February 10, 1913
Charles Winters, an American who helped Israel acquire fighter planes in 1948, is born in Brookline, Massachusetts. Winters was afflicted with polio in his youth and due to a resulting limp, was rejected by the Army for service in World War II. During the war, he worked as a purchasing agent for the government.
Following the November 1947 UN Partition Plan, many countries, including the United States, refused to provide arms for the fledgling Jewish State or any state or entity in the region. Leaders in the Yishuv turned to Jews in the West, especially the United States, to help purchase equipment and get it into the land of Israel. In addition to securing arms and equipment, thousands of volunteers came to serve in the Israeli armed forces during the war. These volunteers were called machal, a Hebrew acronym standing for mitnadvei chutz l’aretz, “Volunteers from Outside Israel.” Many of the machalniks were recruited because of special expertise or due to their experience during World War II.
Winters was one of those recruited for his experience and expertise as a purchasing agent. Working together with Connecticut flight engineer and pilot Al Schwimmer (who recruited Winters) and Las Vegas publicist Hank Greenspun (who worked for Bugsy Siegel), Winters helped secure three B-17 bombers for Israel. In the spring and early summer of 1948, Winters, then running an air transport service in Miami which delivered fruits and vegetables to the Caribbean, arranged to purchase three planes from American military surplus. Since Winters was not Jewish and already had a business that utilized planes, there was no suspicion aroused by American authorities when he purchased them.
On June 11, 1948 the three planes took off from Miami and flew to Puerto Rico. From Puerto Rico, the planes flew first to the Azores and then to Czechoslovakia where they were fitted with bomb racks and guns. Winters flew one of the planes. The three B-17’s purchased and delivered by Winters were the only heavy bombers in the Israeli Air Force and helped turn the war to Israel’s favor. A fourth plane flown by Schwimmer which had taken off from Westchester, New York was intercepted by the United States Air Force after leaving for the Azores from Halifax.
Winters would be arrested along with Schwimmer and Greenspun in 1949 for violating the United States Neutrality Act. Winters pled guilty and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and was imposed with a $5,000 fine. Schwimmer and Greenspun were also convicted but never served time. Schwimmer was fined $10,000 and would go on to found Israel Aircraft Industries, one of Israel’s largest companies. Greenspun was also fined $10,000 and would become the publisher of the Las Vegas Sun and one of that city’s most powerful figures.
Winters passed away in 1984 and his ashes were interred in the Templars Cemetery in Jerusalem. He would be pardoned posthumously by President George W. Bush in December 2008.