Arab - Israeli Air Wars

The partition of Palestine and Israel’s war of independence

Date: Issue 100 - August 2020

On November 29, 1947 Resolution 181 of the United Nations General Assembly recommended a plan to partition Palestine into two sections as the Arab state and the Jewish state. Thus, the endless dispute started between the two nations, and conflicts between Arabs and Jews began to grow worse. In this article, we will mention briefly the air battles of these two nations. In the beginning, the Israelis started to utilize lightweight civil aircraft which were mainly used for reconnaissance. During the clashes in the Nevatim region, the first Israeli air strike took place on December 17, 1947 with the firing of Bren machine guns and hand grenades dropped  from the dismantled door of the R.W.D.13 plane to support the Jewish troops on the ground. On May 10, 1948, the Israelis lost their first airplane when the bomber Norseman crashed. Meanwhile, the first attack of the Arabs was the raid of Egypt’s Spitfires to Tel Aviv on May 15, 1948 upon the declaration of Israel’s independence. During this raid, most Israeli aircraft at the Sde Dov air base were either damaged or destroyed on the ground. One Egyptian Spitfire was shot down by anti-aircraft guns. At the outset, the Egyptians launched a military exercise with the Spitfires and C-47s modified for bombardment. Syria’s T-6 and Iraqi Avro Anson aircraft were located in Jordan and operations were conducted from there. Israel immediately started the process for the procurement of fighter planes as it did not have any in those days and eventually bought 25 Avia S-199s from Czechoslovakia. The first fighter plane arrived in Israel on May 20th. On May 29th, the Egyptian army was only 30 km away from Tel Aviv and Egyptian troops were attacked with four S-199s which had recently been received. Even the test flights had not yet been executed with these aircraft. Israel lost a pilot during the operation but managed to halt the Egyptian attack. The next day, one of the two S-199s that attacked the Iraqi troops in Natanya crashed. On June 3rd, Israel won its first air victory. One of the S-199s shot down two C-47s that had intended to bomb Tel Aviv. The following day, an Israeli Argus was shot down by an Egyptian Spitfire and thus Egypt gained its first air victory. The conflicts escalated and forces of both parties started to pit against each other more frequently. On June 8th, fighter planes of both sides fought for the first time in the air. The Israeli S-199 confronted the Egyptian Spitfire on the south of Tel Aviv. The Avia S-199 was in fact a Messerchmitt Bf-109 with a Jumo engine. In this way, history repeated itself three years after the end of World War II and Messerchmitt and Spitfire confronted each other in the air once again, and the S-199s won the battle. As a result, both parties strived to buy new air vehicles and increase their inventory as much as possible.  Aircraft remaining from World War II were bought and launched to the frontier again.

The second phase of air combat took place on July 8 - 18, 1948. During this conflict, also known as “the 10-day Battles”, Israel engaged a new air combat player. Three B-17s arrived in Israel on July 15th and immediately joined the operations. During the first six and a half days, Israeli Air Forces carried out 82 sorties and dropped 9 tons of bombs and in the remaining three days and upon the inclusion of the B-17s again, 82 sorties were conducted, and 48 tons of bombs were dropped. In the last days of 1948, the British Royal Air Forces (RAF) started to conduct operations with the Egyptian Air Forces. This cooperation was initially launched with the execution of reconnaissance missions yet later evolved into joint attacks. On June 7, 1949, four British Spitfire FR18s conducting reconnaissance missions were shot down by Israeli anti-aircraft guns and airplanes. Later the same day, the RAF and Israel Air Forces confronted each other once again. This time a British Tempest was shot down. On February 24, 1949, Egypt was the first country to sign a ceasefire agreement with Israel. Egypt was followed by Lebanon on March 23rd, Jordan on April 3rd and Syria on July 20th. Only Iraq withdrew its troops from the region without signing an agreement. Thus, the conflicts throughout the partition of Palestine and the foundation of the state of Israel ended. Without doubt, the controversial issues amid the parties were not resolved with these cease-fire agreements. The tension remained and the outbreak of another conflict was only a matter of time.