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The U.S.S. Liberty: The Most Decorated Ship for a Single Incident

Updated on November 9, 2018
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The USS Liberty after the attack.The USS Liberty's flag that was flying while it was under attack by Israeli torpedo boats.  The picture is of this flag being raised in front of the National Cryptologic Museum.  The National Cryptologic Museum, October 2018.Israeli Navy MTBs circa 1967.  MTBs of this type attacked the USS Liberty.The HMS Blean, a Hunt-Class destroyer.  Israeli Air Force Captain Iftach Spector claimed the HMS Liberty was an Egyptian Hunt-Class destroyer.   The USS Liberty evading an Israeli torpedo.A commemorative plaque for the USS Liberty members who were killed in the attack in the Israeli Navy Clandestine Museum.Torpedo damage to the USS Liberty,The USS Liberty exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum.  This is the holiday ensign flying on the USS Liberty when it was attacked by Israeli Torpedo Boats.
The USS Liberty after the attack.
The USS Liberty after the attack. | Source
The USS Liberty's flag that was flying while it was under attack by Israeli torpedo boats.  The picture is of this flag being raised in front of the National Cryptologic Museum.  The National Cryptologic Museum, October 2018.
The USS Liberty's flag that was flying while it was under attack by Israeli torpedo boats. The picture is of this flag being raised in front of the National Cryptologic Museum. The National Cryptologic Museum, October 2018. | Source
Israeli Navy MTBs circa 1967.  MTBs of this type attacked the USS Liberty.
Israeli Navy MTBs circa 1967. MTBs of this type attacked the USS Liberty. | Source
The HMS Blean, a Hunt-Class destroyer.  Israeli Air Force Captain Iftach Spector claimed the HMS Liberty was an Egyptian Hunt-Class destroyer.
The HMS Blean, a Hunt-Class destroyer. Israeli Air Force Captain Iftach Spector claimed the HMS Liberty was an Egyptian Hunt-Class destroyer. | Source
The USS Liberty evading an Israeli torpedo.
The USS Liberty evading an Israeli torpedo. | Source
A commemorative plaque for the USS Liberty members who were killed in the attack in the Israeli Navy Clandestine Museum.
A commemorative plaque for the USS Liberty members who were killed in the attack in the Israeli Navy Clandestine Museum. | Source
Torpedo damage to the USS Liberty,
Torpedo damage to the USS Liberty, | Source
The USS Liberty exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum.  This is the holiday ensign flying on the USS Liberty when it was attacked by Israeli Torpedo Boats.
The USS Liberty exhibit at the National Cryptologic Museum. This is the holiday ensign flying on the USS Liberty when it was attacked by Israeli Torpedo Boats. | Source

Prelude

The USS Liberty was built during World War II. In 1967 the USS Liberty (GTR-5) was listed in “Jane’s Fighting Ships” as a research vessel, not a combatant ship. It was an open secret the USS Liberty’s purpose was intelligence gathering, a spy ship. The USS Liberty was part of the world’s largest navy but on a sunny June day it was on its own. Mistakes by others spelled catastrophe for the USS Liberty.

USS Liberty Construction and Deployment

Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation laid down the keel of a ship on February 23, 1945. The ship was christened the SS Simmons Victory and launched on April 6, 1945. It was completed on May 4, 1945. It belonged to the War Shipping Administration. It was a Victory Class cargo ship. It transported military supplies in the Pacific during World War II and transported supplies to Korea during the Korean War. In 1958 the SS Simmons Victory was “mothballed”. The U.S. Navy acquired the SS Simmons Victory in 1964. The Navy commissioned it on December 1, 1964 and renamed it USS Liberty and initially gave it the classification AG-168. This was changed to AGTR-5, the classification for a technical research ship. The USS Liberty’s rotation was from its home port, Norfolk, Virginia to the west coast of Africa then back to its home port.

The Attack

In June 1967 a war between the Arabs and the Israelis was imminent. The U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea were sailing away from the area so they wouldn’t get caught up in the conflict. The USS Liberty (AGTR-5) was the lone exception. It was sailing towards what would soon be a war zone. The USS Liberty was ordered to sail from its normal patrol area, off the west coast of Africa, to take on some more personnel at Rota, Spain. From there it was ordered to sail to the Middle Eastern War Theater.[i] The crew included Arabic and Russian linguists.

On June 2, 1967 the USS Liberty was 13 miles off the coast of the Gaza Strip. A message instructing the USS Liberty to sail further away from the combatant countries was never sent to the Liberty. On June 5 what became known as “The Six Day War” broke out. Captain William McGonagle, the USS Liberty’s skipper, asked Vice Admiral William Martin to send a destroyer as an armed escort and auxiliary communications center. Captain McGonagle pointed out the USS Liberty only had four .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine guns and small arms on board. Admiral Martin denied the request stating, “LIBERTY is clearly marked United States ship in international waters, not a participant in the conflict and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation…”[ii]

On the afternoon of June 7, Washington DC time which was 0030 June 8 for the USS Liberty, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Joint Reconnaissance Center (JRC) ordered the USS Liberty to move from 12.5 nautical (13.4 miles) to 20 nautical miles (23 miles) off the Gaza coast. This message never reached the USS Liberty because of an error by the U.S. Army Communications center. An hour later the JRC changed the order and instructed the Liberty to move 100 miles from the coast of Egypt and Israel. This message was misrouted.[iii]

  • · 0555[iv] on the morning of June 8 – Commander Uri Meretz[v], on an Israeli Air Force Nord 2501 Noratlas, spotted the USS Liberty and identified it as GTR-5.[vi]
  • · 0720 - The USS Liberty raised a fresh American flag.[vii]
  • · 0900 – An Israeli jet fighter approached the USS Liberty then flew towards Gaza.[viii] The pilot reported the ship fired on him.[ix]
  • · 0940 – During debriefing the Israelis concluded the pilot’s claim of being fired upon was unfounded.[x]
  • · 1000 – Two Israeli Mirage jet fighters circle the USS Liberty three times.[xi]
  • · 1030 – An Israeli Nord 2501 circles the USS Liberty at about 200 feet (60 meters).[xii]
  • · 1055 – The Israeli Liaison Officer, Pinchas Pinchasy, at Israeli Air Force HQ correctly identified the ship as GTR-5.[xiii]
  • · 1100 – Israel claimed Captain Avraham Lunz[xiv], Acting Chief of Naval Operations at the Combat Information Center Table at Navy HQ, ordered the marker for the USS Liberty removed from the table.[xv]
  • · 1100-1200 - Israeli reconnaissance aircraft circle the USS Liberty.[xvi]
  • · 1124 – An ammunition dump explodes at El-Arish.[xvii]
  • · 1124-1200 - Israel claimed their Navy Headquarters received two separate reports of Israeli troops in El-Arish being under naval bombardment.[xviii]
  • · 1205 – Captain Izzy Rahov[xix] orders three torpedo boats at Ashdod to proceed in the directon of El-Arish.[xx]
  • · 1215 – An Israeli reconnaissance aircraft circles the USS Liberty.[xxi]
  • · 1245 – An Israeli reconnaissance aircraft circles the USS Liberty.[xxii]
  • · 1341 – Israel claimed their torpedo boats located the USS Liberty and reported the USS Liberty’s position as 20 miles north of El-Arish and sailing westward. Ensign Aharon Yifrah, combat information officer aboard torpedo boat T204, informed the captain, Commander Moshe Oren, the ship was 22 miles away with an estimated speed of 30 knots.[xxiii] Commander Moshe Oren reported the torpedo boats sighted an unidentified ship and could not close to identify the target because the target’s speed was 30 knots. A few minutes later the Commander Moshe Oren reports the target was 17 miles away and traveling at a speed of 28 knots, too fast for his torpedo boat to overtake it.[xxiv] In an emergency the USS Liberty, could travel at 21 knots. Its normal maximum speed was 17.5 knots. The USS Liberty’s actual speed is 5 knots.
  • · 1350 – The torpedo boats are given the order to reexamine the speed of the USS Liberty. They report the speed as 28 knots.[xxv]
  • · 1358 – Two Israeli Mirage III jets, led by Captain Iftach Spector[xxvi], attacked the USS Liberty. The attack takes out two machine-gun mounts and the ship’s antennae. The bridge is damaged.[xxvii] Captain Spector claims the Mirages made two passes at 3,000 feet (900 meters). He identifies the USS Liberty as a Hunt-class destroyer. Captain Spector tells General Motti Hod he did not see any flag or distinguishing markings other than some “black letters” painted on the hull.[xxviii] The USS Liberty had its name painted in black lettering on its stern. The “Liberty” on the USS Liberty’s stern is sandwiched between “GTR5” in larger white lettering.
  • · 1405 – Two Israeli Mystére IV jets attack the USS Liberty for about 20 minutes. Captain McGonagle sends out a distress signal, “Under attack by unidentified jet aircraft.” The attack kills 9 of the crew and wounds about 60. The American flag that was flying on the USS Liberty is destroyed by the jets. The USS Liberty is on fire.[xxix] One of the attacking aircraft reports the marking “CPR-5” on the ship’s hull.[xxx] Captain Iftach Spector reports seeing men in the water.[xxxi]
  • · 1409 – Captain Joe Tully of the USS Saratoga acknowledges the call, launches four F-4 Phantom IIs, and informs the USS Liberty help is on the way.[xxxii]
  • · 1420 – MTB T-204 has recorded in its log it should hold its fire pending further attempts to identify the ship. Commander Oren denied receiving the order.[xxxiii] Commander Oren arrived at the Command Bridge and orders the motor torpedo boats to attack.[xxxiv]
  • · 1424 – Three Israeli torpedo boats approach the USS Liberty in attack formation. The USS Liberty raises the “holiday ensign.”[xxxv]
  • · 1436 – The Israeli torpedo boats launch 5 torpedoes at the USS Liberty. One torpedo fired by the MTB 203 finds its mark and hits the ship’s National Security Agency (NSA) area. This attack kills 25 of the crew. The torpedo boats follow up with machine gun and cannon fire.[xxxvi]
  • · 1450 – The Sixth Fleet Commander orders the USS America and USS Saratoga to launch aircraft to defend the USS Liberty.[xxxvii]
  • · 1500 – NSA Sigint Command Center[xxxviii] receives notice the USS Liberty was torpedoed by an “unknown source.”[xxxix] Torpedo Boat T-203 picks up one of the USS Liberty’s life rafts, which has USS Liberty on it.[xl]
  • · 1505 – The Sixth fleet sends the message to the USS Liberty; “Sending aircraft to cover you. Surface units on the way.” The USS Liberty has no working receiver so it doesn’t receive the message.[xli]
  • · 1511 – The National Military Command Center receives notice the USS Liberty is under attack.[xlii]
  • · 1515 – The USS Liberty broadcasts the “abandon ship” order. According to Lieutenant Lloyd Painter and Petty Officer Rowley the Israeli torpedo boats fire on the lifeboats and the deck. The torpedo boats depart. Two Israeli SA-321 Super Frelon Hornet helicopters carrying heavily armed troops circle the USS Liberty.[xliii] According to the Israelis one of the troops reported seeing and American flag on the ship.[xliv] Then the helicopters depart.
  • · 1532 – President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, Walt Rostow, notifies the president of the attack.[xlv]
  • · 1536 – The Israeli torpedo boats briefly return.[xlvi]
  • · 1545 – The USS America and USS Saratoga launch rescue flights.[xlvii]
  • · 1555 – A signalman rigs up an antenna so the USS Liberty can transmit a message. They are still unable to receive messages.[xlviii]
  • · 1605 – Liberty transmits: “Request immediate assistance. Torpedo hit starboard side.”[xlix]
  • · 1614 – American Embassy in Israel relays Israel’s apology to the White House, Department of State, and the Sixth Fleet.[l]
  • · 1615 – Israeli jets approach the USS Liberty.[li]
  • · 1630 – Israeli torpedo boats offer USS Liberty assistance. Captain McGonagle refuses their offer.[lii]
  • · 1639 – Secretary of Defense McNamara orders the rescue aircraft be recalled. President Johnson confirms the order. Commander Ernest Castle, U.S. Embassy Naval Air Attaché, is summoned to Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) headquarters.[liii]
  • · 1642 – Israeli torpedo boats and jets depart the area.[liv]
  • · 1717 – An Israeli helicopter approaches the USS Liberty and requests permission to land. Captain McGonagle refuses and the helicopter leaves.[lv]
  • · 1800 – The USS Liberty receives the misrouted message to move 100 miles from the coast of Egypt and Israel.[lvi]

At 0600 on June 9 the U.S. Navy destroyers USS Davis and USS Massey reached the USS Liberty. That afternoon Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Michael Bloch telephones Commander Castle claiming the USS Liberty was not flying a flag and was mistaken for the Egyptian supply ship El Queseir.[lvii] The USS Liberty arrived in Malta on June 14. Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd[lviii] warns the crew: “You are never, repeat never, to discuss this with anyone, not even your wives. If you do, you will be court-martialed and will end your lives in prison or worse.”

[i] USS Liberty – The Real Story – as told by the survivors, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC7tVVpVG6w, last accessed 10/12/2018.

[ii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[iii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[iv] All times are local to the USS Liberty.

[v] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident: “The USS Liberty: Case Closed”, by Michael B. Oren, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/20/2018.

[vi] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[vii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[viii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[ix] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[x] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xi] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xiii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xiv] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xv] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xvi] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xvii] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xviii] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xix] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xx] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxi] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxiii] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxiv] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxv] Colonel Ram Ron Report 6/16/1967, http://www.gtr5.com/evidence/ramron.htm, last accessed, 10/13/2018.

[xxvi] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxvii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxviii] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxix] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxx] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxxi] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxxii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxxiii] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxxiv] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxxv] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxxvi] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xxxvii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xxxviii] Signals Intelligence Command Center.

[xxxix] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xl] Jewish Virtual Library, The USS Liberty Incident: “The USS Liberty: Case Closed” by Michael B Oren, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed, 10/22/2018.

[xli] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xlii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xliii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xliv] Israeli Defense Force, Preliminary Inquiry, Sgan-Aluf I. Yerushalmi, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xlv] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[xlvi] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xlvii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xlviii] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[xlix] Station HYPO, Remembering the Crew of the USS Liberty (AGTR-5), https://stationhypo.com/2016/06/08/remembering-the-crew-of-the-uss-liberty-agtr-5/, last accessed 10/21/2018.

[l] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[li] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[lii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[liii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[liv] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[lv] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[lvi] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[lvii] The USS Liberty Timeline, Americans for Middle East Understanding, https://ifamericaknew.org/us_ints/ul-ameu.html, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[lviii] Isaac Campbell Kidd retired as an Admiral.

The Aftermath

Within 48 hours of the attack Israel offered to pay restitution. Israel paid over $6 million in restitution to the families of those killed and wounded in 1968. In 1979 the book “Assault on the Liberty”, which claimed the attack on the USS Liberty was deliberate, was published. Israel paid an additional $6 million in damages in a 1980 agreement with the United States. Part of the agreement was Israel and the United States were “not to address the issue or motive or reopen the case for any reason.”[i]

Israeli’s enemies often attempt to use the USS Liberty Incident to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel. The incident has spawned many conspiracy theories. Many of the crew believe the attack was deliberate. In Lon Nordeen’s book “Fighters Over Israel”, a book supportive of Israel, he writes: “The reason for the attack has never been fully explained but probably had to do with the ship’s ability to gather intelligence about Israeli military activities.”[ii] Israel released two reports on the incident; the Colonel Ram Ron report and the Israel Defense Forces Preliminary Inquiry[iii]. These reports are good examples of a whitewash[iv] and fodder for conspiracy theorists.

The Colonel Ram Ron report and the Preliminary Inquiry admit the Israeli identified the ship as the USS Liberty from a morning reconnaissance flight. When the torpedo boats approached the target ship two officers claimed the speed was 30 knots and were unable to close on the target ship. The report explained since the ship was reported to be traveling at 30 knots it couldn’t be the USS Liberty because it was almost twice the Liberty’s maximum speed. Since the speed was over 20 knots it was assumed to be a warship.[v] When asked to confirm the speed 9 minutes later they determined the speed was 28 knots, the max speed of the torpedo boats. This is good circular logic. The USS Liberty’s speed was 5 knots. The equipment used to estimate ships’ speed was known to be unreliable.

The Ram Ron report states Lt. Sen. Gr. Avrahum and another officer independently identified the ship as the Egyptian supply ship El Kasir. They made this conclusion by using the Enemy Ships Handbook. Since they were supposed to be determining if the ship was a neutral ship why didn’t they search another source such a “Janes’ Fighting Ships”? The El Kasir and the USS Liberty didn’t look anything like each other. Why did Lt. Sen. Gr. Avrahum and the other officer conclude the USS Liberty was the El Kasir?

The Ram Ron report claimed before the torpedo attack the Israeli boats signaled “What ship?” and the USS Liberty replied by signaling “A.A.” a signal that the torpedo boats identify themselves. The report magnanimously states, “there is no absolute certainty that the Liberty received the flash signaling of the Torpedo boats.” The Preliminary Inquiry states: “…the latter (USS Liberty) replied with a signal meaning ‘identify yourself first’.” In a classic example of blaming the victim The Preliminary Inquiry questioned Captain McGonagle’s judgement in giving the “A.A.” response. The Preliminary Inquiry pontificates about an incident during the 1956 Sinai War. USS Liberty did not send the “A.A.” signal. Captain McGonagle and Signalman Davis noted a signal from a torpedo boat but it was “not distinguishable through smoke/flame”.[vi]

The Preliminary Inquiry claims the pilots reported the ship was painted gray and put in parenthesis “the color of a warship”. The Ram Ron report states: “…the Torpedo boats identified the ship to be a warship (pained in a grey colour[vii]) of the supply ship type”. The parenthesis was in the Rom Ron report. Neither report explains how they could distinguish the color and not see the ship’s flag or the ship’s markings.

The Ram Ron report states one of the sailors on the torpedo boats noticed a “small flag” at the top of the ship’s mast. This was in contrast to the Preliminary Report that claimed it was a soldier on board a helicopter who noticed a “small American Flag”. Both reports agree it was a “small” flag. The “holiday ensign”, 7x13 feet, is considerably larger than a normal ship’s flag, 5x8 feet.

The torpedo boats racked the USS Liberty with cannon and machinegun fire. How they did not see the GTR-5 on the bow or the stern was not addressed.

Militaries often spin the facts and tell lies in reports about incidents such as the USS Liberty incident. They sometimes think of crazy reasons to try to explain the actions of those involved. Militaries don’t like to admit to wrongdoing. Doing so does not mean the attack was deliberate. Just because “everybody does it” doesn’t make false reporting right either.

An argument against the attacks being deliberate is had the Israelis planned to sink the USS Liberty they would have armed their aircraft with anti-ship missiles.

The USS Liberty had a complement of 294, they received Combat Action Ribbons. The attack killed 34 and wounded 173. Commander William McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Commander Philip McCutcheon Armstrong, Jr. and QM3 Francis Brown were both awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. The crew received 12 Silver Stars, 20 Bronze Stars, and 9 Navy Commendation Medals. Civilian Allen Merle Blue received the NSA Exceptional Service Civilian Award posthumously.[viii] The crew was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Besides the damage from the bombings and torpedo there were 861 cannon and thousands of .05 caliber (12.7mm) hits on the ship.[ix] The USS Liberty was a total loss. It was decommissioned on June 28, 1968. It was sold for scrap in 1970 for $101,666.66.[x]

[i] The USS Liberty Incident: “The USS Liberty: Case Closed”, by Michael B. Oren, Original source, U.S. Department of State Bulletin, vol. lviii, no. 1512, June 17, 1968, and vol. lx, no. 1562, June 2, 1969, and U.S. Department of State Daily News Briefing, DPC 2451, December 18, 1980., last accessed 10/21/2018.

[ii] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen, © 1990, P. 82.

[iii] Also known as The Yerushalmi Report, because the examining judge was Yeshayahu Yerushalmi.

[iv] NSA Deputy Director Louis W. Tordella said of the Israeli investigation; “A nice whitewash for a group of ignorant, stupid and inept…”, NSA, Center for Cryptologic History Historical Collection, Series VII, Crisis Files, Box 16, http://www.ussliberty.org/report/report.htm#_edn65, last accessed 10/20/2018.

[v] Colonel Ram Ron Report, 6/16/1967, http://www.gtr5.com/evidence/ramron.htm, last accessed 10/13/2018.

[vi] Message sent to Chief of Naval Operations, 061222Z July 67 from NAVCOMMUNIT NAPLES, initial classification Secret U.S. Eyes Only, https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/assets/files/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf, last accessed 10/20/2018.

[vii] The report used the English spelling of the word “color”.

[viii] USS Liberty.org, http://ussliberty.org/roster.htm, last accessed 10/20/2018.

[ix] USS Liberty.org, http://www.ussliberty.org/report/report.htm#_edn65, last accessed 10/20/2018.

[x] USS Liberty.org, http://www.ussliberty.org/report/report.htm#_edn7, last accessed 10/20/2018.

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Lawrence, yes I have seen Janes Fighting ships. It is a good question if a copy of Janes was onboard. I read it was a requirement but can't confirm if either is the case. What separates the USS Liberty incident from incidents such as the USS Vincennes incident and the USS Stark incident was the proximity of craft and the duration of the attack. Blue on blue are a fact of life in combat. The problem in this case is the investigations had demonstrably false and misleading information. Those on the front lines are either directly or indirectly under the gun but that is not the case with investigators.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      4 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      This was a fascinating hub about a tragic incident, but I want to say something in defence of the Israeli pilots and naval personnel.

      In combat situations, combatants often have less than one second to decide 'Friend or foe', get it wrong and the consequences are tragic.

      You asked why the warships didn't use the 'Janes' manual. Have you seen the size of it? Remember they were small Torpedo craft where space is at a premium, the ship wasn't meant to be there, and the orders to 'pull out' was not received.

      'Blue on blue' (friendly fire incidents) are horrific and should be investigated, but often its too easy to blame the guy in the cockpit who has less than a second to make a decision or risk being blown out of the sky.

    • profile image

      Mykola 

      4 months ago

      Thanks, Robert! I've heard about ships as the type Liberty. Military history, especially, navy is sometimes enigmatic, as known the sea doesn't remain ciphers. Your research -information is a great contribution for memory of sailors. Yours.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Larry Slawson - I'm glad I brought the tale of the USS Liberty to your attention.

      FlourishAnyway - Yes, one thing people can get out of the USS Liberty reports is to know what to look for in the report when another tragic incident happens.

    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 

      4 months ago from North Carolina

      I had never heard of the USS Liberty before. Really interesting! Thank you for sharing.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      4 months ago from USA

      It’s unfortunate that a series of errors resulted in this tragedy but more unfortunate if they’re lying or covering up anything. As you point out, some of the assertions are outrageous. We only learn when we look at our mistakes or choices fully and debrief honestly without fear of ramifications. It doesn’t look like that happened here. The story is new to me.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I am glad I brought the tale of the USS Liberty to your attention.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 months ago from UK

      I had not come across this before. You give a detailed account of a tragic affair, which still has unanswered questions around it.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, this was one of many military disasters where communication problems contributed to the disaster.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      4 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a time to lose or misroute communication. Such an unfortunate incident.

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