The Boats of Cher­bourg

Half a cen­tury has passed since Is­rael de­fied a French em­bargo and stole its own boats from Cher­bourg har­bor on Christ­mas Eve, tit­il­lat­ing the world me­dia. Four years later, in the Yom Kip­pur War, they would reap­pear as the first mis­sile boats in the West

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By ABRA­HAM RABI­NOVICH

Fifty years ago this Christ­mas Eve, five small naval ves­sels slipped out of Cher­bourg Har­bor af­ter mid­night into the teeth of a force-nine gale. Or­dered by Is­rael from a lo­cal ship­yard, the “pa­trol boats” had been em­bar­goed by France for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. The Is­raelis were now run­ning off with them.

The ves­sels would be re­fu­eled at sea by Is­raeli mer­chant ships mov­ing into po­si­tion along the 5,600-km. es­cape route.

As tele­vi­sion crews flew over the Mediter­ranean search­ing for the boats, and the French de­fense min­is­ter called for the air force to “in­ter­dict” the flee­ing ves­sels, the world me­dia chor­tled at Is­rael’s chutz­pah. But the real story was far big­ger than they knew.

It had be­gun in 1961 when the com­man­der of the Is­rael Navy, V.-Adm. Yo­hai Bin-Nun, sum­moned se­nior staff to a brain­storm­ing ses­sion in navy head­quar­ters on Haifa’s Mount Carmel. He passed on warn­ings that the navy might be down­graded to a coast guard if its an­ti­quated fleet of World War II hand-me-downs could no longer de­fend Is­rael’s sea lanes. The task would then be left to the air force. What op­tions did the navy have to stay rel­e­vant? Bin-Nun asked his staff.

From the two-day meet­ing, an un­usual pro­posal floated to the sur­face. Is­rael’s fledg­ling mil­i­tary in­dus­tries had de­vel­oped a crude mis­sile which was re­jected by both the Ar­tillery Corps and air force. If mounted on small boats, an of­fi­cer at the meet­ing sug­gested, it could give them the punch of heavy cruis­ers.

Small meant af­ford­able. It also meant much smaller crews; the sink­ing of a de­stroyer with a crew of 200-250 men, then the navy’s back­bone, would be cat­a­strophic for a small coun­try like Is­rael. Small boats could not take heavy guns be­cause of the re­coil, but mis­siles have no re­coil.

The idea was dis­missed by most of those present, who noted that there was not a West­ern coun­try that had such boats. How­ever, the pro­posal res­onated with Bin-Nun. It might be fan­ci­ful, but he had heard no bet­ter idea. Af­ter mulling it over a few months, he asked his deputy, Capt. Shlomo Erell, to ex­am­ine the pro­posal se­ri­ously.

Deputy de­fense min­is­ter Shi­mon Peres, to whom Bin-Nun had gone for fund­ing, gave the project his bless­ing. Bin-Nun said that if he got just six mis­sile boats, he would scrap the rest of the fleet.

TWO YEARS be­fore, Peres had trav­eled to snow-cov­ered Bavaria for a se­cret five-hour meet­ing in the home of Ger­man de­fense min­is­ter Franz-Josef Strauss. At the cen­ter of their talk was the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Jewish state and the coun­try that had mur­dered six mil­lion Jews less than two decades be­fore. The emo­tional chasm that lay be­tween their coun­tries was as yet un­bridged by diplo­matic ties.

Peres sug­gested that Ger­many take a sig­nif­i­cant step to­ward ac­knowl­edg­ing its past by fur­nish­ing Is­rael with arms needed for its sur­vival, do­ing so with­out pub­lic­ity, to avoid Arab ire, and with­out pay­ment, be­cause Is­rael couldn’t af­ford it.

Strauss said he would rec­om­mend the pro­posal to his gov­ern­ment. Ger­man chan­cel­lor Konrad Ade­nauer con­firmed that pledge to David Ben-Gu­rion, when the two el­der states­men met in New York.

The next bud­get of the Ger­man Fed­eral Repub­lic would con­tain an al­lo­ca­tion of $60 mil­lion for “aid in the form of equip­ment” over a five-year pe­riod, with­out spec­i­fy­ing the re­cip­i­ent. A list of mil­i­tary equip­ment had been drawn up, most of it stan­dard items like ar­tillery and half-tracks. Af­ter his con­ver­sa­tion with Bin-Nun, Peres had the list ad­justed to in­clude six mis­sile boats. (Six more would be added later.)

Erell, who suc­ceeded Bin-Nun as navy chief, formed a think tank with per­son­nel from the navy and from Is­rael Air­craft In­dus­tries to ex­plore the con­cept in de­tail. The project was given the lyri­cal code name of Shalechet (Fall­ing Leaves). A mav­er­ick en­gi­neer, Ori Even-Tov, was lured from Rafael, Is­rael’s lead­ing de­fense com­pany, and suc­ceeded in de­vel­op­ing an ef­fec­tive sea-to-sea mis­sile, the Gabriel, which would be at the heart of the en­tire pro­gram.

But Erell wanted a mul­ti­pur­pose ves­sel, not just a mis­sile plat­form. In a meet­ing at the Ger­man De­fense Min­istry he said that, for Is­rael, the boats were cap­i­tal ships that must be ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing out an as­sort­ment of mis­sions. It would have rapid-fir­ing guns that could be used against planes, ships or shore tar­gets, sonar for sub hunt­ing, plus radar and com­mu­ni­ca­tion equip­ment more ad­vanced than those car­ried by de­stroy­ers sev­eral times its size.

The Shalechet team was rapidly ex­panded, oblig­ing the navy to triple the num­ber of men pass­ing through its of­fi­cers’ course. At the height of the decade-long project, hun­dreds of engineers, naval ar­chi­tects and oth­ers worked on the project ev­ery day of the year ex­cept Yom Kip­pur, of­ten 12 to 14 hours a day; a few worked on Yom Kip­pur as well.

The project was shifted to a mod­ern, win­dow­less plant. Some­times per­son­nel who ar­rived early in the morn­ing were star­tled when they left the build­ing to see that night had come; even come and gone. There was no prece­dent for what they were do­ing and no text­book. The team mem­bers were work­ing at the cut­ting edge of naval tech­nol­ogy, forg­ing so­lu­tion af­ter in­no­va­tive so­lu­tion, a pre­cur­sor to Is­rael’s emer­gence as the Start-Up Na­tion. For many, it would be the high point of their lives.

Straw boss for the team de­vel­op­ing the boats’ weapon sys­tem was Aviah Shalif, an en­gi­neer who had grown up in Jerusalem with Bin-Nun and Even-Tov. Wiry and acer­bic, he would swiftly lay tan­gled prob­lems bare and pro­pose so­lu­tions. His abil­ity to keep things mov­ing for­ward mat­tered more than the rel­a­tive mer­its of the tech­ni­cal ap­proaches among which he had to choose. In a doc­u­ment of sev­eral hun­dred pages, Shalif for­mu­lated the “logic” of the weapon sys­tem, show­ing how all el­e­ments af­fected one another. It was done with­out the aid of a com­puter, which he had not yet learned to use.

Mid­way, Is­rael learned that the Soviet Union had beaten them to the punch. It had de­vel­oped its own mis­sile boats and was sup­ply­ing dozens to Egypt and

Syria. The boats were armed with the Styx mis­sile, whose dead­li­ness was demon­strated shortly af­ter the Six Day War when a small Egyp­tian ves­sel, barely vis­i­ble on the hori­zon, fired four mis­siles at the Is­raeli flag­ship, the de­stroyer Ei­lat. All hit, and the Ei­lat went down, the first ves­sel ever sunk by a ship-to-ship mis­sile. Of the 200-man crew, 47 were killed and 100 wounded. The Styx threat loomed even larger when in­tel­li­gence learned that it had twice the range of Is­rael’s Gabriel. The Arab boats could sim­ply stay out of Gabriel range and un­leash their no-miss mis­sile in safety.

Erell asked the navy’s chief elec­tron­ics of­fi­cer, Capt. Herut Tzemah, if there was any­thing that could be done. Guess­ing at the elec­tronic pa­ram­e­ters of the Styx radar, Tzemah de­vised elec­tronic coun­ter­mea­sures to di­vert in­com­ing mis­siles. He also rec­om­mended as a backup rock­ets fir­ing chaff – strips of alu­minum that con­fuse radar. The ef­fi­cacy of this anti-Styx um­brella could be tested only in com­bat. If he had guessed wrong, the war at sea would end quickly.

With the funds pro­vided by Ger­many, 12 “pa­trol boats” were or­dered from a Cher­bourg ship­yard. The ves­sels were mod­i­fied ver­sions of Ger­many’s sturdy Jaguar tor­pedo boat, it­self a de­scen­dant of the E-boats (Sch­nell­boot) that har­ried al­lied ship­ping in the North Sea in the Sec­ond World War. The ves­sels were to serve as plat­forms for the mis­sile boat tak­ing shape in the minds of the navy com­mand.

Seven of the Cher­bourg boats were launched – one ev­ery two or three months – and sailed for Is­rael, be­fore French pres­i­dent Charles de Gaulle or­dered an em­bargo fol­low­ing an Is­raeli com­mando raid on Beirut Air­port. The em­bargo for­bade tak­ing the re­main­ing boats to Is­rael, but their con­struc­tion and even their test­ing at sea were per­mit­ted since the ship­builder would re­ceive fi­nal pay­ment only when all the boats were com­pleted.

There was no prece­dent for what they were do­ing and no text­book

EN­TER V.-ADM. Morde­cai (Mocca) Limon. He had been ap­pointed com­man­der of the Is­rael Navy at age 26 and was now head of Is­rael’s mil­i­tary pur­chas­ing mis­sion in Paris. He was de­ter­mined to get the re­main­ing boats to Is­rael as soon as the last one was launched. In the next war, the navy would prob­a­bly have to fight si­mul­ta­ne­ously on both the Egyp­tian and Syr­ian fronts and needed ev­ery boat it had.

Prime min­is­ter Golda Meir ob­jected to Limon’s pro­posal to sim­ply run off with the boats one night, say­ing that France would likely sever re­la­tions. Limon kept push­ing, and she tem­pered the veto by say­ing that noth­ing “il­le­gal” should be done that could en­dan­ger diplo­matic ties. To Limon, the dif­fer­ence be­tween le­gal and il­le­gal could be no wider than a lawyer’s comma, and in the cir­cum­stances that might be wide enough to

squeeze a mis­sile-boat squadron through.

As the last boat neared com­ple­tion to­ward the end of 1969, he ar­ranged to meet for lunch in Copen­hagen Air­port with a Nor­we­gian ship­yard owner, Martin Siemm – a re­sis­tance hero in the war – who had vis­ited Is­rael and had friends there. It was a friend who gave Limon Siemm’s name. Ex­plain­ing the sit­u­a­tion in Cher­bourg, Limon asked if he would agree to help Is­rael out of its quandary. There would be no pay­ment, only pos­si­ble em­bar­rass­ment or worse if the plot un­rav­eled.

Siemm’s face bright­ened as he grasped the stakes in­volved and the ploy be­ing spelled out. “Give me 48 hours,” he said. When he called Limon from Oslo it was to give his as­sent.

Mean­while, the boats were be­ing pre­pared for the break­out. Limon pro­posed that the boats de­part on Christ­mas Eve, when se­cu­rity would be min­i­mal. Sup­ply of­fi­cers avoided mak­ing sus­pi­cious bulk pur­chases for the trip by buy­ing food in small quan­ti­ties in nu­mer­ous gro­ceries and butcher shops around the greater Cher­bourg area. Fuel was added to the boats in small in­cre­ments al­most daily so that, as they got lower in the wa­ter, it was dif­fi­cult to per­ceive the change.

Con­cur­rently, the le­gal ob­fus­ca­tion was pro­ceed­ing apace. Siemm sent a let­ter to the owner of the Cher­bourg ship­yard, 75-year-old Felix Amiot, ex­press­ing in­ter­est in ac­quir­ing four to six fast boats for as­sis­tance in off­shore oil ex­plo­ration. Did Amiot have such craft at hand? The char­ac­ter­is­tics of the ves­sels he was seek­ing hap­pened to match those of the Cher­bourg boats. Amiot replied promptly that he had five suit­able boats whose own­ers were “hav­ing trou­ble tak­ing de­liv­ery.” Both let­ters had been drafted by Limon.

Amiot sent copies to Gen. Louis Bonte, the French of­fi­cial who would have to ap­prove their sale. Bonte was de­lighted at the prospect of get­ting rid of the em­bar­rass­ing clut­ter of five em­bar­goed ves­sels in Cher­bourg Har­bor – bad for France’s im­age as a re­li­able arms ex­porter. He called Limon to in­form him of the Nor­we­gian of­fer and ask if Is­rael was pre­pared to waive its claim to the boats and ac­cept its money back.

“Those are our boats,” replied Limon. “We paid for them and we need them.” How­ever, he said, he would pass on Bonte’s query to the De­fense Min­istry in Tel Aviv. Limon had deftly in­serted the sting.

Sev­eral days later, an anx­ious Bonte called to ask if he had re­ceived a re­ply yet. “Not yet,” said Limon. “I’ll call you when I do.”

He let a few more days pass be­fore call­ing Bonte. “They went against my ad­vice and are let­ting the boats go. They’re just fed up with the whole busi­ness.” France’s In­ter­min­is­te­rial Com­mit­tee on Arms Ex­ports duly gave the sale to Nor­way fi­nal ap­proval.

On De­cem­ber 22, the three prin­ci­pal ac­tors in the af­fair – Limon, Siemm and Amiot – met in Paris to sign two con­tracts which would be sent to Bonte’s of­fice – one can­cel­ing the orig­i­nal con­tract by which Is­rael had pur­chased the boats from Amiot, the other a con­tract be­tween Amiot and Siemm trans­fer­ring the five boats to Oslo for the price Is­rael had paid.

The coup came the fol­low­ing day. The three men met again and signed a new set of agree­ments un­do­ing ev­ery­thing they had signed the day be­fore, re­turn­ing the sit­u­a­tion to the sta­tus quo ante. The boats were legally back in Is­raeli hands even though they had os­ten­si­bly been sold to a Nor­we­gian com­pany. These doc­u­ments were not sent to Bonte; they were in­tended only to en­sure the three par­ties would have no fu­ture claim on each other re­gard­ing the fic­ti­tious sale to Nor­way.

The break­out plan­ning, which had been run out of Mocca Limon’s hip pocket, had by now be­come a quasi-mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion run from naval head­quar­ters. Is­raeli mer­chant ships mak­ing reg­u­lar runs to and from Europe were told by naval head­quar­ters to de­ploy at given lo­ca­tions and times along the 5,600-km. es­cape route from Cher­bourg to Haifa in or­der to fuel the small craft on their week­long voy­age or oth­er­wise ren­der as­sis­tance. Tem­po­rary fuel­ing in­stal­la­tions were built on two of the ves­sels, and their crews trained in fuel­ing small craft at sea – not as easy as it looked.

There was even a brief lan­guage course to en­able the Cher­bourg boat crew­men – young draftees who may or may not be able to speak English – to com­mu­ni­cate with the civil­ian sea­men on the mother ships, a mix of Is­raelis and for­eign­ers who used English be­tween them. The course cov­ered He­brew-English nau­ti­cal equiv­a­lents.

Ra­dio wave­lengths per­mit­ting the Cher­bourg boats to com­mu­ni­cate with the freighters were is­sued.

A few days be­fore Christ­mas, close to 100 Is­raeli naval crew­men in civil­ian cloth­ing were flown to Paris and dis­patched by train in small groups to Cher­bourg, where they were hid­den be­low decks un­til de­par­ture.

Com­mand­ing the break­out in Cher­bourg was Capt. Hadar Kim­che. He had fixed the Christ­mas Eve de­par­ture for 8 p.m. when the good cit­i­zens of Cher­bourg would be sit­ting down en famille to their hol­i­day din­ner. How­ever, a pow­er­ful storm was churn­ing the English Chan­nel be­yond the break­wa­ter, and even large freighters were not ven­tur­ing out. The five cap­tains gath­ered in Kim­che’s boat, lis­ten­ing to weather re­ports from the BBC and other sources. With them was the ship­yard of­fi­cial, Mon­sieur Corbinais, who had over­seen the con­struc­tion of the boats. Near mid­night, he left briefly to at­tend mid­night mass at a nearby 14th-cen­tury church. He softly added a prayer of his own to the li­turgy: “May they reach safe har­bor.”

Limon had also come to see the boats off. He urged Kim­che to de­part re­gard­less of the weather. Oth­er­wise, they might be stuck for days, with con­stant dan­ger of dis­cov­ery. Kim­che, how­ever, said they would not move un­til the wind shifted. It was too dan­ger­ous now to cross the Bay of Bis­cay. As com­man­der of the boats, the de­ci­sion was his, not Limon’s.

At 1:30 a.m. a ra­dioman mon­i­tor­ing the BBC en­tered with the lat­est bul­letin: the west wind was shift­ing to the north­west and di­min­ish­ing in strength. Kim­che said they would await the 2 a.m. broad­cast for con­fir­ma­tion. It came. “We leave at 2:30,” Kim­che said. “Syn­chro­nize your watches.” The cap­tains then hur­ried to their boats tied along­side.

As the craft moved off in sin­gle file, Limon waited on the pier in the driv­ing rain, his coat col­lar turned up, to see if the boats would be turn­ing back. Af­ter half an hour he drove to Amiot’s nearby res­i­dence and knocked on the door. “C’est moi, Mocca.” Amiot, in a robe, ush­ered him in.

“I want to in­form you,” said Limon, “that the boats have sailed.”

Amiot bowed his head and wept. Limon sensed the old man’s re­lief that his con­tract had been hon­ored. Amiot poured co­gnac and the pair toasted each other and toasted the boats. Be­fore turn­ing to leave, Limon took out a bill­fold from his jacket pocket and handed Amiot a check for $5 mil­lion, the fi­nal pay­ment. The last boats had now been de­liv­ered.

They ar­rived in Haifa on New Year’s Eve 1970 to sirens and large crowds. To the pub­lic, the Cher­bourg boats, pre­sumed to be or­di­nary naval craft, had ac­com­plished their mis­sion by reach­ing the Is­raeli port. But it would be nearly four years be­fore their con­ver­sion to mis­sile boats was com­pleted, tac­ti­cal doc­trine for­mu­lated and crews trained in a new type of war­fare.

A coun­try with lit­tle naval tra­di­tion, a lim­ited in­dus­trial base and a small pop­u­la­tion had chal­lenged the ad­vanced weaponry of a su­per­power at sea – and achieved to­tal vic­tory

THE FIRST time the en­tire mis­sile boat flotilla en­gaged in ma­neu­vers to­gether was the first week in Oc­to­ber 1973. The boats re­turned to their base the morn­ing be­fore Yom Kip­pur, a day be­fore the war’s out­break.

On the first night, four Is­raeli mis­sile boats en­gaged three Syr­ian mis­sile boats off the Syr­ian port of Latakia in the first-ever mis­sile-to-mis­sile bat­tle at sea. The Syr­i­ans, as ex­pected, fired first.

The Is­raeli sailors watched fire­balls arc­ing into the sky and then de­scended straight at them. All knew that ev­ery Styx fired at an Is­raeli tar­get un­til now had hit –

the four that sank the Ei­lat and two that sank a small wooden fish­ing boat a year af­ter­ward. The crew­men’s lives hung now on Tzemah’s ed­u­cated guess re­gard­ing the Styx. In the fi­nal sec­onds of their tra­jec­tory, the mis­siles suc­cumbed to an un­seen force tug­ging at them and plunged into the sea.

The Soviet-built boats in the Arab fleets had no such elec­tronic de­fenses. The Is­raeli ves­sels off Latakia closed range and de­stroyed two of the Syr­ian mis­sile boats with Gabriels as well as two other war­ships. The cap­tain of the third Syr­ian mis­sile boat, wit­ness­ing what hap­pened to his com­rades and with no mis­siles left, drove his boat onto the shore so that he and his crew could es­cape. In a reprise two nights later, three Egyp­tian mis­sile boats were sunk near Alexan­dria.

Erell, who died last year, had been in Europe when the war broke out. He re­turned to Is­rael, join­ing the flotilla dur­ing one of its night­time for­ays against the Syr­ian coast. He was cap­ti­vated by the way the cap­tains – one of whom was his son, Udi – co­or­di­nated their move­ments de­spite the wild weav­ings and seem­ing con­fu­sion of a night bat­tle at 40 knots.

The Is­raeli boats raked Syr­ian ports with gun­fire and dashed to­ward them, try­ing to draw Syr­ian war­ships out. The Syr­i­ans did not come out, but there was fire from coastal ar­tillery and oc­ca­sion­ally mis­siles fired from in­side their har­bors. The boats seemed to slalom be­tween the plumes thrown up in the sea. Along the coast, oil tanks had been set aflame by gun­fire.

From the di­rec­tion of Tar­tus to the south, four balls of flame sud­denly ap­peared in the sky, head­ing in his di­rec­tion like planes in for­ma­tion. Erell was pet­ri­fied; but if the oth­ers on the bridge also were, they man­aged to hide it.

“They’re be­gin­ning to turn,” said a bridge of­fi­cer. To Erell, it seemed as if the lights were still head­ing be­tween his eyes. But the bridge of­fi­cer, with two weeks of bat­tle un­der his belt, could make out a slight shift­ing. Soon, Erell could see it, too.

From the fourth day, the Arab fleets did not ven­ture out of har­bor. No Is­raeli boat was hit in the 18-day war, and the ship­ping lanes to Haifa re­mained open for much needed sup­plies.

A coun­try with lit­tle naval tra­di­tion, a lim­ited in­dus­trial base and a pop­u­la­tion of only three mil­lion – half that of New York City at the time – had chal­lenged the ad­vanced weaponry of a su­per­power at sea and achieved to­tal vic­tory, in­tro­duc­ing a new naval age.

As a trau­ma­tized Is­rael tried to grasp what had hap­pened to its vaunted army and air force on Yom Kip­pur, the navy’s per­for­mance was lit­tle noted. It would be two years be­fore the navy’s per­for­mance was men­tioned in a pub­lic fo­rum.

But the navies of the world had taken note. The United States, which had been deeply con­cerned by the sink­ing of the Ei­lat for what it might por­tend for them, sent a large naval team to de­brief the Is­raelis. The ex­am­i­na­tion in­cluded a com­puter anal­y­sis of the mis­sile clashes. The US had in­vested astro­nom­i­cal sums in ship­board an­timis­sile sys­tems, whereas the Is­raelis had per­formed su­perbly with a sys­tem so seem­ingly sim­ple that the Amer­i­cans were amazed it had worked at all.

The Amer­i­can team in­cluded Adm. Ju­lian Lake, one of the world’s fore­most ex­perts on elec­tronic war­fare. He had stud­ied EW sys­tems in more than a score of al­lied coun­tries around the world. He would tell a re­porter that the way the Is­rael Navy had an­a­lyzed the na­ture of the threat fac­ing it and taken the nec­es­sary steps to solve the prob­lem “stands out as the one clear ex­am­ple [in the de­vel­op­ment of mod­ern weapon sys­tems] where ev­ery­thing was done right.”

THE IS­RAELI mis­sile boats – out­num­bered and out­ranged by the Arab mis­sile boats – had swept clear the Eastern Mediter­ranean of en­emy ves­sels, kept the sea lanes to Haifa open, pre­vented at­tacks on Is­rael’s vul­ner­a­ble coast, sunk at least eight Arab war­ships, in­clud­ing six mis­sile boats, wreaked havoc on oil tank farms along Syria’s coast and drawn Arab troops far from the main bat­tle­field by threat­en­ing com­mando land­ings. All this with­out los­ing a man or a boat. (Two Is­raeli frog­men were killed in pen­e­trat­ing Port Said, and two crew­men on pa­trol boats were killed in clashes in the Red Sea.)

The mis­sile boats suc­cess­fully eluded all 54 Styx mis­siles fired at them, as well as many hun­dreds of shells fired by shore bat­ter­ies dur­ing nightly raids. The de­vel­op­ment of the boats and the Gabriel mis­sile would spur Is­rael into an era of hi-tech on which much of its fu­ture econ­omy would rest.

The Cher­bourg Project was a reaf­fir­ma­tion of a be­lea­guered na­tion’s most pre­cious as­set – na­tional will. In con­ceiv­ing and un­der­tak­ing some­thing so un­ortho­dox and risky; in the ded­i­ca­tion in­vested in the Shalechet de­vel­op­ment pro­gram; in the tough-mind­ed­ness with which the boats were snatched from Cher­bourg and then de­ployed against the Styx, “Cher­bourg” tes­ti­fied that Is­rael’s life force had not ebbed.

The writer is au­thor of The Boats of Cher­bourg, newly reis­sued as a pa­per­back. He is also au­thor of The Yom Kip­pur War and The Bat­tle for Jerusalem. [email protected]­


THE DE­STROYER ‘Ei­lat,’ first vic­tim of the naval mis­sile age.

(Moshe Tabak)

THE CREW of one of the mis­sile boats at a parade prior to launch­ing. At high tide the ves­sel would be pushed stern-first on a wooden cra­dle along tracks run­ning out into the har­bor, un­til it floated free.

(Is­rael Air­craft In­dus­tries) (Haim Shachak)

(LEFT) A Gabriel lifts from the deck of an Is­raeli mis­sile boat. Af­ter arc­ing up­ward, it will dive and skim over the sur­face of the sea to its tar­get. FOUR OF the last five boats tied up in Cher­bourg af­ter the launch­ing of the fourth, still flag-be­decked, in Oc­to­ber 1969. The last boat would be launched two months later.

(Ori Even-Tov)

ORI EVEN-TOV (right), head of the Gabriel mis­sile de­vel­op­ment team, chats in his of­fice at Is­rael Air­craft In­dus­tries with deputy de­fense min­is­ter Shi­mon Peres.

(Moshe Tabak)

FELIX AMIOT, flanked by wives of Is­raeli naval of­fi­cers, ad­dresses the Is­raeli naval con­tin­gent in Cher­bourg at a fes­tive din­ner at his es­tate fol­low­ing the launch­ing of one of the 12 boats built in his ship­yard. Such din­ners were a reg­u­lar post-launch event.

(Haim Shachak)

AD­MI­RAL MORDE­CAI (MOCCA) LIMON (in dark glasses) with French and Is­raeli naval of­fi­cers and wives of French of­fi­cials, at a launch­ing cer­e­mony at Amiot ship­yards.





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