Arms shipments from Czechoslovakia to Israel 1947–49
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Between June 1947 and October 31, 1949 the Jewish agency (later to become the Israeli government) seeking weapons for Operation Balak, made several purchases of weapons in Czechoslovakia, some of them of former German army weapons, captured by the Czechoslovak army on its national territory, or newly produced German weapons from Czechoslovakia's post-war production. In this deal, sale activities of Czechoslovak arms factories were coordinated by a special-purpose department of the Československé závody strojírenské a kovodělné, n.p. (Czechoslovak Metal-Working and Engineering Works, Nat.Ent.) Holding, called Sekretariát D (Secretariat D), headed by Gen. Jan Heřman (ret.).
The deliveries from Czechoslovakia proved important for the establishment of Israel.
The arms contracts and deliveries
The first contract was signed on January 14, 1948, by Jan Masaryk, the Czech foreign minister. Ideology played no role in these initial transaction. They were exclusively commercial. The contract included 200 MG 34 machine guns, 4,500 P 18 rifles and 50,400,000 rounds of ammunition.
After the Communist coup d'état in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, military support for the nascent state of Israel increased temporarily. However, Stalin's briefly held policy of support for the state of Israel soon evaporated, and in the wake of the Tito–Stalin split, all Communist Parties had to put their foreign policy in lockstep with the Kremlin's to prove their loyalty. In this context the Czechoslovak Communists ended weapons sales to Israel. Subsequently, Stalin carried out an international purge of Communist Party officials suspected of sympathy for nationalist or Jewish variations of communism. The Communist foreign minister Vladimír Clementis, who had been the main supporter in the Czechoslovak government of the arms exports to Israel, fell victim to this purge in the Slánský trial.
The first shipment of two hundred rifles, forty MG-34 machine guns, and bullets, secretly landed during the night of 31 March–1 April at a makeshift airfield at Beit Daras in a chartered American Skymaster cargo plane. The second larger shipment, covered with onions and potatoes— of forty-five hundred rifles and two hundred machine guns, with bullets, arrived at Tel Aviv port aboard the Nora on 2 April. (A third shipment of ten thousand rifles, 1,415 machine guns, and bullets, reached the Yishuv by sea on 28 April.) At last, the Haganah command had at hand a stockpile of thousands of weapons that it could freely deploy. The two shipments proved decisive. Without doubt, of all the shipments that subsequently reached the Yishuv, none was to have greater immediate impact or historical significance."
- Total deliveries (confirmed until October 1948)
- Infantry weapons
- 34,500 P-18 rifles
- 5,515 MG 34 machine guns with 10,000 ammo belts
- 10,000 vz.24 bayonets
- 900 vz. 37 heavy machine guns
- 500 vz. 27 pistols
- 12 ZK-383 submachine guns
- 10 ZK 420 semi-automatic rifles
- 500 vz. 26 light machine guns (shipped, yet delivery not confirmed in Czech sources)
- Infantry ammunition
- 91,500,000 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridges
- 15,000,000 9mm Parabellum cartridges
- 375,000 13mm cartridges for MG 131
- 150,000 20mm cartridges for MG 151
- 375,000 7.65mm cartridges for vz. 27 pistol
Some of the aircraft were lost en route to Israel. The delivery of aircraft began on May 20, 1948, and was conducted from the Czech airfield near the town of Žatec. Some of Avia fighters were dismantled and flown to Israel in transport airplanes.
Some of the deliveries were not finished until after cessation of hostilities. Only eighteen Spitfires reached Israel prior to end of war by direct flight from Czechoslovakia during operations Velvetta 1 in September (6 planes) and Velvetta 2 in December 1948 (12 planes), both operations with a refueling stop in Yugoslavia. During operation Velvetta 2 Spitfires were repainted in Yugoslav Air Force markings for the flight from Kunovice to Nikšić. The rest were shipped in crates, officially declared as scrap iron, along with 12 Merlin 66 engines, and deliveries lasted until the end of April 1950.
Other defense cooperation
Czechoslovakia also trained 81 pilots and 69 ground crew specialists, some of them later forming the first fighter unit of the Israeli Air Force, and on Czechoslovakian soil a group of Jewish volunteers the size of approximately a brigade (about 1,300 men and women) were also trained, from August 20, 1948 until November 4, 1948. The Czechoslovak Armed Force's codename of the training (mainly) was «DI» (an abbreviation from "Důvěrné Israel", literally meaning "Classified, Israel"). A Moto-Mechanized Brigade Group of Jewish volunteers trained in Czechoslovakia didn't take part in the 1948 war.
- Howard M. Sachar (24 March 2010). Israel and Europe: An Appraisal in History. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 56–. ISBN 978-0-307-48643-1.
Early in 1947...Czech weaponry might be available...personally approved by...Jan Masarik. Ideology played no role in these initial transaction. They were exclusively commercial
- Yoav Gelber (1 January 2006). Palestine 1948: War, Escape And The Emergence Of The Palestinian Refugee Problem. Sussex Academic Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-84519-075-0. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
In December 1947 Syria bought a quantity of small arms from the Skoda plant in Czechoslovakia for the ALA. Jewish saboteurs blew up the ship that carried the cargo to the Middle East and sank it in the Italian port of Bari. The arms were later salvaged and reshipped in August 1948 to Syria — this time for arming Palestinian combatants — but the Israeli navy intercepted the freight and seized the weapons.
- Morris,2008, p.117, "The first shipment—of two hundred rifles, forty MG-34 machine guns, and 160,000 bullets—secretly landed during the night of 31 March–1 April at a makeshift airfield at Beit Daras in a chartered American Skymaster cargo plane.29 A second and far larger shipment, covered with onions and potatoes— of forty-five hundred rifles and two hundred machine guns, along with five million bullets—arrived at Tel Aviv port aboard the Nora on 2 April. (A third shipment—consisting of ten thousand rifles, 1,415 machine guns, and sixteen million rounds— reached the Yishuv by sea on 28 April.) Before this, the Haganah high command had had to “borrow” weapons from local units for a day or two for specific operations, and the units (and settlements) were generally reluctant to part with weapons, quite reasonably arguing that the Arabs might attack while the weapons were on loan. Now, at last, the Haganah command had at hand a stockpile of thousands of weapons that it could freely deploy. The two shipments proved decisive. As Ben-Gurion put it at the time, “After we have received a small amount of the [Czech] equipment . . . the situation is radically different in our favor.” Without doubt, of all the shipments that subsequently reached the Yishuv, none was to have greater immediate impact or historical significance."
- Greenberg, Joel (May 10, 1998). "'Fun Stuff' in '48: British Gentile in Israel Air Force". The New York Times.
- 101st Israeli Fighter Squadron History
- (in Czech)Czech army page
- Jan Skramoušský: Zbraně pro Izrael, Střelecký Magazín 11/2005
- Arnold Krammer: The Forgotten Friendship - Israel and the Soviet Bloc, 1947–53, University of Illinois Press 1974pp. 54–123.