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Israel Defense Forces:
Machal - Overseas Volunteers

by Dr. Jason Fenton


IDF: Table of Contents | History & Overview | Wars & Operations


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It should be known and remembered that between 1947 and 1948 some 3,600 Machalniks — Mitnadvei Chutz L'Aretz, to use the Hebrew term and Volunteers from Outside Israel, to use the English translation — poured into Israel and fought alongside Israel's finest, first in the Palmach and Haganah and after the State was declared in 1948 — in the IDF.

The exact number of volunteers per country is still in some dispute, but the best estimate is that about 1,000 came from the United States with another 250 from Canada. 800 volunteered from South Africa, 600 from Great Britain, 250 from North Africa, 250 from Latin America, and still others from France and Belgium. There were also small contingents from Australia, the Belgium Congo, Rhodesia, Finland, and Russia. All told, Volunteers, both Jews and non-Jews, men and women, came from some 37 different countries to support the new Jewish State in her hour of greatest need.

Most of the Western and English-speaking Volunteers — or "Anglo Saxim" as we were termed by the Israelis — had fought in World War II and were eager to put their combat expertise into action to help defend the Jewish State. These Volunteers formed the core of the new Air Force providing battle-hardened combat pilots for the first Fighter and Bomber Wings. In addition, it was North American pilots, air and ground crews that created the Air Transport Command that ferried the Messerschmitts and weapons from an airstrip near Prague to Tel Nof Air Force Base in Israel. And although it irritated some of the IAF top brass at the time, the operational language of the Israel Air Force throughout the war was, by necessity, English!

The facts are that the first naval commanders, the first radar technicians, the first heavy artillery gunners, the first tank commanders, the first senior infantry commanders, the first fighter and bomber pilots, the first surgeons for eye wounds and burns were Machal Volunteers. And Machalniks manned the ten “Aliyah Bet” ships that brought 31,000 Holocaust survivors to Mandatory Palestine under the very noses of the British occupiers. That's half of all illegal immigrants who arrived through Aliyah Bet.

This would be Israel's costliest war and the toll was also high for Machal as 119 Machalniks were killed in action. Casualties were particularly high among the Machal pilots; 33 flyers lost their lives during the war and and two-thirds of them were Machal. In addition, three Machal ground crew were also killed in action. After serving Israel in her time of need, most of the Volunteers returned to their home countries, but about 500 stayed or returned soon after and decided to make Israel their home, and now their children and grandchildren serve in the IDF.


Sources: Article submitted courtesy of Dr. Fenton. See also Machal-Volunteers in Israel's War of Independence

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