Assault on the Liberty

A Review
Published: 1980-08-01

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Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship, by James M. Ennes Jr.: Random House, 1979. 300 pages, hardback, available from IHR at $14.95 . ISBN: 0394-50512-3.

Subtitled "The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship," this book must certainly carry much more clout than its predecessor: It was written by a crew member.

Ennes was a cryptological officer on board the USS Liberty when it was attacked and 34 of its crew killed by Israeli marines in 1967. Ennes was aghast that the whole affair should be hushed up and that the American government should meekly accept the Israelis' lies. He felt it his duty to his 34 murdered comrades that the truth should be told. Consequently, he set about the arduous task of interviewing dozens of officials, and collating hundreds of documents. Many times he was warned to drop the subject.

It was not until he finally left the service in 1978 that he could speak freely. This book is the result. It is packed with details and first-hand accounts. This book truly is "survivor testimony "

There is such attention to detail here that it puts to shame the one previous work on this subject, Conspiracy of Silence, by journalist Anthony Pearson (available from IHR at $11.00). Although Ennes does not mention the previous book by name, he does have a few scathing comments for those who speculate on fantastic, impossible devices which would intercept and scramble radio messages before re-transmitting them.

The text which follows is the book's introduction, and a foreword by the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer.


In June 1967, jet aircraft and motor torpedo boats of Israel brutally assaulted an American naval vessel, the USS Liberty, in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea. The attack was preceded by more than six hours of intense low-level surveillance by Israeli photo-reconnaissance aircraft, which buzzed the intelligence ship thirteen times, sometimes flying as low as 200 feet directly overhead. The carefully orchestrated assault that followed was initiated by high-performance jet aircraft, was followed up by slower and more maneuverable jets carrying napalm, and was finally turned over to lethal torpedo boats, which blasted a forty-foot hole in the ship's side.

The attack lasted more than two hours — killing 34 Americans and wounding 171 others — and inflicted 821 rocket and machine-gun holes in the ship. And when the Liberty stubbornly remained afloat despite her damage, Israeli forces machine-gunned her life rafts and sent troop carrying helicopters in to finish the job. At this point, with Sixth Fleet rescue aircraft finally en route, the government of Israel apologized and the attacking forces suddenly withdrew. Only then did the identity of the assailants become known.

Details of the attack were hushed up in both countries. Israel claimed that her forces mistook the Liberty for an Egyptian ship, and our government quietly accepted that excuse despite evidence to the contrary. Then our government downplayed the intensity of the surveillance and the severity of the attack, and imposed a news blackout to keep the story under control. The official version is that the Liberty was reconnoitered only three times and then only from great distance. The American people were told that the air attack lasted only five minutes and that it was followed by a single torpedo and an immediate apology and offer of assistance.

Now, after more than twelve years of research and dozens of interviews with government executives, military officers and Liberty survivors, a former ship's officer who was there reveals the inside story of the assault on the USS Liberty and of our government's attempt to keep the truth from public knowledge.


by Thomas H. Moorer, Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

The fifth edition of Assault on the Liberty should be read by all Americans even though it has now been eighteen years since Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats attacked for several hours a ship of the United States Navy. The ship was clearly identified, not only by its unique configuration but by a very large U.S. flag that was flown at the time. The weather was calm and the visibility was excellent. During this unprovoked attack 34 U.S. Navy men were killed and 171 wounded. Nevertheless, to this day the American public does not know why the attack took place and who was involved overall.

In my opinion, the United States government and the Israeli government must share responsibility for this cover-up. I cannot accept the claim by the Israelis that this was a case of mistaken identity. I have flown for years in both peace and war on surveillance flights over the ocean, and my opinion is supported by a full career of locating and identifying ships at sea. Based on the way this tragedy was handled both in the United States and Israel, one must conclude that there is much information that has not been made available to the public.

The U.S. Fleet, positioned nearby, received a distress call from the U.S.S. Liberty, and one carrier dispatched a squadron to go to the defense of the disabled ship. But before the aircraft reached the Liberty, they received orders from Washington directing their return to their ship. Who issued such orders? So far, no one knows. In the United States all the information available to the U.S. government indicating those who participated in controlling this operation from Washington, together with the exact text of orders transmitted to the Mediterranean Fleet, has never been made public.

I urge all those who read this very interesting book to call on the Congress to once and for all clear the uncertainties, speculation, and unanswered questions surrounding this tragedy.

For more information about this book and the shameful incident it recounts, take this link to:

The U.S.S. Liberty Home Page.

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Lewis Brandon
Title: Assault on the Liberty, A Review
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 1, no. 2, 1980, p. 184
Published: 1980-08-01
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1995, 7 p.m.
Last revision:
Comments: Review. This is an expanded extract of the collection of book reviews from this same issue of JHR.
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