What happened to Dakar?

By Gideon

September 1, 2015

There were plenty of people who were upset with the Israeli Defense Forces in January 1968 – Some wanted revenge:

Just seven months earlier, the USS Liberty, an electronic intelligence-gathering ship of the US Navy was cruising international waters off the Egyptian coast on June 8, 1967 when it was attacked by Israeli planes and torpedo boats. 34 Americans killed, more than 170 were wounded, in what was later determined to be an accident caused by a mistaken identity in the heat of the battle. Till this day, there are Americans who believe that this was an intentional attack. Many of them served in the US Navy at the time. It is possible that some of them wanted to settle the score.

The Soviet Union played a crucial role in arming, training the Arab states, and instigating the Six-Day War. Israel’s stunning victory in the war was an embarrassment to the Soviets. It reflected badly on the quality of their weapon systems, their strategies, and their level of professional readiness and capabilities.  It is possible that the Soviets would have taken a shot at the IDF if they had an opportunity to do so without paying a price.

The Arab armies were severely defeated in the Six-Day War. They wanted revenge.

In the midst of all this, an unarmed and unprotected, in a day-time public ceremony, Israel’s newest combat submarine left England alone on a predictable route to Israel. The submarine never made it to its destination.

Israelis are looking for answers about the circumstances of Dakar’s disappearance the same way Americans  are looking for answers about the murder of President John Kennedy: There are plenty of convincing theories, but no smoking gun to put to rest all the speculations associated with the events.

Yesterday, August 31, 2015, the Israel Defense Forces, gave the families of the 69 Israeli sailors who were killed in the sinking of the Israel Navy’s submarine Dakar the complete report on the submarine’s disappearance 47 years ago. However, the report is inconclusive and thus opens the door to speculation and skepticism.

I was a young boy in 1968 when the news about the disappearance of Dakar broke out.  The entire nation mourned the death of sailors. At the same time we all wondered what had happened to the submarine. The leading theories were that the submarine was either sunk or kidnapped by the Soviets. Another theory was that she was attacked by an Egyptian warship. Very few people attributed it to a technical problem. No one I knew thought that the submarine collided with another ship. As the years passed by and no new clues surfaced more theories were proposed. Including blaming the  submarine’s commanders for carelessness.

Dakar was purchased by Israel in 1965, together with her 2 sister submarines, from the British Navy. The submarine was built by H.M. Dockyard in Davenport and was launched as H.M.S. Totem on 28th September 1943. In the mid 50’s the submarine was renewed and refitted. 12 feet were added to the length of the pressure hull. The deck gun was removed, 2 more electrical motors were put in and the boat was streamlined with an enclosed new conning tower and a new bridge.

On November 10th 1967 she was commissioned by the Israeli Navy. Under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ya’acov Ra’anan(Frisch) the Israeli Navy ensign was hoisted and she was given a Hebrew name, DAKAR (Swordfish) . Right after the commission ceremony Dakar left for Scotland for her sea and dive trials. Dakar stayed in Scotland for 2 months and passed her sea and dive trials under the supervision of the experts of Israeli and Royal Navy. Towards the end of the year 1967 Dakar returned to Portsmouth and made preparations for her voyage to Israel.

On January 9th 1968 Dakar was ready to cast off and leave for her long voyage to Israel. After a short ceremony, on a gray wintry snowy day, INS Dakar left slowly the submarine pier at H.M.S. Dolphin at Portsmouth and started her journey.

The Dakar submarine never reached its destination – a naval base in Haifa, Israel. The Dakar disappeared in the midst of its maiden voyage. A 69-man crew vanished with it, lost without a trace in a maritime enigma that became a legendary part of Israeli history.

The submarine had vanished during an era when delicately balanced superpower rivalries were being fought beneath the seas, when Israel and Egypt were still enemies and Soviet and Egyptian fleets dotted the Mediterranean.

On January 25 1968, two minutes after midnight, the Dakar transmitted her last communication .After two weeks of an unsuccessful search, the Dakar, with its crew of 69 men, was declared lost with all hands on board. It was unknown at the time where the submarine was located,.

At the time of the submarine’s disappearance, technology could not provide the means to search the Mediterranean floor that exist today. About a year after the initial search was called off, the submarine’s emergency buoy washed up on the coast off the Gaza Strip. The navy assumed that the boat had veered from its course and went down in relatively shallow waters off Egypt. That assumption governed the searches for the Dakar. For three decades, the missing submarine has haunted Israel.

After 30 years of repeated failed searches in the wrong places, under pressure from the relatives of the crew, the Israeli navy asked for help from the United States, which assisted with further explorations. The Israeli Navy had signed an agreement with Nauticus, an American corporation with significant experience in conducting underwater searches, to conduct another search for the Dakar. The new search team did what no one tried before: looking for the submarine along the planned sailing route. The latest technological methods were used, and the Dakar was discovered at a depth of 9,500 feet, on the Mediterranean floor between Crete and Cyprus, on the sub’s original sailing route.

As it stands today, there are two leading theories to explain what happened to Dakar: The first is that a technical or professional error led to a catastrophic systems failure. The second is that the submarine’s snorkel was struck accidentally by a vessel on the night of its sinking, during a violent storm, possibly causing water to begin seeping in. Deliberate attack has been ruled out.

I’m not convinced.

It seems to me that it is almost impossible to perform a thorough investigation on a vessel that was found on the bottom of the sea, thirty years after it was sunk, to be able to conclude one way or another. I don’t know how it can be concluded that it wasn’t sabotaged before it left the pier in Portsmouth. Who’s to say that a Soviet sub didn’t track it the moment it left England? It was an old WWII submarine, traveling slowly. If the US Navy was able to track it down (see picture), why couldn’t the Soviets or someone else do the same? Why the insistence on a tragic collusion and not intentional ramming by a destroyer under the cover of darkness? 

I don’t know that we’ll ever know what actually happened that dark winter night on the Mediterranean Sea, but we shouldn’t stop looking for answers. 

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Dakar Memorial in Haifa, Israel

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Video: The discovery of the Dakar

 

Video: The Dakar leaving England for Israel

Dakar’s crew boards the submarine, just before the departure 

 

 

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Dakar’s Route from England to Israel

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