On Nov. 29, 1947, U.N. Resolution 181 called for an end of the British Mandate in Palestine and the creation of two independent states: a Jewish state (Israel) and a Palestinian state, side-by-side.
The resolution was rejected by Israel’s neighbors and, on May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence, war broke out.
The neighboring Arab states’ air forces were a somewhat motley collection of World War II fighters, trainers and transports, and the Egyptian air force was the strongest, with a number of ex-Royal Air Force Spitfires and C-47 transports modified as bombers.
Since the Israelis had practically no air force, the C-47s had an easy time when they conducted bombing raids over Tel Aviv, and on May 18, a C-47 raid on Tel Aviv’s central bus station killed 42 Israelis and wounded more than 100.
When a force of three Egyptian C-47s approached Tel Aviv on June 3, they once again expected an easy time. To their surprise, a small single engine fighter approached them and opened fire.
The C-47s had no defensive armament and two were shot down. These were the first victories for the newly formed Hel Ha’Avir (Israeli air force) and its “Hakrav Harishona” (First Fighter) Squadron, later renamed the 101 Squadron.
The aircraft was flown by a native born Israeli, Modi Alon, but the fighter he flew was not one supplied by the World War II Allies. It was a Czech S.199 – a version of the German Messerschmitt Bf-109G.
The story of the S.199 and how they arrived in Israel is one of the most unique in military aviation history.
During World War II, the Czech Avia company produced the German Bf-109 fighters and, after the war, the new government told the company to continue to build the Bf-109 for national guard units.
Avia built the airframes and added Bf-109 Daimler-Benz DB 605AM engines that the Germans had left in a sugar refinery warehouse. Avia called the aircraft the S.99.
Unfortunately, after a few S.99 aircraft were fitted with the DB 605s, the rest of the DB 605s were destroyed during an explosion and fire at the warehouse where they were stored. Avia then had plenty of Bf-109G airframes but no Bf-109 engines. The company then made a necessary, but unfortunate, decision to mount Junkers Jumo 211F engines with paddle bladed propellers, a combination that had been mounted on Heinkel He 111 bombers, on the Bf-109 airframe.
The Jumo engined fighters were renamed the S.199, but the problems with the new bomber engine soon became legion.
The Jumo was much heavier, making the S.199 nose-heavy, and because it was intended for a bomber, it accelerated very slowly.
Additionally, the powerful engine, combined with the large paddle-bladed propeller, created a huge amount of torque. With the narrow track landing gear and the generally obscene landing characteristics of the normal Bf-109, this made the S.199 a killer. The Czech quickly nicknamed it “Mezek” (mule).
This mattered little to Israeli agents in early 1948 trying desperately to buy combat aircraft. They negotiated the purchase of 25 S.199s from the Czechoslovak government and the first examples arrived in Israel in late May 1948.
The performance and handling characteristics of the S.199 dismayed the Israeli pilots, and one Avia pilot remarked, “She tried to kill us on every take off and landing.”
Still, it was all they had, and they made the best of it.
In addition to Alon’s victories, four S.199s are given credit by many Israelis for saving the country. In early June, an Egyptian armored column was only 20 miles away from Tel Aviv facing a small, exhausted Israeli army. Four S.199s attacked the undefended Egyptian column and, under this heavy attack, the column stopped.
The next day, Jewish ground forces had reorganized and were able to stop the advance. Amazingly – and ironically – the Avia S.199 was the hero of the hour; a German World War II fighter had helped save the Jewish state.
A period of on-again, off-again cease fires then ensued as Israeli agents fanned out across the world in search of any available combat aircraft.
By the end of 1948, the Israeli air force was equipped with Spitfires and Mustangs, but Modi Alon was not around to see it. He was killed in his S.199 in a landing accident on Oct. 16, 1948.
For questions or comments, contact Dr. Michel at email@example.com.