From well before World War II and long after it, the de Havilland Tiger Moth was the most significat basic trainer with the RAF and other British Commonwealth air forces. Developed from the D.H.60M Gipsy Moth and first flown in October 1931, over 8,700 Tiger Moths have been built, 4,200 of them for the RAF alone. The type is credited with training thousands of pilots for the Allied war effort and remained in service until as late as 1951.
The concept of an independent Jewish air force originated from the success demonstrated by the RAF in breaking up various attacks by Arabs against Jewish and British targets. The concept behind such a force was that aircraft owned by the Jewish organizations in Palestine would free the Jewish population from dependency on the British in case of emergency and would also train pilots for any future contingency. In 1934 an aviation enthusiast managed to enlist the support of David Ben-Gurion, leader of Palestine's Jewish population (and Israel's first prime minister), and in late 1934 a D.H.82A Tiger Moth was purchased in Britain. The plane did not make it to Palestine until 1938 however, partialy because of fears that an independent Jewish force would hasten the formation of an equivalent Arab force. Upon its arrival it was enlisted as a training aircraft in “Aviron,” the first Jewish airline in Palestine, and was based at Afikim in Northern Israel, away from prying British eyes. Besides its primary training role, the Tiger Moth was also employed on a number of other missions such as liaison, reconnaissance, observation and light transportation. During one of its training flights in April or May 1939, on a demonstration of how to regain control of a spinning aircraft, one of its wings hit the ground and the aircraft crashed. Although the instructor and student were unharmed, the aircraft was totally wrecked.
In April 1947 donations made by a womens' organization and Canadian Jews allowed the acquisition of two ex-Canadian air force D.H.82Cs, supposedly for an aviation club. Assembled at an “Aviron” hangar, the aircraft were rolled out on October 30, 1947, and entered service with the Haganah's (Jewish underground defence force) aviation section at Ramla airport. Playing a dual role, the aircraft were trainers as well as photo reconnaissance aircraft, at times even flying missions beyond the borders of mandatory Palestine. When “Aviron” stopped operating out of Ramla and moved to Lod airport in late 1947, the Tiger Moths were relocated to an airfield outside Haifa, in northern Israel. The new location allowed for more reconnaissance flights in the north and on one such flight seven Syrian army camps in the Golan Heights were photographed. When the “Shirut Avir” (Air Service, the IAF's predecessor) was formed n November 1947 it also incorporated the “Haganah's aviation section and the two Tiger Moths became part of its inventory. 6 more Tiger Moths were purchased in England in December 1947 but failed to make it to Israel.
On November 29, 1947, the U.N. voted to partition Palestine into two separate Jewish and Arab states and the Israeli War of Independence broke out. During the war the Tiger Moths were operated on a multitude of missions including observation, escort and even ground attack, transportation and photo reconnaissance. Beginning on December 1947 the Tiger Moths flew regular liaison and reconnaissance missions over the Negev Desert, keeping alive the connection to various outlying settlements. They were also active over the besieged Gush Ezion, dropping supplies and ammunition to the various Jewish settlements in the region, and on at least one occasion a Tiger Moth was tasked with straffing Palestinian forces. During operation “Nahshon” in early April 1948, the first Israeli operation where aircraft were given orders and coordinated by the ground forces, a Tiger Moth was active in the observation role, reporting enemy ground movements to the commanders on the ground.
The Tiger Moths were also involved in a number of accidents. In early 1948, one was forced to crash land because of problems in its fuel system. On March 4th one was grounded at an airstrip in Gush Ezion after overturning upon takeoff. The isolation of Gush Ezion prevented its restoration and the aircraft was written off. During the reorganization of the “Shirut Avir” in late April 1948 the sole airworthy Tiger Moth was allocated to the 1st squadron's 2nd section, although by May 12th it had broken down and was written off as well.
Specification: de Havilland D.H.82C Tiger Moth
Type: two seat basic training biplane.
Powerplant: 1 * de Havilland Gipsy Major.
Performance: max speed - 104mph, cruising speed - 93mph, range - 302 miles.
Weights: empty - 530kg, max takeoff - 828kg.
Dimensions: span - 8.94m, length - 7.29m, height - 2.68m.
Sources: IAF Inventory