Israel’s 1948 MACHAL Aviators: Someone Had to Do It

In the past 72 years since it was founded, Israel was forced to fight more wars than any other country in the world.

The state of Israel War of Independence of 1948-49, was indeed the many – the Arabs – against the few – the Jews. It opened up a day after when, on 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for British Mandate Palestine, and soon to be first Prime Minister of Israel declared the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.

Some of the credit for this 1948-49 the Jews over the Arabs victory must be handed to a bunch of aviators who arrived in Israel from all four corners of the world, some were not even Jewish, in order to help the nascent state Jewish people win the battle against the Arabs’ aggression and gain their sovereignty over their land, which, after the Holocaust the Jews very much needed and deserved.

The MACHAL (Volunteers From Oversees) group were an odd bunch. They were adventurous, risking life type and of clear mindset: helping the Jews living in Israel be victorious over the Arab mob.

The story about those 150 volunteer aviators has been well documented in the bestseller book Angels In the Sky: How a Band of Volunteer Airmen Saved the New State of Israel (AITS) and the subsequent film to come.

When Eran Ramot, a distinguished lieutenant colonel (Res.) in the Israel Air Force, who coined the phrased: “If not for them, there would be no Israel,” was tasked to oversee the final editing of the book translation into Hebrew, the stories he read in the book captured him. It also captured the current command of the Israel Air Force (IAF). After all, these MACHAL aviators incubated what turned to be a superb Air Force.

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From Left: lieutenant colonel (Res.) Eran Ramot and Major General (Res.) Gideon Shefer – Photo credit Nurit Greenger

This November, 2019, in a ceremony spearheaded by Mr. Eran Ramot and Major General (Res.) Gideon Shefer (Shporer), President of the Air Force Foundation, sponsored by the Israeli Association of General Aviation, Mr. Yaakov Ganot, Director, Israeli Airport Authority and Mr. Moshe Badlon, the Mayor of the City of Herzliya, who received a Proclamation from Herzliya’s sister city, the City of Beverly Hills, and attended by Major General Amikam Norkin, the Chief Commander of the IAF and many distinguished guests, the Hetzliya Airport was renamed after Mordechai ‘Modi’ Alon and the road leading to the airfield was named MACHAL Way.

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From left: Major General Amikam Norkin, The Commander of the Air Force, and Major General (Res.) Gideon Shefer, Mr. Moshe Badlon, the Mayor of the City of Herzliya – Photo credit Nurit Greenger

The Ceremony

The ceremony’s announcement stated: “Today, rather belated, we are correcting the historic injustice that was caused to the legacy of the Israel Air Force’s first fighter squadron, its first commander the late Lieutenant Colonel Mordechai ‘Modi’ Alon and the first Hebrew airport.”

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The ceremony guests – Photo credit Nurit Greenger

The ceremony opened with the 101 Squadron salute flyover.

Among the many guests who attended the ceremony was Harold (Smoky) Simon, now 99-year old, a South African volunteer airman who, on May 10, 1948, with his wife Myra registered at Sarona, in the British Mandate of Palestine, for service with the fledgling Israel Air Force and was discharged from the IAF in October 1950.

A moving chapter from the book AITS, about the interaction between the late Mitch Flint, an American MACHAL volunteer fighter pilot and the late Modi Alon was read during the ceremony.

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Smoky Simon with the writer of this a article – Photo credit Nurit Greenger

In honor of the MACHAL fighter pilots, the late Mitch Flint and Aaron Finkel, both were Beverly Hills, California, boys, the City of Beverly Hills gave its sister City of Herzliya a meaningful proclamation, which Mike Flint, Mitch Flint’s son presented to Mr. Moshe Badlon, the Mayor of the City of Herzliya.

Israel has two major airports; one named after David Ben Gurion, the country’s first Prime Minister; the second one is the Ilan Ramon airport, named after Israel’s first astronaut who lost his life in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, recently opened in the city of Eilat in the south of the country. And now an airport named after MACHAL aviator Modi Alon.

Mordechai ‘Modi’ Alon

Lieutenant Colonel (Lt. Col.) Mordechai ‘Modi’ Alon was an Israeli fighter pilot who with the formation of the Israel Air Force (IAF), in May 1948, assumed command of its first fighter squadron.

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Modi Alon in center with David Ben Gurion right of photo – Photo credit the Israel Air-Force Foundation

The Safed-born fighter pilot Alon began his career in the RAF, which he joined in 1940, when he was 19 years old. For a short time, after WWII, he continued to fly Spitfires and Mustangs in Italy to finally return home. In 1947 he joined the Tel Aviv Squadron of Sherut Avir (Air Service) and was one of 10 pilots, among them Ezer Weizman, who were chosen to attend special training in Czechoslovakia, trained by RAF veterans’ instructors.

In 1940, heeding calls by the Jewish Agency for the Jews of British Mandate Palestine to join the British WWII efforts, Alon enlisted in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Denied the chance to train as a fighter pilot, in November 1940 Alon attended the RAF’s Wireless Operators course in Ismailia, qualifying as a Ground Wireless Operator.

On May 29, 1948, flying the Avia S-199 model, Alon participated in the IAF’s first combat sortie, and on June 3rd he scored the IAF’s very first aerial victories, when downed a pair of the Royal Egyptian Air Force C-47s over Tel Aviv.

On October 16, 1948, Alon and Ezer Weizman (the latter become the IAF commander) took off from Herzliya airfield to attack Egyptian forces operating in the vicinity of Isdud (today Ashdod), not far from where both had participated in the squadron’s combat debut in May. Returning to base, Alon had trouble lowering the plane’s landing gear and consequently began flying violent maneuvers to try and force the wheels to lower. The Avia’s engine started streaming white smoke and the aircraft began losing altitude before hitting the ground and bursting into flames, instantly killing Alon.

Gideon Sheffer, a retired Major-General of the Israel Air Force and chairman of its veterans’ organization (IAOPA: [email protected]), sees the renaming of the airport in Alon’s memory as an important initiative toward maintaining the legacy of the founders of the IAF, including those who came from abroad as volunteers. They were significant figures in Israel’s War of Independence, for which some paid the supreme sacrifice.

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Right Mr. Moshe Badlon, Mayor of City of Herzlyia and Mike Flint – Photo Credit Nurit Greenger

Since the establishment of the airport in Herzliya, during Israel’s War of Independence and to this day, this airport has served essential national purposes.

In its early days and for several months, this airport served the first Israel Fighter Squadron 101 as their airbase home. At the end of the war, activity at Herzliya Airport continued unabated, whether in the agricultural aviation’s services, the light commercial and the private aviation as well as for military and civilian pilot training.

At the end of the second decade of the establishment of the State of Israel, more than 55 general aviation aircraft operated from the airport, accounting for 80% of all the general aviation aircraft in Israel. Due to the large scale and importance of the Herzliya airport, in 1977 the Israeli government decided to transfer its management to the Airports Authority. However, despite the centrality and importance of the airfield for national domestic aviation, its statutory planning process is not yet completed. Then as today, the late Lt. Col. Modi Alon Airport in Herzliya serves as the State of Israel’s general aviation airport.

Currently, four flight schools are operating in the airfield, which constitutes of preparing more than 80% of Israel’s civil aviation vocations’ students. In the field there are more than 100 aircraft that receive their necessary technical and testing services from four aircraft’s maintenance and repair hangers, operating in the airfield. These hangers carry out over 90% of the general civil aviation maintenance operations in Israel. There are also several commercial companies operating in the airfield that provide various air services, such as mapping, sightseeing, surveillance, etc.

The airport named after late Lt. Col. Modi Alon is the second home for hundreds of pilots and flight students who use the field’s services for various type of flights, mostly for supervised flights and flight training. Although, a significant planning step is being taken to regulate the “temporary” legality of the filed, but gives priority to its closure for the purpose of building on the land, after the closing of the Sde Dov airport, the importance of the Herzliya airfield has increased greatly because it remains to be the only airfield in the center of the country.

The vision of the late Modi Alon Airport – Urban Airport (City Airport)

Even after the construction of a new central airport, its design, as of recent has been decided upon, there is still room to preserve the airport, now named after the late Lt. Col. Modi Alon, aviation operational function. An airport that will fit into the city of Herzliya’s new planning, in the format of an urban airport, as is customary anywhere in the world. The airfield will physically connect to the adjacent interdisciplinary center and will encourage education in aviation professions and strengthen the branding of the city of Herzliya as a major aviation hub in Israel. The location of the airfield in the center of the country will contribute to the development of domestic tourism using light helicopters and aircraft, will become an activity center that will fit into the fabric of life of the city of Herzliya and recreational and dining areas, similar to those in the Herzliya Marina and the Tel Aviv port can be set up in the place.

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The monument planned for the late Modi Alon airport – Photo credit Nurit Greenger

The General Aviation Association is calling on state’s and city’s captains not to give a hand to elimination one other major central airport in the country and to urgently complete the approval of the National Outline Plan 15B, which legally regulates the current operations of the late Lt. Col. Modi Alon airport.

The stupendous effort to honor the 150 MACHAL aviators, most of them came to Israel from all over the world, a third of the group was not even Jews, who gave Israel its independence on their life-risking platter and who jump-started the glorious Israel Air Force, is superlative. Their 1948-49 successful “adventurous stunt” in the country and for it the nation’s recognition of these life-risking aviators must be etched in the annals of the state of Israel.

Nurit Greenger
During the 2006 second Lebanon War, Nurit Greenger, referenced then as the "Accidental Reporter" felt compelled to become an activist. Being an 'out-of-the-box thinker, Nurit is a passionately committed advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Free World in general. From Southern California, Nurit serves as a "one-woman Hasbarah army" for Israel who believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.

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