Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ezer Was A Savage

I'm partial to war stories and this is a really great one. Ynet News tells about the beginnings of the Israeli airforce.

Almost 60 years have passed since that fateful day, but Lou Lenart still remembers every minute of it, as though it was yesterday. Those were trying times for the budding Jewish nation, and Lenart was faced with a task of great importance.

It was May 29, 1948, only two weeks after the declaration of independence. The Egyptian army was camped outside Ashdod, and its commanders were hard at work preparing the attack on Tel Aviv. Israel needed to defend itself in an absolute way. This historical move was Lenart's responsibility: the IDF's first aerial attack.
Lenart learned to fly in the US Marine Corps. He flew fighter missions in the Pacific against the Japanese. He says, though that flying for the Israeli Air Force had the most meaning for him. A really interesting part of the story is the logistics. The story of how the pilots got trained to fly Nazi S-199 fighters in Czechoslovakia, and then deliver the airplanes from Italy to Israel. You can find that story at 101 Squadron.

After the planes and pilots got to Israel they had less than 10 days to get the aircraft assembled and in fighting trim. The Egyptians were attacking towards Tel Aviv and had to be stopped. The airfield where the planes took off from was 20 km (about 15 miles) from where the Egyptians were attacking.
Lenart, who had the most expansive operational flying experience in the new air force, led the four pilots. The other three were Ezer Weizmann, Mudy Alon and Eddie Cohen. The four Messerschmitt aircrafts were gathered from leftovers of the Nazi Luftwaffe in the Czech Republic which were reassembled in Israel, and were each equipped with a machine gun and 4 70 kg [150 lb. - ed.] bombs. This was a far cry from the standards Lenart was used to in the USAF.

"We didn't know if we could use the planes. We didn't even know if they would start," he remembers. "But Air Force Commander Aharon Remez
told us we had to do everything possible to stop the Egyptians. I knew they were in the Ashdod area, but we didn't have up to date maps or radios. Mudy Alon had to give me direction with hand signals. We headed south until we saw the Egyptian forces from above. There were thousands of troops, tanks and hundreds of trucks. We flew lower, dropped the bombs, and started shooting at anything we could spot. The Egyptians tried to shoot at us, but they were stunned. They didn't even know Israel had an air force. The Arabs had everything, we had nothing. And we still won. When I'm asked how we did it, I say: we just didn't have a choice. That was our secret weapon."

The mission was a success: the Egyptian forces were blocked and main command in Tel Aviv could breath a sigh of relief. Eddie Cohen was killed in the attack, and Mudy Alon, who was killed later, lost his plane. "In one battle we lost 25 percent of our pilots, and 50 percent of our aircrafts," he says.
Amazing story.

Lenart, who is now an 85 year old producer in Hollywood, is writing a book about his experiences in the Israeli Air Force and is producing a documentary on the action. In addition negotiations are going on to turn it into a Hollywood movie.
Lenart was born in Hungary, and emigrated to the USA with his parents when he was 10 years old. After he graduated from high school, in the summer of 1940, he joined the Marine Corps with one target: "killing as many Nazis as possible." He was the only Jew in boot camp. He served as a foot-soldier for a while before being accepted to flight school. He had a bad training accident, but recovered and took part in the battles against the Japanese kamikaze pilots in the Pacific Ocean front. He was discharged as a captain after the war, and came home to discover that 14 members of his family, including his grandmother, who stayed back in Hungary were murdered by the Nazis.

In early 1948 he attended a lecture on the importance of the Zionist cause. At the end of the lecture he approached the speaker and asked to join the Hagana. A few weeks later he received a phone call with his first assignment: fly a freight plane from Italy to Israel. In Rome he met a mysterious beautiful woman named Carolina, who introduced him to members of the Italian mafia. The mafia, it turned out, was hired by Israel to assist in the purchase of freight planes for Israel. A few days later Lenart was already on a Pressman aircraft. The only problem was that the distance between Brindisi, the departure point, and his destination in Israel was 1300 miles. The planes maximum flight distance was 350 miles.

"Our solution was to turn the plane into a flying fuel tank," Lenart tell us. "We took out all the seats in the back of the plane, and replaced them with a giant rubber tank full of fuel, which was connected directly to the plane's fuel tank. I could barely take off due to the added weight. In addition, I didn't have any maps, parachutes or radios. I was facing a strong cross wind, and I was afraid I would run out of fuel before we reached Tel Aviv. Finally, after a harrowing 11 hour flight, we, me and my co-pilot Cooly Goldstein, arrived. The landing was good, but as I got off the plane I told myself I would never fly another flight like that one. To this day I have no idea how we didn't run out of engine oil. It was our miracle of the oil."

After the dangerous mission was done, he decided to stay in Israel. Later on in the war he became one of the pillars of the Israeli air force. After the war, he took part in an operation to bring 100,000 Jews from Iraq to Israel. He tells us that throughout the service he formed a strong friendship with Ezer Weizmann. "Ezer was a savage, but a very brave pilot. I remember that in 1951 I cam to Ben Gurion's office to report on a top secret mission I took part in. Before the meeting Shimon Peres told me that I would be asked for my recommendation for Commander of the Air Force at the meeting. When Ben Gurion asked me I had my answer prepared. I told him I thought it was very important for young pilots to have a commander who is a fighter and will be an inspiration to them, and that that man is Ezer."
It looks to me like Israel could use some savages in command these days. The Olmert government is tired and they have a plumber for defence minister. Not good.

In fact let me go further. America could use some savages in the higher echelons and at the helm. Where is Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf when we need him? We have, in many ways, let our savage instincts atrophy. Especially with the election of the Democrats to control of Congress. We too are acting tired. The jihadis have been fighting for around 1,400 years and we are tired after only five. Not good.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


linearthinker said...

The Olmert government is tired and they have a plumber for defence minister. Not good.

It's worse. Their plumber defense minister wants to be a diplomat. Double-Plus-Not-Good.

M. Simon said...


So correct.


linearthinker said...

Peretz has a plan (at the link scroll down to Item 4).

Zippy has a plan.

Olmert's for changing his plan.

Everybody has a plan.

Peretz wants to strengthen Abu Mazen by "offering a diplomatic solution to the present situation." Recall when he was first reported to be dabbling in diplomacy? Olmert took him to the woodshed. Some people never learn?

Now IDF has to obtain a "Mommy May I?" certificate of approval from their "leadership" before they can carry the war to the terrorists, after Olmert sat down for breakfast with Hosni and already had egg on his face.

Reminds me of American Dimms. Politics and diplomacy. The same the world over.
Back on topic, I can't wait for the IAF movie. Hint to Hollywood: Get some Israeli actors. Don't even think of giving Leonardo or Sean or Ben or Brad the role of real men. It's too important a story.