Obituary / A Founder of the Israel Air Force

When ordered to bomb the Altalena, pilot Boris Senior considered the option of intentionally missing the target.

Boris Senior was born in Johannesburg into a Zionist family that had emmigrated from Lithuania. In World War II, he volunteered as a pilot in Great Britain's Royal Air Force. In October 1944, during a bombing run over Venice, his plane was hit, and he was forced to eject, but was rescued right under the nose of the Germans. However, his elation soon turned into deep agony when he learned that at nearly the same time his beloved older brother Leon, serving as a pilot with the Allies, had been killed in action.

After the war, he went to study in London, where he learned of the atrocities of the Holocaust. In his book "New Heavens," Senior wrote that his belief in God was shaken: "How could He have allowed the murder of a million and a half innocent children?" He decided to join Etzel (also known as the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, the pre-state underground militia, led by Menachem Begin), and even persuaded his friend Ezer Weizman, another former RAF pilot, to try to assassinate the reviled General Evelyn Barker, the commander of British forces in Palestine, who was responsible for sending the illegal immigrant ships back from the shores of Palestine, and for whippings and death sentences meted out to members of the undergrounds.

Senior took advantage of his civilian flights to fly (from France) an Etzel activist who was primed to carry out the mission, but the assassination plan never came to fruition.

Following the November 29, 1947 Partition Vote in the United Nations in favor of Jewish statehood, Senior immigrated to Israel and joined the handful of pilots of the Haganah's Air Service." He completed dangerous flights to cut-off Sodom and the isolated Etzion Bloc, and patrolled the water pipeline to the Negev, to ensure that saboteurs would not damage it.

In February 1948, he departed for South Africa, to arrange for the purchase of airplanes and to enlist pilots for the fledgling air force. On the eve of the declaration of statehood, Senior arrived in a Beechcraft Bonanza, a plane he flew to Israel in an adventure-filled journey through all of Africa, without radio contact and without navigational aids.

With the invasion by the Arab armies, when he was serving as commander of Sde Dov, the airfield just north of Tel Aviv, the fledgling army general staff ignored his objections and forced him to park the planes in well-arranged rows. When the Egyptian planes attacked the field, they easily hit the planes, including the Bonanza that he'd brought after much hard work. Senior spilled out his gall in an outburst in the presence of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who had just then arrived for a visit, and when the Egyptian Spitfires returned, he pulled out his pistol and fired at them. He drew his pistol on one other occasion, when he was about to set out on an attack on Amman, in order to convince one of the Mahal (volunteers from abroad) pilots who was afraid to serve as his wing man in the second plane.

Senior was ordered to take off and bomb the Altalena, and was enraged: "I will never be capable of bombing my Jewish brethren." He even considered missing the target intentionally. Fortunately for him, he was relieved of the mission. In "Operation Velvetta," he flew a Spitfire from Czechoslovakia, had no choice but to carry out a forced landing in Rhodes, where he was arrested. Toward the end of the war, he shot down two Egyptian planes as part of Israel's first fighter squadron, and while intercepting his erstwhile RAF comrades who had penetrated Israeli air space from the Sinai Peninsula, he shot down a British plane.

When the war ended, Senior was appointed to organize the air defense system, and eventually left the army in 1952, as deputy commander of the Israel Air Force, with the rank of colonel. He began making films, set up a factory to manufacture photographic film and tried his hand at investments abroad.

About 10 years ago, he returned to his Lithuanian roots after gaining possession of a map of Naumiestis, his father's village, which was destroyed in the Holocaust. He served as Lithuania's honorary consul in Israel. With his first wife, Ruthi, he was the father of Lana and Tamar, and with his second wife, Batya - Ayelet, Tal and Leon. He lived in Kfar Shmaryahu throughout his life in Israel: when in 1948 he took off from nearby Herzliya Field, he fell in love with the serene spot and vowed to build his home there.