1955 saw the beginning of what I call “our love affair with France”. The French government opened its gates to us and three brand new Noratlas Nord 2501 twin transports arrived to replace our ageing WWII C-47s. Jet fighters such as the Ouragan and later the Mystere 4 were also purchased.
It was decided for political and tactical reasons to use Israeli fighter pilots to ferry the first six Mystere 4s from France to Israel. The long distance involved necessitated an interim technical landing for refueling. One Noratlas Nord would carry technical crews for turnaround duties and I was in that crew acting as flight Radio Officer.
The convoyage was planned with a certain amount of “discretion” – not to say secrecy – to reduce to a minimum diplomatic incidents and possible Arab guerrilla attempts.
The en-route airport chosen was Brindisi in the south of Italy. In those days the Italian Air Force was responsible for Civil Aviation as well. Such was the case in Brindisi where the Airport Director was a Colonel in The Italian Air Force. By use of judicious bribery, control “changed hands” and the Israelis were in total charge during the convoyage period.
Two days before the beginning of the operation, Israeli intelligence was informed that plans for sabotaging the aircraft were under way. The refueling supply would be contaminated and thus cause our aircraft to crash after takeoff. No laboratories were available in the area to test the fuel quality. Refueling was to be accomplished by using three bowsers – two planeloads per bowser.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention.
A squadron of T-33 trainer jets was based in Brindisi and the Italian Colonel was bribed again. Orders were issued that on the morning before the arrival of our Mysteres, three T-33’s were to be refueled from the three bowsers. They would then start up, taxi and take off for a short flight.
When all the three had an uneventful flight, the bowsers were given a Kosher label, and were used to safely refuel our planes. The mission was a success. The Italian Colonel went into an early and very comfortable retirement. He also became a lifelong friend of Israel.
Lt. Col. (Ret.) Abraham “Oboe” Nimrod served first as Flight Radio Officer, then as Navigator in the IAF Transport Squadrons and with El Al, Israel’s national airline, with full flying status from 1951 until 1993. He logged 32,000 flying hours on a variety of aircraft including C-47 Dakota, Noratlas Nord 2501, Constellation, Britannia 313, Boeing 707, C-130 Hercules and B377 Stratocruiser.