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Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

Ripping the RIP

Last week, a British rabbi contacted me to inform me that Leslie Shagam died. He flew with 101 Squadron in 1948. The rabbi asked me for some biographical information to help her with the eulogy.

I don’t have much on Shagam, and what I do have, I haven’t posted on a profile page for him. I whipped it into shape for the rabbi and sent it off:

In 1946, Les co-founded Commercial Air Services in South Africa, which helped him keep his flying current. In 1947, he sold two Bonanzas to the Yishuv, through Boris Senior. At the beginning of May 1948, Les volunteered himself to Jewish recruiters in the country.

Around mid-June, Shagam and fellow volunteer Syd Cohen arrived in Israel. Within days, they flew to Czechoslovakia for training. They arrived at Ceske Budejovice (pronounced “chesky boodehyovitseh”) airfield along with fellow pilots Rudy Augarten (US), Alfred “Al” Freeman (US), Sandy Jacobs (Isr), Chris Magee (US), and Boris Senior (S. Afr.). They trained to fly the Avia S-199 (an underpowered, unwieldy Czech version of the Messerschmitt 109 fighter) under the tutelage of George Lichter (US).

(Magee had flown with Pappy Boyington in the famous/infamous Black Sheep Squadron of the US Marine Corps.)

Les was flying missions in Israel by July 9, so the training was rudimentary at best.

Within a few days, there was trouble. Les and Syd took off from Herzliya (actually in Kfar Shmaryahu, but called Herzliya) on a mission, Syd’s first. Syd tested his guns over the sea and his S-199 started shaking violently. Les escorted him back to Herzliya where the squadron discovered that Syd’s cowl machine guns had put holes in his own propeller.

Les flew less than a month with 101 Squadron. By the end of July, he had transferred to Air Force HQ. He was tasked with forming a second fighter squadron, to be called 105 Squadron. He would be second in command (under Boris Senior) of a squadron of Spitfires that Israel had recently agreed to purchase from Czechoslovakia.

Les helped plan the complex ferry operation that flew the much-needed Spitfires from Czechoslovakia to Yugoslavia and then to Israel. He himself did not fly in the operation, but he was responsible for its name: Operation Velveta, named after a brand of cream.

He organized 105 Squadron and equipment at Kfar Sirkin airfield, but was forced to leave by the threat of Transjordanian artillery. When the Spits finally did arrive at the end of September, they joined 101 Squadron. I’m not sure what happened to Les, but he didn’t return to 101 Squadron.

I also posted that to IDForce, a Yahoo group focusing on the Israeli Air Force.

Last night, I was browsing AGW (see link in sidebar) and my friend Krod posted the bio I wrote, which he had received as part of SAAF News, another mailing list. This passage prefaced my miniature essay: “He died in Israel last week and a friend sent me the following which he had written as background for the eulogy.”

(He died in England.)

The man who cut my work from one mailing list and pasted it without any real attribution into the second has been helpful in the past. He has let me use some of his photos with permission on my Web site. Those key words, “with permission”, are the focus of my consternation.

I sent off a polite note that chided him for not asking permission and not even noting me as author.

He just wrote back with an apology, and sent off a second note with an attribution.

It’s not like I’ve lost any income, but this sort of thing aggravates me. I’m not sure if I’m overly or rightly sensitive about it.

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