Charles Winters - Smuggling

Smuggling

Winters entered the produce export business after the war, buying decommissioned military cargo planes that were being used to transport fruits and vegetables. A friend and flight engineer named Al Schwimmer, known as the father of the Israeli air force, enlisted Winters in his efforts to supply aircraft to Jewish fighters in Israel; with his government experience, Winters managed to smuggle three B-17 bombers to Israel. Taking off from Miami, the two B-17s refueled in Puerto Rico, as if completing a normal shipping route, but instead flew to Israel by way of the Azores and Czechoslovakia; a third B-17 joined the group in Czechoslovakia. They constituted the newly created Israeli Air Force's first heavy bombers. Winters was said to have decided to help supply the Israeli forces as a favor to his Jewish friends, and received no monetary compensation for the work. His efforts gained him the nickname "The Godfather of the Israeli Airforce"

The three bombers smuggled by Winters were the only heavy bombers in the Israeli Air Force during the war, but were reportedly essential in turning the tide of war in Israel's favor. In his diary on July 16, 1948, David Ben-Gurion noted their arrival in Israel, and mentioned that they had already been used for several bombing runs in Egypt. They formed 69 Squadron of the Israeli Air Force, known as the "Hammers".

Winters was subsequently prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney in Miami for violating the Neutrality Act of 1939 in conspiring to smuggle three bombers via Czechoslovakia to Palestine. Winters was found guilty, fined $5000, spent 18 months in prison, and was finally released on November 17, 1949. Schwimmer, though convicted, was not sentenced to prison, and was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Another man in the operation, Herman Greenspun, was also convicted with no prison time, and pardoned in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy.

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