Imagine a people so dedicated to bringing their people home to be given a proper burial, that they would search for 31 years for a submarine that went missing with its 69 crew members, all considered lost sons of a nation. I know that many people wait years and never give up hope for the return of the remains of soldiers lost in battle, but this was a little bit different. The meant extensive searches and great expense…nevertheless, it was considered worth the cost. Imagine such a nation. Who would you think of? The United States maybe, or England? No, it is Israel.
The submarine, INS Dakar was originally known as HMS Totem. It was built at the height of World War II by H.M. Dockyard in Great Britain. It was commissioned as the HMS Totem by the British navy in 1943. After the war ended, the submarine was modified, adding 12 feet to its length and removing some of its gun decks. The submarine was then sold to Israel along with two others in 1965. On November 10, 1967, the Israeli Navy officially launched Dakar. The submarine was tested in Scotland, and scheduled to go to Haifa, Israel for an official ceremony in early February, 1968. The crew had been ordered to check in daily, and they followed the orders implicitly. On January 24, 1968, Dakar passed the island of Crete and radioed its position for the last time. One additional signal came from Dakar just after midnight on January 25, 1968 and then…nothing. That was 48 years ago today.
Israel launched 25 search missions over the 31 years following the loss of Dakar, but to no avail. The only sign of the submarine was one of her locator buoys that washed ashore off the coast of Khan Yunis a year after Dakar’s disappearance. Using that clue and the technology available at the time, those search missions resulted in the search of most of the Mediterranean Sea. The odd thing was that the searches never included the actual route that Dakar would have taken to Haifa. When the buoy was discovered, it was estimated that Dakar was 50 to 70 miles off course…hence the searches in the wrong places. Then, on 9 May 1999 two charted sea vessels arrived to finally search area along the original route. The designated search frames box area was approximately 60 nautical miles long, nearly 8 nautical miles wide and contained 16 search lanes. With a speed of 2 knots per hour it takes between 30 to 40 hours to monitor the sea bed of each search lane. Searching was conducted using the AMS-60, a wide-swath sonar and the REMORA 6000, a remotely operated vehicle equipped with both video and still cameras. On May 24th, in the evening, sonar detected a large body on the sea floor, along with several smaller bodies nearby. They launched the ROV at 7:00 on May 28th, after 3 days of weather delays, and finally found the Dakar four hours later.
There has been much speculation as to what caused the sinking and inevitable implosion of Dakar. Some say it was a small leak that made control become impossible, but one Egyptian admiral has a different story to tell. Mohammed Abed el-Majid Azeb told various Egyptian sources that his crew identified the Israeli submarine during a training exercise. He decided to attack the vessel, which was in Egyptian territorial waters and and declared war on it. According to the report, Egyptian military commentators have suggested that the submarine was damaged by an Egyptian depth-charge and had to submerge, which could have been the leak they experienced. It’s hard to say after all these years, and we may never know, but I find it very interesting that the Israeli government would not give up until it could bring those lost sons home for a proper burial.