(BORN BARON WISEBERG)
(NOM DE GUERRE: DOV BEN ZVI)
Transcript of a tape recorded in May 1989
Here I am with a new tape, on 22"d May 1989, succumbing to both my sons' wishes to put my life down on tape. Maybe I will, maybe I won't, but for the time being I'm putting this lot on tape. It's about Israel and how I came to be there. So this has two purposes: one to pander to my children, and the other to get into the history books a little bit.
So here we go: in 1947 I had three close friends, Cyril Weiner, Danny Leon and Joey Shabtai. These people were all Zionists, and I was unaware that they were also members of a left-wing Zionist group called Hashomer Hatzair, which is Hebrew for the Young Guard, and which belonged to the Socialist party. The only connection I had with Zionism was through a youth movement called Habonim (the builders), which was connected to the synagogue that I went to, and we all had blue and white flags, sung Hebrew songs and Hatikvah, which later became Israel's national anthem. This was my connection with Zionism, and that was all, except that my parents, at cost to themselves, had hired a Palestinian who was in England as an emissary to teach me Hebrew. He was called Mendel. So that was my connection with Zionism, and we had a Blue Box, a Jewish National Fund box in our hall, and we used to put pennies and halfpennies in it. And that was the lot.
Now sometime in 1947 Cyril Weiner invited me into his office to meet a man whose name was, I think, Rubenstein. He was a doctor of Viennese extraction, a very intelligent and cultured man. We talked about all sorts of things, about the position of the Jews in England and all over the world. He said that sooner or later the British were going to leave Palestine and the Arab nations, all seven of them, had sworn that they were going to kill all the Jews, and he said that they would need people to come and fight because Jews in Palestine a) were not very numerous and b) not very skilled in war. He said, "Can you drive a tank? " and I said, "Ha ha, I think so," and then, "Can you fire a machine gun?" and I said, "Yes, certainly." And then, "Can you fire a rifle?" and so on, and so on. Then Cyril said, "He can fly an airplane, too", and Dr. Rubenstein asked, "An airplane, what sort of an airplane?" so I replied, "Well, at the moment I'm flying Seafires." He said, "God, you're just the sort of fellow we're going to need, do you mind if I put your name down?" I said, "Of course I didn't mind, put my name down with the greatest of pleasure," which he proceeded to do.
Then, I forgot about him and in early May 1948 I was flying with 1831 Squadron at Stretton, and I had a phone call from the front gate saying there was a man to see me called Mr. Weiner, and could they send him up? I said, "Of course, send him up to the squadron." So Cyril came into the office and said he had talk to me. I said go ahead and talk. He said, "No, in private." So we went outside, and he said, "They've been on the phone." I asked who had been on the phone? He said, "The Zionists have - they want you to go there straight away, the war is going to break out within a matter of days." Of course, I knew that the British were withdrawing then, but I had pushed it to the back of my consciousness.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I called in the senior pilot and said, "Can you look after things for a few days, I'm going to be away for a bit, here's the program, just carry on." Incidentally, I was in command, Ian Gilchrist wasn't there yet. I went to Cyril's house, we rang London, and they told me where to come.
When I got to London, I went into Mika's on Piccadilly. Incidentally, I was in uniform at the time, and brought with me a sports jacket and a tie, and wrapped up my uniform jacket and cap and my black tie, of course, into a parcel and sent them to my mother with a little note. She was, of course, horrified, thinking I'd been killed and they'd sent my clothing home or something like that. She read the note. I still couldn't say where I was going, I just said I was going away. My brother Maurice was in London at the time, working for a London textile firm, so I went to see him and told him where I was going and left it to him to tell my mother.
I went to a hotel in Swiss Cottage, behind John Barnes near Finchley Road tube station, and they said they were going to send me to Paris and I went to the Northolt aerodrome. Now, bear in mind, I was wearing a navy raincoat, uniform trousers, uniform shoes, white shirt and carrying a purser's bag with my weekend clothes in it. When I got to the immigration desk, they said, "Where are you going, sir?" I said, "I'm going to Paris." "And how long are you going to be in Paris?" and I looked at my bag, and said, "I suppose, a couple of days." "And what are you going to Paris for?" So I said I was going to meet some relatives there. Next to me in the queue was another young fellow. When asked where he was going, he said France, and the officer said, "Yes I know you are going to France, but where?" He said, " I'm going to Paris first, meeting my brother and then we're going down to Nice." The officer said, "You don't have a very big bag." He said, "I'm only going for a few days, and besides, you don't need many clothes in Nice." I looked at this bloke, who was about my age, obviously Jewish, his name turned out to be Cohen, and I said to myself, bloody fool that I am, it's an awful shame that a young fellow is going to France for a holiday with his brother, when he could be coming to Israel, because somehow, I had the idea that this bloke had something to do with flying.
We sat together in the airplane, and we talked about flying, and of course he had been in the RAF as a pilot, and when we got to Paris, he didn't know where to stay. I said, "Well, I know a good hotel, you can come and stay with me." We went to the Hotel Colisee on the Champs Elysées, where I had been staying for several years on my trips to France. I said to myself, this bloke really needs to be enlisted, but I don't know quite how to handle it. Anyway, we left each other in the morning, he went his way and I went mine up to the Jewish Agency office on the Avenue de la Grand Armée, where I met a lady called Ruth Berman, whom I met in Israel later on. I told her about this bloke staying in my hotel called Cyril Cohen who says he's going to meet his brother in Paris and then go on to Nice and he's a pilot and that I really thought we ought to bring him here. She said, "If you don't know him, you can't bring him here, God knows who he might be, he could be Arab or anything, a spy, MI6, whatever." So I didn't know quite what to do.
Later on that day, however, I went to see my cousin Jenny, who lived at the hotel in Boulevard Hausmann. and surprise, surprise, there was my Uncle Maurice visiting her as well. I took Cyril with me, by the way. I took Uncle Maurice aside and said, "Look, Uncle, this fellow, Cyril Cohen, he's a pilot, and I don't know what he's doing, it sounds like he's off on holiday, do you think you can talk to him and tell him where I'm going, and see if he'll come with me, but sound him out first in case he is a spy." So Uncle Maurice went back into the room, and a few moments later there was an enormous outburst of laughter and what had happened was this: of course Cyril Cohen was Jewish, and he was going to Israel. He was going under the auspices of the Irgun Zvai Leumi, the right-wing organization, and, in the time we had been apart, he had gone and told them that there's this fellow who is obviously a naval pilot, and it looks like he's going to fly a plane for the Arabs. The Irgun said, okay, tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock walk down this street and you will see a black Peugeot coming towards you, get out of the way, because we're going to kill the fellow. In the meantime however, I'd spoken to Uncle Maurice, who obviously saved my life, because Cyril and I became close friends and we had a smashing time in Paris.
I was able to draw money from Ruth Berman, no bother at all, and we did all the things young people do in Paris, including going to a bar which was just next door to the Hotel Colisee. At the entrance, it had a little pool for dogs let into the wall, and it was named Luigi's Dogs' Bar.
After about three or four days in Paris, Ruth said, "You are leaving, you will be a pilot," and that she had some aircraft especially for me to fly. She said that they were going to need me urgently so they were sending me to Czechoslovakia and from there I'd be going by plane to Palestine. So, full of joy and expectation, I got on an airplane and by various stages we flew to the aerodrome at Prague.
Sitting in front of me on the airplane was a tall fellow with crew-cut hair, wearing a black leather coat, looking very nasty indeed. And when we came off the airplane, he was speaking with an American accent. When I got to Prague, I had a phone call to make, and when I'd gone to a booth, there he was standing in the next phone booth, so I didn't make the call. I wandered around a bit and tried to lose him, and eventually found a phone without him around. I made the call, having been told to ask for Dr. Felix at the Palace Hotel in Prague and when I got through, I said, “Dr. Felix, there's this man keeping very close to me.” I described him and he said, “If you can't lose him then get on a bus to the Palace Hotel.” So I went to the hotel and went up to the 5th floor, knocked on the door, and a man who I later found out was from the Shin Beth, opened the door, asked me a set of questions, and eventually I was let in to see Dr. Felix, and he said, "Sit down, we'll get you away from Prague in no time at all. In the meantime, let me introduce you to our chief engineer, an American who has come over to look after the airplanes that we've got here, his name's Norman Novak, and he's next door." And there was this bloke in the black leather coat from the airplane! Great man, Czech origin, in fact, spoke Czech very well, and I came across him now and again in my Israel Air Force days.
At that time they didn’t like the English very much in Czechoslovakia. However, that didn’t stop us from getting along. Eventually we went back to the Palace Hotel and went down to the dining room to get some food. Our cover was that we were all supposed to be American students. There were four or five of us sitting around, and on everyone else's table there was a national flag, there were Russian, French, all sorts. Anyway, we gave our order in our American accents to the waiter, he came back with our drinks and a flag, the Israeli flag! We had thought our cover was secure!
From Prague, we were sent to one of two places: the fighter pilots went to a place called Ceske-Budejovice (Budweis - where the lager comes from), and the transport people, the mechanics, whatever they were and the other volunteers were sent to a place called Zatec. So I went to Budweis which turned out to be an active air force station, but there weren't any Spitfires there, only Messerschmitt 109s. They also had a Henschel 126, which was a small trainer airplane similar to the Harvard, and we were taken up by the instructors in this airplane to see if we could fly. Now, all the instructors had been in the RAF in the war and loved England, they thought it was the most wonderful place in the world. I had Sergeant Bilec and there was Flight Lieutenant Procupe and the captain of the place was Group Captain Hladio. I was taken by Dr. Felix on the Sunday morning, and the guard turned out and presented arms to Dr. Felix. Eventually a tall RAF officer came, tall, fair, blue eyes, aristocratic-looking with a beautiful West of England tweed sports jacket, blue flannels, a walking stick and a spaniel. And I thought, God, how can an RAF man be here, but it was the group captain who'd been in charge of a Czech fighter squadron in England. And they put me up in the 126, and saw that I could fly, so they put me into a dual 109 and they showed me the controls and so on and said, "Right, go off solo," which I did.
Now, it was very, very hot in May 1948, and for the first time ever, I saw airplanes ticking over at 1200 or 1500 revs, with water from hoses being forced through the radiators to keep them cool, I'd never seen that before at all. Probably they did it in the desert, but I wasn't in the desert. Anyway, to cut a long story short, we flew these airplanes around and while we were there a small transport aircraft with six people on board disappeared. We were very close to the Austrian border, and what had happened was that they had deserted because they didn't like the politics in Czechoslovakia, and incidentally, while we were there the Russians took the airfield over as well as Prague. We went on leave to a nearby town, Maury Mann, Cyril Horowitz and I, we had a room at the hotel and sure enough at 3 o'clock in the morning, there was a knock at the door, and there were the men in their trench coats and trilby hats. They came in and pretended not to talk English and we kept saying, please ring your foreign office and ask for Dr. Felix. One of them eventually said he could speak English, and did get on the phone to someone at the foreign office, who said, let them go, they are okay. We had very nice rooms in that hotel, we had duvets, and hot-and-cold running chambermaids and everything was lovely, for only five bob a night.
Then we were sent to Zatec, where we stayed at the local hotel called the Golden Lion, the Zlaty Lev. We went out to the aerodrome where the C-46s were being loaded up with packing cases. They also had internal fuel tanks. The packing cases were marked "tea sets and china and glassware," and the customs men were examining them and saying, "Yes, yes, yes," and the cases were loaded on board and eventually off we went. The captain of our aircraft was Norman Moonitz. We went to the back of this airplane as there were no seats. We had blankets and lay down from time to time. We eventually got to Ciampino in Rome, where we spent a couple of days fixing this that and the other. Then off we went to Ajaccio in Corsica. The aerodrome commandant was a French colonel, and he had a daughter who used to love the Machal aircrews, not me, unfortunately. And from Corsica, we filled up these fuel tanks in the back and eventually flew non-stop to an airfield in Israel called Akir, later called Ekron. Akir was the Arab name. We were put into limousines at night and driven along twisting turning roads. Rifle fire opened up at us and we saw flashes and sparks and heard bangs. Apparently we'd driven through Arab lines in order to get to Tel Aviv. They took us to the Hayarkon Hotel. My companions were Stan Andrews, Bob Vickman, Coleman Goldstein and lots of other people, including Milton Rubenfeld. But my two very close friends were Stan and Bob, with whom I shared a very nice room at the Hayarkon. We were told that the squadron we were going to had Messerschmitts. We were taken there in the morning, the fighting had pushed the Arabs back. We met Ezer Weizman who had his broken wrist in plaster, and Modi Alon, Goldstein, Maurie Mann, Lou Lenart (we used to call him Lennart), he would say, “It's Lenart, dammit!” He was a ex-US Marine pilot, and there was also Giddy Lichtman.
The Messerschmitt had been brought in two halves in two C-46s, and put together on the spot, but it wasn't really a Messerschmitt, as it didn't have the 1000 horsepower engine, it had the Junkers Yumo engine which had about 700 or 800 horsepower and big paddle blades to pull you through the air. None of us liked the airplane very much, but there it was, that's what we had to fly. All electrical workings, two buttons for the undercarriage, all electric gun firing and bomb release, except for the manual flaps, and you had a little hand wheel down by the left of your seat and you had to wind your flaps down, which obviously meant that you had to come to below 200 knots before you lowered your flaps otherwise the resistance would be too much. So you got people going down the downwind leg doing a sort of porpoise lowering their flaps. It wasn't a bad airplane to fly. We had radio, but it didn't seem to work very well, don't know what it was, but we had German throat microphones, no radio at Ekron. I did a few patrols, one of them with Maurie Mann, incidentally, on one of them we came down low because we'd been to intercept some Egyptian airplanes over Tel Aviv which were bombing the port, but by the time we got there we'd lost them. We didn't have any direction of course, and sort of zoomed around for a bit and couldn't see them, so we turned round and did a low dive over Tel Aviv, two Israeli airplanes with Magen David stars on the wings and of course, they sounded the air raid warnings. We landed, and somebody rang the airfield saying, Blah, blah, we've just had Egyptian airplanes dive-bombing Tel Aviv, it was us of course, we were told lots of people were also out clapping too.
101 Squadron was growing now, we had pilots from South Africa: Les Bloch, Syd Cohen and Rudy Augarten. Wayne Peake turned up and we were all sent on leave. Now the armament officer of 101 Squadron, fellow called Chaim Gayari, invited me to his kibbutz, Ein Harod. Since I arrived I had only been in 101 Squadron, but let me tell you why we called it 101 Squadron. It was our first squadron but we could not call it No. 1 Squadron as the Arabs would know we’ve only got one squadron, and we wanted them to think we had more, so somebody said, Okay, let's call it 21 Squadron and one of the Americans said, No, why not go the whole hog and call it 101. So we became the 101 Pursuit Squadron.
Stan Andrews sketched the logo of the flying angel of death on the planes, and they got red baseball bats with the little badge and the flying skull on it from the States. Finally I went to Gayari’s kibbutz. While at Ein Harod they also suggested that I go and see the large ex-RAF airbase in their area. I went over and met the Israeli commanding officer, Joshua Gilutz, who looked like a typical English gentleman with an RAF-type handlebar moustache. He had been a ground engineer with the rank of Squadron Leader in the RAF.
This airbase, called Ramat David, at the time was partly inactive, and they were waiting to receive some B-17 “Flying Fortresses.” There was also an interesting story about the Egyptian Air Force bombing the place while the RAF was still in possession. The British did not leave the airbase on May 15th. They had damaged three British Spitfires. The RAF Commander correctly assessed that the attack would be repeated, and sure enough, an hour later, four Egyptian aircraft attacked again. The RAF was ready for them, shot down two and damaged the other two.
Anyway, Gilutz suggested that I come over and take command. He pulled strings with 101 and pretty soon I was operations officer at Ramat David. Moved over and took possession of the excellent operations room the RAF had left, half underground and bomb proof.
Eventually the three Flying Fortresses arrived. We now had real bombers and the American engineer in charge of the ground crew for the B-17s came over to introduce himself. (I am still friendly with him and visit him in Los Angeles.)
Eventually the commanding officer left and I took command of Ramat David, in a ceremony of handing-over an ex-Palestine Police Webley 45-Revolver, in its khaki webbing pouch and holster. I moved into the little headquarters office which I also converted into my bedroom. I was given an adjutant, a “Yekke,” Reuben Bloch, who had been in the British Army in the North African desert. In addition, he had been one of the organizers of Aliyah Bet, and while in the desert he was one of those who would commandeer Royal Army Service Corps convoys with false journey sheets, and somehow get the vehicles to Palestine. The vehicles were used to bring in refugees from the Turkish border. They really did a fantastic job, these people of the Aliyah Bet, who built up the population so that we had people to fight the Arabs when the time came.
I was also given an RAF-trained pilot as administration officer – Gideon (Elrom) Gordon. We organized the base on RAF/Navy lines with standing orders, and I had a large deck made for myself.
One day a fantastic fellow came into my office in a navy blue overcoat and uniform cap with a great big badge on, with another impressive looking fellow. He introduced himself as the pilot, Claude Duval, and Del Webb who was his wireless operator (both non-Jewish). They had just brought in a Dakota and asked for transport back to Tel Aviv. Claude was another one of those chaps who saved Israel. He belonged to Universal Airlines, a South African Company. He was ex-RAF but not officially in the Israel Air Force. But his Dakota was used alternatively on the regular passenger run, South Africa to Europe, and for IAF missions supplying isolated Israeli outposts and kibbutzim in the Negev.
We eventually received enough Dakotas to form 103 Squadron, commanded by South African Danny Rosin. The fortresses were called 69 Squadron. We used the code-name “Hammers” for these American Flying Fortresses.
Before we developed a system of codes and ciphers, we used a mixture of Afrikaans (the South African Dutch language), Hebrew, English, and American slang. Eventually a British non-Jew, George Berliand, DFC and Bar, and French Paul Homesky brought in some Beaufighters and a Mosquito, and we were turned into a real operational airbase. We had Abe Nurick, South African, a real Zionist kibbutz member and engine mechanic who kept our planes flying. We had British Flight Engineer Stanley Hankin who worked on the Mosquitos. We had two or three pilots for the Beaufighters, including Len Fitchett, a Canadian non-Jew, and his navigator, a very nice British fellow, Dov Sugarman, whose wife Lily was squadron clerk. Sadly, Fitchett and Sugarman were shot down on 20th October in a low-level two-plane attack on the Iraq-el-Suweidan fortress. American pilot Stanley Andrews, who had gone along for the ride, was killed with them. As commanding officer of the base, I was the one who had to tell Lily the news of her husband's death.
It became known to me that Anita Foster, a volunteer in the army, had come to Israel. She was a very old friend of mine from Broughton Park. I got into my car and drove off to the camp where she was serving. I asked to see the commanding officer who turned out to be Ruth Berman, whom I had met on my way to Israel. I asked to see Anita, saying that she had air force training and that I wanted to take her to Ramat David. She said I could not have her. Using pull with a phone call to Chief of Staff Yigael Yadin, the transfer was approved and Anita became clerk to 69 Squadron. She eventually married British navigator Boris Bressloff.
Earlier on, we used the Dakotas by throwing bombs out of the door. The IAF had two aircrew trades that no other air force had: a bomb handler and a bomb chucker. But it really was not very efficient. Eventually our armaments officer, Yehuda Giladi, built bomb racks under the aircraft and Danny Rosin devised a bomb site to use in a dive, to release the eight bombs underneath.
The Galil squadron was still operating against the Arab Liberation Army under the command of Fawzi El-Kaukji, a relative of the grand mufti of Jerusalem. Both had spent time in Germany during World War II trying to raise a Croatian Muslim battalion to fight on the side of the Nazis.
Moshe Carmel, Commanding Officer of the Northern Command, and I used to spend time at his headquarters where we would plan coordinated air support for his ground units. His operations officer was Mordechai Makleff, who had served in the World War II Jewish Brigade. I became very friendly with his telephone operator Hannah Lipschitz, whose father, a prominent businessman, lived in Haifa. But she later married Canadian Ben Dunkelman who commanded the 7th Armored Brigade My brother Maurice and I went to their wedding, where we both got intoxicated!
After its capture Northern Command moved its headquarters to Nazareth, which enabled me to visit there. Later, after “Operation Hiram”, I used to visit the 72nd Battalion at St. Lukes near Haifa, where one of the company commanders was Thomas Derek Lacey Bowden, who had first arrived in Palestine as a cavalryman in one of the Hussar regiments. He came back as a volunteer in 1948, using the name David Appel, adapted from the family in whose home he had recuperated after being wounded in a clash with French Vichy Forces on the Lebanese border. One of his platoon commanders was Stanley Medicks from Kenya, a great character. All the volunteers were great characters. I also met an officer of the 9th Brigade, Laszlo Pataqui from South America, who wore a beautiful leather holster belt with pearl-handled revolvers. Many years later I bumped into him in Paris in the Rue de la Pair. He asked me what I was doing there and I answered that I was on leave. He invited me to go shopping with him; the store was the French equivalent of Spinks, and he picked out half a dozen medals and ribbons which he wore. We then went to a handbag shop and he bought a ladies' bag. He gave me this bag to give to a girl whose name he did not remember; she had served in the 7th Brigade, and he asked me to give her the bag and say Laszlo loves her very much, which of course I did.
While visiting the 72nd again when they were at Rosh Pina in December 1948, I went to Capernaum where Jesus used to preach in the old synagogue which had been evacuated, and as I stood there in this ancient synagogue I was taken back 2,000 years, a real mystical experience, more than I felt when we got to Jerusalem. Tears came to my eyes, but that’s easy, I cry at anything. Anyone going to Israel must go there.
Anyway, back to the air force. When I was still in 101 Squadron I had two particular friends, both American pilots, Bob Vickman from Hollywood and Stan Andrews from New York. Bob was very tall and I don’t know how we folded him into a Messerschmitt. We decided that when it was all over we would go to Hollywood and start a film-making studio: Bob had connections. Stan was an artist and I had a certain “English-something."
On July 9th, Bob and his Messerschmitt failed to return from an attack mission on the former RAF base at El-Arish. It was presumed that he was shot down by the heavy anti-aircraft fire at that airfield. Search and rescue planes went out to look for him but he was never found, and probably crashed into the sea. I was at Ramat David and Syd Cohen phoned me from the 101 base to tell me. I broke down and went to my room, and cried all night. Eventually, Betty, the big blonde Dutch cipher officer, came in and quietened me down.
Stan Andrews missed Bob more than I did, and had been doing stupid things. After I discovered that he had been up as a passenger on a Beaufighter, I arranged with the OC’s deputy to ground him. But on October 20th he went up on a raid with pilot Len Fitchett and navigator Dov Sugarman. They were shot down and killed. To keep him from flying, he had been promoted to major and was made liaison officer to the U.N. in the south, but he had to go on that last flight.
Previously, during a communication flight to Jerusalem on August 3rd, when pilot Emmanuel Rothstein was taking off on the return flight, the engine lost power and crashed into the nearby hills. With him was female pilot Zohara Levitov, hitching a ride from Jerusalem after a visit to the area. Their bodies were found mutilated, which also upset me then. But when Stanley was shot down, I really broke down and was taken to hospital in Haifa, and Bill Katz became commanding officer. I spent a fortnight in hospital and then was sent down to Tiberias on convalescent leave.
By 1949 we had a well-organized bomber command and the fighter command 101 Squadron had been re-equipped with Spitfires. The Czech Air Force had received them from the RAF after World War II and then they were purchased by our Haganah agents. They were flown out, 14 of them, in two operations; 3 in September and 11 in December, in historical record flights for single-engine aircraft non-stop from Yugoslavia, guided by a DC-4 mother ship navigated by South African Machalnik Cyril Steinberg. The pilots were mostly Machal volunteers, but included three Israelis – Motti Fine (Hod), Sandy Jacobs and Danny Shapiro, all to make their mark later on in the IAF. Sadly, Sandy Jacobs, a sabra educated at Oxford, was shot down and killed in the 1956 Sinai Campaign. One of the Machal pilots, American Sam Pomerance, the initiator of these operations, was killed flying into a Yugoslav mountain in adverse December weather.
These Spitfires were used extensively in the final operations of the war, and also as escorts for our B-127 and Dakota bombers. In the last sortie of the war our Spitfires shot down five RAF Spitfires and Furies flying over our lines on the Sinai border.
Source: Transcript of a tape recorded by David Baron In May 1989