The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence
by By Boaz Dvir
Pub Date 31 Jan 2020
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At the opening of its war for independence in 1948, Israel needed weapons, aircraft in particular, and with a U.S. ban on arms sales, it needed a creative solution. Enter Al Schwimmer, who feared a repeat of the Holocaust, and Charlie Winters, the Boston son of Irish immigrants—two Americans with experience purchasing and flying planes in World War II and with sympathy to the Jewish state. Connected to both the aviation industry and the Jewish underground, they arranged to smuggle weapons to Israel, including, ironically, old German Messerschmitt fighters and, more significantly, American B-17 bombers, one of which Winters piloted across the Atlantic himself. Part of a squadron known as The Hammers, the bombers formed the nucleus of the new Israel air force.
This pair of American made vital contributions to Israel’s victory and independence, and both were later convicted of violating the 1939 Neutrality Act. Schwimmer would be pardoned by Bill Clinton and Winters by George W. Bush, their cause having attracted the support of Steven Spielberg, among others.
This is history that reads like a thriller. The participants risked their lives, freedom, and citizenship to prevent what they viewed as a possible second Holocaust, and their story is one of a covert operation involving smuggling, evading the FBI and State Department, connections to underground Jewish intelligence and military groups, and acts of personal bravery in purchasing weapons, ferrying them across thousands of miles, and taking them into combat.
The American Jewish and Christian role in helping Israel win its War of Independence in 1948 is little known in the US or Israel. Saving Israel is a revelation.
- Ralph Lowenstein, dean emeritus, University of Florida College of Journalism
How did Israel come to rely on Nazi-surplus weapons during its war for independence in 1948? How did a fledgling state that didn’t yet have an air force manage to turn back a powerful Egyptian military column that was poised to march on Tel Aviv? In Saving Israel, Boaz Dvir answers these questions and more by recreating the relatively little-known story of a heroic band-of-brothers—a group of American WWII vets who risked their comfortable lives and freedom to answer a desperate call for help. Drawing on over two-dozen interviews, Dvir’s book brings this incredible chapter in Israel’s early history to life. What motivated these men to fly for Israel at a time when its survival hung in the balance? Saving Israel is a must read for anyone interested in military history and learning more about America’s war heroes.
- Miriam F. Elman, Executive Director, Academic Engagement Network, and Associate Professor of Political Science, Syracuse University