Boris Senior

Born in ?, South Africa, moved to Palestine in 19?? (know where Eddie Cohen was from?)

Combat Record

Nov. 11: REAF Dakota (shared with Rudy Augarten; in Spitfire LF 9e)


Boris Senior flew fighters with the SAAF during World War II.

In early 1948, Senior was the first appointed commander of Tel Aviv Squadron of the Sherut Avir, replacing the first monthly democratically elected commander, Eli Eyal. Among his pilots, he could count on Ezer Weizman, Eddie Cohen, and Modi Alon.

On Jan. 15, 1948, Senior took part in the Sherut Avir's first co-ordinated multiple-plane mission: a pre-dawn aerial resupply of the besieged Gush Etzion settlements. Senior flew the escort, a Tiger Moth loaded with hand grenades and with Eyal on board as a Bren gunner. Weizman flew one of the two cargo aircraft, an Auster. A second pilot would drop the supplies, which included hand grenades, out the door while the first flew extremely low near stalling speed. Car tires tied to the bottom of the supplies would cushion their fall. At Gaza East, a deserted field near Be'erot Itzchak, Eddie Cohen waited with a Taylor carrying jerry cans of fuel in case any of the planes needed to refuel.

The group met no opposition - just as well, as the Bren had frozen up - and completed the mission, although Weizman noted that many of the supply crates had been destroyed when they hit the ground. A British Auster patrol had seen one of the cargo aircraft drop packages, which was illegal.

The next day, the British authorities asked the Haganah to turn in the pilot they had seen illegally resupply Gush Etzion. The Haganah asked Weizman to be the responsible party, hoping that his RAF history, spotless record, and family reputation would limit any punishment. Weizman told the British he had heard that Gush Etzion was under attack, so he had rented an airplane to drop medical supplies. Weizman spent two days in jail before the British let him go.

In February 1948, the Sherut Avir made a concerted effort to acquire aircraft abroad. Senior was relieved of command of the Tel Aviv Squadron and sent to South Africa to search for aircraft and recruit volunteer aircrew. He reached his former homeland on Feb. 15.

One of Senior's first contacts was a group of Jewish businessmen who helped secure the opportunity to buy 50 Curtiss Kittyhawks (P-40D+), which were due to be scrapped, for a mere £300. The eager Senior correctly figured that the Sherut Avir needed true combat aircraft such as these, but his enthusiasm was tempered once he realized that the huge obstacles that getting these aircraft to Palestine entailed. He felt it would be impossible to find a way to ship these aircraft and, even if he did find transport, he wasn't likely to obtain an export license from the South African government. Reluctantly, Senior passed on the Kittyhawks and set his sights on civilian aircraft that could be more easily snuck out of the country.

Senior procured some ten aircraft. He planned to recruit pilots who would pose as wealthy young men who, one at a time so as not to attract attention, would claim to be embarking on pleasure flying tours to Europe. The larger aircraft would be registered by real or fictitious airlines. all the planes would of course be ferried directly to Palestine, and each pilot planned his own route and flew independently. Flying along eastern Africa was shorter but required overflying and possibly landing in Arab or Arab-friendly nations. The much longer western route overflew British territory. The first of Senior's acquisitions to arrive was a Fairchild Argus that landed May 15.

In all, Senior bought three Fairchild Arguses, two De Havilland Dragon Rapides, an Avro Anson, two Douglas Dakotas (and leased two more), and two Beechcraft Bonanzas. Beechcraft had introduced the Bonanza, a single-engine, V-tail design, only the year before and it was among the fastest, best performing, and best-equipped light aircraft of its day. It was clearly superior to any single-engine type in Sherut Avir service.

While in South Africa, Senior lobbied Syd Cohen and Les Shagam effectively enough that they later volunteered to fly for Israel. Cohen and Shagam finally arrived in Israel in late June, aboard one of the Dakotas Senior had acquired in South Africa.

After making arrangements for the departure of all the other aircraft, Senior and Cyril Katz, a South African volunteer, flew the two Bonanzas out in tandem in April 1948, along on East African route, allegedly on the way to Europe. After a stop in Pitsbain (?) they left for Lusaka, Northern Rhodesia. On the way, Katz had to make an emergency landing on a Zambezi River sandbank and slightly damaged his airplane, a fact Senior learned from local police only after arriving at Lusaka. Senior flew to the landing site with a mechanic and landed there, also damaging his airplane. The three men repaired one of the Bonanzas, a red-and-silver one tagged ZS-BWS, and Senior returned it to South Africa while the other two men worked on the second airplane.

During the escapade Senior had attracted both the attention of South African authorities and contracted malaria, which laid him up for a few weeks. The authorities (police? government agency? aviation agency?) told Senior he was not allowed to fly a plane across the country's borders. Senior circumvented the restriction by hiring a pilot and his wife (there to alleviate suspicion) to fly the Bonanza to Wadi Halfa, Sudan, near the Egyptian border while Senior flew with a commercial airline ticket to the same destination. After collecting the Bonanza, Senior flew to Luxor, Egypt and spent the night as a rich South African adventurer. Early the next morning, Senior filed a flight plan for Beirut and took off. He landed at the Negev Squadron base at Nur Am, then proceeded to Sde Dov. Katz arrived with his Bonanza by May 11.

Upon his arrival, which occured sometime before May 10, Senior was made base commander of Sde Dov.

The Dragon Rapides Senior had bought each played an unusual role in 101 Squadron history. Both were registered with Pan African Air Charter and flew the eastern route. The first arrived in Palestine without a problem, and was probably the Dragon Rapide that carried Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to meet 101 Squadron in August at Netanya. Egypt, however, interned the second Dragon Rapide and its crew on their way through the country, reasoning that the aircraft was bound for a country with which it was in a state of war. Egypt released the crew but kept the airplane and sold it to Jordan's Arab Airways, which registered it as TJ-AAQ and painted it in the company's bright red colors in July. This is the same Arab Airways Dragon Rapide that 101 Squadron's Giddy Lichtman would shoot down Sept. 23.

The morning of May 10, Senior took an Auster from Sde Dov to bomb Beit Machsir, an Arab village under attack by Haganah troops. He suffered damage from AA fire and was forced to land at Kiryat Anavim, a kibbutz.

Men under Senior's Sde Dov command spent the night following David Ben-Gurion's declaration of the state of Israel digging shelter and setting up defences at the base. At 05:20, the sounds of Merlin engines and 20-mm cannons woke Senior in his bed in the Yarden Hotel in Tel Aviv. Senior got up and drove his jeep to his base. Two waves of REAF Spitfires had attacked, unopposed by sleeping anti-aircraft gunners. The Egyptians managed to kill a few men, damaged several aircraft, set fire to an ammunition warehouse, and lightly damaged othe facilities. One damaged DC-3 was flown to Ekron to be stowed in a shelter and was greeted by the Ekron commander and Beni Peled armed with machine guns and prepared to fire had the unidentified aircraft been an Egyptian troop carrier.

A third wave of Egyptian Spitfires attacked at 08:00 and a fourth came at 10:00. One of the gunners using one of the base's six 20-mm AA guns hit one of the fourth wave's airplanes in the cooling system. As the Spitfire spewed glycol, Senior fired up a Bonanza and took off after it. The Egyptian flew north - away from his country's forces - along the seashore and belly-landed on the beach near Hertzliya. Senior landed the Bonanza on the sand nearby and found that a group of Israelis had already captured the pilot, Flt. Lt. Mahmoud Barakat. Under interrogation, Barakat revealed what he knew of the REAF and of Al Arish. Of specific interest was that only a small portion of the REAF's aircraft were operable.

Trigger-happy anti-aircraft crews forced Israel to adopt a recognition scheme, and Senior is the man who designed and tested it. His first attempt at a national insignia was a standard two-triangle blue star of David without a background. A quick test showed that the star was virtually invisible in action so Senior then filled in the star with blue and painted a white circular background around it. This showed up better and was adopted. It has remained the Israeli roundel to the present day.

The roundel wasn't Seniors only contribution to IAF organizational history. On May 17, he and two others met with the Prime Minister to impress him with the need for a more coherent air force structure. They suggested inviting a former SAAF Wing Commander, Cecil Margo, as a consultant and the PM agreed. The new government invited Margo that week, but he only showed up July 22.

Following Modi Alon's June 3 downing of two REAF Dakotas over Tel Aviv, Egypt decided to replace airborne attack on the city with naval bombardment. An Egyptain naval force approached the city the afternoon of June 4 and the task of driving it away fell to young air force, as the Israeli navy could not yet effectively challenge Egyptian seapower. Three Tel Aviv Squadron aircraft were called on to help: a Dragon Rapide, an Argus, and Senior in his Bonanza. Senior made the first attack at 15:30 with two bombs mounted under the fuselage and two more 50-kg bombs to be dropped by hand. He, not unexpectedly, missed. Interspersed with two Argus attacks and one by the Dragon Rapide, Senior made two more runs, one at 16:10 and one at 16:40. The attacks ended when the Argus was shot down at 16:55, but by then one Egyptian attack had been damaged and the ships soon retreated.

As more Avias began to arrive, Israel needed more pilots. Senior was sent to Czechoslovakia to learn to fly the S-199. He finished the course in late June - crossing paths with Syd Cohen and Les Shagam - but upon his return to Israel, Senior was made an operations officer on the air staff. He did still manage to get in an Avia every now and then.

(Did Senior go to CZ to prepare for Velvetta 1 with Jack Cohen and Pomerance?)

Israeli headquarters had initially slated the 50 Spitfires it had bought from Czechoslovakia for a new fighter squadron, 105 Squadron, under the command of Senior at Kfar Sirkin (later called Petach Tikvah). Transjordanian artillery shelling that base put an end to the plan and all Spitfires were folded into 101 Squadron.

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 (why?). 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.

Senior recalled Niksic, which was built on a dry lake bed:

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. (J. Cohen 2000)

Alon and Senior landed at Rhodes while the others continued on to Israel. 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.

Senior and Alon were arrested by the Greek authorities under the suspicion that they were Communist spies. They spent two weeks in captivity. On October 12, an Israeli Dakota collected them in Athens and brought them back to Israel.


On November 11, Augarten and Senior took Spitfires on patrol and intercepted an REAF Dakota, which they shot down.

Around noon,Jan. 5, a mixed pair of Senior in a Mustang and Sye Feldman in a Spitfire ran into three REAF MC.205Vs. The Israelis jettisoned their bombs, and a failure of either will or equipment prompted one Macchi to flee immediately. Feldman claimed one Macchi destroyed.

On the final day of the war, Jan. 7, Boris Senior and Jack Doyle in Mustangs were escorting 35 Flight's Harvards to attack Egyptians at Dir El Balah when they encountered eight REAF Macchis above the Al Auja-Rafah road.

Wilson, in Spitfire White 16 fresh from feasting on the RAF) and wingman Arnie Ruch were also in the air and found what they thought were eight REAF Macchis on their low 3. The Egyptians saw the two above them, jettisoned bombs, and climbed toward them. In fact, there were only six Macchis. Ruch and Wilson misidentified Jack Doyle and Boris Senior in P-51s as two more Macchis. The Egyptians didn't see Doyle and Senior at all.

In the ensuing battle, both Senior and Doyle claimed a kill, although Egyptian records indicate only one plane lost. Wilson, separated from Ruch in the fight, found himself in a gaggle of five Macchis (which itself indicates that only one REAF plane was lost) after the other Israeli planes bugged out. he radioed back to Chatzor, "I've got five of them cornered," and attacked.

I was left dogfighting the Fiats (sic), when I realized they were leading me into the range of the anti-aircraft guns at Al Arish. I was hit by shrapnel and subsequently found that a chunk of shrapnel was lodged in a canister of 20mm cannon shells, which fortunately did not explode. At that point, I broke off the action and returned to base after calling Arnie. (Cull et al 1994)





Click the badge to return to the squadron roster