Israel Attacks The US, June 8

Israel attacks the US ship Liberty on June 8. The Six-Day War happened between June 5 -10 in 1967 and involved Israel fighting Egypt.


The relationship between Israel and the Arabs had not recovered since the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Egypt placed its forces along the Israeli border on the Sinai Peninsula and as a result of the threat, Israeli launched some pre-emptive air strikes on them and wiped out nearly all of their air-force as they were taken by surprise. At the same time, the Israel army launched a ground offensive along the Gaza strip and onto the Sinai Peninsula.


Israel then also took to the sea and sent torpedo boats along with aircraft off the Gaza Strip to attack the USS Liberty. Liberty was a clearly marked American vessel that was only armed with a very small defence capability because it was an intelligence boat. The Israeli air force fired napalm and rockets into the ship before Liberty attempted to radio for help. The Israeli’s blocked the radio signal.


After some time trying, Liberty finally made contact with the US carrier Saratoga that sent 12 fighter aircraft and 4 air tankers in support. However, before the aircraft had reached Liberty, the news had got back to Washington and the support was withdrawn and sent back to the carrier. Robert McNamara, who was Defence Secretary, took this decision but the reason was never made clear.


Liberty continued to battle alone resulting in 9 of its 294 crew being killed and 60 injured. After the airstrikes by Israel on Liberty had abated, they launched torpedoes and artillery from the boats that had been sent to hunt the US ship down. William L. McGonagle was Liberty’s captain and whilst wounded he managed to avoid 4 torpedoes but one hit the water line. The desperate US servicemen launched lifeboats, but these were also attacked by Israel in a clear violation of international law.

Sustained attack

The attack lasted 2 hours, by the 10,000 tonne Liberty failed to sink. These hours of horror for this relatively passive part of the navy ended in 34 deaths and 171 wounded servicemen. After the Israel forces had given up, Liberty was able to just make its way to a port for safety.

We are sorry

After the attack, Israel sent an apology to the US and made an offer of $6.9m for the inconvenience after it claimed it had mistaken the vessel for a member of the Egyptian fleet. The story was very different from the Liberty survivors who felt it was absolutely clear that the ship was a US vessel and that the attack was intentional. The common view from a mix of survivors and ex government officials is that Israel was wanting to take Liberty out so that it could seize the Golan Heights without detection from her listening devices.


Liberty’s captain, William L. McGonagle, was given the Congressional Medal of Honour for his actions in trying to defend his ship against the odds.

Israel attacks US

USS Liberty finally getting assistance