Simmons Victory was laid down on 23 February 1945 under a U.S. Maritime Commission contract (M. C. V. Hull 182) at Portland, Ore., by Oregon Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 6 April 1945; sponsored by Mrs. Kenneth L. Cooper; and delivered to the Maritime Commission’s War Shipping Administration (WSA) at 2:30 p.m. on 4 May 1945.
Simultaneously transferred to the Coastwise (Pacific Far East) Line under a general agency agreement [5 May 1945], Simmons Victory was designated as a Fleet Issue Ship, and besides a 17-man armed guard detachment to man the ship’s battery of one 5-inch, one 3-inch, and eight 20 millimeter guns, commanded by Lt. Joseph C. Swayze, (S), USNR; and a three- or four-man communication liaison detachment; the ship had 16 USN enlisted people to serve as winchmen and hatchmen, under Ens. Allen F. McCasland, O-V(S), USNR.
With a cargo of ammunition, Simmons Victory cleared Leyte Gulf on 6 October 1945, and as part of the preparation for the disarming the vessel, the armed guard dumped the ammo at sea on 8 October. The ship proceeded independently for the Marshalls, arriving at Eniwetok on 12 October. Remaining there until the 17th, she sailed for the west coast of the U.S., making port at San Francisco on 3 November.
Laden with general cargo, Simmons Victory departed San Francisco on 9 December 1945, and undertook a “maintenance voyage,” reaching New York without incident on Christmas Day, 25 December 1945. With the removal of the 5-inch, 3-inch, and 20 millimeter guns at New York on 9 January 1946, Simmons Victory was disarmed, and GM3c James C. Fry and S1c William W. DeLong, the last members of the Armed Guard, were detached from the ship.
Simmons Victory was acquired by the Waterman Steamship Co., under a Maritime Commission break bulk charter at 12:01 a.m. on 12 December 1946, at Boston, Mass. Later purchased under a general agency agreement at 5:00 p.m. on 14 May 1948 by A. L. Burbank and Co., the ship was placed in the Reserve Fleet a fortnight later, at 4:00 p.m. on 28 May, and berthed in the Hudson River.
Removed from the Reserve Fleet at 12:40 p.m. on 4 August 1950 and acquired again by the Waterman Steamship Co., this time under a general agency agreement, Simmons Victory was acquired by A. H. Bull & Co., Inc., under a break bulk charter at Boston on 25 August 1950. The charter hire period began on 7 September 1950. The line then began operating the ship under a general agency agreement starting on 22 June 1951 at San Francisco, Calif., but the ship having seen considerable service in the Far East during the Korean conflict, making nine voyages between 18 November 1950 and 23 December 1952 under the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS), was eventually returned to the Reserve Fleet at 8:00 a.m. on 20 October 1953, to the Hudson River berthing area.
States Marine Corp. of Delaware acquired Simmons Victory under a break bulk charter on 20 March 1957, but operated her for a relatively short time, as she took over the vessel under a general agency agreement and inactivated her at Seattle, Wash., on 29 May 1958. Simmons Victory entered the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Olympia, Wash., on 11 June 1958.
The Navy contacted the Maritime Administration (MarAd) (formerly the Maritime Commission) on 14 February 1962 about acquiring Simmons Victory for conversion into a missile range instrumentation ship. Permanently transferred to the Navy from MarAd on 25 March 1963, the ship was delivered to the Willamette Iron & Steel Corp., Portland, Ore., for conversion. Simmons Victory, renamed Liberty and initially classified as a Technical Research Ship (communications and electromagnetic radiation), AG-168, on 8 June 1963, was reclassified to AGTR-5 on 1 April 1964.
Liberty was commissioned at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., at 1532 on Wednesday, 30 December 1964, Cmdr. Daniel T. Wieland, Jr. (USNA 1946), in command, the first log entry being rendered in rhyme by Lt. Lester A. Morcerf, Jr., a 36-year old “mustang,”
These words we pen in Liberty’s first log
with an ear for the wind and an eye for the fog.
We are moored in Bremerton, in the Sound called Puget
Standard lines and wire secured, lest ship, like time, fugit.
Service lines run from Pier 5 to meet her: Kitty Hawk’s Captain [J. L.] Butts is SOPA – the leader.
Pacific Fleet Ships, Yard and District Craft gaze
As we set our first watch in the borning haze
May the first watch we post to bring Liberty alive
Change her from a ghost to a ship where we thrive,
As always we must, on the hardships to come,
With a spirit of Trust and “Get the Job Done.”
We each did tremble, as her colors were raised,
With pride for the symbol we all have praised –
And vow to add fame, through duties done well,
To it’s historic name – the Liberty Bell.
Early in the fitting-out period, Rear Adm. Floyd B. Schultz, Commander Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, visited the ship on 6 January 1965. Near the end of her time in the shipyard, Liberty called away her rescue and assistance party at 2201, mid-way through the first watch on 1 February, upon the report of a fire in the after engine room of the auxiliary submarine Bream (AGSS-243), moored nearby. The technical research ship’s emergency responders stood down, however, shortly thereafter when the submariners had the situation in hand.
After outfitting, Liberty cleared the naval shipyard on 2 February 1965, the new large harbor tug Arcata (YTB-768) assisting her from alongside Pier 5, Berth 5-A, and into Sinclair Inlet. Three days into her passage down the west coast, Liberty encountered heavy weather. Eleven minutes after the end of the mid watch on 5 February, six vehicles, being transported as deck cargo, broke their securing cables and slid aft, carrying away 30 feet of the after foc’sle deck railing, two ready lockers, and damaging two ladders, as well as inflicting damage on seven other vehicles being carried as deck cargo that had been located on the main deck forward of frame 55. Visibility decreased to one mile because of heavy rain at 0832, and Liberty began sounding fog signals, and Comdr. Wieland stationed extra lookouts. Less than two hours later, visibility increased to five miles, and the ship ceased fog signals at 1015.
Liberty stood in to San Francisco Bay on 7 February 1965, passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge shortly before the start of the forenoon watch. Liberty moored at Pier D, Berth 4, U.S. Naval Supply Center, Oakland, Calif. at 0858, assisted by medium harbor tug Yuma (YTM-748) on her port quarter. After offloading the vehicles damaged two days before (1045-1300), the ship sailed at the start of the first dog watch the same day (7 February), passing beneath the Golden Gate Bridge outward bound and entering international waters shortly thereafter.
Her course set for the Canal Zone, Liberty drilled frequently over the next eight days, the training ranging from general quarters, man overboard, steering casualty, darken ship, fire, and gunnery to crash stops and starts. Reaching Rodman during the 16-20 watch on 16 February 1965, the ship fueled the following day (0804-1215), then Cmdr. Wieland paid a call upon the Commander of the Fifteenth Naval District that was returned by the commander’s chief of staff at 1515. Singling up her lines at 2045, Liberty, assisted by the tug Gatun, got underway at 2235 to begin her transit of the Panama Canal, completing the passage at 0626 on the 18th. She left the Gatun locks in her wake an hour later, and set course for Norfolk.
Standing in to Chesapeake Bay during the forenoon watch on 23 February 1965, Liberty moored at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Va. Moved, dead plant, to a different berth the next afternoon by a trio of yard tugs, the technical research ship immediately began a restricted availability. She shifted again on 19 March, then again on 1 April, the latter time mooring alongside her sister ship Belmont (AGTR-4).
Underway for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, at 0824 on 2 April 1965, Liberty stood past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel at 1115, then stood out into the Atlantic “in accordance with CinCLantFlt [Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet] Fourth Quarter Employment Schedule.” During the forenoon watch the following day [3 April], she conducted roll stabilization tank tests, then wartime cruising drills. Tragically, on 5 April, less than an hour after Liberty went to battle stations for a general quarters drill, CTCS William R. Smith suffered a heart attack at 0855. Taken immediately to sick bay, Smith died at 1025. Later that day, the ship rendezvoused with U.S. Army boat Q-632 off Bermuda, and to that craft transferred Smith’s remains and personal effects, then continued her passage for Cuban waters.
Liberty exercised again at general quarters on 6 April 1965, conducted a nuclear attack drill, then carried out a gunnery drill, again firing with no casualties. After securing from general quarters, the ship “commenced steering various courses at various speeds” to determine tactical diameters, continuing those evolutions into the afternoon. Liberty’s men continued drills the next morning, this time holding steering casualty and shallow water destruction evolutions, as well as abandon ship and man overboard – continuing to address the eventualities of life at sea on a naval vessel. As she had done the previous day, she carried out roll stabilization drills throughout the afternoon. The next day [8 April] featured more of the same, until watchstanders noted an “intense red light” on the horizon about 12 miles away, bearing 110°. Changing course and increasing speed, the technical research ship proceeded to investigate, but could obtain neither a visible radio nor radar contact.
Standing in to Guantánamo Bay shortly after mid-day on 11 April 1965, Liberty moored to Pier Lima at the U.S. Naval Base there at 1252, and for almost a fortnight the former Victory ship conducted her shakedown from that place. Highlighting the period was an underway replenishment drill in concert with destroyer Newman K. Perry (DD-883) (14 April), relieving McCaffrey (DD-860) for a stint of picket duty in the Guantánamo’s Defensive Sea Area (18 April), hosting observers from the Fleet Training Group (19 April), operating with the Coast Guard cutter Androscoggin (WPG-68) (20-22 April) -- conducting a towing exercise (towing and being towed) on the 20th -- and a replenishment-at-sea evolution on the 22nd. Ultimately, Liberty left “Gitmo” in her wake on 23 April, setting course for Jamaica.
Reaching Montego Bay during the morning watch the following day [24 April 1965], Liberty remained there for a port visit until the time came for her to sail on the morning of the 26th. A worn bearing, however, rendered the anchor windlass useless. Drifting toward shoal water, the ship went ahead one-third at five knots, then lay-to at the 100 fathom line, where the deck department rigged two five-ton chain falls to heave the anchor up by hand. Underway by the end of the afternoon watch on the 26th, Liberty put in to the Naval Operating Base at Key West, Fla., on 29 April, assisted alongside Pier D-2, Berth B, by small harbor tugs YTL-440 and YTL-558.
Clearing Key West the next morning [30 April 1965], the technical research ship lowered her 26-foot motor whaleboat at 1125 to receive a package delivered by a U.S. Navy helicopter. Recovering the boat at 1137, Liberty resumed her passage to Norfolk. On 3 May, however, she rendezvoused with another Navy helo that lowered a Dr. Farguson on board, then departed, only to repeat the procedure at 1746, at which point the helicopter hoisted Dr. Farguson and a BM3 Mick, then flew off toward the U.S. Naval Hospital, Key West.
Liberty stood in to the familiar waters of Hampton Roads on 10 May 1965, and moored at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard that afternoon, mooring in Berth 36. On 26 May, Ankachak (YTB-501) and Apohola (YTB-502) towed the ship, dead plant, to Berths 10 and 11 for the next phase of her availability.
Liberty steamed past Old Point Comfort abeam to starboard at 0836 on 22 October 1965, after which her crew mustered at quarters for entering port. Assisted by Apohola, the technical research ship moored alongside Pier 4, Berth 26, at 1044. Liberty remained in that berth through December, with Lt. Cmdr. John A. Mazzolini, her executive officer, serving as acting commanding officer during the month of November. At 1714 on 18 November, the nearby escort vessel Edward McDonnell (DE-1043) phoned the ship to report “smoke escaping from [an] after ventilator,” after which EM3 Cvetan, a Liberty sailor, soon reported a class “A” fire in the ship’s laundry, which the ship duly reported to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard Fire Department. Liberty’s sailors took care of the fire, prompting Lt. Cmdr. Robert J. Corrado, head of the ship’s research department and the command duty officer (CDO), to tell the fire department at 1737 that they were not required after all. The CDO ordered a re-flash watch for the laundry and the nearby paint locker to ensure the blaze did not start up again. Before the month was out, Liberty would muster her fire and assistance party on another occasion, on 30 November, at the report of a fire on board Douglas H. Fox (DD-779), but the destroyermen extinguished the blaze with no need for outside help.
Assisted by Apohola, Liberty cleared berths 11 and 12 during the forenoon watch on 8 June 1965, passing down the Elizabeth River, steaming past Hospital Point, then down the Thimble Shoals channel, entering International Waters at 1115, at which point she “commenced buildup for [a] full power run.” Decreasing visibility during the mid watch on 9 June in the Virginia Capes Operating Area resulted in the ship decreasing speed and sounding fog signals for a time until increasing visibility rendered those precautions unnecessary. Liberty then tested her anchor windlass as well as her whaleboat davits. Assisted by Massasoit (YTM-131), Chilkat (YTM-773) and Oratamin (YTM-347), the technical research ship then tied up alongside Pier 5, Berth 51, Naval Station, Norfolk.
Three nights later, during the first watch on 11 June 1965, FA B. R. Woods suddenly fell ill. Contacting a duty corpsman on board the repair ship Vulcan (AR-5) and the CDO resulted in an ambulance being sent from the NavSta dispensary. Removed from the ship, the ailing sailor was taken to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, where he was diagnosed with lumbar pneumonia and retained for treatment.
Assisted from alongside Pier 5 by Chohonaga (YTB-500) and Paducah (YTB-758), Liberty stood out of Hampton Roads on 15 June 1965, sailing on her “first operational deployment, serving as a test, research, and developmental platform for the Navy’s communications projects.” Assigned to Service Squadron (ServRon) 8, she proceeded independently to the Canary Islands, reaching her destination on 24 June, mooring with the assistance of the tug El Ganche, port side-to the Mole at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, during the forenoon watch. After a visit of six days, Liberty departed the harbor on the afternoon of 30 June and sailed for the coast of Africa.
At one point in the passage, Liberty lay-to in calm seas on 9 July 1965, riding easily in the swells, then resumed her voyage, conducting a general quarters drill, followed by hand grenade practice. For days later (13 July), she conducted a repel boarders drill during the afternoon watch, then conducted another such evolution at the same time the next day (14 July).
Liberty maneuvered off the entrance to the Vridi Canal during the morning watch on 15 July 1965, embarked a pilot, Capt. Merintie, then transited the canal to the harbor at Abidjan, Ivory Coast, mooring to Post No.1, Quai de Grand Moulin, with an assist from the tug Marcory. That afternoon, a succession of calls ensued, between Cmdr. Wieland and, in order, the U.S. Chargé d’affaires, the Ivorian Minister of the Armed Forces and his chief of staff, the Minister of the Armed Forces, the Prefet de Sud, and the Mayor of Abidjan. The Ivorian Armed Forces “staged an outdoor cookout for the crew, replete with native food and drink,” the ship’s historian later recounted, “Liberty sailors swapped hats, danced in a torrential tropical downpour, and returned to the ship drenched but delighted with new foods and friendships.” Subsequently, U.S. Ambassador George Allen Morgan praised Liberty’s officers and men and their “contribution toward cementing Ivorian-American relations.”
Clearing Abidjan at 1543 on 20 July 1965, again assisted by Marcory, Liberty set course for Capetown, South Africa. Three days later, the technical research ship welcomed “Davey Jones” at 1835 on 23 July, who delivered a message “from his Royal Majesty Neptunus Rex,” and then “left the ship via the starboard anchor chain into his own craft.” The next morning [24 July], the ship crossed the Equator at 0712, the bridge ringing down “all engines stop” soon thereafter, the pause most likely a consequence of “Davey Jones’” visit the previous afternoon. Liberty resumed her passage, doubtless with no more “pollywogs” on board.
Liberty anchored at the mouth of the Congo River during the dog watches watch on 26 July 1965, then got underway and maneuvered to remain within the waters at the mouth of that waterway. Once she had received permission, at 2122, from the U.S. Ambassador’s office in Leopoldville to leave the Republic of the Congo and the Congo River she did so.
On 3 August 1965, during the first watch, Liberty visually sighted a contact, off the starboard quarter, at a range of 1,700 yards, showing no lights, at 2051. The stranger closed the technical research vessel’s starboard beam at 2052 and illuminated the U.S. ship’s bridge with a 12-inch searchlight beam. Liberty, in turn, utilized a 24-inch searchlight to illuminate the stranger’s “hull number,” P.583. At 2054, both ships abruptly clicked off their respective searchlights, and Liberty increased speed to communicate with the contact (that proved to be the Portuguese Navy patrol vessel Santiago, ironically a product, like Simmons Victory, of U.S. shipbuilding in World War II, the submarine chaser PC-1257), but both ships ended up moving off into the night with no communication exchanged between the two.
Liberty eventually reached Capetown, South Africa, during the forenoon watch on 12 August 1965, passing the breakwater and being assisted into her moorings by the harbor tug T.S. McEwen. The technical research ship fueled the following day from the British Petroleum Co. facility (0925-1500) then later hosted an official visit from Brigadier S. P. D. Vorster (Divisional Commissioner of Police, Western Province) for a little over an hour. Sadly, on 14 August, two local citizens suffered injuries when the brow shifted on the pier – a woman on her left ankle and a boy on his right foot. An ambulance took them both to the city hospital, after which the ship informed the U.S. Embassy of what had occurred. The following day, a woman caught her foot under the gangway, and she went to the hospital by ambulance, no bones broken. Assisted from her berth alongside the quay wall at Capetown by the harbor tug Ft. Bates, Liberty cleared the harbor on the morning of 19 August, but not before the ship’s misfortunes in that port continued, when a mooring line snapped and injured SN Jack Kasecky’s right thigh.
Liberty reached her next port of call, Lagos, Nigeria, during the forenoon watch on 6 September 1965, taking the Angolan patrol boat Jupiter (P. 1132) alongside at 1101, immediately after which the vessel’s commanding officer came on board to pay an informal call on Cmdr. Wieland. Later that day, Jupiter moored to the technical research ship’s starboard boat boom at 1645, and her commanding officer and his crew came on board as Liberty’s guests 15 minutes later, breaking bread and sharing the evening meal. The Angolan sailors departed a little over an hour later, and Liberty got underway for Lagos, Nigeria, the next port visit of her deployment.
The technical research ship stood in the entrance to Lagos during the forenoon watch on 10 September 1965, then transited the channel. Liberty lowered her motor whaleboat and dropped the starboard anchor, then the tug George Ohikere pushed on her starboard beam, nudging the U.S. ship into a mooring between no.1 and no. 2 buoys in the Marina. Hoisting her starboard anchor, Liberty lowered the captain’s gig and the utility boat so that could be employed during the ship’s visit.
Liberty, assisted on her way by the tug Abdul Maliki, cleared Lagos on the morning of 14 September 1965, and en route to Dakar, Senegal, encountered the Portuguese patrol craft Venus (P. 1133) during the first watch on the 18th. Liberty operated independently off the coast of west Africa for almost a fortnight, until pulling in to Dakar. Assisted into her berth by the French naval tugs Aigeitte, Ibis, and Malika, the technical research ship moored starboard side-to the main pier at Dakar’s Arsenal de la Marine. Cmdr. Wieland left the ship at 1020 to pay his official calls, returning to the ship at 1115, after which a succession of naval officers returned them, the visitors including Rear Adm. Jean P. Corda, Commander, French South Atlantic Maritime Zone. On the afternoon of 2 October, U.S. Ambassador Mercer Cook called on Cmdr. Wieland, as did Rear Adm. Corda.
Again aided by tugs, Liberty crossed the harbor to the main petroleum pier, where she fueled (0957-1406). Underway again at 1634, the technical research ship cleared Dakar and set course for home, taking departure at 1719. Proceeding via the Bahia de San Cipriano (6-7 October), Liberty reached Norfolk during the forenoon watch on 22 October, assisted into Berth 26, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, by Apohola, to commence a period of post-deployment upkeep that would last into the following year.
As that year began, Ens. John McCorkle, USNR, penned the mid watch entry for 1 January 1966:
In Portsmouth, Virginia, our lines are tied,
to pier number four, we have our port side.
The nylon lines are doubled and tight.
As we stand peaceful and quiet in the night
all services from the pier we receive;
thus the engineers need not grieve.
Yard and district craft are moored here,
with Atlantic Fleet units standing near.
SOPA is now Captain R. H. White,
who commands CC-2, the USS Wright.
The captain and exec are both ashore,
Ltjg Sweeney is CDO and left the chore
of protecting the ship
for Monday’s trip.
The crewmen are all nestled all snug in their beds
while visions of next week’s cruise dance in their heads.
And on watch pass on the word
from all the crew members of the fair Liberty:
a Happy New Year to our comrades at sea!
This New Year’s Log finally ends
with a fervent prayer for our Navy friends:
“Eternal Father, Strong to Save,
Whose arms hath bound the restless wave
who bids the mighty ocean deep
its own eternal limits keep
Oh hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the sea.” Amen.
Assisted from her berth by Segwarusa (YTM-365) and Ankachak, Liberty sailed for Lagos at 1005 on 3 January 1966. Pausing briefly at the U.S. Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, the technical research ship sailed for her operating areas at 1318, the entered International Waters at 1411. Liberty conducted gunnery drill on 6 January, engineering casualty and general quarters drills on the 11th and 13th. Her destination changed to Abidjan, on 19 January, the ship stood in to the Vridi Canal at 0811 on 24 January, after picking up her pilot, then, assisted by the tug Marcory, moored in Berth 1 of the Quai de Grand Moulin after having first put the captain’s gig in the water. Ambassador Morgan paid a return visit to Liberty on 26 January (1145-1320). Later that same day, the ship fueled (1835-2122).
Liberty sailed for Luanda the next morning, 27 January 1966, assisted in the evolution by the tug Tanoe. Two days later [29 January], the technical research ship welcomed “Davy Jones,” along with King Neptune and his Royal Court at 1830. They returned the following morning, at which time “all pollywogs [were] tried, convicted, and punished” between 0820 and 1000, at which point the “court” adjourned and left the ship, which continued on her voyage toward Luanda.
Shortly after the end of the mid watch on 2 February 1966, Liberty sighted Ambriz Light at a range of 18 miles. The technical research ship dropped anchor at 0755 in accordance with her orders, and remained anchored until the forenoon watch on 4 February. Underway only briefly (1042-1440), then ship again anchored, remaining until heaving in the starboard anchor at 1817 and working up to 14 knots, her movements followed by the Portuguese Navy frigate Vasco da Gama (F.478) at a range of 2,500 yards. That warship remained on station ranging from 2,000 yards to five miles as Liberty operated off the coast on 5 and 6 February. Liberty again anchored off Ambriz Light during the forenoon watch on 11 February, and after further operations underway, she stood in to Luanda Harbor on 18 February, dropping anchor at 0930. Shifting her anchorage once during the stay in port (21 February), the technical research ship remained at Luanda until 24 February, when she sailed for Dakar.
Proceeding independently, Liberty exercised at general quarters during the afternoon watch on 3 March 1966, carrying out an abandon ship drill (1306-1321), securing from general quarters soon thereafter. At 1737 on 7 March, the report of a class “A” fire in compartment 3-37-3A sent the ship to general quarters; within ten minutes the fire had been contained with no damage reported. The ship stood down from general quarters at 1805. During the mid watch the next day [8 March], Liberty again went to general quarters and set condition Zebra at 0130 at the report of a class “C” fire in the no.1 air conditioning salt water circulating pump motor. Setting condition Yoke at 0157, the ship secured from general quarters at 0201.
Later on 8 March 1966, Liberty embarked the pilot, Capt. Thomas, and entered the harbor at Dakar, mooring starboard side-to the south side of the main pier at the Arsenal de la Marine. The technical research ship remained in port until the forenoon watch on 11 March. The same pilot (Thomas) who had guided the ship into Dakar, reported on board shortly before the ship began singling up her lines to depart. Ambassador Cook came on board for a very quick call (0824-0828), after which all hands assembled at quarters for leaving port. At 0904, Liberty passed through the breakwater, disembarked Capt. Thomas into the pilot boat, and headed for Hampton Roads.
Liberty stood in to the Thimble Shoals channel shortly before 0900 on 21 March 1966, and moored alongside the ammunition ship Diamond Head (AE-19) at Pier 12, Berth 2, Norfolk Naval Station. Three days later, Chiquito (YTB-499) and Chohonaga made fast to the technical research ship’s port side and moved her out into the stream to proceed over to the U.S. Army Terminal. Arriving there soon thereafter, Liberty took another pair of tugs, Itara (YTM-391) and Nadli (YTM-534), alongside, and they moored her port side-to the south quay wall, U.S. Army Terminal, Norfolk, where she took Diamond Head alongside soon thereafter.
The technical research ship changed berths on 8 April 1966, to Pier 5, Berth 56, Norfolk Naval Station, alongside the stores issue ship Altair (AKS-32), remaining there for ten days, until she was breasted out to enable Altair to sail. There, alongside Pier 5, at 1000 hours on 26 April 1966, Cmdr. William L. McGonagle relieved Cmdr. Wieland as Liberty’s commanding officer, in the presence of Rear Adm. Henry A. Renken, Commander Service Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and Capt. Burns W. Spore, Commander Service Squadron (ComServRon) Eight.
Liberty shifted back to the U.S. Army Piers on 29 April 1966. She remained there for over a month, during which time Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, Commander in Chief, U. S. Atlantic Fleet, visited the ship on 25 May. Liberty’s historian later wrote how Adm. Moorer “express[ed] his appreciation for a fine briefing on Liberty research operations,” coming away “very favorably impressed with the condition of the ship and the appearance of the crew.”
Ultimately, on the last day of May 1966, Liberty got underway with ComServRon 8 orders of 18 April. She cleared the harbor, then entered International Waters at 1234, and set out, as she had done twice before, for the coast of Africa.
Liberty’s passage to Africa proved largely uneventful. She encountered a West German merchantman, Neidersachsen, in a heavy rain on 2 June 1966, an unidentified vessel the following day, and exercised at general quarters on 6, 8, and 9 June. The technical research ship passed two fishing trawlers on the 13th, Barbara Barata (LX.45.P) and Asilha de Fogo (LX.43.A), as they steamed on approximately reciprocal courses.
Standing in to Dakar during the forenoon watch on 14 June 1966, Liberty moored at the fuel pier. That afternoon, while ship replenished, representatives of the Chief of Staff of the Senegalese Armed Forces called officially, as did a representative of the Commandant of French forces. Upon completion of fueling, the technical research ship shifted berths to the French naval base, where less than an hour after she had moored, she received an official call from U.S. Ambassador Cook.
Liberty’s port call at Dakar lasted until the forenoon watch on 20 June 1966, when she sailed for the Ivory Coast. She conducted exercises as she left port, and exercised at general quarters (1306-1448). The early part of her passage to Abidjan was proceeding without incident, the ship steaming at nine knots for much of the day. Soon after the watch changed, at the start of the first watch, Liberty stopped all engines at 2008, then backed full and changed course, working her way back to nine knots. The West German merchantman Thor, bound from Italy to Freetown, Sierra Leone, passed close aboard, Liberty having to maneuver at various speeds and courses to avoid a collision shortly before the start of the mid watch.
Over the next week, Liberty continued to operate independently, encountering several days of reduced visibility conditions, and forcing frequent use of fog signals and stationing lookouts on the foc’sle. She exercised at general quarters (1300-1422) on 23 June 1966, during which she conducted an abandon ship evolution (1403-1416) before her men re-manned their battle stations. She encountered the tanker Japan Rose on 25 June, and the United Kingdom-registry Burutu Palm, the French Jean Mermoz under poor visibility conditions, and the tanker Christian Bird, homeported in Abidjan and flying the house flag of the Compagnie de Transports Marítimes de Petrole, shortly before the start of the mid watch.
Liberty reached Abidjan on 30 June 1966, mooring starboard side-to Pier 1, north quay wall, soon after which she received a boarding call from the Chief of Naval Operations of the Ivorian Navy (1150-1220). Cmdr. McGonagle called upon the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Abidjan, after which the latter official returned the visit (0945-1030). The technical research ship embarked a pilot (J. Merentie), then took the tug Tanoe alongside, soon thereafter, reversing the procedure as she passed the seaward jetty of the Vridi Canal.
Liberty steamed thence to Lagos, standing in to the harbor there during the morning watch on 8 July 1966, mooring at buoys no.1 and no.2, soon thereafter, at 0835. A little over an hour later, Cmdr. McGonagle went ashore to call upon U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Elbert G. Mathews. Early that afternoon, Liberty’s commanding officer called upon the Commander of the Nigerian Navy before returning to the ship. At 1640, Ambassador Mathews returned Cmdr. McGonagle’s call, the career Foreign Service Officer departing the ship at 1730.
Liberty bid farewell to Lagos the next morning (9 July 1966), setting course for Luanda, a passage that took almost a fortnight, during which the technical research ship encountered the West German merchantman Gertrude C. Ertel under poor visibility conditions on 13 July. Also during the passage, Liberty lay-to to conduct the “Royal Ceremony of Crossing the Equator” on 16 July, Cmdr. McGonagle securing the underway watch for the occasion with the exception of the officer of the deck (OOD), quartermaster of the watch, and one lookout. The Neptune Ceremony resulted in one injury, where a sailor was hit by a paddle below the belt; he was treated and released to bed rest to recuperate, his injury, the OOD noted involving “no misconduct…” A few days later, Liberty anchored off the mouth of the Congo River (20-21 July), observed by the Portuguese patrol vessel S. Tome (P.585) (ex-PC-1256), at a range of 800 yards.
The technical research ship stood in to Luanda harbor during the forenoon watch on 22 July 1966, assisted alongside the Mobil Fuel Pier by the tugs Quixete and Bero. While Cmdr. McGonagle went ashore to make his official calls, Liberty began fueling. McGonagle returned at noon, and three hours later the U.S. consul general came on board to return the commanding officer’s visit. The ship completed fueling at 1610.
The next day, 23 July 1966, Liberty, owing to a faulty high level alarm light, inadvertently pumped about 150 gallons of NSFO (Navy Special Fuel Oil) “into the harbor thru [sic] overflow discharge line.” Fortunately, quick corrective action resulted in the removal of 80% of the spillage from the area, and the technical research ship informed the U.S. consul general and the harbor authorities of the mishap. The ship shifted to an anchorage in Luanda Harbor during the forenoon watch, where she remained for the rest of her visit. Underway for Monrovia, Liberia, at 0908 on 27 July, she cleared Luanda for her next destination.
Proceeding via the mouth of the Congo River, where she anchored from 6 to 10 August 1966, Liberty encountered the merchantman Manford during the forenoon watch on the 10th, and reached her destination on 16 August, mooring port side-to alongside Pier 1, Freeport, Monrovia, at 0830. That afternoon, U.S. Ambassador Ben H. Brown, Jr., visited the ship. During her visit, the technical research ship also hosted the Liberian Secretary of Defense (1220-1345) on 17 August, and a contingent from the Liberian Coast Guard the following day (0945-1110). Ultimately, Liberty cleared Monrovia at 0923 on 19 August, setting course for Norfolk.
After off-loading pyrotechnics into a lighter alongside while lying in Hampton Roads’ anchorage W-1 (0745-0750) on 30 August 1966, Liberty got underway, then moored in Berth 2, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, at 1115. Moved, cold iron, to berths 11 and 12 by Segwarusa and Ankachak on 1 September, the technical research ship moved to Berth 35 on 3 October. Shifting berths again on the last day of October 1966, Liberty sailed for the Canary Islands on the afternoon of 1 November.
Three days into the transatlantic passage, Liberty encountered the U.S. freighter Sue Lykes, out of New Orleans, La. During the forenoon watch on 4 November 1966. Sue Lykes “requested aid as to [her] position,” which the technical research ship provided, and the ships passed each other at a distance of four miles, each going their separate ways. Liberty encountered the U.K.-registry tanker Hepisoma, bound for Thameshaven, on 8 November, and exercised at general quarters and abandon ship drills the following day, ultimately standing to Las Palmas, Canary Islands, during the forenoon watch on 14 November, mooring to Berth 4, Dique del Generalissimo Franco, at 0900. Unlike previous visits, an ugly incident occurred during this visit to Las Palmas. Early in the mid watch on 15 November, the shore patrol returned an intoxicated sailor to the ship. Taken below to the crews’ berthing, the man became combative and injured the mate of the watch with a knife. Cmdr. McGonagle immediately ordered a court martial, to convene at a future date with Lt. Cmdr. David E. Lewis (the head of the ship’s research department), to deal with the matter, on the afternoon of the vessel’s departure from Las Palmas for Dakar on the 17th.
Two days into the passage toward Senegal, Liberty encountered a Soviet ship, identified only by “OB,” during the first dog watch on 19 November 1966. The vessel passed the technical research ship close aboard on the latter’s port side at a range of approximately 450 yards.
Liberty reached Dakar, entering the port during the morning watch on 23 November 1966, mooring at the Fueling Pier, starboard side-to, at 0740. She shifted to the French naval pier upon completion of fueling. Later that afternoon, the ship transferred CT3 Dennis M. Eikleberry, diagnosed with acute appendicitis, to the French Hospital at Dakar during the dog watch. Eikleberry returned to the ship a little over 24 hours later, on the 24th, and was admitted to sick bay for post-operative care.
Underway for Abidjan at 0903 on 25 November 1966, Liberty set course for the Ivory Coast. She anchored briefly off the entrance to Monrovia harbor on 2 December, then got underway to continue her passage toward Abidjan. She exercised at general quarters on 6 and 7 December, on each occasion the drill scenario involving a simulated underwater nuclear burst. She anchored briefly at Cameroon Bay from the 12-18 watch on the 13th, then got underway. On the morning of 17 December, the technical research ship passed 1,000 yards abeam of a Soviet “factory” ship and her brood of ten trawlers, and late that afternoon passed the Liberian-flag tanker Maurice en route to Monrovia. Liberty then experienced her second emergency appendicitis of the cruise when EM2 Thomas R. Massant underwent a successful appendectomy during the mid watch on 21 December.
Liberty reached Abidjan three days before Christmas of 1966, steering various courses and speeds to enter the Vridi Canal at the end of the morning watch on 23 December. Guided into the harbor by the pilot, Renouf, and assisted by the tug Tanoe, the technical research ship made fast to VIP Berth No. 1, North Quay Pier, at 0835. Inside of an hour, Cmdr. McGonagle went ashore to call upon Ambassador Morgan, and soon after the commanding officer returned to the ship, the Ambassador was returning his call. The ship fueled the next day, then sailed for Luanda on the morning of 27 December, dropping anchor 1,000 yards off the entrance to the Vridi Canal at 0725. A pilot boat soon came out to the ship, transporting one sailor who had missed her sailing. Two days later [29 December], a Ghanan patrol vessel made an emergency delivery of medical supplies to the ship, Liberty lowering her 26-foot motor whaleboat to meet the craft and effect the receipt. Before the day was over, the technical research ship passed the merchantman King Jaja, en route to Lagos, and a Ghanan patrol boat. On 30 December, Liberty observed her second birthday, an occasion celebrated with a cake-cutting featuring Lt. George H. Golden, the engineering officer, the ship’s senior “plank owner.”
Ens. David G. Lucas, OOD at the start of the mid watch on 1 January 1967, inaugurated the year in fine style:
We’re on course 139°T and PGC, independently steaming,
the stars of the New Year are above us, glittering and gleaming.
with 25 RPM, 5 knots is our speed,
behind us are 365 days of both plenty and need.
Ahead lie 365 more, and of these we’ll make the most,
while enroute from Abidjan on the Ivory Coast
to our next port: Angola’s fair city of Luanda.
And throughout 1967, where ever the Liberty shall wander.
Steaming in accordance with ComServRon Eight
(finding bearings on navagational [sic] aids with the alidade)
and their message of 131259Z October 1966.
(also obtaining ranges with a radar fix).
A readiness of V and Yoke are set as conditions,
with prospects of new travels and established naval traditions.
Boiler number one and generators number one, two, and three are on the line,
as our ears still ring with a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.”
At 0000 Father Time passed from view,
Bearing 000°PGC and True.
His range was indefinite, his mission complete,
when suddenly in his place but whom should we meet,
none other than a young babe, fresh and gay,
greeting us on this, January’s first day.
His enthusiasm was great, his mission was clear,
that of bringing the Liberty a Happy New Year.
On 3 January 1967, Liberty sighted a fish factory vessel 11 minutes into the forenoon watch, the larger vessel accompanied by 11 trawlers. The technical research ship identified the large ship as Iozasvitas, and passed the Russian at a range of about 1,000 yards. That afternoon, the technical research ship conducted general quarters drills that involved practice in fire, collision, and steering casualties.
Later that same day, during the first watch, Liberty logged sighting the Punta de Europa Light at 2056, 16 miles distant, when she noted a surface contact bearing 104 degrees at a range of 4,400 yards, approaching rapidly. Liberty stopped all engines at 2101 as the stranger crossed her bow, then closed, prompting the U.S. ship to sound the danger signal when the range closed to 1,500 yards. The stranger closed to 1,000 yards, altering course first to the right, then to the left. At 2108, the contact – now identified as a small fishing boat – passed abeam to port at a range of only 500 yards. After the craft altered course to the right, Liberty went to collision quarters, set condition Zebra, and Cmdr. McGonagle took the conn. The U.S. ship again sounded the danger signal, and at 2110 the smaller craft stopped dead in the water. Liberty then lay-to and hailed the vessel without success. Both vessels then moved off into the night, with the technical research ship securing from collision quarters, setting condition Yoke, and Lt. James C. Pierce, the OOD, took the conn. Soon thereafter, Cape Nachtigal Light came into sight.
Liberty continued her voyage at her methodical pace, encountering decreased visibility conditions on 7 January 1967, necessitating sounding fog signals and stationing lookouts in the eyes of the ship. Two days later, she conducted a man overboard drill, then more training on the 11th that included general quarters and ship-handling evolutions. She anchored off the mouth of the Congo River on the afternoon of the 12th, remaining there for almost a week, conducting gunnery and repel boarders drills toward the end of that period, on the 17th.
Underway again on the afternoon of the 18th, Liberty reached Luanda on the morning of the 23rd, embarking Veiga Firminia, the pilot, at 0759. As the technical research ship maneuvered off the pier, the tug Quixete helped her into her berth on the north side of Luanda’s main pier, securing at 0818. She then began fueling at 1010, after which Cmdr. McGonagle departed the ship to call on U.S. Consul General G. H. Summ, returning at 1230, and the ship completed refueling at 1420. Consul General Summ called on Cmdr. McGonagle at 1552.
Liberty shifted berths on 24 January 1967, with pilot Firminia at the conn and tug Quixete assisting, moving out into the harbor. She then cleared the port early on the afternoon of 27 January, setting course for Monrovia. Two days later, on 29 January 1967, the technical research ship closed a merchant vessel and identified her as Ojadjere, then altered course to investigate a large factory ship. Identifying the latter as the stern trawling factory ship Radischev at 1208, Liberty went to collision quarters to avoid a nautical fender-bender. The technical research ship set condition Zebra, with Cmdr. McGonagle and Lt. Stephen S. Toth (USNA 1963), the navigator, on the bridge, Ens. Malcolm M. Watson, USNR, at the conn. At 1249, Liberty passed Radischev abeam at a range of 500 yards.
The day after the relatively close encounter with Radischev, Liberty went to general quarters at 1302 on 31 January 1967 and conducted repel boarders and gunnery drills, expending 200 rounds of .50-caliber with no casualties in the latter evolution. She anchored off Rio Zomba, Angola, during the afternoon watch on 2 February, remaining there until getting underway for Monrovia at 1315 on 7 February. The technical research ship encountered poor visibility during the forenoon watch, and carried out a battle problem that afternoon. She conducted a six-hour competitive economy trial on 10 February (1200-1800), then went to general quarters for a battle problem later that afternoon. She completed a one-hour competitive smoke prevention trial the following day.
Liberty reached Monrovia during the forenoon watch on 15 February 1967, passing the breakwater at 0802, and, helped into her berth by the tugs Mesarado and Freeport, moored at the General Cargo Wharf at 0830.
Five minutes after the end of the mid watch the next morning [16 February 1967], a class “C” fire was reported in Research Radio No.1. The OOD, Ens. Watson, called away the duty damage control party, which controlled the fire inside of two minutes. Security the damage control party, Watson notified “proper research personnel” of the incident.
After embarking Lt. William R. Hudson, USCG, and Chief Joseph Furpass, Jr., as observers for competitive exercises, Liberty stood out of Monrovia during the forenoon watch on 17 February 1967. She went to general quarters at 1344 for competitive drills, going through miscellaneous engineering scenarios, damage control, and fire drills, and responding to a simulated underwater nuclear blast. She also held an abandon ship drill. She ultimately secured from the scheduled training at 1530, after which Lt. Hudson and Chief Furpass departed the ship in a Liberian Coast Guard boat.
Liberty reached Norfolk during the forenoon watch on 28 February 1967, Okmulgee (YTB-765) delivered the veteran Hampton Roads pilot, J. Treakle, to the ship, who maneuvered her alongside Georgetown (AGTR-2) at Pier 4, Berth 42, Norfolk Naval Station. On 7 March, tugs moved Liberty out from alongside Georgetown to permit the latter to depart for sea, then returned her to the pier, where she remained until the 17th, when Okmulgee and Dahlonega (YTB-770) moved her alongside Pier 3, Berth 35 at Naval Station Norfolk, mooring at 1421.
Three days later, on 20 March 1967, Liberty cleared Hampton Roads to operate in the Virginia Capes Operating Area, entering International Waters just before mid-day. She operated off the Virginia capes until returning to port, mooring alongside the attack cargo ship Uvalde (AKA-88) alongside Pier 4, Berth 41, on the 22nd. Moved from alongside Uvalde to moor alongside the dock landing ship Donner (LSD-20), that lay outboard of the repair ship Vulcan alongside Pier 5, Berth 52, on the 24th, Liberty began receiving all services from the repair ship. Dahlonega and Mahaska (YTM-730) moved the technical research ship, dead plant, alongside Vulcan on 11 April.
Liberty got underway to shift to Berth 42 during the forenoon watch on 21 April 1967, and assisted by Wapakoneta (YTB-766), Okmulgee, and Dahlonega, accomplished the shift at 0906. There, on 1 May, the technical research ship began fueling during the forenoon watch, at 0930. Shortly after mid-day, George N. Daugherty, on temporary additional duty (TAD) from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, embarked, and later that same day, Paul H. Taylor, Murray J. Aronson, and Joesuke Toda, on TAD from the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office, embarked as well, to study the unique application of U.S. Navy’s navigational satellite system to problems of precise positioning in equatorial areas.
Assisted by Okmulgee and Oshkosh (YTB-757), Liberty got underway for the coast of western Africa early in the first dog watch on 2 May 1967, standing out of Hampton Roads and the Thimble Shoals channels. The ship held a general quarters drill two days out (1300-1335) on 4 May, then ran general quarters, as well as a steering casualty and abandon ship exercise the following afternoon, then steering casualty drills on the 9th and 11th. She encountered two Soviet fishing trawlers on the 12th.
Liberty anchored off Tamasa Island, Guinea, at 0730 on 15 May 1967, remaining there for about 11 hours, after which she cleared those waters at 1823, setting course once more for the Ivory Coast. On the 16th, Cmdr. McGonagle again drilled the crew in general quarters, repel boarders, and abandon ship evolutions. A heavy rain reduced visibility to less than a mile during the forenoon watch the following day [17 May], necessitating Liberty’s sounding fog signals and stationing lookouts in the “eyes” of the ship. As the ship steamed on, she held steering and engineering casualty drills on the 19th, and transited the Vridi Canal without incident during the morning watch, mooring at her destination, Abidjan, assisted into her berth by the tugs Tanoa and St. Briac, soon thereafter.
Less than eight hours after Liberty arrived at Abidjan, only minutes into the mid watch on 23 May 1967, CT3 Garvin L. D. McMakin reported to the sick bay having suffered a laceration on his right hand while trying to move a fan. The duty corpsman attended to him, and McMakin returned to duty. Less than a half an hour later, at 0030, CTC James A. Matthews brought BMC Richard C. Carlson back to the ship, the latter requiring medical attention for what was diagnosed as a mild heart attack. The ship’s medicos retained Carlson in sick bay to monitor his condition. At 0122, CTSN James P. Cavanaugh returned from liberty with multiple abrasions, having been hit by a taxi. Still later that day, at 1810, a class “B” fire occurred on the 01 level at frame 100, the utility boat refueling station; reaction proved swift, with responders extinguishing the fire at 1812, with a re-flash watch established immediately. Before the day was over, Ivorian police returned CTSN Terry W. Lehman to the ship “for [his] own protection…” The officer of the deck noted laconically: “no charges made.”
That same day, the Sixth Fleet received orders to move into the eastern Mediterranean, four days after the United Arab Republic (UAR) had ordered the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to withdraw from the Sinai.
At 0720 on 24 May 1967, Paul Taylor, from the Naval Oceanographic Office, his duty completed, disembarked, amidst Liberty’s preparations for getting underway. Embarking Mr. Salvati, the pilot, and taking the tug Marcory alongside to assist in the evolution, the technical research ship cleared the pier, standing first out of Abidjan harbor, then down the Vridi Canal. Disembarking Mr. Salvati at 0834, Liberty then set course for Rota. During the voyage to Rota, Liberty conducted a general quarters drill on 26 May (1300-1351), and again on the 31st (1259-1347).
On 26 May 1967, as Egypt remilitarized the Sinai and declared a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba off the Israeli port of Eilat, U.S. dependents de-planed in Athens and Rome, having been flown in from Cairo, United Arab Republic (UAR), and Israel, respectively. An increased Soviet naval presence appeared soon thereafter, as the first Soviet warships transited the Dardanelles from the Black Sea and began more aggressive shadowing of U.S. naval movements.
Liberty stood in to Rota, Spain, during the forenoon watch on 1 June 1967, assisted to her berth alongside Pier 1, U.S. Naval Station, Rota, by Shahaska (YTM-533) and Wahaka (YTM-526), mooring at 1015. FN John E. Cadman was transferred ashore to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Rota, for treatment, and MM2 James R. Patterson was transferred as well, with orders to the U.S. Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, Va. Also debarked were Joesuke Toda and Murray Aronson from the Naval Oceanographic Office, and George Dougherty from the office of the Secretary of Defense.
After taking stores on board and embarking Robert L. Wilson, Donald L. Blalock and Allen M. Blue, civilian linguists, and three USMC linguists: SSgt. Bryce F. Lockwood, Sgt. Jack L. Raper and Cpl. Edward E. Rehmeyer. All told, three were Arabic specialists and three experts in Russian. Assisted from her berth by Tonkawa (YTB-786) and Wahaka, Liberty disembarked her pilot to Tonkawa at 1358 and stood out, bound for her Operations Area, with 293 souls on board: 16 officers, 271 enlisted men, three marines and three civilians.
During the passage toward the eastern Mediterranean, Liberty’s navigator and other members of the operations department provided the lookouts refresher training, in “reporting all surface contacts to include relative bearing, approximate range, and target angle,” as well as “other factors pertaining to properly reporting all surface and air contacts to the officer of the deck.”
The outbreak of war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries on 5 June 1967, found Vice Adm. William I. Martin, Commander, Sixth Fleet, being instructed to keep ships and aircraft “at least 100 [nautical miles] away from the coasts of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, and the United Arab Republic [Egypt], and at least 25 nm away from Cyprus.” Sadly, directives from neither ComSixthFleet nor Commander in Chief, U.S. Navy Europe (CinCUSNavEur) specifically addressed Liberty’s mission.
“Effective immediately,” McGonagle informed his OOD/JOOD and CIC people that same day [5 June 1967], “two men will be stationed on the forecastle as additional lookouts/gun crews to establish and maintain a modified Condition of Readiness Three Watch on a twenty-four hour basis until further notice. All .50 caliber machine guns are to be kept on station with ammunition in [the] mount tray. (Rounds to be next to but not in chamber). Lookouts and forecastle gun mount personnel are to man mounts on engaged side and defend the ship in the event of surprise air/surface attack while regular General Quarters teams are being assembled…” The gunners were to consider any unidentified surface contact approaching at 25+ knots to be hostile and set Condition One immediately. In addition, McGonagle specified that “any unidentified air contact(s) directly approaching the ship on an apparent straffing/bombing/torpedo attack attitude is (are) to be considered as acting in a hostile manner and condition of Readiness One is to be set immediately.” He concluded: “Better to set General Quarters in doubtful cases than to be taken by surprise and be unable to fight the ship. Take immediate action as may be required by the situation, then advise me of what steps have been taken.”
The following day [6 June 1967], CinCUSNavEur informed ComSixthFleet that Liberty would come under his control at the start of the mid watch on 7 June “to facilitate area command and control and any possible requirement for protection during the Middle East hostilities,” and noted that local conditions might lead to a revision of the technical research ship’s schedule. Liberty acknowledged the instructions at 2036 that day.
Three hours later, ComSixthFleet encouraged Liberty to “maintain a high state of vigilance against attack or threat of attack,” specifically warning against the “unpredictability” of actions by the UAR. The ship was also instructed to keep ComSixthFleet informed of “any diversion from schedule necessitated by external threat” and to report contacts with “ships, aircraft, and [unidentified] submarines…” She was also to report matters of “intelligence interest” or of harassment. The instructions to use Flash precedence [given to operational messages of extreme urgency] or the fast carrier task force frequency, however, never reached Liberty.
Off the coast of the UAR at 0800 on 7 June 1967, Liberty approached operational areas two and three, and reported her position at 0908. Although the ship’s communications had been accorded Immediate Precedence, the situation/position report took 15½ hours to reach ComSixthFleet. During the afternoon watch on 7 June, Liberty, conducted a general quarters drill (1301-1420), at the end of which she sighted the first of two merchantmen, the first, Bencleugh, being of unknown registry, and the second, the Greek-flagged Ioanis Aspiotus. The rest of the day proved uneventful, each watch passing with the notation “steaming as before.”
Unbeknownst to Cmdr. McGonagle and the officers and men of Liberty, deliberations concerning the technical research ship’s proximity to a war zone were proceeding, and leading to a decision, communicated three times, to order her to operate 100 miles off the region. Unfortunate delays in communications, some involving human error, however, resulted in Liberty’s being unaware of efforts to withdraw her from, potentially, harm’s way.
As she had often done during her career, Liberty steamed slowly on her appointed mission, in International Waters. An Israeli reconnaissance place, a French-built twin-engined NORD 2501 Noratlas reconnoitered the ship, an Israeli Navy observer on board, and correctly identified her from her profile in contemporary, publicly available reference material. At 0830 on 8 June 1967, steaming in the calm waters of the Mediterranean, Liberty informed ComSixthFleet of her projected position for the next 24 hours. From her mainmast she flew regular steaming colors. Those standing watch on Liberty’s bridge could see a minaret at El’Arish on the coast of the UAR, a singular landmark.
About an hour into the forenoon watch, Liberty noted two delta-wing jets orbiting her at 5,000 feet, two miles distant, an event communicated to ComSixthFleet. Later, at around 1056, another Noratlas crossed astern of the ship at a range of three to five miles, too distant, as the jets had been, to make out any markings, then circled the ship to starboard, flew ahead, then set a course for the Sinai peninsula.
At 1310, Liberty went to general quarters, to carry out a drill, and secured from same at 1345, resuming a “modified condition three” watch. Shortly before the crew had gone to their general quarters stations, watchstanders on the bridge noticed “a large billowing cloud of black smoke rising” into the air, some 15 to 20 miles west of El ‘Arish. A half hour later, they could see another, smaller cloud of black smoke.
Before he dismissed the crew to return to their stations following the drills, Cmdr. McGonagle “gave the crew a short talk on the PA system reminding them of the importance of expeditiously responding to general quarters and the setting of Condition Zebra for drills, and in the event of an actual attack.” To impress them with the gravity of their position, McGonagle called their attention to the column of black smoke on the beach as “sufficient evidence that the ship was in a potentially dangerous situation.” While the ship had set condition Zebra in 4 minutes and 45 seconds – excessive, he had thought – he felt generally pleased with the drill and opted to forego a conference with his officers in the wardroom.
About 1400, lookouts on the 04 level called down and reported sighting jet aircraft in the vicinity. McGonagle, on the starboard wing of the bridge (03 level), observed the plane to be similar, if not identical, to the one he had seen earlier. McGonagle called Lt. (j.g.) Lloyd C. Painter out onto the starboard wing of the bridge. “You’d better call the forward gun mounts,” McGonagle said, referring to the planes, “I think they’re going to attack.” Painter ran into the bridge and tried three times to reach Mounts 51 and 52. Phone in hand, Painter saw the area “go up in smoke and shattered metal” as a Dassault Mirage III-CJ opened up with its 30-millimeter machine guns. The strafing continued briefly, shells shattering glass in the forward portholes on the bridge, fragments cutting down QM3 Floyd H. Pollard at the wheel. The Mirages made three passes, expending their ammunition; a pair of Super Mystéres carried out the second wave of attacks. During the first pass, the Mirages’ gunfire cut down the colors from the halyard.
GMG3 Alexander N. Thompson, Jr., whose normal battle station was on the bridge at the 04 level, most likely figured he would not reach it when Liberty went to battle stations. He hurried to Mt. 51 and opened fire on the Israeli aircraft, the men below him in Repair Two reporting later that it sounded like Thompson got off at least a half a box of ammunition. Miraculously, he escaped one strafing attack unscathed, then fired at the planes as they circled for another pass. Sadly, he did not survive their next run.
Lt. Steve Toth, Liberty’s intelligence officer, had hurried to the 04 level of the bridge to get an unobstructed view of the attacking aircraft to ascertain their identity. “Known for his quiet but persistent manner,” as well as “a firm desire to succeed,” Toth died when shells from the first strafing run exploded on the starboard bridge wing on the 03 level, the explosion hurling him to the 01 level.
One of the Mirages’ strafing run had caused an explosion on the port side of the 01 level. McGonagle, having ordered the general alarm sounded, went over to the port wing of the bridge to assess the damage, and immediately noticed the two 55-gallon drums of gasoline, stowed there, “burning furiously.” The fires rendered it impossible to approach the quick-release gear by the ladders on that side of the ship, so McGonagle ordered Lt. Cmdr. Philip McC. Armstrong, Jr. (USNA 1953), the executive officer, to go down the starboard side, down to the 01 level and cross over to the port side to rid the ship of the gasoline containers. “McCutch,” his USNA classmates felt, had “laughed his way through the academic and executive obstacles” at the Academy “with baffling ease.” Known as “a good student, a good midshipman, and a good man,” the exec reached the head of the ladder leading down from the 03 level, along with Lt. James G. O’Connor, who had been relieved as OOD at 1355, when incoming rounds impacted near the whaleboat on the 01 level, starboard side. An explosion blew Armstrong and O’Connor and other men from their feet, inflicting mortal wounds on the popular executive officer.
At that moment, McGonagle rang up “all ahead flank.” A glance up and aft told him the order had been received, for more smoke began issuing from the stack. He ordered Lt. Maurice H. Bennett, Jr., Liberty’s assistant research officer, to utilize the HiCom [High Command] circuit to report that the ship was under attack by unidentified aircraft, and that she needed immediate assistance. QM3 Francis Brown took over the wheel from the wounded QM3 Pollard.
As McGonagle later recalled, the Israeli attacks “were made in a crisscross pattern over the ship, with each attack coming at approximately forty-five second to one minute intervals.” Soon after the explosion that felled his executive officer, a strafing attack from the starboard quarter occurred, fragments knocking McGonagle off his feet. “I was only shaken up and it made me dance around a little bit, but my injuries did not appear to be of any consequence,” although he did notice slight burns on his right arm and blood oozing on his trousers. Able to walk and without pain, he opened the bridge safe and removed the camera kept there “to take pictures of foreign ships and aircraft.” He kept the camera in his possession for the rest of the attack, snapping pictures of the attacking aircraft.
CTC Carlyle F. Lamkin had felt the shock of the initial strafing attack, then headed immediately for Repair Three, his general quarters station on the second deck, aft, hearing the word soon thereafter that the ship was being attacked by aircraft. Once he reached his destination, he set about dispensing the gear and “settling the men down” and had them lie low. As the attacks continued topside, Lamkin and four men extinguished a fire in the shaft alley, then he sent off a party of stretcher bearers, before he got a call that told of a fire in the motor whaleboat. He took Repair Three Alpha up on deck, only to be felled by an explosion as soon as he reached it. Coming to his feet, he found that men had already attacked the fire in the whaleboat. Another strafing attack felled a man at his left, and men scrambled out to drag the wounded under cover. Lamkin ran forward only to encounter the grisly remains of the intelligence officer on the 01 level, a sight that caused him to feel sick, but he regained his composure – there was work to be done -- and returned to Repair Three.
SA Dale D. Larkins hurried to the 03 level of the bridge, to his battle station as loader and telephone talker on Mt. 54. He reached it in the wake of the first strafing attack only to find it untenable because of the fires two decks below near the gasoline drums on the 01 level, directly below the gun tub. Undeterred, Larkins clambered across the engine room skylight to Mt. 53, but found that the blaze consuming the 26-foot motor whaleboat in the davits on the starboard side had rendered that mount indefensible as well. Despite the strafing, Larkins turned-to to fight fires.
At 1411, as the Super Mystéres completed their attack, one of the pilots contacted the controller: “Pay attention, this ship’s markings are Charlie [sic] Tango Romeo 5…” A minute later, after repeating the markings, the pilot added: “There is no flag on her!” At that point, pilots and controllers have been informed that the markings on the ship that was attacked was not marked in Arabic characters. In light of that realization, Col. Shmuel Kislev, the chief air controller in Tel Aviv, with a third air strike on the way – Mystéres carrying 500-pound bombs – abruptly canceled further air attacks. “Leave her!” When questioned by another controller, Kislev repeated the order.
At about 1424, Liberty sighted three motor torpedo boats (MTB), from MTB Division 914 (Cmdr. Moshe Oren, commanding) closing at high speed. SA Larkins, having been forced to abandon two gun mounts, had gone forward to Mt. 51. Cmdr. McGonagle ordered him to open fire. Meanwhile, utilizing the HiCom circuit, the technical research ship informed Saratoga (CVA-60) of the approach of the boats, a message relayed to CinCUSNavEur and ComSixthFleet.
Seeing that the ensign had been shot away, McGonagle ordered the 7 by 13-foot “holiday” ensign hoisted from the yardarm, and SM2 Russell O. David, the bridge signalman, did so despite having suffered multiple wounds. Smoke from the burning whaleboat, however, and other topside fires, obscured colors even that size.
McGonagle ordered the word passed to stand by for torpedo attack, and had Liberty hold her course as the boats approached. One of them, partially obscured from view by the fires still burning topside on board Liberty, appeared to be signaling with a flashing light. Although unable to read the signal from the boat, McGonagle saw what appeared to be a small Israeli flag, and hollered to Larkins, there being no other means of communication, to withhold fire at Mt. 51. Unfortunately, Larkins got off a round before he understood what the commanding officer was yelling at him; soon thereafter, Mt. 53 opened up, most likely the result of rounds “cooking off.”
In Repair Three, aft, CTC Lamkin, who would later receive a Bronze Star Medal, hearing the word passed to stand by for a torpedo attack on the starboard side, told the men to brace themselves and lay down on the deck if at all possible. Time seemed suspended. “It seemed like it was quite a while before the torpedo actually hit…”
Believing themselves to be under fire, the Israeli motor torpedo boats closed from the starboard quarter. QM3 Brown, seeking whatever tenuous protection existed in the chart room, backed away from the wheel but determinedly held onto it with one hand. A shell fragment, however, slew him where he stood. Two steps away, Ens. Lucas heard Brown gasp and saw him fall backwards, dead as his body hit the deck. The three boats launched five torpedoes, of which one, fired from T-203, hit the ship and exploded between frames 53 to 66, tearing a tear-drop shaped hole in the starboard side, 39-feet across at its widest point. Tragically, the area devastated by the torpedo contained the research spaces, snuffing out the lives of over 20 men in an instant.
Lt. Bennett immediately entered the space just demolished by the torpedo. Having suffered flash burns to his face and arms, the 31-year old Arkansan encountered Lt. Cmdr. David Lewis, who had also suffered facial burns and had been temporarily deafened. Bennett led Lewis to safety, then soon supervised the evacuation of the other research spaces. Later, he “devoted many hours…providing for the comfort, safety, and welfare of his shipmates.” SSgt. Bryce F. Lockwood, USMC, although having suffered multiple wounds, rescued men from the flooded compartments, braving rapidly rising water, heavy smoke, and complete darkness. His “calm, rational thinking and actions evidenced a high degree of professional competence and moral fibre” and he assisted in rescue efforts until ordered to leave.
The flooding of the area most likely prevented fires in the wake of the torpedo explosion, but Liberty listed immediately to starboard, about nine degrees. Ens. Lucas had instinctively grabbed the helm after QM3 Brown had been mortally wounded, but found it, too, lifeless, power and steering control having been lost. Liberty slowed to a stop, going dead in the water at about 1440.
The three motor torpedo boats “milled around astern” of Liberty, one signaling her by flashing light: “Do you require assistance?” Unable to respond by light, McGonagle ordered the signal Lima India – international flag signal for “not under command” hoisted. Damage control central had reported that flooding boundaries had been established and the flooding was under control. The commanding officer designated the mess decks as casualty collection stations, and men from the repair parties took the casualties there.
Two Israeli helicopters arrived about an hour before the start of the first dog watch, and at 1512, one of the pilots reported seeing “an American flag on board,” and checked to make sure he had indeed seen one. At 1514, the deputy chief air controller, located 25 miles south of Tel-Aviv, reported to Col. Kislev: “It’s an American flag, people keep hiding every time he flies over…” As CTC Lamkin later testified, the fact that at some point the attacks stopped surprised him. “I figured they were just coming to finish us off…”
With the restoration of power at around 1600, Cmdr. McGonagle, lying on the port wing of the bridge as CT1 Jeffery R. Carpenter applied a tourniquet to his wounded leg, dictated a message to Lt. Bennett giving additional information about the attack that had transpired, and that the motor torpedo boats had been identified as Israeli, as well as estimates of casualties and damage.
Of McGonagle, Lt. Richard F. Kiepfer, MC, later testified: “The Commanding Officer at that time was like a rock upon which the rest of the men supported themselves. To know he was on the bridge grievously wounded, yet having the con and the helm and through the night calling every change of course, was the thing that told the men, ‘we’re going to live.’ When I went to the bridge and I saw this, I should say that I knew that I could only insult this man by suggesting that he be taken below for treatment of his wounds. I didn’t even suggest it.” As Ens. Dave Lucas put it: “It would have taken ten people the doctor’s size to even begin to get him off the bridge.”
Kiepfer himself “treated patients in excess of thirty hours without relief or rest,” and he and his two corpsmen, HM1 Thomas L. Van Cleave and HM3 Samual L. Schulman, were assisted by willing volunteers, both wounded or able-bodied. Kiepfer received the Silver Star, and Van Cleave and Schulman each the Navy Commendation Medal.
As Adm. John S. McCain, Jr., later wrote, “Heroism was the order of the day.” Lt. Cmdr. Armstrong received the Navy Cross (posthumously); Silver Star Medals were awarded Lt. Cmdr. Bennett, Lt. Golden, Lt. Toth (posthumously), Lt. (j.g.) John D. Scott, Ens. Lucas, SSgt. Lockwood, SA Larkins, MMC Richard J. Brooks, BT3 Frank J. Brown, ICFN David Skolak (posthumously) and ET3 James T. Halbardier; Bronze Star Medals went to CTSN Frank McInturff, III, SN Stamatie Pahides, CTC Harold J. Thompson, SFP3 Phillip F. Tourney, YN2 Martin D. Powledge, YN3 Virgil L. Brownfield, CT1 Carpenter, SM2 David, YN3 Steven C. Gurchik, Jr., SH2 Donald Herold, CTSN Ronald A. Hurst, SFM3 Duilio Demori, SHL2 Henry E. Durzewski, Jr., and SD3 Troy L. Green. Navy Commendation Medals went to MM1 Charles M. Martin and SHB2 Thomas R. Moulin. Men braved the heavy strafing to fight fires and remove wounded. CTSN Robert L. Dally, DC3 James C. Smith (who had a fire hose shot to pieces in his hands while he was employing it), CT3 McMakin, and SFC Richard D. Neese, from Repair Party Three, each received the Bronze Star. BMC “J” “C” Colston, Jr., helped wounded men to safety and joined a fire-fighting party on the 01 level to attack the gasoline fire, he, too, received the Bronze Star.
Wounds did not hinder Liberty’s men in the wake of the devastating attack. CT2 Robert J. Schnell and CT3 Maurice B. Shafer, who had both suffered multiple fragment wounds on 8 June, joined CTC Joseph A. Benkert, Jr., CT3 James L. Needham and CT3 Paddy “E” Rhodes, who had emerged unhurt on that day, stepped up to the arduous and hazardous task of removing the remains of their shipmates from the tangled wreckage of the research compartment. Each man toiled until ordered to stop to eat and rest. Soon, however, each would reappear to resume his labor to account for men and materiel.
At 1719 on 8 June 1967, Davis (DD-937) and Massey (DD-778) received verbal orders to proceed at once to assist Liberty. Davis conducted a brief helo transfer “of two people and equipment from USS America” between 1806 and 1808 and increased speed.
While Liberty (“alone, battered, and scarred but unvanquished”) steamed slowly away from the coastline, her bloodied captain remaining on the bridge to inspire his crew, and his well-trained men toiling to minimize her damage and keep her afloat, her “black gang” getting and keeping her underway and her small but providentially spared medical department succoring the wounded, Davis (Capt. Harold G. Leahy, Commander Destroyer Squadron 12, embarked) and Massey raced to her aid. Davis worked up to 30 knots during the first watch on 8 June, and maintained that speed during the mid watch on 9 June 1967.
The two destroyers reached the limping Liberty during the morning watch on 9 June 1967, finding her listing to starboard, while the plethora of shell and fragment holes topside, the burned and scarred paintwork, and the gaping torpedo hole in her hull bore mute testimony to the unbridled ferocity of the attack of the previous afternoon.
Davis rang down “all stop” at 0632 on 9 June 1967 and lay-to, launching her motor whaleboat. The boat then made runs between Davis and Liberty, transferring medical and damage control parties, the former including Lt. Comdr. Peter A. Flynn (MC), from America, and Lt. John P. Utz, Jr. (MC), DesRon 12’s medical officer, from Davis. Massey contributed a corpsman to help treat the wounded. Davis moored alongside Liberty between 0725 and 0942 to continue the process, transferred men (including in their number “leading petty officers from the damage control, electrician, interior communication, and boilerman groups...”) then cleared the side while helicopters evacuated the seriously wounded, and the bodies of the slain, to America, which, along with Little Rock, arrived shortly thereafter.
At 1030, two helicopters from America rendezvoused with Liberty and began transferring the more seriously wounded to the carrier. An hour later, about 350 miles east of Souda Bay, Crete, America rendezvoused with Liberty. The carrier’s crew, as well as Little Rock’s, lined every topside vantage point, silent, watching the helicopters bring 50 wounded and nine dead from Liberty to America. As Liberty drew alongside, listing, her sides pocked and perforated with shell, nearly 2,000 of the carrier’s crew were on the flight deck and, spontaneously moved by the sight, gave the battered Liberty and her brave crew a tremendous cheer.
America’smedical team worked around the clock removing shell fragments, and treating various wounds and burns. Doctors Gordon, Flynn and Lt. Donald P. Griffith, MC, worked for more than 12 hours in the operating room, while other doctors, Lt. George A. Lucier and Lt. Frank N. Federico made continuous rounds in the wards to aid and comfort the wounded.
Little Rock transferred Lt. John C. Cockram, her damage control assistant, in addition to two corpsmen, to Liberty, and took on board some of the less seriously wounded men. Later, after Davis had transferred two photographers to the ship by helicopter at 1402, Ens. David P. Breuer, Davis’s main propulsion assistant, was transferred to the battered ship by helo at 1606. As the destroyer’s ship’s historian later noted proudly, “Davis...established vital ship functions, assisted in cleaning up the ship and provided hot food for the Liberty’s crew...” and handled all communications. Lt. Cmdr. William R. Pettyjohn, chief staff officer, ComDesRon 12, assumed the duties as Liberty’s executive officer (9-14 June) replacing Lt. Cmdr. Armstrong, who had died of his grievous wounds suffered in the attack. Vice Adm. Martin visited Liberty (1434-1500) on 9 June, arriving and departing by helicopter to see the damage for himself.
Davis’s 20-man team played important roles in righting the ship, aided by the unwounded or less seriously injured Liberty crewmen, raising steam and getting the badly damaged technical research vessel underway for Malta, accompanied by the fleet tug Papago (ATF-160), whose presence freed Massey to return to the fleet. During the passage to Valetta, Davis’s and Liberty’s sailors gradually restored “most of the ship’s vital systems, including the main gyro, sound-powered phone circuits, and a main fire and flushing pump.”
“Due to the outstanding professional knowledge and undaunted spirit of her valiant commanding officer, officers, and crew, and still carrying many who gave up their lives for their country,” Capt. Leahy (ComDesRon 12) reported subsequently to Commander, Task Force 60, “Liberty safely reached port after steaming one thousand miles with critical damage that would have sent most ships of her type to the bottom.” Seventeen Davis men received commendations for their work in aiding the technical research ship in her travail; as then-Lt. Paul E. Tobin, Jr., Davis’s engineering officer and one of the 20-man party, later reflected: “...The men of the Liberty and Davis knew what was required and carried out their hazardous and unpleasant tasks in a dedicated and professional manner. An ability to contemplate, confront, and overcome catastrophic damage at sea,” he wrote with conviction borne of personal experience, “must remain an integral part of our trade.”
Valetta, Malta, had witnessed battered Allied ships entering its waters during World War II, men-of-war and merchantmen who had survived battles with Axis aircraft and ships. Ultimately, Liberty, convoyed by Davis and Papago, the latter recovering three bodies, dislodged from the wreckage of the research space by the action of the sea over the first few days of the passage, stood in to Valetta harbor during the morning watch on 14 June 1967. After undergoing temporary repairs, she departed Valetta on 16 July for the U.S. in company with Papago. The ships reached Little Creek on 29 July and moored to Pier 17, Naval Amphibious Base.
On 1 August 1967, Rear Adm. Henry A. Rankin, Commander, Service Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visited the ship (1000-1037), and on the 14th, Rear Adm. John D. Bulkeley, Board of Inspection and Survey, came on board at 1300 with his staff and inspectors, and broke his flag in Liberty. He remained on board until 1400 on 17 August, when he left to return to Washington.
On 2 October 1967, Cmdr. McGonagle was relieved as commanding officer by Lt. Cmdr. Donald L. Burson. Selected for caretaker status on 12 January 1968 pending the decision to repair her damage, Liberty was moved from the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va., to Craney Island on 1 March, where she off-loaded fuel prior to entering Southgate Annex of the naval shipyard to Norfolk Naval Shipyard itself on 2 March. Chopped to the Naval Inactive Ship’s Maintenance Facility, Norfolk, Va., on 4 March, she was placed “in commission, in reserve.” A little over a month later, on 13 April, a memorial service took place on board as the family of the late CT1 John C. Smith, Jr., donated a plaque to the ship engraved with the names of the 34 men slain on 8 June 1967, with Lt. Cmdr. Burson accepting it on behalf of the crew, after which the family was given a tour of the ship.
Shortly after the pre-inactivation inspection (10-11 June 1968), another ceremony took place on board when the Presidential Unit Citation was awarded the ship, and 13 individual awards for valor were presented. Ultimately, Liberty was inactivated on 28 June 1968, placed out of commission, in reserve, at the Southgate Annex, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, as the result of estimates of the costs involved in repairs, and custody was turned over to the Naval Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility.
The extensive battle damage she had received at the hands of the Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats had not been repaired, and consequently, an inspection found the converted Victory ship unable to meet either present or future requirements. To update her capabilities, in addition to affecting the repairs required, would prove “prohibitively costly.” Consequently declared “excess to the needs of the Navy,” Liberty was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1970.
Transferred to MarAd on 23 November 1970, the ship was purchased the same day by Boston Metals Co. Physically delivered to the purchaser on 17 December 1970, the ship was broken up for scrap.
Liberty was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for the action of 8 June 1967, and the Combat Action Ribbon (8-9 June 1967). Cmdr. McGonagle, in a ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C., on 11 June 1968, received the Medal of Honor in recognition of his “superb professionalism, courageous fighting spirit, and valiant leadership.”