Israeli MTB Action off Port Said, July 1967

The following is a fascinating account of an engagement foughtbetween Israeli and Egyptin coastal forces in 1967. It was submitted to the Coastal Forces Yahoo Group by Aryeh Wetherhorn. It provides excellent background material for scenarios using both "Bulldogs Away" and "Action Stations". Areyh has given his permission for his posting to be repeated here.

Israel emerged from the six day war of 1967 with a much longer coastline to protect. The land borders were shorter, but the sea now included the entire Sinai coast. The actual fighting was over, but the state of war was not ended. Egypt sent intelligence operatives into the Sinai penninsula to gather information on Israeli dispositions. (This entire period, up to 1969 was referred to in Israel as "the War of Attrition"). Israel, in turn, maintained patrols along the coast both at sea and on land.

The sea patrols in July 1967 were usually made by the destroyer YAFFO (K-42) commanded by CDR Yitzhak Kat or the destroyer EILAT (K-40) under CDR Yitzhak Shushan. The destroyers were accompanied on these missions by a pair of torpedo boats from the 914th Division.

914 was the successor to the Israeli 5th Flotilla that had been formed to group the earlier Vosper boats under a single command. Shushan, then a LT, had been the first commander of 914 when it was formed in 1959. It was built on the three French Meulan boats that had been re-engined with diesels. A sister unit, 915, consisted of the remaining Packard engined boats. 915 was partly maintained as a mobilization unit with crews taken from the trained manpower reserves.

The patrols of July 1967 covered the Sinai coast up to the approaches to Port Said. There was nothing in the written orders about seeking an engagement. However, according to the memoirs of one of the commanders, Israeli Navy Commander RADM Shlomo Erell told him to ambush and destroy any Egyptian ship that ventured out. Just before departure from Naval HQ RADM Erell reminded CDR Shushan that despite other orders he should avoid engaging former Soviet destroyers of the SKORY class now in Egyptian service because of their superior firepower.

The command mission briefing for the patrol on 9 July noted that Egyptian ships patrolled out to 40 miles from Port Said, and if any of them sailed Eastward more than 12 miles toward Sinai thay were to be destroyed. Overall command was CDR Shushan in the EILAT. T-203 AYA and T-204 DAYA of unit 914 were under LT Eli Rahav.

The early evening patrol was maintained by K-26 NOGAH, a former US subchaser (ex PC-1188). She was on station off Sinai at 1900. EILAT sortied from Haifa at 1700. The PTs waited in Ashdod. Their sortie was timed to join the EILAT around midnight. EILAT was programmed to patrol on one line, and 914 on another, a few miles apart. The lines were plotted in order to remain at least 15 miles away from the entrance to Port Said because intelligence indicated 2 former Soviet Komar class missile boats were stationed there and the expected range of their radarguided Styx missiles was 15 miles.

If Egyptian units were encountered, the plan of action on board EILAT was to close to extremely close range before opening fire. This was partly because experienced resrvists had been relased from duty following the war and the ship had only recently received a new draft of some 20 men fresh out of recruit training.

EILAT joined NOGAH around midnight. The two ships remianed at least some 35 miles from Port Said until morning. NOGAH then returned to Ashdod. During the day EILAT watched ships of the Soviet Mediterranean Squadron enter Port Said, but she maintained her watch from a distance. That night, 10-11 July, the two boats of 914 joined. Nothing more happened. the Israeli force continued routine patrol until the following night. Then the two PTs separated and the force began their planned back and forth patrol along two separate lines.

About 21:45 the signals intelligence intercept operator on EILAT reported that two Egyptian missile boats were about to sortie. The torpedo boats picked up a target on radar at 22:51.

The Egyptians were about 8 miles from the PTs and 12 miles from the EILAT, moving East at 15 knots. The Israelis turned to close. It was completely dark. The moon had already set.

Signals intelligence reported that only one of the two Egyptians was using its radar, and had reported to the other the presence of unidentified targets. Star shells were made ready for use on the main guns of EILAT. Her big electric searchlight was temporarily not operable because there was lack of spare parts. EILAT closed from one side, the PTs of 914 from the other.The Egyptians found themselves in the middle and turned left through 270 degrees, apparantly trying to decide which way to flee. They steadied on a SouthEasterly course as the Israelis came in to a range of nearly a mile. CDR Shushan ordered the PTs to wait while he maneuvered to ensure the two Israeli sections would not be directly opposite each other when shooting.

The Egyptians opened fire first. It was directed at the PTs. The response came quickly. LT Eli Rahav in T-203 and LT Rafi (I dont know his last name) commanding T-204 returned fire. EILAT engaged the Egyptian to the West while the PTs fired on the one to the East. the range was just a few hundred yards. Machine guns and 40mm peppered the two Egyptian vessels. They weren't missile boats, but P-4 class torpedo boats. Their armament was only light machine guns. This was not realized on board EILAT until after the engagement ended.

EILAT pursued her target as it turned toward the Sinai coast. In a few minutes it was aflame. Then it exploded. The PTS had also set their target on fire, but it stubbornly refused to sink under the impact of their 40mm shells. While EILAT came about to join the PTS the second Egyptian also exploded. It was 23:53.

This account is based upon open sources in Hebrew that have, to my knowledge, never been translated into English, and upon my personal knowledge of the Israeli Navy (which includes having spent a little time at the same base with Eli Rahav).

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