73 Years Ago Today: An American pilot in an Israeli-marked German plane made in Czechoslovakia went head-to-head with two Egyptian pilots behind the sticks of British-made fighters in one of the most curious dog fights in history.
Rudolph “Rudy” Augarten was born in Philadelphia in 1922 and flew for the USAAF during WWII, logging time in P-47s in Europe where he earned the DFC after shooting down two Messerschmitts with the 403rd Fighter Squadron. Notably, he also survived being shot down over Normandy where he was eventually captured and imprisoned by the Germans until he and another aviator escaped
Postwar, he threw in his lot flying for the IDF’s 101st Squadron in 1948, where he downed a total of three REAF Spitfire IXs as well as an REAF Dakota. Ironically, his plane for some of that combat was the Czech-built Avia S-199, which were assembled from surplus Messerschmitt BF-109G airframe mated to bomber engines (Junkers Jumo-211s) that resulted in an aircraft with horrible handling characteristics. Still, Rudy seemed to be able to make his work.
Via World Machal:
On October 16, 1948, one day into the first major Israeli offensive against the Egyptians, called Operation Yoav, Augarten’s turn had finally arrived. Egypt’s airbase at El Arish had been one of the sites of the previous day’s raid by Israel’s only fighter squadron, the 101st. Augarten was on a photo-reconnaissance mission to determine what targets the Air Force had destroyed, and what it still needed to finish off. Although his assignment was not very demanding, he was happy for the chance to fly at all. Rudy flew southward toward the coast. Suddenly, in the distance, he spotted two Spitfires flying in formation. Augarten could tell by their shape that they were not ME-109s, like the plane he was flying. He was too far away to make out their markings, but that didn’t really matter. Though the Israeli Air Force had several Spitfires in its arsenal, he knew immediately that the two Spits were Egyptian, because mechanical problems and fuel shortages limited the Israeli Air Force to using only a few planes in the air at any one time. When pilots in the air saw another plane, they could always be confident that it wasn’t one of their own.
Augarten carefully got into position behind the two Egyptians, hoping they wouldn’t detect his approach. Just then, fellow 101 pilot Leon Frankel, who was patrolling in the area, saw Augarten beginning to engage the Spits. Trying to come to Augarten’s aid, Frankel rolled his plane over and dove toward the combatants. But before he reached the scene, Augarten lined up one of the Spits in his gun sight, and fired a burst from the Me-109’s two 7.92 millimeter machine guns. Pieces of the Spitfire flew off as the bullets pierced its thin aluminum body. The Egyptian plane plummeted toward Israeli lines, leaving a trail of black smoke. The other Spit fled the battle scene. With no other enemy planes in sight, Frankel and Augarten fell into formation for the trip back to the base. A few days later Augarten got a treat that few fighter pilots ever receive. An army unit took him by jeep to see firsthand the wreckage of the plane he had downed. Smiling broadly, he posed for a photograph in front of what remained of the Spit. With that victory, Augarten had experienced the Czech version of the ME-109 at its best.
Rudy lived to a ripe old age of 78 and died in California in 2000.