The Israel Air Force 101 Squadron helped save the new Jewish state. Gideon Lichtman (center, shirtless) and Leon Frankel (to his left) played a key role in the fighting.
"A Wing and a Prayer" tells the mostly unknown story of a group of World War II-veteran pilots who risked their lives and freedom to give Israel a fighting chance during its 1948 War of Independence.
In its infancy, Israel stood on the brink of annihilation. Facing five Western-armed Arab military forces as it prepared to declare independence in May 1948, the country had a sparsely equipped army, a wingless air force and no allies. Even the United States joined the worldwide embargo that threatened to strangle Israel before it could take its first breath. In fact, America was downright hostile, barring its citizens from helping the Jewish state and stripping down and grounding the decommissioned World War II airplanes the Israelis bought in California.
A group of pilots put their post WWII lives and college education on hold to give Israel a fighting chance. They kept the Arab bombers away from Tel Aviv, cleared the way for the Israeli ground forces and, most importantly, airlifted the only weapons the Israelis could get: Nazi-surplus rifles, bullets and second-class Messerschmitt fighter planes from factories in then Czechoslovakia.
Without those weapons, Israel would have lost the war. And if the Egyptian pilots, who flew superior British-made Spitfires, had continued having free reign in the skies, they would’ve demolished the infant country’s fragile population centers. Against impossible odds and thorny obstacles, including an antagonistic U.S. State Department, the volunteer pilots reshaped history. Yet history books ignore them.
"A Wing and a Prayer" tells the stories of the key members of this group, some of whom faced harassment and criminal charges upon returning to the United States. They all said it was worth it. In fact, they said it was the best thing they had ever done.
Pilot Gideon Lichtman
Pilot Leon Frankel
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