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In between remembering Midway and the 65th Anniversary of the landing at the beaches of Normandy, another anniversary quietly passed – that of the 42nd anniversary of the attack on the h97477Liberty (AGTR-5) on 8 Jun 1967, by air- and naval forces of the state of Israel.  In the attack, which lasted for almost an hour, the Liberty was repeatedly strafed and rocketed by Israeli aircraft and eventually had a torpedo put in her by Israeli torpedo boats.  During the course of the attack, the ship, which had her markings clearly painted on her bow, also flew the American flag – itself replaced during the course of attack when the first one was riddled.  At the end of the day,  34 crewmen, including the XO were dead and over 170 were wounded.  Holed by a 1,000 lb torpedo that had burst in the forward assessment spaces and with a hull and superstructure riddled by bullets, rockets and shrapnel, Liberty began a journey to Valleta, Malta for repairs.

And in her wake  – a thousand questions, some still unanswered today.  Was it a case of mistaken identity or premeditated act on the part of the Israelis?  Was it to keeph97475 Liberty from eavesdropping on Israeli plans to invade the Golan Heights and throw back the Syrians or something else?  What was really collected by all the assets in the region?  Did a nearby EC-121 collect broadcasts of the full attack or just the aftermath per the tapes released in 2003 by NSA?  Why did the attack unfold over the course of almost an hour?  How could Liberty be misidentified even after several pre-attack recce flights close enough to “rattle the deckplates”?  How could two presumably experienced Israeli torpedo boat commanders mis-identify Liberty with an Egyptian cavalry horse carrier almost half her size?

h97474And on of particular interest to me – with USS America in (relatively) close proximity and the availability of her airwing, why were her aircraft recalled not once, but twice when they could have intervened in the attack?  Some say it was because the initial fighters were launched carrying nukes – I am somewhat skeptical about that scenario, and especially the second when non-nuclear capable a/c were launched to assist. As a footnote to this, and hence one of the reasons for my interest, one of the new VAW squadrons created out of VAW-12 on 1 April 1967 was involved — the Steeljaws of VAW-122, who ended up acting as airborne relay for Liberty until she reached comms range with US forces.

In an unpublished ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard, the captain of Liberty, CAPT William L. McConagle, USN was presented with the Medal of Honor by the Secretary of the Navy.  Several other awards were presented to living and deceased members of the crew including several Silver Stars.   All were awarded for action where the attacker was not mentioned in the write-up.   All that is until after almost 42 years, when a Silver Star was awarded last month to an electronics technician, Terry Halbardier, who braved machine-gun and cannon fire to repair a damaged antenna that restored the ship’s communications.  His medal citation – unlike dozens awarded in years past – named Israel as the nation that launched the attack.

USS Liberty Memorial Website

6 Comments

  1. Ken

    Liberty’s radio log shows she established and maintained contact, throughout the night after the attack, with Sixth Fleet via an unencrypted, half-duplex voice channel on HF radio.

    Are you saying that VAW-12 somehow acted as a real-time (i.e., transparent) radio frequency repeater for Liberty’s HF voice transmissions? If so, can you describe briefly the technical aspects of how this was performed?

    • According to the official histories of America and VAW-122, 122 established an airborne relay in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Now – an E-2 does have the capability to establish a UHF relay via an AUTOCAT function that may be either secure or encrypted and which would have been useful in the assessment of damage and casualties. I also note that the surviving RM’s on Liberty took time after the attack to re-string the HF antennae to enable re-establishment of long-range communications w/C6F…
      – SJS

  2. DangerousDan

    My friend and mentor from my years at USC was the naval attache to Israel at the time. He mentions it as one of the two times he spoke to the president in his career (the other being when the six day war began).

  3. Hyman Roth

    Years ago, I read the book written by one of the Liberty’s officers (http://www.amazon.com/Assault-Liberty-James-Ennes-Jr/dp/0972311602).

    Wasn’t there an allegation that a submarine periscope was repeatedly sighted during the attack?

  4. It was. I was later approached by several crewmembers of a submarine who claimed to be near us when the torpedo exploded. Some said they took pictures. But the commanding officer of that submarine and others insist that his men were mistaken. The truth remains an open question.

  5. Ken

    Liberty’s radio log confirms involvement of Steeljaw. The 08JUN67 2023Z log entry states: “I PASS FROM FC FM FC TO RS (Liberty) STEEL JAW 702 WILL BE AIRBORNE 2100Z TO ASSIST RS (Liberty) IN NAVIGATION AND COMMUNICATION”

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