An­gels in the Sky

Flight Journal - - GALLERY - Robert Gandt Budd Davis­son

(W. W. Nor­ton & Co., 464 pages, $15.54)

Pic­ture the 1948 Arab-Is­raeli War as The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven (the orig­i­nal with Yul Bryn­ner), but in this ver­sion, the horses are er­satz Messer­schmitt Bf 109s and the hired guns are a wildly var­ied—and slightly mot­ley—group of vol­un­teer pi­lots. Now, in­stead of thrust­ing them into the bat­tle be­tween a be­lea­guered small town in Mex­ico and an over­whelm­ing num­ber of ban­di­tos, place them into the fiery gap be­tween the newly formed coun­try of Is­rael and most of the Arab world. That is the back­ground of Bob Gandt’s new­est piece of highly ac­cu­rate tale telling, An­gels in the Sky. It is the best, most de­tailed telling of one of the least known yet most grip­ping sur­vival tales of mod­ern times. Win­ston Churchill’s fa­mous quote about so many ow­ing so much to so few ab­so­lutely ap­plies to this con­flict.

When they be­gan plan­ning their in­de­pen­dence, Is­rael had no air force, and the United States made it tech­ni­cally il­le­gal for Amer­i­cans to sup­port, or en­gage in, any of the “ac­tiv­i­ties” fore­seen be­tween Is­rael and ev­ery­one else. So the flow of a few dozen pi­lots and air­planes was un­der­ground and soaked in the in­trigue wor­thy of any spy novel. It’s com­pelling read­ing as David fights Go­liath.

Gandt is the reign­ing king of what some call “fac­tion”: the de­tailed re­count­ing of fac­tual his­tory in a way that makes it feel like fic­tion. This is a story that des­per­ately needed telling and Bob Gandt, an ex-U.S. Navy fighter/at­tack pi­lot, was the guy to tell it. Nicely done, sir!—

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