF bomber attacked Bayt Jubrin, not far from Hebron. Another plane went out to bomb Faluja, but was not able to identify the target and returned to base after releasing its bombs over the Mediterranean. A third plane, which was sent to bomb Iraq al-Manshiye, mistakenly bombed the Israeli communal settlement of Ruhama (luckily, no one was seriously hurt).
On July 9th, four Messerschmitts took off to attack Egyptian airplanes that were parked at El ‘Arish Airbase. One of the planes crashed upon takeoff (its pilot survived). The three remaining planes were unable to identify El ‘Arish and therefore decided to attack enemy concentrations in Gaza. After one of the bombing dives on Gaza’s port, one of the Messerschmitts was unable to climb back up, and crashed. The pilot, Mahal volunteer Robert Vickman, was killed.
That same day, Egyptian Air Force planes provided support for their ground forces and attacked the positions held by the ‘Giv’ati’ Brigade. On July 10th Egyptian planes attacked kibbutz Ruhama seven times, as well as attacking Nir-‘Am, Negba and Be’er Tuvia. The following day, Egyptian planes bombed Jerusalem, killing three children who had been playing in the street. On July 12th the Egyptian Air Force enlarged its theater of operations, attacking the settlements Be’eri, Be’erot Yitzhak and Sa’ad.
At this point, the Egyptians were enjoying near-complete air superiority in the southern theater. Pitched battles were being waged between Egyptian ground forces (with support from the air) and the defenders of the Israeli settlements in the Negev. On July 15th the crisis in the Negev was at its most acute, but the same day also marked a turning point on the aerial front, with the arrival in Israel of three B-17 ‘Flying Fortresses’. It was decided that one of these large bombers would attack Cairo, even before it had reached Israel.
The chosen B-17’s flight route passed over Slovakia and Yugoslavia. At a certain point antiaircraft fire was fired at the plane from the ground, though the high altitude at which it was flying kept it out of harm’s way. When the navigator was debriefed, it turned out that the plane had gone slightly off course and crossed into Albanian airspace. It was the Albanians who had fired at it.
The Fortress crossed the northern African coast at 200 kilometers’ distance from the Nile delta, in order to deceive Egyptian interceptors and bypass enemy radar. About 50 km. inland, it began climbing to 25 thousand feet. The oxygen system was turned on, but it was a primitive system and the high altitude caused it to malfunction. The crew members began passing out, one by one, due to the lack of oxygen.
When it was about 200 km. southwest of Cairo, the plane changed direction and headed directly toward the city. It approached Cairo at dusk. The order to open the bomb bay was given at the point specified in the flight plan. The target chosen was the palace at ‘Abadeen, where King Farouk resided. The bombs were dropped. The first two fell some distance away from the palace, and the next two exploded just outside it. The last pair of bombs in the first bombing run failed to release because of a technical problem, and the bombardier proceeded to the next batch of bombs. The next bombs dislodged those that were stuck on the racks, causing four bombs to hit simultaneously in a spot about one kilometer away from the palace. The rest of the bombs released properly, but it was the technical glitch in the first run that prevented a direct hit on the palace by two 250 kg. bombs.
The bombing sortie caught the Egyptians off guard, so much so that they did not even shoot antiaircraft fire at the B-17, or scramble interceptors. The Fortress continued flying over the Nile delta, descending to 8,000 feet over the sea and finally landing at ‘Ekron (Tel Nof) Airbase, where the IAF’s Commander and the Head of Operations Section were waiting for it. The bombing raid dealt a severe blow to the Egyptian Air Force’s prestige and shocked the Egyptian populace – which had been under the impression that it was out of the IAF’s range.
The second B-17 in the group flying towards Israel attacked Gaza. The third had been assigned to attacking El-‘Arish, but it failed to find the location and bombed Rafah instead.
The following day, after refueling and rearming, the three B-17s went out to bomb the El-‘Arish airfield. This time the location was spotted and over three tons of bombs were dropped upon it. The planes that had been parking there suffered severe damage and the runway was partially damaged.
On July 18th three Messerscmitts from the First Combat Squadron were scrambled to attack an Egyptian armored column that was moving towards Bir ‘Asluj, near kibbutz Revivim. The planes scored accurate hits against the Egyptian forces, and emerged unscathed despite heavy AA fire.
On their way back to base, the Messerschmitts encountered Egyptian Spitfires. In the ensuing dogfight, the lead pilot, Moddy Alon, shot down one of the Egyptian planes. The two other Israeli pilots, both Mahal volunteers, also reported scoring hits against the Spifires but could not confirm that any had been shot down.
One of the Messerschmitts was damaged during landing in Herzliya, but the pilot was unhurt. At 19:00, just one hour after the Messerschmitts had landed back at base, the second lull went into effect. The ‘Ten Day’ battles had ended.