The ''Primus'' Airplane
One of the well-known symbols of Israel's War of Independence is the Auster airplane – nicknamed "Primus" because its loud noise was like that of the Primus – the then highly popular pressurized-burner kerosene stove. It represents the tremendous contribution to the war effort by all the light airplanes of similar types that were operated by the 'Sherut Avir' (Air Service), the air wing of the Haganah, and its successor after the State of Israel was born, the Israeli Air Force.
On November 10, 1947, while the Assembly of the United Nations was deliberating the proposal to establish a Jewish State, the High Command of the Haganah decided to set up an Air Service. The few aircraft that the service was able to recruit included aircraft belonging to the Aviron airline company, as well as a few private planes, including three Taylorcraft planes, one Auster, two "Tiger Moth" biplanes, five Polish R.W.D's (of 3 models) and one British "Dragon Rapid", the biggest aircraft of that period.
At the beginning of 1948, the British Royal Air Force sold 20 Austers for scrap. The Hagana activists were quick to buy these aircraft, which vanished into winery cellars, near Tel-Aviv, where the service's mechanics renovated them, eventually making 18 of them suitable for operational activity, with the 1st one tooking to the sky on March 3, 1948.
The Austers were operational in the "Tel-Aviv Squadron" from Sde-Dov, the "Negev Squadron" in the south that operated initially from Nir-Am and the "Galilee Squadron" in the north operating mainly from Yavniel.
The Auster and similar light airplanes were operated in communication flights, and in reconnaissance, medevac, and supply flights to besieged settlements. Their pilots assisted the convoys to besieged settlements and towns, directing the cars and warning them of threatening ambushes on the way. They also attacked enemy concentrations with primitive bombs weighing 20-25 kg. each by dropping them out of the aircraft's windows.
After the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the Israeli Air Force began to deploy real fighter-planes – first 23 Czech-built Messerschmitts and later 46 British-made Spitfires (all were purchased in Czechoslovakia, the only country willing to sell fighter-planes to Israel during the war). More than dozen C-47 Dakota and C-46 Commando transport airplanes, 3 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers (smuggled out of the USA), several Norseman light transport airplanes, and other airplanes of various types joined the IAF as well. But no substitute was found for the Primuses, and they continued to operate throughout the War of Independence. As a matter of fact, they remained operational in the IAF until 1952.
The "Primus" stamp was issued in 1967, design: Maxim & Gavriel Shamir. The coin in honor of the "Primus" was minted in 2001 (by the Israel Coins & Medals Corp.), design: Eliezer Weishoff.