Two months ago, PRAVDA.Ru published an interview with John Hrankowski, a survivor and crew member of the USS Liberty, who had been on board the American vessel on the tragic morning of June 8, 1967 when the Liberty was attacked by the Israeli air force.
Mr.Hrankowski mentioned a really interesting and important fact just in passing: “American ships arrived only in 16 hours after the attack. A Soviet ship offered help to us on that night. They said that they would stay just at the horizon and, if our ship began to sink, they would help us.”
This fact has drawn our special attention. Former officer of the US Navy and film producer Richard Thompson recently helped produce a film about the tragic June 8 event. Mr. Thompson recommended us to talk to Russian submariner Captain Nikolay Charkashin, who has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the Liberty tragedy during the past several years. What is more, a book by Nikolay Cherkashin, “Mysteries of Lost Warships,” was recently published. This is the result of his independent investigations of Russian submarines from Empress Maria to the Kursk.
A PRAVDA.Ru journalist met with Nikolay Cherkashin, and we offer the following interview to our readers. It was rather unexpected to hear Nikolay Cherkashin say that no Russian ship was close to the USS Liberty that night.
- What happened to the Liberty is an astonishing and unique fact, but Soviet sailors had no connection with it. However, according to Thompson’s version, two Soviet ships were allegedly in the area and offered help but the Americans refused. In my mind, this information isn’t true. No Soviet ships were in close vicinity during the attack. Moreover, the very fact of the attack against the USS Liberty was practically unknown to the Soviet people. Probably, only the Soviet defense minister, Chairman of the Soviet government Kosygin, and several top officials in the government knew about it, that’s all.
I wanted to find evidence among Russian sailors, but in vain. Headquarters Commander of the 5th operative squadron Admiral Platonov was the first to lead his squadron to the site on June 26; however, nothing is mentioned in his memoirs about Soviet sailors offering help to the Liberty. If that really happened, I think he would have mentioned it for sure.
Who do you think spread that version?
- I myself would also like to know the answer to that question. Fleet Admiral Ivan Kapitanets, for example, mentions nothing at all about the June 8 events in his memoirs. In his book “War At Sea,” he wrote that he led Soviet ships to the western part of the Mediterranean Sea on June 1. “On June 4, we were ordered to put the ship in the state of a complete war alert within 12 hours. Probably, Moscow knew something just 24 hours before the tragic event. This time was required to check the ammunition. The Arab-Israeli 7-day war started on June 5. I received an order to travel to the Antikitir Strait, receive landing forces, and be ready to land them in the port of Ataki for the sake of protect Soviet people there. On June 7, we arrived to the Antikitir Strait.” And not a single word is said about the events on June 8, 1967. When I asked him about the USS Liberty and a Soviet ship, he said he had known nothing about the event; it was a revelation for him.
Who was the first to spread information about a Soviet ship that offered help to the USS Liberty?
- I think it was former Liberty officer Lieutenant James Ennes (Nikolay Cherkashin showed a translation of the book Assault on the Liberty by James H. Ennes). He describes in detail what happened with the crew during the Israeli attack, and he describes the event from different angles.
“For one day and night when the ship was slowly moving northward, no other ships or planes could be seen. At midnight, the Liberty came across the 626/4 Soviet missile destroyer that signaled in English. The following information was exchanged by both ships:
626/4: Do you need help?
Liberty: No, thanks.
626/4: I will stay at the horizon and be ready to help if you need it.
The Soviet ship followed a parallel course at a distance of several miles for the next six hours. At dawn, the Liberty radar station discovered the American destroyers Massey and Davis. The Soviet destroyer turned eastward and joined the ships of the 6th fleet. Aircraft carriers were not far behind the destroyers, and wounded sailors from the Liberty were delivered by helicopters to the aircraft carrier, to its hospital. The Liberty continued its course to Malta, where, as the crew was told, the assault would be investigated by a Navy court.”
But the hull number was even mentioned!
- Yes, we know the number. The matter of the fact is it is still a secret to whom it belonged. The 626/4 destroyer wasn’t at that time in the eastern part of Mediterranean. I tried to find some veterans of the Soviet Navy who had been there in the summer of 1967, but in vain. Also, nothing is also mentioned in the archives.
Well, let’s go back to the attack on the Liberty. Could it have been a tragic accident when the US ship was mistakenly taken for an Egyptian cargo ship? Was it a deliberate attack? Provocation? What do you think about it?
- Last year, a Russian translation of Joseph Daichman’s “History of the Mossad” was published in Moscow. The author describes the tragedy in 1967 in detail. He admits that it was perfectly clear that the Liberty was an American ship and that the attack was committed to deprive the USA “of its eyes and ears,” of the opportunity to control the situation. Daichman says the attackers had the right to act so. The Israelis feared that the Liberty would report information about the course of the war: they wanted to keep it a secret that troops had been shifted to Syria and the Egyptian border wasn’t protected at all. The border was quite open for Egyptian soldiers to cross. Israel knew that American radio signals were intercepted by the Soviet Union, and the latter would certainly inform Egypt of the fact. That is why the Liberty was to be sunk to avoid leakage of important information. This is a very cynical version. I even couldn’t have thought that I would ever read it.
There is also one more opinion…
- Yes, another version is that Israeli wanted to provoke the USA and involve it in a war against Arab countries. This version is still out there. Mr. Thompson supports it as well. I have known him for ten years already; by the way, it was he who told me about the Liberty tragedy. Richard Thompson is a fair and very active man, and he is persistent with his struggle for his ideas. US top officials wanted to hush up the Liberty scandal, as it was really disgusting and dirty. What is more, that was an unprecedented act, the first attack against US ships since Pearl Harbor. And the attack was committed by those whom America supported so strongly. Right after the accident, the US Congress organized no investigations at all, which was mere nonsense at that time!
Do you think it is possible now to start a new investigation of the tragedy but on a higher level?
- If someone in the government is concerned, an investigation can be initiated. But currently the USA has no time for it; it is preoccupied with the war against terrorism. However, we can call the Liberty tragedy an act of terrorism as well. By the way, it seems to me that the 9/11 attacks at the WTC and Pentagon are very much like the tragedy with the USS Liberty. This also seems to have been a well weighted provocation. The USS Liberty was a very old ship that operated since WWII. Probably, that is why it was the Liberty that was sacrificed. Do you mean that America was ready for that kind of attack?
I think America knew. Even sailors anticipated the tragedy and felt depressed. When the ship stopped in Spain, a famous prophetess told the Liberty sailors that the ship wouldn’t return home. Richard Thompson has been investigating the Liberty tragedy for several years. As a result, he has arrived at the conclusion that the attack had been a well-planned action of the Israeli and American special services. The USA was up to its neck in a bloody war in Vietnam and wouldn’t get involved into a lingering Mideast conflict. That is why it rejected direct military support to Israel. However, there were quite enough hawks in America of that period who wanted to turn a regional war into a large-scale battle. Especially at the cost of an old ship built in 1945.
Which version do you prefer?
- Both versions don’t contradict each other. Both objects could be pursued at once, and two birds could be killed with one stone. Israel wanted to stop leakage of information and, at the same time, established a precedent for US troops to fight against Arabs. If the Americans landed, the Soviet troops would also have done the same, and a great stir would have started then.
The Soviet submarine K-172 under the command of Nikolay Shashkov armed with missiles and nuclear warheads was at the very same moment in the Bay of Sidre. The submarine received instructions to surface and deliver a blow against the Israeli coast if the Americans landed troops on Syrian shores. The submarine had eight nuclear missiles on board. However, as we know the Israeli coast means the whole sate of Israel stretched along the sea. Israel would have been completely destroyed if such blows were delivered by the Soviet submarine. I wrote about Nikolay Shashkov; the publication was called “The Man Who Was to Destroy Israel.” The publication produced a strong response from society. I received inquiries from the Israeli Embassy, and many journalists wanted just to see the man who was to liquidate the Israeli state. The K-172 crew had to operate under emergency conditions; the submariners nearly died of high concentration of mercury vapor in its compartments. Several people were poisoned with the vapor, suffered from hallucinations and giddiness, and no explanation could be found to it. Can you imagine what submariners suffering from hallucinations could have done with nuclear warheads? They were to have been immediately sent to hospitals. However, as the situation in the region was still tense, the Soviet Navy commander-in-chief asked the submariners if they would be able to stay in the area for several more weeks, and the submariners agreed. Even when doctors were sent to the submarine, they failed to find the cause of hallucinations and giddiness. Nobody even guessed that was mercury, and people spent two months in the compartments poisoned with mercury vapors.
Submariners from the Soviet B-31 submarine had to face an even harder situation. When the war began, the submarine was transferred from the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern part of Mediterranean Sea. A disastrous fire broke out somewhere in the Tunisian Strait; it took over 24 hours to extinguish the fire. Five master sergeants and sailors perished because of the fire. And, for the first time since WWII, perished sailors were buried at sea. Large-scale repairs were started on the submarine, and, after that, the submarine set off for the Bay of Sidre. Therefore, Soviet submariners experienced very difficult situations, and many of them fell indirect victims to that Mideast war. However, none of these submariners also heard about the Liberty. To tell the truth, it wasn’t a matter of their concern.
The USS Liberty is a bloody secret of the Cold War. Was there any Soviet destroyer at all, or it was just a myth? Captain Nikolay Cherkashin thinks that it is impossible to find a 100% answer to the question, as too much time has passed since the tragedy.
Sergey Stefanov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2002/09/13/47015.html