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The route of the boats from Cherbourg to Israel
The Boats of Cherbourg was an Israeli military operation which took place on 24 December 1969, and involved the escape of five Sa'ar 3 class missile boats from the French port of Cherbourg. The boats had been paid for by the Israeli government but had not been delivered due to the French arms embargo in 1969. The whole operation was planned by the Israeli Navy, and was codenamed "Operation Noa", after the daughter of Captain Binyamin (Bini) Telem.
- 1 Background
- 2 The operation
- 3 Missile boat flotilla
- 4 See also
- 5 Videos and recordings
- 6 References
- 7 Retrofits for Noa Operation
The Israeli naval command had reached the conclusion by the early 1960s that their old Second World War-era destroyers, frigates and corvettes were obsolete and new ships and vessels were needed. A survey was undertaken and the German shipyard of Lürssen was recommended. The shipyard was asked to design a new generation of small missile boat platforms and to modify the suggested woodenJaguar-class torpedo boats according to Israeli Navy requirements. Due to Arab League pressure on the German government, this plan was not continued and a new builder was sought. The Israeli Navy survey recommended that the Cherbourg-based Félix Amiot would build the boats, based upon the German designs and plans. The boats and engines were German-designed, and constructed by the French. The project received the codename "Fall" (Autumn).
Crews were sent to France in early 1965. The technical team was headed by Commander Haim Schachal. The administrative and operational side was headed by then-Captain Binyamin (Bini) Telem, who later became the Israeli Navy's commander in chief during the Yom Kippur war.
This was during the "Golden Age" of relations between Israel and France. After the Six-Day War, relations began to worsen. The French president — Charles de Gaulle — stopped the export of weapons to Israel. In 1968, Israeli paratroopers commanded by then-Colonel Raphael Eitan (who later became IDF chief of staff), carried out a raid on Beirut airport during operations against the Palestine Liberation Organization. As a result, President de Gaulle ordered a full arms embargo on Israel, even for weapons that were ordered and paid by contract.
With his moratorium declaration, President de Gaulle cancelled the export license for the boats to Israel. However, he was afraid to cancel the working licenses of the shipyards due to riots sparked by recession and unemployment that had started in Paris. De Gaulle did not want to escalate the situation by adding additional unemployment and feared public opinion and the spread of the riots throughout France.
The resignation of de Gaulle and the election of Georges Pompidou to be the president of France inspired hope amongst the Israelis. The Israeli government assumed that Pompidou would lift the embargo, but Pompidou maintained it.
While the French government ordered an arms embargo on Israel, they continued construction of the boats according to the original plan, and while the Israeli naval mission was in Cherbourg, controlling the project. Israeli crews were aboard the completed boats and the whole project was fully paid for by Israel.
The build-up of the Egyptian Navy with Soviet assistance during the early days of the War of Attrition and into the mid-1960s, and their procurement of new missile boats such as the Osa and Komar-classes, had changed the balance of power in the Mediterranean theatre in favour of Arab navies and away from the Israeli Navy. There was by now an urgent need for a new generation of vessels for the Israeli Navy. Israel had been developing seaborne surface to surface missiles, but the new vessels they would be launched from were now being built at Cherbourg. Their delivery to the Navy was considered a high priority by the Israeli Navy.
The loss of the destroyer INS Eilat during an attack by Komar-class missile boats in October 1967 and the accidental loss of the submarine INS Dakar in 1968, as well as the general aging of the Israeli fleet, brought naval planners to the conclusion that the boats had to be taken from France by deception.
Missile boat flotilla
The boats taken from Cherbourg were still unarmed platforms on their arrival in Israel. They were brought into the navy and armed with Gabriel missiles and ECM and EW systems produced by MABAT andRFAEL. Their commissioning into the Israeli Navy was overseen by Commodore Yehoshua Lahav Schneidemesser, a Haganah member who had volunteered with the Royal Navy during the Second World War, and who was at the time the division head of Navy – Equipment and Platforms.
The flotilla's working up was overseen by Captain Hadar Kimhi, who was later promoted to Commodore commanding the Naval base of Haifa. New concepts of sea missile warfare was developed by the navy and new ECM/EW techniques were developed with the leadership of Captain Herut Zemach who was awarded the Israel Defense Prize for his efforts, creating a new generation of missile boats. Later, new Israeli Sa'ar boats were developed and built in Haifa Shipyards under the leadership of Haim Schachal, the chief engineer of the Israel Shipyards. Two of the boats were launched a few months before the Yom Kippur War, INS Reshef (Flash) and INS Keshet (Bow), Sa'ar 4 class missile boats. For his leadership, Schachal was awarded the Israel Defence Prize. The Israeli Navy went on to win the sea battles with the Egyptian and Syrian navies with zero casualties and losses. The Israeli Navy became a pioneer in modern naval missile warfare, resulting in their successes in the Yom Kippur War in 1973.