The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY Directorate of Intelligence7
The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty
The US Naval technical research ship Liberty was attacked by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats off the Sinai Peninsulaune. The following account of the circumstances of the attack has been compiled from all available sources.
1. The Liberty reported.. Washington time)une that it had been orbited by two delta-wing jet fighters, presumably Israeli Mirages] .he Liberty was strafed by unidentified jet aircraft. The Liberty apparently was not able to establish communications with other units of the US Sixth Fleet during the air attack, and the first information available to the US commanders was after the subsequent attack by unidentified torpedo boats, which occurred5
. he US Commander
in Chief, Europe, notified the National MilitaryCenter in Washington that the Liberty was under attack and was listing to starboard after being struckorpedo. The Commander of the US Sixth Fleetthe attacking units hostile and sent attackfrom the carriers America and Saratoga to protect the Liberty- ood part of the ship's communicationswas destroyed by the crew during the attack but emergency communications were soon established with the Saratoga and with the naval communications station in Greece. Because of the tenseness of the situation and the communications delays, the initial reports from the Liberty were sketchy and somewhat confusing.
Specifics of the Attack
to these reports, however, theevents took place as follows. The ship was attacked
. y unidentified jet fighters,to be Israeli, atE. Six strafing runs were made by the jets. Twenty minutes later three torpedo boats closed at high speed and two of them launched torpedoes after first circling the Liberty, One torpedo passed astern, and the other struck
the starboard side of the ship in the spaces occupied by the SIGINT collectors. One of the boats was later identified as Israeli and the hull number of one unit was noted. Someinutes later two Israeli helicopters arrived on the scenej |
Israeli Identification of the Ship
of the communications of the attackingand torpedo boats is available, but the intercepted
conversations between the helicopter pilots and the control tower at Hatzor (near Tel Aviv) leave little doubt that the Israelis failed to identify the LibertyS ship before or during the attack. Control told. hat "therearship there which we attacked. The men jumped into the water from it. You will try to rescuelthough there were other referencesearch for the men in the water and although US units later searched the area, no survivors werefrom the sea, nor were there any indications that any of theissing personnel from the Liberty had been lost overboard.
subsequent message from the controlthe helicopter identified the ship as Egyptian
and told the pilot to return home. Although the Liberty laeet longer than the Egyptian transport El Quesir, it could easily bo mistaken for the latter vessel by an overzealous pilot. Both ships have similar hulls and arrangements of masts
6. The weather was clear in the area of attack.
the Liberty's hull number (GTRaa prominently displayed,
and an American flag was flying. The helicopter pilot was then urgently requested to identify the survivors as Eygptian or English speaking (this being the first indication that the Israelis suspected they may haveeutral ship). The helicopter pilotseeing an American flag on the Liberty. In another intercept between an unidentified Israeliand the helicopter, the pilotthat numberas written on the ship's side. The controller told the pilot the number had
7. Thus it was not. hat the Israelis became convinced that the Liberty
was American. This was aboutinutes after the last attack on the ship and the attack had apparently been called off, not because the ship had beenbut because it seemed to be sinking. (The US Defense Attache in Tel Aviv reports that Israeliand the three torpedo boats searched the area. | |rhe Israeli offer of assistance was declined because of the sensitiveof the ship. According to US Navy reports, the ship was saved only through the efforts of her crew-j^
Damage and Personnel Losses
8. The ship suffered heavy material andcasualties. olo estimated to beeet wide at the bottom andeet wide at the top near the waterline was openedorpedo. The ship is flooded below the second deck between framesnd 78nch frame spacing)
he crew carried
out emergency destruction of classifiedand radar equipment, but the ship'splant is intact. Several flash fires and cannon holes throughout the superstructure caused some minor damage, and the ship's motor whale boat and
virtually all of its life rafts were lost. casualties includeilled,ounded, andissing, most of whom were probably trapped in the flooded compartments. The wounded and the dead have been removed from the ship and somecrew members put aboard[^The ship isto arrive in Malta onune for dryand hull repairs. Security precautions aretaken to protect the classified interceptin the flooded spaces. The US Navy hasa board of inquiry to look into the incident.
The ship and Its Orders
9. The USS Libertyonverted Victory class merchant ship utilizedIGINT collector. The unit had moved from its normal station off West Africa to provide additional SIGINT coverage of the Middle Eaat crisisOfficial US statements, however, have described the Liberty as an electronics research ship which had been diverted to the crisis area to actadio relay station for US embassies.
Liberty sailed from Rota, Spain, onunder orders to patrol no closerhe UAR coastiles of the Israelimodification of orders issued by the commanderUS Sixth Fleet.n 8not been received aboard the Liberty, according
to the ship's commanding officer, before the Israeli attack. This change, together with messages from other commands which ordered the Liberty to approach no closeriles of the coasts of the UAR and Israel andiles of the coast of Cyprus, was delayed in transmission in part because of aof responsibilities for delivery.
annexisting of events inorder.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
(Stated times are localj Washington times in parentheses)
departed Rota, Spain en route toOON, OOE, to5 miles from Egyptian .cjpastiles from Israeli coast.!
Duty Officer received phone instructions from Joint Reconnaissance Center directing Liberty to comply withile operating area restriction. [
was orbited by two unidentified delta wing single engine jet fighters,Israeli Mirages.]
miles away from coast of UAR and Israel andiles from Cyprus. This messagenot received by Liberty prior to Israeli attack j 1
Liberty attacked by unidentified jet fight-ers which made six strafing runs. Ship atilesof nearest land)J
torpedo boats, one identified as Israeli, approach ship. One boat boreJ"^
fires^at torpedo boat at rangeards *"
Ship hit by torpedo. Torpedo boats cleared to east about five
COMSIXTHFLEET reports Liberty hit by torpedo atE.jThreegunboats approaching.[
air control (near Tel Aviv) told (two) to try to rescue men who had jumpedfrom "warship which we attacked. "T
Israeli helicopter identified ship asEgyptian." Helicopters ordered back to base.
control told helicopter to rescue men.
COMSIXTHFLEET orders carriers to provide air cover for Liberty.
Liberty reported under attack to COMSIXTHFLEET -
Liberty reported hit by torpedo star-board side (National Security Agency (NSA) follow-up to Critic,elayed report)|
Two Israeli helicopters orbited ship at rangeards. Israeli torpedo boats offered assistance which wasr"i
Liberty still under air attack (NSA follow-up to Critic)
control told helicopter to clarify nationality of the first man he brings up
Helicopter reports (toig ship and three small shipsile from the helicopter. (This places the torpedo boats about eight miles from |
Hatzor told helicopters if men wereto take them to El Arishj if they spoke English and were not Egyptians, to take them to Lydda. [_
told helicopter again to clarify nationality. (It appears from the obvious importance of this question that thesuspected they may have hit an American or British and not an Egyptian
Hull number of Liberty seen by Israeli helicopter pilot who did not recognize significance .| |
Hatzor asked helicopter, "Did it clearly signal an Americannd laterhelicopter to make another pass and check again whether it was really an American flag. I
orders helicopters to return to El Arish.
Tel Aviv reports Israeli aircraft and patrol boats attacked shiptE.S ship, Israel renderin assistance and expresses deep regret.
US Defense Attache in Tel Avivthat Israeli helicopters and the three torpedo boats searched the area.. The Israeli offer of assistance was declined because, of the sensitive mission of the
then recalled the aircraft launched from the carriers America and Saratoga and sent two destroyers toLiberty. Liberty, proceeci ngat eight]
There was no further contact between Liberty and Israeli forces. Two Soviet ships nave trailed the Liberty, which proceeds under escort to Malta.