Israeli Air Force Bombers

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The most famous of the USAAF heavies, the B-17 high altitude heavy bomber first flew as the Model 299 in July 1935. The Mainstay of the US daylight precision bombing in Europe, it was widely used in other theatres, in various roles and with other operators such as the UK and even Nazi Germany which had captured a few. Nicknamed the "Flying Fortress", the B-17 gained its name through its phenomenal array of defensive armament necessary to fly in the same skies as the Luftwaffe fighters.
Approaching Israel's War of Independence, the Jewish underground in Palestine was hard pressed for weapons and ammunition and had employed agents throughout the world to acquire these. In early 1948, an American agent managed to buy 4 Flying Fortresses for the price of $15,000 each. Retired USAAF examples, all 4 were devoid of guns or navigational gear and only one was fitted with the original turrets, the only one that had actually taken part in the Second World War. With the outbreak of the War of Independence the U.S. Government imposed a weapons embargo on the opposing sides in the war and the aircraft were forced to leave the U.S. or risk seizure by the FBI. On June 12th 1948, three aircraft left Miami for Puerto Rico. After filing flight plans for Brazil the aircraft actually left for the Portuguese Azores where fuel had been secured for the long flight across the Atlantic to Corsica, their next scheduled stop. On July 17th the planes finally landed in Ezion, an air base in Czechoslovakia from which the Czech government had allowed Israel to operate cargo flights. The long flight had however attracted American attention and when the fourth aircraft attempted to make it, it was seized in the Azores by request of the U.S. government. The three remaining B-17s remained in Czechoslovakia for three weeks during which attempts were made to acquire original turrets and equipment for the bare aircraft. These failed however, and the aircraft left for Israel on July 15th.

Boeing B-17

The newly born IAF wished to mark the heavy bomber's entrance into service in a large display of force, and on their way to Israel the three heavy bombers were tasked with bombing Egyptian targets. Two aircraft were tasked with bombing Gaza city and the Egyptian air base at El-Arish, but failing to find their targets bombed Rafiah instead. The third aircraft was tasked with bombing Cairo. Surprising the Egyptians which had thought their capital immune to such attacks and had therefore left it undefended, 30 people were killed when a bombload aimed at the Royal Palace and an officers school failed to hit its intended targets. The planes finally arrived in Israel on the evening of July 15th, landing at Ekron air base. The new bombers provided the yound IAF with previously undreamt of capabilities. Whereas previously the only bombers were converted transport aircraft such as the C-47 or de Havilland Dragon Rapide, which were confined to night bombing, the B-17 could fly farther and carry a far bigger bombload. It could conduct daylight operations and while at first the bombers were escorted by fighter aircraft, these soon proved unnecessary and the bombers could attack unescorted. The new aircraft formed the 69th "Patishim" (Hammers) squadron at Ramat David AFB, a squaron which has since operated the F-4 Phantom and the F-15I.
The IAF put to good use the unparalleled capabilities it had acquired with the arrival of the B-17s, dictating a hectic schedule for the 69th squadron with as many as three sorties per day for each aircraft. The B-17s flew their next missions on the day following their arrival. On the morning of July 16th the three bombers attacked El-Arish air base, while at noon they attacked Egyptian forces in the south and at night Syrian forces on the northern front. The next few days again saw extensive use of the B-17 with attacks against Jordanian, Iraqi and Egyptian forces, against the Syrian capital Damascus and against various Arab air bases.
On October 15th Israel launched operation "Yoav" to open the way to the besieged Negev desert and the 69th squadron flew dozens of sorties against Egyptian strongholds. During operation "Horev" the B-17s once again attacked Egyptian forces on the southern front, this time throughout the Sinai. A single maritime mission was also flown when two Egyptian destroyers attempted to shell Tel-Aviv on the first day of 1949. One Flying Fortress was launched against the destroyers but failed to hit the ships. By the war's end in July 1949 the 69th squadron had flown about 200 sorties, having taken an important part in every major Israeli operation.

Boeing B-17s

Following the War of Independence the 69th squadron moved to Ekron AFB, but moved again in 1953, this time to Hazor. During this period only two B-17s were airworthy at any one time as the Fortresses' maintenance proved an extremely difficult task. Yet in the years before operation "Kadesh" (the 1956 Suez Crisis) the IAF managed to acquire original B-17 spares and turrets and at least one example was equipped with a maritime search radar. The heavy bombers became maritime patrol aircraft and carried a silver livery. In June and July 1956 the aircraft were sent to storage at "Bedek Aviation" (later Israel Aircraft Industries) at Lod airport.
The onset of the Suez crisis in October 1956 brought a return to service of two B-17s. Both were taken out of storage and deployed at Ramat David air base. Although fighting broke out on October 29th the Forteresses did not fly their first mission until two days later. Expecting an Egyptian Air Force attack on Israel, the bombers were put on standby for a possible strike against Egyptian air fields. Although such an attack did not materialize, piston engined aircraft were not permitted near the battlefield until October 31st. The first B-17 sorties of the war were bombimg raids on Egyptian positions in the Gaza strip. In contrast to the important part the aircraft played in the War of Independence, the Fortresses played a very minor part in this campaign and displayed very poor performance. On November 1st and 2nd the bombers attempted to bomb Gaza but failed on both attempts because of poor weather conditions. On November 2nd one B-17 was damaged by ground fire while on November 4th both aircraft failed to hit their targets because of malfunctions in the bomb release mechanisms.
The aircraft were once and for all retired from the IAF in 1958. They were the last and only strategic bombers ever employed by the IAF.

Specification: Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress
Type: 10 seat strategic heavy bomber.
Powerplant: 4 * Wright R-1820-97.
Performance: max speed - 302 mph at 25,000ft, operational range - 3,400 miles.
Weights: max takeoff weight - 32660kg.
Dimensions: span - 31.62m, length - 22.78m.
Armament: 13 * 12.7mm machineguns with up to 7983kg of bombs carried internally.

Bristol Beaufighter

Nicknamed the "Whispering Death" by the Japanese during WWII, the Bristol Beaufighter was instrumental in driving the Japanese from South East Asia and in the defeat of the Luftwaffe's night bombing offensive against Britain. In 1948 IAF agents in Britain purchased 6 Beaufighters from a company which had bought these from RAF stocks. The aircraft had not been taken care of for some time and were devoid of their essential avionics, navigation gear and guns, and an extensive overall was required. By the time the Beaufighters were ready to leave Britain for Israel, the British government had become aware of Israeli attempts to acquire weapons locally. As an arms embargo had been imposed on the opposing sides in the Israeli War of Independence, the Beaufighters were to be smuggled out of Britain. Under the pretext of participating in the shooting of a WWII film, 4 Beaufighters (one had crashed while another had been canibalized for spares) took off in front of the director, the cameras and the filming "crew" - and never returned. By the time the British authorities had come to, the aircraft were somewhere over the Mediterranean, on their way to Israel. From Britain the Beaufighters flew to Corsica and on to an airfield the Yugoslav government had allowed the IAF to operate from. On August 1st 1948 the aircraft arrived at Ramat David air base where they joined the 103rd bomber and transport squadron. The aircraft formed the squadron's 'B' flight, lead by Leonard Fitchett, a Canadian volunteer.

IAF Beaufighters

RAF SerialBritish Civil RegistrationIAF Serial 
LZ185G-AJMGD.173Cannibalized for spares
RD135G-AJMBD.170Shot down by Egyptian
AAA, 20/10/48.
NT929G-AJME crashed in UK on 28/7/48,
pilot Mitchell Campbell killed.
NV306G-AJMF Scrapped in UK.

During the first few weeks of their operation, the Beaufighters were employed on pilot training missions, during which D.173 had crash-landed and subsequently taken out of service and cannibalized for spares. On October 15th 1948, with the onset of operation "Yoav" to break the Egyptian siege of the Negev, the Beaufighters flew their first combat mission. A pair of aircraft attacked the Egyptian air base at El-Arish, damaging the runway and a number of aircraft and hangars. Although one of the Beaufighters (D.171) was damaged in the attack and was forced to land in Ekron AFB, while the third was not yet airworthy, the remaining Beaufighter nonetheless continued to fly attack missions against the Egyptians on the southern front. On October 16 it conducted two daylight raids on the Egyptian stronghold of Faluja. On the morning of October 19th, D.171 was sent to assist the Israeli Navy in battles against Egyptian naval vessels when it encountered an Egyptian Hawker Fury flown by Abd Al-Hamid Abu Zayd, commander of Egypt's 2nd squadron. Aware that the Beaufighter stood little chance in a dogfight, the pilot, Len Fitchett, jettisoned his bombload and put his bomber into a dive low over the water. Followed by the Egyptian, Fitchett abruptly pulled up, just in time to see the Fury crash into the sea. The same day saw a Beaufighter bombing the Egyptian stronghold of Iraq-Suidan.
On the next day, October 20th, two Beaufighters again took off from Ramat David to assist Israeli forces in fighting around Iraq-Suidan. The lead aircraft, manned by Leonard Fitchett, Dov Shugerman and Stanley Andrews, was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in Egyptian controlled territory, all three murdered by Egyptian troops. When Israeli forces finally gained control of the crash site, only Fitchett's body was recovered. D.170, the downed Beaufighter, was not found for decades and only in November 1994 was it unearthed from the sands of southern Israel, its remains found in a construction site. What small parts of it that remain are today displayed in the IAF museum at Hazterim. The last airworthy Beaufighter continued to take part in various IDF operations. On October 28th it participated in fighting against the Syrians and Iraqis in the Galilee and in December 23rd in another attack on the El-Arish air base.
When the IAF changed aircraft serials in late November 1948, the two remaining Beaufighters received the serials 2201 and 2202. With the war's end, one remaining Beaufighter became a training aircraft. It crashed on one of its training sorties and although returned to service, it was nonetheless retired shortly later.

Beaufighter serials and info courtesy of Alex Smart. Alex is interested in anything to do with aircraft of all air forces that took part in the conflicts in the Middle East from the WW2 period to the post 1956 Suez period.

Specification: Bristol Beaufighter TF.Mk X
Type: three seat anti-shipping strike fighter.
Powerplant: 2 * Bristol Hercules XVII.
Performance: max speed - 303 mph at 13,000ft, operational range - 1,470 miles.
Weights: max takeoff weight - 11521kg.
Dimensions: span - 17.63m, length - 12.70m.
Armament: 4 * 20mm cannon and 1* 7.7mm machine gun with 2 * 113kg bombs or 8 * 41kg rockets under the wings.

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