A square in the city of Herzliya named after a bunch of volunteering foreigner pilots is Israel’s national pride. The survival of Israel hinged on these brave volunteers.
The 1948 Air Force recruits were told that they were needed for a Hollywood movie audition. This “audition” turned out to be Israel’s War for Independence.
Among the tens of “volunteers from abroad” (known as Machal in Hebrew – מח”ל )who helped establish Israel’s Air Force during the Jewish state 1948 War of Independence stood out the late Jewish fighter pilot Mitchell (Mitch) Flint, a US Navy fighter pilot who fought in World War II.
On April 27, 2023, a square was dedicated in Mitch’s name in the city of Herzliya, and his son Mike shared this story: “Key pilots were recruited for Israel’s first Air Force squadron in the making and my father jumped at the opportunity.”
The year is 1948 and the British army of the British Mandate Palestine is about to leave the Land of Israel at any moment. The armies of the neighboring Arab countries – Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and expeditionary forces from Iraq – were getting ready to invade the nascent Jewish state’s borders and the small Jewish community of just over 600,000 members, was preparing for a major war that will determine the future existence of the State of Israel.
Although the people of the ‘Yishuv’ – the Jewish community in the land of Israel as it was called then – in Israel had some military experience, they also had a relatively new and inexperienced military force. They wanted to establish a state in the territories of the Land of Israel but could not be compared to the skilled military manpower of the neighboring countries’ strong armies.
Help was needed, and it was not long in coming
“They came to us when we needed them the most, in those difficult and fateful days of our War of Independence,” were the words of the late former Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. That is how he chose to describe the forces of “volunteers from abroad” who came to volunteer and fight for the establishment of the State of Israel. With bravery and courage, men with military experience arrived from all over the world to fight Israel’s fight in the War of Independence.
There were hundreds of foreign volunteers who came to Israel during the War of Independence in order to help the emerging IDF in the struggle to defend the modern State of Israel, the 3rd Jewish Commonwealth in the land of Israel.
About a third of these selfless men came from the United States, and the rest from other countries such as Canada, France, Great Britain, South Africa, Australia, Latin America and various European countries, and others.
The greatest challenge for the IDF as a whole, was the air force. The largest number of recruits from aboard were for the Air Force. At a certain point, English became the leading language in the Israeli Air Force, so that airmen from different countries could better communicate with each other.
Air Force Impact
Among the Israel Air Force (IAF) branches which was particularly significant and prominent and in which the volunteer pilots took part in establishing was Squadron 101, the first fighter squadron in the IAF, active to this day. In its first cycle, most of the planes were manned by volunteer pilots, because only a few Israelis had experience with flying fighter planes.
The squadron’s activity was particularly successful and its pilots came to be known as heroes, who had an immeasurable impact on the War of Independence results with the outcome of the establishment of the state of Israel.
Mitchell Flint, who passed away five years ago, was among the fighter pilots who made up the IAF’s first 12-pilot squadron. In recognition of the ‘volunteer pilots’ and Mitchell Flint’s war activities, much described in the book “Angels In The Sky,” during Israel’s 75th Independence Day celebrations, April 2023, a roundabout-square was named after them in the city of Herzliya.
Following his father who served as a fighter pilot during the First World War, Mitch who was born in 1923 in the city of Kansas City in the state of Missouri, the United States, volunteered at the age of 18 to serve in the US Navy. He successfully completed the pilot course and began serving as a pilot in the American Navy and took part, among other actions, in fighting on the American side in World War II in the Pacific.
The Cover Story
When he was approached by an Israeli agent, Mitch did not know that he was going to be asked to join the emerging Israeli Air Force. He was given a rather surprising cover story. “When they contacted my father for the first time, they told him that he was going to be part of a Hollywood movie. He didn’t know in what role, but he was quite good-looking so it made sense to him,” this according to his son, Mike Flint, who is a walking encyclopedia on the history of the IAF formation in which his father took rather an important part.
“In the end, when my Dad arrived in Israel, he found out that the film was just a cover story to get to know him better. The Air Force recruiters recruited key pilots for Israel’s first fighter squadron. My father jumped at the opportunity,” Mike tells about his father’s activities in Israel that made history. And Mike continues: “My Dad was the definition of a hero with courage and noble qualities; a magnificent warrior with extraordinary achievements. The Israeli Air Force of 1948 had a handful of legendary figures who will one day be recognized as mythological figures endowed with determination, strength and many abilities. Among them you can name pilots Rudolph (Rudy) Augarten and Mordechai ‘Modi’ Alon, and the people who had the vision to establish it and stood firmly behind the Israel Air Force, the American engineer Adolph (AL) Schwimmer and Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.”
The Survival of Israel
Mike, is there one moment that you remember when your dad was most proud of?
“On the first Israel Independence Day Celebrations, Israel’s Air Force flyover in 1949. All the pilots and planes of Squadron 101 were in the air at the same time. The Air Force flew a formation that had 12 pilots led by Ezer Weizman. At the end of the flight, on the last plane, my father, ‘Rav-Seran’-Commander Mitchell Flint flew.”
And Mike, how do you think your father would react if he found out that there is a square in Israel dedicated in his name?
“I’m sure he would have been filled with respect, but also with modesty. My Dad would have surely asked if it is a tribute to all the other volunteer pilots and if their names are also mentioned in the dedication plaque. The fact that the square is named in particular after my Dad but is also named after the ‘volunteer Pilots’ will bring him even more pride. All the Machal volunteers were important to the survival of Israel.”
Mike, this is an extraordinary event. Your father’s name will be etched in Israel’s history for eternity. How do you feel about all that?
“I am happy and proud to see that one of the most selfless and un-braggadocious pilots, without a doubt one of the most important in the air force of 1948, has been recognized in Israel.
“The mayor of Herzliya Mr. Moshe Fadlon and his dedicated team and the tenacity and persistence of Mitch’s friend, the publicist Nurit Greenger, did something that has not been done; to pay homage to a large group of fighter pilots who took a risk and endangered their lives for a country that was not [yet] theirs, but they felt and knew it needed their help.”
What they did played a big part in the survival if Israel. Now their effort can be known to all.