Leslie, Transvaal, South Africa
Jack Cohen, born of Lithuanian immigrants in South Africa, was controlling heavy machinery at an early age. He was driving by the time he was eight years old, and even then, in the mid-1920s, he dreamed of flying. In 1936, at the age of 17, he started flying lessons under the tutelage of Doreen Hooper, later Col. Hooper, head of the Woman's Auxiliary Air Force.
All boys 16 and older had to sign up with South Africa's Active Citizens Force, and so Jack had, in the infantry. In 1938, with war on the horizon, Cohen tried to volunteer for the SAAF, but was told to wait until the Air Force had organized itself. When pre-war mobilization came, he found himself still on the ground, as a footsoldier in the Rand Light Infantry (RLI, 2 SA Infantry Division). Word came from the SAAF for Cohen to report but the Adjutant wouldn't release him from his infantry commitment.
Needless to say I became a real rebel and was always in trouble, for which I received two stints in detention, once for 30 days and once for 45 days, but that still didn't alter my determination to strive for that transfer. (Cohen 2000)
When war broke out, Cohen volunteered to drive three-ton trucks from Pretoria to Cairo rather than face the threat of German submarines on a troop ship. Cohen resisted a transfer from the Q Services (transport) to the combat infantry and earned another 90 days detention at a detention camp near Helwan, Egypt. An old injury gave Cohen an excuse to become a cell orderly and avoid hard labor - except for one week's work building the commander's new house:
I happened to be on the scaffolding catching the bricks as they were being thrown up from the ground. Just at that time, I noticed the O.C. and some of his gang walking past. Of course I didn't know they were "there" and happened to miss a brick - unfortunately it missed all of them. From there I was made a waiter in the Sergeants' mess. I got on exceptionally well with all the staff but I hated the Sergeant Major's guts and one day (accidentally on purpose) tripped on the carpet and dropped two plates of soup all over his nicely cleaned and pressed Barathea uniform. Well, so much for being a waiter, and that's how I became a cell orderly. (Cohen 2000)
Certain he was going to find himself back in the RLI, Cohen faked a belly illness before his 90 days were up. Sent to a hospital in Cairo, Cohen was diagnosed with appendicitis whereupon he asked the hospital CO to operate and remove it. After the operation, Cohen hung around the hospital helping out, and it's possible the hospital was keeping him for observation: any man who asks for his perfectly healthy belly to be cut open probably deserves to have an eye kept on him.
Actually, I think they enjoyed having me there, for as soon as they allowed me out of bed, I became jack of all trades and used to help everyone. I even became friendly with the hospital O.C. who had actually operated on me. Soon a lot of casualties started coming in so I thought it was about time I gave my bed to someone who really needed it more than I did. So I went to the O.C. to see about getting discharged.
As soon as I broached the subject, he smiled and told me to sit down and said to me, "Jack, you know there was very little wrong with you when you came in." To which I replied, "Yes, sir, I know, actually there was nothing wrong." Then he said to me that a man doesn't have an operation for nothing - just tell me the story - which I gave to him in full detail about how I had been trying to get a transfer to the air force. He was most understanding and said he would see what he could do to help me. He then sent me to a convalescent camp in Alexandria for two weeks.
After a glorious holiday, I arrived back at Helwan base camp just outside Cairo to be given a message at the guard house that I was to report immediately to the camp O.C. The first thing that went through my mind was, "What trouble am I in now?", but to my surprise, whatever my friend the Hospital O.C. had said or done had borne fruit. There were instructions that I had to report to Villa Vic in Cairo, which was the South African Air Force Headquarters, where I had to go before the selection board and do a Flying Medical. Needless to say I was on cloud nine. I had no problems with the interview or the medical and about a month later I was on my way back to South Africa for training.(Cohen 2000)
This was late 1942, after the battle of El Alamein in October.
My initial flying training, known as Elementary Flying Training (EFTS), was done at Potchefstroom in the Transvaal. I had been warned not to mention anything about having a Civilian Private Pilot's Licence, as they would give me a hard time, so I kept quiet about it. We were all then allotted to our instructors; mine was really an outstanding chap who I got on exceptionally well with. It was now my turn to get well ahead of the other boys. After my first flight (we were being trained on Tiger Moths, otherwise known as DH 82A), I was quite happy to go on my own but I just had to be patient. Anyway, my instructor thought he really had an outstanding pupil and let me go solo after four hours....
On completion of our EFTS course at Potchefstroom, we were posted to the Service Flying Training Course (SFTS) at Vereeniging. Here we flew Harvards (AT6) which I thought was a very good training plane. She had so many vices that if you were careless she would turn around and "bite" you - no second chances. Here we were given instruction on fighter flying, gunnery, navigation and of course a continuation of meteorology and theory of flight. I must say that the flying side of the course was now becoming very interesting. We were also doing a lot of training on the Link Trainer, which was a machine in the shape of an aircraft cockpit with all the instrumentation - you would climb in and the cover would be pulled over so that all you could see were the instruments. The instructor would be at a table outside giving you all the instructions from circuits and bumps (take-offs and landings) to cross country flights. It was really a Gremlin Box but it certainly taught us a lot about instrument flying. (Cohen 2000)
After SFTS, Cohen was selected to become a fighter pilot, although he had initially hoped to be able fly bombers with a friend who was flying Bostons (and who was later killed while converting to the wickedly unforgiving B-26). Kittyhawks came next.
I found myself at a place called Isipingo - which was about 11 miles out of Durban in Natal, where we did our OTU (Operational Training Unit). After doing all the necessary tests and more instruction, we were checked out on Kittyhawk fighters. She was a very good plane to convert onto, handled very nicely and was good fun, but not all that fast, only about 300 mph. I can't remember how long we were there; it was about a month when we were put through our paces, learnt fighter tactics, air to air gunnery and air to ground firing. About ten days before the end of our course, they were deciding what to do with us and out of the whole course they decided they were going to keep three of us at Isipingo as instructors. Yours truly was one of the three. Needless to say this did not go down very well with us so we decided to see what we could do to make them change their minds.
Isipingo was a very big sugar cane growing area and every time we went up we completed the exercise we had to do and finished up by doing real low flying over the cane. The Kittyhawk had a large air intake right under the nose and when we landed our engines were starting to overheat. We were unable to taxi - the mechanics had been previously warned what was going to happen. So when we landed we pulled off the landing area and switched off. That was their cue and they used to run out to us and put their arms into the air intake and take out all the sugar cane tops that we had trimmed off.
Of course the powers that be were not very charmed but we continued knowing full well that after spending so much on training us they wouldn't just kick us out. When we saw that our tactics were not working, we decided on something else. Isipingo had a wide river with a huge railway bridge. So one day we gave the place a thorough recce and the following day, instead of trimming sugar cane, we finished our exercise by getting into line astern and, at about 300 mph, flew under the bridge. The next day the three of us were taken before the Commanding Officer (who by the way knew what we were up to) and all he said was, "If you boys are determined to kill yourselves, you may as well do it up North." After that it would have been impossible to find three more well behaved pilots. (Cohen 2000)
Cohen flew north as a passenger and arrived at the SAAF base camp at Heliopolis, Egypt, where he and other new pilots were briefed and issued flying gear. Cohen had to wait for flying boots; which had to be ordered specially to fit his small feet. After a refresher course on Hurricanes and Spitfires, Cohen was assigned to 4 Squadron.
Jack Cohen had known Syd Cohen before the war, and met him again in 4 Sqn. Later in the war, Lionel Bloch would also join the squadron. After mopping up North Africa, 4 Sqn moved to Italy and worked up the Adriatic coast, performing mostly ground attack.
Although the Spitfire was never meant to be a divebomber, we started off by having a bomb rack which could be fitted under the belly and would take a 500-lb bomb. The result turned out so well that we spoke to the powers that be to have a rack that could take two 500-1b bombs. This, needless to say, was shouted down, the main reason being that the flimsy undercarriage wouldn't take the strain. Anyway, we decided to go ahead and experiment and it proved a wonderful success - we were now able to deliver twice the damage and when the other squadrons heard about our experiment they decided to do the same.
While on the subject of divebombing, we were originally told that we were to go into the dive at normally about 10,000 to 12,000 feet, go straight down, release the bombs at about 2,000 feet and pull out. The results were reasonably good but we felt we could do better, so we decided to go lower before releasing and after more experimentation we ended up going down to anything from 200 to 300 feet. The only trouble was that we couldn't do a normal pull-out as our speed was around 500 mph and although the nose of the plane was pointing up, our speed was still causing us to mush down. We actually did lose one of our boys this way, so we changed our pull-out procedure after releasing the bombs to roll on our side and pull out; in other words we were mushing out instead of down.
Another thing we did to have a more demoralising effect to those on the ground was to have two brackets with 20mm shell cases, open at both ends, welded to both sides of the fuselage. At the speed we were doing and the force of the wind being forced through the cases, it sounded like a blood-curdling scream. (Cohen 2000)
Cohen left behind four teeth (after a beach belly-landing) and one Spitfire in Italy. While leading six Spitfires on one mission, his radiator was hit. At 12,000 feet, he gunned the engine for home to get as close as possible before bailing out. Eventually, he had to:
With that I started disconnecting everything such as radio, oxygen, and safety harness and when I saw the gauge fluctuating between hot and cold, decided it was time to part company with the poor old Spitfire and get out quickly.... I landed near a South African Engineers camp and actually got back to our base about half an hour after the rest of our flight. Unlike the modern aircraft, where they have ejector seats, before we could get out we had to open our harness clip, disconnect the oxygen and radio, lower the seat and jettison the canopy, then trim the plane fully nose heavy and go into a dive. All the time now you had to use force to try and keep the nose up. When your speed was sufficiently high, you had to pull the nose up into a climbing attitude and start rolling the plane. When you got about three-quarter way round it was impossible to hold her any longer so all you had left to do was to pull your feet up as high as you could and let the stick go. The plane went one way and you literally got catapulted out. (Cohen 2000)
As the war in Europe wound down, 4 Sqn converted to the P-51D Mustang and prepared to fight Japan. The squadron got as far as Colombo, Sri Lanka before the war ended.
The SAAF finally released Cohen in late 1946. He worked for an import/export agent and in hotel management until the hotel he worked at burned down in the summer of 1948. Cohen, like many others among the generally Zionist Jews of South Africa, thought he could do some good there.
I went into the South African Zionist Federation and spoke to Sammy Levin, who at the time was in charge of the set up. I told him what I had come in for and he said they would only be interested if one had military experience. I told him I had both infantry and air force. I think the magic word was air force and pilot, because all he wanted to know was how soon I would be able to go - two weeks later I was on my way to Israel. (Cohen 2000)
In August, using their South African passports and pretending they were setting off on a world tour, Cohen and other volunteers flew in a Dakota from Johannesburg to Rome. On the way back across the Mediterranean to Israel, the flight's original destination had been Haifa, but that city swarmed with UN officials upholding the truce and preventing combatants from arriving in Israel so it diverted to Herzliya, 101's home base.
Here at Herzliya, I got the most wonderful surprise I could have wished for. As I got out of the plane, the first two boys I saw were Syd Cohen and Arnold Ruch. They had been with 101 Squadron a few months already; both of them I had known very well. During World War II, Syd and I had flown in 4 Squadron in the SAAF and Arnold was on the same base in 40 Squadron, which was a Photo-Reconnaissance unit. Anyway, what a welcome and immediately I felt at home. (Cohen 2000)
Cohen was shocked at the lack of equipment.
When I went into the Zionist Federation, I said, "Look I've still got some of my flying equipment" - you know, goggles and masks and radio equipment and my helmet - and someone told me "No, you don't need anything, they've got everything there." And thank God I took it along. There was very little there.... It was a case of a few Norsemen, and a couple of 109s and Piper Cubs and Taylorcraft - you know, those little pushcarts. Well, they were used for just about everything - bombing, strafing, everything. You know, we'd stick a bloke in the back seat and they would fire a Bren gun through the window at something. (Hyde 2000)
Cohen flew a bit upon his arrival in Israel, although not in the S-199, but headquarters soon re-assigned him: "I received a message to report to Air Force Headquarters which was in Jaffa. I was introduced to Sam Pomerance with whom I subsequently became very friendly." Cohen and Pomerance flew to Kunovice, Czechoslovakia to check out and modify Israel's newly acquired Spitfires. Fearful of having his South African passport stamped at a communist border, Cohen asked for and received an Israeli passport which "worked quite well, but not too good."
Israel had managed to pull off a deal with Czechoslovakia for the purchase of 50 Spitfires which the British had given them at the end of World War II. The onus was put on Sam and me to get them back to Israel as soon as possible.... The machines seemed to be in pretty good condition but they had to have a complete engine and airframe service. The Spitfire under normal economic flying conditions only had a range of approximately one and a half hours and we now had to set her up to stay airborne for at least six hours and to cover at least 1,500 miles....
The first thing we had to do was to lighten the plane as much as possible. Out came the armor plating, the guns, cannons, and oxygen bottle (which restricted us to a maximum of 10,000 to 12,000 feet). The next thing to take out was the radio which was situated just behind the pilot's seat, and have a special 79-gallon petrol tank built to replace the radio. Now for the extra tanks under the plane. We managed to get 62.5-gallon cigar shaped tanks (of Luftwaffe manufacture) which were fitted on the bomb racks under the wings, and then a 90-gallon long-range (slipper) tank under the belly. A breather pipe was fitted to each of the wings tanks and a small booster pump, which would pump the fuel through to the long-range tank under the belly, fitted with a fuel gauge, was attached. The extra tank that had replaced the radio also had a fuel line leading down to the long-range tank. All these fuel modifications had now given us from a normal 85 gallons to 379 gallons....
I must say that everyone concerned in the operation, and that includes the manager of the airfield, Engineer Novak, and the Czech ground staff, went all out to assist us in the operation. They were right behind us and thought it was a most wonderful thing we were doing. No one really believed that it would be possible to fly the machines non-stop all the way to Israel. (Cohen 2000)
For some reason, only one pilot was allowed to fly the Spitfires, and the Czechoslovakian authorities also tried to limit test flights to a small triangular area. As Pomerance was the engineer in charge of modifying the Spitfires for the flight to Israel, it fell to Cohen to conduct the test flights.
As the ground crew completed the servicing and getting the aircraft ready for testing, I took over and test flew each machine as they came out of service flight. Needless to say, I wasn't satisfied with any machine unless they were 100%, not only flying well, but with all the extra fuel tanks we had fitted working perfectly. (Cohen 2000)
Cohen's input wasn't limited to flying.
In Israel, the Arabs were all flying Spitfires and all that type of thing - the same type of machines we were. I suggested it to them that they put the red spinner and the red stripe - the red and white diagonal stripes on the tail. In the SAAF, we used to paint our machines that way - we had a red spinner and a red striped tail. Which is what we did so at least we knew which were ours and which weren't. (Hyde 2000)
Although he remembers it as his idea, the Czechoslovakian Spitfires already had red spinners. Cohen may have suggested that the Israelis use the red and white rudder stripe scheme, however photographic evidence shows that the rudders where not painted red and white until the planes arrived in Israel.
The new fuel configuration was given one test, a four-and-a-half hour airborne endurance flight, which it passed. Despite the extra fuel capacity, the Israelis secured Yugoslavian permission to land and top off the tanks at Niksic, an abandoned Luftwaffe air base in the Yugoslavian province of Montenegro, near the Albanian border. The flight from Kunovice to Niksic is an easy hop. The second leg, to Israel, crossed 2,250 km of open water and took seven hours to complete. Pomerance estimated that each Spitfire would land with a mere reserve of 20 minutes worth of fuel.
On the morning of Sept. 24, six of the Czechoslovakian Spitfires left Kunovice for Niksic, 300 miles away, with Modi Alon, Boris Senior, Syd Cohen, and Tuxie Blau joining Pomerance and Jack Cohen behind the controls. Sam Pomerance took off first, to lead the group. Tuxie Blau took the last pilot spot over Arnold Ruch although Ruch had more experience. Without the built-in radios, the pilots communicated as well as they could - which was poorly - with walkie-talkies. Blau forgot to lower his landing gear at Niksic and damaged his plane but was unhurt. Ruch traveled in a transport.
The equipment removed from the Velvetta 1 Spitfires was taken to Niksic in a Norseman. A C-54 the Spitfire pilots called the "Mother Ship" would lead the Spitfires on the long second leg of the flight over the Mediterranean. It carried the surplus Spitfor parts, plus sea rescue equipment. In the event of a problem, the C-54 would drop a dinghy then continue on to Israel. Two naval vessels went to sea to cover the route and a third waited on alert in Haifa harbor. A C-47 loaded with more sea recue equipment stood ready at Ramat David.
We certainly had known more sophisticated airfields than (Niksic), which was just an open field with no runways, a number of tents, and a small river (which contained) an American Aerocobra fighter that had been shot down in World War II lying upside down with its wings being used as a bridge.... As in Czechoslovakia, so here too, the friends of yesterday were now suddenly cooler. Russia was getting second thoughts about helping Israel. The base, such as it was, was under charge of the Yugoslav Red Army, whose guards were not permitted to fraternize with the men from Israel. All facilities however were granted while repair work continued on the DC-4 navigator plane or "Mother Ship" as we referred to her. In the meantime, we removed the Yugoslav markings that had been painted on the planes with water paint, replacing them with the Magen David. During this short period, if the boys didn't feel the chill of - call it, open arrest, this was mainly thanks to Syd Cohen and Arnold Ruch, two men of irrepressible humour. (Cohen 2000)
The five airworthy Spitfires, led by the C-54 which also contained rescue equipment, took off for Israel three days later. The route took them over Albania and around Greece, whose airspace was avoided due to that country's civil war. At the Greek island of Rhodes, by the Turkish coast, the planes would make a right turn for Israel.
Two hours into the flight, Boris Senior and Modi Alon felt that their reserve fuel tanks were empty and that they did not have enough fuel on board to make Israel.
We were flying between the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus when Modi Alon called Cyril (Steinberg, the navigator on the C-54) to say his long-range tanks were empty and he had gone onto the main tank. It didn't take Cyril long to work out his position and to realise that no way would he make Israel with the fuel he had left. So Modi was told he had no option but to go back to Rhodes and land. "Shalom" came over the air from the departing Modi. A few minutes later a similar dismaying report came from Boris Senior and all Cyril Steinberg could tell him was to join Modi. (Cohen 2000)
Alon and Senior landed at Rhodes while the other three planes (D-132, 133, and 134) made the passage to Israel safely, but not without a worrisome moment for Cohen.
I had a problem with my long-range tank - the gauge in the cockpit wasn't working. I thought "What do I do?", then decided to go on and wait till the engine cuts then switch onto main tanks and then pump. Eventually, the gauge did start showing - I thought it strange after all that time - so I switched on my booster pumps (to pump from the wing tanks) and in next-to-no-time nothing more came. So I realised then that something had gone wrong between the wing tanks and the pumps and the long-range tank. To cut a long story short, I restarted my motor, carried on on main tank, and I landed in Israel still with about 45 gallons of fuel. Everything had worked fine except for that pump in the wing tanks, I think. (Hyde 2000)
The three Spitfires crossed the Israel coast at 15:30, whereupon the Mother Ship bade goodbye and headed for Ekron, while the three Spitfires aimed for Ramat David. The trip, the longest ever by a Spitfire, lasted six and three-quarter hours. Pomerance landed first, followed by Syd Cohen then Jack Cohen.
At the airfield, amid great excitement, a welcoming ceremony had been prepared. The leading personalities of the new nation and its armed forces were waiting there. When we managed to get out of the cockpits after sitting tightly strapped in all that time, even though we could hardly stand up straight, we had to get in the middle of the celebrations, which also included the usual dancing. (Cohen 2000)
The three successful Velvetta pilots held a post mortem to work out what had gone wrong with the planes that had to land in Rhodes. The three investigators discovered that each of them had experienced the same fuel gauge problem on the flight, and each had successfully dealt with it the same way. They decided that the trouble lay in the wing tanks. By process of elimination, they determined that the problem lay in the wing tanks' breather pipes that had been fitted in Kunovice. The angled, open end faced forward and the pressure of the wind through the pipe pressurized the tanks, forcing fuel through fuel lines and pump to the long-range tank, keeping it full and keeping the gauges registering a full tank.
Each Spitfire drew fuel from the long-range slipper tank before engaging the main tank. The pilots should have seen the slipper tank's fuel gauge drop as fuel was used up, but because the slipper tank was continuously topped off by wind pressure, they did not.
Senior and Alon both assumed the gauges were faulty, whereas the other three assumed correctly that the problem lay in surplus fuel feeding. Senior and Alon, suspecting their slipper tanks were low on fuel, both switched on their wing-tank fuel booster pumps, which started pumping fuel into the full long-range tank. As a result, the slipper tank relief valves just dumped the fuel as it was pumped in; Senior and Alon were just pumping fuel overboard.
Another frightening finding in the debrief of Velvetta 1 was the condition of the parachutes the pilots wore. They discovered that the chutes had not been checked in Czechoslovakia and that the harnesses on some of them had been eaten through by rats. A more thorough inspection of parachutes was put on the "to do" list.
Two days after arriving with the first Velvetta Spitfires, Cohen and Pomerance flew back to Kunovice to prepare another batch of Spitfires for export in Velvetta 2, which got underway in mid-December. This time, he had an Israeli diplomatic passport. "I did it in style this time and that served wonders - that was good."
The Czechslovakian crews had a few Spitfires ready for testing when Cohen and Pomerance returned, so Cohen got right to work. The fuel malfunction was corrected simply. Pomerance made sure to put the breather pipes in facing the wrong way. It worked.
Twelve more Spitfires were ready at Kunovice for a second Velvetta mission by Oct. 22, but Yugoslavia had rescinded permission for the Israelis to refuel. Sam Pomerance began stuffing even more fuel tanks into the Spitfires in the hope of extending their range to allow a non-stop flight to Israel. Seven were so prepared by Nov. 15, with another eight ready for a Velvetta 1-style flight plan. Czechoslovakian authorities refused permission for the Spitfires to take off without a planned refueling stop. They also demanded payment of all debt.
By November 26, 16 more Spitfires awaited an opportunity to fly to Israel. In early December, an Israeli promise to pay $200 per ton of aircraft convinced Yugoslavia to allow the Israelis one last stopover. Oddly, Yugoslavia demanded that the aircraft bear Yugoslavian Air Force markings for the Kunovice-Niksic leg.
Ferry pilots, drawn primarily from 101 Squadron, landed in Prague on December 9.
Ten disassembled and crated Spitfires left Kunovice by train for a Yugoslavian harbor, from where a ship would transport them to Israel. A blizzard delayed the Spitfires that would fly on the Velvetta 2 mission. A C-54 waited for them at Niksic.
After a delay caused by winter storms - "real shit" weather according to Cohen - Velvetta 2 began as six Spitfires left Czechoslovakia at 10:00 on Dec. 18. Sam Pomerance (in Spitfire 2006 or 2007) took first to lead Caesar Dangott and Bill Pomerantz (2007 or 2006) while George Lichter led John McElroy and Moti Fein (later Moti Hod), an air cadet. In the low visibility conditions, Bill Pomerantz quickly lost the others. With the cloud cover still solid at 14,000 feet, after an hour and a half, Lichter decided to return to Kunovice with the others, but Pomerance, who along with Lichter had the only airborne radios, told Lichter he'd press ahead.
Pomerance died when he crashed into a mountain in Yugoslavia. Jack Cohen thinks he suffered hypoxia:
I think what happened to poor old Sam, was he was in cloud which was really bad at that stage, and he tried to climb on top of the weather, and I think he must have run out of oxygen - that is out of breathing - we didn't have oxygen tanks at all. So he must have gone a bit too high and just flaked out, and went into the mountains. (Hyde 2000)
Pomerantz eventually ditched in Yugoslavia and although his aircraft burned up, he suffered only minor injuries.
Cohen led Lee Sinclair, Sandy Jacobs, Bill Schroeder, Red Finkel, and Syd Cohen (?) from Kunovice on Dec. 20, a day after George Lichter had led Shapira and Fein with John McElroy leading Caesar Dangott and Arnold Ruch along the same route. (You can find plane assignments in Cull et al 1994 but I question its accuracy on this point.)
On December 26, Cohen led Sinclair, Ruch, Jacobs, Schroeder, and Finkel across the sea. Cohen flew Spitfire 2014, the plane that he, as test pilot and flight leader, considered the worst. Just after take-off, Cohen had to turn 2014 around and land again. A flap on the cowling had come open and he returned to have it secured.
"I must say I was a little worried as I wasn't sure whether the Spitfires undercarriage would be able to take the strain of all the extra weight. Anyway, the fault was rectified and I soon caught up with the rest of the flight." (Cohen 2000)
Later , over the sea, Spitfire 2014 gave Cohen the most uncomfortable flight he has ever made:
"The violent vibrations of the whole instrument panel mystified me, the icy waters of the Mediterranean sent shivers down my spine, but I drew comfort from the fact that I had never heard of a Merlin engine letting anyone down. This one proved equally reliable. All the same I was very thankful when the wheels hit the tarmac.... The cause of the uncomfortable flight was that I had flown almost all the way with two dud cylinders." (Cohen 2000)
All the Velvetta 2 Spitfires landed at Ekron, after which Cohen had an unfortunate responsibility to take care of.
I now had the sad task of breaking the news to Elsie, Sam's widow, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that in Czechoslovakia I had been very close to the couple. Elsie was a real down to earth woman who embellished life with a rich sense of humour. She just stood shocked and after recovering her composure, she said, "If Sam had to go, I am glad it was this way - for a cause he passionately believed in." (Cohen 2000)
Following Velvetta 2, Cohen quickly returned to Kunovice again, where he and Bob Dawn, taking over for Sam Pomerance, went to work on a third batch of Spitfires, getting the machines operational and completely serviced on the ground. Cohen test flew the readied aircraft, after which the crew stripped them down and packed them into crates for a voyage to Israel by ship.
After a rail tour of Prague-Linz-Salsburg-Munich-Zurich-Bern-Lausanne-Geneva-Paris, Cohen flew back to Israel in time to get in on the tail end of the war. He participated in an attack on Al Arish airfield with Syd Cohen and Rudy Augarten, probably Dec. 30:
We took off (from Chatzor) with bombs up, flew at deck level over the sea and turned inland at El Arish. Here we really went to town. First, we bombed the runways, putting them out of commission, strafed any planes that were on the tarmac and even fired almost from ground level into the hangers. One thing for sure, they never used that base again. After the mess we left, the army still went in and finished the job. Soon after, it was mainly cleaning up pocket resistance all around the country. (Cohen 2000)
Israel captured Al Arish by December 31.
Cohen enjoyed the time he spent flying Spitfires:
Well as far as the Spitfire was concerned, she was just the perfect aeroplane to fly. She had no vices - you did something wrong she'd turn around and say, you know, "don't do it again." Not like some of these American planes. I mean, you know they'd turn round and bite you the second you did something wrong. But the Spit really didn't have any faults - it was like flying a Tiger Moth. Very easy to fly. (Hyde 2000)
He also had kind words for the Mustang:
She was fast. If anything slightly faster. But I think the Spit had the edge on her as far as manoeuvrability. Of course, the P-51 had the range. So that's why they could do the long trips even with the bomber boys. She was a very nice plane to fly, but that was only after they put a Merlin engine in it. (Hyde 2000)
Although he never flew the S-199, he was well aware of its faults:
You had to rely on brute force with this thing. I mean, you had no real trimming. In the Spit, you had the trimming tabs in the cockpit, you could adjust your trim for your tail, for your wings, anything. And the 109s, the ones that we had, didn't have it. So you had a little tab on the tail which was a set piece. If you opened your throttle and you weren't really prepared for it, she'll swing you off the runway when you're coming into land. And you had to rely on brute force - on your right leg I think it was - to hold her straight.
As far as I'm concerned there was nothing about the109s that the pilots liked. No, nothing. I didn't like the armament at all. The firing through the prop I didn't like. The guns of the Messerschmitt used to fire through the propeller and if your synchronising went out you'd shoot your prop off. Put holes in it. (Hyde 2000)
Cohen stayed with the fledgling IAF, and 101 Squadron, after the war ended. When the Air Force promoted Ezer Weizman from CO of 101 to Air Force Senior Operations Officer in 1950, Jack Cohen assumed the 101 CO mantle. In 1951, he returned to South Africa to be with his ill father and although he had planned to stay in Israel before he left, he never found an opportunity to return to the country until 1973.
He worked in the dry-cleaning business in Cape Town for 37 years before joining his daughters' families in an emigration to Australia in 1987. Cohen and his wife now live in Melbourne. He hasn't flown since Israel.
For much, much more on Jack Cohen in his own words and pictures, you can download this mini-autobiography, which is a 4-MB zipped Microsoft Word file. I recommend it.