The Six Day War: Day Four

As the sun rose on Day Four, the war was essentially over. There was only a little more fighting and dying left to do.

In the Sinai, some Egyptian units were still putting up a fight, and the Jordanians continued an organized retreat. But by 3:30 p.m., Egypt would accept a cease fire, and a few hours later the last major battle in the Sinai (at Kalat a-nahal) would wind down. Just after midnight, Israeli units would begin linking up and consolidating their victories on the eastern side of the Suez Canal.

By 8 a.m., on the Jordanian front, Israeli forces from all three command areas (Northern, Central, and Southern) were linked up. Israeli units would even move a short distance into Jordan itself, before returning back across the river. At 1 p.m., combat engineers blew up the bridges across the Jordan River to keep the Jordanians from making any counter attacks.

Day Four was turning out to be an incredible success.

However, there was one important failure.

At 5:55 a.m., Israeli reconnaissance aircraft spot a ship off the coast of Gaza. They later identify the ship as a US ship. US commanders instruct the ship, the USS Liberty, to move to a position 100 miles away from the Israeli and Egyptian coasts. The orders are not received.

At 9:00 a.m., reconnaissance aircraft again spot the USS Liberty 30 kilometers off the coast of the Sinai, near El Arish. Israeli command staff mark the ship’s location. The Israeli Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin, contacts the Naval Attache of the US Embassy and asks the US to remove their ships from the battle zone. Rabin repeatedly asks the US to provide him with a Naval Liaison.

The United States refuses Rabin’s request.

At 11 a.m., the duty officer goes off shift, taking the marker for the USS Liberty off the board.

24 minutes later, ammunition dumps at El Arish explode, and Israeli commanders indicate that they had been shelled by Egyptian naval units. Rabin orders all unidentified ships attacked and sunk.  

At 1:41 p.m., Israeli torpedo boat squadron Pagoda sights a ship near El Arish and requests air support. Pagoda begins moving toward the ship. Reconnaissance aircraft sight the ship but cannot make a positive identification. The torpedo boats identify the ship as an Egyptian supply ship, the El Quesir.  

At 1:57 p.m., two Israeli Mirage fighter aircraft make strafing runs, and Israeli Mysteres fighters drop napalm bombs. The ship begins to burn. Israeli aircraft break off their attack when they see that the ship has been marked with characters from the Latin alphabet. The Israeli torpedo boat squadron is ordered to not attack the ship.

As torpedo boats approach the ship, crewmen on the ship open fire, and the torpedo boats launch five torpedoes in response. One torpedo strikes the ship.

The torpedo boats break off their attack when they identify the ship as American. They hold off at 500 yards and ask the ship, via Morse code (flashing light), if they require assistance.

The USS Liberty responds that they do not require assistance and begins to retreat from the area.

As a result of tragic miscommunication, 35 US crewmen were killed and 141 were wounded. Israel would immediately offer its apologies and give compensation to the families of the crewmen. 

In subsequent formal hearings, records supplied by the Israeli government and the sworn testimony of the US crewmen would exonerate Israel of malicious intent. However, some of the crewmen would later publish statements contradicting their testimony and accusing Israel of intentionally targeting the USS Liberty.*

The moral of the story? Do not enter the battle zones of other peoples’ conflicts. The Fog of War is deadly. 

However, the rest of Day Four was a great success.

It is an irony, that the instigators of the war had suffered little damage. The Syrians were getting off scot free**.

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*For a more detailed account of the USS Liberty tragedy, visit www.sixdaywar.org/uss-liberty.asp

** The word ‘scot’ in scot free comes from the Old Norse word for payment or contribution. The term scot free originates from Medieval times when a person who avoided his share of municipal taxes… Well, he was described as having gotten off scot free. For a more complete explanation, go here: www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sco1.htm