First Posted May 5 2009
Updated July 21 2009
Here I'll do something I rarely do by re-posting another article in its entirety with no comment. What follows is a transcript of communications between the fighter jets attacking the Liberty and their ground controllers. It was first published in the Jerusalem Post in 2004, but is only openly available on the internet in places like this discussion forum post, where I first found it, and where important and inexplicable "errors" are sometimes introduced. I purchased this direct from the JPost archive on July 11, and forgot to update this post right away (I'd previously used the erred version linked above, issue discussed in another post). My main interest here is the actual transcripts, which seem essentially authentic if quite possibly edited, so I left out the surrounding article, including pilot Spector's controversial remarks (this can all be found intact here). It was just waaaay too long a post with all included.
Liberty revisited: the attack
Arieh O'Sullivan Jun. 4, 2004
The pilots speak only before and after they act. There are full minutes of almost total silence and you know that men are being killed.
The only sound is of an automated female voice reading out the time every 20 seconds: "The time is now 14 and two minutes."
There are two tapes, one of the radio transmissions between the pilots and controllers, and the other of telephone conversations between the chief air controller and regional air controllers. The audiotapes themselves were not released. The following transcript is a mix of the two tapes into one transcript, which explains the time overlaps.
Cast of characters
Homeland - Air controllers
Kislev - chief air controller at general headquarters in Tel Aviv
Menahem - chief air controller at Air Control South
Yigal - Menahem's deputy
Robert - chief air controller at Air Control Central
Shimon - Robert's deputy
LK - Capt. Lazar Karni, weapons system officer
Kursa - two-ship formation of Mirage IIICJs commanded by Capt. Yiftah Spector
Royal - two-ship formation of Super-Mysteres that made the second run on Liberty
Nixon - two-ship formation of Mysteres armed with bombs for third strike
Pagoda - three torpedo boats commanded by Lt.-Cmdr. Moshe Oren
Migdal - one of the three torpedo boats that communicates with the pilots
The Navy has just identified a mysterious vessel off El Arish possibly shelling the ammunition depot on the beach. It dispatched three torpedo boats against it, but has asked the Air Force to intercept the ship.
Kislev: Yigal, you have a ship at 26 (site designation). Take Kursa over there. If it's a warship then screw it.
Unknown: Wait a minute, Kislev. The Navy says that our torpedo boats are in the area and are called Pagoda. They're on frequency 186.
Kislev: If it is a warship, you can attack. There are two of our torpedo boats there and they want [the pilots] to either see them or contact them on frequency 186. (There were actually three boats.) Robert, do you have Royal?
Shimon: He is at Hava 16 (grid coordinates). That's route 15.
Kislev: Robert, take Royal along the coast so that if Kursa identifies, then he'll be able to go in, too.
Robert: All right.
Kislev: Menahem, how much fuel does Kursa have? Menahem: He has a lot. About a minute ago he had 3,000 (liters).
Kursa: What's the range? Seven turns, 040 degrees. Roger, I'll stay on 19 and 9 (frequencies). How do you call the torpedo boats? Pagoda? Kursa 9 and 3.
Kursa: Homeland, keep on directing me to the place.
Homeland: 045 degrees, 20 miles. Ah, can you see them at the moment?
Kursa: Affirmative, it looks longer by eyesight.
LK: What is this? Americans? (The weapons system officer in general headquarters blurted out in what he later testified was a hunch.)
Shimon: Where are Americans?
Kislev: Robert, what are you saying? (Quickly disregarding the comment, Kislev moves on.)
Kislev: Does he see more torpedo boats north of him?
Kislev: Menahem, if there are three torpedo boats, then this could be ours. (He is aware of the correct number of boats now.)
Shimon: Pay attention, Kursa
Kursa: Pagoda from Kursa. Migdal?
Kursa: Are you attacking some ship now?
Migdal: We're on our way to one.
Kursa: OK. I'll come and give you a hand. Where are you?
Kursa: Migdal from Kursa. Are you there? There is no need. Bring yourselves up some 10-15 kilometers from the ship. Is it in the direction of your home?
Kursa: I see you on a right turn. Why are you turning? It's not in that direction.
Migdal: OK, all right. Affirmative Affirmative.
Migdal: Can you identify the target?
Kursa: Can you identify his target, Migdal?
Kursa: She's running from you in the direction of El Arish, correction, Port Said. What is it? What is it? A destroyer? A patrol boat? What is it?
Migdal: Kursa, Can you manage to identify it?
Kursa: I can't identify it, but in any case it's a military ship.
Migdal: OK, what is it?
Kursa: It has one mast and one smokestack.
Kursa: It has one mast up front.
Shimon: Menahem, Kursa is calling you.
Shimon: He says he is starting to strafe them.
Menahem: I told him that if it is a warship then he has authorization to attack. That was the last command.
Menahem: Does he have authorization to attack?
Kislev: He does. If this is a warship then yes. Royal is to be directed to there.
Kislev: Send Royal over there with bombs
Robert: On what frequency are you attacking?
Shimon: She's running away from this. (He says this as he monitors the Liberty on his radar screen.)
Kislev: Menahem, after he attacks, have him explain to Royal how to find her.
Shimon: She's fleeing very fast.
Kislev: OK, attack.
Shimon: Robert, have Royal call us on 19.
Robert: Royal to you on 19.
Shimon: Just a second, Kislev, we see the ship. (On radar.) That's one hell of a ship.
Robert: Menahem, I'm passing 105th [Super Mysteres squadron] to you on 19. Royal (over) El Arish at 20 (20,000 feet).
Kislev: Menahem, have (Kursa) tell us if there is anti-aircraft fire.
Kislev: Menahem, nu?
Menahem: We're asking him. She's not shooting back.
Kislev: Not shooting? Give me 19. (His voice has a puzzled expression.)
Kursa: We've hit her a lot... but maybe she is doing it (putting out smoke) on purpose, I don't know. Oil is spilling out into the water. I'm in eye contact. Great! Wonderful! She's burning! She's burning!
Menahem: Did you hear? He's hit her a lot. There's a lot of black smoke. There's an oil leak into the water. He's continuing.
Kislev: Was there any anti-aircraft fire on him?
Menahem: She's burning! The warship is burning! Menahem: Shmulik, she's burning! The moment Kursa is finished we're sending in Royal. (He uses Kislev's first name, Shmulik, in his excitement.)
Kislev: That's right, to sink her. (He says this flatly.)
Menahem: To sink her, OK.
Royal: Eye contact with the target. Eye contact with Kursa. Royal requests 15 (15,000 feet).
Kursa: OK, Kursa is coming in... you a bit further in. I'll go in the direction OK. (His comments are to his wingman.)
Kursa: I think she is putting out smoke on purpose. It's coming out of the smokestack. OK. I'm finished, too. The ship is really burning. There is a large fire and a lot of black smoke.
Kursa: Royal, your altitude? We're at 5 (5,000 feet).
Royal: You're east, right?
Kursa: We're south of the ship.
Menahem: We're sending in Royal.
Robert: (garbled) this ship?
Kislev: Menahem, if Royal has napalm it would be more efficient.
Royal: Not ours?
Royal: Homeland, can you hear? Call Homeland on 19. Ask if it's allowed to go in.
Royal: I understand, do not go in. Fine. We're circling above the ship at 15 (15,000 feet). Tell him that the Navy will be arriving before us. I can see.
Shimon: Menahem, Royal is calling you.
Menahem: He got off the line
Kursa: I've got him. (Kursa is relaying to control for Royal.)
Royal: Does Royal have permission? (20 empty seconds pass.)
Shimon: Kislev, there's doubt as to the identification.
Kislev: If there is a doubt, don't attack.
Shimon: Don't attack, Menahem.
Robert: Pay attention. There is doubt as to the identification. (Robert consults with a naval liaison officer in his headquarters.)
Kislev: What does that mean?
Robert: OK, you can go in. (Apparently resolving the issue with the Navy.)
Kislev: You may go in.
Kursa: Affirmative, you have permission, Royal.
Royal: Sausages, in the middle and up in one pass. Two together. (He instructs his wingman on dropping the napalm.) We'll come in from the rear. Watch out for the masts. Don't hit the masts, careful of the masts. I'll come in from her left, you come behind me.
Shimon: Next formation - get a briefing on what took place.
Robert: Authorized to sink her?
Kislev: You can sink her.
Shimon: Royal is exchanging words. They started chatting.
Robert: One Eight (sector coordinates) that is not the ship. Wait a minute
Kislev: Menahem, Is he screwing her?
Menahem: He's going down on her with napalm all the time.
Kislev: You don't need any more for the ship. Enough.
Menahem: There is no need. Our forces are there. The Navy's there, too.
Shimon: It'll be worth it just for the insurance.
Kislev: But napalm went there.
Unknown: What does napalm do (to a ship)?
Royal: on the right side of the stern...
Royal wingman: You've missed by an undershot.
Royal: a deep gash
Kislev: What is Kursa reporting? Was there any anti- aircraft fire?
Menahem: I've passed him on to 33 (frequency) and asked for a report.
Kislev: Robert, ask Kursa if there was any anti- aircraft fire.
Robert: Kislev, the Navy asks not to sink her completely. They want to get close and have a look.
Shimon: Have them rescue the people with the torpedo boats to help.
Robert: OK, finish with this formation. The torpedoes are coming up to them.
Kislev: What does Kursa say?
Robert: I'm telling you already. This is easier than (shooting down) MiGs.
Kislev: What is the situation now?
Unknown: I don't know. Two (Royal wingman) hit the ship with (napalm) and now he's strafing.
Royal: Fine, pull up.
Royal: I'm behind you. Careful of her antennas.
Royal: Homeland from Royal, how do you hear me? She has some kind of marking, P30 and something.
Kislev: Robert, take formation 116 (Nixon) out there too.
Menahem Her marking (He is cut off by Kislev.)
Kislev: Yes I heard. We are checking.
Royal: Homeland, if you could have a two-ship formation with bombs (here) before the Navy arrives then it would be a mitzva. Otherwise the Navy will be here in 10 minutes.
Shimon: Before the Navy arrives, it will be a mitzva.
Kislev: In the meantime take formation 116 (Nixon). Who is checking this? (The mysterious markings on the ship.)
Shimon: Royal reported that it would be a mitzva before the Navy comes!
Kislev: Look for a flag if they can see one. Have Royal look. See if they can identify her with a flag.
Royal: Twelve o'clock... look higher. Now left, slowly, slowly a bit faster so it will stay external, OK?
Robert: Kislev, they (the Navy) are asking us not to do anything else about her. They want to take her. It's a pity to sink her. I want to receive an answer.
Kislev: No, no. We are attacking meanwhile.
Robert: Menahem, is Royal leaving?
Menahem: Not yet. Just a moment. He is reporting something.
Kislev: OK, attack, Menahem. (He orders Nixon in for a third strike.)
Robert: Menahem, has Royal left?
Menahem: Not yet.
Royal: Homeland from Royal, do you read me? Pay attention. This ship's markings are Charlie-Tango-Romeo 5. There is no flag on her! She looks like a minesweeper with that marking. Roger, I'm leaving her. I'm staying around one more minute. (The Liberty's correct markings were GTR- 5.)
Robert: What altitude? What altitude is Royal reaching?
Menahem: Charlie-Senator-Romeo. (He incorrectly recalls CSR-5.)
Kislev: Leave her! (His flat tone changes dramatically as he realizes this was no Egyptian ship.)
Robert: Leave her. What ship is this?
Kislev: Leave her. (He says tersely). Menahem, report the approximate damage. (Redirect) 116 to its original mission.
Royal: Homeland, there's external fire on her, a lot of hits on her upper parts. People are jumping into the water. She's not shooting at all. She has hardly any armaments on her. She's going full steam towards the north.
Kislev: Shimon, Robert. We're sending two helicopters to them.
Robert: Good. Clear. I am dispatching helicopters.
Menahem: Kislev, what country?
Kislev: Apparently American.