Friday, June 9, 2017

The USS Liberty

Yesterday marked the 50th Anniversary of when the USS Liberty was attacked by the armed forces of Israel.  There is still a great deal of controversy surrounding this attack and it still stings to many people.
 The USS Liberty started her life as the SS Simmons Victory.   She was one of many Victory ships that was built during World War II.  There were over 500 of these ships built during World War II and at one point, we were building these ships faster than they could be sunk.   She was built at the Oregon Shipbuilding Company in Portland, Oregon and construction was completed in May of 1945.  She was used as an ammunition ship at the end of the war.  She also served in this capacity during the Korean War.  After the Korean War, she served as a commercial vessel in the Pacific.
In 1958, she was transferred back to the Navy and placed in reserve.  In 1964, she became a technical research ship but the thing she was researching was various electronic emissions (radio in particular) of other countries.  She spent much of her time in the Mediterranean Sea.
During the Six Day War between Israel and several Arab Countries, she was sent to the Eastern Mediterranean in order to collect signals from the various countries (especially since many of the Arab nations used Soviet equipment).  At the start of the War, Israel announced that it would attack any ships that approached its coast line in order to protect itself.

On the morning of June 8th, 1967, the Captain of the ship said that she was overflown several times by aircraft of the Israeli Air Force.  Presumably, they were attempting to identify the ship.  One of the planes was even a propeller plane that flew so close the crew of the plane could wave to the crew of the ship.  There was some deal of confusion at the time because Israel was at war.  At one point, she was identified as an American ship and at another she was reported as hostile.

At 2:00 local time that afternoon, the Israeli Air Force was cleared to attack the ship.   During that attack, the Captain radioed that his ship was under attack.  Eight men were killed and another 75 were wounded.  About a half hour later, the Liberty was attacked by Israeli Torpedo boats.  At about 3:00, Israeli helicopters finally determined she was an American ship.  An hour later, the Israelis informed the Americans that they had accidentally attacked a US Ship.

The Liberty was heavily damaged, but the crew was about to repair the ship well enough to get her out of the area under her own power.  After all of the attacks, 34 men were killed and 171 were wounded.  The ship was so damaged that she was eventually scrapped.

The Israelis vehemently deny that they deliberately attacked the ship.  The crew of the Liberty claim that they were deliberately attacked.  The official inquiry into the incident was inconclusive.  After some hemming and hawing, the Israelis finally apologized for the attack and paid for damages to the ship and crew.  There are actually a few interesting books about this incident.

The pictures for this article come from the US Naval Historical Archives.

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