In the 1930s, the Polish firm of Drzewiecki Rogalski and Wigura was a world leader in high performance high wing monoplanes. First flown in 1935, the three seat R.W.D 13 was an excellent short takeoff and landing aircraft with folding wings. Among its operators were the Romanian, Yugoslav and Spanish Nationalist air forces. The first R.W.D 13 in Palestine was actually a visiting Polish aircraft which landed in Tel Aviv on June 15th 1936, a notable occasion because it was the first aircraft to land at the first Hebrew city in Palestine. Two R.W.D 13s were purchased by the first Jewish airline in Palestine, “Aviron”, in 1938 and were operated out of Lod Airport. The two aircraft (British mandatory registrations VQ-PAL & VQ-PAM) were employed by the airline until January 1947 when they were sold to two private operators. On November 2nd 1947 the Jewish leadership in Palestine decided to form the “Shirut Avir” (Air Service), the IAF's predecessor, and an agreement with the two owners allowed the “Shirut Avir” to operate the two aircraft. Less than a month later the U.N. voted to partition Palestine into two separate Jewish and Arab states and the Israeli War of Independence broke out. On December 13th the aircraft were smuggled from Lod airport to an airstrip in Northern Tel-Aviv after repeated attacks by local Arabs against the airport and its Jewish work force. Within a month the field was renamed Sde-Dov and became the first Jewish air base, home to the R.W.Ds for the rest of the war. Throughout the War of Independence the R.W.Ds were employed in the transport, observation and liaison role, delievering supplies to besieged Israeli settlements, providing Israeli forces with equippment and ammunition and evacuating the wounded.
On December 17, 1947, the R.W.D became the first Israeli aircraft to fly combat action. Piloted by Pinhas Ben-Porat the aircraft left for a Jewish settlement in the Negev with a doctor on board to treat the wounded from an Arab attack against a Jewish convoy. Once on location they discovered that the wounded had already been evacuated and were about to return to Tel Aviv when they were informed of an ongoing attack against the nearby settlement of Nevatim (home to an IAF airbase a few decades later). The pilot then removed the two doors and installed a machine gun on board the aircraft, in a way that made sure bullets would not hit any part of the airframe. Leaving the doctor behind, the pilot and a gun operator then left for Nevatim. The R.W.D overflew the attacking Arabs, straffing and dropping hand grenades. The Arabs, totally unprepared for the sudden attack from the air, fled from the scene. Ben-Porat then landed at Nevatim and evacuated one of the wounded. The first combat action by an aircraft in the War of Independence had such an impact that the British, still in control of Palestine at the time, declared that any Jewish aircraft operating weapons would be shot down without warning. (Pinhas Ben-Porat was the pilot of an El-Al Constellation brought down over Bulgaria in 1955)
Throughout January 1948 the R.W.Ds flew the majority of airdrops over the besieged Gush Etzion, dropping medical supplies and ammunition while in March they were active in Northern Israel. February 5th saw the R.W.D employed as a makeshift gunship once again, this time in pursuit of a Palmach armoured vehicle captured by Arab forces in the south. On March 25th one R.W.D 13 crash landed in Gush Ezion but was quickly returned to service. The aircraft would see additional service around the beleagured region prior to its surrender in mid-May, with at least one additional occasion on which it was used as a gunship on May 12th.
On April 20th the “Shirut Avir” was re-organized and various squadrons were set up. One R.W.D 13 (VQ-PAL) went to the No. 4 “Arie” (Lion) photo reconnaissance squadron while the other (VQ-PAM) went to the No 1 “Namer” (Leopard) squadron. An R.W.D 13 was temporarily taken out of service in early May after shots were fired at it while on the ground at Tel Aviv.
VQ-PAL suffered extensive damage when Royal Egyptian Air Force Spitfires struck Sde Dov on May 15th 1948, a day after the Israeli declaration of independence. When VQ-PAM crash landed two days later the R.W.Ds were temporarily out of service. Although neither was in airworthy condition in late May, when the entire IAF fleet was re-serialled following the official formation of the IAF, the two aircraft received the serials A-33 (PAM?) and A-34. A-33 was flying again by June and reportedly soldiered on until Janury 1949 despite several periods of incapacity, yet A-34 apparently never flew again. When IAF serials were changed once again in late November 1948 the two R.W.Ds received the serials 80301 (A-33) and 80302 (A-34). Both were still officialy in service in February 1949, though neither was flying. They were finally retired sometime in 1949.
Specification: R.W.D 13
Type: light utility & liaison aircraft.
Powerplant: one de Havilland Walter Gypsy Major.
Performance: max speed - 210km/h, range - 900km.
Weights: empty - 800kg, max takeoff - 930kg.
Dimensions: length - 7.85m, height - 2.05m, span - 11.5m.
Sources: IAF Inventory