On June 8, 1967, Israel attacked the U. S. naval intelligence ship the USS Liberty. In the morning hours, Israeli aircraft observed the Liberty, then attacked in the afternoon with aircraft and torpedo boats. Strafing by the aircraft and machine gun fire from the torpedo boats destroyed the life boats that had been lowered. The torpedo boats launched six torpedoes, only one of which struck the ship, creating a 40-foot hole in the hull. The ship didn’t sink but 34 were killed and 172 wounded.
Intercepted communications between the Israeli pilots and their ground control show that some pilots questioned attacking what was considered an ally. The ground control replied, “Yes, follow orders.”
A resourceful operator managed to broadcast a mayday. Defensive U.S. aircraft were launched from a nearby carrier but were recalled by the White House. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara reportedly stated, “President Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally over a few sailors.”
The whole truth about this tragic event will never be known because the survivors were prohibited from talking and many of the taped communications were destroyed. In recent years, survivors have spoken out, and a few books on the subject were written.