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Purity of Arms

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American Fighter Pilot Rudy Augarten of 101 Squadron  E-mail


Israel was in short supply of almost everything: it had fewer  than ten serviceable fighter planes in the entire country, and only one fighter squadron. Consequently, it didn't have enough planes for the two dozen pilots who were capable of flying them, and there was always competition for each flight.  

On October 16, 1948, one day into the first major Israeli offensive against the Egyptians, called Operation Yoav, Augarten's turn had finally arrived.  Egypt's air base at El Arish had been one of the sites of the previous day's raid by Israel's only fighter squadron, the 101st.  Augarten was on a photo-reconnaissance mission to determine what targets the Air Force had destroyed, and what it still needed to finish off. Although his assignment was not very demanding, he was happy for the chance to fly at all.  Rudy flew southward toward the coast.  Suddenly, in the distance, he spotted two Spitfires flying in formation.  Augarten could tell by their shape that they were not ME-109s, like the plane he was flying.  He was too far away to make out their markings, but that didn't really matter.  Though the Israeli Air Force had several Spitfires in its arsenal, he knew immediately that the two Spits were Egyptian,  because mechanical problems and fuel shortages limited the Israeli Air Force to using only a few planes in the air at any one time. When pilots in the air saw another plane, they could always be confident that it wasn't one of their own.  

Augarten carefully got into position behind the two Egyptians, hoping they wouldn't detect his approach.  Just then, fellow 101 pilot Leon Frankel, who was patrolling in the area, saw Augarten beginning to engage the Spits.  Trying to come to Augarten's aid, Frankel rolled his plane over and dove toward the combatants.  But before he reached the scene, Augarten lined up one of the Spits in his gun sight, and fired a burst from the Me-109's two 7.92 millimeter machine guns.  Pieces of the Spitfire flew off as the bullets pierced its thin aluminum body.  The Egyptian plane plummeted toward Israeli lines, leaving a trail of black smoke.  The other Spit fled the battle scene. With no other enemy planes in sight, Frankel and Augarten fell into formation for the trip back to the base.  A few days later Augarten got a treat that few fighter pilots ever receive.  An army unit took him by jeep to see firsthand the wreckage of the plane he had downed.  Smiling broadly, he posed for a photograph in front of what remained of the Spit.  With that victory, Augarten had experienced the Czech version of the ME-109 at its best.

His victory at the beginning of Operation Yoav was his first as a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, but it would not be his last.  The next day after the capture of Beersheba, Rudy Augarten was again in the air over the Negev.  This time Augarten was in one of the squadron's new Spitfires.  He was not alone on this flight.  Canadian Jack Doyle flew the other Spit at Augarten's side.  As the two patrolled, they spotted four Egyptian Spitfires.  Veteran pilots, Doyle and Augarten turned to come out of the sun at the enemy planes.  They each picked a target, coming in with their guns blazing.  Augarten recorded his second kill of the war, Doyle his first.  The two pilots also damaged the other two Egyptian planes before returning home.

On October 15th Augarten, together with South Africans pilots Syd Cohen and Jack Cohen, had also been involved in the raid on El Arish air base which put the airport and all of its planes out of action,.  When  their three radios failed them, they used visual signals amongst themselves, dropped bombs on the runway, and strafed everything in sight. Hitting the aircraft in the hangars called for some low flying: the three veterans proved  equal to all that was required of them.

On December 22 he climbed into a Spitfire in response to a report of Egyptian planes in the area, and damaged a Macchi that was about to land at the El Arish air-field.  Two days later he flew a P-51 Mustang on a fighter patrol.  Later that same day he was back in the Spitfire for a photo-reconnaissance mission over Egyptian positions.  

During the course of the war, he shot down four Egyptian planes, a total matched only by Jack Doyle.  Augarten,  who had flown a P-47 Thunderbolt during World War II, made his four kills from an Me-109, a P-51 Mustang and twice from Spitfires, in a remarkable display of flying skill.  

Many of the overseas Machalniks stayed on after the war for at least a few months to help train young Israelis to fill the void created by their departure. This was particularly the case in the Air Force.  In Squadron 101, Rudy Augarten and several other pilots remained in Israel to train the first class of Israeli fighter pilots.  Augarten then went back to his studies at Harvard to complete his degree.  After that, he returned  to Israel, where he served for two years as the commander of the air base at Ramat David.  He resigned from the Air Force with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

 

Click here for a more extensive story about Rudy, with some great photographs: http://www.elknet.pl/acestory/augarten/augarten.htm

 

THE LATE RUDY AUGARTEN:

Letter from Commanding Officer 101 Squadron (September 2000) to Rudy’s widow Arlyn Augarten

Dear Arlyn,

On behalf of 101 Squadron, please allow me to deliver our deepest sympathy and condolence for the loss of Rudi.

Although it has been over 50 years, the legacy that Rudi and the other veterans of 101 Squadron/1948 created, is still the guiding path that leads us in our daily life and work. A legacy of honor and courage, a legacy of doing the right thing by taking care of the safety of the just born state, a legacy of excellence in performance, and achieving the goal one sets for himself.

Rudi, for the last time, check your engine speed, pull down your landing gear and flaps. You are number 1 in the circuit and you are clear for landing, quietly, and without a sound, taxi slowly back to the hangar and park your plane. A well trained maintenance crew is ready to accept you, wearing their white wings.

Farewell our friend and rest in peace, because as long as the 101 Squdron exists, your memory is cherished in our hearts.

Writer: Col. Y. Rief, Commanding Officer, 101 Squadron, Israel Air Force.

Source: American Veterans of Israel Newsletter: Fall 2000