A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Middle East Mysteries: What happened to Submarine INS Dakar in 1968?

INS Dakar before leaving Britain, 1968
History offers plenty of unsolved mysteries, thus affording titles to various poorly made series on cable TV, and this blog has occasionally tackled them, including why at least four Egyptians with shadowy intelligence links have died in London, three by falling off balconies (two of those from the same apartment tower), or who, exactly, other than the shooter himself, was behind the assassination of Vichy Admiral Darlan in Algiers in 1942.

But those are probably cold cases because intelligence services were determined to keep them that way. Today, though it's not an anniversary or anything, I thought I'd deal with a mystery of the sea.

In 1965 Israel negotiated the purchase from Great Britain of three "T" class submarines built during World War II. One of these, HMS Totem, became INS Dakar (not after the city in Senegal but from the Hebrew word for the fish, the grouper.)

On November 10, 1967, she was commissioned into the Israeli Navy. It was a difficult time for the Israeli Navy, because only three weeks before, on October 21, 1967, the ex-British destroyer INS Eilat, patrolling off Port Said  some months after the 1967 War, was sunk by two Styx anti-ship missiles by an Egyptian Komar-class missile boat.

The Dakar conducted sea and dive trials off Scotland, returned to Portsmouth in December, and on January 9, 1968, she departed Portsmouth en route to Haifa. captained by Commander Ya'akov Ra'anan with a total crew of 69. She left Gibraltar on January 15 and was originally scheduled to reach Haifa on February 2, but as she made good time across the Mediterranean, Ra'anan asked to move the arrival up and was authorized to move the arrival up to  January 29.  He requested the 28th instead but was told that would not allow time to prepare the reception ceremony.

On January 24 at 0650 hours she radioed her position as 34.16°N 26.26°E, east of Crete.  She made three more contacts that did not include her location, the last just after midnight on January 25.

That was the last she was heard from until 1999.

From the beginning there were efforts to locate Dakar, but for several reasons these did not succeed for 31 years.  On January 27, Cyprus heard one distress signal from an emergency buoy (she carried two), but nothing further. Greek, Turkish, British, and American Navies joined in the search along with the Israelis. The initial search was finally abandoned on February 4. The Israeli Navy denied she had been lost to hostile action, and suggested she might have gone down during a crash dive test.

There were many speculations. Ra'anan was considered  an experienced but somewhat adventuresome captain and there was speculation that the fact he made such a quick crossing meant he was either pushing her hard or perhaps had gone off course to spy on Arab coasts.

On February 9, 1969, over a year after her disappearance, her stern emergency beacon was found washed ashore by a fisherman at Khan Yunis in Gaza. Studies of the buoy and its mooring cable led to the conclusion that she had gone down in relatively shallow water (150 to 300 meters) and was some 50 to 70 nautical miles off her course. (These miscalculations threw future searches off for many years; when found in 1999 she lay in nearly 3000 meters and on her original course.)

There were the usual diversions; the Egyptian newspaper al-Akhbar claimed in 1970 (during the War of Attrition) that Dakar was sunk by depth charge by an Egyptian vessel; a later claim suggested she had been challenged but went into a crash dive. There is no real evidence of this and one claim
put this just off Alexandria, far from where Dakar was eventually found. After the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. In the 1980s an Israeli search was made off the Sinai coast with Egyptian liaison officers aboard, but nothing was found. Nor did searches near Rhodes bear fruit. Further searches were made by the US and Israeli Navies in the 1980s.

The recovered conning tower, Haifa
It was not until 1999 that Dakar was finally found by a US-Israeli expedition equipped with the remotely operated vehicle Remora II which found Dakar, on the seabed between Crete and Cyprus, at a depth of some 3000 meters. She lay on her keel, facing northwest, the front of the hull intact and flooded, the rear crushed and twisted. Her conning tower was recovered and is part of the Navy Museum in Haifa.

Though finally found, the cause of her sinking is still something of a mystery. There is clearly no sign of hostile action in the available evidence.

In 2013 the State Archives released a number of documents, but this was long after the wreck was discovered. One apparently suggests a possible sinking by the Soviets, but again, there is no sign of hostile action.

As she was a diesel submarine that needed to take in air through a snorkel when submerged,  a process known as snorting, one theory is that during or just after snorting she began to take on water in the forward hull due to some mechanical failure. The flooded forward hull would explain why that part remained intact while the stern was twisted and broken after she descended below her crush depth. In any event, she suffered a catastrophic descent.

When the new Israeli submarine INS Tanin was en route to Israel in 2014, she paused above the Dakar's final resting place to honor the dead.

If you have any interest in the strange and synchronicity, note that in 1968 four separate countries lost submarines while submerged: USS Scorpion  (possible torpedo explosion but many other theories), the Soviet K-129, lost in the Pacific in March and later partially salvaged in a famous CIA operation, the French Minerve, oddly lost off Toulon within two or three days of the loss of Dakar in the eastern Mediterranean, and never located.

For further reading:

"How Did Israel's Dakar Submarine Sink 45 years Ago?," Ha'aretz,March 10, 2013.

"The Mystery of the 'Dakar,'" Jerusalem Post Magazine, May 27, 2009.

"State Archives release documents detailing possible causes behind the 1968 sinking of Israeli submarine, that killed 69," Jerusalem Post, March 10, 2013.

"INS Dakar," Wikipedia.

"INS Dakar," at www.submarines.dotan.net.

"The Loss of the INS Dakar," Submariners' Association, Barrow-in-Furness Branch.

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