The USS Liberty (AGTR) was attacked by the Israeli Air Force and by torpedo-carrying Israeli ships, on June 8, 1967, during the 6-Day War. The combined attack, by air and sea, killed 34 crew members (naval officers, two sailors and a civilian), wounded 171 crew members and seriously damaged the ship. At the time, the ship was located in international waters north of the Sinai peninsula.
Israel authorities said to have attacked after mistaking the USS Liberty for an Egyptian military vessel.
The abbreviation AGTR (Auxiliary, General, Technical Research) represents a coverage code for “spy” vessels of the NSA , the useful collection of “signals” for intelligence.
During the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations, the United States maintained a neutral status, but they could not hold a passive attitude during the Cold War with the Soviets (already the protectors of Syria) and so U.S. with their Army and Warships were active in the Mediterranean. Several days before the Arab-Israeli War, the USS Liberty was ordered to proceed in the eastern Mediterranean area to perform a task of collecting intelligence in international waters near the northern coast of Sinai, Egypt.
After the outbreak of war, because of concerns about its safety as it sails patrolling certain areas in international waters, several messages have been sent to the vessel to increase its point of approach of a closer (CPA) allowed the coasts of Egypt and those of Israel, the CPA seems to change the messages that were received after the attack.
The official testimony combined with the log of activities of the USS Liberty says that during the morning of the attack, 8th of June 1967, the ship was over the Israeli aviation aircraft (IAF) , at times and in different locations. The primary type of aircraft sighted was the North Noratlas, but there were also two Delta-Wing.
The crew members of the USS Liberty said that the first planes passed almost sliding on the ship, on more than one occasion and did not deny that Israel clarified that airplanes were trying to catch egyptian submarines and ships that had been sighted near the Israeli coast.
The division 914, called “Pagoda“, was under the command of Commander Moshe Oren. Composed of three numbered torpedo boats: T-203, T-204 and T-206. At 12:15, the division received 914 orders to patrol a location 32 km north of Arish. While the Commander Oren headed to Arish beach, but suddenly he was informed by the naval warfare operations of an Egyptian ship bombing on the Arish coast and the IAF fighters were sent to the area.
The IDF General IDF Yitzhak Rabin was concerned that the alleged Egyptian bombing was the prelude to an amphibious landing that could break through the terrestrial Israeli forces. Rabin reiterated the standing order to sink all unidentified ships in the area but warned caution, as he was well aware that often Soviet ships traveled in that part of the sea.
ARISH COAST [1:41PM]
At 1:41 pm, the torpedo boats detected what they will claim was just an unknown ship, 20 miles northwest of Arish and 23 km from the coast of Bardawil.
The target speed was significant because it indicated that the target was a combat vessel.
In addition, Israeli forces had standing orders to fire on any unknown ship sailing in the area at over 20 knots (37 km / h, 23 mph), a speed that could only be reached by warships at the time.
The ship’s speed data, along with its direction, indicated according to Israeli analysis that it must have been an Egyptian destroyer fleeing to the port after bombing Arish. Thus the Israelian torpedo boats went on their way to intercept and stop their target before it could have reached Egypt.
Commander Oren also asked for the intervention of the Israeli air force.
Indeed the IAF sent two Mirage III fighter planes that arrived above the USS Liberty at about 2:00 pm.
Captain Iftach Spector, in charge for the interception and attack, said he had tried in vain to identify the ship, although at that hour was fully daylight, the weather conditions were just as optimal visibility, and the USS Liberty had wrote on the hull the name, the U.S. flag was in full view, but Spector and the others claimed they had not seen anything. Spector communicated via radio his observation to one of the torpedo boats and also the other pilots reported to not see distinctive signs, names or a flag on the ship.
It seems that the Supreme Command was advised on a potential false-positive target and considered the option that it could be an American Military Vessel. But immediately after the exchange of views and opinions, at 2:07 pm, the chief commander of the air forces, Lieutenant Colonel Shmuel Kislev, ordered to the 2 Mirages Jet fighters to attack.
THE ATTACK [2:07 PM]
Ten crew members were killed immediately or just some of them died a little later and 75 were injured. During this first attack, the antennas were destroyed, the gas cylinders caught fire and the ship’s flag was torn down. The USS Liberty commander McGonagle, although wounded, made an immediate request to the sixth fleet: “Under attack from unidentified jet planes, we require immediate assistance“.
The Mirages left the area after spending all their ammunition and were replaced by two Dassault Mysteres armed with napalm bombs. The Dassault air fighters fired on the USS Liberty destroying its cannons but the rest of the ship also suffered serious damage. Thus the fighters prepared for a final assault, but Kislev was disturbed by the lack of a fire response, and asked for a last attempt to identify the ship. As written and known, no more flags fluttered on the USS Liberty at that point, despite Kislev immediately ordered that the attack had to cease. Kislev, later said, that he thought the ship had to be American.
The Order to end the Attack was given but..[2:20 pm]
Although Egyptian warships were known to mask their identities with Western markings, they usually showed only Arabic letters and numbers, but not the USS Liberty. Rabin ordered to the torpedo boats to stay at a safe distance from the ship and sent two Hornet helicopters (Aérospatiale & Super Frelon) to look for survivors. These radio communications have been recorded by Israel. The order to cease fire was given at 2:20 pm, twenty-four minutes before the torpedo boats arrived at a firing range on the USS Liberty.
The Final Assault [2:35 PM]
At 2:35 pm, the Liberty was hit by a torpedo that was launched from one of the Israelian torpedo boats.
The crew aboard the USS Liberty waved a large American flag during the first part of the air strike and before the torpedo boats were sighted, the USS Liberty sent a distress message received from the sixth fleet led by the USS Saratoga. The American Command immediately sent eight airplanes to the site of the attack.
McGonagle testified in the naval court of inquiry that during the last moments of the air attack it was observed that three high-speed boats approached the ship from the northeast on a relative radius of about 135 degrees at a distance of about 15 degrees from the ship that was still being maneuvered [to the west] 283 [degrees], at a speed that was unknown, but believed to be greater than 5 knots “. McGonagle testified that “I believed that the time for the initial sighting of the torpedo boats … was at about 14:20“, and that the “boats seemed to be in a wedge formation with a central tip. The estimated speed of the boats was about 27-30 knots [from 50 to 56 km/h],” and “which seemed to be approaching the USS Liberty in an attitude that preludes the launch of torpedoes “.
The investigation clarified that the Israeli vessels also sought to identify the USS Liberty by sending radio messages but the Liberty’s instrumentation had been compromised during the first phase of the air attack. The inexperience, or excess of evil, of the captains on the torpedo boats did the rest. McGonagle understood after having better sighted the torpedo boats that they were Israeli and that even the fighters at that point were too. He realized that he and his crew was under friendly fire and after a first order to respond to the fire, moreover ineffective against that type of boats and planes, ordered to cease all war activities and tried to report the error to the Israelis in every way that the ship and its crew were from the United States.
The End of the Attack [4:00-4:40 PM]
The torpedo boats also began to strafe the USS Liberty and killing the helmsman, then launched five torpedoes, one of which went to reach the target.
The attack ended a few minutes after the two Commands exchanged information to clarify who the ship was under attack.
At 4 pm, two hours after the attack began, Israel informed the US Embassy in Tel Aviv that its military forces had mistakenly attacked an American Navy ship. When it was confirmed that the ship was American the Israeli torpedo boats arrived to offer help, it was 4:40 pm; their help was rejected by the Americans.
Secretary of State David Dean Rusk declared, among other things: “At the time of the attack, the USS Liberty was beating the American flag and its identification was clearly indicated in large white letters and numbers on its hull … The experience shows that both the flag and the ship’s identification number are easily visible from the air…. Consequently, there is every reason to believe that the USS Liberty has been identified, or at least its nationality, and determined by Israeli airplanes about an hour before the attack … The subsequent attack by the torpedo boats, basically after the ship it was or should have been identified by the Israeli military forces, manifesting the same careless carelessness for human life “.
George Lenczowski noted: “It is significant that, contrary to his secretary of state, President Johnson has fully accepted the Israeli version of the tragic accident.” He notes that Johnson himself included only a small paragraph on the USS Liberty in his autobiography, in which he accepted the Israeli explanation of “error,” but also downplayed the whole affair and distorted the actual number of dead and injured, knocking down respectively 34 to 10 and from 171 to 100. Lenczowski also states: “It seems that Johnson is more interested in avoiding a possible confrontation with the Soviet Union … than in holding one with Israel.”
McGonagle received the medal of honor, the highest US medal, for his actions. The Medal of Honor is generally presented by the President of the United States in the White House, but this time it was assigned to the Navy Yard of Washington by the Secretary of the Navy in an unpublished ceremony, breaking with every established tradition.
The other USS Liberty sailors received decorations for their actions during and after the attack, but most of the citations failed to mention Israel as the perpetrator of the crime. In 2009, however, a Silver Star was awarded to crew member Terry Halbardier, who repaired a damaged antenna and restored the ship’s communications.
In May 1968, the Israeli government paid 3 million dollars to the US government in compensation for the families of the 34 men killed in the attack. In March 1969, Israel paid an additional $ 3.57 million to injured men. In December 1980, he also decided to pay 6 million dollars (17.4 million dollars in 2016) as the last solution for the material damage suffered by the Ship with more than 13 years of interest.
Later the General Yitzhak Rabin, head of the IDF at that time, defended himself claiming that he had asked the United States in unsuspected times to keep their ships far from the shore of Israel or at least to inform Israel of their exact position during the war operations.
But American sources denied: “No request for information on US ships operating on the Sinai was ever made before the USS Liberty incident”, and again: if the Israelis had made such a request, this would have been immediately transmitted to the head of the naval operations and other naval commands and repeated at the State Department “.
The US Navy high-ranking officials have always maintained and confirmed in the investigating committees that the attack on the USS Liberty by Israeli aircraft was clearly a deliberate and conscious attack.
The Israelis have always been jealous guardians of their secrets and were for the first time in the history of their new nascent nation at war against more enemy states. They also possessed the atomic weapon, and only recently it was discovered that in those famous 6 Days the use of nuclear weapons was an option considered without any delay and placed on the table in a completely indifferent manner, almost as if it were a common bomb, and that therefore they had to avoid in every way to let it known to the world:
Russian author Joseph Daichman in his book “The History of the Mossad” states that Israel was justified in attacking the USS Liberty. Israel knew that the American radio signals had been intercepted by the Soviet Union and that the Soviets would surely inform Egypt of the fact that by moving troops to the Golan Heights, Israel had left the Egyptian border defenseless. He could no longer risk being spied on by his “allies”.
Lenczowski notes that while the Israeli decision to “attack and destroy” the ship “may seem disconcerting“, but the explanation seems to lie in the much more frightening simplicity of the “spy” nature of the USS Liberty, ie its task of monitoring the communications from all parts of war zones, including Israel.
A more deep sci-fi theory in Russell Warren Howe’s 1981 book where it is said that the USS Liberty was followed by the USS Andrew Jackson submarine equipped with Polaris ballistic missiles, and that even the U-Boat filmed the whole episode through its periscope but was unable to provide any assistance. According to Howe: “Two hundred meters below the ship, in a parallel path, was its “shadow “, the Polaris strategic submarine Andrew Jackson, whose sole task was to eliminate all Israeli long-range missile sites in the Negev if Tel Aviv would have decided to attack Cairo, Damascus or Baghdad, this because Moscow would not have had to carry out this task alone, and thus start the Third World Wide Conflict “.
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