Back in those
close-to-prehistoric days of 1948, around 3,500 or so volunteers from Western
and English-speaking countries went to fight for Israel in the War of Independence.
The exact number of volunteers per country is still in some dispute,
but the best estimate is that about 1,000 came from the United States with
another 250 from Canada. Another 700 volunteered from South Africa, 600 from
Great Britain, 250 from North Africa, 250 from Latin America, and still others
from France and Belgium. There were also small contingents from Australia, the
Belgium Congo, Rhodesia, Finland, and Russia.
All told, there were individual volunteers from some 37 different countries.
Ralph Anspach, a Berkeley Economics professor and a former Fourth Troop gunner in 1948, reminded me recently that the reason Jesse gave for coming to fight for Israel and ending up in our 'democratic' unit was because of the prejudice he faced in the U.S. army during WWII. It seems that the only officer who treated him with proper respect was the captain of his infantry unit, a man named Grossman. This being the one positive experience of his military service, he became fascinated with Jews and vowed to help the Jewish State when the opportunity arose.
I gave a talk in 1995 before an ORT group in Fullerton, California on my experiences in the War of Independence, and I recounted the story of Jesse Slade and Captain Grossman. After my talk, a woman came up to me and told me that she was visiting from New York, that her maiden name was Grossman, and that Captain Grossman was almost certainly her late brother (not your everyday name for the captain of an American infantry unit), that he was a captain in the U.S. Army in Europe towards the end of WWII, and that he was the commander of a mixed infantry unit of Blacks and American Indians! Naturally, they picked a Jew to lead this multicultural group into battle!
ANGLO-SAXON' UNITS BEGIN FORMING JUNE-JULY 1948
In the pre-State period, some western Jews had gone to Palestine and joined the Haganah and other underground forces determined to hold the Arabs at bay when the British pulled out. But by the summer of 1948, this trickle of volunteers swelled with young Jews (and some non-Jews) from many countries arriving in filthy, cramped antiquated ships to fight in Israel's War of Independence.
Some were motivated by Zionist idealism, some by compassion for the underdog, some came out of restlessness, some came because they liked the excitement of a good fight, and still others came in search of self-respect for themselves, for Jews everywhere, and for Israel. Once at the Telitvinsky transit camp in Israel, the Machalniks or 'Anglo-Saxim,' as we were increasingly becoming known, were interviewed as to our military qualifications (which sometimes became highly exaggerated in the retelling) and then assigned into the various units of the three major services.
However, because most of the volunteers could not speak Hebrew adequately, and because there had been some 'friendly fire' casualties owing to language and associated problems, the English-speaking volunteers began forming various 'Anglo-Saxon' units with Israelis, who could speak both Hebrew and English, providing liaison to the other IDF battalions and brigades. The death of Machalnik Colonel 'Mickey' Marcus from such 'friendly fire' had made its deadly point.
Pilot Training in Czechoslovakia
In 1948, Czechoslovakia, desperate for hard currency, was one of the few countries that agreed to sell arms to Israel - though at a price! - $40,000 per Messerschmitt fighter plane plus $10,000 per pilot for the two week training program. Yugoslavia had also agreed to let the Haganah use their ports and airfields to transship the desperately needed military supplies. And on May 20, 1948, an Israeli airlift, code-named Balak, began in an airfield in Czechoslovakia using volunteers from the States and Canada to fly in critically needed military supplies in an old Constellation flying the Panamanian flag. By June 11, it had made thirty flights and had delivered over one hundred tons of precious cargo for Israel's defence.
Flying from Czechoslovakia to Israel was far more difficult than it sounds. For one thing, you couldn't fly in a straight line. There were a number of countries you were not allowed to fly over, others you had to fly over at tree top level to avoid the radar or risk being shot down, and still others where you had to land and refuel if and when the locals remembered to turn on the runway lights.
There were serious mechanical problems with many of the planes, particularly the so-called 'Messerschmitt 109s,' which were actually Czech built Avia S-199s. They were nicknamed Mezec or 'Mule' by the Czech pilots and far worse by the Machal pilots forced to fly them. Some pilots actually referred to them as 'The nazi Revenge.'
These planes had been built by the Czechs under license from the Germans
but without the original and well-proven Daimler-Benz engines. Now, because
of their heavier, but underpowered, Junkers 211F engine and critical defects
in the undercarriage, they had serious torque problems which made trying
to land or take off hazardous to the pilot's health and a near death experience.
In addition, the Avia S-199 machine guns had synchronization problems that
tended to shoot off their own propellers, and you get some idea of what
the predominantly 101 Machal Fighter SquadronMachal Fighter Squadron
had to contend with in those early days.
The hybrid, pieced-together Czech Messerschmitts, or Avia S-199s, to give them their proper designation, were very difficult to fly and prone to many engine and under-carriage failures. Out of 23 assembled Avias, 18 crashed due to mechanical failure. They were finally taken out of service when the Spitfire Mark 9 and the P 51 Mustang fighter planes began to arrive.