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“Rumplar – 4” airplane

A picture of the collective orchestra

The Bavarian squadron 304 was an exceptionally cheerful episode in the Cooperation members’ harsh life. They arrived in 1917 from Germany in order to assist their allies, the Turks. The squadron, headed by Brigadier Woltz, built an improvised airport west of the farm, containing 12 “Rumplar - 4” airplanes of the kind depicted in the picture (this plane, which was considered the best German patrolling – photographing plane in World War I, was actually a “Jewish” plane since it was built in a factory belonging to the Jewish Rumplar family).

The squadron’s planes took off to photograph the battlefields from here, and the glass photo negatives (kept in a museum in Munich) constitute the largest high standard collection of Israel’s aerial photos from that period. This selection serves as a pool for comparative research of Israel’s landscape at that time and today.

A picture of the “ aerial railcar”

The squadron’s arrival brought about great relief in addition to a certain burden: on one hand, its people took over two houses in the Great Courtyard and, furthermore, turned Merchavia into a target for British aerial bombing. On the other hand, they purchased a large quantity of the farm’s products and maintained a good relationship with the settlers, including parties, celebrations and sport contests. There was even gossip about secret romantic affairs.   

The wounded guard Yisrael Rider in bed

The initiative squadron officers found an original way for a nightly good time: they received a flat railcar, installed chairs on it and fixed a… plane engine in its front. At night they started the engine and speedily “flew” by the propeller’s force to Haifa, where they had fun until dawn, when it was time to turn back the train car and return to Merchavia for another day in the air… Undoubtedly, the famous “Valley train” railroad has never seen such a vehicle.

Brigadier Woltz mediating between Turkish policemen and the Cooperation members

The squadron’s pilots especially contributed to the settlement’s protection. One day, guard Shalom Paritz caught a thief and gave him a good beating. The thief pretended to be dead and Shalom hurried to Merchavia, fearing for the catastrophe that might issue. Brigadier Woltz and his men set off out to find him, but he disappeared. Consequently, the Germans went to Sulam and ordered the villagers to give away the criminal. Having no other choice, they did so. The man was taken to Afula and – unsurprisingly - returned to the village within hours

The German pilots near the stone houses

Relationship with Sulam deteriorated after this event and in one of the nights that followed, Moshe Saglovitz was killed, while his friend Yisrael Rider was severely wounded.

This news infuriated Brigadier Woltz: In the morning, German pilots holding machine guns surrounded Sulam and, while the squadron’s planes hovered above the village carrying bombs, he threatened the villagers with bombardment if they don’t turn in the thief (who evidently organized the fatal ambush) instantly. To prove they meant every word, one plane dropped a bomb near the village. The villagers panicked and immediately dragged the thief out of flour barrel, where he was hiding. The Germans took him, still white from the flour, to the prison in Nazareth, declaring he is forbidden to return until his trial ended. Ever since that incident, the neighboring villagers, terrified of the Germans, never bothered the settlers again.

Soon the British army, headed by the speedy Australian horsemen, arrived in the Valley: on September 19th, the squadron was ordered to evacuate the field. Some of the planes were flown to Tzemach and the majority of the equipment (including the precious glass negatives) was loaded on the train and taken there, too. The following day, 20.9.1918, the horsemen reached Merchavia and seized four planes, which still stood on the ground, as well as 20 squadron men including Brigadier Woltz, in the Great Courtyard (The pilots were transported to a prisoner camp and when the war ended they were released and returned home). That afternoon the British airplanes, transferred here from Jenin, already used the German airfield.

In order to coordinate your visit the Great Courtyard, please call Shlomo Sdeur and inform him of the date and hour you will be coming. Mr. Sdeur’s cell phone number: 052/3638156.