Part 5 – We carry-out our first flight successfully. One “Spitfire” belly-lands in Niksic’.
45 minutes later we landed in Kunovice. Another “Norseman” stood at the small grass field next to the building and hangar of the airplane factory. This was the second “Norseman” which took part in this Operation. Phil parked the “Norseman” in which we arrived next to it. The Czech Flight-Navigator was first to get out of the ‘plane and disappeared. We all followed and Bensimon hurried to the other “Norseman”, opened the cargo door and verified that the airplane was loaded, entered the cockpit and switched-on the master-switch and verified that the airplane was fuelled. Bensimon returned to Marmelstein and Sunderland and said that he would like to fly the first flight and since the time is hardly 1 PM and the airplane is ready it would be a pity to waste the day therefore he would like to take-off immediately. Marmelstein and Sunderland agreed and while Bensimon and the Count went to preflight-check their airplane all of us climbed into a small bus which belonged to the factory and drove to the only hotel which existed in Kunovice. Sunderland and I took a room with two beds. Here again we found out how poor Czechoslovakia’s economy was: This hotel had a central heating system but for lack of fuel it did not function despite the fact that the free air temperature did not go above 10 degrees centigrade. When we came down to the dining-room for dinner we found out that it consisted of two courses only: A main course which was called “Brambori-i- Cnedlicki” (Cabbage with dumplings made of flour and pork-fat) and a dessert called “Zmirzlina” (ice-cream) which turned out to be quite good vanilla ice-cream. Phil Marmelstein told us that this was the same daily menu served for lunch as well as dinner without any changes whatsoever and suggested to us that if our flight was due to depart close to noon then try and eat at the dining-room of the workers of the airplane factory. We had no hot-water at the hotel either. Since we did not take a shower for the past two days we asked for a shower or a bath. We were told that it will be ready in half-an-hour and we will be called and so they did and took us down straight to… the kitchen! In the middle of the kitchen stood half a wooden barrel of 140 centimeters diameter. The barrel was filled 30 centimeters deep with hot water. We were given a bar of soap and a large towel each. I suggested to Sunderland to be first. Having no other choice he took off his clothes and entered the barrel while all the male and female kitchen workers stood around and smiled happily. After he ended his bath the contents were emptied outside, in the paved yard and then filled anew with hot water which was boiling in huge pots on the large cooking-stove of this kitchen and it was my turn now to take a hot bath.
Next day, the 25th of September 1948 we woke up early and having had an early breakfast of “ersatz-coffee”, black bread and red cherry jam went to the airfield. Our “Norseman”, the one with which we arrived yesterday after our interesting adventure was ready for our flight: It was fuelled and loaded with cargo. Joe Sunderland started asking and inquiring about the weight of the cargo which was loaded. This was a small airfield and Joe worried that if more than 1000 kilograms of cargo was loaded the airplane would be too heavy for a successful take-off. It was difficult to find out from the Czech mechanics and technicians that worked here what were the exact weights. Nobody filled a “weight and balance” form for the flights of this type of airplane, neither in Israel nor here. I was worried about something else: This airplane did not have a magnetic compass of the B6 type or any other type such as is mandatory in every airworthy airplane, and such as there was in all our other “Norsemen” as well as in the “Norsemen” which Bensimon and the Count flew. However, this “Norsemen” too , as all other “Norsemen” had a Magnesyn-Compass (which was also called a Gyro-Compass) with which it was very easy to fly. But this did not exempt the necessity to carry in every airplane a magnetic compass.I drew the attention of Joe to this fact and found out that he knew already that our airplane did not have a magnetic-compass. I said that it was possible that for this reason Phil Marmelstein drifted off course yesterday and could not find our destination. But Joe said that he did not believe this was the reason since the Magnesyn-Compass (which is a much more accurate compass than a magnetic-compass) performed normally all day yesterday and Phil flew with it, in this very same airplane, for many hours before without any navigational error. Joe was my senior by 20 years. He was Jewish and was born in Manchester, England.When he was a young man Joe worked in a bicycle production factory and later in a factory which produced shellack paint. As soon as WW2 broke out he volunteered for the Royal Air Force and was posted to a wireless-operators course.He flew many hours as a wireless-operator and towards the end of the war he was posted to a flying-course and received his Pilot’s Wings. He flew as Pilot in twin-engined military transport aircraft produced in Britain and Canada. Joe had over 500 flying hours’ experience as Pilot and several thousand flying hours more as wireless-operator. I respected his experience and accepted his decision when he said that when one has no choice one can fly without a magnetic-compass and with a Magnesyn-compass.
Joe flew this flight from the left -hand seat and I occupied the right-hand seat. The take-off from this small grass field was critical. There grew a hedge of bushes one meter tall all around this field. We turned into wind and opened full throttle. The airplane ran heavily all the way to the hedge opposite us and lifted just a few feet before reaching it. We were hardly at a height of two meters when we passed this hedge. The weather on our route was not bad but not as clear as it was the day before. At a certain stage we entered cloud which were at our altitude but 10 minutes later we were on top again and clear of further clouds. The problem on this track was a problem of safe-altitude since there were some high mountains right on track and close to it. The surface below us got higher and higher as we advanced south on our track. During the short time it took us from Kunovice to the Czechoslovak-Hungarian border the surface was no higher than 2000 feet above sea-level and over Hungary it was not higher than 3000 feet but when we reached Yugoslavia our track passed near and over some high mountains. Just north of Sarajevo we saw mount Ravno which was 4,483 feet high. Right at the outskirts of Sarajevo city there rose a strangely looking high cliff which was exactly under our track and served us as an important navigation spot. 60 kilometers north of our base in Niksic’ there was a mountain called Maglik which reached 7,829 feet and the highest mountain in Yugoslavia, the Durmitor which was 8,294 feet high was only 30 kilometers from Niksic’. This province was not called Czernagora (Montenegro – black mountains) in vain.This mountainous territory caused the air above it to be bumpy and produced orographic vertical cloud formations which were sometimes high and heavy clouds as well as local lightning and thunderstorms. All this meant that we were obliged to fly at an altitude of 10,000 feet which was the highest altitude we were allowed to fly since we had no oxygen equipment which is mandatory for pilots flying higher. Due to the heavy weight of our take-off from Kunovice (3 Tons) the best way to climb to 10,000 feet was to use the drift-climb technique: Right after take-off we went into a slow climb of 100 feet per minute which used to get us to our 10,000 feet cruising altitude 1 hour and 40 minutes later. This way we could climb almost at cruising-speed and not waste too much time and fuel.
We had a good northerly wind on this flight. We landed at our base in Niksic’ at noon after a flight of only 4 hours and 10 minutes. About three hours after our landing the first flight of 6 “Spitfires” appeared. They landed one after the other. The last one was flown by a South-African volunteer called Norman (Tuxie) Blau who was a fighter-pilot with the Royal South-African Air-Force during WW2 and when his turn came to land he buzzed the airfield at a very low altitude then pulled up and went into a steep turn so as to avoid the hills around the field and landed on his belly, forgetting to lower his undercarriage (wheels). The airplane was damaged and went on resting on the wet grass. All of us were boiling-mad but nobody uttered a word.